Dear Santa Barbara……
It’s taken me 16 years to write this letter. It’s been a long time coming and we both knew it had to happen. How could you do this to me? To us? I grew up with you. I loved you as a child. With your constant 72 degree year round temperature, your picturesque mountains and sweet blue seas, I always took your beauty for granted. I took my first solo dive off of your Channel Islands. I raced BMX out in Goleta in glorious sunshine. You taught me the joys of Rusty’s pepperoni pizza, the rigors of Junior Lifeguards at East Beach and how to bask in the fresh taste of citrus and avocados on demand. You shielded me from the raw elements: a trip to the snow was a treat, a vacation to the summer heat of Phoenix no more than an excuse to swim in a relatives’ pool. And, as always, you were there with open arms to await my return to your ocean, steady climate and mellow winters.
Much like the boy in Silverstein’s Giving Tree, at some point I wandered away to blaze my own trail, to urinate on life’s other fire hydrants. I escaped to college up north with your less glamorous granola-munching sister San Luis Obispo. You should know I cultivated a love affair with her that continues unabated, by the way. But I digress. I experienced living in Alaska (good and bad). I meandered all over this country and one day ended up in Missouri, a fireman with roots no deeper than a dandelion when it came to a sense of home. I truly felt that we needed to reconnect.
So I traveled home on an unexpected trip to visit my father as he came to grips with aging and the associated health issues. Eight Days. Seven if you count the one day trip to visit San Luis County (it meant nothing, I swear). I was there for you. To spend time. To remember why we’ve drifted apart over all these years. Sure enough, you still have all the trappings of a seductive environment….. I believe I counted five clouds on my entire trip. I ate fresh seafood at your harbor. I took in a leisurely drive along foothills that would be considered mountains by the rest of the country living east of the Rockies. But something’s different. You’ve changed. Don’t you try to hide it, not from me.
You always were the bastion of the noveau riche and Stuffy Old Money, but that segment always kept to Hope Ranch and Montecito, respectively. The rest of town was accessible. Working class folks raised working class hellions. State Street was where the kick-ass arcade / movie theatre was and the derelicts hung out. There were hardware stores and auto parts shops and old warehouses where the really cool guys shaped their own surfboards. But now it would seem that all of your inhabitants are vying for the kind of notoriety Paris Hilton enjoys. You’ve become a town of labels and high end trends. Quite frankly, it’s ugly. Vapid shallowness is the realm of People Magazine, Barbara Walters interviews and the “music” of Ashlee Simpson……not you. Gone are the smoke filled bowling alleys and Pony baseball. Now the only joints that have any sort of credible seediness seem to be the ones that are affecting skuzzy irony, and that’s wrong. Wrong, you hear me? One of your residents proclaimed to me “Santa Barbara….where everyone either has a gardener or is one”. There is no shortage of smug fools parading around in “Smart” cars and golf carts in order to garishly prove their commitment to an environment…..YOUR environment, now held hostage by second tier Hollywood burnouts and aging hippie-professor-activist types who are drowning in their own rich liberal guilt. Damn you, Santa Barbara, why have you done this? YOU were my roots, my foundation, the reason I was born to be a cynical optimist (after all, who can really compare to your first love?). And now I find out that you’ve made the decision to price out all the working class kids who dream of owning a home. $900,000 for a 1000 square foot dump? This leads me to two critical questions…..who do you think you are? Where do you get off? I’ll tell you what….you’ve got some nerve trying to pull that one on me. Rob Lowe may think that your homes are worth more than the GDP of Trinidad, but I knew you when you were just an upstart with some palm trees and ugly Mexican architecture, facts I embraced. But you decided to Big Time me. And it’s more than just annoyed me, SB. I hate you for it.
I loathe you for your transition from a laid back coastal town to a haven for roving gangs of the Brazilian Idle Rich (see pic above). I despise the fact that your residents tend to use the word “fabulous” in every other sentence. It irks me to no end that every restaurant has to be associated with some media darling (ohhhh you have to try THIS restaurant…Kevin Costner is a partner in it! Tres Fabulous!) Does this sound to you like sour grapes? Well, it is, and they are. I am soured on you. I am envious of the coffee and Baileys my brother enjoys in his hot tub in the morning, followed by the Patron margaritas for lunch with some sushi, followed by a fit of yelling at his gardening crew, culminating in some culinary and debaucherous delight that evening. And I’m mad as hell that you’ve seen fit to accommodate him, the movie-star types and that damn gang of Brazilians while leaving faithful old me to smolder here in a life of public service and bitter shame. So don’t call me anymore. I hate you, Santa Barbara. And, I’ll never, ever stop loving you.