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Wednesday, March 27, 2013


I'm staying for a week in Montecito, which is part of the city of Santa Barbara. The climate is nice to the point of seeming a little unreal. The temperature gets down to the low 50's at night, and rises up to the high 60's during the day. It's foggy early in the morning, then the fog burns off and it's sunny for the rest of the day.

The condo I'm staying at smells of bougainvillea and various other flowers whose names I don't know. Even the parking garage here smells like the eucalyptus trees which surround it. There is a gentle breeze which comes in from the sea. After several days I have yet to notice a single insect. (The flowers must get pollinated magically.)

The town is rich, even ritzy. (I'm just a scraggly visitor.) Rich people seem willing to spend inordinate amounts to be close to the ocean. A two bedroom condo on the beach (but facing the mountains) will go for maybe $1.5 million. On the other side of the building, if you're facing he ocean, the same unit will cost twice that. Four bedroom houses on the ocean cost $16 million. And there are a couple houses on the bluff which are upwards of $40 million.

Beyond those houses is a large graveyard, roughly a half mile by a mile, which sits on a hill next to the ocean. That land has to be worth in the billions. If Santa Barbara ever runs into financial problems, they should just sell the graveyard. (I doubt its current residents would much mind being relocated.)

LIke the rest of southern California, Santa Barbara has a beach culture. I've never quite gotten the appeal of going to the beach, whatever part of the world you're in. The nearest bathroom is usually a ten minute walk away, the water is usually too cold to swim in, there are horseflies (on the East Coast), and sand gets in everything. It's hard to read in the glare and if you try to eat, the wind just blows sand in your food. What's the point? To get your skin to wrinkle faster?

If you surf, at least you're doing something. But the Channel Islands, which protect Santa Barbara against catastrophic tsunamis, also make for mediocre surfing.

The surfers are part of the beach culture here. But in Montecito, there are also a fair number of people taking their morning stroll on the walkway above the beach. It's fairly easy to tell which group they belong to. You see a fair number of Easterners, who are staying at the Biltmore; they are pale, and usually bundled up against the 60 degree chill.

Then there are the locals, who are as likely to be jogging or bicycling. Their skin may be a bit more leathery, but they also look healthier. Many of the local women just look like money. You can tell, the most important thing they've ever done in their lives is just look good. You see some near the beach, and more in the shopping center up the hill.

The weirdest thing about this place is that beautiful women will actually walk past you on the sidewalk, smile, and say hello. (What planet is this?) I, of course, at first had the normal guy reaction: finally, a group of women who appreciate me! (It doesn't take much to put my ego in fourth gear.)

On the East Coast, if an attractive woman smiles at you on the street, it might translate as, "Let's do it." Of course, it could also translate as "I'd like to separate you from your money." Or, maybe, "I'm insane."

But in Montecito, it translates as, "I'm a Californian -- isn't it a nice day today?" That's it, nothing more. Read anything into it and you're just taking your ego out for a spin.

(It may have been my imagination, but it also seemed as if there was a faint echo of, "Isn't it grand to be rich?" to their friendly hellos.)

Good-looking women usually accompany expensive real estate. Centimillionaires don't marry plain women; they may have married them and subsequently gotten rich, but that's different. Show me a centimillionaire who makes his money and then marries a plain woman and I'll show you a genuinely nice guy. Hmm. Right, not too many of those around.

Conversely, show me a gorgeous woman who marries a poor-and-not-particularly-handsome man, and I'll show you a truly nice girl. Okay, not too many of those either.

But at least in Montecito it all looks -- and smells -- good.


Fitzgoldwin's Blog said...

Rich people also spend more to live next to other rich people, other things equal. Maybe, as your post suggests, it's so they get to be surrounded by smiling, attractive women?

John Craig said...

Fitzgoldwin --
I guess that's true.

Anonymous said...

Have a great time, John! I love Montecito - truly one of the most beautiful places! Hope your lovely wife is with you enjoying herself. Donna

John Craig said...

Thank you Donna.

Anonymous said...

Your observations are so true! One of the best insights I have heard about that area of the country came from a Southern Californian visiting me in Missouri a few summers ago. We were sitting on the curb in front of the Dairy Queen enjoying Peanut Buster Parfaits, along with most of the residents of the area. This is our small town's entertainment on many summer nights, and I find it perfectly engaging. So did my friend, much to her surprise. At one point, she looked around at the locals sitting on curbs, hoods of cars, tailgates, etc, talking and laughing and enjoying the evening, and she said, "The biggest difference between people in the Midwest and people in California is that people in the Midwest don't have as much to prove." I thought that was interesting. Thanks for an entertaining and thoughtful post!

John Craig said...

Chely --
Thank you. I agree about the Midwest vs. Southern California (and the Northeast) in general, though there are plenty of people here who don't fit that mold. (The surfers, for instance: if your big ambition is to catch a good wave, then you're not that ambitious.) But I've been swimming at the local Y, rather than at the 50 meter pool in the Coral Casino, which costs $150,000 just to join. So I've me more down to earth people, albeit with a slightly hippie-ish flavor.

You can also tell a lot from the cars people drive. Up in the small shopping mall in Montecito, you see an awful lot of fancy cars. I even saw an Aston Martin Vantage.

I have to admit, though, that if I had money to burn, I'd probably move to Montecito, join the Coral Casino, and drive a Vantage. Guess I have something to prove too.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! Exactly! And I'd get my teeth done and get a mani/pedi every week and look amazing--just because I could. And I don't know what I would drive...maybe I would hire someone to be my driver. And (in this fantasy) I would be proving whatever the hell I wanted to, because I would be thin, rich and gorgeous... And I betcha I'd still hang at the Dairy Queen. :o) I do enjoy your blog, that's for sure.

John Craig said...

Chely --
Thank you very much.

Only problem with hanging out at the Dairy Queen, it's hard to stay thin and gorgeous. But that's why they call it a fantasy, I guess.

And the thing about a driver, it means another person intruding on your life. I guarantee you that the guy (and I'm sure it was a guy) had that Aston Martin because driving it made him feel more like James Bond.