Dan and Hannah Explore Ojai, California with an Assist from Penny

Unity of SB

Rev Larry of Unity of Santa Barbara speaking on Collateral Beauty

When we travel, the hikes are cool, the scenery beautiful, yeah, yeah, yeah.  But the best part are the people; whether here in California or elsewhere in the United States.

During our stay on the Central Coast of California, pickleball has been ideal for meeting people in Ventura and Santa Barbara; in addition, becoming a part of the Unity of Santa Barbara connects us with kindred spirits.

Mitch with take out


To build further connections, I have a brilliant idea for your consideration.  My best friend from my childhood in Fair Lawn, NJ was Mitch Kaplan.  We played Radburn Rec basketball as sixth graders together, took the buses and subways to Yankees games across the Hudson River into the Bronx, played dice baseball, had our hearts broken by the young women in high school, and even played on the high school tennis team together.

Mitch above waist shot


While I moved away to live in California, Arizona, and then eventually Maine for 35 years, Mitch returned to our childhood home in Radburn (section of Fair Lawn) after earning his BA from Antioch College in Ohio and his MFA at NYU.  Despite the distance, we stayed in touch; in part thanks to my frequent visits to see my mom and dad, who for many years still lived across the park from Mitch and Penny’s house.  Which brings me to Penny.

Mitch skiing

Mitch on the slopes, an athletic passion I did not share

Meeting in California, Mitch and Penny later married in Yellow Springs, Ohio with Mitch in a Boston Bruin jersey.  The cliché fits – he walked to the beat of his own drum and orchestra.  As we each approached retirement (he from a successful career as a writer and me after a run as a school and college teacher), golfing together loomed big in our future.

And then, damn it; he died from leukemia and its treatment.  He was 61.  That’s now more than eight years and counting of double bogeys and three putt greens we missed.

Ojai map

Carpinteria is ten miles south of Santa Barbara on the coast

After he passed, I kept in touch with his wife Penny who remained near to their two kids in the East.  Having grown up in Fillmore, CA, Penny came to mind when Hannah and I began traveling to California in winter; I soon realized how close Fillmore was to our month-long condo in Carpinteria.

Ojai 2 D and H with Emma and Theresa at Cafe Emporium

Dan, Hannah, Emma, and Theresa at the Cafe Emporium, Ojai

So, here’s where the brilliance comes in.  (I think you’ll soon see that I’ve checked that box.)  I asked Penny if she had any old (as in dear) friends in Fillmore that might like to have a cup of coffee with Hannah and me when we explore the town for a day.  It turns out she has a high school friend in nearby Ojai (pronounced Oh-hi) and sends me Emma’s email address.

Ojai 2B foursome at Libbey Bowl

At the in-town, just off the main street, Libbey Park

I email Emma, who responds enthusiastically that they are early risers and would love to have breakfast with us this early February Friday.  Encouraged to try the Ojai Café Emporium just off the main drag in Ojai, Hannah and I meet Emma and Theresa in a nook of the cafe.  Filling us in why they like living in Ojai, they tell us of their joy in walking to town to get coffee, the pleasure of being away from the cold of New Mexico, and their love of the temperate climate.

After learning their backstory, I mention, in response to their question about mine, that my first teaching job was in Anaheim, 35 miles south of Los Angeles; it was a short-lived job because the US military was clamoring for a piece of me.  Suddenly, I find myself opening up to two women I just met about the fact that I was conscientious objector during the Vietnam War years.

That said, the government didn’t quite see eye to eye with my self-assessment.  Let me explain how I dealt with our difference of opinion.

Ojai draft lottery

After graduating from Arizona State in 1970, I lost my student deferment; in addition, the Selective Service was no longer giving deferments for teaching positions like mine in Anaheim; I was reclassified 1-A.  That was the first year of the draft lottery, which it turns out I lost in a big way.  Out of 365 dates in the year, my December 27 birthday was chosen #78.  Since everyone from #1 to #195 was to be drafted, my goose was cooked.

Ojai conscientious objector

In the summer of 1970, I informed the Selective Service I would not serve because I was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.  Basically, my local draft board said, no you are not; you are not a Mennonite or Amish, and anyway you need to be against all war.

Having the right to appeal, I petitioned the New Jersey State Selective Service Board to hear my case.  Fortunately for me, government bureaucracies can work slowly; it took them 10 months into 1971 to decide unanimously (5-0) that I was not a c.o. in their minds.  There is a federal appeal but only if the state board is divided.  So, I waited as an eligible and vulnerable 1-A.

