June 18 – July 6, 2002
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June 22, 2002, Saturday –From Barstow to Santa Barbara, California
We pulled out of Barstow, Calif., first on Interstate 40 and then on Interstate 15 about 8:30 a.m., only to find that the California Welcome Center didn’t open until 9 a.m. Oddly, it is on the west side of town on I-15, in a discount shopping center that is on the wrong side of the road for west-bound traffic.
My theory is that the state wants to greatly reduce the number of travelers who would otherwise stop to obtain maps, ask questions, discard garbage and use the restrooms. There could be no other reason I can think of that would justify putting the Welcome Center in such an out-of-the-way place. Worse, its workday hours foreclose visitation from early risers who spend the night in Barstow or from the commercial traffic which might want to push on through the desert from Flagstaff. Maybe the Golden State is trying to wipe out overruns in its TP budget. Even the official state highway map, when compared to those given out by Texas and Arizona for size and quality, is chincey. Welcome to California.
I-15 and I-40 converge in Barstow, with I-15 the surviving name of the highway that continues west and south toward L.A., connecting with I-10 near San Bernardino. I-10 goes through the heart of downtown L.A., where we picked up U.S. 101 North to Santa Barbara. Other than the congestion and traffic, it’s a fairly easy drive at mid-day.
So without benefit of the maps and brochures about L.A. and the California Coast we wanted, we headed west on I-15. Fortunately, our son Casey had sent us detailed driving directions from the very good, free service on the Internet at mapquest.com. Mapquest informed us that we had precisely 210.72 miles to go before arriving at 986 Miramonte Drive in Santa Barbara, our son’s rented condo. Traffic through the desert was heavy and there were several major projects underway that will someday add additional lanes. Eastbound vehicles were in gridlock for miles due to the construction and associated rubbernecking. Thankfully, we moved along at 60-to-75 mph most of the way.
The growing sprawl of tightly packed houses, commercial centers and occasional shopping malls that flows east from L.A. is amazing. The growth of L.A. continues unabated and available land in the desert is feeding its maw. The land is cheaper, providing housing prices that are reachable by the middle class. We saw signs advertising homes in the 200s, half the price of even the cheapest closer to the center of L.A. or the Pacific Ocean. Of course, the far-flung suburbs fuel the four-wheeled jam of commuter traffic. Nearly all the cars, SUVs and pickups we saw in the distant bedroom communities east of the San Bernardino Valley were recent models and many of them were expensive models. Los Angelinos and Valley People spend a lot of time in their cars and obviously are willing to spend the money to minimize the chance of breakdowns that come with older models.
It was stop-and-go traffic through what passes for downtown L.A., which is so spread out that it has collections of office buildings rather than a city center. I was surprised to see traffic so dense on a Saturday; everybody couldn’t be going to the beach. Casey has learned to time his trips to or through L.A. But then so have several million others. As in the movie Field of Dreams (“build them and they will come),” so it is with the ever-expanding network of highways, “build them and they will drive.” Traffic is an intractable problem in L.A. and other metro areas that have grown out rather than up.
We got our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean on this trip north of L.A. at Ventura, where traffic starts thinning until the final approach to Santa Barbara. Stop-and-go driving then reigns supreme at rush hours during the week. Santa Barbara’s highways are also gridlocked on special weekends like this one, which celebrates Summer Solstice Festival with lots of events and a costume parade that attracts gays and lesbians from throughout the region.
For several miles, we tagged alongside a squadron of a half-dozen Prowlers, the Chrysler Corp.’s modern-day, hot rods. Their drivers, accompanied by wives or girlfriends, were cruising the coastline highway and attracting lots of coveting looks. The looks were not directed so much as the attractive females riding shotgun as they were at the expensive, retro roadsters, which were manufactured in the 21st Century to the style
|Betty & Casey at Santa Barbara Harbor|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
We arrived at Casey’s condo at 1 p.m., just in time to join him for a lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches. Ever the dutiful son who knows his father’s tastes, he had laid in a supply of Tecate. I did enjoy a bottle of the cold beer from Mexico after the nerve-jarring drive through L.A. and environs.
