In 1992, straight out of uni, my head still full of learning, and brand new in a wide world, I first felt the compulsion to write. Not books back then, but journalism. Specifically New Journalism. I swallowed Tom Wolfe, Ken Kesey and Danny Sugerman whole, and this is what came out. One of my first “creative writing” pieces. Part true, part fable. And while names have been changed to protect the guilty, this was pretty much how the summer I was 21 panned out.
The Lost Boys (Santa Cruz, California, 1992)
“Hey man, I’m kinda famous, I’m in the credit sequence in a movie, it’s called The Lost Boys, didja see that movie?” Yeah, I saw that movie. “You got your Doors playin’ and…” Echo and the Bunnymen. It was a cover. “Yeah, right, you got your Bunnymen playin’ and there’s me hangin’ out on the boardwalk like all stoked up.”
From our vantage point on the fairground we could command most of low-rise Santa Cruz right up Beach Street over to the Mission and malls. Behind us sat the Beach Flat district like a blister in the sun. Always had been, least since October 1989. The Lowa Prieta earthquake flattened the whole downtown area right up to Pacific Avenue. Three years on the bricks were still lying on a disused building site waiting for orders that never came. Town authorities refused out-of-county funds and so rebuilding was slow and labour cheap. Two blocks west the Beach Flats were bursting their seams. The rickety prefab turf was disputed by Turks, Micks, Spics and cokeheads. All the backyards had chair next to the fences for getaways from cops and robber alike. Plus the dealers had themselves a neat private road system and called back door to back door.
My guide and friend Lucas and his young apprentice Junior hung out in the gardens behind some shitty Mexican hole. Two weeks before his eighteenth birthday Lucas dropped acid in second period Shop class and skipped school. No one would have known except he got caught in a drugstore trying to get his mom’s repeat Quaalude prescription filled. His dad packed Lucas’s bags then and there, took back the Mustang keys, and Lucas ditched Marin County suburbs to sell funnel cake and candyfloss at the fair.
Junior’s mother was a whore and I guess not a very good one. She couldn’t afford to keep Junior who, at seventeen, was addicted to coke among other things. He and Lucas had hooked up on the boardwalk and were still trying to shake each other off. To get a bed for the night Lucas picked up girls around UCSC campus or in the Silver Bullet. Junior would come along as part of the deal and sit up in the kitchen or out on the porch until someone let him in.
“Hey, man, you can see right up to Johnny’s house. I have to call later. Say, you wanna see the boardwalk and everythin’? Hey, Junior, if I lend you my shoes will you get a guidebook or somethin’?” Junior needs shoes so bad he’ll do anything for a pair, even on loan. The kid skates down Beach Street in a woolly hat, dead man’s pants and Lucas’s patent loafers. Lucas and I wait counting Camaros in the sun. “You ever read ’bout Ken Kesey, ya know, Electric Koolaid?” Yeah, I read about Ken Kesey.
We’re still on the Boardwalk. “Listen.” Lucas is reading aloud. “‘The elegant’ no shit, ‘The elegant Cocoanut Grove first opened as a gambling casino in 1907 and has recently been restored to its former art exterior. The 1940s swing bands are a welcome addition to the strings of dodgem cars, log flume rides, shootin’ galleries, arcade games and every test of strength and skill that line the beach at the West End.’ No shit. You know what they don’t tell you. Santa Cruz is mass murder capital of the US. No kiddin’.”
I am unsurprised. Looking across the boardwalk, the fair is a mass of Silicon Valley teenagers; Edge City kids flocking to the “last survivin’ seafront amusement park on the West Coast, ma’am.” Making themselves sick on hot dogs and then heading out to the Bullet for underage sex and cheap beer. Or the other way. The age of consent still holds out at eighteen in some California towns and liquor is older.
On the right, out in the ocean, Steamer Lane is packed with upcounty surfers. Some college kids, some professional, all swimming in pelican and sealion shit. “Hey, look. Ain’t that Brett? He’s in Johnny’s lit class. Fuckin’ rich dope. Ya know his dad’s gotta jet? Flies him down to Mexico just to surf. Fuckin’ rich dope.” We double back past the fish canners and head to Johnny’s house. Junior needs to score.
Johnny is in a chair hanging from the ceiling. His twin TVs are tuned in to two different channels. Neither has any sound on. MTV blasts from the back bedroom. Johnny has the goddamn iguana that’s eating bananas and shitting down his shirt. Lulu the drama queen turned junk queen and Pablo are on the deck playing cards. Pablo, like many locals, claims to roadie for Neil Young who lives just out of town. “Hey, Pablo!” calls Lucas. “Just got back from Capitola, looks like Neil’s back in town. Some kinda rage goin’ on, maybe.” This is probably a lie. Pablo gets the hell out to look for him anyway. Johnny turns off one of the TVs. “You know Pablo’s got himself a gig. Gonna do Lollapalooza, don’t know who for. But I guess there’s a room goin’, Lucas. You know, just ‘til the Fall. Tour’s only a few months.”
Santa Cruz is real white sitting city. A bordello holing up richies and cokeheads and stars on all floors. For Pablo this is a first. Most kids want to look for America but can’t get it together to leave the boardwalk and the strip. Hooking up with bands is a good alternative to running away with the circus. For the summer. Then winter in bars on the pier. Some even reach San Francisco for a while, but Santa Cruz’s hippy chic is alluring and narcotic.
By the morning Lucas is asleep in Pablo’s bed, Junior is cleaning dishes and iguana shit, and Johnny is still suspended from the ceiling with one TV on. Out on the boardwalk the rides begin to sink the coast town in their tinny merry-go-round music, and I head out to Beach Street to count Camaros in the sun.