One hundred years ago, Robinson Jeffers fled to Carmel. There he built a house and wrote poetry, wanting to free himself from the civilization into which he was born. But his past caught up with him. In his most famous poem, “The Coast Road,” he laments the construction of Highway 1 through Big Sur: “At the far end of those loops of road is what will come and destroy it, a rich and vulgar and bewildered civilization dying at the core.” The poem, I’m told, is now displayed on the wall of the restaurant Nepenthe, a tourist trap in Big Sur, without irony.
In the late 1970s a man in Point Reyes Station called Michael Sykes made a magazine called “Floating Island” that captured the wan pathos, and in some cases the tragedy, of the boomers who fled the Cold War for the coast. They had given up politics, with a little bitterness, and wanted to be nice—to be held, green and dying, in a community of lonely niceness, with a good dose of sex and drugs. All that, and there is a great photo of Tom Kent with a chainsaw.
Today, younger people like myself live in service of these memories. We are in-home care for the fantasies of the previous generation. In one tourist magazine, I see a tide chart for a fisherman who doesn’t exist alongside a meditation on a park that is no more wild than Gramercy Square. Marx wrote that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce.”
If we wanted to know our nature, what makes us tick, we would go to the Port of Oakland, where it arrives daily. We would go to the Chevron refinery, where the stuff of adventure travel and play-dates are made. Pity the younger generation. Pity our hapless counter-couture and damn those vampire boomers who feast on this living diorama of young people acting out their final carefree memory of 1979. Our imagination dies not once, but over and over in cowardice.
The point is to turn, into the east, into the past, and face it. That is what young people, because they’re young, can be fool enough to do. But what horrors await us when we are not fool enough to dream, and are instead dominated by our parents’ cynicism and failure. The 70s are over, thank God. Let them end. Let the Pacific rise, not as an object to meditate on, but as a great mirror on the continent it bounds and see ourselves clearly for the first time.