June 18 – July 6, 2002
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June 24, 2002, Sunday – In Santa Barbara, California
What a yummy treat to have some real sourdough bread toast to my breakfast this morning. I was up before 6 a.m., hungry as usual and looking forward to one of my three rotating breakfasts. At home I’ll have bacon and toast with some fruit one day, eggs and toast with fruit the next day and then cereal with apple juice and toast the third day. The toast is always made
|Betty at entrance to Ralph's grocery|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
There is a scheduled launch of a Defense Department rocket at Vandenberg AFB today, so Casey and most other civilians who work at the base have the day off. It’s probably a spy satellite that is being carried into orbit. Because of the danger of a rocket malfunction and crash – plus for security reasons – civilians are barred from the base when the military launches. Sometimes the launches aren’t announced in advance, so civilians are turned back at the gate. But there was advance warning for this one on a special call-in number very early in the morning. So it’s a free day off for the civilian contractors like Casey, who didn’t have to make the 45-minute commute to the launch facility his company, Clark Construction, is building for Boeing.
Over the last two years, Casey has enjoyed 10 “bonus days off” due to military rocket launches. For the more frequent launches of rockets carrying non-military payloads like telecommunications equipment and scientific experiments, civilians are held at the gate until the rocket is safely in the atmosphere. Nearly all such launches are early in the morning, so the inconvenience is slight. There is never an advance notice of the exact time of the military launches for security reasons. The military personnel who actually launch the rockets work in shifts around the clock in the days leading up to launch. Civilian contractors with high security clearances work with them as necessary.
Launch day at Vandenberg is accompanied by a special team of biologists, who are stationed near the home beach and rocks populated by a herd of sea lions. Their job, which has been going on for years, is to monitor the herd for possible adverse environmental consequences of the launch. The biologists write essentially the same report after each launch: some sea lions ignore the sound of the rocket and continue sleeping; some look up; some roll off the rocks into the ocean. The cost of each report is $50,000, a nutty example of government at work.
With his day free of such heavy concerns as those facing the biologists and launch team, Casey was able to join me for 18 holes of golf at Santa Barbara Golf Club, a first-class, municipal course we last played 18 months ago. It's a hilly course in very good condition. It tests my game with a multiplicity of off-balance stances facing golfers with less-than-perfect shots in the middle of the fairways. Worse, many of the holes are long ones that require the distance delivered by a well-hit driver, so there isn’t much margin for error off the tee. By Memphis public play course standards, SBGC is a bit pricey for non-residents. Our green and cart fees totaled $80, nearly double what the cost would be on a municipal course of similar quality back home.
Casey has only played golf a handful of times during his two years in Santa Barbara, mainly because his primary sports interest is now triathlons. Also, he works a lot of hours and much of his weekend time is devoted to activities with his girlfriend. But his lack of play didn’t hurt his game at all. He hammered the ball off the tee and was deadly with his irons on the approach shots. His putting was so-so but he still had 3 birdies. He shot an excellent score of 82 despite a pickup 7 on one disastrous Par 3. I found myself talking like a parrot, “Nice shot, Casey,” “Nice birdie, Casey,” “Nice shot, Casey.” “Squawk.”
As for me, I struggled through the first 16 holes with many miss-hit drives. Several of my approach shots found the water or sand, adding to the fun. I rationalized that I came to Santa Barbara to enjoy the beach, and I spent a lot of time in it during this round. Thanks to back-to-back pars on the last two holes, I managed to stay under three digits by scoring a sorry 98. I was crushed in our $1 Nassau bet based on match play. But the time spent with Casey on a beautiful day and a very good course made it all worthwhile. Being on the course with my son – no matter how we are shooting – has been one of my most favorite activities ever since he learned to play as an adolescent.
Betty grilled some yummy pork chops for dinner, rounded out with baked potatoes, broccoli with hollandaise sauce and homemade, chocolate chip cookies (Casey’s favorite). A bottle of a nice Firestone Vineyards Merlot topped off the great meal. The three of us watched Casey’s big-screen TV and talked after dinner. Evening fog clouded the view of the stars from his deck. Casey retired early since he had to get up at 5 a.m. for the 45-minute commute to work. The company has given him the use of a Ford Taurus and a gasoline credit card. In turn, he is expected to provide transportation for one of his co-workers, who also lives in Santa Barbara. Nice perk.
