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Critics' Choice Awards

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George Sakkestad

Groom With a View: Valerie St. James tends to Susi at PETsMART.

Best Thing a Chain Store Does Right:
PETsMART's Grooming Salon

Practitioners of California cuisine figured it out early in the game--put the kitchen right out there in the middle of the dining room where customers can see you're not spitting in the food. Recognizing that pet owners have their own squeamish fears about what happens to Fifi when mommy's not around, the folks at PETsMART in the new Gateway Plaza on River Street took a cue from those chi-chi chefs and encased their grooming salon in glass and put it in the front of the store. Now there are dozens of eyes watching to see whether it's Mary Poppins or Hannibal Lecter combing the knots out of Fluffy.
Kelly Luker

Best Zen Masters:
Zen Trading Company

Poised Buddhas, soothing Japanese rock gardens and trickling fountains lure wanderers into Zen Trading Company. But unlike the operators of many a hippie headshop, the owners of the 41st Avenue shop know that true inner peace is all about balance. Tucked beyond the dangling yin-yangs and incense, the shelves in the back are stocked with a bevy of battle gear. The collection of sparring stuff, targets and equipment for karate and tae kwon do can send even the most disciplined martial artist reeling. Thank goodness someone understands that, like the yin chasing the yang, the art of nonviolence sometimes involves a little kicking and punching, too. So very Zen of them.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Busker:
Singer/ Guitarist David Scully

David Scully plays steel slide guitar on the Mall and occasionally on Thursday nights at Espresso Royale Cafe. He brings a touch of his native Mississippi to Santa Cruz, in the Delta blues style of Mississippi John Hurt. That beat-up old steel guitar twangs along with his raspy voice, tambourine keeping time under one foot. Scully brings soul to a musical style not found often enough on this coast or in this town.
John Yewell

Best Place to Take a Spin:
Santa Cruz Central Library

CDs may be au courant and minidiscs the sound wave of the future, but record albums continue to hold a special place in the hearts of turntable Luddites (yes, we are legion). The Santa Cruz Central Library houses a trove of vinyl goodies, priced for a steal. Located in the library's entry way is a double-decker stand brimming with eclectic albums--from Puccini and Chopin to Jermaine Jackson (in a rare duet with Pia Zadora!) and the Specials--for a measly 50 cents. The honor system is honored--so be a good scout and clink your coins into the nearby green collection can.
Karen Reardanz

Sexiest Voicemail:
Assistant DA Ariadne Symons

Both loved and hated by her cohorts, ADA Ariadne Symons is renowned throughout the legal--and illegal--community for the deep-throated, honey-voiced message that drips out of her voicemail box and into lucky listeners' ears. Unless, of course, you're another woman, and then it comes off just a teensy bit cloying and brings back memories of when we would purposely lower our voices to impress Mr. Right--back when we were 16. But it seems to work for the counsel with the web-spinning name. At least one guy admits to having consensual sex with himself after dialing the number.
Kelly Luker

Best Citizen Uprising:
Battle to Block Borders

The fight against a Borders Books and Music store in Capitola brought out the best in citizen activism. Borders opponents were focused, well-documented, civil and prepared. They presented their arguments in a way that was calculated not to offend the representatives who had been elected to make the decision. They had the facts on their side. The majority--Mayor Tony Gaultieri and Capitola councilmembers Dennis Norton and Bruce Arthur--listened carefully to the citizens and voted to scale back the size of the Borders store (a decision the chain store has rejected). The final vote confirming the decision is March 25, and the developer, Redtree, has vowed not to give up the fight. In a county where truth and reason in politics often take a back seat to emotion, this debate stood out as civilized and compelling. Let it be a lesson to the governed and their government alike.
John Yewell

George Sakkestad

Thinking Inside the Box: Bartender Linda Hutchison of the Asti plays juke jockey.

