Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ode to Santa Maria

I've been asked by a few people to do a post on Santa Maria. So, here goes nothing:

Santa Maria has a bad rap on the Central Coast. People seem to think it is nothing but a crime ridden town. In fact, I once had someone, while sitting on my couch, in my home, say: "Well, it looks like I wore my bullet proof vest for nothing tonight...there wasn't a single drive by shooting!" I think they were joking, but it was pretty telling of the general idea they had about this city.

I suppose that's because whenever there is a murder on the Central Coast, it does happen in SM. So, to be fair, if that's all you ever see on the news, what else are you supposed to think? Truth be told, I was the same way. I cried when we first started looking for an apartment. I had just always heard that SM was the "ghetto".

Keep in mind that the news isn't exactly famous for reporting GOOD news. No one cares about the thousands of other people in the city who had a great day and didn't break a single law. SM has a population of about 90,000 people (and 2 murders in 2006). It is made up of lots of big box stores, new tract homes and an older part of town that houses most of the farm workers on the entire Central Coast. They gotta live somewhere, right? With relative poverty, comes crime. I won't go into the sociology of that, but I think it's pretty obvious why. There are parts of town (pretty much the northern part) that I won't go into. But, it's not a big deal because there's nothing I need over there anyway. So, it's not like I make a conscious decision to not go there. I just don't. It's not like Compton or anything. You won't get shot for driving down the wrong street. But, for the Central Coast, it's bad.

People in SLO tend to be the ones who look down their noses the most at SM (GENERALIZATION ALERT! DO NOT BE OFFENDED IF THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO YOU!). See, SLO is upper middle class, predominately white, highly educated folks who live in homes worth over $800,000...even in this market. There is a darling downtown, filled with lots of quirky mom and pop stores, high end art galleries, a Mission, a University, and great restaurants. It's hard to argue that SLO isn't pretty awesome. I love San Luis. It's a great town with lots of character and lots to do. The funny thing is that people in Santa Barbara look down their nose at the "wannabe" SLO...

Santa Maria doesn't have a downtown. Cookie cutter houses stretch as far the eye can see. Only to be interrupted by a Wal Mart or Home Depot. Mom and pop stores don't really exist, except maybe for a tacqueria, a mexican bridal store, or the dude on the bike who has the cart filled with ice cream ringing his little bell. Character isn't really a word you can use to describe this place. But you know what? I really like it.

My neighborhood is quiet and extremely safe. The girl across the street is pregnant and due any day, and we chat at the mailboxes almost daily. She and her 2 year old daughter, husband, and german shepard walk to Starbucks regularly. Jesse lives 2 doors down and is about the nicest guy you'll meet. Always asking if we need anything from whatever store he's about to go to. The bus honks every weekday to pick up the girl with Down's Syndrome a few doors down. I always know how late I am in my morning routine because of it. Tim and his wife moved here because their daughter goes to Chico State and their son goes to San Diego State and this is the middle. The Korean girls across the street are just about always having a tea party on their front lawn. The 6 year old boy across the way knocked on my door last week to ask if we needed help planting any flowers because he needed a summer job. And 2 year old Preston rides on his mommy's lap every morning for their daily walk...I say ride because Diane has MS.

It's a sweet neighborhood with a community of neighbors that Andy and I love being a part of. Not exactly the picture of crime and debauchery you were looking for? I'm sure you might find it in an older part of town. But, that's lightyears away...or at least that's how it plays out in daily life. Sure, we share a zip code, but that's about where the similarities end. I can go MONTHS without ever going into a "bad" part of town. It's pretty segregated.

With all the new development in the South part of town (south of Betteravia), you also get a lot of new parks, walking trails and other amenities. They are building a huge 5 story library. You can go swimming, play basketball or take classes at the Abel Maldonado Center. The Children's Museum has a shark exhibit. On Halloween night, you can go during feeding time. The Grapes and Grains festival is super fun and we go every year. There's also the rodeo, which is a HUGE deal, but we've never gone.

Lots of people speak Spanish. Only Spanish. Obnoxious and a point of frustration for me, but by and large, nothing too terrible. You know not to go to Wal Mart on Sundays. For some reason that's when ENTIRE families go on a field trip or something. I stay away from Food Maxx because it's a little weird to be the only white girl in the store. But other than that, it's fine. I think Santa Maria's issue, and the reason SLO seems to be so annoyed with it, is because it is Anytown, USA. You can literally pick up SM and drop it in the middle of Idaho, and it would work. SLO prides itself on it's differences. So there's a bit of a culture clash there.

Is Santa Maria perfect? No. I wish it had a better mall. But really, I would be totally 100% happy living here forever.

EXCEPT...

The only reason that even though we actually like SM, we plan on moving to at least 5 Cities someday is because that is where all of our friends are. It would be great to not have to drive 35 minutes to church every week or for a playdate turn into a huge production. I would love to be able to just invite someone over for dinner with only an hours notice and not have it be this big issue. So, the ONLY reason we may very well end up moving someday, is because of friends. Not because we feel the need to wear a bullet proof vest while watching TV or something. Not because we don't feel safe or hate this city. I'd just like to be closer to friends and for Henry to be able to get together with his little buddies without it costing us $50 in gas.

So there you have it. Santa Maria isn't awful and terrible. It's a little vanilla. But sometimes bland is just fine. I don't need a double mocha carmel swirl extravaganza everyday. I can drive to SLO for that...

13 comments:

andy gibson said...

Feel free to generalize babe, because you're right (with most of our friends excluded). Let me be frank there.....

