california

Exit 149. Everyone and everything tells a story.

I went to Folsom Lake yesterday.  Like many of the lakes in California, Folsom Lake is actually a man-made reservoir.  It was created in 1955 by a dam on the American River in the foothills above Sacramento, just upstream from the city of Folsom and the prison made famous by Johnny Cash right around that same time.  (Historical note: Johnny Cash was never an inmate at Folsom Prison; he wrote the song after watching a documentary about Folsom Prison.  He did, however, perform concerts for inmates at the prison much later.)

A friend who moved away a few years ago is in town this weekend, and she invited some of her Sacramento-area friends to a picnic at the lake.  It was a good day.  When we actually ventured out to the shore of the lake itself, my friend’s dog was fascinated with all the sticks and twigs and branches on the ground.  Not only would she play fetch with them, but she would sometimes pick up a stick just lying on the ground in her mouth and move it somewhere else.  It was funny to watch.

But why were the sticks there in the first place?  The entire shore of the lake was lined with piles of dead wood, and there was driftwood visible floating on the surface of the water as well.  I have been to Folsom Lake twice in 2017 now, to two different parts of the lake, and it was like this in both places.  It has never been like this before in any of the other times in the past that I have been to the lake.

This winter has been very wet by California standards, with lots of rain in the valley and snow in the mountains.  This rain has been much needed, after four extremely dry years and one average year.  The water that collects in Folsom Lake is runoff from the mountains upstream from it, and with so little precipitation, the lake level had been dropping for the last several years.  A few months ago, a series of very wet storms hit California, and the lake filled to capacity.  Water rushed off the hillsides into the three forks of the American River and down into the lake, and these streams of water carried with them years of dead wood piling up on the floor of the drought-stricken forest.  Although the lake is still nearly full, it has begun to empty again since those storms hit, and some of the debris floating on the surface was left beached as the waters receded, like soap scum on the edge of a draining bathtub.

Everyone and everything tells a story.  Even something as mundane as a pile of driftwood has a deeper meaning.  Maybe we would understand each other better and be happier if we were more willing to listen to these stories.

Exit 147. An unexpected sight.

The Sutter Buttes are often referred to as the world’s smallest mountain range.  In the middle of the flatlands of the Sacramento Valley, a cluster of small mountains about 10 miles across rises over two thousand feet from the surrounding orchards, ranches, and rice paddies.  This part of California is mostly unknown to the glamorous celebrities of Los Angeles, the beach bums of San Diego, and the techies of Silicon Valley.  Yuba City is the nearest medium-sized city, just a few miles away, and the nearest major metropolitan area is Sacramento, a little over an hour away by car.  Here’s an overhead view I snipped from Google Maps (the big gray blob southeast of the mountains is Yuba City and Marysville, with the Feather River separating them):

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I’ve driven within view of the Sutter Buttes many times.  My dad was born in Chico, and in my younger years we often drove through Yuba City on the way to and from visiting relates in Chico.  I have been that way many times as an adult too.  The Buttes look mysterious and out of place, surrounded on all sides by one of the flattest parts of California; they are certainly an unexpected sight to one unfamiliar with the area.

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I had never been any closer to the Sutter Buttes than driving by at a distance, until earlier this week.  I had a free day, and I felt like driving, so I did a bit of exploring.  Most of the land is privately owned, inaccessible except for occasional guided hikes.  But there are public roads that make almost a complete circle around the Buttes, which I traveled.

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Sometimes, unexpected obstacles arise in life.  At first, the unexpected can look scary and mysterious.  But what is scary and mysterious from a distance can end up being quite beautiful up close.  So take a closer look… you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

Exit 141. Versatile Blogger Award and things about myself.

There are a lot of deep topics I could write about this week.  Today is a national holiday here in the USA commemorating the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.  The controversial businessman Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated later this week as the 45th President of the United States of America.  A controversial political journalist was scheduled to speak at my alma mater, and the speech was cancelled due to protests in a move that some say sounds suspiciously like censorship.

But I really don’t feel like writing something that deep right now.  I’m going to keep it light this week.

One of my readers whom I do not know in person, Anna from the blog My Little Corner, nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award.  I’ve seen these kind of blog nominations going around for a while now, and this is the first time I’ve ever been tagged in one.  Thank you, Anna.

