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Life out here by Bret Kofford: Needing Monterey in many ways

December 05, 2001

MONTEREY — I needed to go to Monterey.

My life had taken on a circular sameness of grading papers, editing stories, watching games I don't care about on TV and my dogs running away and either being returned or returning on their own.

Then, boom, my life changed.

Suddenly I had 30 more channels on my cable system, including two new all-sports channels that would allow me to watch more games I don't care about on TV.

Suddenly I was given a change in job title that would require me to act more responsibly than I ever wanted to act.

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Suddenly I had a spot that might be more than a spot but probably is not.

Suddenly word came that my Beatle, the one my older brothers assigned me because we were four and the Beatles were four and we all had to have a Beatle and no one else would take George (we also all had assigned Monkees), but the Beatle I truly came to love, had died.

I needed to go to Monterey.

My wife had a conference in Monterey, but more than anything I wanted to go because it is one of my favorite places on the planet.

When I was a kid my parents would ask where the kids wanted to go on vacation. My brothers and sister had different ideas every year on where we should go. Every year I had the same idea: Monterey.

Monterey was a bit dumpier back then, and delightfully so. The family would stay in a Travelodge a few blocks from the bay, and I would walk, on my own as a kid of 8 or 9 dodging the winos, to a dock/jetty where a flock/herd/bevy of sea lions would wallow and bellow. We didn't have sea lions where I lived — although we did have a lot of wallowing and bellowing — so I would sit on the dock and watch the sea lions for hours. My siblings thought I was weird for this, but then again, they thought I was weird for most everything I did, including accepting George Harrison as my assigned Beatle.

At that point in my life, inspired by "Flipper," Jacques Cousteau, a sea shell collection and a general fascination with all things about the ocean, I had decided to become a marine biologist. If I had been better at science and math I might have realized that goal, but alas, 25 years later, a lot closer to broken-down wannabe jock than Jacques Cousteau, I was back in Monterey.

Still, fantasies and fascinations live. Within minutes of arriving in Monterey on Friday morning I hiked the mile or so to the wonderful local aquarium, where I scooted around like a little boy, relishing the sea otters, octopi and sharks and touching the bat rays, crustaceans and anemone in the touch zone mostly frequented by kids. I hadn't been this happy since, well, possibly since I found out I had the all new sports channels on the cable system, and certainly not since I had heard George Harrison's incomparable piece of rock 'n' roll "Taxman" on the radio the night before his death and bounced in my car with such fervor I almost ran into a fence.

After my visit to the aquarium my wife said she wished I had waited for her to go, so I did the bayside hike and the whole tour for the second time in the day, still giddy with joy at all things ocean.

My joy about Monterey was tempered by the fact that, despite our old Travelodge still standing, the city is getting a bit gentrified and touristy. That joy was spiked a tad more by the fact that the old Coast Guard pier where I used to sit and watch the sea lions is partially closed to the public. The sea lions are still there, wallowing and bellowing, but sea lion fans have to watch them do a whole lot of nothing from afar. That's for security reasons, I was told by Monterey Chamber of Commerce officials, particularly in these security-oriented times. "Times change," I was told.

They do, but I was happy being in a place where I've always been happy, a special place.

Things are different now in Monterey, but not really. I am different now, but not really.

I needed to go to Monterey.

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