Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.
By DELL FRANKLIN
I bumped into Hannah while walking Wilbur the other morning, just before going down to the beach beside the Shoreline Motel. She was walking her little gray dog, Pablo, and told me she was looking for a place to rent.
“I tried this little one-bedroom cottage down the street from you, and they wanted twenty five hundred dollars a month,” she said. “And it can’t be four hundred square feet!”
Hannah was born and raised here. She is a physical therapist who is in business with her mother and another therapist on Ocean Avenue. As we headed toward the beach, she told me her current place was tiny and dark and claustrophobic; and she could not get enough light to keep her plants alive, and wished she had a yard to grow things. The little cottage she’d wanted at least was cheery and bright, and had a backyard to grow things.
“It’s the tiniest one-bedroom in the world, possibly.” I said. “It has no view. It’s a fixed-up shack.”
“The work they did on it is mostly paint, and the yard up front is nice, but it’s tiny, too.”
“It’s a knockdown. There’s only so much you can do with a place like that, no matter how much makeup you put on it.”
Then I added, “I’ve lived in places like that, little old wooden shacks with character; and they’re great, simplified and compact, but they were always cheap. I lived in one like that in Hermosa Beach down south for $120 a month for eight years. I paid my rent with half a week’s wages!”
We arrived on the beach, and kept walking toward the pier.
“I’ve been looking for a place for awhile,” Hannah said. “But what I was told by some landlords is that they want somebody who is high-end.”
I told Hannah what they meant is they want somebody who is probably from the growing techie invasion in San Luis Obispo. They want proof you have a huge bank account and a job where you’re making a lot more money than a local physical therapist. They want assurance you’re high-end.
Hannah agreed. She’ll also never make the kind of money at her profession that affords a single person, or even a working class couple, to live in Cayucos — even if she is a long-entrenched Cayucan respected for her healing powers and spirituality and down-to-earth friendliness.
“You should probably be thankful for what you have, at this point,” I told her. “People like you and me are getting squeezed out little by little. I’ve seen it happen all the way up the coast. It happened to me in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach and up here in Shell Beach. Most of my old friends are long gone. This is the last outpost.”
Where would a person like Hannah go?
She said, “Well, at least I can walk two doors down and I’m at work.”
“You need to hold onto your darkened little garret, Hannah.”
This little necklace of a beach burg is probably more than a few years away from becoming Carmel, up the coast by Monterey. When you walk down the main drag in Carmel, you notice there are no price tags on any of the products in the windows of boutiques and shops and stores. Why?
Because the people who live in Carmel are so wealthy they feel it is an insult to infer that they might not be able to afford what is in the window, and wickedly over priced.
I would also suppose that having prices so high is a successful weapon in keeping the paupers and riffraff out. Not only do obscenely wealthy beach towns want to squeeze out those who cannot afford to live in them, they want nobody of this ilk treading their streets who are not maids and gardeners and maintenance people providing them services.
The techie invasion–which has sucked the color and character out of San Francisco and transformed it into a city where the newly techie rich and the old established rich tread carefully and fearfully among the reeking, desiccated homeless, swaddled in their own urine, shit and vomit- threatens Cayucos like a cultural and spiritual miasma.
As we walked along the beach, Hannah said, “I am thankful the people I rent from are saints, old friends who’ve lived here all their lives, and would never kick me out.”
“Unless they sell. Soon as anybody sells, rents skyrocket and you’re gone.”
“They won’t sell. They’re wonderful people.”
Hannah is lucky in that she was raised here and has long-binding relationships. But attrition does set in.
My neighbors of eleven years, Carol and Brandon, who were more like friends, and walked my dog for six weeks when I was on crutches, and looked in on me because they felt as a 76 year old I din’t always take good enough care of myself, were recently squeezed out of a place that was bought and being remodeled. They were lucky both had jobs with the county and found a place in town where their rent was nearly a thousand dollars more a month for a place without their previous view.
I saw them nearly everyday and miss them, animal lovers. Carol is a native Cayucan holding on, thankful they found anything to keep them here. I can’t wait to see who moves into the remodeled place they were evicted from after paying rent on time for eleven years and taking care of a lot of problems themselves.
Those who move in will probably be too busy working their asses off making rent to have time to say much to a person like me, especially when they spy the comforters and blankets hanging from the railing of my deck and flapping in the soft sea breeze–a warning to stay away from us bottom-feeders still clinging to Cayucos like barnacles.
I told Hannah, “I’m out of here when it’s my turn to get the squeeze.”
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know.”
I really don’t like to think about it, but a possibility is buying a van, preferably a Toyota Chinook, and heading for Big Sur. Even if I was high-end, I wouldn’t want to dwell among ’em. And I sure as hell ain’t movin’ inland after 50 years on the beach.