March 28, 2010

Boardwalk Softly, But Carry A Big Lens

Good morning and greetings, preexisting conditions fans. It’s gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside to see the country unite together as one in support of health care reform. I don’t want to say this bill has divided our nation, but I’ve seen more love at a Hatfield/McCoy family picnic. But despite the threats of Armageddon, the calls to reload and repeal and for armed revolt, spring is in the air and that means it’s time for warm sand, cool surf and hot rides, which sounds an awful lot like my bar mitzvah party.

So we’re going to close out March with a look at a local landmark that is known as the “world’s best seaside amusement park.” Since today marks the opening of weekday ride action, I thought it was only appropriate that we take a look at a place that is a reminder of a bygone era in amusement. And as someone who doesn’t hold a grudge beyond two decades, I’ve always said, let bygones be bygones. So, with an assist from Kelli Anderson and Via Magazine, away we go.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was founded in 1904 by local businessman Fred Swanton, who wanted to create a Coney Island on the west coast. Holy Nathan Hot Dogs, Batman, what a concept. An amusement park of fun and games along a mile long spectacular stretch of the Pacfic Coast. This was a man of many visions or in the words of Foreigner, “Oh, when it gets through to me, it’s always new to me, my double vison gets the best of me.” And just in case you were wondering, the world “coney” is derived from the latin word for rabbit, cuniculus.

So Fred Swanton built a carmelized onion-domed casino on the beach northwest of the San Lorenzo River in 1904. Despite being told to, “never, never play with matches,” the uninsured building burned down two years later. But this Santa Cruz-based visionary convinced his investors to go for the gold, as they built a new casino, ballroom, boardwalk, pleasure pier and a Panda Express. The grand opening of the new boardwalk inspired an inaugural ball, with one band being directed by John Philip Sousa, who I believe also scored the soundtrack for the movie “Superfly.” There was also a congratulatory message from President Theodore Roosevelt and a twitter from Sarah Palin who claimed she could see Russia from the bumper car ride.

The Boardwalk’s top attraction, besides free admission, is the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1924, or around the second-to-last time the Golden State Warriors were in the playoffs. Giant Dipper creator Arthur Looff once said the ride’s design was intended to evoke a “combination earthquake, balloon ascension, aeroplane drop and dinner at Dick Cheney’s house.” Now, I don’t want to say this experience isn’t my cup of herbal tea, but let’s just say prefer the tiny dipper. That is, when I’m not sky-diving or running in front of trains. Hi, I’m Geoff and I’m a coasterholic.

The Giant Dip was built in just 47 days at the cost of $50,000, or what I would spend in therapy per year trying to erase the nightmares of riding this American landmark. And I kid thee not, as the The Dipper and the Looff Carousel, which still contains its original 342-pipe organ built in 1894, are both on the United States National Register of Historic Places along with the Burger King on Mission Street. The carousel, built in 1911, contains two chariots, which were included for modestly-minded Victorian ladies, 73 carved and bejeweled horses, and a shetland pony for those junior jockeys who want to start early with the whip. The park itself is a California State Historic Landmark, as is Oakland Raider owner Al Davis.

Let’s move on to the photo fireworks. As many of you know, I love the ponies and dry weather. Or in the words of America, “I’ve been to the desert on a horse with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain.” So a few weeks back, as I rode my triathlon racing bike up the hill by the Main Beach and saw gulls having fun, I knew a photo opportunity awaited me.

I took the first two shots by the San Lorenzo River mouth, and you can see it was a gorgeous afternoon. As the words of the Allman Brothers band buzzed through my head, “You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day,” I shot the gulls as they relaxed while making their bracket selections for the NCAA tournament. Then much like my mood the last time I was questioned by a TSA employee brandishing a wand, the sky started to change as the clouds blew in from the north by northwest.

