Let it Rain, Let it Rain, Let it Rain!

By Ernie Witham   |   March 14, 2019

I learned a lot of new terms when I moved to Santa Barbara in 1977. I got a job at a small medical manufacturing company on lower Chapala called Browne Corporation. (Thank you Larry and Sue Browne. I’m forever grateful for taking a chance a on a long-haired bumpkin from New Hampshire who said things like “I love Santer Barbrer. It has so many pahks and really nice yahds.”)

The job agency sent me to Browne after I flunked a number of other job interviews. Like Arrowhead Water. “You just moved here and now think you can handle a water route? Do you even know how to find Micheltorena or Arrellaga?”

“I don’t know Michell, and I’m not even sure what an Arr-e-ahgah is?”

I also did not get hired at Russ’s Camera, even though I had worked at a photo and hobby store for more than two years and planned on attending Brooks Institute of Photography. “We have Brooks grads coming in every day looking for a job. Try back in six months.” I had enough money to last about six weeks – if I didn’t eat.

The agency did find me a photo manager opening at Long’s Drugs. “This is the photo department right here,” the management staff told me, pointing at a space the size of a VW bus. “We had to fire the last person because they kept losing people’s film. Do you have a resume?”

“Ah…” I checked all my pockets. “Must have fallen out of my bell bottoms.” They still wanted to hire me, but in the interview the staff kept complaining about what a crappy place it was to work. And how they hated all the other employees. I told them I’d let them know – in six months.

The agency was getting impatient with me. “Can you type?” “No.” Do a spreadsheet?” “No.” “Sell men’s underwear?” “Hell no!” That’s when they sent me to Browne. “After this it’s domestic labor.”

Browne was perfect. Full of people my age, who told lots of stories and laughed a lot – especially at my accent. “How’d you get here today?”

“Drove my cah.”

“Where is it?”

“Pahked it in the pahking lot.”

But they accepted me and soon were inviting me to join them for lunch. “We’re going to Rudy’s for a flauta and a Dos Equis. Wanna come?”

“Ah, su-ah.” I had no idea what either of those things were, but I went. That’s when I discovered salsa. “Wow! This is wicked good… Ahhh! My mouth’s on fiya! I need watta! Like a whole pitcha full.” 

A few months later and I was really starting to fit it. I even learned some local lingo like “totally rad, tubular, and the Grateful Dead.” “That’s the same Grateful Dead from the 60s? They’re still together?”

I also learned Santa Barbara had a lake. My hometown was known as the Lakes Region. We had three lakes around us, as well as a number of ponds, rivers, and brooks. So, I went to see Cachuma. “Where’s the watta?” I asked. “We used it all,” they said.

But by December of 1977, after a mutli-year drought, it began to rain. We had a lot of rain in Laconia, New Hampshire, but I had never seen anything like this. It rained for three straight weeks. All day. All night. We used to go out at break time to watch the river of water cascading through the culvert behind the company, carrying with it lawn chairs, coolers, volleyballs, and the occasional surfer. “Dudes, anyone have any Sex Wax?” So another term began being bandied about: “Cachuma might spill.”

It didn’t seem possible. But the Santa Ynez River began raging. Cachuma kept rising and – it did spill. A bunch of us went to watch. Then we went to Paradise and swam in the watering holes and jumped off rocks and rope swings. “Totally awesome!”

I have lived here now for more than 40 years. Cachuma has gone up and down, spilling a few times, practically going dry a couple times. But now it’s raining. Cachuma is rising again. No one’s talking about it spilling. But the river is running. Maybe I can connect with some of my old work buddies this spring at Paradise. That would be gnarly.


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