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The Last Sunburn of Summer
What did you do for Labor Day this year? We all have ways to celebrate the end of summer like going on picnics, to the lake or to a water park. But when I was a kid, my family had one very specific Labor Day tradition: the Bridenstine Santa Cruz excursion. Although I grew up close to the ocean, it was a bit of an endeavor to get there. We were in Concord, east of Oakland, and if we wanted to see sand and surf, we had to drive somewhere else. Santa Cruz was a popular destination for beachgoers all over that part of California at the time, and it remains so today. But for Labor Day, it was the only place we ever went, and we had a great time every year. We’d spend the first half of the day on the boardwalk enjoying the rides and taking in the carnival attractions. The Big Dipper roller coaster was a favorite of mine, even if it did feel like it was about to fall apart at any moment (it was made of wood). It’s still open to ride today, and I can’t imagine it’s gotten any less scary since I was a kid! We also loved the Looff Carousel on the boardwalk, especially trying to snatch those brass rings from the long horizontal dispenser and then trying to toss them into the clown’s mouth. After that we’d head to the beach, right next to the boardwalk. People here in the Midwest might think that California water is nice and warm, but I can tell you that’s not always the case. Santa Cruz is still pretty far north but it still gets the effects of the cold Alaska current flowing down along the California coastline, meaning the first few minutes in the ocean are pretty cold! Fortunately, you get numb pretty
quick, and then you can start having fun in the water. We usually brought a friend or two, and splashing around with a buddy was a pretty good way to spend the last day of summer. It also led to great memories, like the time my friend Jim took off swimming for a buoy about 100 yards offshore. He got there thinking he’d rest on the buoy and then swim back. Turns out, it was an empty potato chip bag! Needless to say, Jim was pretty tired by the time he got back — and maybe a little freaked out, too. After the beach we’d all pack up and head home, tired and happy. Like I said, it was a great time but tempered by the aftereffects of a beach day. We’d be sandy and uncomfortable on the way home, and at least a few of us would already be feeling the effects of the sun, knowing full well it was going to be even worse when we woke up the next morning for the first day of school. Sunburns and the first days back to school went hand in hand in my book! My parents kept making the trip with the younger kids long after I’d left the house, and it’s a family tradition I was able to share with my wife a few years ago when we went to the boardwalk and beach together. We rode the shaky, old Big Dipper and walked along the beach and pier. We enjoyed watching the sea otters swim in the ocean and sharks swimming under the pier. We decided not to go swimming that day. Great memories in Santa Cruz!
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