Thursday, September 30, 2010

Everyone's Plants

Do you like succulents? If you happen to kill off everything potted, but still really like plants, then this is the greenery for you. Succulents thrive in Santa Barbara, but I don't see very many lawns that feature them. Usually they are on the sidewalks or along the hiking trails. If you see a fairly small one, I encourage you to dig it out and replant it at home. I'm really tempted to do so with the ones pictured.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

52 Messages

Every Tuesday I have to walk up and down Carrillo Hill in the evening. The reason for this is not important. What matters is that going once a week to a place you can't help but notice trivial/odd things about it. For example, over the course of three Tuesdays I watched a skunk decompose and get picked apart, eventually leaving a tuft of tail that is still stuck to the sidewalk. Along my route there are also a few 2-liter soda bottles crammed under bush filled with what must be urine; they have remained in the same position for at least a month.

The best thing along this walk, however, are the playing cards that I always find either scattered on the ground or stapled/paper-clipped/taped to trees or sign posts. The cards are all sharpied with an obscure phrase. I like to think of the person who does this as "The Masked Messenger." The one pictured above proclaims "scary good."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Citizen journalism"

Now you can also follow Santa Barbara Unseen on, a site where a bunch of Santa Barbara people have their own blogs. They write about all sorts of things, usually with considerable eccentricity. We'll try to live up to that, but we're still getting it caught up with the version you see here. When we do, however... the only possible advice is, prepare.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Then who is responsible?

You see these abandoned shopping carts all over Santa Barbara. I have it on good authority that this tree is nowhere near a market. Trader Joe's? Twenty-minute walk east. Ralph's? Ten-minute walk west. The cart didn't roll here by itself. It's not one of those homeless chariots, laden to the point of metal fatigue with plastic bags barely encasing lord knows what. I don't even know who I'd approach to get pointed in the direction of where I might possibly find something like answers. Not to get all Resnais on you, but:

"I am not responsible," says the street crackpot.

"I am not responsible," says the bored adolescent joyrider.

"I am not responsible," says the confused, foreign grandma.

Then who is responsible?

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I've noticed that abandoned/left behind/unloved buildings in the downtown area have a habit of sitting around and decaying; the cheap cork board tacked to the windows getting progressively water-streaked and rotted. The above home has been left in this state since I moved downtown two years ago, the only difference being that the menacing "CONDEMNED" sign disappeared at some point.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Phoneless, boothless

By default, people tend to think that State is the best street in Santa Barbara. It is actually the street with the most novelty t-shirt stores. If you want to see the city at its most interesting, you go Haley Street — or, as an eccentric resident we recently met called it, "skid row" — every time. Needless to say, you'll want to keep an eye on its tag.

I can think of no better image than the above with which to celebrate this real best street in Santa Barbara. It's no secret that cellphones have pretty much killed the payphonic star; even UCSB is dismantling its wall of pay phones, which in happier days positively teemed with foreign students. But there's something so distinctively sad about this pair of phoneless shells that I hope it never occurs to anybody to pull them up. These twins stand, Shining-like, in front of Haley's similarly hobbled Mac's Grog & Groc. Mac (or whomever) doesn't even bother trying to mask the fact that the place was clearly designed to be a gas station. Something must have gone terribly wrong along the way, since instead of gas pumps, there is usually just a fat Indian dude.

This is what I love to see in a city: the anachronistic, the unwelcome, the decayed, the partially removed and ignored. There's a lot of that on Haley.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Stacked House

Like a wise old concrete beast for whom the passage of decades is as inconsequential as the sea breeze it faces, the Stacked House sits at the end of Del Playa Drive. Other than that it is the most fabulous example of concrete midcentury architecture in Goleta or Santa Barbara — let alone Isla Vista proper — I know nothing about it. Rumor has it that an architect lives there, sleeping on the upper tier and breakfasting on the lower. That would make a certain amount of sense.

