Beautiful, carefree Santa Barbara! Spanish Colonial and Mission Architecture abounds. So do wealthy individuals, college students, tourists, tradesmen, hippies, and homeless…
I arrived in Santa Barbara on Thursday night. I bypassed Ventura County because of the wildfire in Camarillo. I found a parking structure in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, behind a movie theater. Two blocks away is the 24 Hour Fitness I bathed at, and another block away is the Starbucks I have been blogging from since.
On Friday, I decided to walk around with the flag instead of just resting my feet. I walked slowly, looking around at the sights. Several homeless people gestured to the flag and gave me a smile or thumbs up. Some passersby said, “Good for you,” or “It’s good to see someone patriotic!” or “Look out for that party bus!”
A college girl who was sitting with two of her friends said, “Hey, mister. What’s the deal with your flag?” Don’t you just love how kids speak to their elders these days..?
Our conversation was interesting to me because she nodded in agreement with everything I said, even though she looked like the type who would’ve put out her cigarette in my arm and spit on me for being over Thirty. Instead, she said, “Right on, that’s what I’m talking about. We need to fight for our rights.” Her two friends didn’t seem interested in the conversation, as they got up and wandered away. The girl noticed this and the conversation ended.
For the most part, people who passed me kept their distance or avoided eye contact, or whispered to each other about my flag. I didn’t experience anything negative. I just walked, made sure the flag didn’t blow into anyone’s face, or get caught in the branches of the many trees that lined State Street. Occasionally, a child would be amazed by the flag, and I’d smile at him or her.
Around 1:30 pm, I went looking for something inexpensive to eat. I noticed a pizza place on one of the side streets. There was a crowd in front of the establishment. As I approached, I saw two college-aged men wearing white short-sleeved shirts and black ties and slacks standing there. One of them saw me and asked my why I was carrying the flag. I was not really in the mood to speak with anyone. I was tired, my feet were throbbing, and I was hungry. And, I really missed my family. So, I felt a little sad.
But, seeing that others had turned to listen to what I had to say, I said, “I’m walking a total of 500 miles with this flag because I’m sick and tired of our politicians speaking as if our rights are negotiable, and can be taken away from us. Our rights are inalienable. No one can take them away. And so, I am going to Sacramento to have my voice heard.”
A blonde young woman off to the side came forward and extended her hand. She introduced herself and told me that she was raised to stand up for herself and to believe in fighting for one’s rights. She said she had gone to a march that was held in Washington, DC a while ago. Other people who had been seated on the cafe chairs had stood up and were listening.
I answered other questions, even though I felt pretty discouraged. In a moment of profound sadness, I told them that I had walked through a number of different cities so far, and had spoken with all types of people; including the homeless. I described how those who are least among us, those who have no reason to believe in anything, much less our flag, still lit up when they saw me walking by. In fact, everywhere I looked, I had seen people struggling to survive, to work, to exist with dignity despite the economy. Despite the policies that keep them down.
I recited an impromptu poem that described these people as seeds that had fallen between the cracks in the concrete of our society. They push and struggle to break through to the sunlight, becoming saplings that just want a chance to live free and to reach for the clouds. I said that if the homeless can still believe in America and in our flag, that we should, too.
I must’ve delivered a sermon, because a brunette young woman in the back of the small crowd had tears in her eyes. She softly said, “That is so cool.”
I then said I needed to eat. I handed out my cards, and everyone disbanded. I went in and ordered two slices of Pepperoni.
Later that day, I wandered down State Street and saw a game store. I am a life-long game designer and player. So, I went in to see what was new. The college girl behind the counter, Natalie, told me about the latest boardgames and trading card games. As we conversed, she told me that she was taking a game development class. I asked her what she was going to do in life and she told me that she was going to do concept art for games and entertainment.
Really good concept artists are in demand. I gave her professional advice as someone who has contracted artists for years. She showed me her web site and her work was very good. At this point, a family walked in. It was a young man named, Christian, his girlfriend, and his parents. Christian asked me about games, thinking I worked there. As the conversation evolved, he mentioned that he was an aspiring game producer. His parents beamed with pride about his accomplishments and told me to look at a game their son had completed with a group of college friends.
