on civilization and it's ragged edges

It's been a lovely, warm day, one of the best since our recent deep freeze. Lots of patches of grey haze (probably fog rather than smog) amidst the blue. The melancholy beauty of California “summer,” except it's February.

it's starting to feel civilized again.

Speaking of civilization, many of us took time to help out friends (who I might through my interests in electronic and experimental music, hence this post noses itself into the “music” category) who were moving, from one side of town to the other. With so many of us coming out to help, we got the whole thing done in a fraction of a day. Would that friends and community got together for one another like this more open.

Below is a map of our home little seaside town.

On the lower left is the “West Side”, our side, of town. It's known for including the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), and scenic West Cliff Drive bookended by Natural Bridges state park and the main city beach. We moved our friends from nearby in the West Side over to the area called “Live Oak” on the eastern edge of the map and beyond the city limits. The area has quite a different feel, a flat patchwork of new homes, commercial buildings, rundown blocks and vacant lots. It might be strange that I like to explore places like this, but I do, it feels like being on the rundown edge of a large city. I have a similar feel when biking through the neighborhood near the main city beach, a mixture of old houses, tourist hotels and vacant lots.

It's easy to wax romantic about a place when you don't necessarily live there. Consider the fondness many artistic and cultural figures have for 1970s New York, a time when the city was verging on bankrupcy, infrastructure was crumbling and the (violent) crime rate was far higher than it is now. Daniel Henninger had a great article in the Wall Street Journal two years ago discussing this idea. Among those quoted:

The actor John Leguizamo: New York in the '70s “was funky and gritty and showed the world how a metropolis could be dark and apocalyptic and yet fecund.” Fran Lebowitz, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair: The city “was a wreck; it was going bankrupt. And it was pretty lawless; everything was illegal, but no laws were enforced. It was a city for city-dwellers, not tourists, the way it is now.”

For me, there is probably also a nostalgia for the images of childhood, like the graffiti on subway cars and crumbling concrete playgrounds (I don't think any of those exist any longer). By contrast, Giuliani's cleaned-up Times Square elicits little more than a shrug and a few seconds looking at the big screen…
Most of my recent trips to New York have been in November and December (though I did go back in June, 2005 as well). New York in winter does have its charm, but I miss the sweltering summers, the terrific oppression of the big city…