Friday, May 20, 2011

Ah-yeah! California 2011 (Part Two)

(This post will likely make more sense if you read this one first. Also, for some reason, I took no pictures during this leg of the trip. You'll just have to use your imaginations.)

When I told people I was going out to California, those who've been to the places I mentioned I'd be visiting informed me that I probably wouldn't like L.A. much, especially Hollywood, described as "dirty" by most, but that I would love Santa Barbara. I had proven such prognostications wrong on my first afternoon in the city (after all, I'm a City Mouse at heart). Dirty? I didn't see it. Besides, what's "dirty" when you're familiar with both New York and Philadelphia? I found Hollywood fascinating and was thrilled to be traveling along streets I've heard of all my life: Hollywood Blvd., Santa Monica Blvd., Rodeo Dr. Despite the fact I know very little about movies and Hollywood, I was able to make plenty of "big screen" connections.

I wasn't exactly skeptical, then, about Santa Barbara, but I wasn't exactly convinced I wouldn't love it, either, as we headed up 101, hugging the magnificent coastline -- does anything get bluer than the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean on a bright, sunny day? -- before heading inland for a while to feast our eyes on hills that provide so many shades of green they could easily rival Crayola's largest box of crayons. (I love the bright yellow flowers of the wild mustard that grows there in contrast to the greens and browns.) The truth of the matter is that I fell somewhere in between loving it and hating it. If someone were to offer me an all-expenses paid visit back to the town, I wouldn't turn it down. However, I don't have any overwhelming desire to return, nor did I spend any time thinking about what it might be like to live there.

Two factors put a bit of a bad taste in our mouths before we'd arrived in town. The first was that, before I got laid off, I had planned work-related meetings with colleagues out there. The second was that we had also planned that, while I was working, Mom would have a little "reunion" of sorts with Kathy and another college friend of theirs. On our last trip to California together, when I was attending a conference up at Asilomar near Monterey, my mother had taken the bus down to Santa Barbara to meet these two, and they'd had a marvelous time. We'd rebooked into the same hotel where they'd stayed, one within walking distance of both downtown and the beach. Needless to say, I would not be having any work meetings. Kathy had been unable to make the trip to Santa Barbara, which was why she had come up to L.A. to visit instead. My mother's other friend, for complicated reasons we still don't quite understand (although both Danny and I have written imaginative stories in our heads at this point) couldn't join us at the last minute. Mom was quite sad about that. All these women are nearing 80, and my mom (rightly) feels a need to seize each chance she gets to see them.

The scenic drive, however, boosted out spirits, and we were quite cheerful by the time we arrived at our hotel. I actually decided it was nice that I'd get to have Sunday through Tuesday alone with Mom. We planned just to enjoy the beach and to do some shopping, and to, otherwise, be quite lazy. I loved our hotel room, which had a real little kitchenette, complete with gas stove. If I hadn't already decided to be lazy, I might have made a trip to the market up the street and bought something to make for dinner. But, well, I'd already decided to be lazy. Besides, during most of this trip, I had a hankering for seafood (especially oysters on the half shell, for some reason, most of which, I discovered, were shipped out there from places like Maine. Not exactly sustainable eating, but oh well, I was on vacation where I was being lazy and doing environmental damage), and since Bob doesn't like seafood, I don't cook it much. I prefer to have others cook it (or prepare it, in the case of raw oysters) for me.

Mom and I settled into our room and then headed out on foot to a restaurant that was recommended by the hotel clerk who told us it was "only three blocks away." I forget that in most places, "blocks" are a tad bit longer than they are in New York where you can count on one city block being 1/20 of a mile (well, if you're walking between numbered streets, that is. If you're walking between numbered avenues, they're twice as long, but I'm typically walking between streets). I think that in Santa Barbara, the blocks are about a mile long, and they disappear into the harbor (then again, maybe we just got a little lost). Needless to say, it took us quite some time to find the restaurant, and we were starving by the time we got there and had to endure the unhappy news that it would be "about a 25-minute wait." What to do in such situations but head to the bar for a martini (me) or a glass of wine (Mom)?

The bar was downstairs and practically empty but quiet compared to the very noisy restaurant. There, we saw splashed across a huge T.V. screen the news that Osama Bin Laden had been captured. The volume was not turned up, though, nor was the closed caption feature turned on, and the CNN scroll didn't make sense. I don't remember the exact wording, but it was something like, "Osama Bin Laden captured. Killed as body on way to Indian Ocean." We couldn't quite believe it, so my mother asked the bar tender. He was a bit of an obnoxious young punk who answered my mother's, "Is this true? They found Bin Laden?" with a shrug of his shoulders and a "yes," begrudgingly sliding our drinks to us. When we'd walked in, he'd told us to hurry, because it was "last call," which I was pretty sure was his idea of a joke, because it wasn't even 8:00 yet. (I later realized, when some other young man came in who looked like he was going to replace our surly server, that maybe he'd meant last call for his shift.) I suppose if Mom and I had been two giggling, scantily-dressed young women, like the ones who came in and sat at the other end of the bar, he might have been more forthcoming, or at least might have shown off for us the way he did for them, tossing around liquor bottles, mixers, and aluminum tumblers, throwing them in the air and catching them behind his back.

