I had the hardest time learning how to correctly pronounce the name of this place due south of Santa Cruz proper.
No matter how many hard K’s people tried to get me to say my tongue and lips always wanted to curl up in outright defiance due to a usually unspoken oral fixation on things that give me an excuse to say Q.
…A gorgeous Japanese dude who used to be one of my models and I became fast friends, one of the few that survived my segway from straight fashion back into art. In hindsight I see the deepening was assisted by how sincerely happy it made me to say his name. I used to find reasons to put him in all kinds of situations and sentences he had fuck all to do with just so I could yowl “Kiu~!”
Eventually I nailed it…
…but would absently mutter how it sounded better to me afterwards like Craig Robinson whispering Great White Buffalo in Hot Tub Time Machine just to tickle myself.
“Soh…quell~” It was delicious, sung like a diffident monarch at the nervously delivered news of uprisings in response to recent decrees.
My friend told me that Soquel was where the true Santa Cruz spirit was taking its last stand against the encroaching powers of all things Silicon Valley. Tech Bros were driving up the prices of adorable little bungalows that she knew I was going to be twitterpated with once I saw them. Locals were seeing those embarrassingly exorbitant offers and raising their asks all the more, as much in protest against the arrogant new money displays as in outrage over what had happened to all the other communities the Bros had infested. She saw the horrified “What in the white on white gentrification is this?!”look on my face and quickly shifted.
“But don’t worry! They haven’t gotten a foothold yet! You’re still going to love it!”
As she and her band of old-school also Motley Crüe loving rock chicks peeled off into the sunset heading to Hawaii for ten days she shouted “Try Everything!”
I decided to do just that dousing rod style, just letting Soquel and her citizens show me what the town wanted me to shout out.
The next day I headed half-awake out onto the porch, groggily getting my thoughts straight and drinking in the smell of the ocean and redwoods I was positioned perfectly between.
“Don’t even bother with anywhere else in town, they’re seriously the best,” my friend’s young boomer rocker dude growled as he breezed out, turning me northwest before tumbling into his truck and heading back up to wine country where he lived. I shuffled towards the spot with a name that mirrored the depleted caffeine fiend visage leading the espresso charge.
The Ugly Mug.
I walked into the simple, dark wooded spot near the town square and squinted up at a menu fulla outright, conscious crazy, chock fulla names like A ray of frickin sunshine, Al pacino, Witch Hazel.
“It’s too early for this- I don’t want to think, I need to drink! A latte. Like now,” I muttered to myself, bristling at the beauty of probably perfectly christened libations drawing my curiosity away from the thing at hand. And then… I saw it.
“?A Donnie Darko?!What the hell? “
I know and love the movie, just didn’t expect to be dodging fuselage in a sleepy beach community that seemed the antithesis of everything Darko revels in dismantling.
The barista basked in my bewilderment and purred.
“Ah~you know the reference? You’ll love it… might not sleep for a bit but-” she winked.
I must’ve paled a bit, as much as a blushing black chick could. Because she grinned. Sarcastically.
“…Unless you’re scared~?”
The adorable lil turquoise streaked hair pixie dressed in a demure 8am version of the ripped fishnets, plaid, lingerie & doc martens uniform that I’d roamed in and out of business meetings rocking (when it meant something) flippantly tossed down that lil bon-mot like I was some sort of caffeine-shy, not a townie punkass and cheesed, thoroughly enjoying herself.
Comically insulted yet technically exhausted, my ego at the wheel shook the Black Goth/ Industrial House motherfucker in me awake. That aspect who’d spent years absently addled by crossing enough ecstasy to stun a bull moose with fistfuls of caffeine pills 6 nights a week to keep dancing on speakers until 5am underground before 16 hour days in class and studio in one of the hardest first year design programs in the country.
Ego crankily growled “…she’s cute, the lil smartass…but handle yer sassy offspring and get us some fuckin coffee ~”
“How many shots are in it?” The Visigoth in me yawned as the darkness flooded back up into my big-assed eyes. The kid raised a brow confidently and told me, as well as breezily ran down the 4, 5 and six shot insanities on offer.
“Uh-huh…& how many of them do you drink a day back… there?” I laughed. She wasn’t expecting that one.
“Um well…”she blush-grinned, faltering a bit, “I don’t have one of them Every day~” she shyly laughed. Right then and there I saw the spirit of Soquel was going to to be fun as fuck.
“Lol- Yeah, I’ll be fine, give it to me~” I grinned back.
She gave a bashful nod and made it, solemnly sliding it across the counter with two hands like I was being initiated. I took the first sip and beamed like the sun.
Her and her lil alt-crew welcomed me into the fold happily for the duration of my stay from that moment on. Even the dude behind the spot is pretty fucking laidback fantastic. I even made room in my carry-on to keep the party going on the road before heading out.
I am a lover of Verve down in LA. & Santa Cruz is where all things Verve veered to life…
But the Ugly Mug was the best coffee had in the greater Santa Cruz area.
Worth the trek, wherever you’re basing yourself SC-wise.
And as for the particulars of that drink? The illustrious Donnie Darko?
…I was tripping balls in the sun by the third icy sip😁.
The spirit of Soquel showed up beside me with a giant demented rabbit head on and purred “You’re alriiiight~?”
I nodded, watching fractals dance in sunbeams like a small, satisfied child.
“Let’s go, we’re late~” the spirit of Soquel grinned.
“To what~?” I smiled, still making sweet love to the remnants of the drink as I lagged crossing the road. “…and take that off,” I chuckled.
As we walked across a bridge spanning the Soquel river the spirit of the town obliged, jauntily sliding a beat- up top hat on his head in its place and tucking the Donnie Darko rabbit head under his arm.
“To tea~” the spirit of Soquel whispered and pointed up at this big barn with one word written on its outer shell.
To be continued…