Why I Love Ventura #7: The Ventura Marina

Last night I ran the coffee percolator through a clean using some powdered toxin made for that purpose, and the coffee tastes so much better. Whenever I do this, I remember someone I encountered long ago. He has become a permanent--although tiny--stitch in the embroidery of my life...

Back when I was a 36 year-old college student, I worked as the night manager of Lorenzoni's, a gourmet deli/coffeehouse at the Ventura Marina. While it wasn't exactly Cannery Row (it was more like Steinbeck in a golfer's windbreaker), the marina certainly had its underbelly: colorful sailors and dock wenches who lived on small sailboats and worked on the tour ships, paddle boat rentals, and restaurants.

There was a bar in the marina that served a diverse clientele. Besides being a "make do" spot for after dinner drinks and a little dancing to live music on the weekend, it's where the locals hung after work, sitting at the bar talking amongst each other while the tourists sat at window tables praising the view and sipping their chardonay.

Because I worked the closing shift (closing sucks in the food industry) and didn't get off work until well after midnight, I'd sometimes walk over to the bar and have a beer before heading home. That was my Steinbeck summer (watered down though it was) and I spent my weekends either in the bar, at a table at Milano's with the waitstaff, watching the bellydancers at The Greek, or onboard different boats sitting at banquettes in their galleys, drinking and laughing. I loved listening to the hands' tales of their trips around the Channel Islands, fishing, and celebrity tourists (I served John Davidson's family chili and cappuccino for an entire week when his mini-yacht was docked in the slip closest to the deli).

Anyway, back to the bar.

The first time I went into the bar, I sat nursing my beer and listened while a salty old sea dog, who was rather in his cups, talked to the bartender about coffee. He had dirty fingernails and weathered skin, and even the catarrh-ridden voice and smoker's hack that one associates with hard-living shipboard life. I rather enjoyed listening to him, although he was a total dick who thought that the entire bar hung onto his next expletive. But for some reason, when he hollared "Anyone who washes a coffee pot deserves to be killed!", I got up and left. I don't know why. Maybe it was because when I wasn't in school, I was making specialty coffees (this was in the days predating Starbucks and other such places). Maybe it was because he looked and sounded like he really would whip out a blunderbuss and shoot me if he staggered by the deli one night when I was cleaning the espresso maker.

These days, the marina hosts the annual "Pirate Days", which entices all of the Captain Jack Sparrows away from Hollywood. Like rock stars, they swagger about, picking up the girls who want nothing more than to spend a little time below with Johnny Depp, even if he's really just a guy from Oxnard who works at Procter & Gamble during the week. Back in my day, all we had was Harbor Days (a hell time to work in the deli) and the Christmas Parade of Lights, when the best show in the marina was watching Santa cruise in on a yacht, greet the kiddies, and then get plowed in the Margaritaville bar while sexy women sat on his lap, telling him what they wanted him to give them for Christmas.

Although the marina's original 1970s architecture screamed, "I want to look like Cape Cod, but I don't know what to do with all these damn palm trees!", it's now looking more like, well, Ventura county, with tan stucco walls and red tile roofs, and it's still full of the wonderfully funky folk that make Ventura what it is.

Sod the old pirate. This coffee tastes really good.