Here, in Isla Vista

Photo by Dylan Delaney

By Isabel Cruz

The way people lie around in this town, you’d think they were dead, under the relentless Southern California sun. At worst, they are hungover, hoping to find relief in the heat. At best, they are taking a nap between classes, laptop left open, blackened by the outdoors, and unless you know where to look, you might miss them all together with the way that they carry on in routine. In these moments, they wish to call anything but attention to themselves, that is unless that attention is put forth by a cute passerby, or by an unleashed dog, who is trailed by that cute passerby. And trust me, these kids know how to call attention to themselves, if that is what they decide to be a factor in their fun. 

Lying around so close to the ground that they almost seem to have become a part of it (and maybe, spiritually, they are. It wouldn’t be far-fetched around here) is not an attempt in garnering attention. Take a walk down Del Playa Drive and within a block, you will see what calling attention to yourself looks like in Isla Vista. It looks like four shirtless guys each posted at the corner of a wooden table, playing a drinking game, against a backdrop of EDM music which is turned up so loud that you are forced to acknowledge their presence blocks away. And all to be located so close to the sidewalk that it is almost impossible to walk past them without feeling that for a second, you have entered their game.

Isla Vista’s existence feels as if a teenager, distanced from peers and social opportunities, dreamt up their idea of the perfect college town, and somehow, their dream became reality. I have been here for two years now, and I still wake up some mornings feeling overwhelmed at the idea of this town. Maybe it’s because I was like that kid who, before coming here, believed that a place like this could only exist in a dream. 

It is as if a college dorm was expanded to cover a little more than a square mile – nearly every residence is occupied by a student of the university (which conveniently neighbors us.) Once you understand the demographic, it is easy to understand why the town is the way it is. With most of your day-to-day needs located within a mile from your home, the preferred mode of transportation is by foot, or by bike. With inconsistent stretches of sidewalk and pedestrianism being the general consensus, we walk in groups down the middle of the street, and bike just the same, so that cars go around us, and not the other way around. It is a display of ownership and locality.

I have become closely acquainted with walking in Isla Vista as of late. Most mornings once my coffee is made, I pour it into a mug, tuck a book under my arm and start down the block towards Devereux Beach, holding the coffee tight in my hand as it acts as a stand-in for the one I would much rather be hand in hand with.

Through these “early” walks of mine, I have learned that mornings are my favorite time in Isla Vista. Here, I can wake up at 10 a.m. and feel as though I am an early riser. At ten in the morning, the streets are still, and the songs of the birds are the only music heard. It isn’t until around two in the afternoon does the town start to wake up as if the population exists on a routine hangover after a long night of partying. 

The morning crowd too, holds a special place in my heart. Coffee in hand, I will pass runners, surfers, dog-walkers, and other pedestrian coffee drinkers. I like to think that there is a silent camaraderie between us, most venturing out in a party of one, just as I am. It is a special thing learning to be comfortable in times of solitude within a town that promotes constant socialization. It is so easy to feel lonely in comparison. 

At any given hour, you can hear music blaring, out of houses or cars, or people singing along in the street or in a backyard, all at the volume of loud, so you can never really tell where it’s coming from. It could just as likely be coming from down the street as it could be coming from the place next door, although it’s most likely that it’s coming from both. The only time it ever comes to near-complete silence in Isla Vista (that is, if you ignore the birds and the breeze) is when the sun uncharacteristically hides and the water is still, no surf to be seen. Only then is it ever possible to forget that in each residence there are at least ten people. And more, if the tenants are trying to cut down on rent by shoving in a couple more beds into the garage.

Among the list of side effects that living so close to so many other eighteen to twenty-two year-olds can bring on, the most unavoidable is the total lack of privacy surrounding your life, and of those around you, likely a product of thin walls and vis-à-vis windows and our constant willingness to perform for one another. Without ever having spoken a word to my neighbors, I know about their escapades, both sexual and drug-induced, and I wonder what it is they know about me.

It is hard to imagine anyone would want to stay inside all day in a town that is bordered by the ocean, some being so lucky as to live in a house that is so close to the water that it sits right atop the cliffs which have been painstakenly carved out by the waves. Although some might argue that these people are actually unlucky, their location dooming them to live teetering on the border of the cliff and the thirty-foot drop below them. A product of inevitable erosion. In my experience, a day spent entirely indoors causes a considerable damper in my emotional state, so considerable that I make it a point to breathe in the fresh, coastal air every day. Living this close to such beauty, I would seem ungrateful if I did not spend the majority of my free time out there.

At the beginning of my first year here, it was rumored that “After your first week you’ll hardly go to the beach anymore. You don’t expect it, but you’ll take it for granted.” What a massive bummer it would be to fall victim to passivity. To miss out on the experience of heading to the water, and on your way, awkwardly trying to pass through boys who take up the street, carving on their skateboards, or observing the countless individuals who seem to be religiously anti-shoe as they take on the hot pavement and pebbled trails then thinking you could do the same, only to burn the bottom of your soles in an embarrassing attempt. 

I love living in Isla Vista. Sometimes I love the people here considerably less (they can be dumb and entitled even if they are receiving a university-level education and not yet twenty-two) but in a town this densely populated, there’s bound to be people who disappoint you and those who impress you. I have met the most incredible people here and how lucky are we to watch the tail-end of our adolescent years go by through a landscape of wave breaks and palm trees, nodding to us as we pass.

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