Being able to sleep in a room cooled by an open window near the ocean is a delight. Santa Barbara’s climate is near perfect year-round, never too hot and only sometimes cold enough to require a jacket or sweater. Residents and visitors can enjoy the cool evenings out-of-doors in the absence of the humidity and mosquitoes of Memphis. I fear that we’ll not see Casey returning to Memphis for anything longer than short visits, so partial has he become to the California climate. His allergies have disappeared since he moved to Southern California nearly four years ago, first to Palm Desert, then Irvine and finally Santa Barbara.
Casey was long gone on his commute to work by the time I got up to cook breakfast of ham and fried eggs served on toast made of sourdough bread. Wonderful combination. There are newspaper racks for the L.A. Times and the Santa Barbara paper nearby. But I’ve yet to get up early enough to buy one.
Betty and I drove across town to a large Ace Hardware store we’d visited on our last trip. The pattern seems to be that just as soon as we learn how to get around in Casey’s latest home, he moves again. So at least this time we knew where to go and had a pretty good idea of how to get there. I had wanted to buy a large carriage bolt to replace one that is missing from the very nice, glass-topped dinette set Betty had bought Casey three years ago. I also wanted to buy another metal sprinkler nozzle identical to one purchased at Ace earlier, the only such non-plastic model I’ve seen. Alas, the sprawling hardware and home improvement store no longer sells the nozzles.
Afterwards, we re-visited the Queen of the Missions, the still operating and architecturally imposing and beautiful
|Betty at Santa Barbara Botanic Garden|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Across the street from the old Mission is a spectacular rose garden in a beautiful setting. It is surrounded on three sides by a manicured lawn. The remaining side faces expensive, private homes designed in Mission-style architecture. The scrupulously well-kept garden contains dozens of thriving varieties of roses, everything from old polyanthas to new tea roses and grandiflora and miniatures. The dry climate and abundance of sunshine -combined with daytime temps that never get too hot and nighttime temps that never get too cold - make for ideal growing conditions.
There was nary a black fungus spot in sight, a common problem in Memphis and other parts of the South which get a lot of rain and where humidity is high during the heat of summer. Santa Barbara, with help from donors and volunteers who tend the rose garden, has done a great job with their flowered jewel. Visitors to the Mission, who pay a small fee for a tour, can enjoy the rose garden for free. Families use the surrounding lawn for picnics and for just lounging around.
We also revisited the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which is on 65 acres that are several miles up a windy road through the inland hills and canyons to the east. Our membership in the Memphis Botanic Gardens was honored under a reciprocal arrangement – like with Dallas, Flagstaff and similar facilities across the country – so we got in free. We enjoyed seeing the desert and coastal wildflowers, particularly the stands of bright orange, California poppies. Many hummingbirds worked the various flowering plants. Small lizards scurried about here and there in the Manzanita shrubs and among the Live Oaks with their tortured branch shapes.
The garden was founded in 1926 and features more than 1,000 species of native California plants. It has 5.5 miles of paths through a meadow, a canyon and redwood forest. There are plenty of volunteer docents around to lead walking tours and answer questions. This is one of the better gardens we’ve visited; if Casey’s future relocations bring him back to the area, we’ll surely visit it again.
Way Cool, as Californians might say, is the upscale grocery store called Ralph’s in the middle of town. Oddly, it is owned by Kroger, a huge chain which has a middle-market store a few blocks from our home in Memphis. Ralph’s is almost hidden from street view, in a building that looks like a Mission-style shopping mall. It has its own garden, a large fountain and structures giving shade and planting areas for bright colored annual flowers. If you didn’t know it was a grocery store, I doubt you would stop there for food.
Ralph’s offers a great selection of fresh seafood, sushi dishes, wines and exotic takeout salads and main courses. The eye-catching displays and wide-open shelving arrangements seem to serve as a magnet for upscale shoppers. They obviously know their market better here than the sister stores’ management did in Memphis (they sold their generally crummy stores to a St. Louis-based chain earlier this year). Casey is among Ralph’s regulars; his membership card netted us a 12 percent discount.
A big political/social issue in Santa Barbara now is the problem of the homeless, or California-style homeless. Stratospheric housing prices and rents far above the income levels of low-wage service workers have resulted in some people living in their cars or vans. While we were there, the local newspaper reported that about 300 persons camp out full time in their Recreational Vehicles parked in the beach parking lots. Most of the beachfront the lots charge a nominal two or three dollars for the day and forbid overnight parking. However, the “squatters” get around being ticketed by vacating their parking spaces for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Others park in lots provided at no cost by several churches.
