One Inity

enlarging circles of knowledge and life

Rooftop irrationality in Santa Cruz

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For decades, travelers, surfers, and the houseless, have been trawling the Californian Coast for places to park overnight in their vans, cars, rvs and buses. It has obviously caused some consternation with the residents of the prime locations. One can appreciate and empathise with the concerns of property owners paying back massive mortages who have to wake to their waterfront streets filled with dirty hippies pissing in the bush or drinking cheap wine and feeding themselves as the sun sets. To alleviate these issues most counties pass bylaws and post signs making overnight parking illegal almost everywhere. Of course as a bus-borne vagrant, it would be easier if we could simply park anywhere, but I understand their perspective.

the offending location

In most areas a slow perusal of nearby streets and parks will eventually reveal small areas without signs that can host a van or two overnight. Residential areas are also good if you are arriving under the cover of darkness. We’ve found plenty of lovely spots along this coastline, some clearly legal and others somewhat not. In fact, since leaving BC almost three months ago we have paid for camping less than half a dozen times, and even then only by choosing not to continue the search. So it is still possible to stay for free, but you need some smarts and some awareness of the situation. Of course, some innocent words, an accent and no open containers, noise or funny smoke helps when it’s time to plead ignorance and humbly move on to another locale.

We’ve had one night-time move along order and one early morning knock at the door, but no threats, fines or even official warnings. Both times the officers have been happy to answer my questions as to where we can legally park overnight. The night-time cop even made sure that we weren’t intoxicated before sending us on our way. So I guess there are two obvious pathways to request permission to stay put: “Sorry officer but we’ve been here for a while and I am not confident that I am sober enough to drive.” Or perhaps “Sorry officer but I am just exhausted and I simply had to pull over before I fell asleep at the wheel.” In either case it would be risky for the officer to order you to move on in such a litigious society. The sobriety argument may lead to issues with open containers, or even DUI charges if the officer is in a bad mood – make sure the keys aren’t in the ignition. I digress.

Santa Cruz follows a familiar format; most prime downtown locations are clearly not approved for overnight stays, yet within a few miles there are parks, beaches, random pull-outs and other inconspicuous areas to pull over for a night. We got lucky in SC by finding a downtown open air two storey parking garage that had no ‘no camping’ signage. The meters were offline until morning so we settled in for an uninterrupted sleep nestled in the branches of a tall eucalypt that reached to the top floor. Perfect.

Tuesday, and we’re wandering main street doing some window shopping and poaching interweb and washrooms at starducks. As I wait outside the World Market with Cleo (Ash’s 12 year old yellow lab) a cycle-mounted security guard whom I’d noticed lapping the main drag approached to inform me that there were actually no dogs allowed on Pacific Ave (SC’s main shopping street). Some enquiry revealed that the law had been in place since the 70’s and was there because there were not enough responsible dog owners. Fair enough. I clarified further and moved five metres to the other side of the World Market doorway, which happened to be on a corner. The bylaw only applies to Pacific Ave, so by moving to the side street crisis was averted, the faux bike cop was placated and could continue his patrols. All in all it was a pleasant, if slightly ridiculous, encounter.

Fast forward ten minutes and Ash and I are back at the bus in the same place we’d parked overnight. We’d paid our daily fee and were under the impression we were playing by the rules and set up for our day’s wanderings. As we began preparing our meal, bike cop reappears and informs us that we are unable to remain in our vehicle for more than half an hour – no loitering, he explains, stops people camping in their cars. Ok, no worries, we can live with that, we’ll just finish our lunch and head back out to the street, this time without the dog. Bike cop departs, another amicable, if absurd, affair.

Within five minutes, a parking inspector, no bike this time, arrives to tell us she’s been sent by the owners of the carpark to move us on, as we are not allowed to remain with our vehicle while we make lunch. I explain to the nice lady that we have just had a conversation with bike cop, and he left after we’d agreed to leave – on foot – once our lunch was over. This isn’t good enough for walking lady, and to be fair maybe I was becoming less pleasant to deal with, so she then asserts that we should have paid for two parking spaces as our bus is infringing upon access to another space. In isolation this may have been a fair comment, but in the empty parking lot with a hundred spaces left to fill, she was obviously clutching at straws. In her logic, this means we must leave this instant, or risk a citation. So now we are being asked to forfeit our payment for the day’s parking and leave, bus and all. I ask for a refund in return for departing early, but unsurprisingly she’s not down with that. We inform her that we’ll be finishing our lunch and leaving the bus right where it is for the afternoon, and return inside to the frying bacon and eggs.