Ojai make love not war

Going to Canada was not an option for me.  Too cold and too faraway.  My resolve was strong that I would never shoot a weapon.  And I waited.  Out of the blue in early 1972, I was reclassified 1-H.  That meant that every 1-A had to be drafted before I would be drafted at all.  Essentially, that meant I would not be drafted.  I never got an explanation why I was reclassified, and I never asked.

With my future noticeably brighter, I got a full-time teaching job in Tempe, AZ in February 1972, proposed to Hannah later that month, and after five years of off and on dating, we were married on July 1, 1972 in East Penfield, NY, at her father’s Christmas tree farm.

Thank you, Ojai ladies, for asking.

After breakfast in Ojai, we walked the in-town Ojai Valley Trail, a former railroad paved for bicyclists, runners, and walkers.  The mountain trails around Ojai have been off limits due to the decimated hillsides caused by the burning brush and trees of the Thomas Fire two months before.

Ojai 3 H on Ojai Valley Trail

On the paved Ojai Valley Trail, which goes all the way to Ventura on the coast

Randomly as we walk the Ojai Valley Trail, I stop what seem to me to be welcoming faces and ask why they like living in Ojai.

The first, a dental hygienist raises her arms out, and beams, the weather.  But she, too, has a story to tell about the Thomas Fire.  After the first flames could be seen in the mountains, all four roads out of Ojai were closed, sealing the town off from the outside.  Scary was her word since she and the other townspeople didn’t know if the fire would come down to their valley to destroy their homes as it had for whole neighborhoods in Ventura the day before.

Ojai 3D OVT

Ojai Valley Trail

Another thirty-something, says she likes the small-town nature (7,400 residents) and the climate.  A gentleman in his 80s adds that he appreciates that the town council wants to keep Ojai the way it is, they don’t have an expansionist mentality.  He agrees it is expensive to live here.  A lower end house in town can go for $600,000.  Ouch, California real estate.

With four miles of in-town trail walking in the books at near 80F, Hannah and I return to 63F Carpinteria 20 miles back to the coast, pleased that my checked box idea produced such dividends.










Dan and Hannah Mix Pickleball with Chinese Foot Massage

There are big T truths (e.g. one’s religious or spiritual beliefs) and there are small t truths (e.g. one’s personal beliefs).  I have two of my small t truths for you.

Don’t wait for friendship.  Though introverts by nature, Hannah and I roam beyond our comfort zone and make the effort to meet others wherever we go.  Relationships and friendships are possible.

Chinese Yes

Importance of saying yes.  Previously, I would do a cost/benefit analysis in my mind for new activities.  Worth my time?  Would I really like it?  Today, I generally make no calculations, and just say Yes, and sort out the details later.  Let me explain.

BA ventura guys

Dan, John, Leonard, and Rodrigo

Today, Hannah and I swim past our comfort zone into the deep end and drive 18 miles south from Carpinteria to the pickleball courts of Ventura to a place where we do not know a soul.  There, Leonard, the pickleball ambassador, greets us.  Ambassadors our usually genial, welcoming, and supportive, and Leonard is certainly all that.  Then, John steps up, introduces himself, and gets us into a game.

BA 1 PB group shot

Ventura Pickleballers

Throughout the morning, I pickle on the outdoor courts at De Anza Middle School with the guys, among them Bruce, Leonard, Jessie, Rodrigo, Jim, and Mark while Hannah slices and dices with some excellent women players.

Chinese image of loungers

Ready for action at Bamboo Creek Spa

As the morning of play wraps up, Mark says, some of us go to Ojai for lunch and then get a Chinese foot message.  Would you two like to join us?

That would be a quick Yes.

Jump forward to our final outdoor pickleball Saturday during our California month of February away from home.  As exclusively indoor pickleball players back in Maine, we learn of the challenges of playing in the open air.  Rain in the drought-stricken Central Coast is not one of the issues.  In this winter “rainy” season, we have had barely a tenth of an inch of rain the entire month.

Chinese windy palm trees

The winds of California under blue skies

Wind and sun are another matter.  Always checking my Weather Channel app for the wind speeds, I have learned that five to ten mph is fine for outdoor play, with little effect on my game.  Above 10 mph gets tricky and 20 mph is insane.  Being in California, we have the ever-present blue skies.  On one hand that makes for excellent tans for the New Englanders; on the other, hitting lobs into the sun becomes a roll of the dice.

Today, with the wind picking up throughout the morning, games become less about skill and more about dealing with the elements.  Players with the wind must temper their shots while those against the wind must muster all their power to get the pickleball (like a wiffle ball) over the net.  The comradery and sunshine trump the wind, as play wraps up for another Saturday.