Perhaps such a strikingly unconventional home echoes Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, which looks and sounds like the world's greatest machine for living but is actually a pain in the ass and an inadvertent toxic mold grow-op to boot. But having passed by the Stacked House and stared at it a creepy number of times, I can tell you that nothing seems amiss. It may really be the next step in residential evolution, albeit one the world seems to have ignored. You park below it, you climb one tier up and you kick back in your Eames chair, then you climb another tier up and enter the magical mysteries of the (perpetually curtain-enclosed) bedroom. Perfection.

But like any embodiment of perfection, the Stacked House has imperfections. The most basic objection: where do the bookshelves go? When all your walls are made of glass, you can't very well build them in. The owner seems to have solved this problem with free-standing shelves, though that puts a lowish cap on one's library size. Maybe that's healthy; I only really want to own the best 100 or 200 books in my collection, anyway. Another issue, this one dealbreaking for a type like me: the damned place is a half-hour walk even from UCSB, which is itself way out in the boonies. Location, location, location, I guess.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bus Stop Closed

"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."
- apocryphal, but routinely attributed to Margaret Thatcher

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District recently put up a swank new web site, but all things considered, I really would've preferred to see that money go elsewhere. Into, uh, the transit, for instance. While I don't like to get on the soapbox — and, despite riding the bus and nothing else on a daily basis, "bus riders" is just about the last group I want to be affiliated with — none of Santa Barbara's many public transit issues had to do with an insufficiently impressive net presence.

I submit this three-point test for determining whether or not a city has acceptable public transportation in place:
  • Can you "just go" somewhere on it, spontaneously, without having to consult a map or timetable?
  • Can you show up to a stop and expect your means of conveyance to show up within the next fifteen minutes?
  • Can you use it to get back home from late-night goings-on?
Alas, the Santa Barbara bus system flubs all three. If you decide to "just go" somewhere, you can't be sure you're going to get there, and you really can't be sure you won't waste hours of your time waiting around in the process. And you'd better hope you're not trying to do any of this after 11:30, because you'll be waiting at least five hours for any bus at all. Or you'll pay, say, the $35 cab fare from the Mercury Lounge back downtown.

So despite the fact that I use Santa Barbara buses all the time, I can partially sympathize with all the people here who say to me, "Wow, how great that you can ride the bus! I so wish I could do that, but it'd just be impossible for me." (They're too important, you see.) I'd throw in with the cause of inconvenienced public transit-users, but I have sought for nearly eight years now to escape their ranks as soon as possible. (It's taking longer than I thought.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Everyone wants to personalize!

People usually do a lot to personalize their vehicle to display individuality, but if you practically (or actually) live out of your car, you should go a step further and decorate it like a room in your home.

Cars are also useful if you are obsessive-compulsive, because sooner or later you run out of room in your home.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The motorhomes of Laguna Street

Just east of downtown, Laguna Street has been a popular place to park one's motorhome. That is to say, the motorhome in which one lives. Primarily. What Santa Barbaran jogger hasn't felt that shiver of fear — of excitement? — passing one of these shuttered, banged-up, often garbage-filled sleeping beasts? Periodic relocations to avoid Parking Enforcement aside, the unchanging nature of these mainstay recreational vehicles makes them all the more threatening, like a dormant volcano.

Nevertheless, I have long entertained fantasies of life within small, sometimes mobile enclosures. I don't quite want to know what deep-seated psychological compulsion had me dreaming of setting up house in trucks, attics, and fallout shelters throughout childhood, but I still get the occasional impulse to this day. (This now manifests, with reasonable health, in my purchases of books like Mini House and The Very Small Home. UCSB's Container Project a few years back was, naturally, fetish material for me.) When I run by the motorhomes of Garden Street, I think that it actually must be pretty cool to be able to listen to albums, read in bed, or watch a movie ensconced in your compact habitat while you are also in a vehicle parked on the road.

But then I remember that most of these don't look equipped with showers.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


In any city you'll hear endless bemoaning of the sad, inevitable closures of beloved mom & pop stores. Downtown Santa Barbara, in particular State St., has been rapidly losing these businesses, especially given that both giant booksellers are barely hanging on to their precious real estate. However, here is some evidence of home-grown businesses past (and a pretty specialized one at that):

Garden St.

