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Feb 2003 / expatriates :: email this story to a friend

Left vs. Middle
By Dan Potthast

"Do you STILL like it out in California, Dan?" my grandmother recently asked me. I had come back to the Midwest for the Christmas season to visit family and play some shows with my band. A year and a half ago, I moved away from the comfort zone of South St. Louis to the left coast ... and I'm pretty sure my grandma thinks I'm crazy for it.

Dan P. and R. McDonald As my grandma gets ready to leave her '80s gracefully behind her, she lives in a South St. Louis apartment complex that is across the street from where she went to grade school, and right next door is the church where she got married. She has no desire to fall far from the tree, or even venture far from underneath its branches. I know that once she took a road trip to Denver with my grandpa to visit friends, but she got a nosebleed and vowed never to visit a higher altitude again.

As I got ready to leave my '20s gracefully behind me, I found myself ready for a change. I had called St. Louis home for the past 28 years, and I was ready for some different flavors.

Santa Cruz on Veggie Food

So, I landed in Santa Cruz, CA, for the past year and a half, partly because of loose connections to friends in the area, partly because of the strong pull from the Pacific ocean, but mainly because I needed to try something different. And Santa Cruz is, well, different. It's a small, coastal, bohemian, college town about an hour and a half south of San Francisco. The place is lousy with hippies of all ages. This is a good thing if you're into vegetarian food. There're tons of meat-free places and even lots of vegan-friendly places to grab an animal-friendly meal.

There's also an amazing number of taquerias in Santa Cruz. There is something unique and special about a northern CA-style burrito, the way it's packed solid with rice and beans and whatever else you want. You can't get one like it anywhere else in the world.

Santa Cruz on Weed

It's a good place to be if you're into smoking dope, too. For those of you who are CNN watchers, this past year you may have seen our good mayor on TV handing out medical marijuana on the steps of our city hall as a reaction to John Ashcroft sending DEA agents into the Santa Cruz Mountains to burn up a small marijuana farm, which supplied about 30 terminally ill patients with pot. I guess the hoopla was that local laws say that it's legal to grow and distribute medical marijuana to patients with a prescription, but that's in direct conflict with federal laws.

The mayor's stunt was ignored by the DEA, but it made for an interesting scene on the steps of city hall. There were about 500 people who showed up, and they were a weird mix from embarrassing pothead burnouts, to normal-looking, everyday-job kind of people, to state's rights-kinda guys with mustaches and cowboy hats who had drifted down from the mountains.

Santa Cruz on Spiders

One obvious change that's come over me since I've moved to Santa Cruz is my relationship with spiders. I seemed to have lots of them in the first two apartments I moved to out here. When I first moved here, the normal run-in with an 8-legger would go something like this:

  1. Girlfriend (also from St. Louis) screams

  2. I locate the 8-legger ("8-legger" because even the word "spider" spoken out loud tends to freaks her out)

  3. I grab a piece of toilet paper

  4. I boldly smash the 8-legger with precision and a little bit of bloodlust as our Santa Cruz friends look on with a mixture of horror and disgust, and say things like, "Why?!?!?" and "What did he ever do to you?" People here seem to be very touchy about this sort of thing. I found this odd because my father put me through high school by exterminating bugs. I've gotten better in recent months though, and have taken to scooping them up and swooshing them outside, at least when Santa Cruzians are present. I can't ever recall any of my St. Louis friends swooshing a spider outside.

St. Louis on Vaginas

When I tell people here that I'm from St. Louis, I sometimes get, "Oh, I had a layover there once," or "That's the city with the big Arc thing, right?" Which, without fail, launches me into a tirade of defending my favorite building ever constructed. Arch! It's THE Arch, and it is, I think, the most beautiful, stunning, well thought-out monuments in the world. I explain how, through the years, architects and artists had gotten lazy when designing new monuments. The Eiffel Tower, the Washington Monument, the Empire State Building, The Space Needle... They're all so simple and phallic and seem to say the same thing about the designer's ineffectiveness as a lover, while the St. Louis Arch seems to stand alone as the one monument that is proud to be a woman: a welcoming gateway complete with a cleansing (or menstruating) river at its base.

St. Louis on Rock n' Roll

The one thing I do miss about St. Louis is the people. There really is a great community of amazing musicians, writers, and wow, what an amazing community radio station! KDHX is really unique and special. I used to groan a lot about the lack of good, all-ages music clubs in St. Louis too, but really there is a pretty good assortment of places for bands to play.

In Santa Cruz, there's a big, "Mississippi Nights-like" club, but nothing smaller. Nothing. Every once in a while, an ambitious local band will put on a show at the vet's hall downtown, but other than that, most independent rock shows all take place at house parties. There's an established circuit of "rock houses" that have regular shows in their living rooms. Usually, local bands will invite touring bands from up north (Portland/Seattle) and the hat will be passed around to cover gas money. It's a cool scene that helps support touring bands, but local bands seem to have a hard time getting off the ground.

Move Back?

Displaced Midwesterners. I've met lots of 'em in CA, all going back and forth between the lure of CA's year-round beautiful weather and the ridiculously inflated rent, and all of them agreeing that the hardest thing about living in CA is leaving their Midwest families and friends behind. Grandma may have it right. Stay close to the roots of the tree, and there's no missing your family, no Silicon Valley-inflated rent, no switching back and forth between long distance companies to keep the bill as low as possible, and no expensive plane tickets between San Jose and St. Louis. But she's never been surfing either. If I could just lure her out into some waves, I might just have a new neighbor.

Dan Potthast sings and plays guitar with MU330, and has a fabulous solo career, too.

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