By Paula Hill, Winner of the Capitola Soquel Times Valentine’s Day Poetry Contest
It was nightfall as I walked into Balsac Bistro. The upscale bar and dinner house was partially filled with the Capitola regulars… a few city councilmen enjoying a drink after a meeting, a number of tourists, and a few who made their presence known each evening who among them was a local artist, a sculptor, and a Vietnam vet who inhabited the bistro as their nightly living room. My “fans,” Jack and Bob, came in every Thursday night as it was their custom to set aside each week to escape home life, and with those mischievous glints in their eyes, shared their memories as World War II pilots. Early on, they both conveyed how I reminded them of their long-gone mothers who had played piano. In the five years I had played at Balsac’s, we came to know each other as fond friends.
I went to the upright piano that sat in the corner by the window facing out on to the main street. I opened the window to let out the cigarette smoke and began to play. New Year’s had been celebrated, and it was just a few days into 1996. Outside, the holiday lights and the giant trimmed evergreen imparted a warm glow to the wintry night that seemed to lengthen the holiday spirit.
Nearing the time for taking a break, in walked a friend who sometimes accompanied me with his flute. He had with him another man, a stranger to me, though he was uncannily familiar. The both of them had formed a small band together and had played a few venues. On a few occasions when musician friends happened to visit me at Balsac’s, I would offer them an opportunity to perform while I chatted with the customers during intermission.
The flute and guitarist sang and played a few tunes and then lingered until I finished up for the evening. I learned the guitarist’s name was Larry. He was living on a Trimaran in the harbor and seemed unexpectedly pleased to learn co-incidentally of my appreciation and experience of sailing on Trimarans.
The next week, someone entered and quietly sat at the table next to where I played. I looked over, surprised to find Larry sitting there. The following week, he visited again. The next is history… and thus the meaning of the poem, and the one to whom it is dedicated.
Recently, on a day that was latent with an impending storm, Larry and I took a brisk ride on his Ducati. Most of the great roads for motorcycle riding had been reported as severely damaged by this year’s record-breaking winter storms. Larry decided he wanted to see it for himself so we toured some of the areas to view the extent of damage.
Towards the end of our ride, we went to Café Cruz on 41st Ave. It ended up being an uplifting and delicious “icing on the cake” after riding to the devastating sights. We were seated near a fire that provided a welcomed warmth from our chilly ride. Cole Fontes was our waiter who explained that Café Cruz has been opened for 21 years. He himself has worked there for 6 years. His service was immaculate and balanced, along with a personality that gave a calm professionalism and openness to his demeanor.
We arrived a bit too early for dinner, but were given a nice rounded menu to choose from its Rotisseria-styled California cuisine. Larry chose the Grilled Prawn Thai salad with Asian greens and a fabulous red chili sesame dressing. I chose the Tuscan salad that included Mary’s free-ranged chicken, avocado, sundried tomatoes, natural bacon, crumbled hard-boiled egg and Gorgonzola bits on a bed of organic baby greens.
Both salads were on a scale of 10 out of 10 in taste, presentation, and freshness. Next time I will order a soup with a side of sautéed spinach with polenta and crumbled Pt. Reyes Blue Cheese. Yum! And, by the way, Café Cruz has an understated elegance to its atmosphere, yet didn’t bat an eye at a couple walking into their restaurant from a day in leathers harboring a faint scent of motor oil.
Thank you, Café Cruz, for the prize of a gift certificate as reward to the poem I wrote for my Valentine. Thank you Capitola Soquel Times for the opportunity of the contest and for printing the poem.