Photos by Randy Tunnell.
It is a windy Wednesday in May. The editorial staffers at the Weekly-Eric Johnson, Jessica Lyons, Andrew Scutro, and me, Traci Hukill-have just put another issue of the paper to bed. We worked round the clock without food or water. We are tired but happy.
The bosses, however, are concerned that we are working too hard. "It''s a beautiful day!" they implore us. "Why don''t you all get out there and take a break for once, maybe spend a few afternoons at the park? It''s important to us that you take good care of yourselves."
We resist at first, but they won''t hear of it, and eventually we acquiesce-but on one condition: that we be allowed to parlay the experience into a story for the paper. Laughing heartily, the bosses slap us on our backs, shaking their heads. "Okay, you win," they chuckle. "At least this way maybe you''ll get some rest."
So we gather up our things and head down the street to Laguna Grande at our happiest, hot on the trail of a story.
CANYON DEL REY BETWEEN DEL MONTE AND FREMONT, SEASIDE
s: Lots of grilling and large-group picnicking possibilities, two excellent fields for games, two playground areas, two clean sets of restrooms, a variety of terrain (nice thick grass; marsh plants), good bird-watching.
Minuses: The west end of park is funky and unfinished and sometimes feels unsafe. Most of the picnic tables are in the shade.
The very first thing we notice about Laguna Grande is that it seems to attract high achievers. We believe a Rotary committee holds daily barbecues at the large grill. They are very friendly and invite the ladies to join them.
As we make our way through the park, people stop and stare at us, admiring our looks. It''s distracting, but we are used to it and respond graciously. When people ask if we are movie stars, we tell them that everyone is a movie star on the inside, including them.
We cross the lake at the footbridge and set up at a table near one of the grills in the sun. Someone has brought Chee-tos as an appetizer. In the Weekly''s well-stocked kitchen, Johnson has whipped up a little something for the barbecue, a recipe he picked up while traveling around the world with the circus, where he juggled on the backs of galloping horses and performed feats of strength. The dish is called Squab Gastronomicale. It''s free-range baby pigeon marinated in saffron, fennel, Meyer lemon preserves, artisanal vinegar and papaya. After they''ve been barbecued over an oak-fired grill, the squabs are served with a cucumber-rose chutney, grits and a chilled radicchio and potato salad in dill vinaigrette with microgreens and currants. Scutro has thought to bring along some Yoo-hoo, which complements the meal nicely.
After lunch we have a singalong. Scutro, who cut short a blossoming career as a singer-songwriter in his late teens to lead mountaineering expeditions, takes out his guitar and makes up a touching love song right there on the spot. Johnson unpacks his accordion and improvises along with him. We weep from the sheer beauty of it all.
Later, as we stroll along the fragrant path that encircles Laguna Grande, Lyons, who holds an honorary degree in ornithology, tells us stories about the mating and nesting habits of the red-winged blackbirds, egrets and mallards that frequent the lake. We listen, transfixed. What a wonderful world!
CARMEL VALLEY COMMUNITY CENTER PARK
CARMEL VALLEY ROAD AND FORD ROAD, CARMEL VALLEY
s: Swimming pool (open daily starting June 17), vast field with gazebo, several picnic tables and grills (including a large grill), playground area with antique fire engine, volleyball court, outdoor stage, two superb climbing trees.
Minuses: Drinking fountain dry, static electricity on corkscrew slide, some dog poop in the grass. No high dive.
It is a windy Thursday in May. We all pull ourselves away from our desks and make the drive to Carmel Valley in the Duchess, the official car of the Suburban Renewal campaign. We are very pleased by what we see when we arrive: a large swimming pool and an immense lawn area with a bevy of grills and picnic tables to one side. We waste no time setting up a game of croquet.
Lyons, who is a championship croquet player, agrees to play blindfolded in order to keep the game more sportsmanlike. The match is going well, at least for the three of us, until the course takes us near two sturdy oak trees begging to be climbed. We all toss our mallets away (and blindfolds, where applicable) and race up the trees. For some reason, as soon as Lyons and I get halfway up, there is a traffic jam on Carmel Valley Road just below us. The fumes make us nauseous. We climb back down, which is easy to do with very long legs, and wouldn''t you know it-traffic clears up.
On the other side of the play area is a volleyball court. Scutro and Johnson fetch a volleyball from the car, rip off their shirts and start leaping, diving and spiking the ball in a spectacular display of athleticism. The park moms gather around to watch, and some of them become agitated. While no one is looking, Lyons and I make scary faces at a child playing on the fire engine near the play area until she begins to cry and leaves. We climb up onto the seat and find to our joy that we are slender enough to sit inside the steering wheel, just like she was. The jungle gym is a fine specimen, except for the static electricity on the corkscrew slide.
The grass quality is B, with points taken off for dog poop. But overall we decide that we will definitely return to this place, especially once that pool''s open.
SHERWOOD AND N. MAIN, SALINAS
s: Swimming pool, big fields, playground equipment, picnic tables and grills for small and large groups, volleyball, tennis, baseball, bull riding, warmer climate than Peninsula.
