Isla Vista

The photo above is the Pacific Ocean as seen from Isla Vista, the tiny beach town that’s synonymous with my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara.

On May 23, 2014, my stepdaughter was a student at UCSB when six of our fellow Gauchos were murdered in Isla Vista.

My wife and I were horrified by the news. Thankfully, our daughter had come home early for the weekend. She and her friends still on campus were safe, but my heart ached for the families and friends of those who lost their lives. We knew it could’ve been us that got the phone call no parent ever wants to receive.

A day after the shootings I pinned the photo to my Twitter profile. It was my way of remembering the Isla Vista of my undergraduate days. It meant my stepdaughter was safe.

It became a silly superstition for me: I wouldn’t unpin the photo until she’d graduated.

Tonight I talked to my stepdaughter about what happened on that day. We’ve talked about it in the past and I know we’ll talk about it in the future.

I remember being proud of how the student and Santa Barbara communities rallied around the university. I remember the chants of “Not one more.” I remember thinking about how we honor the memories of the deceased not by reliving the past, but learning from it in order to make a better present and future.

I unpinned the photo today.

As I see my stepdaughter make her way in the world — having graduated, having worked an internship in the Philippines, and having gotten into graduate school — I remember the students whose lives were cut short, whose dreams were extinguished before they could be realized, and whose family and friends must carry the memories of their unrealized potential.

I remember that as terrible as that day was, there were — and are — plenty of awe-inspiring days, too.

I remember that the evil in this world will always be eclipsed by the good.

I remember:

Weihan Wang
Cheng Yuan Hong
George Chen
Katherine Cooper
Veronika Weiss
Christopher Michaels-Martinez

Most importantly, I remember.

Update 6-4-18: You can listen to me read this post on YouTube.

Day 159: Surf Dog


I was in the Santa Barbara area today and stopped off at one of my favorite spots in the world: Surf Dog. It’s a hot dog cart on the Carpinteria Bluffs, where owner Bill Connell has been serving up delicious and affordable hot dogs for two decades. He’s a friendly guy and will offer you some Red Vines while you decide what to eat.

Pictured above is my go-to meal: Polish sausage with chili, sweet onions, and sauerkraut. You can eat at the cart or take your food across the parking lot to enjoy the ocean view.  Nothing has changed over the years, from the comfort food served from the cart to the mellow vibe shared by Bill and his customers.

Day 123: Sailing Sunday


My family and I spent our Sunday afternoon sailing in Santa Barbara, thanks to an old friend. Since the last time I saw him, he’s become an expert yachtsman and proud owner of a beautiful boat. He took us and a few friends for a quick trip around the Santa Barbara waters, educating us on all things nautical; by the end of our journey, everybody knew their port and starboard sides.

We also did some catching up, laughing about old times and cracking up over pirate jokes. It was one of those perfect afternoons, where the company and the location were equally enjoyable.

Day 19: Waiting in Santa Barbara


Santa Barbara Roasting Company

Monday, 6:30pm: I’m at the Santa Barbara Roasting Company, waiting out traffic. It’s not a bad place to be stuck, actually: weekend destination for many, close to the wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley, and home to my alma mater.

I could write volumes on Santa Barbara: my love/hate relationship with the city, the good times, the bad times, and all of the friends I made over the years. Going to school and living here for years after graduating changed my life. I met a lot of wonderful people along the way, but when fate and circumstance convened years ago, I did not hesitate to move away.

Still, I’ll always consider Santa Barbara my home away from home. It’s changed a lot since I was a resident, but in many ways it’s the same. I still have friends here, but my closest friends are long gone. They were my last two roommates before I moved to the Inland Empire. We had a lot of fun together and whenever I visit this part of downtown, I think about them.

I remember one night we were downtown for dinner. Whether it was a pre-bar-hopping dinner or not, I don’t recall, but I’ll never forget what we had that night: pizza. Uncle Rocco’s was our spot then; we loved their big, thin New York pizzas. We each ordered a slice and I beat both of my buddies to the red pepper shaker, knowing that we all loved the added spiciness. I probably gloated a bit over my victory in the Great Red Pepper Race of 2006. No, I definitely gloated over getting the shaker first.

I then proceeded to dump the entire shaker’s contents onto my slice.

Thanks to some jokester who’d loosened the jar’s top, what was meant to be a few shakes to spice up my slice ended up being a single shake that unleashed an avalanche of red pepper onto my plate. My pizza was buried underneath, like a team of explorers meeting their destiny on Everest.

My buddies couldn’t stop laughing for what seemed like hours. I cleaned up my dinner and our table, laughing along with them. It’s nearly ten years later and I’m still laughing.

Day 11: Pictures for Soul Sunday


I’m feeling the effects of watching the NFL playoffs: my brain is mush and my body is antsy. I just can’t do these marathon sessions in front of the TV anymore. Unless it’s watching shows about zombies, of course.

So, today’s post will simply be three photos that make me feel good. I took each one during this past year using the camera on my Nexus 5 (thanks to HDR+ and Auto Awesome for making my photos look halfway decent).

Three pictures to rejuvenate myself; it’s good for my soul on this Sunday.

1. Latte art. Klatch Coffee, Rancho Cucamonga, CA.


2. Atrium in the Georgina Cole Library, Carlsbad, CA.


3. View from Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA.


Day 7: Zombie-fied


The Walking Dead on AMC.

The Walking Dead on AMC.

As far as horror sub-genres go, zombies are probably last on my list, next to lovestruck teenage vampires. I always found zombies to be boring. Gross, yes. Fascinating? Exciting? Cool? No, no, and no. I liked the original Night of the Living Dead, but all of the other classic Romero films did nothing for me.

In fact, my most memorable zombie movie moment had nothing to do with the actual film itself (the remake of Dawn of the Dead). I was living in Santa Barbara at the time and my roommates and I went to see the Sunday matinee showing. About 20 minutes into the movie, a drunk guy walked in and started harassing the people in front of him. Words were exchanged, then fists were flying. The film was stopped, the drunk guy was tossed out, and order was restored. I remember laughing with my roommates and recalling how people freaked out years earlier when Boyz N the Hood opened, thinking gang violence would mar the film’s opening weekend, especially in urban areas. Obviously, those worries turned out to be for naught, since the real troublemakers came out on lazy Sunday afternoons in tourist towns.

It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I became a zombie fan. My wife and I don’t watch much TV, except for the local news and Jeopardy. However, we are notorious Netflix binge-watchers and after Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black (she finished it, while I ended up re-watching The Wire), we finally gave The Walking Dead a shot. We’d heard a lot of good things about the series, but I wondered how each of us would react, given my indifference to the genre and her preference for rom-com and feel-good movies.

The Walking Dead has been excellent. We’re finishing season three soon and we’re both surprised how much we’ve enjoyed it so far. It’s another reminder that we’re living in a golden age of television since another generic zombie film wouldn’t have made me care, but the long format of a television series suits the source material well. Watching these characters evolve from one season to the next, as the story has moved from surviving the apocalypse to rebuilding communities, has been utterly fascinating and engrossing.

Now that I think about it, I’ve probably overstated my indifference to the zombie genre. The Edgar Wright film Shaun of the Dead is something I can always sit through if I find it while flipping through channels. Dead Trigger was a game that I played constantly on my wife’s Nexus 7; the second she finished pinning things on her Pinterest account, I grabbed the tablet and started blast thousands of zombies.

So, upon further review, I’m bumping up the zombie genre in my rankings of horror sub-genres. And I’ll be watching every episode of The Walking Dead from the comfort of my bedroom: it’s much safer than a Sunday matinee in Santa Barbara.