by Stacey Warde
My whole life has been a search for belonging, finding a place to call “home.”
The closest I’ve come to feeling this way is here in this peculiar beachside throwback of a community called Cayucos, a throwback to sparsely populated seaside villages along California’s rugged, magnificent coastline, a throwback to my earliest childhood memories of Laguna Beach, where my great-grandfather, Joseph Smith Thurston, and his Morman family found a homestead, settling in Aliso Canyon in 1871, before there was water, before there were multi-million dollar palaces on beachfront property that once cost $25 a lot, Old Laguna, which my cousin, Kelly Boyd, a two-time mayor there, likes to remind us, “doesn’t exist any more.”
Cayucos, when I moved here nearly 30 years ago, reminded me of Laguna Beach, a seaside hamlet tucked among the hills rising above the ocean, safe from development and money grubbers and golden boys in hot cars, at least for a while. The people here, ranchers, surfers, loners and drifters, were friendly and regular. Houses were of reasonable size and most had gardens where it was easy to strike up conversations with the neighbors.
The quaint little beach cottages have mostly succumbed to the bulldozer to make way for grotesque stucco monstrosities with little thought to impact or design, their form artless and dull, much like their owners. There are a few exceptions but the rule for development here the last three decades appears only to have been “make it ugly, make it fast and make it big.”
Gone are the gardens with fruit trees and flowers, and friendly neighbors, who actually talked to one another from their yards. Most of the homes that have been built here in the last 30 years don’t have yards. They’re all house. Ugly boxes with tinted windows, where conversation can easily be avoided, and the world, the place we call paradise, can be shut out.
To put a spin on cousin Kelly’s comment, “It’s not Old Cayucos any more.” Yet, while much has changed here, it still feels like home, even if it’s not exactly paradise.
I’ve realized over the years, however, that home is more than a place, more than what we might like to call “paradise”; it’s really what we bring to our living spaces and the ground we keep, as well as the company we keep; it’s where we feel most safe to be our selves, whole and fractured—all of it—and rest, if even for only a moment, from the the world’s troubles, of which there are plenty.
You don’t have to turn on the TV to witness another Islamic State beheading to know “the world’s a mess” right now, as so many people have said to me recently.
All you have to do is make an appearance at the local watering hole to know that there are plenty of messy situations right here at home: Addictions, feuds, excessive drug use, overdoses, suicides, and the occasional racist comment. Addictions and feuds seem reasonable; drug use and overdoses, indulgent; suicide, pardonable; but racism, why? All it does is prove how mean you are, not intelligent or reasonable.
Author Dell Franklin, in his recent powerful account of confronting a local young man for revealing his ignorance about blacks, Obama and the “N” Word, reminds us that we gain much by setting aside our prejudices in the interest of pursuing a common goal, of learning from someone with a different value system or experience or skin color. We’re all in the same boat—as Dell was when he signed on as the only white crew member on the Delta Queen—and we really do need to learn how to get along.
We’ve ripped on the notion, commonplace in this town, that we live in paradise, among the bigots who like to say bad things about blacks and Mexicans, and the intolerant who throw newspapers and magazines in the trash because they don’t like what’s in them, but we do an injustice to our fair haven by not recognizing the elements that really do make this paradise, and there are plenty of them.
You just have to know where to look, like the women in the photo at the top of this page who have found their little weekend slice of heaven during a recent outing somewhere in the hills not far from our town. What more do you need than a place to park above the ocean with guns and beer and a thirst for adventure? We like to be reminded of what really does make this paradise. Thank you, ladies, for showing us the way. Oh, and the gal with the gun, I don’t believe her name really is Jessika Lee with a “K,” but what do I know?
Meanwhile, Hoppe’s restaurant and the little bistro in back of the Way Station mysteriously shut down recently, putting a dozen or so employees out of work and leaving the town without the world-class fare we’d grown to expect.
Way Station owners Henry and Mary Ellen Eisemann lamented the situation by posting a note on the door that informs potential patrons that for the first time in 41 years they will not have a restaurant at the location, at least until they can find a “suitable operator.”
It goes along with what I’ve said earlier, things change, even the place we call home. §
Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.com