Casey’s condo is on a hillside overlooking much of the town of Santa Barbara. It has a wonderful view from the backside deck and also from his second floor, spare bedroom, especially at night with the lights marching up and down the hillsides. His side of the hill doesn’t face the ocean, but the condo is only a mile and a half from it. It is owned by an enterprising schoolmarm, who rents it to Casey for $2,200 a month. A comparable condo a few doors away recently sold for $400,000. The local newspaper said a new study put the median price of homes in the area at $775,000; a new subdivision of “starter homes” offers single-family houses at $995,000.
Betty soon made friends with a neighbor’s handsome, male
English Bulldog, aptly named Guinness by its Irish-American owners. She also
talked gardening with a transplanted
Englishwoman, who has planted the small area by her condo’s front door with bright colored flowers. It look liked she had extended the tiny, hillside space behind her deck with garden timbers, permitting a small bed of tropical plants.
The development of 100 or more units was virtually deserted during the day. With the high mortgage notes or rental rates required to live there, it wasn’t surprising that two-earner households seem to be the rule. We saw only a few children in the development, many of whom are evidently collected from day care centers in the afternoon and taken to the development’s small pool for a swim with their parents.
After lunch, Betty and Casey went shopping for groceries and a quick tour of the Santa Barbara harbor and marina, where the freshest seafood is sold. I took a much-needed nap after 4 ½ days of hard driving.
I used Casey’s very fast Dell laptop – which I am buying from him when he upgrades to an even faster IBM built to Harvard Business School specifications – to check my backlog of e-mail. As usual, I found mostly spam awaiting my delete key, the bane of the Internet. It was a joy to send it to the worldwide web’s black hole with the blazing speed of Casey’s ethernet connection. His DSL line is instant-fast, unlike my dialup connection that is the Internet access equivalent of the horse-and-carriage atmosphere. His Dell has roughly four times the memory of my Compaq laptop, which is now three years old. His new IBM has roughly four times the memory of the Dell, technical proof that computing speed and memory doubles about every year even as prices fall.
Later, Casey and I drove 1.5 miles to Shoreline Park, a spacious sward of green grass and palm trees atop sandy cliffs overlooking the ocean. The park has well-maintained walkways, benches, drinking fountains and restroom facilities and is obviously a favorite gathering spot for picnics, Frisbee toss and other family activities.
We walked about a mile around the park, admiring the views of the beach and surf 100 feet below. We talked about his impending relocation to Boston, matriculation into Harvard’s MBA program and potential career opportunities two years down the road. It was great having this serious conversation in such a beautiful setting. There are lots of questions and issues outstanding, but one thing is certain. Casey will very much miss the idyllic lifestyle and climate – in terms of weather, politics and social – that he has enjoyed in Santa Barbara the last two years.
Betty grilled some fresh tuna steaks for a great dinner. We admired the sunset and then Casey’s hillside view of the lights in the valley below. The arid climate means no mosquitoes and few flies, making outdoor living much more attractive than at home during the warm months. Temperatures in Santa Barbara only rarely rise above the low 70s so Casey’s condo doesn’t even have air conditioning. It was delightful to sleep in a room cooled by open windows admitting the night ocean air.
I awakened at 5:45 a.m. when the morning light came through the Venetian shades. While Betty and Casey slept, I went downstairs and cooked some bacon and toast for breakfast, augmented by a can of TAB brought from Memphis. It was nice to have a great view from his dining table that looks out over the back deck.
