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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.