February on the Central Coast

A friend from Germany just wrote a letter updating me about events with my soccer groups and local and national politics. His letter encouraged me to write an update on my life on the Central Coast of California. Our time here is more than half over, which makes me a bit wary but also happy to think of returning to good ole Germany.

The past days and weeks have been very eventful here. We have had great times with all our young visitors but we have also suffered a great tragedy. My brother-in-law, Andrew Ebright, passed away at a much too young age. It is a great loss for me, for my family, for my sister and her family, for all his friends. Andy was a wonderful man and a great friend. He had a talent for making any encounter fun and exciting. He always had a good joke up his sleeve, loved games and was the most hospitable person I know. Andy was also a terribly intelligent and thoughtful person. It was just a few years ago when I was here in California and was sitting in the yard with Andrew discussing racism. He eloquently argued that the concept of race is in itself flawed and wrong. How can you divide people up into a handful of races? It’s arbitrary and constructed. What race would a child have whose mother is from China and father from Africa? His thoughts helped me understand this issue much better. It’s hard to imagine he’s gone and the grief runs deep. This loss has again brought my family together with brothers and sisters converging in Morro Bay and warming calls and letters from family overseas.

It’s mid-February and we are having a cold spell. Cold for Central California, that is. We had a bit of frost this morning and a chilly breeze is blowing along the nearby hills and valleys. The cold and wind have brought clear air and amazing views. Susa and I took a walk yesterday along one of our favorite spots in Los Osos. It is the so-called Back Bay, a quiet oasis beyond the rough, windy power of the Pacific and protected by the “Sand Spit”, a long finger of land and a breakwater. We meandered along the sandy beach that stretches along a small peninsula. Turning the bend, the massive Morro Rock appeared in the distance, perhaps 4 km away. The ragged rocks and jagged outcroppings were crystal clear, it seemed I could almost reach out and touch them.

This afternoon I am sitting outside with my sun cap and light jacket and warming myself in the sun. My neighbor is repairing a table outside in front of his garage. He has shorts and a t-shirt on. I will miss being able to sit outside in the warm sun in February.


Pismo Beach Pier, a one-hour bike ride from my house

In the last couple of months, I have gotten heavily involved in a ballot initiative designed to ban fracking and new oil wells in the county. Whithin two months we have to gather 10,000 signatures in order to qualify the initiative for the November election. Then the voters of the county can decide themselves if they want to amend county laws to reduce our reliance on oil and to protect local water. It’s funny, but being here I have gotten much more interested in local politics than I ever was in Germany.

I feel so lucky to be here and to have the privilege of working so little (2 days a week). On my frequent walks and hikes, I am constantly reminded of the beauty here. The hills are still mostly brown, but the deep blues of the ocean and the sky make up for that.


Our Trip to the “Bay Area”

Over the holiday vacation we took a road trip to the “Bay Area”. That refers of course to the San Francisco Bay Area. We also had time on two separate days to visit The City, which of course refers to San Francisco. I don’t know why this place had the audacity to name itself this way, but it works. If you say you are going to the Bay Area nobody would think you mean the area around the Santa Monica Bay, which looks actually larger than “the” Bay. Even the Monterey Bay, just south of San Francisco, equals its sister in the north in size and is actually geologically much more interesting. It is home to the underwater Monterey Canyon, at one mile its as deep as the Grand Canyon. I also don’t know of any other American city that refers to itself so proudly as The City. Only “The Big Apple” comes to mind, not that cool in my opinion.

I must admit, however, that “the” Bay is pretty cool. It’s surrounded by “the” City to the west, San Jose and Silicon Valley to the south, Oakland and Berkeley to the East, and Marin County to the North. We visited all those places except Silicon Valley (we are there on our computers all the time anyway).

blog-group on hill

View from Corona Heights Park, S.F.

On our first day in San Francisco we got of the BART subway on Market Street and walked all the way through Chinatown and Little Italy over to Fisherman’s Wharf. The main attraction there ended up being a group of break dancers performing at Pier 39. We then walked along the Embarcadero back to the Ferry Building and Market St.

