Last night I got home from Santa Barbara, a place I'm always glad to be home from. Nothing makes me appreciate the home and friends and environment I have here in the Bay Area quite as much as the 5.5 hour drive through the wasteland, followed by a week in the northern marches of Southern California.

The area around Santa Barbara is actually fairly pleasant; it just manages at the same time to be nondescript. The primary focus of downtown Santa Barbara is shopping and bars, and the primary focus of Goleta (where UCSB is actually located) is to provide a community of goods and services and housing for the university. But the area lacks any of the distinctiveness or "funk" that I'm really used to--I grew up around the Five College area of Western Massachusetts (UMass/Amherst/Hampshire/Smith/Mount Holyoke, within 12 miles of each other), and towns like Northampton and Amherst and South Hadley have the pulse of places that interact richly with their institutions, where the relationship is an involved give and take. Students graduate, find the area is pleasant, and settle there permanently, seeping into the local culture (already liberal and somewhat funkified just by being in New England), and the citizenry and not just the institution help to build a care and interest in culture, music, the arts. This is true in Western Massachusetts, certainly in the Cambridge/Boston area, in Saratoga Springs (home of ye olde alma mater), almost definitively in Berkeley, and even in Palo Alto (the rather upscale home of Stanford).

Maybe this is just my general distaste for Southern California coming out. Everything down there feels plastic, everyone looks the same and wears the same clothes. Downtown Santa Barbara consists largely of expensive shopping, a lot of which are small upscale chains (hmm..."London, Paris, San Francisco, Boston, Santa Barbara"--I think I've seen this before...), and nearly all of which are overpriced. There's a pretty hopping bar scene at night, except I'm not really that interested in bar scenes and don't really understand why anyone would be. I mean, I love a good pub, but these are bars, with dancing and scantily-clad college students and discount drinks and overbearing music, where the primary purpose seems to be to get drunk and dance.

Thank you, if I want to get drunk, I will do so either by myself, or with a few friends, possibly while throwing darts or shooting pool.

Thursday night a bunch of kids from the hostel were going to one of the bars, Sharkeez, and I got tired of waiting so I went on ahead. There was a line for some reason, and I was having a bad night, so I decided to just buy a candy bar and walk for a bit. I stopped in the adult store, a fairly clean and well-lit anomaly amid State Street's hordes of clubs and expensive beach stores; but really, when you're just bored on a Thursday night, bullet vibrators and porn star dildos and XXX COLLEGE AMATEURS videos/magazines/matchbook covers are really not that fascinating.

So, candy bar in pocket, I left, and headed for Stearns Wharf, a working wharf with some restaurants and whale-watching boats and shops on it, about 1/2 miles from Santa Barbara Harbor. This gave me some stress as I remembered the days we'd spent there on the boat--most things I remember about the boat give me some stress--and it was chilly, so I only walked part of the way up. I said hello to God, as I do periodically, just to check in and see how we're doing. I've long since ceased to be a Christian in any useful meaning of the word, but I still feel part of something bigger than me, if not separate, and "God" is as good as any other name; I often feel like that Bigger Thing has an intelligence, but maybe that is just me trying to fill the "God-shaped vacuum" in my heart that various writers talk about (checking the Internet I find the concept credited to Ambrose and Augustine [via the latter's "Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee"], but also found in Tillich and Alcoholics Anonymous; you can really tell when an idea resonates, eh?). At any rate, I find speaking to the Universe At Large to be a useful exercise in sorting my thoughts out, thinking about how I'm doing and whether I'm living in such a way that, if it comes down to it and I have to face a Creator after I die, I can honestly say that I served well in my own way, and since I did that out of a sense that that's what I really wanted and not because I was afraid of the consequences of living badly, would you please in your mercy not throw me into that hellfire thing so many people seem obsessed with.

I'm stumbling along as best I can. God says hello; wash behind your ears and don't let dishes pile up in the sink; and keep going even when the going sucks, because really, what else is there to do? I'm a bit off the Right Path, though, and the word on the street is that facing the Creator right now would involve more of the pleading-for-mercy thing than not.

No skydiving for me until I get straightened out, then.

My work with UCSB ends on Monday, and boy am I not comfortable facing unemployment again. I don't want any time off: I had a full eleven months of not working, and I don't need more time off, I want a job. I'm more hopeful this time of something turning up eventually, and in the meantime I'll keep working on a couple of UCSB projects, and we'll see if anyone there comes up with any funding for me. We now have an established working relationship, and the gazetteer software turned out really, really well, so if there's any money and they need a software engineer, I'm almost certainly in. In the meantime I file for unemployment and start eating less sushi.

Just about bedtime, now. Don't let the clowns eat you (or buy a t-shirt--apparently a lot of people grow up deathly afraid of clowns, although that at least is not among my myriad problems).