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A Santa Monican's Dream

By Frank J. Gruber

My wife and I spent the weekend a week ago in Santa Fe, one of my favorite places, visiting my uncle and aunt. Yes, they have a house there with a guestroom -- part of my worldwide system of travel accommodations.

To get to Santa Fe I used the great American system of public transportation. You mean I took Amtrak? Well, no. We once took the train -- when our son was about four and we thought it would be a treat and we had time to make a longer visit.

It was a lot of fun. We had a sleeper big enough for the three of us, and the scenery from the lounge on the upper deck was fabulous, I love eating in dining cars, and there was even a shower.

But the train takes a long time and sleepers aren't particularly inexpensive. When you get there, you still need to rent a car. There was no car rental in Lamy, the train station nearest to Santa Fe, and so we had to take a shuttle bus. It was a hassle.

This time we took that other system of public transportation -- airplanes plus rental cars. "Huh?" you say; what's so public about Southwest Airlines and Dollar Rent-A-Car?

Look at it this way; when most people who aren't driving their own cars travel in this country, they fly to their destinations, using all sorts of infrastructure organized by government and paid for with a variety of user fees and taxes. Then they pick up a rental car and use the interstate (and other) highways that were also organized by government and paid for by a variety of user fees and taxes.

It's a great system if you have enough money to use it, i.e., enough money to have a credit card, insurance, etc., not to mention enough money to pay for the plane tickets and the rental.

All those government programs have made flying and renting cars a reasonably cheap way to travel when you consider how many miles you can travel per dollar.

Too bad our government hasn't organized transportation systems -- which could also be mixed public and private operations -- that work for everyone, whether or not they have credit cards, or that are more energy efficient. (Too bad rental car companies don't have cars at train stations.) But just because my transit providers last weekend were Southwest and Dollar, that doesn't mean I didn't use a "public transportation" system.

Let's put it this way -- it wouldn't have been possible without the Department of Transportation.

In any case, we flew into Albuquerque, rented a car, and drove to my uncle and aunt's place. It was a short visit, but this time I realized why I like Santa Fe so much.

It wasn't just the posole and chile verde stew, or the opera, although I made sure I ate the former and a highlight of the trip was our first ever visit to the Santa Fe Opera, to see "The Tempest," the new opera by Thomas Adès and Meredith Oakes based on Shakespeare's play.

And it wasn't the scenery, or the wandering around the central plaza enjoying the "Spanish Market," or the hike we took down and up an arroyo from my uncle and aunt's house to the plaza and back.

No, what I realized is that Santa Fe is a Santa Monican's fantasy of what Santa Monica is.

Santa Monicans believe they live in a cozy, self-contained, historical, sophisticated and arts-minded city closely connected to the natural environment. Santa Feans actually do.

Santa Fe (Photo by Frank Gruber)

* * *

I know this summer has been a lazy one of "slow news" columns with lots of fluff about my weekend travels, street trees, welcoming new officials, etc. I'd like to be able to say that I was ready to get serious again now that Santa Monica's political season is erupting like a long dormant volcano. (Not to mention the opportunities afforded me by the reemergence of Kelly Olsen repeating once again his wholly unsubstantiated charges of corruption in the planning department!) (see letter)

I would have liked this column to have been a hot off the presses report on the Santa Monicans for Renters Rights convention held yesterday. But the fact is that these weekend trips out of town have not constituted my family's "real" summer vacation, which began last night, when, barring any problems with our flight, we departed on a two-week trip to somewhere I have never been and where, believe it or not, I will not be visiting any relatives -- China.

Our travel schedule required me to write this column before Sunday's SMRR meeting, but I did swing by the meeting to learn that SMRR had not shown a moderate and independent voice -- Pam O'Connor -- the door, something it has had a history of doing under the influence of its no-growth wing.

Some of the rhetoric has become a little divorced from reality. People forget that all three of the most development-skeptical members of the City Council pushed Macerich to redevelop the Santa Monica Place Mall. Richard Bloom, Kevin McKeown, and Ken Genser all, to their credit, saw that the site needed to be opened up to connect the Civic Center to the Promenade and was an excellent location to build housing.

To try to create a difference between them and Ms. O'Connor on this issue or, for that matter, to claim that the Macerich redevelopment was something cooked up in private at the staff level is just pure -- rhetoric.

More about politics in a few weeks. In the meantime, if I find a decent internet connection in China, I'll file some photos about Third World urbanization or some such thing.

Event notice:

There's a new book coming out about Santa Monica. Louise Gabriel, president of the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum, has put together a collection of photos for Arcadia Press's "Images of America" series called Early Santa Monica.

The Historical Society Museum will be presenting a lecture by Ms. Gabriel and a book-signing on Sunday, August 20, 2 - 4 p.m., at the historic Santa Monica Bay Woman's Club building, 1210, Fourth Street. For more information, call 310 395 2290.

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