It would probably surprise many people who know me (or then, maybe it wouldn’t) that one of the highlights of my life was waltzing to the Dr. Zhivago movie’s “Lara’s Theme” with a homeless guy on the sidewalk in downtown Santa Cruz serenaded by a space-alien-costumed accordion player named The Great Morgani. The homeless guy had asked me to dance and it would have been rude to decline. Plus, the opportunity to embarrass your two college-age sons? Oh, yeah.
Going downtown to see The Great Morgani had become part of our ritual during my husband’s and my frequent trips to Santa Cruz over the years. Part of the draw was just to see what over-the-top spandex ensemble Morgani AND his accordion would be wearing that week (only a picture can do them justice) but also because he stood out as a unique character even among Santa Cruz’s eclectic community. Believe me, that’s saying something.
When we had first gone to look at UC Santa Cruz for our son, Rory, it wasn’t an altogether successful trip. While Rory has always been a free thinker, Santa Cruz seemed a few sigmas on the side of weird even to him. We couldn’t help but notice the “no tie-dyeing in sinks” signs in the co-ed dorm bathroom. Finding a downtown Santa Cruz café for lunch, the cashier pointedly informed me that they did not serve Coca-Cola (liquid rat poison, she said) and when I grabbed a bunch of napkins for our messy grilled organic veggie sandwiches, a voice from the line behind me announced, “Do you REALLY need all those?” I turned to my husband Olof and whispered, “Not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
Further, lifelong San Diego resident Rory, despite being enamored of the idyllic campus nestled among the redwoods, wasn’t sure he could “live in a cold climate.” (He’s never lived it down from his actual-cold-climate-originating parents.)
But ultimately, he decided that this was the place for him, met and married his wife there, went to graduate school there, and lives there to this day as a clinical social worker. Our trips to that area of the state increased even more when his younger brother, Henri, attended UC Santa Cruz’s cosmic opposite some 45 miles up the Peninsula as both an undergraduate and graduate student.
As close as my sons are, they found each other’s campuses flat-out creepy and made a point of avoiding setting foot on the other’s collegiate turf. Rory found that the uber-competitive, rarefied academic environment at Henri’s campus gave him diarrhea while the athletic Henri couldn’t conceive of a student body’s intentional irreverence at naming their sport teams the Banana Slugs after the ultra-slimy yellow banana-shaped denizens of local redwood trees. (“Go Slugs!”)
Like many of their downtown Santa Cruz neighbors, Rory and his family now raise chickens for the fresh eggs in their backyard, while Henri and his family live in Westwood, which is zoned against them. It’s amazing how one’s college choice sets a tone for the rest of one’s life.
As a teenager, Rory’s favorite sport, aside from scuba, at which he became an instructor, was pinging his divorced parents. So it probably wasn’t too surprising that when his talented pianist/doctor father tried to get him to embrace a musical instrument, Rory took up the accordion. And that was how Rory met The Great Morgani several years later when he arrived as a freshman at Santa Cruz. Morgani, Rory learned, had been a stockbroker, who one day threw in the towel, er, portfolio, and became an accordion-playing street performer. Rory was awed that this could be a career option.
With both sons in the Bay area for a number of years, Santa Cruz became a popular meeting place for the family, and The Great Morgani a must-do of weekend visits. So I was distraught to learn recently that after 17 years as being of one of Santa Cruz’s best-loved institutions, new city rules barring performing in close proximity to buildings caught him in their net. The idea of going to Santa Cruz and not being able to go see The Great Morgani, well, what’s the point? OK, grandchildren. Still, it just won’t be the same.
Thanks for the memories, Great One. And I’ll always think of “Lara’s Theme” as “our song.”