It took us awhile today to figure out what we wanted to do. We had a free day, and we were all up and active at reasonable hours of the morning and did not want to waste a day in boredom, and so it was that after having lunch at our new local diner here in Scotts Valley (Chubby’s, an apt name for a diner, since one wouldn’t trust a Skinny’s Diner to serve good food), we headed out for some exploration. When one has an adventuring party like our own, such explorations offer an opportunity to see sights that one might not get to see normally, and that was the case today. Indeed, one can learn a lot about a town simply by being observant, and that really is the lesson I would like someone to take away from my random and perhaps somewhat odd observations.
After driving around Santa Cruz for a bit and finding out that the state park we originally went to was as large as the excavations at Thyatira in Turkey (modern Akhisar) that made us such a wonderful sight to the schoolchildren of the town, we decided that it would be better to head south on CA-1 rather than to head north towards San Francisco. It was a wise choice, not only because it was a more enjoyable drive as far as traffic was concerned, but also because it provided a great deal of worthwhile material to see that provided a sense of the contrasts that make life in California so intriguing as an observer. Now, I lived in Southern California for four and a half years as a college student at the University of Southern California, but my experience with Northern California has been pretty nonexistent, so I am definitely a stranger here. Moreover, my time in Southern California was more than a decade and a half in the past, so it is not exactly recent experience as far as that goes.
The first place we explored after leaving Santa Cruz and heading south was the town of Watsonville. Our driver hoped to find some antique stores there because the town was listed as having a historic downtown, but sadly that was not the case. I saw a great many taquerias and jewelry stores and the like, but neither a used book store nor an antique store could be found along the main drag. Heading out of town we quickly found ourselves in farm country where there were small towns with most of the business names in Spanish and a large collection of sketchy looking auto mechanics shops that each handled different car parts as a way of spreading the business for everyone else. After a quick pit stop, we made our way down to Moss Landing where we saw a mixture of new business construction, a power plant, and a large of boats in a marina in a small town of less than 1000 residents.
Close to there we found a beach which provided some poignant moments. For one, the sand was not very fun to walk along, especially for someone who is slightly hobbled like myself. Once we had made the punishing walk past the dunes to the beautiful coast on the state beach we were visiting, we found ourselves to be the only tourists in a strange group of people. There were four people on horseback, most of whom appeared to have beards and clothing that marked them as Sikh or something close to that, two locals trying to sun themselves on the chilly beach, three fishermen in two parties who were not having much luck, a few seagulls, the three people in our party, and a dead seal. After we left there we returned to US-1 and continued moving south, passing some agricultural land along the way, including some artichoke fields, among others. We eventually made our way to Marina and Seaside, and found our explorations there to be surprising in insight, more than one would expect.
First we drove around somewhat aimlessly in Seaside and in the neighboring area, eventually finding ourselves on a boulevard named after a General. This road deposited us into the campus of Cal State University-Monterrey Bay, which in many respects reminded me of what the University of South Florida looks like as a commuter school with good signage. We eventually found a way out of the university and back towards the highway where something struck me deeply and poignantly. On the left side of Second Avenue in Marina there were blocks and blocks of abandoned army barracks behind fences, with the local streets blocked off by concrete barriers, and on the right side of the street were expensive new condos that looked bright and vibrant and probably expensive. The immediate contrast between private wealth and public squalor and abandonment was thoughtful, and it reminded me of the essential political problem of California, and indeed the United States, between a private sector that can provide new and beautiful buildings that have a high degree of worth and value and a public sector that cannot deliver the public goods and seeks to hide its failures behind fences and barriers rather than let someone, anyone, do a better job than it can. And it is with that thought in mind that we turned around and headed back to our temporary base, and then later to dinner.