Lady Santa Barbara- On the road to the SouthCoast

     Driving out of the Bay Area on a Friday afternoon is not a fun task. If you're headed for Tahoe, and it's after 3p.m., you can forget it. Just wait until 6 or 7 p.m., load up on coffee, and then rail. However, rolling south west out of the Bay isn't quite as bad. Last Friday, when we lit out from Mountain View, Ca, headed for Santa Barbara, Ca-- some 300 miles to the south-- the traffic gods smiled down graciously. While I expected traffic jams from hell, it turned out to be a breeze, and we were on the King's Highway (101) and headed for our first rest stop (San Luis Obisbo) at an admirable, if illegal, 75 m.p.h. Within an hour, the din and shuffle of the Bay Area was behind us, and what lay ahead, was a bit of California Gold; or, more appropriately, California Green. The hills on either side of the hi-way seemed to envelop us in their verdant splendor. As we drove through this lush agricultural zone, I vocally admired the live oaks and meadnering cattle which dot the hillsides along this stretch of Central California. Driving through Steinbeck country always seems to make me smile.

     Mark drove with authority, and the rich, agricultural land slipped by as we sailed south. The sky seemed threatening with dark menacing clouds, but the horizon sang a different tune. As I looked forward and south, where the mountains met the sky, a slit of blue clarity beckoned us onward. As we rolled into quiet SLO, we quickly ordered burritos and sat in the unseasonably cold May air. Anxious to get to El Capitan campgrounds, we scarfed our burritos, gas'd up, and slipped back onto the dark fast hi-way. At this point I took the wheel, and enjoyed the clarity from Mark's cd player and Lyle Lovett's Big Band. Julianne shook her hips and smiled. Before we knew it, we were making the abrupt exit at El Cap, some 20 miles north of Santa Barbara proper.

     We awoke Saturday a.m. in a rapidly warming tent. Early morning wind blew through our campsite, and I eagerly tested out the new French Press coffee maker-- brewing and pressing enough coffee for all to enjoy. The press worked well (and I'd recommend one to any car camping java head), and soon we were packed up and en route to Ventura for some Surf and BBQ. The surf in Ventura was a bit choppy and smallish. Nevertheless it felt good to paddle out. After some fun rides (and free surfing instruction for Mark) I retired to my beach towel for an afternoon, sun- drenched nap. Falling asleep on the beach is a mixed blessing; while it's as relaxing and as pleasurable as siestas can be, it's hard to avoid a sunburn. This siesta was no exception.

Back at Dan's we quickly settled into some appetizers and song playing. Accompanied by a 10-string dobro, a mando player and drummer, Dan and I played a few familiar acoustic numbers as the evening sun went down. If there's one thing Dan can do well-- and he can do many things well-- it's cook fish. He served up Alaskan Salmon and Halibut like a true pro. As the sky darkened, the next band played on. After hanging awhile more, we decided it was time to head up to SB. Popping a few (handfuls of) chocolate espresso beans, we headed back up to SB and the Mother Hips.

     Mark cranked the wheels of his car into a parking spot directly in front and I fumbled to turn the radio off and catch any music from inside...Sure enough I could quickly identify the music from within-- the familiar strains of Magazine were clear. We quickly forked out $9 each and walked into Later Days. The warmth from the high-energy, SB scene was immediate, and I was quickly at ease amongst the mellow Santa Barbara-ites. My alma mater beach town did me proud, as the patrons at the Coach House were enthusiastically digging the sound. After the mellow, Tom Petty-esque, Later Days , the boys lit up the room with a raucous, Rich Little Girl, which glided into a foot stomping and lap-pedal steel enhanced, Whiskey River. Mark commented that the boys seemed much more into it than the previous show he'd seen in Palo Alto, and I had to agree. The Hips seemed much more loose and into it. Stoned up the Road kept the high-energy vibe going, then the idiosyncratic and catchy, Such a Thing was played. Not sure of the meaning of this one, but the "disappeared down the tube" line seemed fitting for this Surf community. After four rocking numbers, they switched gears and mellowed things out with their new, exquisite ballad, Motor Home. Greg sat back on this one, and seemed to be trying to help the lap-pedal steel player through it. Tim provided the lush acoustic chords and vocals, while Greg played the more eerie effects-laden electric part. I noticed a couple slow dancers in the crowd, and the rest of us were just mellowed.... but not for long. Superwinner, got the place going again. As Superwinner ended, Tim played a couple notes of Pet Foot, and looked at John on drums. I guess John gave his approval, and they launched into this ball breaking rocker. Two mellower tunes rounded out the evening, Shootout and Sing Me Back Home,. It was just about midnight when the Hips left the stage. As the crowd clapped for more, a young lady accosted me and demanded to know if they'd be back. "Well, sure, I suppose they'll come back." She continued on, genuinely confused, "But I thought bands play until like 1 or 2 a.m.??"
"Sometimes", I offered, "I guess it depends on when they came on, what time did they come on?" She didn't have an answer, and as the guys came back on, I shuffled my way towards the stage and away from this perplexing young lady. The opening rifts to Lady Be Cool started, and Tim launched into some verses that I hadn't heard before. The song was it's usual combination of grit, emotions and intense crescendos. As the boys left the stage, the house lights came on, and the show was over.

     Sunday morning at Jason's a group of late night revelers were awakening. Jason helped us out with a fresh pot of coffee and some live DEAD. The sun shone down mightily on the front porch, a couple blocks from the Santa Barbara Mission. In no time, we were again packed up and ready to roll. But before we could hit the Hi-way, we needed to log a little Santa Barbara beach time. So we headed down to Ledbetter Beach for some really mellow, clean, glassy waves, and some advanced beach lounging. Around 1 p.m. we begrudgingly left the beach and back to the gold SAAB. Boards were strapped on, and gear loaded, and we were headed northbound. Leaving Santa Barbara is like leaving your lover for an extended period. The parting is such sweet sorrow. You're heart aches as you must leave something beautiful behind, but somewhere inside, you know that your next reunion will be equally blissful.

And this always keeps you coming back.

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