Jan 14 2009

Santa Cruz, It Only Looks Cheap


Yesterday was the first meeting of the new city council and while I had a mild interest in some of the items on the agenda I only went over there, and an hour after it began, because I was really really bored.

I noticed two people sitting on the bench outside the meeting room when I entered the courtyard, and when I was about half-way through the court-yard it appeared one of them was waving at me. I didn’t recognize her and wondered what that was about. As I was about to walk to the ashtray next to the women and put out my cigarette and go into the meeting one of them gushed in a panicked voice, “Don’t come near me with that cigarette please.” It was about the most anal-retentive passive-aggressive thing I’ve ever seen.

Well, actually, after 4 years here I must say other things come to mind now that I think about it…

The Ashtray and The Bench
The Ashtray & Bench with the other Ashtray visible in the back left through the hallway.

I was so shocked at the outright rudeness and prejudice of what to all appearances was a sweet little old lady that all I could say, as I realized the closest (and only) ashtray was on the other side of the meeting room, meaning I would have to go through a hallway past an open door to the meeting room to the ashtray in the courtyard on the other side and put it out in order to BE POLITE to the SWEET LITTLE OLD LADIES WHO WILL PROBABLY DIE A GRUESOME DEATH IF A CIGARETTE COMES NEAR THEM SITTING NEXT TO THE ONLY ASHTRAY IN THE COURTYARD … that I was about to put my cigarette out in.

…where was I? Anyway, all I could do was blurt out, “Tell you what, I’ll just leave.”


So I went through the hallway with my cigarette, madder than hell, but by the time I put it out in the ashtray on the other side of the council chamber I couldn’t take it any more.

So I went back and I asked that SWEET LITTLE OLD LADY WHO CAN’T BE AROUND CIGARETTES OR SHE’LL DIE SITTING NEXT TO THE ASHTRAY “I want you to explain something to me, why are you sitting next to an ashtray if you can’t be around cigarettes? There is a bench there, there, there, and there, and not a one of them are next to ashtrays. If you have such a problem with cigarettes why are you sitting NEXT to THE ONLY ASHTRAY IN THE COURTYARD?”

Both she and her friend didn’t say a word but looked at me like I was the devil himself and they feared for their lives and ran off in different directions. They were surprisingly spry for their age.

One of the other nearby choices to sit. One of the other nearby choices to sit. One of the other nearby choices to sit.

You might think it’s a small thing and I over-reacted but it’s all I’ve been able to think about since. And it is typically, quintessentially, Santa Cruz.

This place is Alabama with better hair.

Right after Christmas the local paper broke a story about the old surfers filing suit against the grandson of one of their former club-members for attempting to swindle them out of the commercial rights to their memorabilia. They have a little old lighthouse (it’s very picturesque) on the cliff above the main surfing area set up as a museum. The family being sued for trying to swindle a representative of the old surfing club (one of the charges is elder abuse) has just built a 4-story commercial building in the center of town, complete with twenty-three bas relief ramsheads decorating the cornice.

All I could think when I read the story is “That’s so typically, quintessentially, Santa Cruz.”

They’ve pretty much hounded all the street musicians off Pacific Avenue now, and I found it very depressing, dead, when I was out the other day.

The Rittenhouse BuildingThe Rittenhouse building, the new building with the 23 rams heads, now has a fence around it, completely blocking the sidewalk so that pedestrians must walk in the street, and it’s a big building by Santa Cruz standards, taking up half the frontage on two sides of the block. Since the fence had just come down as they had finished the building and had a holiday display in the windows, it seems obvious to me the fence is to protect the building from vandalism during what promises to be an extensive, long, community rending legal battle.

So totally, quintessentially, Santa Cruz.

I was listening to Robert’s show Sunday mostly to hear what Anita Henry, who is on the Measure K committee, had to say. Robert didn’t let Anita say anything for 45 minutes while he replayed a tape he’d just played, punctuated every few seconds with his interminable spin on some detail or the other. You usually forget what the subject is by the time he’s done. Luckily I was in an online bridge tournament at the time so I just turned down the volume until I heard Anita say something… and eventually Robert got around to starting the tape of the Measure K meeting, after giving a preview longer than the tape itself, which they never got to finish playing. Every few seconds Robert stopped the tape to put his never-ending spin on some detail.

Santa Cruz Surf MuseumI have to admire Anita, she managed to ask -politely- that next time they play the tape without interruption and then comment on it afterward. After having to sit there and wait 45 minutes to say anything, and then … well, I probably would have got up and walked out.

However, he did play a tape of a person known as Cosmic Chris that I encountered when I was sleeping on the sidewalk. He was a street-musician, he had a decent voice and actually played his guitar rather than banging it, and he could make it all the way through a number. In other words, he was pretty good.

He lived in a camper. Well, they harassed him with citations for all sorts of petty nonsense, slashed his tires, and now he’s lost his vehicle, his home, and is on a bicycle. He’s on a bicycle, with a guitar, during the rainy season, in a semi-tropical rain forest. Luckily we’re having a drought or his guitar would be ruined by now. As it is, he’s been run off of Pacific Avenue so even if the guitar makes it through the rain, he’s lost his only source of income.

He’s not black, but that is exactly how they ‘dealt with’ blacks in Alabama.

Santa Cruz is Alabama with better hair.

When those little old ladies that MIGHT DIE IF A CIGARETTE COMES NEAR THEM ban leaf blowers I’ll believe they aren’t just little old Southern Belles complaining about how disrespectful dem darkies are. Evidently no one in this town sees anything rude, or prejudiced, or even discourteous about sitting NEXT TO THE ONLY ASHTRAY and demanding no one come near them with a cigarette.

You might say it’s a small thing, but when it happens all day long every day in a million and one ways it becomes a rather large thing.

And that is totally, quintessentially, Santa Cruz.

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