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Back to the Beach: An Activist Returns to Town





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I spent this weekend as a Santa Monica resident for the first time in seven years. Interesting!

Technically my new digs are across the street, the dividing line between Santa Monica and Mar Vista. Coincidentally it’s the same area that I wrote about in my second murder mystery Rip-Off, the airport location of a clusterfuck shootout that shames my hero, Detective Dave Mason of the Santa Monica Police Department.

I’ve been in the city off and on, but as a visitor in these last few years. Now I have a base. My dog Lily and will be here from time to time in an effort to develop a plot for my next Dave Mason mystery.

The contrasts of Santa Monica fascinate me. I drive down Broadway and see the dark doorway of the union hall where I used to work. Three homeless men are huddled there. The nights are cold and damp this time of year. Other parts of the country might scoff at temperatures in the 40s as cold, but the tendrils of marine layer fog curl around your bones and pull the heat and spirit right out of you.

A block away skinny young people come and go from the hot clubs and expensive restaurants. I notice the Raw Food restaurant is still there. Years ago I protested that a small glass of pomegranate juice cost $7. Now my surprise seems laughable. A mere $7! I can’t locate any of the restaurants I liked then in the evolving urban landscape of a major city. I wonder if it’s true that the quickest way to break your heart is to open a restaurant, right after falling in love with a married man.

Lily and I took a walk on the popular Third Street Promenade during late night shopping hours. The hip and the beautiful, the bemused tourists, the homeless are still there along with the Hare Krishna, a drummer set up in the middle of the street, the Andean bands, and the hopeful homeless guy whaling away on an un-tuned guitar. Yeah, I suppose it’s fun. Lily didn’t like it. We’re used to walking in the forest.

I went to the Church in Ocean Park on Sunday morning. This is an offbeat Methodist congregation long on ethical teachings and short on theology. I like it. It suits me. I’ve known some of these people for 30 years. One of the members gave a dharma talk on the tenets of Buddhism, and the music was exalting. Just as exalting as a 200-voice choir along with full orchestra Holiday Chorale I went to at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall the previous evening.

The capstone of the weekend was a potluck party at the home of one of Santa Monica’s previous mayors, a yearly event at which everybody in her very full life gathers to hash over old local elections, refresh schisms, and work up fresh outrage at the shenanigans of City Hall.

Oh my, seeing all my old political pals was a thump down Memory Lane. My friend Madeleine and I used to turn up at 4 a.m. every two years when the municipal elections came around. We’d collect a packet of door-hangers with the names of the candidates recommended by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights. For nearly a generation SMRR candidates held a majority on City Council.

We’d stumble around in the dark looking for the addresses on the labels, expecting at any moment to be confronted by some guy with a gun ready to shoot somebody fooling with his doorknob at 4 a.m. When we’d found the last address and hung the last door-hanger, we’d treat ourselves to kippers, eggs and onions at Izzy’s Deli on Wilshire Boulevard.

She was worried about her cholesterol levels and it was a meal she only allowed herself once every two years. Kippers, eggs, and onions as the sun rose.

I could order this any time, well, not in rural Kern County where I’ve been living.

But I never do.

Mar Preston is a mystery novelist and former community organizer for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. This post first appeared on and is republished with permission.

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