Is there another name for this rural/semi-rural area that I live in, between Monterey and Watsonville? To some it’s known as “North County,” but that term doesn’t say much. I think that to some, it evokes a misty border or hinterland between northern Monterey County and Watsonville. It’s those big flat agricultural fields north of the pesticide-laden Salinas River. Or maybe it’s that swampy area you pass before you hit the traffic jam going to Santa Cruz. No, wait — it’s where the Marina police stop lurking on the overpasses above Hwy. 1, monitoring your driving speed…
I think most people see the city of Monterey and the city of Santa Cruz as the two stars on each side of Monterey Bay. I have a slightly different view; I envision the two tourist meccas as remoras attached to each wing of a giant batlike ray (or skate) fish. Curvy Monterey Canyon (one of the largest deepwater canyons in the world) even resembles a ray’s whiplike tail (which conceals a threatening stinger), and we all know how dangerous the waters above Monterey Canyon can be. A remora (if you don’t already know) is a small fish that attaches itself to sharks, skates, and other large marine animals (even boats, sometimes) including whales, by means of a specialized sucker on its head. They are not parasitic; they feed on scraps from the larger fish. But they can slow it (and boats) down, and can be occasionally annoying.
Santa Cruz and Monterey each have their own “personalities”: Santa Cruz is viewed as a university town with a lefty element and a freelance, free-for-all (weird) culture. Monterey, long a host for the military, has a more staid, traditional and conservative reputation, although the artsy and hippie folks claim the southern coastal end (Big Sur). Both cities have depended on the bounty of the bay for centuries, and on the labor supplied by local and migrant workers. It goes both ways, too; workers living between Santa Cruz and Monterey also depend on companies in those cities or on the big farms and their distributors to supply jobs.
Less snarky, one could also say that the bay is shaped more like one end of a shallow hour glass. Moss Landing and Elkhorn are right at the center, where the fresh waters of Elkhorn slough mix with the salt waters and sand from the Bay and the Canyon.
I’ve lived here for about 5 years now, and often feel like Elkhorn, nearby Castroville, Prunedale, Watsonville, and Moss Landing are a bit lost in time. Moss Landing plays into this, of course, with its pastiched collection of warehouses, old and new boats, gingerbread-victorian (kind of) antique shops, and tilted cottages. The fact that it’s surrounded by acres of farmland, dotted here and there with old barns, only adds to that feeling. The area doesn’t get much press from the two cities on each end, unless there are reports of gang violence, farmworkers go on strike, there’s a shortage of seafood, or the population starts to worry about water quality and availability or the effect of pesticides on produce.
The Bay is a living thing, though, and its health is often judged by the catch at Moss Landing, and the environmental quality of the slough and wildlife. I’ve worked in Monterey and Santa Cruz, and I know what people think of North County folks. Unbelievably, a lot of people living in this area don’t even know that Elkhorn and Elkhorn Slough exist. Unless there’s a good antique show on at Moss Landing, Bobby Flay visits Phil’s Fish Market, or Pajaro Food Market’s burrito shows up in Sunset Magazine’s “Best Burrito” list, the inhabitants of the two cities happily forget we are here.