Best Jukebox Hero:
Asti Cafe

Though the Silver Bullet deserves a posthumous Goldie for its glorious box of classic tunes, the Asti Cafe's little jukebox-that-could ranks a mighty close second--and it's still in business. Inside that neon-bedecked chrome and plastic machine live a few dozen CDs guaranteed to fit whatever mood the evening finds you in. (And at the nasty Asti, moods abound.) A little bit of old-school country (Hank Williams), a scunch of punk rock (like locals Good Riddance), with touches of the Beastie Boys and the Doors thrown in to keep things lively, the Asti jukebox earns its quarters.
Karen Reardanz

Best Place to Wash Clothes and Further the Revolution:
UltraMat, Santa Cruz

Yes, "Revolution." A year ago, the turquoise laundromat across from Laurel Park looked a bit peaked. Now UltraMat's cheery interior buzzes with hot new dryers and a corps of capable new washing machines. But did proprietor James White raise prices? No, he did not! And why not? Because, he says, "they're not costing me any more." Suspicious behavior. We investigated. Turns out those fancy front-loaders use half the water of normal machines. It's now possible to wash three weeks' worth of laundry for around $6. But White doesn't stop there. "We're not there to make a killing," says the Santa Cruz native. "I just want to pay rent and feed my kids." Finally, White confirms his membership in the underground pinko plot to bring decency to business when he says of the prices at the coffee bar, where a cappuccino still costs $1.50, "We could probably charge more, but there's no reason to." Can anyone stop this man?
Traci Hukill

Best Spot for Out-of-Towners:
The Mystery Spot

Up Branciforte Drive about a mile out of town exists a vortex of unexplainable phenomena sure to delight the most travel-hardened vacationer. At the Mystery Spot, golf balls roll uphill, visitors grow and shrink relative to one another and nary a bird tweets in the forest. At this charming no-tech antidote to the Disneyfication of roadside America, the good-humored docent playfully parries interrogations about supernatural shenanigans with "It's a mystery!" Jaded teenagers may be bored by the lack of visceral stimulation, but younger kids can appreciate the wonder of rules going haywire and adults can test their powers of deduction, or just bask a bit in the snake oil.
Marty Stevens

Best Ornithological Success Story:
The Pigeon

It's time to take a new look at Columba livia--the ubiquitous pigeon. Most city dwellers consider them pests, flying nuisances--"rats with wings" is a commonly heard slur. (I'll take up the rat's cause later.) But the streetwise urban doves are an adaptable, highly successful and overly populous species--kind of like human beings. Perhaps that's why they're so universally despised; they remind us a bit too much of ourselves. According to an article published in a scientific journal a few years ago, researchers discovered that pigeons can be trained to distinguish Impressionist from Cubist paintings. So let's give pigeons a break; any bird that can tell a Monet from a Picasso can't be all bad.
Tai Moses

Best Place to Witness Acts of Public Sex:
Lighthouse Field State Park in February

Monarch butterflies started wintering at this site about three years ago, and if new positions turn you on, February is your best bet. First, with both butterflies on the wing, the male flutters up behind the female. They dive tangolike to the ground. He presses his abdomen to hers, hangs on with both claspers (not recommended for those with belly piercings) and rises into the air. The female hangs below, wings closed, as the couple sails up to the limb of a nearby tree (imagine leaping from Fort Ord to the top of Coit Tower). Only then do they exchange bodily fluids, before flitting off--just how fickle can you get?--in search of others. This orgiastic behavior is particularly advantageous to the female. Since she uses only her last mate's sperm to fertilize her eggs, she gets to snack on the protein-rich fluids of her earlier paramours.
Sarah Phelan

Best Transportation Bargain:
Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor Water Taxis

It's summertime: a delightful Caribbean-Mexican meal at Rosa's beckons, but traffic on the bridge is like a congealed conga line. How might one get from one side of the harbor to the other? May we suggest a free water taxi? In June, the harbor launches Free Ride and Free Ride 2. The shuttles operate weekends and holidays from 10am to 6pm and on Thursday from 5 to 9pm through September. Both water taxis make a leisurely loop with five regular stops: the launch-ramp dock by the harbormaster's office; the fishing boat dock next to Rosa's; X1-dock, in the upper harbor; FF-dock on the west side of the bridge and A-dock, next to Aldo's. Enjoy the sunshine, admire the sailboats, watch the otters lolling in the harbor--folks, it just doesn't get much better than this.
Tai Moses

George Sakkestad

Another Mystery Spot: What exactly is this building on Fair Avenue?

