Thursday, January 10, 2013

Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Luis Obispo, California
We are searching for something sweet to eat. This is kept as vague as possible, to maximize our options.

The main drag in San Luis Obispo is Higuera Street, which always calls to mind Teddy Higuera, although that is probably just me. The street is named after a local family, not the left-handed pitcher from the late-'80s/early-'90s. This is where we are headed.

I don't think of Robin Ventura when I'm in Ventura, although I do think of former Padres minor-leaguer Paul McAnulty when I'm in Oxnard because that's where he's from and he's an old favorite of mine from his days playing at Lake Elsinore.

While the mind is busy drifting, we reach the heart of San Luis Obispo. Another mission-turned-college town, it is smaller (around 45,000 residents as of 2010) than Santa Barbara, its neighbor 100 miles to the south.

The baseball connection runs deep. Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith attended Cal Poly SLO. So did former big-league pitcher and current San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, who later opened a restaurant here.

Others who have called San Luis Obispo home include Jon Anderson of Yes, Peter Buck of R.E.M., and Jack Kerouac (Southern Pacific Railroad brakeman, writer, and baseball fan). But these are relatively recent developments in local history.

The 1772 on the front of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, pictured above, represents the year Father Junipero Serra founded the mission and the town. The mission remains active today, offering daily Catholic mass.

The town also remains active. It is easy to get lost in its shops, as we do while visiting our usual haunts–Phoenix Books (where I once bought an old Baseball America Almanac), Boo-Boo Records, Tom's Toys.

Tom's is to blame for a deck of tarot cards based on the national pastime–Five of Bats, Ace of Gloves, the unfortunately named Manager of Balls–that still sits on a bookshelf back home. The cards serve as an ineffective reminder that just because you can buy something doesn't mean you should. They also trigger fond memories of San Luis Obispo, so the purchase wasn't all bad.

One such memory is that of a colossal farmers' market that engulfs downtown every Thursday night. There are worse ways to spend a summer evening than sitting on a curb, wolfing ribs slathered in barbecue sauce, listening to music and the chatter of thousands. We miss it this time.

What we don't miss is a place on Nipomo called Batch. It specializes in homemade ice cream sandwiches built to spec. They are sweet and oozy and utterly unnecessary. One is plenty for both of us.

We leave town satisfied and continue north. The forecast ahead is promising: Mostly sunny, with a 100 percent chance of beer.

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