We were called back to the restaurant before we'd finished our drinks and headed back up the stairs to a lovely little table outside with a view of the harbor. Here I proceeded to make the big mistake of ignoring my desire for oysters on the half shell and instead ordering the combination raw plate which claimed to be a sampling of raw shell fish but really turned out to be mostly a huge seafood salad with a token oyster and a token clam or two here and there on the side. Luckily, I'd also ordered the clam chowder, which was delicious, and I learned a lesson: stick to the real thing when you see it on the menu instead of being conned by a "sampler" that promises more, which I did throughout the rest of the trip.

We could hear seals barking in the harbor (our waitress was as blasé about them as our bar tender had been about Bin Laden), and I so badly wanted to see one. It was too dark, though, and they didn't come up onto the pier the way I've seen them do in San Francisco, so I soon gave up, and we finished our food and headed back to the hotel, proceeding to get hopelessly lost. This we found extremely amusing and had to stop several times, nearly collapsing on the sidewalk in gales of laughter. Finally, some other tourists we met along the way took pity on us and told us to follow them back to their hotel where we asked the clerk for directions. He gave us a map, and it seemed we were almost there, so we declined the ride the other tourists offered us in their car, and finally found our way back.

The next morning, I was determined to do two things. The first was to replace the contact lens I'd dropped down the sink at Danny's. The second was to do some laundry, because I'd noticed that the hotel had a washer and dryer for its guests (I like being able to wash clothes while on vacation, even when I've packed plenty and have no real need to do so). Replacing the contact lens ended up being a breeze. The first optometrist I called produced a receptionist who was extremely kind and told me she'd gladly replace it for nothing, sympathizing that it would be horrible not to be able to see while on vacation. A phone call to my optometrist in Pennsylvania, a fax with my prescription, a short drive to the office to pick it up, and I soon had replaced my glasses with my contacts (although I hate the way I look in glasses, this was not solely a vanity. I see much better with contacts than I ever have with glasses).

I'd dragged Mom away from all the news about Osama Bin Laden to accompany me on that little expedition (call me un-American, but I was not as riveted by this news as everyone else seemed to be. I was glad he was caught, and I hope it means a little more peace in the world, but I doubt it. I certainly didn't need hours and hours of information and analysis, nor was I too keen on footage of Americans all around the country celebrating the way those in the Middle East had after 9/11), and she was perfectly content to get back to it, while I went about getting a load of laundry in the washer. I then spent a lovely, lazy morning on the bed, reading Kendall's book. When the wash was done, we lunched on some leftovers and then headed out on foot to walk to the center of town for a little shopping. Before we'd even gone one block, though, my mother realized she was really too tired to do this (she's still so young at heart, I often forget she's 79 years old, and we'd had that long, long walk the previous evening). She turned back, and, map in hand, I headed off to the center of town alone.

Did I mention I'm not the best when it comes to reading maps? And that this was a particularly bad map? And that (which you should have gathered from my previous night's adventure) I have a terrible sense of direction? By some miracle, I managed to find the center of town, but it wasn't easy, and I found myself walking through some pretty "iffy" areas, thinking how glad I was that it was daylight, while also thinking that plenty of women have been raped in broad daylight when there are so many abandoned buildings just waiting to be used to obscure such activity.

Once in town, I realized that I didn't really want to go shopping (since we all know I don't really like to shop unless I'm accompanied by certain people like my mother). What I really wanted was a pedicure (something I really do like to the point I'd practically drag Bob to have one with me). I was sure I'd easily be able to find a salon. I did. It was a fancy, "organic" spa (I'm into organic, but, ummm, aren't things like sea weed and mud naturally organic?). I could feel smoothness wrap itself around my body like plastic over hot wax as I walked up to the receptionist who proceeded to completely ignore me in favor of someone on the phone (call me old-fashioned, but I hate that. Customers who've bothered to enter an establishment in person ought always to come first. In fact, people ought to bow down to us, especially when we've just risked life and limb, hiking through Santa Barbara's seedier neighborhoods to get there). Finally, she got off the phone, and I asked if it would be possible to get a pedicure. Obviously, I looked like one of the Beverly Hillbillies, because, despite the fact the place looked and sounded completely empty to me, she was terribly sorry, but they were completely booked through the afternoon. Thank God, really. A pedicure in that place probably would have cost me more than my airline ticket from Philadelphia and back.