So before you could say “Nancy Pelosi,” the sky went from beautiful blue to thunderhead city, which was as interesting to witness as Johnny McCain’s reaction to the national health care bill. The gulls continued to swirl in the cumulus-filled sky, as I snapped away like paparazzi shooting that Oscar homewrecker “Bombshell McGee.” As I exited the beach, I was greeted by a rainbow over the Giant Dipper. All this dip action left my emotionally exhausted, and all I wanted to do was go home and curl up in front of a fire with a big bag of chips.

On to the late night point of view. “Well, today, President Obama signed the landmark health care reform bill into law, or as President Obama refers to it, ‘The Rush Limbaugh Deportation Act. I’ll tell you how excited the president is. Today, he changed his slogan from ‘Yes, we can,’ to ‘Yes, we finally did something.’ Of course, the White House is now denying it made any side deals with members of Congress to pass this bill. See, I don’t know if that’s true. Did you see Mount Rushmore today? They’re adding Dennis Kucinich’s face to it.” –Jay Leno

“Sarah Palin spoke out this week against the health care reform bill, saying, ‘Elections have consequences.’ Well, of course, elections have consequences. That’s why right now, instead of being vice president of the United States, she’s trying to get a reality show on the Animal Planet. You know, not a single Republican voted for the health care bill. They claim the U.S. government isn’t qualified to be in the health care business. Hey, kept Dick Cheney alive the last 30 years. It’s got to be worth something. Do you know who’s going to be in charge of health care? The IRS No, this is true. The IRS will be in charge of enforcing the new health care laws. You thought you hated getting audited by the government? Wait until they’re in charge of your prostate exam.” –Jay Leno

“Yesterday in Washington, D.C., history was made. Congress actually worked on a Sunday.” –David Letterman “People on the inside, you know with the inside information, say it does look good for the Democrats. Because, they have this little inside stuff. They found out Nancy Pelosi called her plastic surgeon to ask if her smile would be ready for Sunday.” –Bill Maher “And of course, a lot of right wingers are very upset about this because they believe this health care bill will cost a lot of money. You know what I think? Just pretend it’s another unnecessary war. You’ll feel better about it already.” -Jay

According to Men’s Health magazine, 21 percent of men surveyed would rather have a sexier nurse than a more competent doctor when they’re in the hospital. I say, why not have both? The government’s paying for it now. Who cares? Bernard Madoff was assaulted back in November in a prison dispute over money. The authorities are investigating the attack and have narrowed the suspects down to ‘everybody.’” –Jay Leno

So that’s our final post for March, 2010. I don’t know about you, but time seems to be flying by faster than state’s Attorney Generals filing to challenge the new federal health care law. So I hope you enjoyed the Elite Eight (not to be confused with the “Magnificent Seven”) NCAA tournament action as we’re now down to four teams, including a cinderella named Butler. Enjoy the Boardwalk beauty and we’ll catch you at Park Place. Aloha, mahalo and later, Final Four fans.


  1. Just a couple of corrections. While “Coney” is indeed an English word for rabbit, John Phillip Sousa did not score “Superfly” and the Burger King on Mission is not a California Historical Landmark. And if I remember correctly, your Bar Mitzvah party was held indoors in New Jersey although maybe you had the sand trucked in. Just trying to keep you honest…

    Comment by Nolan Smith — March 29, 2010 @ 7:01 am

  2. What is your obsession with my feathered brethren? Were you bombarded with some of our droppings as a child? We’re the ocean’s equivalent of pigeons! Stick with the pelicans, a more noble creature. As for the Big Dipper (not Wilt), nothing like prinal screaming at the top of your lungs for two minutes. Reminds me of my honeymoon.

    Comment by Jonathan Livingston Seagull — March 29, 2010 @ 11:57 am

  3. sand… birds… big dipper … it’s a good day.

    Comment by Babs — March 29, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

  4. Santa Cruz.. the boardwalk… decent weekend weather… have an enjoyable Passover!

    Comment by Mazeltov — March 29, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

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