Casey arose about 7:30 a.m. to check out a biathlon that was to start on one of the main public beaches at 9 a.m. If he liked the looks of the setup, Betty and I planned to watch the start at 9 a.m. However, he soon returned to report that the event looked to be poorly organized and sparsely
|Casey prepares for Sunset Series biathlon|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The three of us drove two of three miles to Arroyo Burro Beach, a wide strand of tightly packed, level sand also known as Dog Beach. The nickname is because it is the only beach in the area that permits dogs. A machine that dispenses plastic “scooper bags” is in the parking lot. Unleashed dogs seem to be tolerated. The dogs and their owners enjoy the wide beach and the surf that pets it with a heavy hand. None of the dogs we saw were overly aggressive with other animals or humans. Several gleefully fetched sticks tossed in the surf by their masters and mistresses.
Casey did a training run two miles up the beach and two miles back in about 30 minutes. That gave Betty and me sufficient time to walk a bit over a mile. Arroyo Burro is a pretty place, with horrifically expensive homes on the cliff 75 or 100 feet above. Betty spotted a long-dead seal washed up at the high tide mark.
Later, we drove through the tony Hope Ranch section of Santa Barbara, looking at distant estate homes and admiring their fabulous views of
|Casey, Betty & Lewis at Dog Beach|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
We had sandwiches at Casey’s place and then I repaired to the Santa Barbara Golf Club for some much needed practice on the driving range and putting green. Betty and Casey went shopping on Santa Barbara’s elegant State Street, where many posh retailers have establishments catering to the town’s rich and famous. Betty bought some peanut butter dog treats at Three Dog Bakery to take home to Dickens. She purchased a bottle of Rhone wine for me. Casey took advantage of his mother’s customary generosity and was treated to a pair of dress shoes and a black bow tie.
My golf practice on the range demonstrated just how corrupted my swing has become, possibly due in some part to an unconscious desire to protect my injured left thigh. I know, I know. The previous sentence screams ALIBI. But I’m determined to play golf with Casey and hoping that continued doses of indomethacin and a long-dormant muscle memory of a decent swing – achieved through more than a few lessons from PGA pros - will somehow make me competitive. My practice on the putting green gave me a glimmer of optimism. I returned to the deserted condo and moved to correct my “nap deficit” with an early afternoon snooze.
Later, Betty and I drove Sally – top down – to East Beach where we parked and walked 2.5 miles to take in the “Every Sunday” sidewalk art and craft show, a Santa Barbara institution during the summer. There were more than 100 artists and crafts persons that had booths and exhibits along the beachside sidewalks. It was a delight to stroll among the laid-back, California artists and their work without being hassled by any hard-sells we sometimes encounter during weekend festivals back home.
Betty bought a fun, American Flag visor for Dickens to wear on his next Fourth of July parade or other suitable occasion. She also purchased a pottery dispenser of liquid soap, made by an artist who struck up a conversation when he noticed my golf visor with a logo from The Masters. He claimed a handicap of 7 and gave me some tips on area courses. In the spirit of Mark Twain’s advice to “trust your fellow man, but always cut the cards,” I’ve learned to take anyone’s stated handicap with a grain of salt until I’ve seen them play. Some golfers tend to give higher handicaps than they deserve, possibly in hopes of making a bet. Others tend to give lower handicaps, wanting to impress. My handicap should rate free parking anywhere.
We walked out on the picturesque Stearn’s Wharf, which juts a quarter mile or more out into the Pacific. But by 6 p.m. the wind over the cold ocean was chilling. So we drove Sally back to Casey’s place, top up. We learned that our well-organized, athletic son had spent his afternoon balancing his checkbook and “spinning” his $2,000 triathlon bike on his deck while listening to music and enjoying the view. What a change in climate he has coming, from the semi-tropical weather of Santa Barbara to the harsh cold of Massachusetts. He’s really enjoyed his tour of duty here, with its temperate weather, beautiful people and plentiful supply of scenic cycling and running routes. But we know how determined Casey is to make the adjustment and thrive in a new atmosphere of unparalleled excellence of academics and contacts he’ll encounter at Harvard Business School.
