Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.
By DELL FRANKLIN
I was down by the pier after walking on the beach with Wilbur, and, near the bathrooms, as a Chinese family of father, daughter and mother congregated studying photos they’d taken, Wilbur, off the leash, nosed in among them, surprising them. The daughter, who was around 20, backing away but then stiffly petting him.
The Chinese I’ve come across in town are generally indifferent around dogs, many stepping away, wanting no part of them. But this time it was different, as the father, a short stocky man wearing glasses, petted Wilbur and then smiled at me and said, “Your dog, he is old, yes?”
“He is old,” I said, trying to corral Wilbur and put him back on his leash. “He’s thirteen. We’re both old men.”
“You are old?” the man said, facing me, still smiling.
“I am 76,” I explained. “That is old.”
With camera in hand, he raised his arms and doubled up his fists and said, “But you are strong, not like old man.”
“Yes,” I said, “because I still play basketball.”
“You play basketball?” He was shocked. His wife and daughter looked on, smiling, too.
“Yes. I play with older men like myself, but I’m the oldest.”
He appraised me. He had a great smile, spontaneous, the eyes not betraying the humor, the appreciation to relate, to connect, engage, even embrace.
“In China,” he said, enthusiastically, “basketball is big, very, very big.”
“Yes, because of Kobe.”
“Yes.” His smile vanished, his head dropped just a bit, as Kobe had recently died in a plane crash.
“Very sad. In China, everybody love Kobe. Kobe very, very big.”
“And Yao Ming.”
“Yes! Yao. Very, very big man.” He laughed.
“If I ever go to China,” I told him, “I will not go to cultural sites right away. I will try and find a park and play basketball with the Chinese boys and men. Play outdoors under the sun, or find a gym.”
Now he was looking at me like I might be a little off, not right in the head.
“I will be the only white American playing a game with a bunch of Chinese. That would be fun. That would be a great way to meet people and make friends and find out about your country.”
“Yes!” he said, as his wife and daughter, patient and quiet, continued to look on. “Ha, ha, ha.”
By this time, old Wilbur was sprawled beside me, as always when I run into friends and visit.
“Basketball brings everybody together,” I went on. “People from all over, every country, they play basketball together. It brings them together, whether they play with or against each other.”
We kept talking. He felt Cayucos was beautiful. They were heading north to Hearst Castle. I told him to walk along the cove at San Simeon, and hike up onto the walking path that led to the point, where one could look down both ends of the coast. I recommended places in the Big Sur. He listened intently. His wife and daughter checked out photos on their smart phones.
We finally ended our conversation and shook hands, and he and his family left, possibly to a traveling RV, as he’d mentioned he couldn’t find a camping ground with facilities in San Simeon, though I was sure there was one.
After he was gone, I thought about how so many of my relationships, some fleeting, small, large, and lasting, were forged while playing with and against men on basketball courts.
I can’t count the number of guys I repeatedly run into in Cayucos that I’ve played with and against at the outdoor Cayucos Middle School courts or the Morro Bay gym since they were teenagers back in the late 1980s and 1990s and 2000s.
My friend Jersey Mike, formerly known as Coach A at Atascadero Middle School, and I often traveled to San Francisco specifically to play hoops at Moscone Park, the YMCA, or other parks and gyms. Just two guys looking for a game, and almost always we made friends afterwards, and sometimes met these dudes in our favorite bars to booze it up and find out about each other outside of the game we just played.
Would this friendly, husky Chinaman, who was probably around 50, and I have bonded so quickly and actually liked each other had I not mentioned basketball? Maybe, maybe not.
I have played basketball in other parts of this country and in other countries, always carrying my sneakers, just in case. Because I worked and worked to become a respectable player who has a bounce to his step and a swagger any time I enter a foreign gym, I’ve been able to form immediate relationships, a camaraderie, as if belonging to a worldwide, nameless fraternity. It is like a password into a secret realm of riches.
I would love to play a pick up game of basketball in a park right in the middle of Beijing. Even at 76.
The Chinese, they seem like the kind of folks who would let me play.