Best Place to Freak Yourself Out in the Daytime:
The What Is It? on Fair Avenue

The sign outside the temple/house/whatever reads "No Trespassing"--and for good reason. A Realtor once told me that this unique complex was constructed by a minister from Oklahoma who moved his family to Santa Cruz. That factoid won't stop my sister from referring to it as the House of Satan. Just gazing at the eccentric Masonic temple-like complex on Fair Avenue between Delaware and the ocean gives me the king-sized creeps. Too many times I've dared myself to touch the front door, but sheer paranoia keeps me just looking and not leaping. I'm certain something from the hellmouth will emerge--and Buffy and Angel won't be around to save my neck. A long time ago, some friends actually went inside the lair on Fair, and when they returned, they all had "pi" symbols branded on their chins.
Matt Koumaras

Best Taskmasters:
MissionStreet Widening Task Force

Between moaning about the Man and loud sighs over kiwi smoothies about the unfairness of life, Santa Cruzans could probably patent a new pitch of whine. And when the Caltrans folks first unveiled the Mission Street Widening Project, there was plenty to whimper about: masses of utility wires strangling a behemoth highway, a giant sound wall and pedestrian deathtraps looming around the bend. Thank heavens, some hearty folks stepped forward to form the Mission Street Widening Task Force, reminding planners that the Westside isn't a mere highway exit--it's a neighborhood, too. The powerhouse task force has exhibited a commitment, drive and investment in its community that could hush even the loudest wailer into a respectful moment of silence.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Way to Face Monday:
Rebecca's Mighty Muffins and More

There's only one bad thing about weekends: they always end. Ease the pain by making Monday a catered affair. With this area's coffeehouse cornucopia, there's no shortage of oases where wage slaves can start the week with someone else doing the cooking. But none rivals the doughty Rebecca's Mighty Muffins on Front Street in Santa Cruz for offering a full day of sustenance. For the morning commute there are various caffeine fixes, as well as muffins, scones and coffeecake so good they'll help night owls face the day. On top of that, the harried worker can pick up lunch fare, including sandwiches, roasted potatoes and salads. And if a truly hellacious day lies ahead, there's always the lasagna for dinner.
Sharan Street

George Sakkestad

Sew Say We: The material at Fabrix sells at wholesale, so one can look Oscar-worthy without breaking the bank.

Best Stitch in Time:

Sewing may be a lost art, but Watsonville's Fabrix is just the incentive one needs to spend some quality time with grandma learning to bias stitch. Fabrix (located in the Crossroads Shopping Center on Main Street) is loaded with top-shelf brocades, velvets, silks and other fabrics not found in your run-of-the-mill cloth shops. In fact, most are designer and European imports. Best of all, Fabrix sells at wholesale prices, so you'll look Oscar worthy without breaking the bank.
Karen Reardanz

Best Reason(s) to Linger:
Rosemary and Hobart

The temptation to linger on the back porch of Mission Street's Emily's Good Things to Eat is strong after you meet the resident kitties, Rosemary and Hobart. Extremely laid-back and friendly (especially if you have food), these kitties are a great welcoming party. Spring is an ideal time to check out R&H's symbiotic relationship with the local birds; their feathered friends have free rein to plunder their bowls of cat food--providing, of course, that the birds dive-bomb any strange cat attempting to steal a meal. Rosie and Hobie perfectly embody Emily's mantra, "Relax, you have plenty of time."
Morgan Pershing

Best Bug With Its Priorities Straight:
The Zayante Band-winged Grasshopper

These little sand-loving hoppers have discovered the secrets to the good life. Unlike their larger, migratory cousins, the Zayante band-winged grasshopper spends long days and nights blissfully lounging in the sand dunes. Rubbing his wing with a diminutive blue leg, the male makes unique music to court his potential mate. The lovers also feast constantly--the little band-wings eat more than twice their weight in food each day. Hopefully more humans will discover the true genius of the oft-overlooked insects and prevent the destruction of a beautiful lifestyle devoted to music, food and romance.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Place to Transcend Pain:
Cycling up Mount Charlie Road

As you cycle up this jackknife of a road out of Scotts Valley, think about the man for whom this road is named, then tell me how bad you hurt. Charley McKiernan was the first American to settle on the summit between Los Gatos and Scotts Valley. Though he later built a large house that served as home, hotel and eating place for the stagecoach passengers (who had to pay him a toll for using the road), Charley began as a bear hunter, living in a whipsawed redwood cabin. The Zayante called him "Silver Skull Charley" after a grizzly left him with a hole in his head and a missing left eye. A neighbor hammered out a Mexican silver dollar to make a skull plate, and from that day on Charley wore a black felt hat, pulled down low to hide his silver skull and empty eye socket. You still hurting?
Sarah Phelan