We have Olive Garden, In-N-Out, Red Robin, and the list goes on. SLO won't "allow" those things (unless they build it on County land so then SLO misses out on the tax benefits, like HD and Costco....)

Another reason we may end up in five cities, as we'll be between those things and SLO, is because to be honest, I wouldn't live in SLO again anyways. Been there, done that, hate the college town feel now....and the snobbery (again, most friends excluded) of some of the people disgusts me, even at Grace Church. I sometimes get genuine shock when I tell people we live in Santa Maria and their reactions tell everything. I should feel sorry for them, not them for me.

Not to mention SLO is totally lib. Santa Maria is a much better mix.

So I agree, Santa Maria is good and bad, but so is SLO...and I'm sure Five Cities too. I've learned to love it here, and commented to Jeannett on the way home from church that I'm really glad we bought in the neighborhood we did. If it wasn't for friends, we easily could stay here....but I also want a little plot of land, rather than a postage stamp of land.

Jeannett Gibson said...

Looks like someone needs his OWN blog...

Jacquelyn said...

I have to admit, Santa Maria is probably safer than Nipomo and Oceano. It seemed like when we lived in either place we heard about knifings (down the street from us in Nipomo) molotov cocktails in the library book return (oceano) and I was just furious when I woke up to the brand new rec center that had been tagged the night before. Good thing we moved to Grover Beach away from all the "rif raf". Since we've moved I've had my car broken into once and our parking lot is cruised by the police nightly because of the weekly car break ins. Life is soooo much better up north ... ;)

Brianna Heldt said...

AMEN AMEN AMEN! To both of you! Santa Maria is just fine. (I love to tell people that the ONLY TIME I've ever had any sort of crime committed against me was in the highest-end town I've lived in, Santa Barbara.)

I think it's silly that everyone stereotypes Santa Maria. While Santa Maria is a bit of "anytown USA" with its box stores, it DOES have some distinctives like strawberries, and some wonderful hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants. Yum!! Library storytime is great--bummed we missed out on seeing the new library.

And last time I checked the SLO Costco was quite crowded (uh oh, a box store), and before it existed SLO people DROVE TO SANTA MARIA to go there, and they COME TO SANTA MARIA to go to Target. SO on the one hand they disdain us, and on the other they come down to use our stuff! The very stuff they look down on us for. Grrrr.

Okay that is enough of a rant. For now. :) I love SLO, but Santa Maria has a place in my heart. I miss China Wok, and our little street, and the Gibsons. (I DON'T miss the mall, though I have great memories of going there with Kristen!!!)

I'm still trying to figure out the "pecking order" so to speak in our area. Denver vs. the various surrounding areas. It's interesting to be sure.

I may need to do my own ode to Santa Maria.

Brianna Heldt said...

Sorry one last thought, as if my comment wasn't long enough. I think a lot of peoples' dislike of Santa Maria has to do with personal prejudices and stereotypes, plain and simple.

K said...

Great Post!
We've been asking alot of our friends who live in SM the same question, and they all pretty much have the same response as you.
SO...next question. Since I'm not TOO familiar with the residential areas of SM - can you recommend certain areas where we should be looking? We've been cruising the MLS for about 6 months now - but we're just not sure which areas are worth looking at, and which ones to avoid.
Thanks for doing this post :)

Jeannett Gibson said...

I would definately work with a realtor if you are seriously looking at SM. The realtor we used was awesome and has lived in SM her whole life and she knows all the areas (Wendy Texeira). A few times, we asked to look at houses and she kinda wrinkled her nose. She was low/no pressure and didn't ever make us feel rushed or like we were wasting her time. I'd highly recommend giving her a call.

You can find perfectly nice neighborhoods throughout town, but in general, you'll be okay anywhere south of betteravia. Orcutt is really nice too. Good schools I hear.

Jeannett Gibson said...

By the way, the house next door to me is for sale...

;)

joy said...

go, jeannett! living in ag, we get some of the slo snobbery,too. and i feel i can totally say slo snobbery because i used to be one. when cade mentioned moving to ag, i just couldn't imagine living anywhere else but slo and i LOVE ag! a friend of mine who lives down the street had some people from church over for a shower or something and one lady looked out her window and said, " wow, ag does have some nice houses"--she was very surprised to learn that there is life outside of slo. thanks for shedding light on sm--besides, don't forget, years ago slo was having the disappearing college girl thing. very sad.

joy said...

and i forgot to say that we traveled to and from sm for 2 quarters without incident. and i worked in sm for 10 months without incident. i miss smackers--do you ever get sandwiches there? i think that's what it's called.

pennymalley said...

My college sweetheart and his family lived in Orcutt (probably still does!) and his sister and brother-in-law owned Woody's Frozen Yogurt, so I have great memories of that area. I loved the Calvary Chapel they attended at a YMCA in SM. I understand the feeling you get from some people when you tell them where you live- we're in Los Osos. -Insert sewer joke here-.
That being said, it's unfortunate Andy had to put the name of our church in his rantings. People looking for a church home may be reading this, and it doesn't take much to turn people away.
I am jealous that you have so many young families/ children in your neighborhood. The last couple of communities we've lived in have seemed to cater to the retired folks... Abby says, "Gamma" and "Papa" all up and down the streets when we walk! :)

Jeannett Gibson said...

Penny-You live in Los Osos??? EW! :)

As for Andy using Grace, I bet he didn't even make the connection about new people possibly reading this. But hopefully the very fact that we drive 35 miles in each direction every week will trump his comment!

CandB said...

Whatever... SM is lame! :)