Apr 4, 2012

The Transplant Chronicles Part II

These are the stories of a surfer and his dog, packing up and moving 500 miles from San Francisco to start a new life in Encinitas. These chronicles will possibly offer longtime residents a fresh perspective on their hometown, and new residents something to relate to. This story was originally published in The Huffington Post. Click here to read Part I.

I’m a long way from home
And so all alone
Homesick like I never thought I’d be
I’m a long way from home, everything is wrong
Someone please watch over me.


Moving all of your belongs 500 miles can be an arduous task to say the least. And the journey from San Francisco to Encinitas was fraught with difficulties.

It started a couple of weeks prior to the move. I got into my first car accident in over 10 years. I had just returned from Lake Tahoe to San Francisco with a rental car and was driving the vehicle back to its original Enterprise Rent-A-Car location when another car ran a red light and slammed into me. Ordinarily in a situation like this you call the police, have them fill out an accident report and then move on your way allowing the insurance agents to settle the monetary issues. I learned some hard lessons this cold and rainy day.

For starters, San Francisco no longer sends out a police patrol when there’s a car accident, the exception being if there’s a major injury. Apparently this is the case now with most municipalities. Welcome to the era of governments being so broke they can’t afford to send a single police patrol vehicle to settle a vehicular dispute.

So even though this other driver drove straight through a red light as I was making a left turn and slammed into my side, without a police report and no witnesses suddenly it was his word versus mine. I was going left, he was going straight. You can guess who eventually won that battle, no thanks to my worthless Allstate Insurance claims adjustor who had no care in the world for what really happened.

I also didn’t have rental car insurance. I thought that I was fully covered with my own automobile insurance so I didn’t want to waste any extra money. Turns out there are two different types of coverage with automobile insurance that goes beyond basic liability. One is comprehensive, the other is collision. Seeing as how I wasn’t well versed on automobile insurance vernacular — and that I would usually just throw away those large pamphlets in the mail that Allstate Insurance would send me every year — I learned after the fact that I only had comprehensive insurance. So when it came to an accident like the one I got into, I was only covered for the damage that occurred to the other vehicle. I’m still trying to figure out how to pay the $3,000 bill that Enterprise Rent-A-Car recently sent me for the damage to their vehicle.

Then, just a couple of days before my big move, I pulled a muscle in my lower abdomen after trying to lift my dog, Dr. Indiana Jones (Indy for short) into the car after he was too tired to jump in after running on the beach all day. Indy, who is a half English Bulldog, half Boxer, weighs somewhere around 90 pounds. I knew that if I tried to lift anything heavy the day of my move the injury could get substantially worse, so I decided to hire a couple of movers.

The day of the move, only one mover showed up. One! I felt bad venting my frustration at the mover, as the fault lay squarely on his boss who was suddenly avoiding phone calls. I had already rented a trailer from U-Haul, and at this point all of my possessions were packed in boxes. Fortunately, I was able to find another set of movers later in the day and was able to get going, although this set me back a little as I would quickly find out just how difficult it is to tow a trailer.

The challenge in towing a trailer is three fold. One, you can’t go much faster than 55 mph on the freeways. I was aware of this beforehand and hence wanted to leave as early as possible so I could make the trip in one day. When the initial moving company I hired only sent one mover, I knew this goal wouldn’t be reached.

Two, making turns while towing a trailer is tricky. The trailer hugs the turns so you have to go wide when going right or left, otherwise if you’re near anything the trailer will smack it. And three, going in reverse is next to impossible. I ended up staying in my old college town of San Luis Obispo that first night of driving, and I learned that evening that attempting to go reverse in the hotel parking lot with a trailer in tow isn’t an easy task.

Fortunately I made it to my destination the next day without any damage done. Two days after my arrival, after I had unloaded the trailer and started to settle into my new home, is when I experienced the most excruciating pain I have possibly ever felt — that resulted in a visit to the ER.