I introduced Christian to Natalie and told him that she was a very good artist, with an excellent understanding of anatomy. They exchanged e-mails, and he gave me the e-mail of one of his friends who was a game designer.
I went across the street to get dinner, and met an older man from the Bronx. Jerry was alone at the bar counter of Joe’s Cafe. As I waited for my club sandwich, I asked him about himself. He appeared lonely, like me. I figured he might like it if someone took notice of him. We spoke for a while about Santa Barbara, and how it hadn’t changed much since he had moved here in the Sixties. Once my food was done, I thanked him for our chat and walked back toward the parking structure.
I realized that I didn’t want to sit alone in my car as I ate, so I stopped and sat on a bench in front of another movie theater along the way. I ate my sandwich, watching people walk by. I then went to Starbucks and started blogging about the previous march. I hurried to finish it before the battery in my tablet was drained. Then, I went to 24 Hour Fitness, stretched out, showered, and went to sleep in my mini-van.
Thankfully, the parking structure is free if you drive in after a certain hour. I’ve been sleeping on the second story of the structure for two days. I am going to move the car to a different space tonight, just in case someone has noticed it’s been there for two days, and plans to tow it.
Today, I marched from downtown Santa Barbara, down State Street, to the pier. Despite feeling lonely, I wanted to avoid others. I walked to the beach to take a photo of the pier and the buildings that were on it. I wanted to be alone for a while, so I walked south along the waterline.
A blonde college girl was sitting on a towel next to her boyfriend. She asked me if there was a reason I was carrying the flag. I told her who I was, why I was marching, and where I was going. She seemed impressed and agreed that our rights are being trampled on. Her boyfriend nodded, as well, and also said that he was glad I was doing what I am doing. I gave them a card, then walked on.
I decided to get back to the road and continued south. As I walked, I looked at the chat messages my eldest daughter has sent me the night before. I had been feeling very alone, miles from home, doing an insane quest, not knowing if it would make any difference, when I received her first text.
“I miss you.” I started crying after reading it. Tears streamed down my face as I was blogging in the Starbucks. My relationship with Ashley has been strained for years. She has pushed me away and refuses to let me hug her or give her a kiss. My wife and I aren’t sure of what is going on with her, as she has always been a difficult child. But, she is my baby and I love her very much. So, it hurts not being allowed to hold her.
That’s why, when I read her text, I was overwhelmed. I was already emotional. I responded with, “I miss you, too, Shlee. Very much.”
She asked me how I was doing. I admitted that I was lonely but that I was meeting a lot of people and spreading my message. She told me she was texting from a Padres game with her boyfriend. She said she hoped that I was proud of what I am doing.
“I hope you are proud of what I’m doing,” I responded.
“I’m glad you’re doing what you feel is right.”
I asked her if she was happy, and she said that she was.
That is the longest conversation she and I have had in over two years.
When I first left on my march today, I encountered three aged hippies singing on a street corner. They were singing Sixties songs and protesting Obama and the War. I honestly have no idea what they were saying with their signs and songs. I didn’t ask. It was just too comical a spectacle. The woman in the trio was dancing in place, holding up the peace sign. One of the two men looked as if he were a little embarrassed to be there. He kept his sign near his face. The other man was on a magical, mystical, mystery tour of his own. I asked if I could take a photo, and I did. Then, I got on my purple carpet ride and headed west to the pier.
After I had Spoken to the blonde girl on the beach, I walked south until I reached a lagoon preserve. I ate flan at a restaurant near it and checked in on FB. Then, I walked up into the foothills where older residences are, and walked north again, toward downtown. Since I didn’t have a ride today from anyone, Idecided to walk in a circular route. Tomorrow, I will walk from downtown toward the north and back.
Something that strikes me as funny is how people will sometimes yell, “America!” as they pass me. Sometimes it’s, “A-MERica!” Other times it’s, “‘Murica!’ Yet other times, it’s a Geronimo-like, “Ameri-Caaaaaa!” If they follow the cry with a laugh, I get the sense they are just making fun of the dude with the flag. In any event, it’s a funny phenomenon.
