Tag Archives: California

Santa Cruz Weird

by Vinnie Hansen

Even though we’re not a large city, people across the country know of Santa Cruz, California. Huntington Beach may think it’s “Surf City,” but everyone here knows we claim the title.

After all, we’re the ones with a statue of a surfer who wears a pumpkin head on Halloween. And Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit, lived here until his death last year. Santa Cruz has  a lighthouse converted to a Surfing Museum and even a hanger for Lost Souls.

This pole is right beside Jack O’Neill’s home.

Others recognize Santa Cruz as a tourist destination featuring a beautiful coastline and The Boardwalk, with its historic, wooden Giant Dipper roller coaster. But there’s so much more here!

Santa Cruz overflows with artists and musicians. The Doobie Brothers and Neil Young  lived here. Santa Cruz produced James Durbin (who should have won American Idol). My own orchestra leader used to play with Eddie Money. For visual artists, we have a long-running Open Studios event, and we offer first-rate theater via Santa Cruz Shakespeare.

Here I am with The Great Morgani.

Music, visual art, and theater collide in local legend, The Great Morgani. The Great Morgani is a real musician with over 1,000 songs in his repertoire. His costumes (over 50) are all hand-crafted masterpieces that cover even his accordion. And he has his patter down—artist, musician, and thespian—rolled into one. And, just a little weird—a perfect representative for Santa Cruz.

Where else but Santa Cruz can you find Sons of the Beach—as many as 200 ukulele players congregating every Saturday morning to play music? And that’s separate from the Santa Cruz Ukulele Club, which boasts it’s the largest ukulele club in the world!

Not convinced yet that we’re any quirkier than, say, Austin, Texas?

In our Santa Cruz Mountains, we have a museum dedicated to Bigfoot and a physics defying Mystery Spot.

We’re literally fishy. Fish were vital to the native Ohlone. Commercial and sport fishing remain integral to our community.

Santa Cruz is a city where you go for a walk and encounter magic. It’s part of our everyday life. We expect nothing less.

And now to celebrate the wonder and weirdness of Santa Cruz, Nancy Lynn Jarvis has put together SANTA CRUZ WEIRD, an anthology where all the stories are set in this wacky place. The collection includes my story, “Critical Mass.” Order your copy now and let the fun begin. 

What is the strangest story associated with the place where you live?

Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast the day after high school graduation.

She’s now the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a cross-genre novel of mystery, murder, and moonbeams. Her short fiction has appeared in Transfer, Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery Magazine, Santa Cruz Noir, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line literary magazine, and Mysterical-E. 

Still sane(ish) after 27 years of teaching high school English, Vinnie has retired. She plays keyboards with ukulele bands in Santa Cruz, California, where she lives with her husband and the requisite cat.

We blog here at misterio press about twice a month, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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An Unusual Occurrence at Usal Beach by Stuart Thornton

We have a special guest today–travel writer Stuart Thornton–as well as a an amazing giveaway with mysteries, cookies, travel books, and bookstore credit!

Now here’s Stuart to tell you the tale of one of his many adventures:

An Unusual Occurrence at Usal Beach

While researching my Moon Coastal California guidebook, I had an evening that played out more like a scene in a mystery novel than a night of notetaking. It all occurred at Usal Beach, which is located on a remote stretch of California coastline within Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
The expanse of dark sand and the rustic campground behind it was everything a Northern California beach should be: wild, powerful, and mysterious.

My friend Shane and I pitched a tent away from a herd of Roosevelt elk with antlers as large as chandeliers. We watched the sunset fall into the ocean like a giant ember and then cooked up a fine campfire meal while listening to a North Coast pirate radio station on my small camp radio. After a couple of beers, we each retired to our own tent for the evening.
Fzzzow. Fzzzooooow. Ffffzzooooooowwwww. I woke up to the sound of gunshots near our campsite. Outside the full moon seemed to shine down on my tent like a spotlight.

I reached for my cell phone. “3:03 A.M.,” it glared at me ominously.

In the distance, I could hear Shane snoring in his tent. Then ffffzzzzzzoooooooowwww. I grew up around hunting and guns, but this shot sounded cold, metallic, evil. It also sounded like the shooter was coming closer. I sat up in my tent, and I felt as alone as I’d ever felt in my life.

Fffffffffzzzzzzooooooowwwww. Shane suddenly stopped snoring. “Did you hear that?” I whispered to him.

“Yeah, I heard that,” he said. “It’s not good.”

We both lay still in our tents. I began thinking about why someone would be firing a gun this late. It could be drunken locals, but there was no boisterous shouts or loud music. Maybe the shooter was trying to scare off a bear or an elk?  But only a shot or two would probably be needed to do that. My next thought: What if it’s a murderer?

Ffffzzzoooooowww. Another shot. I started thinking of survival. In the tent, I felt as helpless as a fish caught in a net. Someone could just walk up and blast the tent with bullets and that would be it.

“Want to meet outside?” Shane called out.

“Yes,” I said softly.

I scrambled outside my tent and soon Shane and I were standing out in the moonlight. Though we were in the open, it felt good to have someone around.

“What if it is someone walking around popping campers?” Shane said, echoing what I was thinking.

I shivered uncontrollably. It was not because of the cold outside.

“I did bring this for bears,” Shane said and slid the handle of a pistol out of the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt. It was somewhat reassuring, but it didn’t vanquish all of my fear.

We got into his car. Shane sat in the driver’s seat with his hand fingering the butt of the gun like it was a lucky coin. I sat in the passenger seat and tried to look outside the rapidly fogging windows.

Around 50 feet away in the woods, a light appeared. Ffffzzzoooooowww. The light was gone right as the shot rang out. It was like it had been blasted out of existence. Farther away, a car alarm went off.

“We need to get out of here,” he said.

Shane and I made it out, up and over the steep, mountainous road to the highway. We scanned the local newspapers the next morning expecting to read about a multiple homicide at Usal Beach, but there was nothing. I later talked to a park ranger about the incident, but he just called the park “The Wild West.”

While travelers may, understandably, not be comfortable with the sound of gunshots while sleeping, Usal Beach did make it into Moon Coastal California as one of the best beaches for wildlife in the state. I warn about the firearms for other prospective campers, but whatever happened in the hours after midnight at that remote California beach is still a mystery to me.

Stuart Thornton Bio

Stuart Thornton fell in love with the California coast while working at the Big Sur Ranger Station after college. At work, he provided visitors with all sorts of information about the region, from the best places to camp to the best meal in the area. On his days off, he took his own advice and regularly sought out the best spots for hiking, backpacking, surfing, and snorkeling along that striking coastal region.

Stuart later moved to nearby Monterey to become a staff writer for the Monterey County Weekly, which he still contributes to. He is the proud author of Moon Coastal California, Moon Santa Barbara & The Central Coast, Moon Monterey & Carmel, and Moon California Road Trip. In addition, Stuart has contributed to National Geographic Education, Relix Magazine, and Ed Grant’s Piers of the California Coast, a coffee table book highlighting the Golden State’s piers and wharves.

He spends his time off searching for the next secluded beach, uncrowded wave, or mountain top vista. Learn more about his adventures and projects by visiting www.stuartthornton.com.

And now for that amazing giveaway I promised! Check it out–travel books, a full-set of my mysteries,  Santa Cruz Cookie Company cookies, and a $200 gift certificate at Bookshop Santa Cruz (or a bookstore of your choice). 

Enter here.

Now, what is your spookiest travel adventure?

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. ? )