On a recent motorcycle road trip, I found myself in Pismo Beach, a central California coast city about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. As is the case with most coastal cities with beaches and surf, it is part tourist trap and part desirable place to live, if the current cost of housing can be believed – some of the most expensive in the state! The day this photo was taken, it was a balmy 61º, socked in, and pretty gloomy overall. This did not seem to bother the people scattered on either side of the pier, most wearing copious amounts of clothing to stay warm, with their hands firmly pressed against thermoses presumably filled with hot coffee. There were some brave souls in bathing suits (mostly kids) inching their way towards the water, being encouraged very audibly by their parents. I had a nagging urge to call child services, but that would mean taking my hands out of my pockets… Hey, I’m sure they’ll be fine once the numbness dies down and the blue fades from their lips!
In order to stay warm, I decided to walk the length of the pier (1,370 ft.) and take some artistic photos. The length of this particular pier makes it the 16th longest in California, but you would be hard-pressed to find this fact in any of the promotional material on Pismo Beach.
“Where did you go on your vacation?”
“Man, glad you asked. We went to Pismo Beach, which has the 16th longest pier in California! Can you believe that?”
“Wow, pass me a beer will ya.”
I would hate to disappoint you, the reader, this early on in the story, so the five longest piers in California are:
- San Mateo Pier – 4,135 ft. – status: Closed
- Berkeley Pier – 3,000 ft. – status: Closed
- Santa Cruz Wharf – 2,745 ft. – status: Open – And they get brownie points for not calling it a pier!
- Santa Monica Pier – 2,000 ft. – status: Open – And featured in just about every piece of promotional literature on Los Angeles!
- Ravenswood Pier – 2,000 ft. – status: Closed
To clarify, I am writing here about “pleasure” piers. There are many “working” piers that are longer and usually constructed to accommodate cruise ships. The longest pleasure pier in the world is Southland Pier in England at 1.33 miles long, or 7,080 ft. Now, the term “pleasure” pier can be a bit misleading. If I were writing about the Santa Monica Pier, the moniker pleasure would most certainly fit with its many restaurants, tacky souvenir shops, arcades, and a full-on amusement park at the end complete with Ferris Wheel! A quick look at the picture above will demonstrate that “pleasure” is definitely a relative term!
As I started my walk, I was struck by, no, not the beauty, not the scenery, not the people, even though all of these were front and center. No, I was struck by the signs, in particular how many of them on this relatively “short” pier.
This was the first sign I encountered (there were five of these!), which was prominently on display almost at the beginning of the pier. This is, of course, the ubiquitous “warning” sign that we have all encountered many, many times in our lives. Interestingly enough, I have observed over the years that a red circle with a diagonal line through it usually means that people will inevitably do the opposite of what the sign says, as if they are color blind and are seeing a green circle telling them to go for it! For some unexplained reason, I was immediately transported back to 1971 and the hit song by the Five Man Electrical Band, “Signs.” An anti-establishment song, if there ever was one, with the catchy refrain:
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Don’t do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?
If you’re hurting your brain right now trying to remember other songs by this band, don’t bother as they fall into that wonderful category of musical acts known as “one hit wonders,” although they did have quite a following in Canada where they were known as The Staccatos.
Warning signs have been around for a very long time. In fact, we can trace the history of warning signs all the way back to prehistoric times. Many cave drawings, hieroglyphics and druidic symbols were, in actuality, some sort of warning sign, similar to warning and hazard labels that we have today. You know, drawings that warned against petting certain dinosaurs, playing with fire (after it was invented of course), and leaving the toilet seat up. You know that had to start somewhere! So, while health and safety appear to be a modern construct, signaling all kinds of danger has been around for all of human history. Today, there are very specific regulations for signs set by Safety Signs and Signals Regulations (1996).
Back to Pismo Beach. As I walked towards the end of the pier, I saw many more signs along the way:
There were five of each of these as well. For those of you keeping track, but struggling with the math, that’s five each of five signs for a total of 25 on a pier that is 1,370 ft. long! That amounts to one sign every 54.8 ft. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a great deal of signage. What also struck me was that most of the signs seem to be aimed at keeping the birds safe from unwieldy fisherman – so implant hooks in the fish, cut of their heads, and serve then for dinner, but don’t you dare feed a starving bird or hurt them. At least they have their priorities straight.
And then I came to the end of the pier, nothing but water in front of me and, wait for it. . . another final sign, the only one of its kind. Yes, that’s 26 now, and for me the most interesting:
If you don’t make it to the end of the pier, because the fish are jumping out of the water just begging to be on your dinner table and you immediately cast your line over your head, with your trusty canine companion by your side, while your son is feeding the birds, and your buddy is busily cleaning the first victims for your table. . .well, I hope you were at least smiling for the camera!
Los Angeles May, 2021