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Now I’m supposed to do these things:

  1. Display Award.
  2. Thank the person who gave this award (and include a link to their blog.)
  3. Share seven things about yourself.
  4. Nominate bloggers.

The first two are already done, so now I get to share seven things about myself.  I’ll try to stick to things that I haven’t written about before on here, although some of these might be common knowledge to my friends in real life.

1. I have never seen the movie Titanic, and I have no desire to.
Yes, I know it’s one of the most popular and highest grossing movies of all time, but I haven’t seen it.  Yes, I know it’s a love story, and if you think that’s going to make me want to see it, you don’t know me very well.  (Read this for more information, especially the paragraph starting with “A couple years ago.”) I wanted to see Titanic at the time it was in theaters (which was my last year as an undergrad at UC Davis), mostly just because everyone was talking about it, and because they built and sank a replica of the actual Titanic to make the movie.  That sounded awesome.  I had plans to see it with a female friend (I’ll call her Aldebaran) who I got along with wonderfully and probably would have been interested in as more than a friend except that she had a boyfriend back home.  Aldebaran cancelled on me, and we never got to reschedule.  A couple weeks later, she moved away to do an internship related to her future career.  When I saw her again in the fall, her boyfriend had moved to Davis, and she pretty much disappeared once he was around.  I think I saw her once or twice that year, we didn’t say much more than hi, and 18 years later I have never heard from her again.  But back to my main story… at some point during the time she was gone, I heard all the stories about middle-aged women being so obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio that they had seen Titanic 20 times, and I heard from friends whose opinions I trusted that it really wasn’t that good, and I decided I wasn’t missing much.  Eventually, it sort of became something I was proud of that I never saw that movie.

2. I don’t like coffee.
Again, I apologize if you find that blasphemous.  I’m not going to stop any of you from drinking coffee.  You do you.  But I just can’t handle the taste.  I’ve mentioned this a little bit in this blog before (follow the same link in the Titanic paragraph above).  I’ve tried to like coffee.  Being a college student in the 90s, I felt like my dislike of coffee stunted my social life.  But no matter what I added to the drink, I couldn’t get past the fact that I could taste the coffee.  Since there’s not much of a story to this, I’ll tell a related story: A while back, I was in my early 30s, and I brought a friend to a football game at UC Davis.  After the game, she didn’t want to go home right away; she suggested going to a coffee shop to hang out and talk.  (I had no problem with this; my plan was to order a hot chocolate.)  She asked, since I used to live in Davis, where was a good local non-Starbucks coffee shop?  One came to mind right away that I was pretty sure was still there (it was Mishka’s, for my readers who are familiar with Davis).  Once we walked in, I looked around and realized something interesting: I had never been inside Mishka’s before.  I only knew of it because my friends were always talking about it and how good it was.

3. I have never consumed alcohol.
Not technically entirely true, because I grew up Catholic, where they use real wine for Communion, but that’s just a tiny sip.  And once I was trying to make bootleg Vanilla Coke using generic cola and vanilla extract, and I didn’t realize that vanilla extract contains alcohol.  But that’s all; no alcohol other than those situations.  I have mentioned this several times, but I haven’t told the whole story.  As with coffee, sometimes I feel that not drinking has stunted my social life.  But I have different reasons for this.  My father is a recovering alcoholic, and this kind of thing tends to run in families.  Dad has been sober since the early 80s, so I’m too young to really remember most of his problem days.  But I remember him being kind of distant when I was a kid, and much of that was because he was still fighting his own demons.  I also see in myself the kind of personality tendencies where I could easily turn to alcohol to run away, and I’d just rather not play with proverbial fire, so to speak.  Plus, I never have to worry about knowing whether or not I’m too impaired to drive, and I save a lot of money not drinking.  But if you enjoy alcohol in moderation, I’m not going to stop you, and I’m fine being around you.  You do you.

4. I’m not one who always embraces the latest technology with enthusiasm.
This surprises some people, considering how much time I spend behind a computer screen, how I tend to figure things out on computers pretty easily, and how I knew the basics of what would today be called coding by my preteen years.  Growing up, I did a lot of reading about computers, but much of it was wishful thinking because we did not spend a lot of money on expensive technological devices.  As an adult, now that I have more money, I understand the wisdom of not spending it prodigiously, so now I don’t always go out and buy the latest thing.  It also makes me angry the way that slightly older technologies that work perfectly well are forced into obsolescence by corporations (smartphones without headphone jacks and MicroSD card slots, for example).  All that accomplishes is making me NOT want to buy your latest product.

