Saturday, November 08, 2008

For Esby...

On the way to the airport, I thought about how it is a new dawn for this country. The coming of the new Obama administration could finally morally justify a return home for me. I wondered what was going on in the heads of each African American I saw. I could imagine the incredible amount of pride they must be feeling. Yet will there truly be an improvement in racial relations in this country?

In the airport, an excited New Yorker shows me the cover of today's New York Times, telling me that the font used as the headline for the election is one he hasn't seen since the first moonwalk back in 1969. Apparently the font is used only for historic occasions. My plane takes me up out of Denver and over Boulder. Just beyond, the Rockies are getting their first heavy snow of the season. Further on in Utah, the mountains are lined up neatly in rows.

I deplane in San Jose, in an airport whose layout defies logic. I don't find any logic out on the road either, where I join the insanity that is the California Highway system. We spend 15 minutes going 80mph, then 15mph for 10 minutes, then back to 80 again. The traffic and the speed give out eventually, in an area where flannel-shirted workers bend over rows of bushes that stretch out toward the sea. Big grilled pickups and muscle cars rush past, predictably piloted by Navy men stationed nearby.

I meet with Ben, and we walk up into the hills above his house. It becomes full dark quickly, and it isn't long before we see deer coming down to graze from the hedges surrounding the massive estates up here. I spend a couple days here, walking the Monterey streets, beside white buildings red-headed with Spanish tile. It is a lovely town, with fine weather, but there isn't much life here; many shops are closed, the streets relatively empty of people. Life seems to have gone elsewhere. Ben and I follow suit, driving south to Point Lobos. We wander the forests and cliffs, going through our usually walk and talk rituals to dispel angst.

A day later I pass the same stretch of shoreline, solo this time. I follow the twisty mountain road with the views that define Big Sur. Many stretches through here are black and burned from recent fires. The charred hillsides seem indiscriminatory. More than a few sections of these, having lost their topsoil are following gravity's path, across the road and into the sea below. More than once I have to stop for quite a while in order for workers to clear the roads of the night's rockfall. I hardly mind since it's a lovely day. I get out of the car and walk to the edge of the cliffs, smelling the pines and looking at the sea hundreds of feet below.

The mountains eventually drop toward the sea, giving way to long stretches of flatland. The signs here say "Whale Watching." It isn't long before I notice the flecks of silver light that are the arching backs of dolphins. Dozens of elephant seals lay on the beach, using their flippers to flick up sand in order to keep the heat off. I overhear a ranger talking about the losses this colony suffered during recent storms. Two bulls begin to fight, but apparently the spirit isn't with them, and they both retreat to different parts of the beach. On a hillside nearby, Hearst Castle stands lonely and forlorn.

I pull into Cambria for lunch, sitting at a rail a few meters from the sea. The weather is warm and beautiful, so I sit awhile here watching the surfers exercising their patience in the low rolling swells. Other figures are on the beach, silhouetted in twos. When I lived in Santa Barbara, I used to escape up here sometimes. My favorite place was this old cemetary somewhere up in the pines, filled with the graves of the English and the Scottish who settled this part of the coast. As I drive south out of town, I look for it, but of course there are no signs. No surprise. Americans are a people in a constant battle with aging, and hate to be reminded of nuisances like death.

The Santa Ynez Valley still proves to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. I pass beneath hills and mountains I once hiked, drive around the lake where I saw my first Pow-Wow. I cut my teeth in this place. Coming over San Marcos pass I see the familar shapes of the Mesa, Isla Vista, the Channel Islands beyond. Once in town, I head up State Street, amazed at how much has changed in 14 years. There are many new chains here, the old chains too still hanging on. The local shops, the ones that gave this town so much character, are no longer here. The travel bookstore where I spent hours researching my Asian travels, where I had had a long conversation with Pico Iyer, is now a Starbucks. Earthling Bookshop, where you could choose from some of the best stock on the planet and read it in front of huge fireplace, is a neo-bleached Old Navy. My favorite cafe, Cafe Roma, is still there, though now a chain. Another of my haunts,Video Schmido, (DVD Schmeeveedee ?) is thankfully there, as are both my old places of employment. I spend most of the evening in Lost Horizon bookshop talking with my former boss Jerry. For three years I worked here, minding the store so that he could surf. He tells me he's more partial to softball these days. Enterprise Fish Co. is also still around, though both the interior and the menu have been drastically revamped. The bar area is completely different, with lots of neon and a new wall that takes in a now obsolete smoking section. Friday night is bustling, as usual, and the waitstaff is larger and much cuter than in my day. A staff photo still hangs near the men's room, reminding me of days and friends long past. After my meal I walk back to my hotel that lies below the cliffs upon which City College stands. Santa Barbara has always been a strange place, hyper-rich people living in the homes in the surrounding hills, with a ever-changing supply of college kids to serve them at their favorite shops and eateries. The people I used to hang out with 15 years ago have no doubt long ago moved on. New college kids remain a constant, displaying a fair share of fake boobs, more than I've seen in previous trips to the States. A new generation of punk skaters are keeping it real, serving as the missing link to my day, along with the usual assortment of homeless eking out a reasonably comfortable existence in these temperate climes.

On the turntable: Gomez, "How We Operate"


Alex said...

"Santa Barbara has always been a strange place, hyper-rich people living in the homes in the surrounding hills, with a ever-changing supply of college kids to serve them at their favorite shops and eateries."

You've summed it up perfectly. I graduated from UCSB, and the instant you step out of Isla Vista, all of the partying college-goers are in spiffy uniforms greeting rich people who leave tips that will be spent on kegs for the next round of weekend parties.

I was fond of the Santa Barbara area, not so fond of the Isla Vista slums, though. (I'm originally from San Diego)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Teddo. Makes me want to go back and hop into the car and go all around California again.

Loved and adored Monterey.

ted said...

Central Coast is beautiful Tari. If I end up in San Francisco, come hang out.

Alex, thanks for chiming in. I've been a fan of your blog a while. I always assumed your name was Victor Emmanuel...
Didn't realize you were from Cali. I lived in SB from 1991-94, working at Fish Enterprise and Lost Horizon books in order to finance an anthropology masters, which I inevitably took a break from. Still on break actually...