Presently, there’s a knock at the door and bike cop is back, asking for the man of the house (not because of some patriarchal prejudice, just because I had been involved predominantly in our earlier discussions). I step outside and bike cop is now on the lady inspector’s side and he’s asserting that we should depart at once. He tells me that we’ve been seen here and he knows that we’ve been at the vehicle for more than half an hour. His Orwellian knowledge notwithstanding, I remind him of our meeting about fifteen minutes ago in regard to the dog bylaw. “Well your girlfriend must have been up here then,” he quickly retorts. No buddy, that’s who I was waiting for out front of the store. “I’m not going to discuss this anymore” he says, “you can leave now or have a citation.” We attempt to explain that we have barely had enough time to fry an egg, but this logic bounces off the impenetrably indoctrinated ego as well.

By and by parking lady returns (after calling her backup – faux bike cop) and Cleo knocks an empty beer can out of the bus at her feet. Aha! They exchange smiles and now we’re getting an open container citation as well. I return inside to grab my bacon and egg roll – the reason this whole messed up situation exists – and concentrate on enjoying it to ease the rising rage. My hands are shaking, fight or flight instincts aroused, heart racing. Argh this is so ridiculous! Wiping egg yolk and barbeque sauce from my face I continued to attempt to reason with bike cop, while walking lady stood aside.

The smirking bastard, S. Stanger I believe, says he wants to discuss it, but the minute I start talking he reverts to his citation threat, making it appear that this consequence was getting closer and closer. His willingness to discuss the situation did not extend to listening to my agreement that we would leave (on foot) when lunch was done. Nor did he like my offer to leave if our parking fee was reimbursed. He continued to state the previously unambiguously disproven reasoning that we had overstayed our 30 minute loitering limit. I asserted that he was flat out lying and that having paid our parking fee we had the right to remain in the parking lot – so long as we played by the rules (which we believed we were).

At the mention of my ‘right’ to remain where I had paid to be, the faux bike cop launched into a legally laughable tirade about how naive I was to think I had rights on this private property. This single speech was the worst reflection of American delusions I have ever heard. “This is America,” he smugged, “you’ve got no civil rights here.” Goodness me. He even reverted to Australia’s prison colony heritage, suggesting it was no wonder I was such a pain in his ass having come from a nation of criminals!

When I enquired as to under whose authority he was harassing us, he said the we worked for the SCPD (SC police Department). A subcontracted security guard to cycle around and maintain the peace. When I continued along this path of enquiry he quickly declined to answer any more questions. It turned out eventually that he actually had no authority really whatesoever, and even had to wait for superiors to deliver a citation book to the scene of the ‘disturbance’ to issue our tickets.

As we continued to argue in circles the merits of their spurious allegations, Ash had noticed a man asleep at the wheel of his car a few spots away from our absurd scene. It should be noted that he had been there during the whole ordeal but bike cop had not seen it necessary to inform him of his loitering transgression. But I digress. Matt was very open to Ash’s request that he witness the exchange going on on the other side of the bus. He listened carefully to my exasperated frustrations, punctuated with bike cop’s irrational refutations. Matt’s amusement and clarity of mind as a non-partisan observer was timely and valuable. Weighing up my position and the determination of the power tripping locals, his wise advice was simply to leave.

Swallowing the last of my beer and a little pride, we packed up and deserted the scene – but not without a few abusive volleys between Ash and I and the faux cop. With my blood boiling, heart racing and all rational thoughts perplexed, we left down the nearest stairs and found a vantage from which to watch our antagonists decide what to do next. As i paced and began to calm down, the two had an apparently hilarious conversation by the bus and eventually left. We ducked back to make sure we had not received a ticket, and went back to our day. We saw that smug faux cycle cop a few more times throughout the day, and I managed to refrain from jamming a stick in his spokes as he rode past.

So in the end, we ate our tasty rolls, had a beer during the ordeal and eventually got on with our day. But as I walked away shaking, legs unsteady, I pondered the powerlessness and frustration that can arise when presented with an unchallengeable power, especially when things are intensified by irrationality and unreasonable figures of authority. Somehow I felt solidarity and empathy for all who face unreasonable power in their lives – civilians in war ravaged areas, Palestinians facing roadblocks, anyone unfortunate enough to have dealt with a brainwashed cop or security guard. If one considers that many of these encounters also involve unimaginable violence, bullying, or victimisation, and it’s very easy to begin to identify with those engaged in struggle.


Written by Sean Bozkewycz

April 30, 2011 at 18:32

Posted in rants, travel

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