SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. — TWO postmen, standing outside the Caffe Bene here, will tell you they are tired of onlookers - and that their delivery routes are shrinking. ``You've got 605, 611, 615 Pacific Avenue out,'' says Blair Stewart, fishing through the stacks of letters in his pull-cart.
``Two-fourteen Elm and 317 Spruce,'' adds Andrew Butler, ``we can go on. You really don't want to hear it, do you?''
For the most part, news media and outsiders have stopped crowding around the Pacific Garden Mall across the street, the heart of downtown that was 75 percent destroyed.
The Sentinel, the local paper, reports that this quiet, seaside resort town is back to business as usual, except for homes 70 years and older. More than 275 Santa Cruz County homes were destroyed. Another 456 had major damage, and 1,610, minor damage.
``It's the end of an era,'' says Michael Fenton, who with his mother used to occupy one such address on Chestnut. Boards, provided free by the Red Cross, are all that keep his two-story Victorian from sliding into the three-story house next door, also off its foundation. A warning has been slapped on both houses - ``Unsafe for Entry.''
With his mother living with friends nearby, Mr. Fenton is waiting for word on how to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency relief. He did not have quake insurance, he says, because premiums cost too much.
Fenton says a full third of the houses in town built before 1920 will have to be rebuilt, and the result will completely change the nature of the town. The metaphor for modernization is a nearby retail outlet called ``The Gap.'' It stood while the Victorian homes on either side collapsed.
Despite headlines that project the image of a devastated retail district, businesses came through the quake in far better shape than residences - with a relatively small 60 listed as destroyed or suffering major damage.
One short-term effect of displaced residences is seven local shelters now providing food and beds. But Brook Graff, manager of the Red Cross shelter in the downtown Civic Auditorium, says only half of her 250 beds have been taken by those made homeless by the quake. The rest have benefited the town's chronic homeless. ``Most of those leaving their homes have moved in with friends or relatives,'' she says. Elderly and others unable to care for themselves have been placed in available nursing facilities.
Meanwhile, outside town, a drive into the hills shows a concerted if mostly individual effort to put things back in order:
On private Hutchinson Road, Ryan Kennedy and Steve Zilliox use sledgehammers to break up boulders that have slid into the roadway. Mr. Kennedy's Summit Properties Real Estate collapsed in the quake and he wants clients to be able to make it to his house for now.
Just up the way, Mark McAllister is realigning a large shed's worth of precision power tools that hopped around during the quake, yanking power cords out of the floor. His damage was minimal compared with his neighbor's, whose house collapsed and slid 20 feet downhill. ``I worry about real estate values going down'' says Mr. McAllister, who put his property up for sale two hours before the quake. ``But they [real estate prices] made it through the floods of '82 and fires in '85. People tend to forget about disasters when they see how beautiful it is here.
As damage estimates from the earthquake continue to escalate across the Bay Area, they are growing here each day as well. Early estimates of $2.5 billion to cover disaster assistance throughout the quake zone have risen to $5 billion and more. And the $600 million destined for Santa Cruz, according to US Rep. Leon Panetta (D), chairman of the House Budget Committee, may not be adequate for what could be nearly $1 billion in damage.