SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — This story veers from my traditional narrative and addresses such topics as sleepless nights, drug use and loose women. You have been warned.

We were a trio of naive college students: Ben Blanchard, Christopher Puckett and I. We piled into my car and drove down to California, where it would be warm — or so we told ourselves.

We loaded up my 1999 Plymouth Breeze. The Breeze was nicknamed “Windy” by my brother, “Slayer” by the dozens of women who begged me to let them into that sexy mid-sized, sensible sedan and “Probable 1066” by the cops who routinely pulled me over because they’d have been irresponsible not to given how it looked.

We were packing, but not what you’d think.

Provisions loaded into the surprisingly spacious trunk included fruit, trail mix, bread, cheese and lunchmeat, as well as a few gallons of water.

Ben had Google Maps (it could’ve been Mapquest back then, too) directions printed out, and Christopher had his brand-new iPhone with “GPS navigation” for emergencies. iPhones didn’t have numbers assigned yet because they were first-gen.

We cued up some probably regrettable music and hit the open road.

Hope floats

We spent the first night in San Rafael, a city on the north end of the Bay, in a fleabag motel. To this day, it remains one of the sketchiest places I’ve ever slept.

In addition to abutting the railroad tracks, it was along a highway, not far from a commercial loading dock and apparently in the turf of at least three small-time drug dealers.

At night, we heard all manner of terrifying sounds, and trembling quietly in the darkness was all the motivation I needed to finish school and get a job that would enable me to afford a room that had seen fewer CSI teams.

The only reason we weren’t robbed blind is because my car was so unimpressive that the criminals all around it must have pitied us.

Our charter for striped bass and white sturgeon the next day was a flop. Three of us combined for three fish — only one striper — and I’ll let you guess which one of us got skunked.

Shore stupid

All was not lost.

We went to a nice seafood dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco then drove to Santa Cruz.

We spent the day running around on the beach, and I had the good sense to remove my shoes and run around barefoot in the sand. It’s a rite of passage for beachgoers, and why should I be any different?

My regular readers know why. If anything can go wrong, it will wait until I’m around to do so.

As we frolicked in the sand, I decided to kick it up a notch and run at full-speed. I’m not nearly as fast as my brothers, but I nearly outran a middle school girl during an open gym last week before she caught up and stole the ball. So yeah, I’m pretty fast.

The goal was to try and jump onto a cement platform a few feet up from the sand. I failed to realize it was part of a set, and I rammed my big toe into the barely concealed cement platform just below my intended target.

White, mind-numbing pain flooded over me. It continued to escalate to the point where I couldn’t do anything without registering an “8” or “9” on the pain scale.

We all headed to dinner, and I began to consider applying for a handicap parking permit.

Had our waitress not been one of the most attractive women I’d ever seen, I would’ve been sobbing like a baby. The pain was something else, but I made it through the dinner with my dignity intact — at least, I would have had my horrible attempts at flirting not fallen flat.

As my friends turned in, I realized I wasn’t going to be sleeping. The over-the-counter pain killers weren’t even touching the misery, so I headed to the pier.

Pier misery

Like all California piers at night, it was a miasma of smoke and of languages other than English, but it wasn’t long before I started catching fish.

A group of guys noticed and asked if we could trade bait. I obliged.

Then they asked if I’d like a joint.

I politely declined, as I don’t partake in the devil’s lettuce, but I continued fishing maybe 20 feet away.

Now, I’m sure that standing 20 feet away from someone smoking the ganj will not result in a contact high, but when I lay down several hours later, having caught a dozen small cabezon and croakers, the pain was notably less than it had been earlier that evening.

When I woke up the following morning, there was residual pain, but it was so minimal compared to the night before that I was able to drive the 400-plus miles home without incident.

And that, kids, is the craziest spring break story I have: standing sort of next to someone who was smoking weed on a pier.

As for my disclaimer, there were no loose women. That was just to hook you in.


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