How did I get to Santa Cruz? Simple answer: Gideon Rappaport, metaphorically and literally.
I first met Gideon at after-school Hebrew when we were both eleven. After my bar-mitzvah in the 8th grade, I didn’t see him again until we started high school at Hamilton. We had virtually all of our English, history, and social studies classes together. He was the friend with whom I went to see the film, A Thousand Clowns. On the way home, he drove us past the then-new Century City Hotel, while I leaned out the window and yelled, “Hey, rich people, everyone up at 6 a.m. tomorrow for volleyball!”
In our senior year, my college selection process simple. I knew I was guaranteed admission to the University of California. I also knew my family didn’t have much money, I couldn’t afford to go to any campus except UCLA, and I couldn’t afford even to live on-campus. I was a pretty smart kid, but my school had a lot of very much smarter kids, so I figured I wasn’t going to be accepted at an elite school which anyway wasn’t going to offer me a scholarship.
Gideon was one of those very much smarter kids. He was accepted at Santa Cruz for its second year of operation. Over the spring and summer, he talked about it: redwood forests, Monterey Bay, small colleges, pass-fail, and on and on. It sounded wonderful. At the end of summer, off he went to Santa Cruz, and off I went — in traffic — to UCLA.
Back then, first-year students at UCLA enrolled for classes on “Rush Day,” the day before classes began. The academic departments set up stations through-out the campus. To enroll in a class, one went to a station and signed the list for the particular class. During the week before Rush Day, I learned where the department stations were, and I put together a schedule of classes that included ones I was excited about and were located and timed in proximity to each other.
I arrived at UCLA at 8 a.m. on Rush Day and went to the first station. There were six lines, none shorter than 50 yards or so. After waiting for about an hour, I got to the front and learned my chosen class was closed. Within another three hours, I had the same results at my other three choices. I took out my catalogue and found four more classes, but three of them were also closed. By the end of the day, I had classes, but none held any particular interest for me. Worse, they would require me to be on campus five days a week for a minimum of six hours a day. I was tired, sore, and very aggravated.
The next day was the first day of classes. My first was in a theater-like lecture hall that sat, I later learned, 350. The prospects of a mass education and social isolation overwhelmed me.
After class, I went to the administration building for apply for transfer. I couldn’t afford to leave home for winter or spring, but I thought that transferring for 1967-68 would give me some time to save enough money.
I looked at my choices on the form. Berkeley? No, just more mass education. Irvine, Riverside? Orange County and the boonies, respectively. San Diego? No way, I’d have to take calculus. Santa Barbara? Just a party school. Santa Cruz? Yes! Small classes, redwood forests, pass-fail! And the decisive factor was, “If it’s good enough for Gideon, it’s good enough for me.” I checked the box, signed the form, and turned it in.
I wanted to be at Stevenson, the social science college. Cowell, where Gideon was, would have been fine. But in Spring 1967 when I learned I would be at Crown, a science college, I really didn’t care. I had a rocky year at UCLA, and I was worried about being approved if they applied highly-selective academic standards to transfers. A thousand thousand blessings on Dr. Thimann, or Max Levin, or Dean McHenry or whoever it was who decided that Crown should have a sophomore class.
When September came, Gideon’s father offered to drive me with them for the start of school. We went on a Saturday, at the end of the third week of the month, the day before the dorms officially opened. Gideon arrived early because he was going to help with move-in. I remember only the last part of the trip, driving past Aptos, Capitola, and Soquel at around 4 o’clock. It was the first time I saw Monterey Bay. From the car, i saw it stretching out, the water lit by the sun in the west, and the blue sky paled by the afternoon glare. We came up High Street, and I saw the words “Fiat Lux” on the carved redwood log at the entrance. Driving up the periphery road, I turned my head around to see the city, and the Bay, and the direction from which we came.
At the top of the hill, we drove into a forest and turned left at the sign for Cowell. We took our things to Gideon’s dorm, where I was going to spend the night in a sleeping bag in a room next to his. I was told to take a look around and to be back in about an hour, when we’d go get dinner.
I walked up the hill to Crown. I saw construction was not complete, with the boards for walking, the dust, and debris. None of that mattered. I was here; this was the place. The only person there. I walked all over the place and found the dorm where I was going to live, the one that became Maxwell House. The door was open, and I went up to the third floor. I found my room and looked inside. I went in the bathroom and determined, yes, the faucets worked.
I walked down the hill to Cowell. Again the only person in sight. I went to the terrace outside the dining hall. In the twilight, I looked for a long time as the evening darkened, past the athletic field and lower pasture, over the town, and out beyond the bay to the horizon.