Mustang Pride


I live on the Central Coast for many reasons.

Sports is not one of them.

I live here because everyday — not once a week, or a few times a month, or once a year in August — everyday, I wake up to the sound of the ocean.

In the afternoons, when I return home from work, I put on my shoes and I run to its shores. The sun sets on the horizon and takes up the entirety of my view. Yes, the sun’s a lot bigger here, I don’t know how that works exactly or why I feel closer to it but I know it does good things. It makes my skin breathe better. It grows bell peppers and grapes and oranges and strawberries, oh the strawberries. I have a theory it makes your teeth whiter too, although someone once told me that was from a neon light at the dentist.

On weekends, when I’m bored, I can go to the vineyards and taste wine. I have no palate and I have no attention span, so when they tell me things like this chardonnay fermented in steel barrels after it was dry farmed, I automatically think of “dry humped” and I smile.

It’s fun to watch the way people dress for wine tasting. Yes, there is a dress code. Women of a certain age must have something with animal print and bright red lipstick colored outside the lines. Hummer limos (yes, those still exist here) pour out boot-and-sundress-clad 20-something girls who get to revive their sorority girl mating calls as one of the lucky first dons the frail bachelorette vail as she spills down her disposable Forever 21 blouse and her cheeks blush the same color of the third pour of rosé.

The men dress like golfer guy. Flimsy khaki Polo Sport or Tommy Bahama hat to hide the bald spot from the sun. Cialis casual is the rest of the ensemble. Ren Spooner with the Woody print, Life is Good with the caricature holding a fishing pole as the base layer and, if he’s a local hailing from the tony shores of Goleta to the undiscovered cove of Cambria, his legs will be tanned like a 15-year-old lifeguard’s. Somehow, as everything droops and sags and melts in the sun, the legs of the men here stay forever young.

This isn’t LA and it’s not San Francisco, so the food scene isn’t trying so hard (or, really, trying at all), nor does it have to. Small plates came and went mostly because restauranteurs were too lazy to order mini flatware. The struggle to be tops of the tapas passed with the morning coastal fog and locally sourced has sort of always been, well, economical instead of trendy. So, we eat what’s grown here and that happens to be — well — beef.

If you want West Coast barbecue or a tri-tip sandwich that will make you feel like the rest of your day should be spent curled up under a nearby Cypress tree while your flip flops get stolen by a scofflaw spaniel — San Luis Obispo (SLO) is the place to be. If deli sandwiches are your thing, you may want to stop in off the 101. In the shadow of Madonna Mountain, High Street’s 4:20 special might be the only thing worth postponing your frisbee golf tee time and Lincoln Deli’s “hidden” back wall craft beer fridge is easy enough to find, just follow the drool spots.

The Palm Theater, which rotates through a weekly crop of organic indy cinema, is solar-powered and the digital projector hasn’t hiccuped once which lets you, and the rest of the half-dozen or so in the dark theater, know that you’re missing a lot of sunshine out there. In other words, if it’s a clunker — patrons aren’t afraid to walk out and leave a half bag of popcorn in the recycling.

If you’re looking high-end shopping or a low-end drive-thru, best keep going south, at least to Santa Barbara.

Because SLO town is just that. The arts scene is dictated by talented Poly undergrads who soon set their sights on Williamsburg, The Mission and Silver Lake …or in their parents’ Santa Clara garage. The airport flies only to other airports which will eventually fly you somewhere. The farmers’ market isn’t the distraction, it’s the institution.

It’s the kind of place where mystery boxes of lemons or apples show up at your doorstep, a bottle of wine with a note attached in your mailbox, just because. The type of town where if everyone doesn’t know your name by your third summer, you’ve probably got a few severed heads stashed in the freezer.

…And once in awhile, the rest of the world gets to share in our 365-day moment in the sun.

Yesterday, Cal Poly freshman guard Ridge Shipley hit a three with a dozen seconds left to score the seventh-seeded Mustangs an improbable Big West Tournament championship, topping Cal State Northridge and sending Joe Callero’s green and gold to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Cal Poly, whose record (13-19) was decidedly Cal Polyish this year, became the lowest seed to win the conference tournament in its 39 years. Superfrosh Shipley scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half to spark the Mustangs, the lowest-seeded team to play for the Big West championship in 20 years. Cal Poly also became the lowest seed to win a conference tournament this year and did so having lost nine of their previous 11 games.

Being a supporter of Cal Poly athletics means belonging to the Stampede Club, perhaps the most bang for your buck of any Division I booster program in the nation.

Stampede Club tailgaters prior to basketball games under the not-so-big-top of a Costco tent outside Mott Gym include giant plates of, you guessed it, tri-tip and baked beans, all-you-can-carry Firestone Walker micros (if they’re out of Bud Light).

There’s lots of wine to be poured (Cal Poly has its own enology program and there’s a good chance you’ll be sipping Syrah made by a 19-year-old) and pleasant conversation to be had about weekend plans in and around Edna Valley before poking your head into the 3,000-capacity mini airport hangar gymnasium to watch little kids root around a pile of their own shoes before grabbing a ball and making a layup between quarters.

I’ve seen engineer students with their books actually cracked during the games and football players standing tall in the back wearing their letterman jackets. Cheerleaders don’t seem to have their make-up quite ready for prime time yet, though most of them carried a 4.0 or above to get into Cal Poly and will surely be studying game film of Syracuse or Kansas cut-aways this week. Callero’s slacks were scored from downtown’s Ross Dress for Less, but he too may have to resist getting those big-time coach teef installed before NCAA tip off time.

The sub-.500 Mustangs may not make it out of Dayton or Spokane. Their first plane trip …ever, may end in defeat. But San Luis Obispo will welcome back our hoops heroes with a slab of beef on a slice of garlic bread and a big old glass of giant sunshine as we hope against hope the impossible turned improbable victory leaves the secret of our little slice of untarnished and overlooked sporting paradise in tact.