For those of us living west of Lincoln Boulevard, the summer of 2010 is an utter oxymoron.
June Gloom far overstayed its welcome. I drank more green tea on my couch than beers at the beach. My skin remained an unacceptable shade of sallow. And the ocean temperatures never grew tolerable. (Well, except for that one time at 3:30 a.m. after a wedding and seven glasses of champagne…)
But in between all those wintry days were a few, precious sunny ones. And you can rest assured that I was going to squeeze as much summer as possible out of them (even if they were chilly enough to pass for autumn on the Siberian peninsula).
And what screams “southern California summer” more than an afternoon at the Santa Monica pier?
So, as soon as the marine fog miraculously gave way to an azure sky, I called on Tyrone — my Stanford friend and neighbor extraordinaire — to leave the world of gaming behind in his man cave and join me for an afternoon of good, clean fun.
We hopped on our beach cruisers and, within moments, turned north onto the beachside bike path, joining the throngs of others drinking in the glorious day.
As we passed under the pier’s welcome sign and advanced towards the water, I realized I needed to channel some of my New York City mojo to embrace what might otherwise have been an assault of the senses.
After successfully making that adjustment, I gazed upon the spectacle before me with wonder. Within roughly fifty yards, I could buy a whopping portion of fluffy pink and blue cotton candy, soar on a trapeze, have my photo taken with a cardboard cutout of Tupac…and, most importantly, ride the “West Roller Coaster” and consume massive amounts of funnel cake.
Ah, American capitalism.
But first, a little history.
The Santa Monica Pier we know and love today is actually two piers, one constructed over the course of sixteen months in 1908-09 — initially built to support sewer lines extending past the break point — and a shorter pier, built in 1916 by a father and son duo of amusement park entrepreneurs. More than two decades later, the bridge and entry gate were built in connection with FDR’s Works Project Administration.
As for the icons of entertainment subsequently constructed on top, the famous carousel, which features a calliope (a musical instrument of large, chromatically tuned whistles through which sound is produced by steam or compressed air) and 44 hand-carved horses, was built in 1922. During the middle of the century, La Monica Ballroom (now closed) hosted Spade Cooley, a famous swing musician, whose career came to an abrupt halt when he was arrested and convicted for murdering his wife. The ballroom later served as a roller skating rink.
Today’s pier contains Pacific Park — home to a massive Ferris wheel and other carnival-style games and rides — as well as an aquarium, arcade, restaurants, a trapeze school and more.
There are even concrete slabs for use by the ubiquitous fishermen and women — right underneath the conspicuous signs warning that eating mussels caught there could result in three-headed babies and gender reassignment. (I embellish.)
Since reading them did absolutely nothing to eliminate our hunger, Tyrone and I decided to pack in some calories before embarking on the superhuman test of patience that is the roller coaster line on one of the summer’s only sunny weekend days.
After perusing our somewhat limited options while meandering and marveling at the views of Santa Monica Bay, we finally settled on Mariasol Cocina Mexicana at the far end of the pier.
Now, when you’re smack dab in the middle of one of America’s most visited tourist attractions, you can generally count on two things when it comes to a restaurant: (1) it will be preposterously overpriced and (2) it is likely to suck.
I can’t say much about the quesadilla I ordered, other than the fact that, sitting on a plate as large as my kitchen table, was a tepid tortilla with some undercooked onions and mushrooms stuffed inside.
But Tyrone’s strawberry margarita? Damn. It transformed my “play it safe” decision to order a beer into a seriously chump move. I don’t ordinarily go for blended drinks, let alone flavored ones, but this vessel of deliciousness alone was worth the exorbitant bill that Tyrone so graciously covered.
Bellies full, we bought our roller coaster tickets and, amongst the childish mayhem occurring at waist level, we located the end of the line and stoically began to wait. And wait. And wait.
And it wasn’t getting any warmer. The summer dress I had donned hours earlier because, well, it seemed like the right thing to do, was slowly but surely beginning to feel like a shrinking piece of gauze.
Despite an acute case of goose bumps, there was no turning back. I huddled close to Tyrone, and creatively visualized myself baking in the steamy hot Caribbean sun, while we slowly made our way through the labyrinth and up the steps.
And then it was our turn.
It wasn’t the biggest or scariest or most gut-wrenching roller coaster I’d ever had the privilege of riding. But we were sufficiently tossed about — while the southern California sun shone on our faces, and the Pacific Ocean sparkled all around.
I would endure the wait all over again…with a scarf and sweatshirt.
As we giddily put our feet back on the “ground,” the thought of a hot bath at home sounded very tempting.
But before I let this semblance of summer slip through my fingers, Tyrone and I still had some unfinished business to attend…