I used to go there. So much so that deep, deep memories have been etched into me from my time framed by those walls.
I’d meet friends in the tiny room for big bowls of soup with thick noodles after watching the sun go down on our boards out in the water. Sometimes my dad and I would convince my mom she needed a beer and walk her past the mobile-home park to the small white building next to the used car lot. Sometimes I went by myself.
I celebrated life there.
When I first moved to town, I lived a block away in an apartment complex bordering a vacant lot, which was home to a community garden. Million dollar loft apartments now cover the ground where the garden used to be, sitting on top of retail stores that the locals can’t afford.
But the little restaurant somehow had resisted what we all saw coming.
There were only a handful of tables, with comfort food served by a couple of women who knew my name. They knew everyone’s name, back then. And they didn’t serve comfort food in a Cracker Barrel kind of way. More in a your-soul-needs-this kind of way. The place was a mirror to the town: a little run-down on the outside, but magic on the inside.
Things really started changing a few years ago, as moneyed fingers slowly spread through the sand. I suppose the beginning of the end was when the old arts colony was bulldozed to make way for retail spaces featuring six-dollar coffees and clothes called ‘outfits,’ crowned by more loft apartments locals couldn’t afford.
It wasn’t long before Whole Foods took the open space where we used to play free shows on summer nights and watch movies broadcast on the back of a building, with picnics spread out on blankets and beers in coolers. And when those jilted images bouncing off the peeling stucco wall faded into Neverland, most of the old guard quietly bowed their heads.
The old guard had built the town. Literally. With their hands. And spent their lives on the sand, surfing the gentle breaks and warming their families around bonfires as the sun went down. They’d run their dogs on the beach and even rode their horses along the water’s edge. But small people with loud voices had made this kind of life subject to fines, and now the old guard's world was fading away.
I lasted there a while longer. Trent lived across the street from me and was everything the neighborhood used to be. And what that little restaurant still was.
A little run-down on the outside, but magic on the inside.
The photo above is of Trent modeling some fashion wear. He would take everyone’s trash cans out the night before trash day, collect tennis balls for my dogs, and yell from his upstairs window at whatever he thought needed yelling at on that particular day. If there was ever a thread running through what used to be, it was Trent’s voice playfully judging me as he sat there in his T-shirt and underwear, advising me from the security of his second-floor kitchen table.
Yooouuuu betttterrr wattttcchhh iiitttt budddddyyy.
He lived there with his mom and died unexpectedly on New Year’s Day a few years ago. She passed away not long after.
And the flood gates opened.
Levi’s gave way to Lulu Lemon. Rusted Toyota pickups from before the Jimmy Carter era gave way to Range Rovers. Surfers walking in front of my house with their coffee mugs gave way to wives with giant diamonds and disposable Starbucks cups. Most of those diamonds were on the outside, not on the inside. I know, because I packed up and sold the dream house I built to one of those wives.
And I left.
A couple of weeks ago I heard that the little restaurant was closing. I made a trip back there to revisit those memories born over 15 years ago and honor the scenes in that small room that book-ended life-changing chapters for me. I hoped to sit with the ghosts of my past for one more bowl of soup. I wanted to say goodbye.
I drove there straight from the airport and the little room was already full. They didn’t take reservations and there was a grip of well-coiffed bearded hipsters waiting outside with some well-put-together women.
Nobody needs a beard here. It doesn’t get that cold.
I squeezed my way through the crowd and tried to talk to my friend behind the bar, but the only thing I heard her say was Everything has changed.
I came back early the next night before my flight, and 15 minutes before opening there was an even bigger throng of people out front. People who had not been in the ocean 15 minutes before, judging by the Benz congregation in the small parking lot. And yes, that’s what I was doing… judging.
They fought over each other to get in the room as soon as the door opened. They bitched, they accused, they yelled, they told each other to fuck off as perceived entitlements were pierced.
My friend caught my eye from behind the bar as I peered through the crowd. She shook her head. Then raised her hand.
And I raised mine.
I turned and left what used to be.
And what will never be again.