It's a funny thing about downtown Santa Barbara. Although it sports a number of tattoo parlors and a sandwich shop on almost every corner, it seems, it doesn't have many salons. Eventually, though, I found a nail salon, the sort of place I'm used to with teenage girls getting speckled blue and black nails and Asian women applying the fancy artwork. I paid for the "full treatment", massage and everything (reasoning that the cost of this probably would've paid for one nail in the other place; thus, I was obviously saving, not spending money). I, and my whitish-pink toenails, left the salon very happy. What is it about a good pedicure that can give one such confidence? I now felt emboldened to find a better, safer way back to the hotel. I studied the map, figured out the best route, and made it back without a hitch.

That evening, we met one of my former colleagues for drinks at a lovely café right on the beach. The weather continued to be as perfect as it had been since our plane landed (clear blue skies, temperatures in the upper seventies), which means the ocean was as blue as ever, as we sat looking out over it. I sipped a margarita (what else does one drink on a beach?) and had a wonderful time discussing all the "ins" and "outs" of publishing (I should be bored with that topic by now, but I never am) with this smart young woman. I was worried Mom might be bored, but she enjoyed listening to us and "learning" so much, as she put it. (She also made me feel good later by telling me how impressed she was by how competent I sounded. That was nice to hear, having recently been laid off, which, no matter what, makes a person feel extremely incompetent). After the margarita, I decided to have (my favorite) an absolutely delicious hot dog, cooked to perfection, juicy without being too greasy served on a nicely toasted, perfect (not so huge, the hot dog got lost. Not so small, the hot dog fell out) bun. This hot dog connoisseur was extremely pleased.

We had another leisurely morning our last day in Santa Barbara. We were meeting another group of former colleagues of mine for lunch and had decided, before that, to head to K-Mart. I wanted a hat, which I'd forgotten to pack and a razor, which I'd also forgotten to pack. Wouldn't you know it? K-Mart, which usually has tons of great hats, had no good hats. I half-heartedly made do with what seemed like the best they had. Meanwhile, they did have some great shoes (1 pair bought) and flip flops (1 pair bought) and skirts (1 bought). Yes, I did go all the way to Santa Barbara to shop at K-Mart (of all places!).

We had another delicious lunch (mushroom and quiche salad) at a little landmark café (what is it about publishing sorts and cafés?) with my colleagues and another great publishing discussion before talk turned to such things as the royal wedding. They all seemed a little shell-shocked, understandably so, given that 21 of their colleagues had recently lost their jobs. I'm hoping everything ends up well for them (which, in my book, means they all find fabulous, rewarding jobs elsewhere and get the recognition they each deserve).

Afterwards, I can't remember exactly why, we went to a drugstore, and, to my surprise, found a perfect hat. This meant going back to K-Mart to return the unsatisfactory one I'd bought. That deed done, we climbed back into the car, and I called my friend Gary to tell him we were hitting the road up the coast to his place in Morro Bay.


Bob said...


What a lovely story but Bob doesn't like seafood? And you bought a house on the coast in Maine? "Our hearts are warm, our bellies are full, And we are feeling prime. This was a real nice clambake, And we all had a real good time." That's what they do in Maine! (From R&H's Carousel of course.)

And ditto CA's West Coast given your gastronomic experiences there. Sounds like you and your Mom had a lot of fun. Loved the place you stayed at in Santa Barbara

Glad you liked Hollywood. I used to enjoy going to LA to meet with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (remember, we used to publish their directory?) and the American Film Institute. I was smitten by the industry. In fact, we went to the Academy Awards one year.

Sounds like you were in the CA spirit, capping everything off with a margarita and a hot dog. What a combination. And trips to K-Mart as well!

Carrie K said...

The margarita on the beach sounds like the perfect CA activity anyway.

Walking? Not so much. Hiking is entirely different but walking as a means of transportation if you're not in say, San Francisco? Hmmm.

The cafes all sound magnificent! Santa Barbara allowed a K-Mart to go in? wonders never cease.

Emily Barton said...

Bob, yes, it's a travesty that Bob doesn't like seafood, especially since we can harvest clams in our own back yard in Maine. Then again, maybe it's not so bad: more for me. Yes, I was most definitely in a California spirit.

Carrie, I'm a walker no matter where I am. It really wasn't too bad (well, as long as I stayed out of the "iffier" areas of town). I think the K-Mart may, technically, be in Goleta, so Santa Barbara is still safe from such atrocities :-)!

Stefanie said...

I was never that impressed by Santa Barbara either. Hollywood is fun but I also know what people mean when they say it is dirty. Did you buy a map of the stars and drive around looking for celebrity mansions?

Emily Barton said...

Stef, glad to hear a native Californian tell me she's not impressed with Santa Barbara. I didn't buy a map of the stars (Danny probably could've done that without a map). Will have to save that for next time, I guess.

ZoesMom said...

I have similar ambiguous feelings about Santa Barbara. It is kind of a one day visit town to me, but it sounds like you and Mom made the best of it. Next time (if there is one) I'll have to try that hot dog place.

Emily Barton said...

ZM, you'll definitely be happy with the hot dog. Maybe we'll stop by SB just for that when we take our trip out together.