Time Travels Down the Pacific Coast – Ventura Revisited
Black scattered dots of wetsuited-surfers – amateurs and veterans alike –pick off waves to later crash the main peaks. It’s an unusually cold day – unusual by the standards of SoCal, hot it must be, or so it’s perceived. Yet even for a city by the Pacific, the morning’s still considered a rather cold and bleak one, with the high tides bringing the strong winds from the sea – or is it the other way around? I’m not sure.
They’re scenes from the beaches in Ventura County, California. The cold and wet air that brings a hint of salt to your hair reminds you however so slightly the feels of NoCal San Francisco, the only difference with it being a working class town stretched sleepily along the Pacific Coast, a majorly blue-collared community sandwiched between two of the Sunshine State’s most favoured surf spots.
The winds rouse and whip as the waves hit the supportive columns of the pier deck and the rocks and stones close by. Surfers from the tides reach for their sweatshirts after rushes of adrenaline. Seagulls hover above, dipping into the water ever so lightly and landing on the clear and cold sands. At this point, there are two literary allusions that I’d like to call upon – one being William Blake’s Augeries of Innocence, “to see a world in a grain of sand”, or perhaps Bishop’s Sandpiper, “the Atlantic drains rapidly backwards and downwards… The millions of grains are black, white, tan and gray mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.”
The surfers, their boards in one hand and beers on the other, run along the dragging grains of sand, just as the sea birds do, preoccupied. Casual bikers along the harbour deliver random shouts of greetings. The day has broken, and the Californian sun is peeking through, but the chills of the sea are still too immediate to ignore. Old, retired men in their thick Parkas arrange their fishing gears on the pier deck with the precision of a veteran, only slightly interrupted by the morning joggers on the deck.
This is the Ventura that I remember.
But there’s more.
A five minutes walk from the promenade, crossing the train tracks and a few surf shacks, is Main Street. Right next to it, down Thompson Boulevard, are antique shops, fast-food joints, and an American Chinese diner, Hong Kong Inn.
The first two things you should know about the Hong Kong Inn is that the jukebox still plays songs from back in the 60s and they serve Chinese food with rum-infused flaming Polynesian Mai Tais and entertainment (not as glam as Central’s Honi Honi, but the rum makes up for whatever the deficits).
The restaurant, if you ask the locals, has been around since forever – well, trace your steps all the way back to the 60s – the Golden Era. In one way or another, the diner is the kind place that serves generic American-style Chinese food. Orange chicken, egg foo yung, eggs rolls and moo goo gai pan served under ceilings of dangling, Chinese tassel lanterns. On one of the wall is a twelve-foot mural of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, a gift from at least 40 years ago from a wealthy family from Hong Kong who are friends of the owners.
However unlikely it seems, this is one of the favourite “shacks” of the surfers –locals and visitors alike. Thing is, in the older towns of the US, Chinese food and Polynesian revues usually go hand-in-hand. Ask the owners, and they’ll say they don’t know, but my speculation is how in general, especially back in the sixties, Chinese food seems as exotic as Polynesian songs and dances.
The Golden Ages. The silent fifties and of course the turbulent sixties that followed – the economy gradually made its way up after the World Wars and the Great Depression. After the quieter times of peace and muffled years after the Depression in the fifties, think Mamie G and houses like little boxes, there was a soar of peaceniks and hippies and rights and politics, and there came a great acceptance of “fancier”, more “exotic” cultures, or so it’s assumed.
So when Gina, the lead of the Polynesian entertainment company starts singing “A White Sandy Beach” and her dancers twirl and whirl their hips in their hulas, and the lights dim except for the bar that shines ever so brightly with its old-school neon lights of red and green, the visitors get their fair share of swoon and tune, an instant time travel back to the Golden Ages: the Ages of their parents and grandparents, of miniskirts, Jackie O and late night jazz.
There’s something nearly Wong Kar-wai about this place when you’ve got enough rum in your system. With the tropical concoctions and the plush burgundy sliding seats that you can simply rest yourself in and just take in the hazy airs of 1960s Hong Kong, it’s a questions of Quizas, Quizas, Quizas – just purely exotic, or so it seems; retro and familiar at the same time.
It’s an (unexpected) travel of time down the Pacific Coast.