by Jules Older
You never know what's gonna’ take you to a new place. Maybe it’s an invitation from a long-lost friend. Maybe a wedding or a car breakdown or a canceled connecting flight.
This time, a farewell party brought me to Santa Cruz. It was given by and for my friend and colleague, Jerry Hoffman. Jerry wasn't leaving for Cleveland or Carolina — he was preparing to bid this world good-bye. After years of fighting brain cancer, he’d declined further treatment and instead, devoted his days to enjoying friends and family. Thus, the farewell party.
Like me, Jerry’s a ski writer and filmmaker. He's also a boxing promoter and fiercely loyal cheerleader for organizations lucky enough to have him as a member. I've rarely known anyone with a worse diagnosis and never known a soul with a better attitude. This note from Jerry shows it all —
Greetings to my ski and snowboard friends and family.
So stoked about upcoming ski event, but bummed I can't make it. In fact, I'm out of commission for the rest of the season.
I've been spending much time in the hospital, dealing with a couple new cancers, doing chemo and dealing with side effects, so as much as I'd love to cover the World Cup, other challenges have taken priority.
I'm getting great care at Dominican Hospital, Stanford and UCSF, my friends and family have been sensational, and my attitude is fine. Still playing with "house money."
Anyhow, I miss you and although I seemed to be getting hammered these days with side effects, I'll be following the action from home.
Have a tremendous World Cup experience, and sending my blessings your way for a monumental time. I plan to beat this "C" and the various complications over the past year.
Cheers and blessings,
The party was loud and rowdy and fun, with an unspoken undercurrent of sad. Jerry — hooked up to oxygen and looking thinner than before — was present, in every sense, for the whole thing.
I said goodbye to Jerry, then said hello to Jerry’s hometown … Santa Cruz.
Whenever Jerry talked about this California coastal city, I pictured it as flat and sandy. No, it’s steeply hilled and heavily forested. Nearly every street is lined with trees. The vast campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz lies hidden in a redwood forest. And to get to the many beaches that line the coast means climbing down long flights of stairs. As I descended, I had the feeling that Jerry and his boxers had endurance-trained on these same steps many times before.
Knowing Jerry, I also pictured a laid-back, California-peaceful history. Again, no. Santa Cruz County has a cruelly violent, overtly racist past. For native tribes, life in 18th century Mission Santa Cruz was brutal. The Indian converts were treated as slaves — underfed, overworked and mercilessly whipped. A century later, an ordinance was passed banning Chinese fishermen from, yep, fishing. A century after that, local Japanese-American farmers were rounded up and sent to prison camps far from their California home.
Santa Cruz has come far. In parks and beaches, at restaurants and museums, on surfboards and skateboards, folks of every ethnicity mix and mingle. The guests at Jerry’s party looked like a miniature United Nations.
One of my favorite spots on this Jerry journey was Capitola, a seaside town he’d repeatedly praised. Restaurants line the beach; canoes and kayaks skim the waters.
Next door, near Jerry’s home in Aptos, Seacliff State Beach State Park is the first and final resting place of the famous/infamous Cement Ship. Built at the end of World War One, the ship never went to sea. It did duty as a restaurant, dance hall and swimming pool, but that postwar endeavor soon went broke. The ship was abandoned to the gulls above, the fish below and the sea lions on its decks. It stayed intact until the winter storms of 2015 split the ship in half. I spent part of a morning watching its slow return to the sea. And thinking of my friend declining further medical intervention.
Finally, if there's one place in Santa Cruz that demonstrates its evolution from its bloody past to a peaceful now, it’s MAH, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. In the heart of the city, it’s as lively and inviting, family-friendly and hands-on a museum as I've seen anywhere. It shows the past without preaching and without airbrushing. My kinda’ museum.
The message on the doorsill of the history exhibit reminded me of the impact Jerry has had on me and many, many others. In English and Spanish, it asks: “How will you make history?”
I harkened back to Jerry’s invitation to his party and thought how his attitude is influencing the history of those who know him.
I'm simply overwhelmed and beyond stoked for everyone's loving kindness. I'm honored and humbled by all off you, and please know the outpouring of love and support validates my decision to forego any more chemo treatments and procedures …
That being said, I am still here thanks to all the loving support I have been gifted. I am forever thankful for every moment of every day.
Jules Older’s travel ebook is DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE: A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise & True Love
Photography by Effrin Older, unless otherwise indicated.