In defense of the SLO life
The writers at The Rogue Voice seem to think they are the only ones in the county with problems.
Anyone who believes that SLO is too white or racially intolerant has never seen my wife Bethany in Albertson’s when she spots a small black child.
By Duane Hagabee
I was pleased (albeit surprised) last month to open the pages of The Rogue Voice and find a most insightful, thought-provoking letter from a lovely couple named Doug and Anne of Cayucos [“Letters,” August 2007]. Reading it awakened me to the fact that we need more people like Doug and Anne coming forth to defend our community when others put it down. Doug and Anne are a couple that, let’s just say, “Gets it.” They are of the silent majority that understands and appreciates that we live in paradise. Like them, I too get fed up with ne’er-do-wells repeatedly knocking my beloved SLO. These are people who just don’t know a good thing when it’s under their noses–malcontents that would be unhappy anywhere. Their complaints about San Luis Obispo, SLO County, and the SLO life are endless, so I will address only a few of the more common ones.
Pretentious. That’s the word I always hear being tossed around by the unhappy ones. Personally, I doubt half of them know what it means. The people you hear using that term don’t look or sound all that educated. It’s usually dirty young hippies hanging around coffee shops, or soured old beer-bellied men in bars who have six or seven DUIs. Pretentious, according to Merriam Webster (that’s a dictionary) means “presumptuous or arrogant; pompous or showy.”
Excuse me? Are we talking about the same SLO? The SLO that I live in is a low-keyed village where families stroll the shaded downtown streets in casual attire, freely associating with one another. In khakis and polo shirts and our unassuming dress, we stroll arm-in-arm, meandering carelessly, free from the fear of muggings or assaults. We are as comfortable on skateboards or scooters as we are in flip-flops or loafers that make nice leisurely scuffing sounds on the sidewalk. We like to lick a nice ice cream from the Cold Stone Creamery as we stop and talk about our wondrous lives. If you were in a pretentious town like San Francisco or L.A., you would not see this. You would see people in snazzy suits walking with their noses in the air, afraid to look anyone in the eye. Our kids feel comfortable approaching complete strangers unblinkingly. That’s because they are not raised in fear.
This being said, we don’t toot our horn here in SLO–though we could. The only horn tooting you’ll hear in SLO is the friendly toot of a car horn when someone is reminding you to slow down. There’s even a bumper sticker that says “SLO DOWN You Ain’t in L.A.” What we’re saying is, “Welcome, visitor, but SLO down.” It’s the way we live. It’s even there in the name, in case you forget: SLOw. Where you come from, tailgating and being in a rush might be commonplace, but here we all SLOooow down and take our time, even to stop in traffic to talk on the phone or say hi to a passing friend. We don’t worry about the people behind us. If they are truly SLO, they won’t mind.
Too White. Anyone who believes that SLO is too white or racially intolerant has never seen my wife Bethany in Albertson’s when she spots a small black child. Well, she loves them, and can get to one faster than any woman in the county. The other day I saw her beat four other white women to this cute little black boy. If you want to see the true heart SLO has toward the minorities, just watch Bethany. Once that woman gets close to a small Negro baby, there’s no stopping her. She gets it in her arms and squeezes it and fusses over it and tells it how cute it is, rocking it back and forth as its parents look on patiently. We usually have to pry the little dickens from her arms. We have even discussed adopting one, and we don’t care who knows. If it shouldn’t work out–say if the agencies are out of black babies, we are prepared to allow our oldest daughter Britney, who is 17, to begin dating members of the Cal Poly basketball and football teams. Having one in the family would be an example of the commitment we and other SLO’ans share toward racial harmony, inclusion and diversity.
Reading The Rogue Voice, especially that disgruntled cab driver, you get the impression that SLO has no diversity whatsoever. I would challenge anyone who believes this to spend an evening at the Laguna Shopping Center on the corner of Madonna and Los Osos Valley Roads. Take a peep inside the Burger King, the Laundromat, and the Albertson’s there. There you will find all kinds of American Africans, Orientals, and Spanish people co-mingling with our whites. Some work in the stores but others just hang out. There must be low-income housing nearby.
