CarouselOrdinarily when the football season starts, I wait all week for the Sunday games. It's my favorite sport at this point in my life for the reason that it entails only one day to follow. (Life's far too interesting to be be glued to TVs and newspapers all week obsessively following something as mundane — if addictive — as sports. But football is only one day, so I can get my fix with only a minimal time commitment.) The only problem is it takes place during my favorite months of the year and that has always caused more than a little cognitive dissonance. I hate to waste beautiful autumn afternoons inside. Yet, it's such compelling competition. A Faustian deal: Sacrifice the peace of nature for the violence of football. Made worse decisions.

So anyway yesterday I had planned to watch the games when my phone rang about 9 AM. It was my buddy, Jeff. Wonderful guy, accomplished marathoner and sailor. Told me that he had not felt entirely right on Thursday, so went to the doctor. Left the next day with a new friend, a stent in his heart.

So it goes.

Not easily one to be deterred, though, he and his young lad of a son, Mick, 4, were to set off for a daytrip from San Francisco to picturesque Santa Cruz, about 85 miles down the coast. His lovely wife, Cathy, staying home to do some paperwork, he kindly asked, Want'a go?

Took the inland route down Route 9 through the Redwoods. Twisting around the wooded turns, could smell them in the sweet air as we sped past.

Had never been to Santa Cruz before, and to the fellow uninitiated, highly recommend it. Pure postcard. A time gone by.

Had lunch on the wharf. Folks fishing off it, sea lions barking 'neath it. The rollercoaster and ferris wheel of the broadwalk as a backdrop. Pointed out to me and his son ("Don't tell your mother") the balcony of the apartment that he and a former girlfriend had shared some 30 years prior. Hard to beat for an impromptu afternoon.

After young Mick had his fill of rides and candy, we made our way back North. This time hard by the coast, Highway 1, 'twixt cliff and surf. Exhilarating.

What a wonderful daytrip. Recommend it to anyone visiting out San Francisco way.

Even should it be a football afternoon.

Steve Leslie barbecues:

Years back when my father was alive our ritual was to spend Sunday evening together. I would play and walk a round of golf in the afternoon, listening to the game on my Walkman. Then come 7 pm I would fire up the grill, turn on Prime Time on ESPN and start the cooking. The traditional fare would be beef. One Sunday it might be brats soaked in beer and mailed from my excellent friend in Wisconsin. Another, could be steak, sirlion, London broil or strip. We would have ribs, country style, baby back, pork, beef, you name it. I would prepare the ribs in the morning, steaming them for two hours to make them extra tender. I would add some liquid smoke to enhance the taste. Then I would slap on the specialty sauce and store them in the refrigerator for later use. Beans and corn-on-the-cob were the usual sides. A nice cocktail such as a Jack Daniels on the rocks, or a glass of merlot, accompanied the meal. We would eat while watching the show and would laugh and smile when Chris Berman did his "he could go all the way!" All the while, my faithful companion Stoli, a purebred cocker spaniel and named after the vodka, would stand by ready to chew on the rib afterward, provided it was beef. Pork ribs were off limits — too brittle and they damage the insides of a dog. Then we would turn on Fox TV to catch Martin, In Living Color and Roc Live. Shanaynay, Men on sports, Heavy D. — priceless moments. After all these years, the times I spent with Dad stand out as the highlight of my life. He has been gone for nearly a decade now. Stoli passed away two years ago. Now there is just me left and I no longer cook on Sunday evening. There is a void in my heart that will never be replaced. Perhaps that is as it should be. One thing is for certain. Our Sunday evening was more valuable to me than any football game before or after. And I would give plenty for one chance to go back and relive the moment with those two just one more time.


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