Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Lompoc murals 6

The town of Lompoc (Lom-POKE, not –POCK) was founded in 1874 as a temperance colony. Efforts to keep it dry were tough right from the first, though. No sooner did the good women of the People’s Union League tear down one saloon than another sprang up to replace it. They were led by Mrs. J.B. Pierce, a west coast Carrie Nation, not shy about using axe handles and torches in the battle against Demon Rum. One memorable day in 1883 the PUL ladies wrapped a stout rope around a tavern and dragged it a couple blocks down the street, spilling a lot of drinks and probably making the patrons think they were a lot drunker than they were. I’m assuming it wasn’t a Hooters or a TGI Fridays. Picture a more modest establishment, like one room, two or three whiskey barrels with a big plank lying across them, maybe a card table. The event is commemorated in a mural on a building downtown. It didn’t do any good. In a few years the laws were changed and liquor became legal.

We went to Lompoc because there were some videos in the library Lee needed to see. The Lompoc library is part of the Black Gold system here, which includes a dozen libraries from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara, including a few that are only open 2 hours per week. It’s a great system, and means there is less duplicate buying in the two counties. You can request that material be moved from a distant library to one closer to you, but we prefer to go right to the source. We hoped the library would be somewhere in the old downtown area, but it wasn’t, so we went to the Chamber of Commerce, which had a huge mural on its side, and picked up some literature. We quickly found ourselves on a walking tour of downtown, Mural City, USA.

There are about 40 or 50 murals which are part of the great mural project, plus many others put up by business owners scattered all over town. They’ve been doing this for about 15 years. Sometimes they give a wall to a single artist, sometimes they do a “mural in a day,” letting a bunch work together. There is a place called Art Alley which functions as a sort of audition center. Artists hang their work in smaller format, right out in the open, and people get to consider it. The finished murals vary from the size of a garage door (there is a whole row of garage doors with flower seed packets painted on them) to entire sides of buildings. Some are painted directly on the walls, others are segmented on panels so they can be taken down and moved around. It makes for a colorful, lively city.

Lompoc Museum, John Varley

The walking tour brought us to the Lompoc Museum, located, like the ones in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, in an old Carnegie Library. This delighted us. In addition to missions, we collect Carnegie Libraries. If you aren’t familiar with them … Robber Baron Andrew Carnegie funded the building of a lot of public libraries between 1881 and 1917. Counts vary from 2507 to 2811. He was a bastard, no question, and there were strings attached, and some of the workers in towns that got libraries said they’d rather have had a living wage, which AC did not pay them, than a library. However, it was an amazing act of philanthropy, coming to about 41 million dollars just for the 1700 or so in the US, and this was back when he had no tax incentive to give away one dime. Some have been torn down now but many remain. A few even still function as libraries in communities that haven’t outgrown them. But these old buildings work well as small museums. The one in Lompoc is excellent. Upstairs is an extensive collection of Indian artifacts, and downstairs is devoted to the white man, including a tiny little street of storefronts circa 1900.

We learned a lot in a short time. Lompoc is known for a few other things besides murals:

FLOWERS. West of town are a lot of flower fields. In June, July, and August they are said to be very beautiful, and a huge Floral Flag, visible from the surrounding hills, is constructed.

DIATOMACEOUS EARTH. This is a mineral that makes just about the best filtering medium there is. We used this stuff in chemistry lab in high school and at the Mobil Chemical labs where I worked one summer. The museum has a 7 million-year-old dolphin fossilized in diatomaceous earth.

ITALIAN STONE PINES. These are quite striking trees. They go very high with no green, covered in bark that is hard as rock and would probably resist fire pretty well. Then they blossom into huge parasol shapes. I’d never have thought they were pines but they had cones and needles, way up there. And their presence is a happy accident. In 1940 the city fathers bought a bunch of what they thought were Monterrey Pines to plant on the southern two or three blocks of the main drag, H Street. After they were in and growing well, they found out they got the wrong trees. But they left them there, and now they are famous among horticulturists, who come miles to see them.