I like to take the family there for outings. While Bethany goes searching Albertson’s for little black children, I walk around with my six kids—Tanya, Tanner, Tad, Thad, Chad, and Britney—and show them the variety of peoples. I feel it’s educational for them to see how the less fortunate live, and how much our SLO community cares. Like I tell them, these people are probably ten times better off in SLO than they were back in Oakland or Fresno or Mexico or Vietnam. They have their own Albertson’s, Rite Aid, and Burger King, all accessible by foot. With a city bus stop right there, they’ve no reason to go anywhere but to and from their jobs in the fields and car washes.
Utopian Society. The writers at The Rogue Voice seem to think they are the only ones in the county with problems. Either they can’t pay their rent or their cars are broken down or they are losing another job or the world is beating up on them. Boo-hoo. Want some advice, guys? Lay off the sauce. You’ll probably save a fortune. And once you sober up you will see that life in SLO isn’t so sheltered and problem-free. You’ll see the rest of us have problems too.
Ever tried to find a good tile man in this county? A decent roofer? A dependable window-washer or painter? Flakes and fruitcakes, I tell Bethany–nothing but flakes and fruitcakes. If you’re lucky enough to get one of these slackers on the phone long enough to get them out to your house, they give you a bunch of excuses and then flake around on the job, oftentimes leaving it half-finished. Then you can’t get a hold of them, even to pay them. You don’t see them for a couple years. You know they need the money, but their standards of living are so low that they probably don’t care.
And when one of these jokers finally comes out to your house, you have to watch them. It helps to have a suspicious nature and to stay on their case every step of the way. You’d think they would appreciate your guidance and direction. Here you let them spend the day laboring on your property, getting to work next to your hot-tub, your boat, your nice cars and deck, getting as close as they ever will to such a life, and they thank you by not returning your calls.
Another problem is when people like that try to rent little granny units in the backyards of homes in our neighborhood. When we see this we get together and apply a little pressure to the property owner. We remind them that no one wants to look out their window and see an oil-leaking jalopy parked on one of our streets. If you’re the man of the household like me, you don’t want your kids to have to watch a grungy middle-aged renter as he comes and goes, leering at your attractive wife working in the yard. You may call this a NIMBY attitude. Well, I call it protecting what I have. Had he worked hard when he was supposed to, and embraced the SLO life, maybe instead of renting a cramped granny unit, he’d own a house with a beautiful family inside, like mine. I earned what I have, working my way up from the very bottom of my father’s real estate development firm, all the way up to into part ownership. Now that is real life.
And if SLO is such a utopian society as you put it when you are calling us robotic phonies and calling our wives Stepford women, then why do I pick up the local paper the other day and read the headline POLICE NAB SLO GRAFFITI ARTISTS on the front page? Doesn’t sound too utopian to me. Perhaps you missed the Mardi Gras riots of 2004 or the recent sting operation on the perverts at Pirate’s Cove. Disgusting. The other day on talk radio, a breaking traffic report came through informing motorists that a billy goat was loose on Foothill Boulevard. It could have caused an accident. It’s not as if there isn’t controversy covered in our media. But maybe you are all too busy down at your local bar, swilling in your suds and your self-imposed misery to realize it. No wonder none of you have anything.
Straight-Laced, Conservative, Boring. I have to laugh when I hear this one, because no one is more quirky, unusual, and eccentric than your San Luis Obispan. While some people portray themselves as interesting through their drinking and promiscuity, as if they are the only unique people in all of SLO, others know what true originality is. You need look no farther than a Thursday night Farmer’s Market to find one-of-a-kind characters.