5. I have only been to Yosemite National Park once, for one day, at age 38, despite living pretty much my whole life within a few hours’ drive.
This may not mean much to my readers outside of California, but I know people for whom this fact is completely inconceivable; to them, it’s just something you do growing up in California.  Not me.  I grew up in a family that was not outdoorsy at all, and family outings and vacations themselves were relatively rare growing up because everyone had such different and incompatible schedules.  It was also a trip I hesitated to take because, from what I had heard, Yosemite was always so crowded, and it was very difficult and expensive to find a place to stay.  Around 2000, I got the idea to take a day trip there, to leave very early in the morning in late spring or early summer when there would be lots of daylight, arrive at the park mid-morning, explore until it got dark, and get home in time for bed.  Someone I knew at the time shot down that idea (even though they weren’t invited, this was to be a solo trip), saying that I was underestimating the drive time, so it wouldn’t be worth the trip for just one day.  I listened to them and cancelled this plan.  I got the same idea around 2011 when I was dating Acrux, and she again told me I couldn’t do that, for the same reason.  I’d get there, drive up and down the Valley, and then it would be time to leave, according to her.  By 2015, I did a little more research and decided that my original plan would be feasible.  Screw you, naysayers.  The people shooting down my ideas were presumably assuming that it would take forever to get ready in the morning, and that they would want to get home in time for dinner.  They weren’t counting on the fact that I was perfectly willing to pack the night before, leave my house at 5:30am, and not get home until 11pm.  So I did just that, which gave me around 10 hours of actual time to explore in the park.  It was a wonderful day.  Of course, the park is so big that I just barely scratched the surface, seeing some of the most popular attractions, but the trip was still well worth it.

6. I’m terrible at skateboarding, roller skating, rollerblading, ice skating, skiing, or anything else along those lines.  I just don’t have that kind of coordination or balance.  I suppose I might get better with practice, but it’s hard for me to justify spending a lot of money on a hobby that results in nothing but me falling down over and over again.  (Snowboarding isn’t on this list because I’ve never tried it.)

7. My favorite number is pi, and my least favorite number is 19.
Pi is because it is a symbol of the field of mathematics, which is what my degree is in.  (This is why I named my blog as I did.)  And 19 is because it seems like every time I meet a cute single girl, that’s how old she ends up being.  Either that, or that’s how old she ends up acting.

So, now that I’ve given my seven facts about myself, I’m supposed to nominate bloggers.  I’m going to modify this step, though.  I’m going to say feel free to do this if you want to, and if you don’t, then don’t.  Besides, I think all my blog friends deserve an award.  But if you are going to accept my quasi-nomination, post a link to your blog in the comments so that other readers can follow it.

 

Exit 138. Only seven miles.

I’m a little behind on posting here, because I was away for a few days for the holidays, and because plans keep changing.  I’ll catch up eventually.

I grew up in Salinas, in the Central Coast region of California, just inland from Monterey and about 100 miles south of San Francisco.  As I have said before, I have had a fascination with maps and roads for as long as I can remember.  Sometimes I would look at maps, see a road that goes off the map, and develop a fascination and curiosity for where that road went.  By the way, for my younger readers, when I say “maps,” I’m not talking about an app on your phone.  I’m talking about a big piece of paper with pictures of roads and cities and landmarks.  And there often didn’t exist readily available maps of areas outside of big cities, so if these roads went off the map into a remote rural area, I couldn’t just scroll up, I really didn’t have a way to find out where all roads went.

There is a road in Salinas called San Juan Grade Road.  It splits from Main Street in a major shopping area at the north end of town and leads into a rural agricultural area.  On the map I had as a kid, where the road reached the edge of the map, it was labeled “To San Juan Bautista.”  Once when I was around 9 or 10 years old, I asked my parents where San Juan Grade Road led, and how you would get to San Juan Bautista that way.  This is not the route I knew leading to San Juan Bautista; the route I knew, the route most people take, is to go north on 101, the main highway, and eventually turn onto another highway which leads into San Juan Bautista a few more miles to the east.  San Juan Bautista is a small town that is the site of one of the 18th century Spanish missions that every California kid writes a report on when they are around the age I was when this story takes place.

