Sunday, July 8, 2012

Notes from Santa Cruz

Monday, July 2, 2012—Santa Cruz, CA

Day three of my Santa Cruz excursion. My love-hate relationship with this town is in full bloom. The setting is beautiful (not as beautiful, though, as what’s under the concrete of the L.A. Basin), but, like so many other places in coastal California, there far too many cars jammed into the streets, too much noise and hectic feelings in a place that’s reputed to be ultra-laid back. I also have some interesting social problems when I’m here, which are definitely happening this trip. Southern California trains people to live hard and fast; for better or worse we attack whatever we’re doing. Here there’s very little edge to anything. In many ways this is good. But it also drives me sort of crazy, mainly in that I always feel like I’m wasting time when I’m in this town. I don’t doubt that there’s a very good chance that I’m the one with the problem, not Santa Cruz—in the long run their way might be the better one. But like I said, it just run a bit against the grain of my L.A. soul. I’m used to people and moments having a bit of an edge to them and here so much is soft and fuzzy around the corners, which, like I’ve said, makes me a little nuts.

Another factor here that makes me a little uncomfortable is how much money is sloshing around this town. This town has a rep of having this laid-back-hippy-more-progressive-than-thou culture, which it does in a way. But I think a lot of this is the fumes left over from another simpler, cheaper time. I mean, it’s so expensive here that one would almost have to have a big income to do anything other than just scrape by. Mostly of the people I’ve met here who have these kinds of incomes work in the computer industry; Santa Cruz lies near the heart of the Silicon Valley money spout. The underlying flow of cash pumps so much money into this town that I’m sure the income levels here approach those of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is snooty Old California money at its most stereotype: it supports boring old structures of privilege and ethnicity. Here, though, the money seems to be propping up more-recent hippy values that seem to exist now as just a thin surface layer. The problem is that the best of these hippy values were concerned with self-reliance and living lightly on the land (and cheaply). People here, though, are driving SUVs, living in expensive houses, and drinking boutique wines. In other words, I think what’s going on here is a counter-culture fantasy, not the real thing. I think the people here, on many levels, are just kidding themselves.

This really bothers me. As does the fact that so much of the money pushing this place along comes from the computer industry. To be frank, I’ve never trusted the computer world, socially. Those working in that realm seem to be paid an awful lot of money for doing very little (of what I would consider to be) work. Intertwined with this is a sense of privilege that I find unpleasant; I just want to drag a lot of these people off the “campuses” into the real world, hand them a shovel and tell them to start digging, to experience real work for a change. Getting back to my previous points, I think what this all adds up to is that old snooty Santa Barbara and post-hippy Santa Cruz are ending up in a disturbingly similar place, albeit from wildly different angles—I think there’s a false premise at the heart of each of them that numb and dull their residents to the lives most people in this world live.

All that said, it’s nice to be here, to change my routine and see and feel some new things … new, cleaner beaches, redwoods, different plant communities in general, less concrete, cooler breezes. It’s of course great to hang out with Greg again. I have few close friends left in Southern California and I’m not as close with anyone down there are I am with him. Yesterday we drove up the coast, hung out on the beach with his two-year-old daughter, before going for a drive thru a bit of the backcountry and then eating dinner with some friends of his. A nice day, relaxing (despite the fact that his daughter can be a bit of a handful, like all kids that age). Today he’s working so I’m just wandering around town by myself, right now listening to the traffic sounds pouring into the coffeehouse in which I’m sitting and typing on my netbook. Feeling pretty relaxed. My stomach problems, which flared up on the trip down, have mellowed about a bit. Living gluten free on the road is hard, but I’m doing it. Feeling OK overall, a little spooked too, though, by being surrounded by people I don’t quite understand.

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