Just walk along Higuera Street long enough and you will eventually run into militant lesbians marching with placards, white people playing drums with a parrot on their shoulder, or a guy making balloon animals. I could go on. There is a barbecue grill where a cadre of flamboyant young men (I think they are Italians) throw meat in the air and make the flames on the grill go whoosh as they interact with the crowd through funny chants. It’s participatory. Further on, there is a most interesting almond farmer who holds an almond out for you with a pair of salad tongs and makes witty little one-liners like: “Eat an almond. It’s cheaper than a colonoscopy.”
It’s cute, educational, and wholesome at the same time, and everyone gets a laugh from a true SLO-town character with something truly original to express. That’s what gives us our unique flavor that no other town has.
Bethany and I also have our wild sides. We have been known to order red wine with fish and we have taken swing-dancing lessons at Mother’s Tavern. In addition to being an avid hobbyist, Bethany belongs to a local activist group called Milk Moms that promotes public breast-feeding. You can find them performing every Thursday night at Farmer’s Market. It’s for a good cause, and the family is very proud.
There’s more. On Sundays, after church I like to put on a funny straw hat and a Groucho Marx nose and play ukelele for the kids, or when we go to Costco, I get on one of those carts for the disabled and drive it around, chasing my kids.
It gets even racier. It may shock you to know that Bethany and I have befriended one of the militant lesbian couples from Farmer’s Market and frequently have them over for dinner. We encourage our children to interact with them and we get offended when anyone suggests we shouldn’t. We are an open-minded, progressive couple that has attended sex workshops at Esalen and admitted to each other we are sometimes attracted to other people. And it might surprise you that just last year Bethany and I began to doubt our Methodist faith and actually spent a Sunday driving around SLO shopping for a new church, looking at the Nazarenes, the Mormons, and a few others. After church one Sunday, we dropped the kids off at their grandparents’, and Bethany did something she’s been known to do from time to time–she went down on me while I was driving. This marked the beginning of a two-week period of agnosticism for us, before returning to the Methodists. Bethany still gives me road-head now and then, just not on Sundays.
Now does that sound like a boring couple to you? Does my family sound straight-laced and conservative? Does SLO sound like a community of Stepford wives and bland white men? No. I hope you see now that in SLO we are spontaneous at heart and don’t hesitate to throw caution to the wind. What I am saying is that everyone has their own brand of uniqueness, it’s just that not everyone goes around writing stories about it.
In conclusion, I would like to thank The Rogue Voice for printing my opinions. But I would also like to ask them and the rest of the SLO pessimists to start looking at the bright side of things. There is plenty positive to write about—if you look for it. It’s nearly impossible to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult when you are constantly writing about road rage, alcoholism, and homelessness. I don’t know if you noticed, but after the incident where the New Times ran the recipe for methamphetamine, the community came together and grabbed New Times by the armloads along with armloads of The Rogue Voice and, as any good SLO’an would do, dumped them where they belonged–in the trash.
The very next week, the New Times followed up with a cover story on horsies. Well, my youngest, Tanya, just loves horsies and we were able to share that issue of the New Times as a family. This is one thing you can do with the New Times now that you couldn’t do before and you could never do with The Rogue Voice. The whole family can sit down and go through its pages and you don’t have to worry about explaining naughty words to your kids or why there is a cartoon of a man masturbating in a cell bunk.
I don’t know what went wrong in your childhoods to make you hate all things good–why you hate Jesus, women, jobs, cleanliness, lawfulness, morality, and family. If life is so miserable for you, why don’t you try doing what Bethany and I, and other normal people, do when we are feeling empty and worthless inside. Have kids. Or remodel. Kids are great and give you something to live for, so does new tile in the kitchen. Maybe it’s not too late to get your lives together. In the meantime, there will be people like Bethany, myself, and Doug and Anne of Cayucos, reminding us all how truly blessed we are to be living the SLO life.§
Duane Hagabee is a Cal Poly graduate and CEO of Hagabee, Hagabee, and Hagabee, a real-estate development firm in downtown SLO. Duane and his lovely wife Bethany have not missed a Farmer’s Market in 12 years.