On our second day in The City we walked around the Mission District and up to the top of Corona Heights Park, a little mountain with an almost 360° view of the city. On the way up we enjoyed the quaint neighborhood of North Mission


We saw this utopian vision painted on a building. Let’s make it happen!

with wide sidewalk, broken up with little garden patches and sitting areas. This is a real-life image of the utopian mural rendition we saw in the Mission. The girls continued walking to the west over to Golden Gate Park and I walked back to the Mission for a coffee meeting with an activist for the Economy for the Common Good.


Sidewalk Utopia in North Mission

On our third day in the city we went to the Presidio and the Visitors Center at the Golden Gate Bridge. I was planning to just enjoy the view and get some cool pictures. Our adventuresome friend Lisa said, “Hey, can we walk across the bridge”. What, no way, I first said. With Julian, Joshua and baby Theresa long ago we had walked out to the “South Tower” and that was amazing in itself. I had never thought of actually walking all the way across.

I guess it takes a 17-year old German to think of something so wild. Susa agreed to drive the car over and Theresa held my hand all the way. I was OK as long as I stayed arm’s length from the rail guard and in my daughter’s safe grip. It was very exciting. The view from out there is wonderful and it is a majestic bridge.


This is the coastline that awaited us in Marin, just over the Golden Gate Bridge

Another highlight of our trip was New Year’s Eve. We walked about 15 minutes up a dark road from our remote Youth Hostel to a lookout point where the four of us watched fireworks across the bay. The Golden Gate Bridge and the illuminated San Francisco skyline were the backdrop to the firework show.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. Once again I felt like I am “Homing In” a bit more here in California. Although I grew up in the other “City” down south, I feel roots in the Bay Area because my dad grew up here and just because it’s California.

blog-piggy back

We all did enjoy walking through the city!

Politics, Road Trip, thin Coffee and Meditating with Monks

We were lucky enough to be invited to a “Friendsgiving” potluck dinner with the San Luis Obispo (SLO) Progressives. The local “Guild Hall” was filled with over 100 folks and tables packed full of food. There was even live music and Susa and I got to practice some partner steps.

I’ve been going to the SLO Progressive monthly meetings. The group came out of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. I think originally they were called Our Revolution. The meetings are very well attended with maybe 50 or 60 people and extremely well organized. They have only been together for a year but are very active. In effect they are a Democratic Party group whose main project is to push progressive democratic candidates. That’s not really my thing but there are other committees doing other stuff. One group had a canvassing day where they knocked on doors to talk about single-payer health insurance. Another group is putting together a campaign to put an initiative on the ballot to ban fracking and any new fossil fuel production in the county. California has a great system of direct democracy. They only need around 9000 signatures to put the proposition on the ballot for next Nov. and the people of SLO county can then decide whether or not to stop oil and fraking production.

Politics in the US is crazy these days. Being in California, though, I feel about as close to the hatred and meanness coming from the White House as I did in Germany. My main connection is through the media. In the cool, progressive town I live in we seem well protected from Tr*&//mpf madness. I do hope and pray that they will not pass the terrible tax reform initiative this week. It looks to be a massive gift to the wealthy and a disaster for the general public.

Susa arrived safe and sound a few weeks ago and now we are four in our cute little house on Skyline Dr. Its a two-bed, two-bath place with a great living room and dining room. The kitchen is too small and is actually in a hallway-like space leading to the girl’s room. We manage well though. Our landlords just improved the kitchen and now we have a gas stove and a convection microwave oven that’s good enough to bake bread in. The bread around here really sucks.

We had a great week-long road trip in our minivan over Thanksgiving and went to Ventura, Joshua Tree National Park and San Diego. We left SLO at around 5 in the morning and while passing through the wine country just to the south, we were treated with the rising sun illuminating the fog rolling into the small valley.

I had promised Theresa a real American breakfast so we stopped at the International House of Pancakes in Santa Barbara. We weren’t disappointed. All the syrup you could eat in five different flavors. All the coffee we could drink in our own thermos. The pancakes and coffee haven’t changed in 30 years. The pancakes are fat and sweat and the coffee so thin you can see the bottom of the cup. Yum yum.

img_20171121_145909.jpgJoshua Tree National Park was incredibly beautiful and the sunset vistas from the mountain tops unbeatable. It was great for me to be back in the desert. I was brought back to the Great Peace March of 30 years ago when I walked across the entire country and spent about 4 weeks walking and camping in the Mojave Desert. Theresa couldn’t believe how I could have walked through this moon-like landscape. I actually can’t imagine how I did it either. We climbed up a Ryan Mountain and hiked into Hidden Valley. My favorite moment was at the end of the day just before sunset. The low-lying sun created a light which illuminated the trees and mountains.