Ken Porter reminds me of another business I've seen downtown but is harder to track down: a bright yellow van (i.e. a rapemobile) with a giant printed sign in the window stating "NOTARY."

Parking Enforcement

Santa Barbara is small enough (90,000 city, 200,000 metro) that its parking situation isn't particularly dire. I don't actually own a car, so I lack first-hand knowledge of this, but it certainly seems acceptable. Nevertheless, you can spot these little half-track-looking things zipping around town all day long. The term "meter maids" is not, alas, unwarranted: most of the Parking Enforcement officers who emerge from them appear to be middle-aged women.

Is it their very efforts that make the place so parkingly available, or are they effectively just for show? These are the heated chicken-and-egg discussions being hashed out in the Santa Barbara City Council even as we speak. If you don't believe me, just watch City TV 18. Watch it, for I am unable; I addition to lacking a car, I lack a television. (Got a rice cooker, though.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

For rent

Already, I've no doubt given you the impression that this project is Santa Barbara in Lean Times. It's really not, though I would submit that the correlation between a city's continuous prosperity and its dullness is, shall we say, nonzero. The Scottish musician and writer Nick "Momus" Currie has interesting things to say about this:
Increasingly, my outlook has Berlinified, by which I mean I regard expensive cities like New York, London and Tokyo as unsuited to subculture. They're essentially uncreative because creative people living there have to put too much of their time and effort into the meaningless hackwork which allows them to meet the city's high rents and prices. So disciplines like graphic design and television thrive, but more interesting types of art are throttled in the cradle.
While Santa Barbara will never, ever even approach the NYC/London/Tokyo population scale — even proportionately — it has similar rents-and-prices issues. We call it the "Santa Barbara Tax". Talking to a friend in Brooklyn, I found out that Brooklyn is actually in some respects cheaper than here; the bars are, anyway. When someone leaves Santa Barbara, it's usually because their studio apartment went up to $1100 per month or because they found the same job in like Bakersfield, but it pays three times as much. (These are not exaggerations.)

Part of me thus roots for Santa Barbara to get poorer. This is not particularly improbable in Economic Times Like These; signs over signs like those pictured above are pretty common. Things have improved since last year, when the frequency of empty storefronts made stretches of State look like the mouth of a Sportsman regular. Alas, I haven't seen many cool, interesting things take root in the dead spots; if anything, the new arrivals are worse. I see it as emblematic that Morninglory Music was replaced by some sort of glow-in-the-dark t-shirt store.

But hope springs eternal! The glow-in-the-dark t-shirt industry could always take a dive, making way for the Ooga Boogas of the world. Then let's convert Juicy Couture into a Kinokuniya or something, please.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mexican TV

We started this blog to cultivate images of Santa Barbara not approved by the Board of Tourism. Is there a Santa Barbara Board of Tourism? Too hard to find out for sure. But consider the following: (a) 75 percent of the humanity flowing up and down State Street at any given time are out-of-towners, and (b) the Santa Barbaran images that reach the outside world offer harbors, palm trees, Spanish architecture, and essentially nothing else. To look at those, you wouldn't know there's anything interesting in Santa Barbara.

Yet after living here for the better part of a decade, I've come to realize that there is. You just have to approach the city in the right frame of mind. To achieve this frame of mind, the only one through which the interesting Santa Barbara can be seen, you must wholly disregard the propaganda of quaint beachiness. Abandon the search for the pleasant, the picturesque, the paradisical. If you want to know what the interesting Santa Barbara is, it's this: a curbside wood grain-encased Sony television from 1981 that is both free and gratis.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Door Guardians

For some local businesses, it's very important to make a lasting impression. You can either deter people with awesome majesty or light your customer's way.

De La Vina St.

Laguna St.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Remember to look again

Sometimes there's something about a place I've passed several times before that surprises me. Usually I don't have my camera at those times, so here are some phone photos:

Trees by the 101 FWY on Carrillo St.

Alley next to Sushi Teri on Bath St.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Welcome to "Santa Barbara Unseen," where we will explore the hidden nooks and crannies of Santa Barbara.