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  • Writer's pictureMike Mahoney

Central Coast of California

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

Our country is so beautiful. And California is no exception. I may be a little biased since I am from here but the west coast is spectacular. I've lived on the east coast and it's beautiful too. I didn't live there for as long and I'll admit it was in a very different time of life. Not a worse time of life just different. When I lived on the Central Coast over 40 years ago I remember thinking "this place is amazing!"And it was then, and it still is absolutely stunning. Of course, back then, I was late teens or early 20's. A time of life we all remember since our growth trajectory was pretty steep and our experiences were just beginning. So 40 plus years later I reconnected with my good friend and roommate from 1976-1977, Tom McNeill, and his wife Janine. As it is with good friends, you take up where you left off like time doesn't exist. It has been so nourishing, chatting about the old days and catching up on what's been happening over the last 45 years. It's so interesting, that time thing again, even though that much time has passed it certainly doesn't feel like it. Do we look 45 years older? Well according to the camera yes, at least 45 years for me. But based on just my experience, not referencing time, thoughts, and memories, my experience tells me it hasn't been that long at all.

I find myself retracing a lot of the same ground I covered back then. And remarkably, while a lot has changed, a lot of it hasn't. It looks the same to me. Memories or what I now like to call, "echos of experience", come rushing back. Such as being a volunteer fireman in Shell Beach with my then-business partner and childhood friend, Phil Babcock who is no longer with us.

From that time, there are two extremely memorable experiences I'll never forget.

One stormy, cool, rainy fall night, we got a call on our radio in the early morning hours. A car had plunged over one of the cliffs in Avila Beach. There were two people in the car. On the central coast and north, a lot of the land is high above the beach. People would routinely forget where they were going, blinded by the beautiful blue Pacific, next thing they knew they were dangerously close to the edge and then drove right off the cliff, freefalling onto the sand. I know it sounds preposterous but it happened frequently. Surprisingly though, very few actually died from those errors in judgment. On this particular ill-fated evening, a car went over a more gradual cliff down to the beach. It wasn't a typical sheer cliff like most of them. But it was about a 100-foot drop down to the beach. The passenger, a young woman in her teens, had been thrown from the car as it tumbled down to the sand below and landed on the side of the cliff but not far from the beach. When we arrived, we had to use ropes and repel down the cliff to get to the woman and then to the car where the driver of the vehicle was still inside. The young woman was crying and screaming at the top of her lungs. When we reached her, we weren't sure what we were going to find. One thing we knew was that she was alive. When we reached her she was just sitting there screaming bloody murder. Shining our flashlights on her we soon understood why. After having the light on her and orienting ourselves, we see that there is this one-inch diameter piece of tree branch protruding out of her chest right below her collarbone. And then we see the rest of the branch sticking out of her back on a downward angle. And there wasn't a lot of blood. I remember thinking, "how is she still conscious let alone alive?" She is yelling "get it out, get it out!" We had to pick her up and put her on a stretcher very carefully and then 5 of us slogged through the mud, water, and sand up a long trail for what seemed like miles, trying to keep her still and keep her from trying to pull the stick out. We just wanted to get her into the ambulance. The entire trip she was screaming "get it out! Please get it out!". I think it was then I thought, " this may not be a good career choice for me."

The second memorable fireman story was a little different. Let me preface this story by reminding you that I was 19-20 years old. And I did what seemed to be the right thing given the circumstances, my age, and the decade.

So again, my friend and business partner Phil and I were together. It was late afternoon and we had been working hard all day. We were in our truck, I was driving. We were traveling south on Shell beach road which runs parallel with highway 101, a kind of a frontage road or branch of Pacific Coast Highway. As we are cruising down the road we see this truck leave the freeway. It goes down the embankment at a high rate of speed, between the 101 and the frontage road. It crashes through the fence, travels across the road, and slams into a building. Phil and I are like "HOLY SHIT!" This all happened right in front of us.

I pass the wreckage and pull the truck over. This is before cell phones so we couldn't call 911 but someone else did. We run back to tend to the occupants of the truck. Then we notice there were people in the building the truck crashed into. Nobody inside appeared to be injured, just in shock. We look in the truck and we find two people, a man and a woman I'm guessing in their 30s. The guy was driving and his wife or girlfriend was in the passenger seat. They were a little banged up with some bloody heads etc... but alive. As we begin to assess the situation, the woman locks eyes with me. So I ask her if she is Ok. She said yes I'm OK but I need your help. I said OK what do you need? And she is just staring at me. Then she motions to something in the back seat. Now, remember, this is 1977, and I'm 20. So... I look in the back seat and on the floor, there is a large plastic clear bag with something I am very familiar with. It was filled with marijuana buds. I'm thinking, ya this is a big problem for them. I look at her and her pleading eyes, I grab the bag and run over to our truck and throw it under the seat. I come back to the crash and by that time the police and our friends from the fire department were all there. They get attended to and get into an ambulance the whole time they are both looking at me with their eyes saying "thank you." A passerby looking at all the activity happened to see me grab something from the wrecked truck and take it to my truck and told a police officer. The police officer saw that we were with the fire department and discounted the concern even though an officer did go to our truck and look inside on the seat to see if they could see anything. Anyway, to make a long story longer, nothing happened. I got away with taking the bag of weed from their truck and saving that couple a lot of trouble. In addition, nobody was seriously hurt and I'm assuming insurance covered the damages to the building and any injuries to the people inside. Not my proudest moment but as I said, I was young and reacted as such.

Why did I share this story? Good question. I guess the memory just came rushing back being back here. I drove by that exact spot where that all happened just yesterday. And that building is still there and looks exactly the same 45 years plus later. This blog has taken the place of my journal. I have been journaling for years and this has replaced it. So there ya go.

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