Imagine a place, a time rather, where men wore short, pastel swim trunks. Where they hauled stacks of longboards atop their heads like an accessory, trying to impress girls in polka-dot bikinis. Where beaches sprawled like deserts, big enough for everyone to have a volleyball game.
I’m talking California, an early version of SoCal where the surfer-bum was born. Day after day was spent lathering baby oil on skin while lounging on terry-clothe. There’s such a long-standing nostalgia that exists around this time, the 1950’s and 60’s. California’s identity has aged well, with it’s beachy-retro look that never gets old, everlasting in its vintage allure.
Santa Monica Pier is a place where West Coast leisure-style was born…But, what once was a beach town where surf, sun, ice-cream and carnival games reigned king, now is just a haunting memory of that time, a well-preserved postcard. Today it is home to Pottery Barns and Forever 21’s, the current tenants of the retro buildings of pale peach and minty green. Beachside patios serve up brunches with all you can drink champagne for its customers and their purse-sized pets. Gone is the simple day-at-the-beach, replaced by a consumer culture you can’t escape.
What once was the epitome of the American Dream, a place where worries were against the law, has become an extensive shopping mall wearing the disguise of nostalgia. It is a ghost of a city. You can touch and feel it, but it lacks soul.
As I strolled along the boardwalk on the grey Sunday morning I noticed sleepy seasonal workers setting up their game-stations for a day of stuffed-animal prize winning. Promoters peddled their products, shoving their samples into my hands insistently (No, I don’t want to try your energy drink!). Restaurants and quick-service restaurants fired up their industrial grills, thawing out their frozen imported concoctions—cod slivers pre-battered and shipped in from a Southeast Asian nation.
I wanted my time in Santa Monica to be escapist. Like a trip to Disney World, I wanted to be immersed in a simpler time. Instead Cheesecake Factories choked my fantasies and sandwich-board peddlers littered the pavement with runaway flyers. The new had grown over the old like an invasive plant.
And then, I saw it. Just as I was wandering down the pier ready to end my day early and go home. A burst of feel-good childhood memories filled me up as I grappled with what I was seeing. Zoltar. The wish-granting genie in a box from the film “BIG.”
My nostalgia was rekindled. This place didn’t feel so cold after all. I spent the rest of the day watching lifeguards paddle out into the steely surf and the ferris wheel make rotation after rotation, it’s carriages swinging leisurely on their axels. With a little bit of “BIG” magic, Santa Monica came alive.