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The International Writers Magazine: California

An Oxnard Thursday
Ben Hill


It’s not until seven o’ clock at night, when I’m almost through my second beer at the Rudder Room, that I realize why I came to Oxnard on a Thursday. I don’t surf, and I don’t fish. I don’t like lima beans, strip malls, or quaint downtowns. And all of this, spare the quaintness, can be found in Los Angeles anyway.


I came for Point Mugu State Park, the five-mile stretch of raw land between Malibu and Oxnard where Pacific Coast Highway runs free, for it provides the illusion that my day trip is a long vacation somewhere far away.

oxnard Sure, there are things to do in Oxnard. To start with, there are lots of churches and thrift shops. You can find Catholic churches scattered throughout town, a Macumba shop, a Christian Science reading room, and L.A.’s own Foursquare Gospel Church, to name a few. I stuck to the thrift shops, and although I didn’t buy anything, their staff pointed me to Vogue, an indoor flea market near downtown with excellent deals on visors.


A few blocks away, you can roam an empty Heritage Square, where twenty years ago Oxnard’s city council relocated Victorian farmhouses to boost tourism and consolidate history. The short version of that history includes Native Americans, Spanish ranchers, and Henry Oxnard, who built and promptly sold a massive sugar beet factory in the late 1800s, just as the burgeoning town searched for a namesake. Today, Oxnard is one of the nation’s top strawberry and lima bean producers. Green rows of both crops shoot out from the highway on the outskirts of town, doing battle with a collection of strip malls for control of the city limits. The Heritage Square farmhouses are now home to an Italian restaurant, a winery, and a theatre company, and as I walked the plaza, event staff set up plastic lawn chairs for the Friday jazz concerts.


The downtown offers a Thursday Farmers Market and the Fresh and Fabulous Café, both of which were recommended to me by locals and both of which had closed by the time I got there. A full-bodied cabernet on Wednesday night, combined with a succession of construction projects along Pacific Coast Highway, pushed back my arrival time into the early afternoon. All I could do was peak in at Fresh and Fabulous’ pastries, then wander past the low-slung brick buildings which line downtown. Despite stucco punctuations and the hothouse-colored development around the cineplex, bits of Oxnard’s early downtown still stand. Andrew Carnegie gifted a small public library to Oxnard a century ago, where abstract watercolors and burnt-desert photography hang behind the neo-classical façade of what is now the Carnegie Art Museum. I finished my tour of downtown by browsing a Japanese antique store and several Mexican restaurants as a nod to the town’s cultural history, its current demographics, and my future visits.

By splitting the beach in two and launching boats on the hour-long journey to the Channel Islands, Oxnard’s harbor generates surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, and a multitude of other physical activities that I declined. Instead, I ate something at SeaFresh that tasted like a processed lutefisk drowned in teriyaki.


Or what I imagine it to taste like, for I can only hope that such a thing does not exist. It was SeaFresh’s least expensive, least descriptive fish, so I suppose I should have known what was coming. I'm cheap, but next time I will order a multi-course meal at Moqueca Brazilian Cuisine or arrange a day-trip through Island Packers to America’s Galapagos (the Channel Islands, as nicknamed by the local tourism brochures), either of which are possible for $40-50 and are next door to SeaFresh in the Marine Emporium Landing.


I spent what was left of the afternoon walking the long, flat strip of beach north of the harbor, alternating my gaze between the Channel Islands, beach cottages, and my feet. On a Thursday, everything in Oxnard is smaller than L.A., mellower than Santa Monica. There is plenty of parking, and you don’t need to make plans or reservations. You can go much of the day without seeing anybody, and it’s easy to lose track of space and time in the landscape. The distinction is most palpable at the threshold, so no matter what time you get to Oxnard, Point Mugu’s development gap makes it worth a day trip.


The Rudder Room is a dive bar at the intersection of beach and harbor with a widescreen view of the sand and sea as you walk in the front door. It smells like an old boat washed up on a frat house lawn, but it has cheap drinks and pool tables. The back door opens directly onto the beach and an outdoor patio, where retirees and locals cluster around weather-beaten tables. By seven o’ clock, patrons of all ages pile inside, and the bartender hustles to pour drinks. I want to ask them questions about Oxnard, but it’s time for me to go. Like the bartender, I also work in the service sector. The weekend can begin as early as Monday, but it must end before Friday, so that a Thursday evening resembles the last gasp of a 9-to-5ers Sunday. I didn’t stay for sunset, but you can catch the last flickers of it over PCH on the drive home.


© Ben Hill Feb 2010

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