1/18/08

Santa Cruz, California

This might sound crazy, but sometimes when I visit Santa Cruz, I feel like I'm in a nicer part of Los Angeles.

Couldn't this be Silverlake, or Los Feliz, or Eagle Rock?

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If you start with L.A., and you add some hippies, bicycles, and better air, you basically have Santa Cruz. Am I wrong?

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No, there aren't many actors or writers here. But instead you have tech entrepreneurs and artists. The same crazy mix of energy veers between intense and laid-back just like it does in Los Angeles. Santa Cruz has surfers, coffee shops, funky music stores, art galleries, trendy food, tanned blonds, Mexican food, tourists from "the Valley", terrible traffic, and some classic 20th century American architecture. Just like L.A.

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Santa Cruz doesn't look or feel anything like the rest of the Bay Area, although the town is only separated from the Bay Area by 20 miles. That's twenty twisty miles on Highway 17, rising to 1800 feet over the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's a geographic and psychic boundary that separates life in Santa Cruz from Silicon Valley like the Pasadena Freeway separates L.A. from Pasadena.

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I went to college in Santa Cruz. I started in 1987, and finished, after many sojourns, in 1995 (with a B.S. in Chemistry and Biochemistry, and, ahem, cough, honors in the major.) Nowadays, I get down here around 3-5 times per year. That's much more often than I came here before college.

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My family rarely visited Santa Cruz, and my friends in high school preferred to spend our free time in San Francisco or Berkeley. I grew up less than an hour away, but when I arrived here as a student, I stepped in to a different world. And, I met lots of people from LA for the first time. They were all so worldly and sophisticated. Whereas I was a dork. But no one seemed to notice or care, and I had lots of friends. They were brilliant people with razor-sharp wits and endless style.

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And they knew how to party--hard. They drank like fish and took enormous amounts of drugs. I never took any drugs in Santa Cruz (weird!) but I did learn to drink. While other kids were tapping kegs, we drank Tanqueray and Absolut, Bushmills and Johnny Walker.

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What makes Santa Cruz very different than L.A. is its small size. Santa Cruz comes to an abrupt end if you go north or south, while L.A. seems to go on forever. You don't need a Thomas Guide to get around in Santa Cruz, but noone in LA drives without one. Or that was then. Nowadays I suppose everyone has GPS.

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I believe I overlapped with Amy Stewart in Santa Cruz for a year or two. She was here then, growing her first garden.

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I'll bet it was beautiful.

2 comments:

Gardener of La Mancha said...

That's funny you should mention Amy's garden. I just read From the Ground Up.

germi said...

I never thought of the LA /Santa Cruz connection - you are totally right! There is a little town north of Eagle Rock called Montrose, and whenever I go there I could swear I was in a drier Santa Cruz.
But the funny thing is - I always thought Santa Cruz had better style! I just love cute alternative/hippie types...
The houses really cinch it - total Eagle Rock... you have such an eye!