I decided that my first surf session since moving to Encinitas would be at the amazing right-hand point break known as Swami’s. It’s the closest break to where I live, and given the relative small size of the swell, light winds and sparse crowds out in the lineup, I thought this would be a good opportunity to go out and not struggle to catch waves. I had only been out surfing maybe twice in the past five months and thus my paddle strength was nowhere near where it should be for a bigger day with pulsing swell and top notch surfers in the lineup.

Right off the bat, shortly after an easy paddle out, I caught a quick ride. It’s hard to describe the exultation of being in vastly warmer waters, especially after the long move and the achingly cold ocean temperatures I had been surfing in 17 years prior. Shortly after finishing my ride, I got off my board and found that I was in shallow waters. I noticed after my first step that directly underneath me seemed to be rock or reef of some kind. I took a second step before getting back on my board, and it was this second step where I felt a sudden sharp pain underneath my foot.

Initially I thought that maybe I cut my foot on the reef. The pain was incrementally getting worse by the second, and I quickly took a look to see what I had done. There was significant bleeding in three places. One right underneath my big toe, in the area of skin where the toe meets the foot. The second and third cuts were on the bottom of my foot near my toes.

I had cut my feet and legs before on reef, and thought this to be the case with the current injury. With previous incidents, there was nothing a little cold ocean water couldn’t fix. Yet in this case the water was making the pain worse. Also the bleeding continued profusely. By the time I paddled back out to the lineup, the pain was quickly becoming unbearable.

I tried explaining my situation to some surfers that were near me. They were stumped. They also didn’t seem to care all that much. After about five minutes, I knew something was seriously wrong as the pain kept getting worse and the bleeding wasn’t stopping. So I started to paddle in.

Let me tell you, that was one of the longest paddles of my life. I had to stop every couple of minutes to check on the foot, which by this point was not only still bleeding but had now started to swell. And the pain. The pain. I can’t begin to describe the feeling. It felt like I was getting stabbed in the foot with every pulse of my beating heart. And with each moment the knife stabbing my foot felt like it was getting bigger.

By the time I reached shore, I was ready to cry like a little girl. I’ve had my share of injuries over the years. Reconstructive surgery on both of my ankles. Broken bones in my wrist, elbow and hand. I fractured my skull once resulting in a concussion so severe that I vomited for two days straight while cerebral fluid was leaking out of my ear. I’ve torn the meniscus in my knee. The list goes on and on, but I’d never felt pain like this.

I was fortunate that a couple walking by was able to assist by carrying my surfboards up the long flight of stairs from the beach to the Swami’s parking lot. Once I reached my car after the agonizing climb up the stairs I pulled my wetsuit off, cursing like a sailor in the process especially when pulling the suit over my foot, then got in the car. I had no idea where to go from there.

Since I didn’t know what exactly had happened to my foot, and since I was in unbearable pain that was getting exponentially worse, I thought the prudent thing to do was to get to an ER. The only hospital I knew of was Scripps, and I drove there like a madman, screaming at pedestrians, other drivers, the sky along the way. When I arrived at the ER, I parked in a spot that was illegal. I didn’t care.

I hobbled into the emergency room, and the staff could tell immediately that I was in tremendous pain. They sat me down and had me explain what happened. I started telling them the situation as best I could, and then a nurse said the one word that explained everything.

“Stingray.”

I had no idea those things were in these waters. I barely knew a thing about stingrays, let alone that their barb is venomous and can leave fragments in whatever piece of flesh they thrust their tail into. Yet that was what the nurse told me had likely injured my foot.

She said the true test of whether it was a stingray that caused the injury was to soak the foot in hot water to see if it would alleviate the pain. Sure enough, just seconds after slowly setting my foot in the plastic tub, the pain started to subside. Within minutes I was able to breathe normally again, which calmed the nurses down as I remember they kept screaming at me to breathe normally. Otherwise they said I could pass out.

