Walking down Franklin Street from the Presidio of Monterey was always a bit like descending a mountain. It seemed to unfurl a cement banner at an eighty degree angle down to the lower valley of the peninsula. Though, after eight hours of Russian study a day, two hours of Russian conversation followed by four hours’ worth of Russian homework a night – it was a welcomed adventure. All along Franklin Street houses were set on edge, as if tempting gravity to pull them down. The parking breaks of cars could usually not muster up so much courage as the homes that lined the street and every now and again an out-of-towner’s car would slide down Franklin Street until another parked car was kind enough to stop it.
Franklin Street bottomed out between Calle Principal and Alvarado. Respite could be found in Bay Books. An eclectic mess of a bookstore. A restaurant used to occupy the space a century before and a shoe store occupies it today but it was a place frequented by airmen, soldier and marines looking for authentic reading materials in their target language. Plush arm chairs and the smell of warm coffee and exotic teas would greet you. On Saturday poetry reading could be had and intellectual conversation discovered. The glass storefront would keep the tourists and frequent fog at bay. No matter where you were in Monterey you could not escape the barking of the sea lions.
Leaving the book store for the ocean front near the Fisherman’s Wharf your nose is greeted with the strange mixture of salt water and clam chowder served in bread bowls. The excited buzz of the tourists would fade as you descend of the winding path that hugged the coast for the split grey cliffs that offered small nooks of solitude. Many an insomnia riddled night my wingmen and I would come here. Lovers would stroll just above us on the path, the nippy breeze bringing them that much closer together.
My friends and I would stare out at the gentle, rolling mass of the Pacific. Sometimes we would share poetry, and more often beer, but always an unspoken appreciation for our small undisturbed, untamed part of Monterey that was free of cement and beachfront hotels. That was unclaimed by a corporation or the military. The stone cliffs that surrounded us had heard the now forgotten language of the Ohlone Indians and had seen the bright and gaudy ships from Spain come in just off the horizon. They had heard the cannon fire of the Americans as they took over Monterey and raised the Stars and Stripes over the Customs House just to the right and around the bend from where we sat.
As the small light of fires would dot the rocky beaches along the peninsula my friends and I would share the majesty of all that was around us. Here we were clinging to the edge of a continent – the rest of the world before us. Sometimes a Yuma clapper rail would chirp somewhere off in the dunes and rocky headlands. We would become so lost in thought as we sat within those cliffs that the laughing bark of the sea lions would ground us back in reality and motivate us to climb our way back to Presidio along Franklin Street and back to our linguistic studies. And even there, in our small rooms, as we toiled over Genitive versus Instrumental case you could still hear the sea lions out there on the wharf laughing at us.