Every Tuesday I have to walk up and down Carrillo Hill in the evening.
The reason for this is not important. What matters is that going once a
week to a place you can't help but notice trivial/odd things about it.
For example, over the course of three Tuesdays I watched a skunk
decompose and get picked apart, eventually leaving a tuft of tail that
is still stuck to the sidewalk. Along my route there are also a few
2-liter soda bottles crammed under bush filled with what must be urine;
they have remained in the same position for at least a month.
best thing along this walk, however, are the playing cards that I
always find either scattered on the ground or
stapled/paper-clipped/taped to trees or sign posts. The cards are all
sharpied with an obscure phrase. I like to think of the person who does
this as "The Masked Messenger." The one pictured above proclaims "scary
You see these abandoned shopping carts all over Santa Barbara. I have it
on good authority that this tree is nowhere
near a market. Trader Joe's? Twenty-minute walk east. Ralph's?
Ten-minute walk west. The cart didn't roll here by itself. It's not one
of those homeless chariots, laden to the point of metal fatigue with
plastic bags barely encasing lord knows what. I don't even know who I'd
approach to get pointed in the direction of where I might possibly find
something like answers. Not to get all Resnais on you, but:
not responsible," says the street crackpot.
"I am not
responsible," says the bored adolescent joyrider.
"I am not
responsible," says the confused, foreign grandma.
I've noticed that abandoned/left behind/unloved buildings in the
downtown area have a habit of sitting around and decaying; the cheap
cork board tacked to the windows getting progressively water-streaked
and rotted. The above home has been left in this state since I moved
downtown two years ago, the only difference being that the menacing
"CONDEMNED" sign disappeared at some point.
By default, people tend to think that State is the
best street in Santa Barbara. It is actually the street with the most
novelty t-shirt stores. If you want to see the city at its most
interesting, you go Haley Street — or, as an eccentric resident we
recently met called it, "skid row" — every time. Needless to say, you'll
want to keep an eye on its category.
can think of no better image than the above with which to celebrate
this real best street in Santa
Barbara. It's no secret that cellphones have pretty much killed the
payphonic star; even UCSB is dismantling its wall of pay phones, which
in happier days positively teemed with foreign students. But there's
something so distinctively sad about this pair of phoneless shells that I
hope it never occurs to anybody to pull them up. These twins stand, Shining-like, in front of Haley's
similarly hobbled Mac's Grog & Groc. Mac (or whomever) doesn't even
bother trying to mask the fact that the place was clearly designed to be
a gas station. Something must have gone terribly wrong along the way,
since instead of gas pumps, there is usually just a fat Indian dude.
is what I love to see in a city: the anachronistic, the unwelcome, the
decayed, the partially removed and ignored. There's a lot of that on
Like a wise old concrete beast for whom the passage of decades is as
inconsequential as the sea breeze it faces, the Stacked House sits at
the end of Del Playa Drive. Other than that it is the most fabulous
example of concrete midcentury architecture in Goleta or Santa Barbara — let alone Isla
Vista proper — I know nothing about it. Rumor has it that an architect
lives there, sleeping on the upper tier and breakfasting on the lower.
That would make a certain amount of sense.
Perhaps such a
strikingly unconventional home echoes Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, which
looks and sounds like the world's greatest machine for living but is
actually a pain in the ass and an inadvertent toxic mold grow-op to
boot. But having passed by the Stacked House and stared at it a creepy
number of times, I can tell you that nothing seems amiss. It may really be the next step in residential
evolution, albeit one the world seems to have ignored. You park
below it, you climb one tier up and you kick back in your Eames chair,
then you climb another tier up and enter the magical mysteries of the
(perpetually curtain-enclosed) bedroom. Perfection.
But like any
embodiment of perfection, the Stacked House has imperfections. The most
basic objection: where do the bookshelves go? When all your walls are
made of glass, you can't very well build them in. The owner seems to
have solved this problem with free-standing shelves, though that puts a
lowish cap on one's library size. Maybe that's healthy; I only really want to own the best 100 or
200 books in my collection, anyway. Another issue, this one dealbreaking
for a type like me: the damned place is a half-hour walk even from
UCSB, which is itself way out in the boonies. Location, location,
location, I guess.
"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds
himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."
- apocryphal, but routinely attributed to
The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit
District recently put up a swank new web
site, but all things considered, I really would've preferred to see
that money go elsewhere. Into, uh, the transit, for instance. While I
don't like to get on the soapbox — and, despite riding the bus and
nothing else on a daily basis, "bus riders" is just about the last group
I want to be affiliated with — none of Santa Barbara's many public
transit issues had to do with an insufficiently impressive net presence.
submit this three-point test for determining whether or not a city has
acceptable public transportation in place:
- Can you "just go"
somewhere on it, spontaneously, without having to consult a map or
- Can you show up to a stop and expect your means of
conveyance to show up within the next fifteen minutes?
- Can you
use it to get back home from late-night goings-on?
Santa Barbara bus system flubs all three. If you decide to "just go"
somewhere, you can't be sure you're going to get there, and you really can't be sure you won't waste
hours of your time waiting around in the process. And you'd better hope
you're not trying to do any of this after 11:30, because you'll be
waiting at least five hours for any bus at all. Or you'll pay, say, the
$35 cab fare from the Mercury Lounge back downtown.
the fact that I use Santa Barbara buses all the time, I can partially
sympathize with all the people here who say to me, "Wow, how great that you can ride the bus! I so
wish I could do that, but it'd
just be impossible for me."