The city is moving toward tightening its prohibition on overnight parking at the choice beachfront lots. Debate is underway about the merits of building an RV lot, which some writers of letters to the editor argue would lead to Santa Barbara becoming a magnet for itinerant “undesirables.”
There is no easy solution. Hollywood types, Silicon Valley execs who cashed out early and those who were either smart or lucky in real estate have driven real estate prices way beyond the reach of teachers, policemen and other professionals who work in the bottom tier of the middle class. The median price for a single-family home is $875,000 – and that is not on the beach. Most of the houses advertised in the daily newspaper have prices in seven figures. Small condos way off the beach can be had for half that. Casey is paying $2,200 a month for a two-bedroom condo with 1 ½ baths. The rental vacancy here is an incredible 1 percent and many landlords welcome month-to-month leases because that enables them to raise the rent more frequently.
Many of the people who have regular jobs here commute 30 or more minutes from communities that do not have the cachet and gorgeous beaches of Santa Barbara. The city has invested in a pilot development of subsidized condos that are relatively affordable – meaning two incomes per household. People who qualify to buy them at favorable prices and interest rates cannot sell them for a period of some years. That way, the city is effectively locking into a form of serfdom of at least a kernel of a new generation of fire fighters, restaurant managers and other service workers. As the beautiful people might say, “it’s so hard to get good help.”
Dinner tonight was a disaster. We waited for an hour before we could get a table at a trendy seafood place, “Brophy’s,” at the municipal marina. Another class of the homeless live on yachts and lesser boats docked at much-sought-after slips passed down the generations or sold for tens of thousands of dollars. We sat down at a table on the sidewalk outside the bar and ordered drinks. But the waitress politely told us to vacate “just in case” somebody who wanted a meal might sit there (nobody did). We were finally escorted up the stairs to a table squeezed in between the noisy bar and the servers’ food pickup station. At my unbridled displeasure, we decamped and settled for a silent repast of sandwiches back at Casey’s condo.
I finally got up early enough to snag a newspaper out of the street rack a short walk from the condo. Even though it wasn’t quite 7 a.m., the L.A. Times rack was empty, but a few copies remained of the Santa Barbara Press-Register, which I found to be a pretty good newspaper for a town of 150,000.
Once the morning rush traffic cleared, Betty and I drove 45 minutes down the freeway to Oxnard, a smoggy industrial town just north of L.A. We had wanted to visit the showroom of Santa Barbara Greenhouses (named after the sexier city up the coast). I had corresponded with the company at 721 Richmond Avenue (phone 805-483-4288) because of my interest in purchasing a greenhouse for Betty whenever she retires, which she insists is several years down the road. The company’s Robert West showed us two models and gave us a lot of helpful information, effectively pushing us a little farther along toward a decision.
Our takeaway was that the basic model in a 12x14 configuration - equipped with a larger heater than the standard offering - is probably the best one for the Memphis climate and the available space in our backyard. While it comes in kit form, it looked to me that my limited handyman skills wouldn’t be up to installing the insulated plastic side and roof panels and redwood frame. So we would need a carpenter, plus an electrician to wire the heater ventilating fans and maybe a plumber for a drain. Our existing sprinkler system could be extended by running a water pipe from a nearby stub, with a possible addition of a drip system to augment the unit’s mister device. But that, too, would require some paid expertise. All in all, it wouldn’t be cheap. But it would add another dimension of beauty to our home. The key is Betty having enough free time to really enjoy the year-round plant growing opportunities a green house affords. Stay tuned.
We stopped at an ARCO station in a Hispanic area of Oxnard to buy gas at $1.49 a gallon, the cheapest we’ve seen in California. That was 20 cents less than we had paid in Santa Barbara. We got off 101N at the marina town of Ventura, which is the Southern boundary of California’s Central Coast region. The region stretches to the north to my old SCUBA/body surfing/hell raising grounds of Santa Cruz, where I had many great times with my late friend, Peter Siller. Pete’s life was ended way, way too soon by Viet Cong machine gun fire in 1969.