Minuses: The bathrooms are rank. You''re better off holding it.
It is a windy Friday in May. Summoning all our self-discipline, we undertake the journey to Sherwood Park, a 100-acre complex with everything imaginable, even rodeo grounds.
It''s pretty hard not to notice the Claes Oldenberg cowboy hats, so we don''t try not to notice them. We admire them-and the pool, and the gi-normous grill and picnic area, and the immaculate tennis courts. The nicest part is right there on the turf by the hats. Sheltered from the wind, it''s perfect for football, sunbathing, lawn darts (oops, are those illegal?), kickball, soccer-anything, really.
But we are exceptionally dedicated to our craft. The urge to work is just too powerful. In defiance of the bosses'' orders, we find a way to continue our daily toil. We set up a satellite office, reporting on the cell phone, composing award-winning copy on the Remington, and phoning in our stories. Life is good.
VIA PARAISO PARK
HERMANN WAY AND VIA PARAISO BEHIND MONTEREY HIGH SCHOOL, MONTEREY
s: Baseball diamond, numerous picnic tables and grills (including family reunion-sized one), tennis courts, basketball, A/A+ grass, most excellent playground equipment, clean restrooms.
Minuses: Water fountain doesn''t work, mirror in ladies'' restroom is like, from the Fun House or something, open field space that is not in service to the baseball diamond is scant.
It is a windy Monday in May. The four of us pile into the Duchess and head for Via Paraiso Park, which our sources proclaim to be a very good place for family picnics.
We are not family. This time we do not have food. But we have the Fun Kit. Whiffleball and bat. Smashball set. Fling toss. A towel for sunning upon. Frisbee. Paddleball. Basketball. A hula hoop.
We arrive and see things that make us nod our heads, pleased. Tennis courts (2), basketball court (1/2), a baseball diamond, and around all this, swaths of good, thick, well-cared-for, A/A+ grass.
"Whiffleball?" suggests Johnson, and everyone agrees. We head to a strip of field. The going is slow, for Lyons is wearing high heels. With every step she aerates the lawn, sinking a 3-inch heel into the turf.
We divide up into teams, Lazyass Editors against Useless Reporters. Scutro starts slow, pitching 76-78 mph fastballs. Johnson and I fire the big white plastic ball out of the park several times, denting it with the mighty force of our swings. In the outfield, Lyons is fast, but the shoes slow her down. Then Scutro warms up and starts laying in with 90 mph curveballs. We falter. One out, second strike-we''re playing two-out innings-he throws a changeup and we''re out. The score is 13-2, and the reporters haven''t even batted yet. They''re that good.
When they do come up to bat, it''s mayhem. Scutro and Lyons crack ''em out of the park, one after another. At the end of our three-inning game, we''re tied. Miraculously, everyone''s hair still looks good.
The gentlemen retire to a side lawn to play Fling Toss, their muscles rippling in the sun. Lyons and I hit the jungle gym and the slides. We discover the red corkscrew slide does not have the static problem that the one in Carmel Valley did. Soon after, we learn that sitting on a towel makes the slide go really fast. We check out the restrooms. They are clean and the mirror isn''t too fuzzy, but it is distorted. It makes me look like I''m wearing jodphurs, and my face looks really long and scary. However, the skylight and the wooden ceiling beams in the loo are nice, there''s soap, and it''s very clean.
Exploring further, we see that the wooded area just up the slope has a lot of grills for cooking out, including a king-sized one, and a ton of picnic tables. On the way back from this expedition, Lyons grabs the hoop and starts hula hooping vigorously in her high heels. Inspired, Johnson takes a turn and starts spinning it around his neck. He hula hoops for several hours. Busloads of tourists come to view the spectacle. Finally we are asked to leave because we are destroying the Little Leaguers'' concentration and disturbing the peace. We comply.
The Duchess breaks down three times on the way home. We reach the office at noon the next day. We are praised for our dedication and worthiness.
The next day Lyons discovers she has pulled a muscle in her back. She believes it was the whiffleball game that did it, but she has no regrets. "It was worth it," she says.
CYPRESS STREET PARK
CYPRESS AND HOFFMAN STREETS, NEW MONTEREY.
Pluses: A superlative piece of playground equipment. Single tennis court. Native vegetation. A place to feel the call of the wild.
Minuses: Small park. No restroom.
It is a windy Tuesday in May. Our gang of four arrives at the peculiar park with its steep slopes, ocean views and untamed vegetation. At the bottom is a patch of perfect lawn and cushioney wood chips, upon which perches an incredible piece of playground equipment. It is a tall geodesic dome made of metal bars with a maze of ropes inside. Disregarding the yellow tape around it, Scutro and Johnson begin climbing the structure. Scutro uses only his teeth and his legs. At the top, Johnson does a one-armed handstand. A busload of elementary school children lets out across the street, and the kids gather round, praising the men''s abilities and vowing to one day be like them.