My dad suggested that we take a drive, to show me that road.  I said sure.  So we drove out to San Juan Grade Road.  A few miles north of Salinas proper, the road began climbing a hill, and it became narrow, barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other.  The pavement was bumpy, and the route had many tight curves.  It was a beautiful drive, through remote hills dotted with clumps of trees, but it was a difficult and slow drive.  After what felt like hours of winding through hills, the road finally widened to the width of a normal two lane road, and a few miles later, we entered San Juan Bautista.  We drove home the normal way, on 101.

Yesterday, on my way home from my parents’ house, I wanted to be adventurous and go for a scenic drive, to do something more interesting than take my usual route, but I also did not want to go too far out of the way.  So I took San Juan Grade Road.  I had not been that way since that drive with my family some thirty years ago or so.  I did not remember many of the details regarding the scenery itself (the details I provided in the previous paragraph were mostly based on what I saw yesterday).  But what I found most interesting was something that I clearly remembered incorrectly, about the road being narrow with many sharp curves and going on for hours.

The narrow windy part of the drive was only seven miles.

Obviously, thirty years can erode memories, and an unfamiliar trip often tends to feel longer than it actually is.  But the difficult part of the trip was only seven miles.  That isn’t far at all.  I can easily bike seven miles in half an hour, and there was even a time when I could run seven miles without stopping (although I’m comparing this to flat distances, I probably couldn’t do either of these on a steep route like San Juan Grade Road).

When going through a difficult stretch in life, sometimes it feels like the difficult times will last forever.  But someday, we all get through our difficult times, and sometimes, when we look back, we discover that things weren’t really as difficult as they seemed when we were going through it.  What feels like an endless rough trip might only be a little seven mile scenic drive.

Exit 110. It goes nowhere.

About thirty miles from my house, in rural Solano County, Calif. near the border with Yolo County (yes, it’s really called that, I lived there for seven years), Kidwell Road crosses Interstate 80.  I have driven past this interchange many times over the years.  I used to live just a few miles away from there, in Davis, and for a significant portion of that time, my daily commute took me that way.  That route is also part of the most direct route from Sacramento to San Francisco, and I do that drive often enough that I still see Kidwell Road fairly often.  What always confused me about Kidwell Road is that it goes nowhere.

South of the freeway, Kidwell Road ends in a T-intersection with a frontage road; this frontage road dead-ends into the fields one way, and runs for about another mile or so to the next road, which also has ramps to and from I-80, in the other direction.  North of the freeway, Kidwell Road makes a 90 degree turn, changing its name for some unnecessary reason, and promptly dead-ending into some other fields.  The story I read is that this was built to settle a promise from decades earlier to farmers in the region.  They had been promised that when I-80 was built, they would still be able to conveniently access the highway, even though Interstates don’t have driveways.  Of course, there was another interchange about a mile away, and there are plenty of other agricultural regions in California where the interchanges on the freeways are much more than a mile apart.  So these farmers, whoever they were, must have been politically powerful.

In keeping with the title and logo, I have always titled my weekly posts in this blog as highway exits.  So, if we keep up that theme, this week’s post is a bit like Kidwell Road.  It goes nowhere.

For being off work, I’ve had an unusually busy week.  At least it has felt busy, although much of that has been taken up by afternoon naps, and the rest has been out having fun with friends.  I have stuff on my mind, and a lot has gone on in the world, and I haven’t really processed it all.  Every time I sit down and try to write something, it never really works.  I’m already a week behind, I promised two posts in a week at some point to make up for that, but I haven’t done that yet.

So this post is the Kidwell Road interchange on Highway Pi.  I’m just letting all of you know I’m still here, and I appreciate you reading it.  Thank you.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need some rest… which I think is a good lesson for all of us.

Exit 97. This year I welcome the rain.

It rained hard last night.  It was windy too.  It has been dry so far today, at least since I woke up, but I noticed when I left for church this morning that my garbage cans had been blown over at some point since I had last left the house (which was late afternoon yesterday, to get the mail).  I’ve always told people that I don’t like rain.  I don’t like being outside and having to dodge this wet stuff coming from the sky, and I don’t like the cold, gloomy feeling that comes with gray skies.  Many people say that cold, rainy days are perfect for snuggling indoors with your significant other, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while watching movies.  Yeah… like that’s something I can relate to.  That’s as relatable to me as a billionaire telling me that he loves weekends because he can go wherever he wants in his private jet.  Of course, that’s different, because I love weekends too, but still.