Chinese 2B Mark and Lynne at BL

Lynne and Mark at Bonnie Lu’s

Looking to mix the pairs for our drive to Ojai, I suggest to Mark that he drive with me and Hannah drive with Mark’s wife, Lynne.  Just another stepping out of the comfort zone moment for us introverts.  For the twenty-minute drive, which turns into forty because of roadside power line repair, Mark and I learn of our north Jersey connection (he Hohokus and me Fair Lawn [I know it’s I instead of me, but I don’t like the sound and flow of I.) and learn of each other’s families and past working lives (both public school employees, he a business manager and me a teacher).

Chinese 2A we four at Bonnie Lu's

Pre-foot massage lunch at down home Bonnie Lu’s

Once in Ojai, we dine on the king-size sandwiches at Bonnie Lu’s and leave with half our BLT and Rueben for tomorrow’s lunch.

Properly nourished, we four head to the Bamboo Creek Spa in a store front just off the main drag in Ojai.  Learning that there is no talking during the massage, we also only whisper in the waiting area, which makes us three deal with life on Hannah’s terms (she with the hushed voice).

Filling out the registration, we sign-in with our first name, select the service wanted (i.e. foot massage), and decide from 1 to 7 how much hand pressure we prefer on our feet.  Being a first timer and soft, I opt for 3.

Chinese 3 H massage

Hannah mellowing out at Bamboo Creek Spa

First, Hannah and Lynne are taken to a side room, as I trail behind with my ever-present iPhone.  My blog does not wait.  Being as little annoying as possible, I snap and retreat to the waiting area to, well, wait and whisper with Mark.

Mark and I are soon taken to the front room and seated in adjustable lounge chairs with remotes.  In front of each of us are two-foot square ottomans; soon a towel is draped over the lower half of our bodies.  Removing my sandals and socks, I wait.  (nota bene – may I remind you that my socks have played two hours of pickleball)

Chinese 3D D zoned out massage

Soon, a bathroom size waste basket is brought out with warm herbal water in a plastic bag.  The foot soak begins my 30-minute massage ($21 per session seems like quite the bargain).  The theory is that massaging reflex points in the feet restores natural energy flow.  While Mark, a veteran of the foot massage, zones out, a woman approaches to dry my soaking feet and wrap each one in a towel.  She then squirts soothing oil into her hands and let the massaging begin.

Chinese 3C workng on my feet

My masseuse

After two hours of pickleball and a reasonably big lunch, I am ready to nod off, but I have a stronger need to see what she does.  Ever the photo journalist, I take pictures of the masseuse in action.

At times when she is working the sole of my foot, my foot involuntarily spasms as she goes from the front pad of my foot to the arch.  Ever the pro, she senses my tic and continues gently.

Fifteen minutes on the left foot and then fifteen on the right.  Delightfully refreshing, the massage has Hannah feeling that her sensitive and aching feet have never felt better.  Thankful and mellow, we tip our masseuses.

Chinese 3E D and H in waiting area

The look of foot massage mellow

Walking back to our cars with Mark and Lynne, I appreciate the new experience; the feeling of being among new friends made this one of the highlights of our month in February.

Our best experiences are always about the people, which happen more often when we head to the deep end and simply say yes.



Dan and Hannah Come to Ventura, California for Pickleball Magic

Every so often, Hannah and I talk about the words we’ll put on our tombstones.  It’s not a heavy at all, in fact, ironic and light.  Truth be told, upon cashing in our chips, we will donate our bodies to the Medical School at the University of New England (Maine); ergo, there will be no headstone.  Still, we think what words would capture our legacy.  Recently, Hannah’s latest thought is There.

BA he tried

For me, my latest is He Tried.  Let me explain.

Since coming to California, Hannah and I have been transitioning from a focus on hiking to one on pickleball; as we turn 70, we are focusing on growing relationships over the physical challenges of climbing mountains and hiking to waterfalls.  When hiking, it’s just the two of us, with the occasional brief conversation with others along the way.

On the other hand, pickleball opens doors for new relationships.  At new pickleball venues, we have two to three hours of playing, talking between games, and finding out what we have in common, athletically and individually.  Longtime readers of this blog know of the magic we had in north Georgia with the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club.  That association led us a pickleball club party and overnights with two couples in their homes.  Click here for that blog.

BA ventura map better

Last year during our February month in California, we played afternoon pickleball in Santa Barbara.   Though we made no connections, I reached out and gave it a shot.  Though I came up empty, one could reasonably say, He Tried.

But this year in addition to pickling in Santa Barbara, we are branching out by playing in Ventura (18 miles south of Carpinteria on The 101) Saturdays on the outdoor pickleball courts at the De Anza Middle School.