Lompoc Italian Stone Pines, John Varley

THE HONDA POINT DISASTER. Maybe the biggest naval screwup since the Spanish Armada. In 1923 14 brand new US Navy destroyers were on a shakedown cruise heading southeast at 20 knots by dead reckoning navigation, in single file, led by USS Delphy, when they entered a fog bank. It turned out they were a couple miles east of where they thought they were. Here is how subsequent events were described at a naval history website:

About five minutes after making her turn, Delphy slammed into the Honda shore and stuck fast. A few hundred yards astern, USS S.P. Lee saw the flagship’s sudden stop and turned sharply to port, but quickly struck the hidden coast to the north of Delphy. Following her, USS Young had no time to turn before she ripped her hull open on submerged rocks, came to a stop just south of Delphy and rapidly turned over on her starboard side. The next two destroyers in line, Woodbury and Nicholas turned right and left respectively, but also hit the rocks. Steaming behind them, USS Farragut backed away with relatively minor damage, USS Fuller piled up near Woodbury, USS Percival and Somers both narrowly evaded the catastrophe, but USS Chauncey tried to rescue the men clinging to the capsized Young and herself went aground nearby. The last four destroyers, Kennedy, Paul Hamilton, Stoddert, and Thompson, successfully turned clear of the coast and were unharmed.

Seven “tin cans” totaled in just a few minutes, without a shot being fired. The good news was that only 23 sailors were lost. I don’t know what the crew strength of one 1923 destroyer would have been, but I imagine it was a lot more than 23.

MISSION LA PURISIMA CONCEPTION. Our favorite mission has “Mission Days” twice a month beginning in March. Local volunteers called “Prelada de la Tesoros” (Keepers of the Treasures), trained in mission lore, dress in period costume and we all pretend it is 1822. We were greeted in the church by the padre, who inquired whether we were coming up from Santa Inez or down from San Luis. The missions were established about a day’s horseback ride apart, but there’s a bit larger gap north of Purisima. We had a great time at Mission Days.

Vandenberg AFB

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE. This was established in 1941 as Camp Cooke, given to the Air force in 1957, and now is the headquarters of headquarters of Space Command’s 30th Space Wing. The population of Lompoc soared from 6,665 in 1957 to over 58,301 in 2002. VB is now by FAR the largest local employer, with over 5000 civilians working there. They launch missiles there about once a month, but post-9/11 it’s hard to find out just when they are doing it. They used to offer tours of the launch sites, but when we went to Condition Orange, or whatever, they canceled them. We haven’t even tried to visit, remembering how long it took to get into Camp Hunter-Liggett up north, where there is basically very little to protect.

Fess Parker Winery

WINE COUNTRY. There are about 18 or 45 or 328 “Wine Country” regions in California these days, depending on who is counting. There are vineyards all over Santa Barbara County. We have driven down winding country roads frosted with bright blue flowers that look just like bluebonnets in Texas, and are in fact lupins. Bluebonnets are lupins, too, but larger. Lee and I don’t do wine so we’ve passed by the tasting rooms. But one got our attention: The Fess Parker Winery. There is a coonskin cap on the road sign and on the bottles. Fess makes a few dozen products. When I went to his website and found this:

Melange du Rhone-Rouge, 1998

Description: This interesting blend is one of a kind! Notes of wild berry, plum, mint, and herb on the nose. Bursting flavors of wild berry, plum, smoked meats, menthol and cranberry, combine for a lingering finish.

Smoked meats? What kind of smoked meats, Davey? Coon? Possum? Maybe b’ar? I heerd ye kilt ye a b’ar when you wuz only three. (God, I’ll bet he gets tired of hearing that.) Lingering finish, indeed! I figure it would take me most of a day to sort out all those flavors and smells, and the rest of it to pick the b’ar jerky out of my teeth.