This year feels a little different, though.  California has been in a severe drought for the last several years.  California has very dry summers, so most of the rainfall happens in the winter.  Some communities get their water pumped out of the ground through wells.  The high elevations get large amounts of snow in the winter, and as the snow gradually melts through spring and summer, it flows into rivers, many of which have dams and large reservoirs trapping much of the water.  Over the last few years, the water in the reservoirs has slowly drained as the mountain snowpack has reached its lowest level in centuries, and overpumping of groundwater is causing part of the San Joaquin Valley to sink.  The drying pores in the ground may eventually turn this rich agricultural region into a desert (I have written on a related topic before).

Since last summer, long-term weather forecasters have said that an El Niño weather pattern in the central Pacific has a good chance of bringing a wet winter to California this year.  December and January brought much wetter winters than the last few years have seen, but February was dry, warm, and spring-like.  A spring-like period of a couple weeks in February is fairly common in this part of California, but this year it seemed to last a little longer, bringing the total precipitation and snowpack totals for this year back below average.  Last night was very wet, though, and forecasters are predicting a wet March.

All of this talk of drought has made me appreciate rain much more than I ever did before. I am actually enjoying rain this year.  It’s kind of scary to think about a possible future without enough water.  In previous years, rain in the forecast was a disappointment to me, but this year I welcome the rain.  And I still say that my computer can read my mind… I have my music on shuffle, and this came on as I was writing this.

Exit 35. It’s been nice knowing you, 2014.

It’s that time of the year when everyone is compiling the events of the year.  Everyone seems inundated with lists of the top songs of the year, the top movies of the year, and those questionable automatically generated Facebook year in review posts.  And for as much as that stuff gets kind of old sometimes, I think there can be a lot of value in reflecting on the year, or on any time period for that matter.

However, it seems like these days, reflecting on the end of the year is just depressing for me.  That is why I haven’t really written much on the end-of-year reflection topic at the end of the last few years.  I’ve felt like I don’t have much to reflect on.  Had I taken the time to reflect on 2012 or 2013, it would have sounded something like this:  I’m still living in the same place.  Still not married, still no kids.  Still at the same job that barely pays enough to pay the bills with no room for advancement.  That’s why I’ve just kept all this to myself.  This may also be part of the reason I haven’t done Christmas card letters in recent years.

I’m going to try to be more positive this year.  And what I just said isn’t all true this year.  I’m still living in the same place, I’m still not married, and I still don’t have kids.  But I have a new job.  It was a positive career move for me, and I’m making more money than I’ve ever made before.  I’m not trying to suggest that these two statements necessarily go together, of course.  Money was not the only motivator in this career change.  But I was no longer happy where I was, and it seemed like the right time to return to public school.  So far it has been a positive change.

Something else significant that happened in 2014 was that I drank Pepsi a couple times, and I ate at Jack in the Box a couple times.  This seems frivolous, not to mention unrelated since JITB restaurants serve Coca-Cola products.  But those of you who know me well may know that I have carried out rather ridiculous boycotts of these two organizations for decades, all based on ridiculous reasons.  I’ve been anti-Pepsi since around 1989 (I should add that I didn’t discover that I liked cola-flavored drinks at all until a year or two later), when I noticed that they always seemed to have the most obnoxious celebrities and athletes in their commercials.  And while I grew up in a family that spent a lot of time eating fast food, Jack in the Box was never one of our regular choices.  I did eat Jack in the Box a few times as a young adult while with friends who wanted to go there, and Jack in the Box always seemed to get my order wrong, and that annoyed me.  (These were isolated incidents, not necessarily the same restaurant.)  But really, it’s time to grow up.  I still prefer Coca-Cola to Pepsi, and Jack in the Box still isn’t my favorite fast food.  But if someone brings a 2-liter of Pepsi to a party at my house, it’s okay to drink it instead of letting it go to waste, and if I’m out with someone and she offers me a sip of her Pepsi, it’s okay to drink it instead of making a big fuss about it.  And if I’m hungry, and there’s a Jack in the Box nearby, and I have a coupon (all people in attendance get 2 free tacos from JITB when the Sacramento Kings win), it’s okay to eat there.  I actually quite enjoyed my Sourdough Jack burger last week.  And if any of you are going to reply with some wisecrack about whether Coca-Cola or Pepsi makes a better toilet bowl cleaner, shut it.  I get it, but I’m not sharing my big moments in personal growth just so you can criticize my unhealthy life choices.