One highlight was a morning retreat at Deer Park Buddihst Monastery near San Diego. Its part of the group around Thich Nhat Han. It started with a Dharma Talk, then a walking meditation, then a Thanksgiving potluck lunch under the shade of oak trees. Its a real sanctuary there and I want to return for a week-long retreat this winter or spring.

We stayed near Oceanside and after a long drive from the desert we arrived at the coast just as the sun was setting. I parked a couple blocks from the beach and we all ran over to the pier to catch an amazing sunset. IMG_20171122_164124The ocean water was calm and the surfers enjoyed the gentle waves. With the pier as a backdrop, the sky remained red for what seemed like an hour.


Back in SLO the girls started their second trimester at SLO High. Theresa is happy to have a break from pre-calculus and is happy about her classes. We bought a ukulele yesterday and Lisa brought home a guitar so already last night the house was full of music.

Today, Susa and I walked to town for the first time. She injured her knee up top Ryan Mt. in Joshua Tree so she coasted part of the way on the bike. The walk took about a half an hour but was very nice. The neighborhoods are so pleasant here with the small houses and mostly lovely front yards. It was windy today and a bit cooler. For the end of November, the 70 degree weather is a welcome change from the 90 degrees we had last week in San Diego. The forecast for this week is 65-70 degrees F (around 15-20 C.) which can feel cold, but really pretty perfect. I know for Germany it sounds amazing. I hope you all are managing with the cold weather over there.



Susa arrives, Hollywood and my Home

It’s been a full, fun and exciting week. My wife, Susa, arrived safely in at the LA airport after having spent five days with our son Joshua near Stockholm, Sweden. Joshua is at a year-long school called Youth International Youth Initiative Program (yip.se) where he is taking seminars on great topics like restorative justice, the art of hosting, politics and governance, storytelling and much more. He lives and learns with a group of 29 youngsters from around the world. Susa got to visit him and see what its all about first hand. We are so happy for him that he discovered this wonderful place and is learning and experiencing so much.


Joshua’s “Check-In” group at YIP

Before picking up Susa at the airport Theresa, Lisa and I took a spin through Beverley Hills and Hollywood. The girls took some wonderful pictures. It was fun for me to be there with them, although hanging around Hollywood and Vine is not exactly my favorite pastime. I think the pictures do a great job of expressing Theresa and Lisa’s experience.

The next day we got to visit my old home, the house I spent my first 17 years at. It still brings back such intense memories that I often had to pause for a deep breath.

It’s great having Susa with us. We enjoyed a night camping out at Refugio State Park north of Santa Barbara. After a ten-minute walk on the beach in the morning, we spend an hour scrubbing oil off our feet. The coast there is famous for oil. Apparently, a lot of it is naturally occurring, but all the oil spills over the years have certainly played a role.

Enjoy the photos.


Life at the Cafe

I’ve been to a slew of cafes around the world, mostly in California and Europe. You might say I have a penchant for them. My days in San Luis Obispo (SLO) are no different. There’s so much you can find out about a town, culture and politics in a cafe. Its Tuesday morning and I parked my car a bit outside of downtown SLO where it’s still free of charge. Walking downtown, cuddling my sister’s poodle, I began my search for the best place to set myself down in and feed my caffeine addiction. The one on the corner of Osos St. and Monterey wasn’t open yet and after a few minutes I gave up and ended at Starbucks. I try to avoid the chains, but sitting on the bench out front I also learn a lot about the town. Around the corner is one of the hangouts of the homeless residents and right next to me a guy is resting on one of Starbucks outside, plastic chairs. The guy looks pretty destitute and I would guess with major mental health issues. He can hardly keep his head up and his hands nervously fumble with an empty paper cup. Inside there’s a couple guys chatting in the corner next to the window. Their large, ruffled backpacks and long, unkempt hair make me assume they belong to the homeless crowd. The guy has an oversized Starbucks paper cup, so it looks like he purchased something. One redeeming factor for Starbucks is their tolerance for the homeless.