Meanwhile, Lyons carries a block of ice to the top of the park, scopes out a long steep swath of grass, sits on the ice and slides down the hill. The second time, she rides the ice block like a skateboard, reaching a speed of 25 mph before executing a graceful 180.
Our eyes turn to the deserted tennis court. The court is sunken and traps the sun. We lie down on the warm surface like lizards on a highway.
While the others sun themselves, I brush up on the classics: Beowulf, Paradise Lost, Huckleberry Finn. I even finish Anna Karenina, which I abandoned in grade school because of its predictable anti-bourgeois moralizing (which is every bit as wearying as the repressive bourgeois ethos that begat it, leaving me to wonder now, as I wondered at age 11: with thesis and antithesis both grown so tedious, where will the dialectic on morality lead us in the 21st century? Toward mere relativism? Into the iron arms of reflexive absolutism? Into an amalgam of religious dogma that reflects the blending of cultures engendered by the inexorable forces of global trade?). For my spiritual edification, I have brought along Chicken Soup for the Exceptionally Good-Looking Soul. We pass a very pleasant afternoon.
GLORYA JEAN TATE
CORNER OF CARDOZA AND RESERVATION, MARINA
Pluses: Good grass, huge field space, nice but small playground area.
Minuses: No restrooms. Non-functional water fountain.
It is a windy Wednesday in May. When we pull up to Glorya Jean Tate Park in Marina and see acres of thick green turf before us, we know there is only one thing to do, and that''s play frisbee. Since we have the place to ourselves, we spread out 100 yards or so apart. We start winging the disc, gradually working up to some stylish tricks. Scutro is able to leap four feet in the air and catch the ''bee under one leg. Lyons throws left-handed, behind her back. Johnson is able to catch by karate-kicking the frisbee in the air, then catching it with his hands. I do a round-off flip-flop back tuck and catch the disc mid-air. It''s just a silly little game, and we soon tire of it.
The next day, my shoulder is sore. I''ve injured myself playing frisbee-how humiliating!
ESTERO/DENNIS THE MENACE
DEL MONTE AND EL ESTERO, MONTEREY
Pluses: Truly excellent playground. Nice lawn for lounging around the lake. Skate park. Paddleboat rentals. Lion water fountain.
Minuses: BBQ area is shabby. Proximity to cemetery may make some nervous. No field large enough for soccer game.
It is a windy Thursday in May. Lyons and I take this assignment alone. Feeding the ducks, watching the skateboarders and walking along the lake are very pleasant, but we find the dirt picnic area wanting in ambiance. Fortunately the snack bar at Frank Sollecito Park is a fine establishment, with $2.25 burgers. We make a mental note for the next time we lose a bet and have to buy someone lunch.
We check the restroom before entering the wonderland that is Dennis the Menace Park. It is clean, with soap and an electric hand drier, but due to the high concentration of kids, there may be weird things in the sink. Today it''s grapes.
I enjoy drinking out of the lion''s mouth water fountain, and we take a moment to appreciate the colorful modernist play equipment and the Southern Pacific Locomotive No. 1285. We watch a striving middle-aged mother pressing her stressed-out four-year-old to climb a play structure. "No, Mommy! I''ll break myself!" he cries. "No, you won''t," she answers. "Put your foot there-no, there."
We distract ourselves from this depressing rehearsal for adult neurosis by following the labyrinth to a ripping corkscrew slide in the middle.
But the highlight for us is the twin slides-hands down, the very best we''ve found. Two of them right next to each other, perfect for races, with fast steel surfaces and big swells right in the middle that really help you get up a head of steam. We hog it from the little kids for a while. After all, what are they gonna do about it?
CALEDONIA AND CENTRAL, P.G.
Pluses: Really good grass, brand-new basketball court, small baseball backstop, old-school metal playground equipment in addition to ubiquitous plastic stuff, native vegetation area beyond confines of playground.
Minuses: No grills, no soap in bathrooms, not much field space, slide is flawed.
It is a windy Friday in May. When we arrive at Caledonia Park, we see that we have the new basketball court to ourselves. We start a game, Scutro and me against Johnson and Lyons. We call each other "dog" a lot and insult one another the way the guys playing gritty city ball on TV do, only we don''t know any of the slang, so it''s kind of hard. We are glad there are only little kids and their parents around to hear us. After an hour-or is it two?-we are all pretty tired.
So we loll around on the grass, which is very nice grass. The field isn''t big, especially if someone''s playing baseball, but it''s nice enough. Eventually we bestir ourselves to examine the playground equipment, which features a nice metal outline of a locomotive and train car. The slide is a disappointment, since it''s been retrofitted with annoying plates that hurt the bootie and slow the ride.
We go to the swing set and see who can swing the highest. Standing in her swing, Lyons does a spectacular dismount, a front flip with a one-and-a-half twist. She almost sticks it but takes a big step backward and falls in the sand.
It''s been a good week and a half. The bag of tricks is empty, the Fun Kit''s been exhausted and we think we may have enough for a story. So we walk back to the Duchess, get in, and get back to the office, where we all proceed to report and write Pulitzer Prize-winning stories that very afternoon.