santa monica pier photo credit Carol Madigan

La la land

February 25, 2021

   What if you make a trip to some place, and it’s a total disappointment? Does it still count as travel?

   Of course it does. You get blown away by the Grand Canyon, and rightfully so. But what about a strip mining or a Super Fund site? Aren’t you blown away by that scene as well? It’s just a different kind of blown away.

   I was thinking of this…what? paradox? the day Carol suggested we cross off a bucket list item and take a daytripper to Santa Monica and its iconic pier. The last time Carol had visited it was as a 12-year-old on a road trip with her older sister. The last time I’d thought I’d seen it was in an episode of Seinfeld (“The Keys”, and I was wrong, of course). When Carol mentioned to family and friends we wanted to see it, she was more or less told we’d be disappointed. That was an inducement to go as far as I was concerned. Nothing is more satisfying for me than to be disappointed by something you were looking to be disappointed by. It’s called “meeting expectations.” Just like being appalled by something would be considered “exceeding expectations.” (I believe it was the stoic philosopher Epictitus who observed, “Expect the worse, and you can never be disappointed” – but don’t look it up.)

   I was way too geeky to ever have been a surfer dude, and my fragile sense of balance just getting on and off an escalator precludes remaining upright on a surfboard long enough to avoid being a shark’s light refreshment.

   The thing about iconic images is they don’t actually have to be attractive, or have to have held up over the years. As long as they can conjure the emotion and memory that caused the image to become iconic, it can still work. For me the arch over the Santa Monica Pier conjured a teenage image of the whole surfing craze in music, from the Beach Boys to Jan and Dean. Mind you, even as a teeneager, I hated the sand and any body of water colder than 80 degrees. To say nothing of the whole reentering the food chain argument by going into the ocean in the first place.

   I was way too geeky to ever have been a surfer dude, and my fragile sense of balance just getting on and off an escalator precludes remaining upright on a surfboard long enough to avoid being a shark’s light refreshment.

   The Santa Monica Pier lived up to its pre-billing, and I’ve probably seen it for the last time in my life, though Carol experienced a couple of nostalgic tugs that qualified it as a bucket list item for her. For me, it was a reminder of just what level of escape fantasy I spent my teenage years living under. I can’t imagine what it was I thought was possible for my life in Chalmette, Louisiana from all those yearning, angst-filled, yet vibrantly  upbeat Brian Wilson lyrics. That’s still a pretty good life lesson to learn even at my age, so the pier qualifies as a bucket list item for me, too, I guess.

   I like kitschy, low-rent things, and I’m not emptying the bucket, just because the pier failed to move or impress me. There’s still the World’s Largest Ball of Twine located in Cawker City, Kansas to cross off. It’s not on my bucket list –  more like a Things I Really Don’t Need to See list. I’d visit, because it couldn’t possibly disappoint. Plus I’d like to look around Cawker City and imagine what it must have been like to grow up there as a teenage Beach Boys fan.

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