Lost: The Edge of Everything
To uninterested NorCal folks, Santa Cruz is that cute little town on Highway 1 with the boardwalk. To locals, it’s a vibrant college town with a hell of a nightlife. To the local Changelings, it’s a truly free Freehold, where Spring rules year-round with the other Seasons’ blessing, and it’s always a party — nothing like those stodgy wankers in San Jose. To truly savvy players, Santa Cruz is one big party when there’s a Depression on. That sort of thing requires party supplies, and party supplies cost a premium nowadays.
If Santa Cruz is our little slice of New Orleans on the Pacific, what does it take to keep the bon temps rolling?
In 1769, Gaspar de Portola expedition camped at the northernmost point of Monterey Bay. Within 50 years of the Spaniards’ arrival, the native Ohlone were all but gone, and the place was called Santa Cruz. One of the first three civilian towns in California (the other two became Los Angeles and San Jose,) Santa Cruz became a prosperous little port, a gem for newly independent Mexico in the 1820s, and the manifestly destined United States following the Mexican-American War in 1848. It officially became an American city in 1866.
The most bellicose thing Santa Cruz ever did was make Civil War gunpowder for Union troops. The beautiful little bay-point town tends to abhor war and heavy-handed authority, and most of its American history is tied up with one pacifist, humanist protest movement or another. Santa Cruz, with its thriving boardwalk and ill-policed port, became a sort of Atlantic City on the Pacific through the teens and twenties, a hotbed of Depression-era agitation in the thirties, and the only port on the west coast to reject wartime industry in the forties.
If San Francisco was the birthplace of 1960’s counterculture, Santa Cruz was where the movement refused to grow up. Other than its community of activist service veterans, Santa Cruz protest culture was far more interested in turning on, tuning in, and dropping out than fighting for change. Only the University of California, Santa Cruz, established in 1965, seemed a center for concerted protest. And even then, it was easy for even the most hard-nosed academic to lose himself in the green cloud hovering always over the waterfront.
After the sixties, Santa Cruz declared itself a nuclear-free zone, pioneered legalizing medical marijuana, and held the radical feminist Myth California pageant, which convinced the Miss California pageant to take their business elsewhere after 30 years in Santa Cruz. This sort of behavior only turned violent once in 2010, when out-of-town anarchists infiltrated a May Day rally for worker and immigrant rights. But otherwise, Santa Cruz maintained its reputation for peaceable protest and a party atmosphere. Even Occupy Santa Cruz was a fun time — they occupied an empty Wells Fargo building to throw a rave and cookout for 72 hours.
Santa Cruz’s reaction to the Second Depression has largely been “Second Who?” Despite bad times nearly everywhere else, the community retains its reputation as both a college town and a party town, enjoying the runoff prosperity from San Francisco as that metropolis remained above water well into the collapse. People visiting or otherwise enjoying San Francisco would often make the drive down gorgeous Highway 1 to see the Monterey Bay, and Santa Cruz was there to welcome them with a never-ending party.
At the dawn of the Second Depression, Santa Cruz elected a woman named Belinda Canfield mayor. Third-generation owner of the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Canfield declared the amusement park open 24/7, and returned its Cocoanut Grove convention center to its original purpose as an adult-skewing entertainment complex featuring nightclubs, restaurants, theaters, and a “pleasure pier” to help guests get to boats in the bay that offered gambling.
Like Atlantic City in the 1920s, Santa Cruz has become a glittering party town, host to a constant good-time crowd burning their money by the bay. As such, it’s one of the few places in California still flush with cash and able to amply provide for its citizens.
But a laissez-faire tourist trade often means — and even requires — a thriving underworld, and Santa Cruz’s rates of hard drug use and violent crime have spiked along with its dividends. While there have been no major arrests yet, law enforcement officials believe Santa Cruz will soon rival Los Angeles for imports of cocaine, heroin, and bootleg prescription drugs. As rich as the city has grown, much of that lucre slips through the cracks to line the pockets of criminals and officials up and down the coast.
Money always makes an impact, and the money flooding into Santa Cruz has dramatically reshaped the town. The boardwalk has since grown west along Beach Street till it turns south and meets Gharkey Street. Arcades, hotels, restaurants, strip joints, and (ahem) massage parlors stretching north from the boardwalk entrance down Riverside Avenue, across the bridge until Riverside becomes Campbell Street. Just south of the San Lorenzo River, 3rd street has become a sort of “Bourbon Street West,” where nearly every street-side door is a shop, restaurant, or a club playing jazz and blues, musical forms made popular again by the lack of cheap electricity. The Front Street “switchback” that connects 3rd to Pacific is popular spot for muggers and worse.
Only UC Santa Cruz on the west side of town maintains some of the dignity of more laid-back, respectable days, and is still considered a top public university, a leader in several academic fields and producer of achieving Americans — up to their eyeballs in student debt, naturally. Even so, it’s hard to avoid the siren song of the glittering boardwalk, and more and more students succumb to the nonstop party on the waterfront.