I went on an adventure in 2014, the likes of which I hadn’t been on since my four months of traveling in 2005.  This adventure was very much scaled down compared to 2005, and I was with family part of the time and staying in hotels most of the time, but it was still the biggest adventure I’ve had in a while.  I saw friends and relatives that I don’t get to see often, and I saw parts of California I’d never seen before, including a large chunk of the coast, and the Owens Valley and Mono Basin in far eastern California.  I’ve been wanting to do both of those drives for a long time, and it was good to finally take the leap and go for it.

A lot of other important things happened to me in 2014.  I started this blog.  I saw the Kings play the Lakers for the first time.  And the second time.  And the Kings won both of those games.  The San Francisco Giants won the World Series again, their third in the last five years.  I made new friends.  I reconnected with old friends.  And I made a serious attempt to reconnect with a friend from my early college years, whom I had not heard from since early 1996, only to find that she didn’t remember me; that was not the ending I was hoping for, but at least I don’t have to wonder anymore.

I’m considering making a list of goals for 2015… kind of like New Year’s resolutions, but I don’t like calling them resolutions.  If I have a list, it’ll be easier to talk myself into actually doing some of these things.  I remember posting something at the beginning of 2009 (those of you who are my friends on Facebook can probably go back and find it) where I made a list of goals for 2009.  One of them I chose not to say explicitly, but at the end of the year I said that it was accomplished.  I’ve only told a few people about this, but the goal in question was to ask a complete stranger on a date.  That is something totally out of my comfort zone, and even though it goes completely against the “lessons” I learned about dating from church groups in my early 20s, it’s not something I think is inherently wrong or a bad idea per se.  The opportunity presented itself out of nowhere later that year, one summer day, when I was on a bike ride, and I passed, and said hi to, the same girl on a walk three times.  I took her to dinner a few days later; we saw some friends of mine there who were all excited for me the next time I saw them that I had been on a date.  It didn’t go anywhere in the end, she told me on the second date that she wasn’t really feeling that way, but everything was handled well and we’re still on Facebooking terms five and a half years later.  The important part, though, is that I really do believe that having written that goal helped me make up my mind to take action, rather than just saying hi again and riding off.

I tried making the same goal for 2010, and even though that was the year of Mimosa and two other dates, none of those experiences fit into that description of asking a complete stranger on a date.  I attempted to ask a stranger on a date the last week of the year, so I wouldn’t feel like I left a goal unaccomplished, but that was a disaster.  But I at least made an attempt.  I need to take some time to figure out what I would like to accomplish in 2015.  It doesn’t make logical sense, but it does seem that I’m more motivated to do something if it gives me something to check off on a list of some sort.  I haven’t made my list yet, but that can be something to work on in the upcoming week.

I hope that all of you find some meaningful time to reflect on this last year.  It’s been nice knowing you, 2014.

Exit 23. This is my home, and I will not surrender.

Recently, I was at a workshop with teachers from all over the school district where I work.  I do not live within the boundaries of that school district; my house is 25 miles from my work.  At lunch, I was talking to a teacher from the next middle school over from the one where I work, and I found out that he lives fairly close to me.  In the course of our conversation, he asked where else I had taught.  I mentioned one of my previous schools, and how during the time I was there, which was during the early-2000s real estate bubble, I had seen the school and the surrounding neighborhood change.  The original homeowners who had moved in when the area was first built, in the early 1990s, were all leaving for even bigger houses, in gated communities, and even longer commutes.  The vacuum was being filled by renters and first-time homebuyers from Oakland and Richmond, and their kids who were bringing Oakland and Richmond out to the suburbs with them.  After I said this, the other teacher I was talking to said that the same kind of thing is happening where we live.

I normally get really defensive, and really annoyed, when people put down where I live or point out how bad things are here.  There are a lot of alarmist attitudes about the world out there, and there are plenty of places that are a lot worse than where I live.  However, the guy has a point.  It isn’t happening to the extent that it happened where I lived during the real estate bubble, but this area has seen more gang and criminal activity than it did previously.  Some of the neighbors I had when I moved to this house in 2008 have moved to wealthier more distant suburbs because they perceive my neighborhood as unsafe.  And I have mixed feelings about this sort of mentality.

