Nature Versus Nurture

By Kyle Slavin   |   June 4, 2020

Which came first, a town’s culture, or the people who inspired it?

Two-and-a-half lifetimes ago, in 2012, my newly-minted fiancée and I were wedged in a one-bedroom apartment on the Mesa, utterly broke and enthusiastically optimistic. Those fresh-faced, naïve versions of ourselves would eat trail mix and drink wine on our utter lack of living room furniture, gaze out at the open ocean before us, and talk about the family and life we were going to build.

That, and whether or not that haphazard Jeep of ours was going to start the next day… darned thing still gives me the shakes.

As we both were working double-duty on our ultimately unimportant and emotionally devastating jobs, we looked to the Santa Barbara community to provide some much-needed cultural immersion and social escape.

The Funk Zone was just a baby at that time as well, and Lord, did we nurture that child!

We would take the mile-and-a-half walk down Shoreline, past the Harbor and West Beach, and there, in the haze of Pinot Noir and nonsense, we finally found our people.

We began to lean on the wineries, and from there Pierre Lafond’s State Street Bistro and Blush (both now defunct), and we began to understand the peacock-tailed beauty of small business in this town – something that I didn’t quite grasp when I grew up here.

It was just that they all had great authenticity and an appreciation for their work, which they were happy to share if you showed an interest. Joey Somerville at Blush turned us on to their jackpot steak sauce that you could douse over anything. Nick Morello at Corks and Crowns poured us his private label. Don Hull at the Montecito Wine Bistro would ask us to taste possible menu additions and actually listened to feedback. Suzanne Fitzgerald at the SB Winery clued us in to cooking classes and pairings – she is the person I have to thank for my knowledge of how to properly juice a citrus… with a fork!

Those I mentioned nourished us and helped us bloom, back when we had nothing. Now, as a 38-year-old father of three, living in Toro Canyon with that same smoke-show wife, four dogs, three rabbits, a koi pond, and a guest house with two cranky elderly folks (who happened to conceive me) I think fondly upon those days of growth in the culture nursery of Santa Barbara County.

And particularly at this time, in this circumstance, I feel a moral responsibility to return the favor.

It is bizarre – it seems that we all have weathered a bull market on tragedy and disaster these last couple of years.

And as we dive beneath the waves of yet another swell, I hope we remain prepared for the local issues that existed – perhaps fermenting – since before our most recent hiatus underwater.

The frailty of our small businesses, especially in this market, is an issue that must remain at the forefront of our minds and actions, lest we wish to lose one of the most appealing aspects of being a “Santa Barbarian.”

There is no doubt that this most recent calamity will claim many of the local establishments that were left standing. It just breaks my heart. But the reason businesses will survive will be because of this connection to their community. Classic venues like Los Arroyos, Cava, Tre Lune, Shoreline Cafe, Joe’s Cafe, Jeannine’s Bakery, and Via Maestra have us as family, and family supports each other.

So as we cocoon, self-distance and self-sanitize, perhaps we should include self-observation in our code of ethics for our eventual rebirth. These businesses that we hold close are part of us. They contribute heavily to our environment, and through their efforts to further the cultural ingenuity of Santa Barbara, they in turn supply us with a portion of our identity.

I know so many folks that consider their weekly date nights a romantic threesome: them, their partner, and their favorite eatery. Simply scandalous!

Looking broadly at our current conditions, difficult though they may seem, I still find myself encouraged.

To go back and talk to the 2012 versions of ourselves, looking out over that same ocean in that same makeshift living room, wine and trail mix, I would offer that we are already armed with everything we need.

No, not to simply survive, but to bond our connection more soundly with this community, this culture, and these people who work hard to make Santa Barbara so unique.

Because, really, what is our culture worth if we are not doing our part to experience it? In truth, it is the only part of family that we get to pick out ourselves.

Or… did it pick us?


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