Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz

It used to be that Santa Cruz's main street was called Pacific Garden Mall after the original Pacific Avenue was beautified and brick planters were laid out with benches and a walking park of native trees started to grow into a downtown forest. The original concept has been retained with wide sidewalks and lots of trees and a whole long list of don't's is tacked up on every lamp post.The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 knocked it all down and in the 1990s the city drew up a plan to rebuild and make the downtown visitor friendly but much more business friendly. The benches and planters went and supposedly with them went the spaces that would encourage bums to hang out. This summer when the wife and I took the dog back to Santa Cruz for a cross country drive to visit friends we spent not much time on what we still call "The Mall." No dogs? No Cheyenne! But if you need weird and wonderful shops, Santa Cruz supplies the goods.The old County Bank facade has remained behind a decorous planting of boring plane trees. The original plants were wild and indigenous, thick leaved and bushy creating a true garden feeling. Nowadays the sidewalks of our old home town are wide and encourage walking. The struggle for some in Santa Cruz is to keep national chains and box stores out of downtown and out of the county if at all possible. There was much opposition to a national book chain coming to Pacific Avenue, but Santa Cruz is home to University of California Campus so the local bookstores have a devoted clientèle. Coffee houses abound to provide competition for Starbucks and local chains like Noah's Bagels and Peets Coffee.Carbon footprints are a big deal in Santa Cruz these days, the new eco mantra, along with the notion of eating locally, or being what they call a "locavore." To be a locavore in Key West would require eating grits and grunts and drinking rainwater. Not a popular menu for the warm weather transplants who expect world class menus at local southernmost restaurants.Despite the cold wet winters bums have landed in Santa Cruz for as long as I can remember and they still do, hanging aimlessly on Pacific Avenue. Violence too has come to downtown Santa Cruz with drive by shootings and stabbings and robberies on a scale that makes me blanch. Of cops walking a beat? Not a one strangely enough even in the middle of tourist season.
I don't miss the gray foggy summer days, and the gods must have been smiling on us because the ten days we were there saw a week of bright summer sunshine, an opportunity for people to get out and work on their paper white skin. There is of course a multiplex art house theater as well but seeing the Regal on Pacific Avenue and the Nickelodeon around the corner on Church Street reminded me we have nothing less in Key West with the Tropic. Much of what I left behind in Santa Cruz I have found in Key West- including high cost of land, an appreciation for alternative cultures, though Santa Cruz is much more white majority than Key West which has lively Cuban and black communities.The architecture of downtown Santa Cruz took a hit with the Loma Prieta quake (which killed 6 people in Santa Cruz, far more than have died in hurricanes in Key West). 30 percent of downtown was leveled in the quake and it took the city a decade to recover with businesses operating out of tents and bitter debates about the future of downtown.Alternative transportation in Santa Cruz is represented by bicycles rather than scooters. However unlike Key West's numerous bicycle racks which a re overflowing with bicycles, Santa Cruz's aren't. Distances are greater, the weather is colder especially in winter and there are enough hills to make people think twice about how they get around.
Of course California has a helmet law too.
And there is a strong local vocal group that thinks that cyclists should wear helmets too. I used to get yelled at for going helmet less on fire trails.
Santa Cruz lies just an hour and a quarter by motorcycle from San Francisco (known locally as "the City" and no other abbreviations will do), facing the ocean on Monterey Bay backed by a ring of redwood covered hills and for people who have found this place it is much a love affair to live here as it is for many people who happen across Key West.
Santa Cruz has easy access, perhaps too easy with the advent of telecommuting, to Silicon Valley just across the mountains, a place that is hurting economically but has always provided some well paid jobs for anyone willing to drive. For people who don't want a material lifestyle Santa Cruz, like Key West, requires dedication and numerous jobs."What about hurricanes? Or the humidity?" anxious Californians ask when we explain we chose to move to Florida."Yup," I reply, they exist and while I don't mind the humidity and hurricanes can be a nuisance, what about flat warm ocean water to swim in? Warm winters and dramatic thundery summers? And the most spectacular sunsets anywhere. Oh and aside from that I can walk Cheyenne in a State Park in Florida if I want to or even, amazing to relate, right down Duval Street. Try that on Pacific Avenue!