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The Community of Sea Ranch Answers to a Higher Law

I must go down to the Sea Ranch again.

The first time I went, I tried to hate it. It stood as a mockery to everything my Question Authority generation has held sacred. The Sea Ranch is authority.

About 20 years ago, the developers of these 5,000 pristine coastal acres at the Sonoma-Mendocino county line decided where they stood on the man-versus-nature issue. Man, they understood, is basically an evil slob. Left to his own devices, he would turn this piece of paradise into a Bud Light disposal site.

So they came up with rules. Rules on architecture. Rules on walking. (You must have “ze papers” with you at all times.) They have rules on where to park your car. Exposing your machine at Sea Ranch is tantamount to exhibitionism.

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They even have rules on window coverings. They know that if left unchecked, the natural urge toward orange draperies would win out.

The result is a kind of fascism-by-the-sea. And yet . . . and yet. It works!

The Sea Ranch is the ultimate dude ranch. Instead of cattle, what you’ve got is a herd of cool dudes raising houses. Houses are the Sea Ranch’s most important product. Weird houses built in odd shapes to trap the sun and blend into the landscape.

Woe be unto him who defies the laws of Sea Ranch. The level of life style totalitarianism is almost un-American. The jerk who proposes aluminum siding around here will be laughed out by the Design Committee like a guy in a polyester leisure suit at a Sierra Club backpacking trip.

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You can rent one of these houses for anywhere from $50 to $200 a night. Since there is virtually no way to make a living on this sparsely populated stretch of the coast, Sea Ranch homeowners are either retirees, independently wealthees or part-timers who rent out.

The homeowners include many notable citizens such as the economist Milton Friedman. I don’t know which house is Uncle Miltie’s, but I’ll bet it doesn’t go cheap.

Over the years, I have rented progressively more lavish places, from the one-room loft to the most recent solar palace with three bedrooms, a TV, a hot tub, a dishwasher and a microwave. How’s that for blending into nature?

The only time I’ve ever seen MTV was at Sea Ranch. The combination of Motley Crue and the waves crashing outside the door was an unforgettable natural act.

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Houses are priced by the amenities, such as OFB (ocean-front bluff), which really jacks up the price. WW (white-water views) can also wreak havoc with your Visa account. But you can pick up something with a BW (blue-water view) real cheap.

There are two pool-sauna-tennis court complexes. The big one, the North Recreation Area, tends to attract your more glamorous types--people in $150 Sharper Image shades. This pool has a strange structure in the middle, a water slide that is closed. It is not closed irrationally. Rules at the Sea Ranch have a purpose. There are rumors of some terrible disaster preceding its closing. According to one source, a fat guy coming down the slide on a floating mattress wiped out a family of anorexics.

So the pools have rules, the windows have rules, the exterior walls of houses have many rules. As a result, you can walk along for hours and enjoy the incredible coast without seeing anything ugly. It’s like being on some bizarre Styrofoam-free planet.

The success of Sea Ranch reminds me of the famous discourse on the origin of The Law by that great philosopher Lenny Bruce.

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Lenny pointed out that people originally divided their houses into three areas: Eat Here, Sleep Here, Go to the Bathroom Here. The Law came about when somebody went to the bathroom in the wrong place.

That’s the secret of Sea Ranch. They have found the blueprint for serenity: A vacation home with three bathrooms.


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