Pete’s affluent, indulging parents had owned a summer home a block or two from the main beach at Santa Cruz; we had it to ourselves for occasional weekends in the early 1960s. Pete and I were best buddies and fraternity brothers at Sacramento State College – now called Cal State at Sacramento. He went on to become a lieutenant in the U.S. Marines after graduation from the University of Hawaii, where he was attracted by the surfing thrills. I transferred to the University of Mississippi, but for other reasons. I ended up graduating from Mississippi State University and also in the U.S. Marines, albeit as a corporal and editor of a base newspaper. I think of Pete often and how he tragically missed so many of the pleasures and satisfactions of adult life that I’ve been blessed to have, especially when I’m reminded by the media of the incredibly stupid waste of American life in Vietnam.
At Ventura Harbor, Betty and I enjoyed a very good lunch of fish and chips at Andria’s. It claims to have been voted the best seafood restaurant in the commercial village for the last 16 years. A
|Betty at Ventura Harbor|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Ventura Harbor is also home to the Channel Islands National Park Visitors Center, which offers an informative, compact exhibit on the life and history of the islands. A small tidal pool – powered by mechanically swished water – has been created inside the Visitors Center. It is home to living sea creatures and flora, including psychedelic colored starfish and tidal seaweed. About 100 yards away in an inlet partly protected by a seawall, a class for novice surfers was underway.
The small islands comprise a National Marine Sanctuary. They are about 14 miles offshore and accessible by excursion boat. Island Packers operates the concession, which offers several half-day and all-day trips plus camper transportation to six of the islands. Adult prices range from $24 to $62. The largest of the Channel Islands is Santa Cruz Island, offering swimming, snorkeling, scuba and hiking. The boat ride takes over an hour each way to Santa Cruz but as long as five hours to the remote wilderness of San Miguel Island. Some visitors bring their own kayaks and explore sea caves, secluded coves and beaches.
The channel between the islands and the mainland serves as a seagoing highway for migrating Pacific Gray Whales. The whales pass through the channel December through March during their swim of 6,000-to-10,000 miles from their feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to their breeding area in quiet lagoons of Mexico. Whale watching boats are available all along the California coast, including Ventura, Oxnard, Santa Barbara and San Diego.
Betty and I twice went out on a San Diego-based boat and took advantage of its guaranteed sighting. Failing to spot any whales, we returned several years later and rode on the boat for free. The second time was a charm as we had a curious mother whale and her calf surface right alongside the boat.
On this trip, we had thought about taking the Condor Express launch out of Santa Barbara’s harbor for a chance to spot seasonal Humpback, Blue, Finback or Minke Whales along with the common dolphins, seals and sea lions. But we were reluctant to part with a full day of our limited time with Casey and $70 each for a low-probability sighting of a rarely seen whale.
Once back in Santa Barbara, with our appetites whetted for fish, we stopped at Ralph’s supermarket to buy some wonderfully fresh salmon, which we cooked for dinner that night. Casey got home a little early since he was competing in Santa Barbara’s weekly “Sunset Series,” a grueling event that draws the fittest of the fit. About 100 participants – most clad in full wetsuits – braved the 64-degree Pacific to swim one-half mile in the ocean on a course marked by buoys about 100 yards off the public beach. Lifeguards on surfboards help keep curious boaters well beyond the swimmers. Once the swimming leg is finished, the racers dash across the broad, sandy beach to a change area on the park’s grass, where they shed their swimming gear and don running shoes. The biathletes then run about 3.5 miles. Meanwhile, another 100 or so participants run a 5 kilometer course with their start timed to stagger the finishes of the two sets of racers.
A yacht race was underway about 1,000 yards off Leadbetter Beach. So with colorful, billowing spinnakers just offshore and dozens of young, hard bodies in full exertion, Betty and I had lots of activity to watch. The flat-bellied lifeguards - plus a surprising number of beefy young women swimmers - disregarded the cold water and chilling, afternoon breeze by foregoing wet suits.
Casey finished in the top third of the biathlon group even though his training time has been drastically pared by the stress and hassle of his impending relocation to Boston and Harvard. It was fun watching him race. This was the first time since I had seen him compete since last year, when he participated in the Memphis in May Triathlon and achieved a personal best time on the Olympic course distance. Either Betty or I – and sometimes both of us – were present during nearly all of his youth soccer games, track meets and cross country races years ago. He has both determination and athletic talent and takes his fitness seriously.