I have learned over the years not to trust ER doctors. Most of my visits to the emergency room in the past have resulted in misdiagnoses, and this visit would prove to be no exception. After continually changing the tub water to keep it warm, a doctor eventually came to see me. He looked at the bottom of my foot, which was swollen like a balloon by this point, then pushed on the biggest and most painful of the three cuts. I screamed.

“Looks like this is a contusion,” said the doctor.

“Excuse me?” I said. “A contusion? I just experienced a tremendous amount of pain, pain I’ve never felt before. I was bleeding profusely in three different places, and the only thing that made my foot feel better was the hot water. All the nurses here are saying this is a stingray injury. And you’re telling me that the injury is a contusion?”

“Do you know what a contusion is?” said the doctor.

“Doctor, I am not a fool. Please don’t treat me like one,” I said. “I know what a bruise is. This is no bruise.”

“Well, I’ve seen plenty of stingray barbs, and the cuts are usually much bigger,” continued the doctor. “You can listen to the nurses or you can listen to me. I only see one cut, and it isn’t that big. Plus you said that you were near some rocks, and stingrays don’t go near rocks. It might be a stingray, there’s no exact science with those things. Let’s get you an X-ray and make sure there’s nothing in there.”

I limped out of the hospital a short while after my bitter exchange with the doctor, counting my blessings that the pain has subsided some and that my car wasn’t towed and didn’t have any parking tickets on it.

Three days later, with my foot still swollen and still in a lot of pain, I went to visit a podiatrist. The doctor took one look at my foot, gave a grimacing look and then proceeded to easily find the three stingray puncture wounds that the ER doctor somehow missed. The doctor mused that since there was more than one wound there must have either been multiple stingrays in the vicinity, or there was a single stingray with a split tail which is an oddity but does exist. He then pulled out a knife and some tweezers and proceeded to pull out numerous pieces of stingray barb that has been lodged in my foot. He also prescribed me some antibiotics since he said the foot looked infected.

“My daughter had her foot barbed by a stingray once,” said the podiatrist. “I like to go spear fishing. Ever since the incident with my daughter, when I go spear fishing and come across a stingray I aim for them with glee.”

I laughed at the doctor’s quip. In my mind I was thinking I would do the exact same thing.

It’s been a month since my unfortunate acquaintance with the stingray. The healing process is extraordinarily slow, but at least it’s slowly getting better. I’ve learned an important lesson, to shuffle my feet when I’m in the water since stingrays supposedly don’t enjoy encounters with humans and only use their barb as a defense mechanism when they’re startled. And the bright side to the incident is that the doctor said I didn’t have to wait to go surfing again since the injured foot wasn’t the one used for turning and the salt water from the ocean could help heal the wound faster.

I read an article somewhere that quoted a woman comparing the pain from getting barbed by a stingray to childbirth. I’m not going to say I now understand what women go through with childbirth, nor will I ever. Maybe I can relate more to a person with a gunshot wound. And I now know what I wish on my worst enemies. A stingray barb to the genitalia region would do just fine.

Mar 23, 2012

The Transplant Chronicles Part I

These are the stories of a surfer and his dog, packing up and moving 500 miles from San Francisco to start a new life in Encinitas.  This story was originally published in The Huffington Post.

The summer after my sophomore year in high school, my Mom thought it would be a good idea to send me down to San Diego to visit my cousin, who was a freshman at San Diego St. University, and stay with him for a month. I was going to high school in the San Francisco Bay Area and, for whatever reason, my Mom thought sending me away from home would be a great learning lesson in life. If my cousin had been a church-going man with a great moral compass, she might have been correct. Little did my mother realize the kind of mischief and debauchery I would get into with my cousin, who was a deviant deceiving my family into thinking he was a good little boy.

