Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I first saw the acronym for Half Moon Bay on a white, oval-shaped bumper sticker -- the same kind you've perhaps seen with the "OBX" for North Carolina's Outer Banks. (I hate seeing the OBX stickers, especially on cars nowhere near the East Coast let alone North Carolina.)

My favorite of these stickers indicates an affiliation with Pittsburgh -- it reads "N'@" which refers to the superfluous Pittsburghese colloquialism, "n'at." It is used with amusing frequency among native Pittsburghers. Here it is in context:

"What are yunz guyz doin' this weekend?"
"I dunno... maybe goin' dahntahn for the Three Rivers Arts Festival n'at."

(The "n'at" is an abbreviation of the phrase, "and all of that." So, in this context, "n'at" would translate as "and all of that which is associated with the Three Rivers Arts Festival (e.g. eating street food, listening to live local music bands and strolling through the artists' vendor tents pursuing the same local artwork you see every year at the Arts Festival).")

Strangely enough, shortly after seeing this bumper sticker and thinking of "N'@" in context, I attended the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. It was among the first of the things I did upon my arrival to Calif., and the least memorable given its striking similarity to the Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh. I suppose these festivals are the same everywhere -- lots of local residents mulling about, looking at local artwork and listening to local bands who lack the talent necessary to shed their "local" designation.

Unless they get moist for enormous gourds and/or have a sexual attraction to being stuck backed-up in traffic for hours as the population of a tiny beach town swells to 200k+, I don't see what compels those who flock to the festival year after year. (By the way, pumpkin-flavored beer = gag.)

I'm more optimistic for the next big event on the horizon here -- Mavericks. For a span of 24 hours, the Pacific Ocean churns out 30+ foot waves off the coast of Half Moon Bay. Surfing's creme de la creme wait on standby for the maverick waves, ready to travel to HMB at a moment's notice once they start crashing sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving each year.

I've been warned not to get my hopes up, though. It is not as much of a spectator event as one might think. The waves break on a reef about 1/4 mile offshore so, I presume, without some high-end optics there won't be much to watch except the surfers being towed out to the waves. (Since 1/4 mile is a long paddle to catch a wave, jetskiers tow the surfers out to catch them.)

I don't really need to see Mavericks; mere proximity to the ocean is enough for me. My hosts' Rob and Kate live in an oceanside housing development. You can see the Pacific from their living room window, beaming in the sunlight and brooding in the moonlight. Lately, it's been rumbling at night as its cauldron churns in Mavericks' birth pangs.

My hosts' community is adjacent to the Ritz-Carlton HMB, and my favorite activity is strolling down to the cliffside hotel to watch the sunset over the Pacific. Cloud banks on the horizon refract its light, making its orb appear analog in its last moments. No longer round, it looks like a tiny pyramid on the horizon, then a dot that finally blinks over the edge.

On the weekends bagpipe music accompanies the sunset, and a crowd of hotel guests gathers along a fence at the cliff's edge, drinks hanging in hand. What's most striking about these Pacific sunsets is the immediacy with which the sun finally disappears into the ocean. It speeds up suddenly at the very end, and is gone. There is a solemnness to the hotel guests as the horizon fades to black, and they walk back from the cliff edge. It's not just the somber tones left in the air by the bagpiper, but also an unconscious association made between the sunset and the human condition ... or simply sadness that a day of vacation has come to an end.

Though the sun is gone, the ocean remains, pulsing at the dark shore. It's this sense of a large mass in constant motion that I like about proximity to the ocean -- it curbs the disturbing stillness of night and pushes you with a bit more urgency into wakefulness the next day. Sometimes it presses into your sleep, leaving you contemplating the unfathomable in the morning.

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