Lompoc Days of Wine and Wisteria

Well, with Lent rapidly approaching I’m sure all of you are making your plans for … **$%$ MARDI GRAS *#%!!!! And when you think of Mardi Gras your thoughts just naturally turn to that hotbed of French Catholic culture … San Luis Obispo!!! That’s right, there’s been a Mardi Gras celebration here for 25 years now (though the first one was just two guys walking down the street throwing beads at innocent bystanders). But it got bigger, with up to 30,000 people participating, and five years ago there started to be trouble with drunks and rowdy behavior. They cancelled the big parade last year, but this year it was back, moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon. They also made an effort not to advertise it out of the city itself, which may be why Lee and I didn’t hear about it. With our usual mixture of good and bad luck we blundered into the tail end of the parade, all because we went to SLO for a Stone Cold ice cream. Suddenly we’re surrounded by painted men and women wearing costumes gaudy as a Las Vegas showgirl or a Philly Mummer. Every block of town seemed to be hosting at least one noisy party, and a dozen popular bars downtown had lines stretching around the block. (I’ve never understood standing in a long line for a chance to party.) Motorcycle cops were traveling in pairs, or quartets. Groups of guys were chanting at girls on balconies: “Show us your tits!” Made me want to grab a mint julep or a hurricane in a go-cup and stroll down Bourbon looking for some good jazz … but this is not the Big Easy, and many local residents are very uptight about the public drinking and nudity. Well, folks … the drinking and rowdiness has got to be kept under control, no question, but Mardi Gras, like Las Vegas, is not and should not be for the kiddies, never has been. Lighten up. If the nuns and padres on the Krewe of the Mission San Luis float get so exuberant they want to lift up their skirts and have a little fun, leave them be. If some Cal Poly future veterinarian has a few too many and does something she might not do back in Eureka, like flash for beads, why is that our business? Send the kids to Disneyland.

Coolest Restaurant on the central Coast: Hudson’s Grill. We’ve been to the one in Santa Maria and there’s another in San Luis Obispo. I don’t know if the company is larger than that. We thought this was just a diner owned by somebody named Hudson, but it’s not. You’ve probably seen a Hard Rock Cafe or other franchise which feature ‘50s era Cadillacs or other fancy cars bursting through the walls, or the rear ends and huge tail fins sticking outside. This place takes that theme and stands it on its head. First thing you see when you enter Hudson’s is … the front end of a ’53 or ‘54 Hudson bursting through the wall! And those walls are covered in framed magazine ads for the Hudson car. Everywhere you look: Hudsons! Many of you probably won’t understand the irony of this. The Hudson was a great big, roomy, bulbous family car. I mean, you could practically go bowling on the back seat. You could hold a big party in the trunk. When I was growing up, my family owned no less than three Hudsons, one right after the other. I loved them! And, oddly enough, they were HOT! Unlikely as it seems, Hudson owned all the NASCAR records for the early ‘50s, back when “stock cars” were actual cars off the assembly line, not Fiberglas shells built around nuclear power plants. They had some engineering tricks that were way before their time. Believe me, I surprised many a teenage Ford or Chevy driver at stoplights, burning rubber and keeping right up with them as their jaws dropped right down onto their expensive floor shifts. I drove one from Nederland, Texas, to the New York World’s Fair and back when I was 17. I burned about a dozen cans of oil and I paid 30 cents for a windshield wiper hose, and that was all the car trouble I had. I wish I had that old car back right now.

I’ve been seeing a hypnotherapist with the goal of quitting smoking for three weeks now. It has been an uneasy experience. She isn’t into past life regression or recovered memories or any of that crap, but she believes in enough touchy-feelie “vibration” stuff to make me uneasy. In the first session she explained there wouldn’t be any weird stage hypnotism things going on. I would remember everything about every session, I wouldn’t suddenly start doing strange things from post-hypnotic suggestion. This was both reassuring and disappointing. I WANTED her to give me a suggestion that cigarettes would taste really awful from now on, some easy short cut like that. But she says, and she’s probably right, that there are no short cuts, that the best she can do is gradually lead me to be able to do what 90% of me already wants to do, which is the sane and logical thing, which is to quit. The way we do that is to persuade the 10% of me that is a stubborn asshole that it can be happy doing something else. Slow persuasion, substitution, things like that. So far I’m still smoking, but I’m thinking about it more. I haven’t noticed any weird side effects except that whenever somebody says “Marlboro” I drop my pants … but I guess I’ll stick with it for another week.

March 5, 2003
Oceano, California