One of the most striking things about Isla Vista is how visible its residents are. People don’t hide in their cars like they do in other parts of California—though cars certainly can be seen snaking down Abrego or Pardall at any given hour.
However, mostly ours is a town of walkers, runners, bikers, and skateboarders. Seldom has a day gone by when I don’t spot a friend or classmate on my way home, simply because the layout of the place makes a friendly run-in nearly unavoidable. It’s one of the most fantastic things about Isla Vista. It makes you more versed at friendliness (or at least it should).
Additionally, for better or worse, the visibility of Isla Vista residents makes the private subject to public viewing.
Just walk down Del Playa on a busy weekend night. A party atmosphere that’s usually caged in a house or club makes its way to that oceanside street. Freshmen (instantly identifiable in clumps of eight or nine) can be seen meandering from house to house. Girls sporting dresses in differing varieties of tight and short strut, their arms hooked in the crook of other, similarly outfitted girls. Girlfriends and boyfriends stumble home together. Maybe it’s a visible example of IV’s excesses, but I’ll tell you one thing: Those weekend crowds provide some gloriously amusing snippets of conversation, before you continue on your separate way and out of hearing distance. I recall one guy’s desperate pleas for a cheeseburger; he was making his case to his not-hungry friends like a TV lawyer preaching his truth to a jury.
Homelessness in Isla Vista is similarly visible. On my way home, I occasionally take an unpaved path, where it seems more like you’re on a hiking trail than where you really are, which is a couple of blocks from Starbucks. One time, I passed by a group of men and women who were camping out under a tree. They appeared to be homeless, and I—rather shamefully—felt uneasy as I passed by them. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t seen them before, because they weren’t part of the usual foot traffic of IV. Or, possibly, it was because one of their party was a very large, 6’5”-ish man who smiled at me in a way that I interpreted as creepy, whether he meant it that way or not. In any case, it was one of the few times I’ve felt unsafe in Isla Vista. On the other hand, I feel almost too unaffected by the regulars I see—the homeless group in Anis q’Oyo park, for example. Somehow, the friendliness of such homeless Isla Vistans as “Pirate” (whose name has long been cemented in IV folklore) has somewhat rendered them more affable members of the community than symbols of those in society who could use some help. For example, I can recall walking to school past Anis q’Oyo park once and hearing Pirate shout from across the street, “I’ve missed you!”
Is it strange that I don’t get the same pangs of sadness when I see the IV homeless as when I see those of other cities? They are so visible, so recognizably a part of the IV landscape that it’s almost like—in our familiarity with them—they start for the opposite direction. They become invisible.