(They're too important, you see.) I'd throw in with the cause of
inconvenienced public transit-users, but I have sought for nearly eight
years now to escape their ranks as soon as possible. (It's taking longer
than I thought.)
People usually do a lot to personalize their vehicle to display
individuality, but if you practically (or actually) live out of your
car, you should go a step further and decorate it like a room in your
Cars are also useful if you are obsessive-compulsive, because sooner or
later you run out of room in your home.
Just east of downtown, Laguna Street has been a popular place to park
one's motorhome. That is to say, the motorhome in which one lives.
Primarily. What Santa Barbaran jogger hasn't felt that shiver of fear —
of excitement? — passing one of these shuttered, banged-up, often
garbage-filled sleeping beasts? Periodic relocations to avoid Parking
Enforcement aside, the unchanging nature of these mainstay
recreational vehicles makes them all the more threatening, like a
Nevertheless, I have long entertained fantasies
of life within small, sometimes mobile enclosures. I don't quite want to
know what deep-seated psychological compulsion had me dreaming of
setting up house in trucks, attics, and fallout shelters throughout
childhood, but I still get the occasional impulse to this day. (This now
manifests, with reasonable health, in my purchases of books like Mini House and The Very Small Home. UCSB's Container
Project a few years back was, naturally, fetish material for me.)
When I run by the motorhomes of Garden Street, I think that it actually
must be pretty cool to be able to listen to albums, read in bed, or
watch a movie ensconced in your compact habitat while you are also in a vehicle parked on the road.
then I remember that most of these don't look equipped with showers.
In any city
you'll hear endless bemoaning of the sad, inevitable closures of beloved
mom & pop stores. Downtown Santa Barbara, in particular State St.,
has been rapidly losing these businesses, especially given that both
giant booksellers are barely hanging on to their precious real estate.
However, here is some evidence of home-grown businesses past (and a
pretty specialized one at that).
reminds me of another business I've seen downtown but is harder to track
down: a bright yellow van (i.e. a rapemobile) with a giant printed sign
in the window stating "NOTARY."
Santa Barbara is small enough (90,000 city, 200,000 metro) that its
parking situation isn't particularly dire. I don't actually own a car,
so I lack first-hand knowledge of this, but it certainly seems
acceptable. Nevertheless, you can spot these little half-track-looking
things zipping around town all day long. The term "meter maids" is not,
alas, unwarranted: most of the Parking Enforcement officers who emerge
from them appear to be middle-aged women.
Is it their very
efforts that make the place so parkingly available, or are they
effectively just for show? These are the heated chicken-and-egg
discussions being hashed out in the Santa Barbara City Council even as
we speak. If you don't believe me, just watch City TV 18. Watch it, for I am
unable; I addition to lacking a car, I lack a television. (Got a rice
Already, I've no doubt given you the impression that this project is Santa Barbara in Lean Times. It's
really not, though I would submit that the correlation between a city's
continuous prosperity and its dullness is, shall we say, nonzero. The
Scottish musician and writer Nick "Momus" Currie has interesting things to say about this:
Increasingly, my outlook has
Berlinified, by which I mean I regard expensive cities like New York,
London and Tokyo as unsuited to subculture. They're essentially
uncreative because creative people living there have to put too much of
their time and effort into the meaningless hackwork which allows them
to meet the city's high rents and prices. So disciplines like graphic
design and television thrive, but more interesting types of art are
throttled in the cradle.
While Santa Barbara will never,
ever even approach the NYC/London/Tokyo population scale — even
proportionately — it has similar rents-and-prices issues. We call it the
"Santa Barbara Tax". Talking to a friend in Brooklyn, I found out that
Brooklyn is actually in some respects cheaper than here; the bars are,
anyway. When someone leaves Santa Barbara, it's usually because their
studio apartment went up to $1100 per month or because they found the
same job in like Bakersfield, but it pays three times as much. (These
are not exaggerations.)
Part of me thus roots for Santa Barbara
to get poorer. This is not particularly improbable in Economic Times
Like These; signs over signs like those pictured above are pretty
common. Things have improved since last year, when the frequency of
empty storefronts made stretches of State look like the mouth of a
Sportsman regular. Alas, I haven't seen many cool, interesting things
take root in the dead spots; if anything, the new arrivals are worse. I
see it as emblematic that Morninglory Music was replaced by some sort of
glow-in-the-dark t-shirt store.
But hope springs eternal! The
glow-in-the-dark t-shirt industry could always take a dive, making way
for the Ooga Boogas of the
world. Then let's convert Juicy Couture into a Kinokuniya or something,
We started this blog to cultivate images of Santa Barbara not approved by the Board of Tourism. Is there a Santa Barbara Board of Tourism? Too hard to find out for sure. But consider the following: (a) 75 percent of the humanity flowing up and down State Street at any given time are out-of-towners, and (b) the Santa Barbaran images that reach the outside world offer harbors, palm trees, Spanish architecture, and essentially nothing else. To look at those, you wouldn't know there's anything interesting in Santa Barbara.
Yet after living here for the better part of a decade, I've come to realize that there is. You just have to approach the city in the right frame of mind. To achieve this frame of mind, the only one through which the interesting Santa Barbara can be seen, you must wholly disregard the propaganda of quaint beachiness. Abandon the search for the pleasant, the picturesque, the paradisical. If you want to know what the interesting Santa Barbara is, it's this: a curbside wood grain-encased Sony television from 1981 that is both free and gratis.