BA 1 PB group shot

Ventura Pickleballers with the Mainers

Arriving in Ventura on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, we have a mix of men and women, mostly seniors.  Hannah and I eventually find our level, she with the women and me with the guys.  As indoor players, we are learning to adjust to the wind as well as hitting overheads with the sun in our eyes.

BA ventura guys

Dan, John, Leonard, and Rodrigo on the Ventura pickleball courts

Encouraged and sensing a good vibe, Hannah and I return the following Saturday for more play.  After our two hours, we sit in collapsible patio chairs, shooting the breeze with the other players.

BA 2 ventura pickleball design

Pickleballers Bruce and Anneli with the club logo

As Hannah and I walk from the courts, I spot Bruce and mention how much I enjoy his dinking soft game (i.e. hitting short shots just over the net) and thank him for welcoming us.  Exchanging business cards, we go our separate ways.  Later on the ride home after mentioning my conversation with Bruce, Hannah mentions her play with his wife Anneli, with the summation, She’s good.

With Bruce’s business card in hand and only two and a half weeks left in our stay in Carpinteria, I shoot off an email to add substance to my legacy of He Tried.

Hey Bruce and Anneli, 

Thanks for you all including Hannah and me in your Saturday pickleball games.  It’s been a treat.  We wonder if you and Anneli would like to have a cup of coffee or glass of wine in the coming week or two at our condo in Carpinteria or we’d drive to your place.   Just a thought, no pressure.  Look forward to pickleball again this Saturday.   Dan

(The next day, we get this email from Bruce.)

BA 1 at Snapper Jacks counter

Anneli, Bruce, and Hannah at the Snapper Jack’s counter

Hello Dan and Hannah,

 It is very nice to have you two playing with us while you are visiting California.  We would enjoy an off-court visit. Will your schedule allow a lunch time visit next week?  Since you offered to come to Ventura, perhaps a stop at our office next week followed by a walk into downtown Ventura? We have several preferred spots for fish or steak tacos if you like.   Bruce

It’s always easier staying home, sitting on the couch reading, watching television, or wasting time on the computer or smart phone; there’s no risk.  Ah, but there’s often little reward.  I want more than being homebound and gagged and give it a shot.  Hence, He Tried.

Ten days later, driving down The 101 right on the Pacific Ocean to Ventura, we meet Bruce and Anneli at their office.  Intrigued by his career as an architect, I find his explanation of the houses and businesses he designs fascinating.  Fortunately he has Anneli to run the show as the business manager.  In addition, Bruce volunteers to teach 3rd graders architecture (i.e. perspective drawing).

BA 1A Snapper Jack's sign

Having recommended fish tacos for lunch, Bruce and Anneli walk with us to Snapper Jack’s Taco Shack a few blocks away on Main Street.  Rocking at 1P, Snapper Jack’s is where we’ll have our very first fish tacos.  As you know, when in Rome…

Following Bruce’s lead, I order one soft corn and one crispy flour fish taco with a side of rice and refried beans with tortilla chips to boot.  Already, I am thinking we must bring our grandsons, Owen and Max, here when they visit next year.

BA 1B 4 eating fish tacos at snapper jack's

Al fresco in February with Bruce, Anneli, Dan, and Hannah.

Similar to our walk and talk in twos to Snapper Jack’s, the conversation over lunch flows easily as they are both interested in us as well as share their interesting, active lives.  A cliché works here.  Two hours fly and it’s like we have new old friends.  It’s magic.

Returning to their office, as they do have jobs, we hug good-bye, and part as Bruce says, Thanks for reaching out.  He gets it.  He appreciates the effort.  It’s always worth trying, especially if I am going to earn my epitaph He Tried.

BA 3B H on pier

Hannah a way out on the Ventura Pier

Taking Ash Avenue to the walkway across The 101 to the Ventura Pier and Ventura Promenade at Surfer’s Point at Seaside Beach, we see a lone female surfer, head to toe in a wet suit.  On a windy afternoon, we walk out the pier and celebrate another sunny day during the “rainy” winter season in southern California.

BA 4A D on ventura promenade

Palm-lined waterfront Ventura Promenade

Taking the stairs down off the pier, we have a wide waterfront walkway along the Pacific Ocean with the Ventura Fairgrounds to our landward side.  With the wind up, we are still comfortable in shorts knowing in two weeks winter is going to slap us in the face.  March is still real winter in Maine.

I wonder, were the fish tacos really that good?  Or was it the company while eating the fish tacos the reason why they tasted so good?  I’d go with door number two.

As a long-time believer in Davy Crockett’s Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you, I am content with my epitaph, He tried.