Signs of the times in Cayucos

Pete Schuler and Nick Guillen

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted weekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.


Cayucos Coffee is ensconced right in the middle of our one-block-long downtown beside Cafe Della Via. On beehive busy weekday mornings it is a different, more esoteric kind of headquarters for who’s who than what one might find in the Schooner’s Wharf (which is also next door) during Happy Hour.

I pass by this institution just about every morning after walking Wilbur on the beach, so he can lap up some water from a pan left out by employees. Usually there is a super friendly, utterly calm Australian Shepard belonging to the owner sprawled outside. He and Wilbur offer no more to each other than a brief, disinterested sniff before going their own ways.

Greg Betancourt, a politically connected man who has run campaigns and raised money for county democrats, almost always parks his very, very old bare-bones rusted bike out front and either sits at the window inside or at a table outside studying the county Tribune or the Estero Bay News.

Greg Betancourt’s bike

My guess is Greg, looking for a laugh, likes to read the loony Morro Bay police reports in the Estero Bay rag. A 73-year-old whom I’ve never seen in shoes, he is consistently cheerful despite his loathing of the political situation in America.

Like myself, he relieves himself of stress by refraining from watching the news or staged political debates on cable stations and is content to read his local paper. Among his eccentricities is his keeping of a yellowed, frayed newspaper, possibly 20 years old, on the rack of his bike in case he’s stranded without reading material.

Two other institutions of the morning who’s who groups are very big dudes, Pete Schuler and Nick Guillen, former athletes who can be quietly the smartest guys in any room until you rile them with misinformation, factual inadequacy, ignorance of subjects discussed, or an arrogance of talking authoritatively about which you are deficient in knowledge. Both these physically imposing men are never aggressive, yet secretly intellectual, highly educated, well-read, and quick to remind you gently that you’re wrong when you stray from the facts or the truth.

When I approach Cayucos Coffee after walking around the pier area and pass the barbershop, I know these two are present by the sight of Boomer, Pete’s 13-year-old dog, a mixture of Rottweiler, Beagle and possibly Pit Bull, whom he describes as a “Squatty Rotty.” He and Wilbur offer no more to each other than a brief, uninterested sniff before going their own ways.

Nick is usually seated on a chair facing the street, extra large coffee mug beside him, while he reads. The other day he was reading a section from the NY Times on Sweden. Why was he reading this? Because Nick is a world traveler and will be in Poland in three weeks where he will meet for dinner with a Swedish financial man, and he wants to know what he’s talking about when they engage. I never ask Nick how he makes money to travel literally all over the globe—and I mean just about everywhere—but I suspect it is financial, and I suspect he knows what he’s doing.

Nick is steeped in all cultures and we often discuss our experiences in travel. As a younger person, I took time off from work and, after saving small nest eggs, traveled. Like Nick, I wanted to see the world and seek adventure while my body was young and strong and bulletproof, instead of when I was old and had to be led around on tours. I hitchhiked and sometimes hoofed it and took trains in Europe and the British isles.

Meeting new people on the road and in pubs, and drinking and talking with all kinds of people in these countries was not only great fun, but an education, an illumination of how others in different parts of the globe lived, felt, thought, and viewed America and Americans. Nick, Pete, and I have both exchanged stories about conversations with people in pubs in Ireland whom, with less education and far less money than us, can talk intelligently and often amusingly about boxing, music, literature, movies, politics, history and just about any subject, while, in America, this is not always true.

Nick can talk about damn near any subject, as can Pete. But of late, Nick has been hanging out in Poland, in Krakow. He loves it, and he has a sense of the political climate there and on that continent.

“There is a trend toward populism and dictators in Europe,” he said. “In Hungary. In Turkey. Even in Poland. It’s been going on all over Europe, but there’s also been a backlash against it.”

When we discussed America, he said, “This administration is going right through the checklist of the Communist manifesto that leads to a dictatorship. Point by point. All you have to do is pick it up and study it.”

Dell Franklin and Wilbur

Somebody who talks like this in our country is immediately accused of “hating America.” But people like Nick and I do not hate America, we hate what it’s doing to itself and feel we have the constitutional right to criticize it. As an army veteran, I especially feel this way.

I told Nick I felt we have over the years devolved into an “infantile society” through TV and the new technology and the fact education has been devalued and in a sense we’ve become an anti-intellectual country, and that intellectualism is a symbol of weakness, of so-called pussies. I added my fear that capitalistic materialism and consumerism has trampled democracy and left us with a less humane oligarchy.

Nick nodded. That’s as far as we went into it.

Earlier we discussed how well-behaved European children are (“Most speak five languages by high school,” Nick said.), and especially in the northern countries. Nick related how when he was at the LAX terminal, where Americans came and went, it was deafeningly noisy and chaotic, because of the kids; where at the European terminals it was calm. There is always something to be learned when spending a few minutes with Nick, who believes in actually “thinking” about things.

Once, while we were discussing the political climate here in America, six older men in full bicycle regalia, on beautiful hi-tech bikes, rolled up. I’d seen them pull up many times before at this hour. They’re all at least in their sixties and they haul ass respectfully long distances, and sport the muscular legs to prove it.

Immediately, Nick was up off his chair, bunching two tables together so they could partake in their ritual coffee stop bull sessions. One of them glanced at me and muttered, a little derisively, “Hating on Trump, huh?”

“That’s right,” I said, staring at him as he helped Nick arrange the tables and chairs. “Hating on Trump.”

He went a little rigid and clammed up. These men all seem enlightened and are obviously financially well-off to own such expensive bikes and garb. They’re probably educated and were professionals at some occupation—law, medicine, academia, business, etc. I could smell it. One after another they clack-clacked into Cayucos Coffee on their cleated bicycle shoes to fetch their snacks and java. Nick smiled and said he was going inside, and I left, wanting to go back and start something with the man who loves Trump and with whom I exchanged stony looks.

Sign of the times in tiny Cayucos.