Sunday, July 24, 2005

Tempus Fugits II

I recently attended the 40th reunion of my high school graduating class. The Class of 1965, for goodness' sake! How did four decades elapse that fast? What do I say to express that on the one hand, it seems pretty much like yesterday that we walked across the terrace of our all-girls Catholic high school? While on the other hand, there are days when I swear I look and feel ancient? Of course, "ancient" is relative, I know, but if I hold up my graduation picture next to my reflection in the merciless bathroom mirror I wish to be committed forthwith to the nearest facility for the intentionally insane.

When she was halfway through her 90's my Grandma shared with me her puzzlement about the difference between how she felt inside and the image she met in her mirror. "AnnE," she told me, "sometimes I don't understand how that can be me in a mirror. Most days I still feel like the girl I once was--not the old lady in the glass." Then we both agreed that you're only as old as you feel and that she looked mighty good for her age. Besides, I told her, she still had that wonderful sassy sparkle in her eyes, and age was mostly relative.

Grandma finally gave up the proverbial ghost when she was 105. It was her idea, believe me, because she couldn't wait any longer and she asked me constantly, "When is Saint Peter going to let me in?" Up until her passing, Grandma looked 20 years younger than her birth certificate asserted. Old but not that old. And the sparkle never diminished no matter how many wrinkles. A Life lived and never reduced by the living.

I'm picturing San Luis Obispo as I type this. Folks are so afraid of overdevelopment here. Even relative newcomers wax eloquent about the quaintness and wholesomeness of San Luis the way it was over 20 years ago--and they weren't even living here then. God forbid a WalMart invade our fair boundaries because it will single-handedly cause the utter and complete demise of San Luis as we have come to know and love it. Citizens rant and rally around the vision of a beautiful small town cradled in glorious green spaces between the Santa Marias and the Seven Sisters marching eternally to the Pacific. People glory in our weather, our air, our water, our proximity to truly pristine, uncrowded beaches, and the community itself.

Many are uncomfortable with the changing of San Luis' "face." As long as the changes appear gradual and minimally invasive, we're okay with change. As long as we continue to see San Luis through the eyes of humans afraid to age themselves, we're not going to be okay with change. And, just like humans who eventually and inevitably age--that is to say, change dramatically--San Luis is aging. San Luis is changing.

Even though I am a native Californian (born and raised in Los Angeles like my mother before me), I did not meet San Luis Obispo until the mid-80's. San Luis was my marketing territory and I loved it immediately and dreamed of moving here to raise my family. I bought fruit at Williams Brothers on Foothill, an outfit at Riley's, ate dinner at the restaurant on the hilltop now occupied by KSBY. Somehow I loved the downtown without The Downtown Centre. When I finally settled here in 1997 I wasn't impressed with the Centre because there were places just like it all over California and back East. It was nice but it didn't impress and I certainly didn't think that it somehow "made" the Downtown.

What makes Downtown special for me, and many others like me, has nothing whatsoever to do with chain stores. It is the sense of community that pervades the atmosphere. It is the Plaza with all the functions and events that happen there. It is Farmers' Market. The Christmas Parade. Poly's WOW festivities. A bonafide cigar store Indian. An authentic Mission. Even the parade of tractors protesting Measure Q. All the chain stores in the world can't spoil the fun. Happy faces up and down the streets because if you're a tourist here, you can't believe a place like this still exists in California; if you're a resident here, you're happy (and your face shows it) because you know you're not a tourist--this is home.

I honestly believe that neither the Home Depot and Costco "complex" nor the Marketplace development will change San Luis' face beyond recognition. All the development downtown did nothing to hurt our opportunity to shine as a "Small Town America" winner. Paul Brown (Mother's Tavern and City Council Member) eloquently declares that competition is good for downtown and I agree with him. As San Luis "ages," change is inevitable and development is certain. Do I want WalMart? No. I can hop down to Arroyo Grande for "those kind of stores." I'd love to see a Target here. Old Navy, too. Have you seen the inside of a Whole Foods? We can support that. Keep Target out of downtown, though. Put it out with the "big box boys and girls" down near all those car dealerships. (Where more of the same is going in soon.)

As for keeping the Dalidio farm as some sort of symbol identifying us as an agricultural community--let folks drive out Los Osos Valley Road and O'Connor Way and Highway 1--that's where we find the most gorgeous farmland in San Luis. The San Luis Obispo that we all really want to preserve is on those farms and ranches. The Dalidio property is pretty but really take a look at what bounds it. And try to understand the constraints forced upon the Dalidios by that which surrounds their farmland. Tractors and noisy farm equipment limited to certain hours, and appropriate anti-pest measures (spraying, etc.) dictated by others because the "neighbors" complain about the farm doing, well, farming.

I'm just perverse enough to suggest that The Marketplace would be a dandy way to "fool" all those Southern Californians and those "Valley People"--they would think we were pretty similar to a gazillion other growing communities across the state and they would keep going. But the joke would be on them because we've preserved our crown jewel--our true Downtown.

San Luis is aging, and aging well I'd say. Her face is changing and that is as it should be. Like my Grandma's face. The sparkle and sass are still there in the eyes. She's finding it more and more necessary to put more energy into "looking young" but the essence of community is alive and well Downtown. We need to help her remain true to her traditions without allowing her to become too dowdy.

I probably will be one of the oldsters one day who will say that I hardly recognize San Luis Obispo compared to when I first arrived here. But I bet you good money that I will still love San Luis Obispo however she ages. We live in Paradise. Even with big box stores arriving.

As long as we maintain our Downtown, all will be right in my world.
--"Cranky" AnnE

Sphere: Related Content
blog comments powered by Disqus