The rest of Santa Cruz looks much like it always has, though the older, picturesque Victorian and Edwardian buildings have been slowly replaced by apartment complexes and town-homes, and now most commonly are seen on hilltops and other elevated spots, where those who can afford the nice views live on islands of class in a sea of greed. Like any coastal NorCal town, Santa Cruz has plenty of green parkland, and like any parks in the Second Depression, they’re not safe places to linger after dark.
The university and expanded boardwalk are discussed above, so here is a brief list of other places of interest in Santa Cruz
- West Cliff Drive: A scenic road following the coast from Natural Bridges State Park, around Lighthouse Field State Park, and up just past the boardwalk — a popular place for a drive, or a stroll to walk off that hangover
- Nickelodeon Theater: Another movie theater restored by the Gennaros of Los Gatos. Unlike the Camera Cinema which shows (showed) mainstream movies, the Nickelodeon is an indy arthouse, with homemade popcorn renowned throughout the state
- Natural Bridges State Beach: Named for that famous “big rock that makes a bridge in the surf, with birds all over it” used in every car commercial filmed in California, this beach is a nature-lover’s dream, with thriving tide-pools and monarch butterfly migrations. Mayor Canfield made cleaning up the polluted beach one of the reinvigorated economy’s first gifts to the city, and it is now a source of nature tourism to complement the entertainment tourism on the boardwalk nearby
- Seymour Marine Discovery Center: Part of UCSC’s marine sciences department, this family-friendly museum is located at the end of a winding road overlooking the sea, and features several complete whale skeletons outside. Supposedly, on windy nights, the wind through the skeletons produces a sound eerily like whalesong
- Mystery Spot: Once a fun tourist trap, this strange hilltop house that sits askew on its hill, where water supposedly runs uphill and you can stand on the walls is now closed, the road that led to it destroyed and overgrown — no explanation was ever given
- Mark Abbot Memorial Lighthouse: Rebuilt in the 1960s, this modest brick lighthouse is a popular hangout for surfers to scope waves during the day, and a popular makeout spot at night
Freehold: The Holy Cross Duchy
Changelings have had a strong presence in Santa Cruz ever since the gold rush, when the town attracted those Lost who wanted the romance of the California coast without the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. But it was this lack of hustle that kept any Santa Cruz freehold from amounting to much, especially compared to the populous Quatrine Kingdom in San Jose or San Francisco’s indomitable Gentlesaint. Changelings in Santa Cruz were content to study, smoke, and surf, taking comfort in the steady passage of seasons, lacking any need for truck with their more prosperous neighbors — until the Second Depression began, and spring married summer.
Up until the Depression, the Holy Cross Duchy had a ruler for each season, a duke and three duchesses who would each take their normal turn for a quarter of the year. One Summer Solstice, Duke Winslow Staggart of Spring, called Staghart, did not abdicate to the Duchess of Summer, but married her. He ruled beside her until the autumnal equinox, when he also married the Duchess of Autumn, and ruled at her side until the winter solstice, when he did the same with the Duchess of Winter.
Since that day, Duke Staghart has ruled the Holy Cross Duchy year-round, or rather co-ruled for one season each with that season’s duchess, exercising sole authority only during the vernal months, which Holy Crossers call “High Spring.” More traditional Lost, especially outsiders, disapprove both of his bigamy and his prolonged reign power. Yet his three brides are happy, and the Freehold has never been more prosperous. Or more assertive.
Staghart’s personal take on the Spring philosophy of desire is less “party down and be excellent to each other, dudes!” and more “seize your heart’s desire!” This outlook fits hand-in-glove with a more aggressive approach to the other courts’ idioms. When it is not Spring, he counsels his fellow ruler always to take the more confident, self-actualizing path, and this has led the Holy Cross Duchy success in every season — victorious summers, terrifying autumns, and secretive winters. The other three courts make so much progress in their turns that High Spring is one long party, a celebration of his lady wives’ successes.
The Duke and Duchesses all believe strongly in free will and free enterprise, so do as thou wilt is the whole of the law in Santa Cruz, with some rare exceptions. Every Changeling is encouraged to seize his heart’s desire, show his own initiative, and strive as best he can.
Under this new system, the Lost of Holy Cross have all but eliminated Hobgoblin attacks, dominated Santa Cruz’s politics, and even claim to have prevented any and all abductions by the Gentry. That last tale is hard to prove, but unsolved missing persons cases in the region have slowed to nearly nothing. The Freehold has seized control of major trods leading out of Arcadia, and swiftly grown to be the third largest in Northern California.
Their city thrives while everything around is desolate, and the peace of a happy marriage hangs over their rulers. Things can only get better in the Holy Cross Duchy, the only Freehold, boasts Staghart, that’s truly free.