Several years ago, I was at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual conference in Ventura, California. Except for exotic palm trees and flowers, which are irrigated, the West Coast is all dry grass and brown hills. This explains why it is either burning down or buried in mud slides most of the time.
The hotel had great views of the ocean and of a historic fishing pier. We went for a long walk on the pier on the first day. I didn’t see anyone catch any fish, but there were many people fishing, so I suppose there will be a lot of fish stories later about the one that got away.
I saw dozens of seals that turned out to be surfers in wetsuits. I thought they were seals because swimmers wouldn’t be out so early in the morning. Apparently, surfing has nothing to do with time and everything to do with when the surf is up. Anything that can get a young person out of bed before noon has got to be good.
Downtown Ventura consists of about three blocks of shops and a historic Spanish mission. The town appears to have died like most downtowns have, but it is making a successful comeback as a tourist destination. Many old buildings have found a second life and there were more thrift shops per square foot than anything else –except maybe tourists walking dogs.
Dogs are man’s best friend and many people apparently bring their best friend on vacation. The beach was full of dogs and people walked dogs along the streets of the town. I was most impressed by one small dog that followed his owner closely down the sidewalks and across streets through traffic without a leash and without running away. He should be a doggie life coach.
The Spanish mission was interesting, although my colleagues from California said that every city in California has an old historic mission. They were sick of missions and of schoolchildren being required to build models of them. Lasagna noodles make a great roof for mission models, they said, speaking from the wisdom of experience.
In addition to producing missions, California produces a lot of wine, and everywhere you go, you are offered wine. Wine tastings are a major pastime. The only difference I could see between tasting wine and drinking wine was the amount of wine in your glass and whether you could walk away from the party afterwards without assistance.
One wine tasting we went to was in the courtyard of the mission. I found drinking in the courtyard of a church a bit odd, but apparently this is accepted practice in California. In addition to wine, we had an assortment of foods from local restaurants, everything from hors d’oeuvres wrapped in grape leaves to meatballs made from wild game. Somehow, it reminded me of the Beverly Hillbillies and how guests were never quite sure what vittles granny might actually be serving.
The conference itself was the main event with many big name speakers to rub elbows with. The theme of the conference was how to survive and thrive in a time when many journalists were being fired due to the crisis in the newspaper industry. Apparently, the way to do it is to go online and use Twitter and Facebook to promote yourself as an entrepreneur and freelance columnist.
If I’d known it was that easy, I could have saved myself a lot of trouble building websites and submitting to editors. Just my luck, though, about the time I start having a bit of success, the newspaper industry goes out of business.