Isla Vista. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. At its best, it can be heaven on Earth. At its worst, it can literally kill you. It all depends on how quickly a person can adapt to this unforgiving environment. The learning curve for this microcosm of the human condition can be quite high. Unfortunately, most of us that have lived here long enough have grown too apathetic to care about the newbies. As an act of pity, but mostly so there’s less of you I have to deal with, I’ll offer some advice on how to get by.

I can’t possibly explain every single nuance about I.V., so I’ll point out several of the most obvious, yet continuously overlooked, sources of trouble to watch out for. The first one is an altered state of mind. I personally think that everyone has a right to eat, drink, smoke, snort or shoot up whatever the hell they want. What happens to them is their own responsibility. Problems only pop up when someone under the influence starts interacting with other people. Results run the gamut from hilarious bloopers to painful misunderstandings. Those anti-drug campaigns warn about the consequences of using, and show all the possible ways to say “no.” They’ve done everything except for the most important thing. They don’t tell you how to react around others when they are under the influence. Your best bet is to treat them like a force of nature. Simply keep a safe distance away and don’t let your guard down.

A second source of trouble is something I like to call the “summer school phenomenon.” Back in my teenage days in the Valley, I attended what was quite possibly the largest high school in the district. Due to its immense size, students from all over the county gravitated toward it. Fights would break out most frequently between people that didn’t know each other. Yet none of that compared to over the summer, when students from about a dozen high schools converged on the only one in the area open for the season.

In I.V., you replace high school students with the not necessarily more mature UCSB students, SBCC students, SB natives and the ever-changing roster of out-of-towners. By now, you should know how people from varying area codes differ from one another. If you don’t, then the Nexus’ “Golden State Blues” columnist C.K. Hickey hasn’t been doing his job. Considering the sudden spike in population density during the start of each school year, the chances one has of finding conflict in I.V. are quite high indeed. Just remember that you’re as foreign to them as they are to you. I’m also aware that the “summer school phenomenon” is a misnomer, so don’t bother pointing it out.

That brings me to the last source of trouble. There are plenty of wise-ass freshmen and transfers that think they can get away with anything. They erroneously believe that they know what they’re doing. Despite how intelligent paper and ink claim them to be, book smarts won’t do them as much good in I.V. as logic and wisdom. Book smarts certainly don’t correlate at all with the lifestyle of newfound freedom that students experience here. An engineer and a communications major are equally likely to act like morons if they aren’t fully aware of city laws, party fouls or even common decency. It’s ironic because the new guys have the hardest time adjusting here, and it’s mostly a result of their own actions. Adapting can be as easy as asking a question or watching from a distance. Since firsthand experience is still the most straightforward way to learn, it’s best to take things one step at a time. Don’t get too rowdy until you understand the way I.V. works.

It’s easy to consider I.V. a degenerate cesspool of morons and druggies. That’s a shame because there’s certainly more to this town than reveling in excess. I.V. could be safe and laidback if the residents allowed it to be. Anyone that lives here over the summer can attest to that. Until that happens, it’s best to learn the ropes and pass that knowledge on to someone else.

Daily Nexus columnist Mark Batalla once tried to form a band called The Summer School Phenomenon, but his dream dissipated after several fights broke out in his garage.