Mar 5, 2010

Santa Cruz (You're not that far)

Tuesday 2nd March - Day 23

There really isn't much in Nevada. We faced a seven hour trek to Vegas, or we could go back to California and head to the coast and south. (Nevada's capital Carson City was just 30 minutes away, but I'm sure that's a poor man's Reno. The only thing in its favour was that I thought it had been immortalised in song by the Boo Yaa Tribe (America's premier Samoan family Hip-Hop group. But actually there were rapping about Carson City, CA.) Vegas or Southern California... two major iconic American locations but really when it comes to their place in song... as much as I love Elvis and ZZ TOP... there really was only going to be one winner.

So in just 4 hours or so we could expect to be in the quaint port of Santa Cruz which, unlike Vegas, wasn't that far. At least not in American terms. It did however mean another trip over the Sierras. But as we'd breezed over that 7000 ft high road pass yesterday and it looked pretty spring-like, we weren't worried. We also were not aware that overnight someone pressed the winter rewind button. Today we couldn't see the peaks. We climbed into cloud. Cloud that was chucking down first rain, then sleet and then snow. Actually down is the wrong word. The wet and the white stuff was coming on horizontally and slush was building up on the road, so switching lanes to pass the crawling trucks meant risking a little fishtailing. Not that all trucks were crawling, the empty ones were just as eager to switch lanes. I had flashbacks of the trucks in the TCR TV ads from years ago. I'm on the wrong side of the road, in a car as big as anything I've ever driven, at an altitude that doesn't exist where I come from and I have to fight the trucking maniac from Duel on a road covered in Slush Puppy. I'm not sure I can take much more of this. So Southern California has to be a good idea.

The route took us back to Berkeley and through at least half of those Bay Area cities. Which means I do now know the way to San Jose. Which is nice. Traffic was heavy but, with the mountains far behind us, the late afternoon sunshine bathed the houses lining the hillside of Oakland in a lovely golden light. Things were looking good and the Pacific was calling. My only reservation was that we were heading for Santa Cruz. And why you might ask? Well because I hate The Thrills.

If ever there was a band that should be sued for a breach of the trade descriptions act it is Dublin's The Thrills. In case you are lucky enough to have forgotten them, they became very popular in 2003 with an album called So Much For The City which they wrote when on holiday in Santa Cruz. The tossers. What a bunch of face slappable miserable derivative gits. Part of me applauds them for being into what was then a not too fashionable sound, but the shallow and souless spin they put on the west coast sound sucked. That it sold tons of copies and lead to them sharing a stage with folks like Ronnie Wood and Peter Buck just pisses me off even more. Still I guess the fact that these lazy Jackeens should go all the way to Santa Cruz to record a record is related to this all-pervasive power of American place in popular music. And plenty of other artists have tracks called Santa Cruz too. People as different as J.J. Cale and Bobby Vee and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band have recorded tunes about the town. As have a number of Hispanic artists (though they may be singing about any of the many place outside of the USA called Santa Cruz.) But curiously there more than a few British musicians who have penned tracks called Santa Cruz. These include Fatboy Slim, Lloyd Cole and most impressively Martin Simpson and Aidan O’Rourke who are two of the biggest names on the UK folk music circuit. (I do mean real folk not Laura Marling stuff.)

Maybe the reason the town is so popular is because in 1992 it became one of the first American cities to approve marijuana for medicinal use. Santa Cruz also became one of the first cities in California to test the state's medical marijuana laws in court after the arrest of growers by the DEA. The case was ruled in favor of the growers. But don't think that means the town is a just a hippie enclave. There certainly is that element there and young white kids with dreadlocks and guitars hanging around. (I expect they inspired Pat Metheney's track Santa Cruz Slacker. Click here for Jazz. Great!) But it would be wrong to define the town by that side of it alone. Those kids are hanging around outside an odd mix of posh boutiques and surf shops and liberal coffee shops and two downtown independent movie theatres. And then there's the boardwalk and the wharf - a very old fashioned, little bit grotty, seaside resort. We of course stayed in a sketchy motel in that part of town. The Sea Breeze Inn has definitely seen better days. When we parked up we did wonder about the shouting coming from one room. And alarm bells should have started ringing when I surfed the TV and found myself watching the same four channels again and again. Four TV channels in America? That's not the level of freedom that terrorists hate. And later when we left we were intimidated by the three scowling 40 somethings sat smoking by the pool, which was still 3 months away from its annual clean. Now I can't be sure but I think it was two of them, one male and one female, who we heard having a stand up fight later that night. The voices shouting things like "Get your fucking hands off me" and "Bitch just kicked me! What the fuck!" certainly had the same lived-in qualities that we'd seen in the trio of smokers. But we were too polite to peep through the curtains and check. So while outside on the balcony, doors were being kicked and insults were being hurled, inside our room sheets were being drawn up... the better to cower behind. The row receded when the male protagonist left, but I knew he would be back. I didn't think it would take him until 4 in the morning to get high enough to return, but there you go. Maybe he was struggling to come up with a reason to return. In the end he had to settle for a really lame one... "Give me my water back bitch. You've got my fucking water on your floor!" His voice sounded wrecked. His mind probably was too because he started hammering on another door. Which brought out a guy who sounded like Hulk Hogan. "What you kicking my mother fucking door for. Mother fucker." More people got involved but we wisely didn't. Eventually the police arrived and the water seeker, who no doubt had seen this movie before, was escorted away whilst shouting insistently "I'm not resisting, I am not resisting." All in all a pretty exciting night. It certainly made up for the lack of TV channels.


  1. Fun fact: The UC Santa Cruz campus was conceived by Ronald Reagan (then the governator of Kalifornia) to be "riot proof", so UCSC students couldn't congregate and challenge the authorities like Berkeley students on Sproul Plaza and Telegraph Ave. Today Santa Cruz is considered the most left-leaning and activist campus in the UC system...

    Music fact: Camper Van Beethoven spent far more time in Santa Cruz than the Thrills (hence their box set is called Cigarettes and Carrot Juice: the Santa Cruz Years)...

  2. Oh, this is of course too late for your California leg, but the Camper song "(Don't Ya Go to) Goleta" pokes fun at the University of California campuses in SoCal: Goleta is the home of UC Santa Barbara, Westwood is the part of LA where UCLA is, La Jolla is UC San Diego. Go see them at SXSW!