Barbara Boom has decided to trade in the SLO Life for a Rocky Mountain High, so by the time you read this, she should be safely established at her new place in Denver.
Barbara called San Luis Obispo home for the last twenty years. She wasn’t trying to move away. It just happened. During a recent visit to her adult son in Colorado, Barbara met someone, who knew someone, who just happened to have a great job opening. Decent salary. Good benefits. Interesting work. Barbara didn’t hesitate. Boom, she’s gone.
By some standards, Barbara didn’t leave what Al Gore might call a large SLO footprint. You won’t find newspaper articles or TV stories about her. Barbara wasn’t in Rotary or Kiwanis. She never had a table at Pops and probably didn’t know Dave Garth from Garth Brooks.
Divorced, Barbara lived alone in the shadows of town, preferring to hang out with a tight circle of close friends and jogging daily on her beloved San Luis mountain. She baked for Linnaea for many years, worked briefly at the county and ended up, like so many others, at Trader Joe’s.
But Barbara made a difference to many in San Luis Obispo, despite a small public footprint. She was a good friend, a caring person, a welcome breath of fresh air in this age of cynicism and narcissism. Barbara could put you at ease with a simple smile. A hug from Barbara could make an atheist believe.
I knew her for seven years. I knew the sincerity in her eyes, the strong beat of her heart. That heart was enormous.
When I think of Barbara, I think of the late Fred Wilkie of Atascadero who battled valiantly for years against the ravages of ALS. Barbara was his primary caregiver during that critical final year. Day in, day out, she took care of Fred. Driver. Cook. Nurse. Barbara did it all without question.
Florence Nightingale would have been proud.
It wasn’t in her nature to be negative. Despite a tough Minnesota upbringing, Barbara learned to focus on the positive. The glass was always half full. She never spoke ill of others and spent hours absorbed in reading and discussing spiritual issues with friends.
Other friends have moved away over the years. Rick Jackoway, Suebob Davis, Susan Amerikaner, Colin Campbell, Jack Greene, and Molly May all come to mind. It’s always difficult when you first hear the news. After all, how could anyone not want to live in San Luis Obispo? But we all know that desire is not enough and the Central Coast can demand a lot from people who want to live in paradise.
I knew that Barbara had been thinking about leaving for awhile. There was really nothing to keep her around and part of her seemed restless for new adventure. I even tried fixing her up with a newly-divorced friend of ours. Sparks flew for a couple months, but things quickly fizzled out. I understand why she jumped at the Colorado offer.
And I know that we have email and telephones and I believe the U.S. Postal Service still operates in Colorado, but a friend leaving town, a close friend leaving town, is like a window shutting, a chapter ending—drop in your favorite metaphor here. Sure, you stay in touch and may even see each other again, but it’s never the same.
Friends threw her a going-away party, but I was out of town and couldn’t attend. It’s just as well. I’m never very good at this goodbye thing and I probably would have just babbled and made a fool of myself. Barbara understood and offered to squeeze in a farewell lunch, but I passed on that, as well. Just let me know when you’ve arrived in Denver, I told her. Let me know that you’re safe.
So the SLO Life marches on. Another day passes at Cal Poly. The city council has another 4-1 vote. The action will be heavy at Mother’s on Saturday night and people will still jostle for the best table at Café Roma. Rob Rossi will announce another new building project. Peggy Penny still lip-synchs on public access TV.
But for many of us, something will be slightly off. Something will be different, especially when we feel the need for a reassuring smile or a comforting hug. Then we’ll be reminded that Barbara Boom doesn’t live here anymore.
SLO City News (June 2007)
Author Update: Barbara’s move to Denver didn’t last long. She was back on the Central Coast within months, tired of Denver’s noise and congestion. It was not a good fit. Since then, Barbara has remarried and remains rooted in SLO County. But add Jim Zimmerlin and David Gray to folks who are abandoning the SLO Life.