A memoir of Santa Cruz

June 10, 2014

I was thrilled to see “Under the Boardwalk: A memoir of Santa Cruz” pop up on Longform.org the other day.

Majula Martin’s essay about returning to — and reflecting — upon her hometown perfectly explains a lot of the way I feel about Santa Cruz even as someone who has only been here three years.

“On my recent trip home, I stopped by the house of a childhood friend’s mom. She told me about a new debate dividing the town. In the past year or so, Santa Cruz has seen a notable increase in violence and the drug trade, mainly heroin and meth. It’s hard to say whether the rise is media-assisted or real, the result of the rest of the world’s socioeconomic issues finally making their way over the hill. Anecdotally, locals do seem to hear about a lot more shootings, stabbings, and assaults. Last year one store owner was murdered in the middle of the day by a man who had been in and out of the state psychiatric prison system. My dad says people break into cars in his neighborhood now, so he’s started locking his doors. In February, the small health food grocery that serves as our corner store was robbed at gunpoint while it was filled with staff and customers. Later that month, two police officers were killed.

Santa Cruz had never seen a shooting like that before. A scale had been tipped. Local conservatives seized on Santa Cruz’s unofficial slogan as emblematic of a too-lackadaisical attitude toward the town’s less postcard-ready aspects. (This was, I suppose, an easier place to start than the labrynthine roots of poverty, violence, and addiction, not to mention social services in present-day California.) The shooter wasn’t homeless—he was a veteran—but he wasn’t really the point. A group calling itself Take Back Santa Cruz launched a PR campaign suggesting the city change its slogan, unofficial though it may be, from “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” to “Keep Santa Cruz Safe and Clean.”

Places change, but at what point do they stop becoming themselves? After I hung out with my friend’s mom, I stopped on West Cliff Drive on my way back to my dad’s house. I sat on a bench, shivering and watching the night surf. I thought about how loaded, how presumptive the idea of “taking back” a place is. Santa Cruz is freakshow and resort, sunshine and fog. All together. I did feel worried about Santa Cruz, but I also felt somehow validated, as though the sooty undercurrent I’d always rooted for was finally being exposed. It was a dark kind of validation. I don’t want there to be gun violence or a meth problem in Santa Cruz. But neither do I want to see its accessibility to lost people or the oddities of its character disappear beneath an influx of reactionary policies or new money from over the hill. I want vampires in the hills and I want my parents safe in their homes. But perhaps what I want most is for my own version of Santa Cruz, my particular and wholly subjective sense of what it means to be from this place, to make me feel safe whenever I feel like I’m not myself anymore.”


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One Response to A memoir of Santa Cruz

  1. February 18, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Corrine & Steve and we were so thrilled for both of them to be filnaly getting married.a0 Their engagement session last year in Capitola & Santa Cruz had been a blast, so we knew we were in for a fun

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