When I reached downtown again, I put away the flag and my hat and went to Starbucks to blog.
Tonight, I feel a little less alone. I am almost halfway done. From Santa Clarita on, I will be in unknown territory. I have come to realize that this march, this journey, has been one of rediscovery as it has been one of political defiance and protest.
I had lost myself sometime ago, and had come to despise my “gifts.”I had been escaping from myself and in doing so, had forgotten all of my dreams and goals. I now no longer seek to be anything other than who and what I am: a dreamer, an artist, a writer, a father, a husband, and a patriot.
I want this march to be over. I want to go back home. I want to fix things back there. But I still have more to learn. There are still more people to talk with, and miles to go before I have my say in Sacramento. The journey is just as important as reaching the destination. So I’m going to continue trusting and walking, and talking to anyone who’ll listen.
End of Day One in Santa Barbara
The next morning, I woke up at 5 am again, and dragged myself to the gym to shower. I tended to my feet, got dressed, and decided on waiting until after lunch time to finish the last five miles of marching. I have been breaking up my marches into 15-5 mile chunks in order to rest my blistered feet. This has actually been better for engaging people, as I am not rushing to cover all twenty miles in a single day.
Consequently, my feet are healing better, and I’ve been having longer conversations with those I encounter.
After I ate lunch, I got my flag pole and set off to walk toward the opposite end of State Street and then northward.
It was a blustery Pooh Bear type of day. Except I had no Christopher Robin to walk with, and my rumbly tumbly belly was not craving honey. The flag was fluttering wildly again, so I had to keep holding it steady with both hands.
I stopped by a Mexican food restaurant to use the restroom. As I was walking toward the front door, a black-haired Irish woman pocked her head out and asked me if I was part of a parade.
“I AM the parade,” I joked. She smiled then went back in. I rolled up my flag and left it standing against an inner covered area. After I came out of the restroom, the Irish woman’s mother asked me why I was walking with the flag.
After I told her about my demand that our politicians uphold their oaths of office, she said something about what she didn’t understand or like about America. Her daughter shifted uncomfortably. Her mother said that in Ireland, they “open their door to all types of immigrants, and don’t expect or demand that immigrants give up their heritages.”
I told her, that America opens its arms, as well. But, we are not Ireland, or any other country, for that matter. Unlike any other country, we were formed to be a republic of free individuals. While our nation is a nation of immigrants (of which the Irish are an integral part), they have been, by and large, legal immigrants. A republic is a society governed by rule of law, not feel-good legislation.
The woman continued telling me about the differences between our nations, and why she took exception to how we do things. Oddly, she talked herself into a circle, ending up on my side of things after I told her thatthere is no such thing as “free” anything.
“The more in taxes I am forced to pay, the less money I have. The less money I have, the less options. The less options, the less free I am. Hence, a society that promotes the idea that the individual should be less free and live at a lower quality of life so that government can be enlarged in order to provide free things, is an unfree society run by a tyrannical government. I am a citizen, Ma’am. Not a subject.”
From this point on, she decried the social system iin Ireland, where the producers like her are penalized by higher taxation and the depletion of her pension, while those who live off of the system, don’t pay taxes, yet are given a place to live, healthcare, and food assistance.
The woman’s daughter was smiling to herself during this time; as was I. At the end of our conversation, the mother said she was going to go back and fight for her pension.
I left the restaurant, passed several Sheriff’s Deputies who looked at me and nodded when I waved at them, and headed west toward the beach.
It was starting to get late, so I walked toward State Street again after an hour. I walked through neighborhood streets to get there. On one of them, I heard a male voice yell, “Viva, Mexico!” as I walked by. I could tell by the tone that he was trying to be a smart ass. I stopped, turned, and glimpsed a figure move out of the doorway. I just laughed and walked on.
When Igot back to my car in the parkimg structure, the guitar player was back. I could hear him from half a block away. It was 7 pm. Iasked him if he played there often, and he said he did every Sunday night.
I loaded my car, then listened to him play for fifteen minutes. I then programmed my TomTom GPS car unit to direct me to Santa Clarita, and I left Santa Barbara.