Best Place to Contemplate Your Navel:
Santa Cruz Wharf Anchorage

There may be a more tranquil way to spend the day than aboard an anchored sailboat, but I haven't yet discovered it. At anchor, the relentless pace of life slows down and time settles into a continuum as intrinsic as the tides. A day is spent listening to the breezes blowing in the rigging, the plash of water against the hull, the moan of the mile buoy. The boat tugs restively at her anchor chain as the wind clocks her around. The sea lions under the wharf bark their steady, insolent opera, and lines of pelicans skim low over the waves, showing off their Jimmy Durante profiles. At anchor, one can appreciate the prescient wisdom of Lin Yutang, who said, "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live."
Tai Moses

Scott Lechner

Best Evidence of Divine Intervention:
Aldo's Italian Bakery

Legend says Italian bakers created colomba pasquale, a traditional Easter bread, to celebrate two heaven-sent doves that descended on Milan after the defeat on an evil emperor. However the blessed beauties landed in Aldo's Italian Bakery in the heart of Soquel Village, they are clearly a sign of divine intervention. Each slightly sweet egg bread is shaped like a dove with outstretched wings and coated with a light sugar topping and almond cross. Think of devouring Aldo's Easter-time colomba pasquale as not only a once-a-year treat, but as a political statement against oppression, or a religious tradition. Or whatever justification you need.
Mary Spicuzza

Best 7-Eleven:
Laurel and Chestnut Streets, SC

The Laurel and Chestnut 7-Eleven rules so much that truckers skip through several cities to embrace this bastion of quick quality. I get friendly service 24-7 when I buy my Lotto ticket and Tiger's Milk bar. When I told the graveyard shift about the extension surgery I had "down there," it seemed as if they actually cared and sentimental tears filled my Big Gulp. The crew also understands the crucial principle of the cheap refill. People over pennies! I placed my aluminum coffee mug in the microwave one hazy morning and catapulted myself into a near-death experience--I just want to be the first to tell you that I saw a big neon 7-Eleven sign at the end of the tunnel (but why didn't anyone in Sunday school ever tell me that heaven was hotter than Hollister in August?).
Matt Koumaras

hair Right Hair, Right Now: Emerald Iguana stylist Norene Hoover's work will leave home colorists green with envy.

Scott Lechner

Best Color Scheme:
Emerald Iguana

When not being held up at gunpoint by a renegade philosophy student and his Bonnie-and-Clyde-in-the-making cohorts, the nice folks at Emerald Iguana salon give mean color. Whether you're in the market for bold chunky streaks, subtle shine or a Courtney Love bleach job, this staff can do it with style. Best of all, they don't use the Miss Clairol product that anybody can buy. No, the Emerald Iguana folk use such top names in color as Fudge and Special Effects that leave home colorists simply green with envy.
Karen Reardanz

Best Way to Battle Vampires After Midnight:
So Say We Sandwiches

We all wish we could be vampire slayers, but according to popular lore there's only one chosen one in each generation. But never fear--after a quick stop at So Say We for one of Chef David Jackman's garlic-laced sandwiches, night owls never need worry about fanged demons again. Options on So Say We's list of gourmet sandwiches include the tasty roasted garlic-spinach spread, tangy sun-dried tomato pesto and condiments to fit any garlicphile's needs. Thanks to the suave bunch at So Say We, we can leave the stakes at home.
Mary Spicuzza

Best Paradise Gained:
Rancho de los Osos, Highway 1

For those without well-endowed ancestors, philanthropic impulses (and tax incentives) have created sites like Hearst Castle, where the public can enjoy the playgrounds of the privileged. On a much smaller scale, this county has Rancho de los Osos, former retreat of Theodore Hoover, brother of President Herbert. Theodore was a nature lover, and he found a spot well worth loving at the north end of the county, in the canyon carved by Waddell Creek. In 1975, the state acquired a major portion of the 3,000-acre property from Theodore's daughters. Among the treasures left behind is Hulda McLean's ranch house, a small but exquisite structure that's been turned into a nature center. Among the center's displays are family photos from 1914 to the post-World War II era--pictures that capture a feeling of refuge that still endures at this lovely spot.
Sharan Street

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From the March 24-31, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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