Cafes around here have a high tolerance for people just buying one coffee and hanging around for hours. Oops, like me ;-). Often you will see young and old with laptops hanging out for hours. I think for many it’s their office. This also tells a lot about the socio-economic situation. So many people in California are self-employed. Many may say, great, all that freedom. You are your own boss. You can determine your own working hours. The problem is, is that they are not doing it of their own free will. They can’t find steady, salaried employment so they work from contract to contract. Apparently, the employer and contractor save a bunch on taxes. Don’t know exactly how it works, but one way is by writing off travel expenses. The self-employed person says they drove 20 miles to visit a customer or even his own boss. Of course, the employer saves money on office space (thank you Starbucks), can pay the person only when the work is needed (sorry pal, don’t have any work for you this week). The workers have little recourse. They don’t have a union representing them and fighting for their interest. They have a ton of competition, so if they don’t play the game, the employer will just take the next guy. So, take your laptop, get a nice table at Starbucks, order your Soy Latte and you’re set for the day. How in the world somebody can earn enough money doing this and pay upwards of $1500 (1250€) a month rent is beyond me.

Some more impressions of SLO Life

street signs.jpg

Like the Signs

mexican food.jpg

Enter a caption

TT, Kalle, Joel at school.jpg

Theresa with her cousin Kalle and his friend Joel at SLO High

Happy in the 5th Happiest City

Usually I am slower and less spontaneous with my posts, but I just felt like I had to get this out there.

Together with Gallup, National Geographic rated San Luis Obispo the 5th happiest city in the United States. Last year it actually had first place. Now I know why I like it here so much.

Find out more: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/north-america/united-states/happiest-cities-united-states-2017/


By Ken Broomfield [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of the happiest place, I just had a great talk with Paula Francis who is walking from Big Sur to Los Angeles as part of the HappinessWalk.com. She has walked over 4,400 miles. From their website:

“Crossing a big country with walking shoes and a recorder, Paula Francis is researching and reporting on happiness by interviewing thousands of people during the 8,000 mile Happiness Walk.”

She interviewed me about my work with the Economy for the Common Good (ECG). Her group works on the Gross National Happiness project, which is also part of the concept behing the ECG.


Off to College and Student Debt

This café called Sally Loo’s in San Luis Obispo is full of students and students with their parents. It’s the first week of school and the parents are treating their youngsters to the final breakfast before letting them go into the whirlwind of college life. What a momentous occasion for parents and kids. I haven’t experienced it yet with my own kids. Maybe one day. It is kind of an American thing, though. In this cafe today it is a rich white kid, American thing. At least that’s what it looks like here. My new friend from Ghana told us yesterday that he ups the diversity rate here on campus drastically. “This school is very bad in diversity,” he explained. Walking around town, you see tons of young college kids, but hardly any are black, Hispanic or Asian. Cal Poly, that’s the colloquial for the university here, is extremely difficult to get into. For some reason, minorities don’t manage to make it. Other elite schools like Stanford and Berkeley are much more diverse.

I wonder what it’s like for this mother to be dropping off her 18 year old son. He’s a high-achiever for sure. Straight A’s in high school and honors on top of that. She certainly has high expectations and he better deliver because it’s costing a fortune. Mom’s flipping the bill though. Millions of other kids across the country are finishing school with a $40,000 debt hanging over like a dark cloud. Not this rich kid from LA, though.

What’s the problem with that? The kid worked hard, he’s smart and he made it. It’s meritocracy, right? Well partly. How can that be fair in a country with mass incarceration and tragic levels of poverty? A kid growing up in a disadvantaged family is almost never going to manage to get perfect grades, no matter how smart she is. The rich mother here in the café has been preparing her son for this for years. Countless, expensive programs for improving SATs, private tutors for math and extra-curricular activities.

Maybe I am just viewing it all through my filtered, liberal glasses. Well, of course I am. We all do. Some would defend the education system. The kids with the best grades will get into the colleges. How can you ignore, though, that the socio-economic background of a kid plays a role? How can it be fair that some kids have to take out high-interest loans to finance college while others have mom and dad send in the checks each month?

Student debt is a gigantic problem in this country and finally there is a national discussion about making college tuition free. In California, for example, junior colleges are beginning to waive tuition fees.

These pictures are out of context, but what the hey.

10-21fisher at MB.jpg

Early evening fisherman in Morro Bay



10-21-hicking terrace hill.jpg

10-21-sign at mayors house.jpg

Cool statement posted in front of the mayor’s house