MARKET MULLET:  At the S.L.O. Thursday Farmers’ Market, bands jam on every corner. | Credit: Courtesy

For Californians, Tuesday, June 15, 2021, and the days following will forever be enshrined in collective memory as ‘re-entry week,’ the first days after Governor Newsom lifted most of the COVID quarantine restrictions statewide. While it’s true that county by county, there were significant differences, overall, this was the moment we had been waiting for and dreaming about for more than a year. While I acknowledge some slight sense of disloyalty over skipping town so soon, I feel fortunate to have traveled up the 101 to San Luis Obispo on Wednesday, June 16, for a short but action-packed exploratory mission detailed in this travel piece. 

Reopening California, S.L.O. Edition

Thursday, June 17, was thus the first night of full operations for downtown S.L.O.’s Farmers’ Market since March 2020. Not only does the city’s largest regular gathering attract crowds looking for fresh produce and flowers, like the market in Santa Barbara on Tuesday evenings, but it’s also a full-blown party, with live music on every corner of Higuera Street from Osos to Nipomo streets. It starts at 6 p.m. and doesn’t really quiet down until after 9 p.m., when the last of the bands play their final encores. Nobody seems to mind the racket, and families with small children in tow mingle freely with college students getting an early start on a night on the town. The common denominator appears to be street food, barbecued on-site, attracting long lines and sending plumes of meat-flavored smoke into the evening sky.

STREET MEAT:  People line up for fresh barbecue cooked S.L.O. style. | Credit: Courtesy

Hospitality History and California’s Debt to Long Haul Truckers

As the home of the world’s first motel, the Motel Inn, or, as it was originally known, the Milestone Mo-Tel, San Luis Obispo lays claim to an important piece of hospitality history. While the Motel Inn’s architect, Arthur S. Heineman, was unsuccessful in his attempt to trademark the word “motel,” the concept he established on Highway 101 in 1925 triumphed to a degree impossible to imagine at the time. 

Looking back on the period leading up to World War II, the importance of places like S.L.O. and the long-haul truckers who frequented them gains in importance, if not prestige. Without these diesel cowboys and their deathtrap rigs, coastal Southern California could not have developed the way that it did, or as rapidly.

For a glimpse of what those days might have been like, at least as seen through the lens of classic Hollywood film noir, screen They Drive By Night, directed by Raoul Walsh and featuring an all-star cast including George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and a memorably devious Ida Lupino as the requisite femme fatale. If nothing else, the film will remind you to take a break if and when you feel yourself getting drowsy behind the wheel.

ROADSIDE HISTORY:  The Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo, which opened in 1926, was the world’s first motel. | Credit: Courtesy

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on April 26, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.

Rockshop Academy Grand Reopening July 1, 2021

Can’t wait to get back into live music? For the most part, at least in terms of the big indoor venues, you’ll have to wait a little longer. While Opera Santa Barbara managed to schedule a kick-ass Das Rheingold at the Lobero for June 27, the next big in-person classical music even won’t be taking place until July 11, when maestro Larry Rachleff leads the Academy Chamber Orchestra in a matinee concert at the Granada. More about that next week. In the meantime, get down to 1221 State Street — just across from the Granada — on Thursday, July 1, to support the kids from Rockshop Academy, who will be jamming 5-9 p.m. Expect this school of rock to get out there and melt some faces, regardless of the ambient temperature. 

James Connolly and Daniel Zimmerman Duo and Guests at the Piano Kitchen

In a slightly different vein, James Connolly and Dan Zimmerman will be offering up jazz improvisation at the Piano Kitchen, 430 Rose Avenue in Santa Barbara, on Saturday, July 3, beginning at 8 p.m. Connolly will also be featured in a trio with Tracy Hui and Hal Onserud. Donation is $10 at the door, BYOB. Adventurous tunes for those with ears exotic. 

Happy Fourth of July!

Buy This Book

Nobody does America quite like James Ellroy, and the author of LA Confidential, American Tabloid, and This Storm has a new one out this week called Widespread Panic. Panic takes us on a tour of Los Angeles from the point of view of Freddy Otash, rogue LAPD officer turned strong arm for the notorious scandal sheet Confidential. Ellroy has honed his signature recipe of historical speculation, celebrity gossip, and sleazoid misanthropy into a high-proof highball that will have you reeling with debauched delight. Available now at wherever overly alliterative paranoid fantasies are sold.

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