“A single rose can be my garden; a single friend, my world.”
― Leo Buscaglia
The only time in my life I lived away from the ocean was my four years in college at the University of Utah (the U) in Salt Lake City. Despite not getting wet, those years proved to be pivotal to my future. It all happened quite unexpectedly when I received a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG) from the U.S. government covering four years of tuition and expenses at the U. It was a gift from God.
I will admit to having a bit of sand between my ears when I arrived at the U to tackle my freshman classes in 1973. I boldly decided to live alone in an apartment off-campus with no car and zero friends. It was as if I went surfing without a fin in my board. The entire year was a disaster of loneliness and confusion. It was another “Mexican miracle” that I survived and came back for my second year.
I learned some hard lessons from that unexpected but necessary time of growth and moved on campus my sophomore year. I was starting to right the ship when a revelation struck me in class that would lead me to my first career as a tennis club manager. Dr. Linn Rockwood of the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department had put up a chart that got my full attention. The projected growth of the computer (which had not yet fully arrived) was shown in parallel with the projected growth of leisure time among the baby boomer generation. They were both pointing sky high!
“Hey, I’m one of those baby boomers,” I voiced to myself.
The computer was going to replace hours on the job with an abundance of free time. Dr. Rockwood’s instruction was clear: “Plan a career in the recreation and leisure industry and your future will be bright.”
Looking back at my time outside of class, those four years at the U can be summarized with one word: community. Without it, my freshman year was one of the hardest years of my life. I then experienced three years with community as a Resident Advisor (RA) in the dorms on campus, landing the job soon after moving on campus. The fraternity of residence hall life combined with the RA leadership development training I received had an enormous impact on me. Developing relationships among 50 new freshman students each school year during one of the most tumultuous times in their life was an invaluable learning experience. It shaped me as a person.
With room and board covered as an RA, my BEOG grant now provided the spare funds for a ski pass to Snowbird ($5 per day for U students). I could not have written a better script. I would get out of class at noon and be on the GAD 1 chairlift at Snowbird by 1:00 p.m. And that was without owning a car! My search for the perfect wave was replaced by a pursuit of powder snow. Snowbird quickly became my San Onofre.
My one rose in the community garden at the U was Reid Miller. I met Reid in my first RA staff meeting in Bailiff Hall. We were reviewing new resident policies when a shaggy-bearded short guy (like me) with Sonny Bono glasses boisterously interrupted to complain about the toilet paper.
He proceeded to compare the toilet paper we had in Bailiff Hall to a piece of wax paper.
“It does nothing but smear things around!”
Are you kidding me!? Who was this guy, bringing up a subject like that in front of the entire RA staff (male and female)?
We were soon fast friends and backcountry ski partners. Reid was a University of Utah “mining engineering student of the year” who instantly won me over with his complete honesty and warm affability. I was soon drinking deeply from his vast wisdom of the great outdoors as we adventured into the Wasatch Mountains together. Whether it was tying a hook onto a fishing line or cranking (and banking) a turn in cross country skis on a deep powder descent, Reid opened new doors that took me far beyond the tides and jetties of Corona del Mar.
I believe in angels. I had Mormon relatives from my Mom’s side living in Salt Lake City who played the part of guardian angels with brilliance over my four years at the U. We were not involved in the Latter-Day Saints (L.D.S.) church growing up. However, I was very much influenced by my time with them during our annual trips to Salt Lake. We always stayed with grandma Oa and grandpa Paul on Skyline Drive where our cousins all seemed to magically appear while Mom and Dad skied the powder at Alta and came home to one of Grandma’s glorious dinners.
Going to the U was not exactly the popular pick among my surfing crowd in those days. “The beer tastes like water (3.2% alcohol) and the Mormons are everywhere,” I was told. I would agree on both counts. We used to joke at our kegger parties that you’d get just as drunk if you drank that much water!
While I kidded along with my friends about “the Mormons,” I quickly found them to be my saving grace while at the U, especially that first year. The many invitations I received meant everything to me living alone. The care packages of homemade bread, soup, cookies, and more that Grandma Oa left on my doorstep on Friday nights could bring me to tears. Anyone experiencing an Oa Cannon meal quickly discovered that she could cook like Michelangelo could carve marble. Her meals sent you to heaven and back.
Grandma Oa also prayed incessantly for me; I know that because she told me. She would even send me letters of her prayers. I believe I will see in heaven that it was her prayers that led me to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ later in my life. What a joyous reunion that will be.
Moving back to the classroom, Dr. Rockwood continued his explanation about the transition to computers creating a leisure society with reduced working hours, extended holidays, and more disposable income to be spent on non-essentials. He even predicted that a four-day workweek would soon result. As leisure time exceeded working time, leisure would become a source of values that infiltrate our lives. A leisure ethic would eventually supersede the work ethic of industrialism.
It was sounding a bit like the Roman Empire, but that was OK with me. I was in the right place at the right time!
My next move was to declare myself a “Commercial Recreation” major as I dreamed of running a tennis club in southern California where I could wear tennis clothes to work, play with the tennis pro on lunch breaks, and hang out at the pool to keep my suntan going.