Origins And Species
Seeking out Caucasian subculture in the long-lost wilds of Carmel Valley.
Thursday, January 11, 2001
To the uninitiated, Carmel Valley may appear to be a culturally homogeneous landscape dominated by middle- and upper- middle class descendants of European immigrants. Yet to me, the highly trained journanthropologist, the region teems with diversity.
Not in the current sociological sense of the word, of course. But if one looks beyond the Latino, African-American, Native American and Asian peoples that constitute 54 percent of Monterey County''s population, if you dare to go where few have gone before, to explore the depths of the white man and woman''s cultural microcosms, Carmel Valley emerges as a perfect place to study European-American subcultures.
Who are the Carmel Valleyites? They have many names: WASP, yuppie, Bobo, gringo, redneck, hippie. Ranchers who raised cattle on the valley''s golden hills originally settled the region. Over the last few decades, country clubs, vineyards, golf courses, 20,000-square-foot palaces and even working class neighborhoods have infiltrated the once pastoral setting, while areas deep within the valley have offered refuge to bohemian throwbacks hoping to escape the rat race and bathtub chemists striving to crank out a better grade of speed.
Can the ranching, golfing, overachieving entrepreneur, blue-collar and neo-hippie subcultures co-exist peacefully, or do segregation and class envy plague the valley?
On a recent Thursday afternoon, my research assistant and I set out to break new ground in the field of journanthropology by answering this burning question. First, we needed to gather the necessary supplies to sustain our afternoon expedition.
We loaded the Honda with sunglasses, cigarettes, cash and a cell phone (part of our disguise). We chose our clothing carefully. We needed to blend in with a variety of Caucasian species without raising suspicion. I chose khakis and an Eddie Bauer denim jacket, my assistant donned blue jeans and a brown suede jacket--not too flashy, not too grungy.
Any biologist knows that the best place to observe mammalian life forms is the watering hole, so my assistant and I systematically selected three sites where we believed we could observe the most diverse cross-sections of the CV populace as it nourished both mind and body: Baja Cantina, Bernardus Lodge, and the Running Iron.
At 3:06pm, we turned off of Highway 1 and entered CV. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at our first destination, Baja Cantina, a moderately priced Mexican food restaurant.
Once seated at the bar, we observed four fine specimens of white middle- or upper-middle class males (Waspus erectus). They fit the definition of their species perfectly. They appeared to be in their fifties, they wore golf shirts and slacks, they appeared well fed, although the fact that they sipped white wine was somewhat irregular. Golfers fresh off the course, I hypothesized.
We must talk with them. I struggled with whether or not to reveal my identity to the subjects, but my assistant provided wise counsel. "Would a National Geographic writer ask a lion for an interview?"
Good point. I proceeded under cover.
When the tribe broke out into a musical rite (the Chipmunks'' Christmas song sung two octaves too low) we seized the opportunity. We clapped, and my assistant offered verbal compliments. They spoke back. We were in, accepted by the tribe!
Turns out my hypothesis was wrong. These men were not golfers, they were executives working for the Chateau Julien winery. When we inquired whether the group''s choice in drink was related to their occupations, the clan leader informed us, "If I worked for Jose Cuervo, I would have been dead 20 years ago."
Later into our interview, the leader, now several glasses of wine into the afternoon, passed along some sort of a tribal legend apparently passed down from his ancestors for generations.
We listened attentively as this wise, WASP-y sage retold an ancient tale, a custom among his species intended to indoctrinate a new generation of tribe members. Be thankful for what you have, he instructed, because when he was growing up, people didn''t have computers and calculators and cell phones. No, he had to get by with an abacus and rotary phone.
I looked to my assistant for an interpretation. "He was talking about life, or something," my assistant enlightened me.
Next stop, Bernardus Lodge, where we hoped to find the prize of all white subcultures, the fascinating and elusive Bobo (the Bourgeois bohemianus, immortalized in David Brook''s book Bobos in Paradise). Little is known about the Bobo except that it''s a fairly young species derived from the interbreeding of newly wealthy and socially conscious humanoids.
The Bobos eat organic produce and free-range meat, if they eat meat at all. They wear natural fibers and drive European economy cars and live in renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian homes. They take Tai Chi and yoga classes and tend their drought-resistant gardens and homeschool their children and hike and mountain bike and wouldn''t be caught dead playing golf. They compost.
After nearly walking through the service entrance, my assistant and I finally found the front door to Bernardus Lodge. We entered a dimly lit, tastefully rustic dining room where two well-dressed servers polished silverware. They looked us up and down, and pointed towards the cafe.
We took seats at the otherwise empty bar, where the bartender gracefully placed two sauvignon blancs on the pounded copper surface. Besides the bartender, a waitress, my assistant and your humble researcher, the place was desolate.
"Where''s the happy hour crowd?" I asked cheerfully. The two servers laughed deeply.
"Somewhere where they have happy hour," quipped the waitress.
Our research had slipped into recession.
Not to worry. We trudged deeper into the valley to seek out our third and final watering hole, the Running Iron. This spot proved to be the motherlode.
The ancient, dark bar trimmed with photos of locals, neon beer signs and Lotto forms seemed to serve as a great melting pot where the Carmel Valleyites converge in congenial social interaction.
The bar was lined with elderly white males dressed in dirty jeans and dirtier baseball caps. Could they be our long lost ranchers?
At a table across from the bar sat three long-haired neo-hippies, one male and two females. And at a hightop table next to the fireplace, we spotted them: a perfect pair of well-scrubbed Bobo specimens
At last, we had found them. She was tall, blonde and graceful, he was dark and lanky. She wore a heather gray beret and a fleece sweater, he donned cashmere, expensive but worn khakis, and a scarf casually draped about his neck. She drank an amber ale, he sipped hot tea.
Just when my assistant and I thought we had our research wrapped up, our study took an unexpected twist--as science often does. From among our supposed ranchers seated at the bar emerged a familiar face, one known to me as a really rich guy who, among other things, is involved in land speculation in and around Monterey County and overseas. For the purposes of this study, we''ll call him Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith dressed like and conversed with those we had taken for ranchers at the bar, yet he was of a different species (Filthus richus), which goes to show you, when conducting anthropological research, things aren''t always as they appear to be.
My assistant and I engaged in a customary ritual of drinking fermented grain and telling tall tales with Mr. Smith (he was buying) before concluding our work, satisfied that we had achieved our objective and formulated our theory: A Diverse Population of Caucasian Subcultures Peacefully Co-Exist in Carmel Valley, California.
Respectfully submitted by Laurel Chesky, B.S., et al.