Although he was going to school at SDSU, my cousin Sean was living in nearby La Jolla. Until my first visit to the San Diego area, my familiarity with Southern California was limited to Los Angeles. I had visited my aunt and uncle who lived near Westwood and Beverly Hills countless times, and had become very acquainted with L.A. San Diego was a mystery to me however, and since the internet didn’t exist then I only knew what others had told me, that the weather was amazing and that it had a much smaller populace than its coastal Southern California neighbor of Los Angeles.

My mother in a certain aspect was right: That summer changed my life forever. Although probably not in the way she envisioned it. My cousin had his own apartment, and when he didn’t have friends over to consume alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs, we would go to the dormitories of local universities. Keep in mind I had just turned 15 years old at this time, as I had skipped a grade many years before and as a result for a large number of years was always the youngest kid in all of my social circles.

The parties in the UCSD dorms were the best. Even though Sean was studying at SDSU, he preferred to live in La Jolla and had a lot of friends who attended UCSD and lived in their dormitories. While I had fun on the SDSU campus, for whatever reason the vibe and the girls were always better at UCSD (even though the attention I received from the girls was more along the lines of adoration for being so young as opposed to the physical attraction I desperately sought after). Yet as wonderful as life was for a 15-year-old teenager being exposed to the social college experience, the most fun my cousin and I had was at the beach.

This was 1993 mind you. Back then, cliff jumping near La Jolla Cove was the norm, not outlawed. And we would go to those cliffs on a daily basis. My jumps were limited to the shorter cliff edges like The Clam. Others like my cousin would find cliffs that reached close to 100 feet in height and leap with pure joy. Often times we’d look down and the water was so clear you could see the garibaldi swimming around. Naturally we’d aim for them as we would jump, although we never actually hit any of them. It was insanity.

I remember there was one cliff that everyone called “Thread the Needle” where the goal was to land in this narrow opening of reef. Every time someone attempted to Thread the Needle we eagerly anticipated witnessing a horrific accident. Amazingly, we never saw one person miss the hole. The Coast Guard would make an appearance every couple of hours and issue tickets to those they witnessed jumping off the cliffs (I don’t know how they actually collected any money from the tickets since the people they caught never had IDs and could have given them any random name). Yet people would continue to leap, lawful ramifications be damned.

It was this first summer I spent in San Diego where I saw what would quickly become one of my all-time favorite movies. The Endless Summer. Out of all of Sean’s friends, only one of them was a surfer. This guy was named Pat. He looked exactly like professional surfer Pat O’Connell, who would star in The Endless Summer II which hadn’t been released yet. Pat’s mannerisms were almost identical to O’Connell’s as well, mixed in with a little Jeff Spicoli. Pat was your stereotypical surfer and waterman.

Pat not only ruled the cliff jumping scene, but he was also an incredible surfer. Sean never got into surfing that much, but sent me off with Pat one day to go learn how to surf. I was eager to learn, having been enamored with both the ocean and surfing, and Pat amazingly wasn’t opposed to the idea of taking a teenager out on one of his surfboards to teach him how to surf. Pat took me to Pacific Beach, and taught me some of the basics.

I didn’t catch any waves that day. Pat insisted on having me go out on a shortboard, and as hard as it was just to catch a wave, standing on a shortboard with no prior surfing experience was even harder. In fact, I didn’t catch my first wave until a couple of years later during a longboard session in Maui. Those brief sessions in the water I had with Pat that summer were memorable more for enjoying his funny stories and swimming in the pristine Pacific waters than for catching waves on a surfboard.
Lack of waves withstanding, I was hooked. I knew then that I wanted to be a surfer.

My Mom would send me down to stay with my cousin two more summers. Each time was just as fun as the last. And after that last summer, as a barely 17 year-old recent high school graduate who would shortly thereafter head north to attend Humboldt St. University, I knew that I wanted to call this place home. How, and when, were the questions I didn’t have answers for. In fact, it took me 17 years to finally figure it out. And here I now am, a transplant in the beautiful city of Encinitas.