I cooked my own version of chicken tenders a la Emeril. Betty prepared some rice, broccoli and a salad. A bottle of white wine from France’s Rhone River region – which we had visited last summer – enhanced our delicious dinner. Afterwards, Betty spent some time showing Casey the finer points of tying a bow tie, which should come in handy during the several formals that are on the Harvard calendar. I have had several people show me how to correctly tie a bow tie, but despite the lessons and diagrams, Betty usually ends up doing it for me in the interest of time, a tight knot and polite language. But it isn’t often that we dress to the nines anymore now that I’m retired from corporate life. So it looks a properly knotted black tie is one of the symbols of gentility that will forever elude me.
There is a remarkable and pronounced fascination with physical fitness and good looks that seems to be endemic in Santa Barbara. Part of it is probably due to the presence of the Hollywood Culture. Quite a few movie stars make the town their home. The No. One Star is the old Gipper himself, former President Ronald Reagan.
Part of it is also due to the ease of access to bike lanes, running paths, swimming areas and other facilities which government planners have made available and attractive. One of Casey’s favorite exercise spots is a 50-meter lap pool in a park bordering the largest municipal beach. Called The Plunge, it is offers lap swimming most of the day and into the night for a modest fee. The swimming lanes are “graded” by speed to enable persons of about the same speed to share lanes. Water is heated to about 70 degrees, which is too chilly for recreational dippers but just right for distance training. The ocean is about 64 degrees during the summer, so cold that nearly all the triathletes and surfers wear wet suits.
Even though the hillsides marching up the coast from beach areas are often steep, the city has marked off bike lanes and built bike/walking trails along the major roads and streets. Decorative, iron posts for locking bikes are everywhere. A row of bright, orange buoys off the main public beach marks a one-mile swim route for the weekly biathons. Launches staffed by waterborn police keep the boaters at a safe distance.
There is a three-mile bikeway along the beach. It is a wide, concrete path marked by directional lines to separate the cyclists from the foot and skate traffic. We saw a great many people of all ages jogging, riding and rollerblading the pathway, which is shaded by graceful palm trees. The young men and women proudly showed their “six pack abs,” and in some cases navel piercings. People with gray hair seemed to relish parading their fit-looking bodies. Those who weren’t so fit didn’t seem to be ashamed to be publicly exercising with flabby bodies. Hooray for them!
I was surprised to see that the bikeway contains not a single soft drink stand or snack outlet. There are plenty of well-kept restrooms and drinking fountains, but there is nowhere to buy a Coke or snowcone. Part of the reason may be trash control and part may be fitness related. Regardless, it’s a neat approach to parks management. The city is surely losing several hundred thousands of dollars per year from the lack of concession fees. But the tradeoff in aesthetic appeal seems to be worth it. Dogs are not allowed on the main public beaches, even on leashes.
Looking good is part of the Southern California way of life, which probably has the highest per capita supply of plastic surgeons, health food stores, fitness trainers and bike lanes in the U.S. It obviously pays off. There aren’t nearly as many wide bodies here as I see back in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama. We Southerners (and I’m including myself in this plus-size category) statistically carry the most body fat, eat the least healthy diets and exercise less than do Californians and residents of most other states. We don’t seem to be driven like many people here are to look forever young. But then their near obsession with slimness among many Caucasians in Southern California pales when compared to that we observed last year among the “blade women” of Paris.
Casey has remarked in the past how the young men and women he grew up with in Memphis have already lost the bodies of their youth even though they are still in their mid-20s. He said he is sure to miss the good-looking, athletic women when he moves from Santa Barbara to the ethnic centers in the Northeast. He knows that many of the great looking females here have features enhanced by medical and dental improvements. Such improvements are fairly common; it is not unusual for well-to-do-parents to give their teen daughters “presents” of breast enhancement or other cosmetic surgery.