By Cheri Rae
After a fun weekend getaway to the Sicilian Festival in San Diego’s Little Italy—where I unexpectedly ran into Santa Barbara French Festival founder Steve Hoegerman—it was a long trip home. Including a 2-hour layover in Santa Ana, it was a seven-hour trip on the train from San Diego to Santa Barbara on a Sunday afternoon into late evening. This alternative-transportation-using traveler was happy to be back home in Santa Barbara: tired, hungry, and in need of a restroom.
The familiar Santa Barbara train station seemed welcoming from the train, but on closer look, my spirits sank. Trash cans were overloaded with vile refuse; there were rodent bait stations everywhere; the lighted lobby was locked, and no travelers were allowed inside, because signs indicated it was being cleaned.
Is this any way to welcome the weary traveler?
Way back in 1907, when Pearl Chase was a student at Cal Berkeley, she returned home for a visit on the train. When it stopped at the Victoria Street Station she stepped off and took in the scene. For the rest of her years she spoke of that transformative moment, because she was, as she stated, “ashamed at the dirt, dust and ugly buildings of my hometown. I resolved then and there to making Santa Barbara beautiful.”
First impressions mean a lot. While we have made a lot of progress in this town, thanks to Miss Chase, and many citizens who have worked very hard over the years, that sense of civic pride and resolve in keeping Santa Barbara beautiful and welcoming seems to have been lost over time.
It certainly was missing at the train station on this Sunday night on May 19, 2013: the ugly and unwelcoming conditions gave me the same sense of shame Miss Chase experienced so long ago.
Cheri Rae’s book, Pearl Chase: First Lady of Santa Barbara will be released early this summer.