Over the Hill
A few weeks ago, I drove for an hour and a half down the coast of California from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, where I was born and raised. Santa Cruz is a small city of about 60,000 people that maintains a unique identity due in part to its physical location. It’s not really a suburb of anything. A bay separates it from its nearest southern neighbor, Monterey; to the east, mountains offer a physical barrier against San Jose and the series of strip-mall towns and vacant office-parks that bleed Silicon Valley into the Bay Area. To the north lies Devil’s Slide, a winding oceanside highway pass that makes access from San Francisco more of an adventurous undertaking than a practical one.
I’ve been driving that familiar stretch of coast since I was a teenager, but on this trip, I found it changed. Devil’s Slide was suddenly inaccessible—my car was detoured into a tunnel through the mountain that had been hotly debated and in process for so long I never expected it to actually be finished. I felt uncomfortable. My familiar landscape had changed before I had a chance for a cognizant last trip through it, to take its hairpin turns and clifftop railings as fast as possible one last time.
On the old Devil’s Slide pass, I had been able to smell the ocean three curves of the road before I saw it. In the new tunnel, flickering lights and oversized fans mediated the atmosphere. To make myself feel more at ease, I found an ’80s radio station and sang along out the window as I took the tunnel’s perfectly straight grade at 60 mph. At the end, I emerged out of the mountain above the Pacific like a surprise. The familiar glint of the spring blue ocean was still there, whispering in my peripheral vision, as reliable and far away as every recalled chorus I sung out the window.
One of those songs was “If This Is It,” from the 1983 Huey Lewis and the News album Sports. Last month, the album’s 30th anniversary was celebrated with a questionably necessary “deluxe” re-release. I was seven in 1983, too young for MTV (or TV at all, thanks to my hippie parents), but as soon as I had to access that most coveted of cable networks (via friends’ houses, usually), I memorized the images flickering across its playlist. The doo-woppy “If This Is It” wasn’t as layered as “I Want a New Drug” or as popular as “The Heart of Rock and Roll,” but its video elevated its status from breakup ballad to full-fledged summer song. [...]