The Big Red Dot

My home city, Santa Cruz, is a meme. But it’s a meme that you see on t-shirts, not on a screen or smart-phone.

The “red-dot” Santa Cruz logo is a trademark of Santa Cruz’ NHS Inc., a venerable and famous maker of skateboards, skateboard components, and especially the clothing and decals to go with.

Santa Cruz is hip; it’s “in.” It’s a land of surfers, skateboarders, beaches, mountain bikes, marijuana, and beauty. No matter how old you are, you’re young. The 50-year-old surfers ride the breaks alongside teenagers and talk the same surf lingo. Eternal adolescence, dude. They shot “The Lost Boys” teen vampire movie here. There was a reason. We’re forever young or at least forever teenaged. Welcome to Santa Carla.

The Santa Cruz red-dot logo represents all that, in town and throughout the world. Entire families walk Pacific avenue in red-dot tees and hoodies. People display the dot in New York City, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Even on top of a weird pedal-powered roller coaster in Kurashiki, Japan. Even as a decal on the deck of one of the top skateboard competitors in the Tokyo Olympics.

There are other “Santa Cruz” dot designs: the wave dot, the Japanese dot, the toxic dot, and more. But the red dot rules. It’s the main meme.

It’s also trademarked. That doesn’t always stop people. Although I don’t know if you can trademark a style.

Pacific Grove is almost exactly across the Monterey Bay from Santa Cruz. It is also the least hip town on the planet: ivy-league, well-educated, self-satisfied, Methodist. It has coffee houses; they don’t help.

Pacific Groves not just another laid-back coastal town that’s been taken over by money: it’s always been like that, back 100 years and more. The Pacific Grove lacrosse league (lacrosse! I rest my case!) wanted a piece of that Santa Cruz hipness, and so this shirt. I’m going to assume that they didn’t ask permission, but who knows? They’ve got the money.

At the thrift store, I even saw a red-dot tee for the city of Sacramento. Sacra Mento on a red dot: it was kind of sad. Sacramento is known for blazing hot weather, civil servants, and drinking beer on river rfts. An amazing number of former Sacramento residents live in Santa Cruz. But a mere t-shirt won’t make the magic. Anyway, I didn’t buy it: it was thrashed.

Now these guys really didn’t ask permission, or so they told me. And they’re local. But again, did they really need it?

Being a socialist in a college town like Santa Cruz isn’t as easy as you’d think. All the old hippies and rebellious college types who moved here in the ‘70s and ‘80s and bought homes are sitting on a million in home equity easy. Home equity trumps social justice every time: build that affordable housing in some other ‘hood, please!

But the local Democratic Socialists of America are Santa Cruzans, too, and they used the red dot to represent. NHS Inc. may or may not have been too happy about that. I get conflicting stories.

I don’t own any real red-dot shirts. People snap them up at the thrift stores, which charge high prices for them anyway. I do have this stoner “Lion of Rasta” tee that NHS put out, with a “Santa Cruz” logo embedded in a Star of David hung on a chain around the lion’s neck. This town was so ready for cannabis legalization, I have to say.

But in a way, I do have the rarest “red dot” shirt of all. Even if it’s more a “red marquee:”

Every so often NHS holds an employee appreciation breakfast, and every so often — not always — they pass out some of these shirts to employees. The breakfasts in part honor the memory of Chris Tury, a former CFO of the company (now deceased) who was beloved by all. Sentiment, remembrance, sheer lack of restraint — that’s old Santa Cruz, red dot or no red dot.

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