I first visited Santa Barbara some years ago as a punishment, given to me by a movie producer who had hired me to write a screenplay. “You’ve got too many temptations in LA. I’m paying you. So I’m getting you out of here, just you and me, on the beach in Santa Barbara.” In West LA, the producer was putting me up at the Cavalier Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, an early ‘all-suites’ fancy motel, built as a two-tiered horseshoe surrounding a small oval swimming pool. It was a wonderful, show business place, full of writers on long term contracts, actors in town for short run plays, or movies set around Hollywood. My sin one day was sneaking back from writing to watch the Alvin Ailey dancers, staying at the Cavalier, do a number of routines around the pool, on the diving board, in and around the lounge chairs… incredible as you might imagine. My producer arrived, checking on me, and screamed, “Not on my nickel. Back to work.” This fit right in with what I’d always read about how writers are treated in Hollywood; kept in the dark like mushrooms, covered with dung. But my producer said, “Here’s the dirty little secret. You guys love it. You got the bug, the itch, you buy into the dream of the three cherries that someday you hit it BIG. You’ll be an addict too.”
Of course, he was right. And he Shanghaied me up the coast to Santa Barbara where he locked me in a room for three days to write, occasionally letting me out to look for heart shaped rocks on the beach and then off to some joint for tacos.
This winter, I rented a house for several weeks, to escape February in Boston and to visit dear friends who grew up in this bubble of beauty, where Oprah and Brad Pitt seek refuge and Jon Peters, who was married to Streisand, has traded styling shears for many horses. Originally, this was conservative country. But now, it seems, Obama rules. I even spied a big Barack sign in the window of Montecito Post Office. Isn’t that illegal? But speaking to a dozen people, from waiters to women in bookstores and dry cleaners, to retired executives and college kids; I get the impressions that working people care more about their pocketbooks than any other issue. And by election time, my guess is that your pocketbook trumps any other concern. So what do Californians talk about that that seems different from the subjects on the minds of Bostonians?
Well, healthcare and natural medicine. Comments among all ages on the benefit of vitamins versus no vitamins, the major use of chiropractors, and the search for ‘healers’, people with magic hands who can cure almost anything with ‘touch’. A man I met at a party told me, “Prostate cancer,” as if he were saying, “plastics.” “Don’t take omega fish oil pills,” he went on. “Useless. Three things will prevent prostate trouble: eat two deep-sea fish a week, eat colorful veggies. And pomegranates.” Everyone in California, it seems has a different secret to eternal youth. Bring it on.
At the same party a woman told me. “You’d be amazed how much marijuana is still part of the creative life here. A few years ago, I baked some zucchini bread laced with weed for a famous architect who wanted to give it to another really famous architect. I sliced off a wedge to hand to a friend with insomnia, telling him he’d sleep like a baby. But after eating it he stayed awake for three days.”
I brought three French cuffed shirts out here, and two bow ties and they stayed in the closet. The only ties I saw in two weeks were on waiters. For years the term ‘fashion’ in Boston seemed to me a contradiction in terms, But California gives bad taste a whole new definition: cowboy boots with field hockey skirts? Bikers in caftans? We went to a farmer’s market on a Saturday morning, hundreds of people and dozens of stands selling the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables you ever saw, from cherimoyas, (mango-like) to Myer lemons, to Deglet Noor dates and rainbow Swiss chard. And the people: the sixties are not dead; they live on in Santa Barbara county. There were ‘Make love not war’ T-shirts, cannabis T–shirts, hippies that made Woodstock look like a tea dance at the old Ritz. And, of course, an ‘Impeach Bush’ booth right next to the ‘freshest eggs in California’ booth. One conversation I overheard, “Wind farms will kill us all. Because they kill bats and bats eat all the bad insects and disease will then doom us because the infestations will destroy all crops.”
I am loving it, however, because it is beautiful at the same time Boston is producing wind chill of fifteen below. And California makes me smile as I drive by a storefront that offers ‘gay home loans.’ And a local paper prints a correction about a story. “D.J. Pallidino wishes to express that his online quip about potentially getting laid at the film festival was meant in jest and nothing more.” Right. And finally, the best bumper sticker… “Monica Lewinsky’s ex-boyfriend’s wife for President.” As a surfer said to me on Butterfly Beach, “Have an awesome life. Lose, the East, dude.”