Thursday, January 20, 2005

California Delight #1: Santa Cruz

I said earlier that I no longer want to live in California, which is true – to a point. More accurately, I can’t quite conceive of living there due to the cost-of-living, which is insane, and the cost of real estate, which is beyond insane. Unless this blog and all the different side-projects I cheerfully putter away at miraculously catapult me into Stephen King’s (or even Anne Lamott’s) income range, there is no profession I could reasonably pursue which would make living there affordable. My wife is another story, but California is my obsession, not hers (by a longshot) and though she indulges me beyond reason, even she has her limits.

I have no idea how the gap between the haves and have-nots grew to such a chasm in California. The middle class might have a few creature comforts the truly destitute lack, but in this State they are in fact the working poor. A household, just to exist, requires two-plus incomes. If you take the time to really explore a city like Los Angeles, you quickly become attuned to an incredible energy – ideas, pastimes, an unfathomable underground economy and population – generated just to keep afloat in a wash of personal debt that grows like a tsunami. When you aren’t actively making money, you’re thinking up ways you can (surely one reason why no end of bad ideas seem to find their origin in the West – it’s just the law of averages).

It’s like this everywhere in California, to a greater or lesser degree. Where you see this least is usually in hermetically sealed communities like Carmel, or Santa Barbara. Carmel has an aesthetic that genuinely warms the heart. No streetlights, for one thing. Most residential modes shift from cottage to bungalow, and the immediate downtown neighborhoods are a cheerful quilt of non-conformity and breezy style. You understand immediately why Carmel was Henry Miller’s final destination, and why Clint Eastwood got some very particular ideas about the way the town should be managed. It’s a very beautiful, very appealing town. But you’d have to be made of money to move to Carmel. And Santa Barbara is something else entirely.

In contrast, Santa Cruz seems almost attainable. Between the starving artists and the successful business people who go to such obvious lengths to make the place aesthetically welcoming, you have a core population that is demographically all over the map, and cheerful about it. No one neighborhood looks like it has a complete stranglehold on capital. Even the toniest beach houses overlooking the Pacific have to rub elbows with shanties that were erected in the 40s, and look like they’ve only served itinerant surfers.

As a result, Santa Cruz comes across as a city in process – something else that appeals to me. It clearly generates a great deal of capital; it also reinvests that capital into the city. I don’t doubt the city has its problems and conflicts. But my impression is the discussion is genuinely public, and very vocal.

It could be, of course, that this is all an elaborately painted figment of my California-smitten-imagination. If so, I am happily none the wiser. Which is, I think, the best frame of mind to be in when you are forced to bid farewell (for the moment) to a mistress of locale.


DarkoV said...

As with your previous countdown on Top Ten Chuckle Songs back in Oct-Nov of last year, you again offer a unique view coupled with bits to ponder.
And, I hope you take this the right way, there's never any phlegm or nastiness involved in your pieces. There's enough of the Angry Young Men out there in the blogosphere with their ranting, their ravings, and their offal examinations. I appreciate your humour, quirkiness, and, especially, your empathetic and distinctive eye.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Phlegm-Free Blogging" - that might just find its way onto my masthead! You are, as always, so very generous with your praise. It's a treat and a privilege to have you as a reader.

Megan McMillan said...

Hey, there's always the Inland Empire, but you couldn't PAY me to live there. I totally hear you about LA -- we live here and the median house price, last I heard, was 610k, and let me tell you, that's never gonna happen for us. It's a lovely place to visit, but...

Whisky Prajer said...

Welcome, M McM! And I hear you on the Inland Empire - hence its absence from my list of Delights!