Thursday, 29 March 2007

Week 8 : Santa Maria to Pismo Beach

I woke up at the start of week eight of my journey to a familiar smell wafting in from somewhere to the west. This was not Amy (my dog) with a personal hygiene problem - she had a early morning paddle in what is left of the Santa Maria river - but the smell of the Pacific Ocean. We needed to see the sea again, to feel the warm sand against our six paws. Mindful of the fact that our initial objective was still to the north (San Francisco) and the ocean was to the west, we decided on a unique navigational approach to the coming week : we would walk west and turn north every time we were presented with a choice between left and right, south and north. Thus on the map our route looks like a child's drawing of a set of steps : a stairway to seaside heaven.

Initially, however, I was not sure where we were : we seemed to be walking through the outskirts of nowhere. Checking the Wikipedia entry for Nipomo, California, I soon discovered that my initial analysis had not been far off the mark. Nipomo is a CDP (a census-designated place) and if it exists for any reason other than gathering demographic data, it does so a few miles away from where I was walking. The suburban streets that we traversed on our north-westerly odyssey appeared to fit the census averages : 3.42 people aged 36.7 years earning $41,288 a year. As befitting for a modern digital-age community, Nipomo seems to have a far more substantial internet presence than reality would warrant. Just go to the website of the Nipomo Chamber of Commerce and follow some of the numerous local links to get a flavour. Talking to Amy - as one does when you spend too much time alone - I developed the concept of a "digital footprint" which can be precisely calculated using a formula (which for copyright reasons I will keep to myself for the moment). It provides a precise reading of the digital development of a community and - if my nose for business is correct - will become an indispensable totem of modern living.

There is a tendency, of course, to see this blossoming of web-based information as a wholly positive development, but at times one is forced into a more contemplative mode. A prominent link from the Nipomo City Data site proclaims "according to our research there were 18 registered sex offenders living in Nipomo, California in early 2007. The ratio of number of residents in Nipomo to the number of sex offenders is 701 to 1". Follow the link and you get names, addresses, age, race, height, weight, eye colour and even a photograph of each of the 18 (find the link yourself if you are interested).

For some reason, I was pleased to leave the suburban streets of Nipomo behind. Soon, the Spanish Style Executive Homes with their twitching curtains and swimming pools gave way to farmland and forest and I felt more relaxed. Amy walked with more of a spring in her step as well. Before too long we reached the Pacific coast at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area. The very existence of Oceano Dunes SVRA says something about your average American's relationship with the motor car. According to the California State Parks website "the Oceano sand dune area is recognized by scientists, conservationists, government agencies, and the public as the finest, most extensive coastal dunes remaining in California". So what do they do with this little jewel of nature? They turn it into a playground for off-road four-wheel maga-jeeps (or some such things), sand buggies and Winnebago's. Strange place, America.

Now we had hit the coast, we headed north, happy to have the ocean as our travelling companion again. As we walked we listened to the radio. First we tried KCPR (Cal Poly Radio) but found that a bit rich for our blood. Then we hit on K-Jewel ("featuring America's greatest music") and that was much more in keeping with our mood. Nevertheless, the first song we heard was "What Kind Of Fool Am I?" sung by Anthony Newley (a Brit) and written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse (another Brit). Still America has been a kind host to Amy and I over the last few weeks so we hand over Newley and Bricusse with thanks. We headed north and then we hit the twin "cities" of Oceano and Grover Beach. According to the reference sources, Oceano is a city, but I have never been too happy with the cavalier way in which this designation is used. With a population of just 7,260, one man's city is clearly another man's hamlet. Grover Beach is a more substantial affair and we spent some time walking its streets.

Grover Beach has a "relaxed, easy going beach community lifestyle : just the place to raise a family away from the hustle and bustle of the big city" (Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce). The official city site proclaims that "Grover Beach is the site of a Multimodal Transportation Facility, commonly referred to as "The Train Station". With explanations like this it wasn't a place I wanted to linger long in. I walked the canine multifunctional olfactory facility - commonly referred to as Amy - down the infrastructural communication portal - commonly referred to as the road - in the direction of the city limits. By the end of the week I was still looking out over Pismo Beach, but the sand dunes were now behind us. Soon we would be heading inland again - but that is another week..

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