Do I want to stay somewhere that has changed to the point that it doesn’t feel like home anymore?  Do I want to stay where I am out of convenience when a better life might be attainable for me somewhere else?  This area certainly isn’t as bad as the area I was talking about to the other teacher, or the city where I grew up, but he has a point that it is difficult to argue.  This area isn’t the same as it was when I moved here in 2006, and it is very different from what it was when my house was built in 1994.  Will things continue to get worse here, and do I want to be around for that?  As I’ve said before, I spent the second half of 2005 thinking I was going to start over somewhere outside of California.  Did I miss my chance?  Would I be better off getting out while I can?

But, on the other hand, my gut reaction is to say that this course of action only makes the problem worse.  If things get bad and everyone runs away, then that is tantamount to surrendering the neighborhood to the criminal element, leaving no one left to stand up and defend the neighborhood against this sort of influence.  I don’t want to live in fear, constantly running away from a shadow enemy that I’m too afraid to face, and it scares me how many people live this way.  One time, when Cruithne, the roommate I didn’t get along with, lived here, I had to take my car to get fixed.  It was still under warranty at the time, so I had to take it to the dealership, which was about six miles away.  I said that I was going to drop off the car in the morning, on a day I wasn’t working, and then run home.  (At the time I was still able to run six miles without stopping.  I just started running again, so maybe I’ll be back at that point someday.)  Cruithne asked me where the car place was, I told him, and he gave me that look of disapproval that I became so used to in the years he lived here.  “You don’t want to do that,” he said.  “That’s a BAD neighborhood.”  For one thing, I’d lived here long enough to know that neighborhood’s reputation perfectly well; I didn’t need Cruithne to take that condescending tone with me.  But more importantly, I’d been on many bike rides through that neighborhood over the years, and while I can tell it’s a bit run down with a mostly lower income population, I genuinely had no fear of running down a fairly busy street at 11 in the morning.  During my run, I only saw one guy who looked like the kind of undesirable element that Cruithne was talking about, with his hoodie and baggy jeans and gold teeth.  And do you know what I did?  I didn’t go out of my way to avoid him.  I didn’t eye him with suspicion, making sure he wasn’t going to shoot me.  Instead, I smiled and said hi.  And he smiled and said hi back.

I’ve been rereading Genesis lately.  This morning, I read the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (chapters 18 and 19).  God told Abraham that he was going to destroy these two cities because of their wickedness and disobedience.  Abraham’s nephew Lot lives in Sodom, so Abraham prays, asking God if he will still destroy the cities even if there are a few righteous people there, and God says he will not.  Eventually, two angels sent by God visit Lot, warning him to get out of town and never look back, because God is about to rain down fire and brimstone.  Lot and his family escape just before the destruction, but Lot’s wife disobeys God and looks back, and God turns her into a pillar of salt.

It seems to me like my neighborhood has more followers of God in it than Sodom did in the days of the patriarchs, but sometimes I still wonder if something like this could happen.  I don’t mean literal fire and brimstone, but maybe whatever public policies that have caused California to fall into this downward spiral might continue to a point where I really do have to leave to survive.  Or maybe some other circumstance in my life will change, leading me somewhere else.  Maybe I’ll get to a point where I want to live closer to work, or maybe a clear opportunity will present itself in another state, or maybe I’ll meet a girl who is perfectly right for me but she lives somewhere else or has to move somewhere else (of course, that didn’t work out so well last time).  But unless and until that day comes, I refuse to live in fear.  If God speaks clearly to me, as he did to Lot and as he did to me regarding where I was living before, telling me that I have no future here, then I will pack my bags, but I will not leave where I am solely because the neighborhood is changing.  Wake up, people: the entire world is changing, and you can’t run forever from things that make you uncomfortable.  This is my home, and I will not surrender.  I will stand and fight for what makes it great.

Exit 20. California knows how to party.

My home state turned 164 years old last week.  On September 9, 1850, the United States Congress admitted the State of California as the 31st state of the Union, as part of what is now known as the Compromise of 1850.  The bills were an effort to placate the pro- and anti-slavery camps in Congress, successfully delaying the US Civil War for another decade.  During the war with Mexico, American and European settlers discovered gold in California, and thousands from all over the world rushed into the territory that had been recently added to the US, prompting the need to organize a state government.

I’ve lived in California all my life.  If you want to get really technical, I spent two months doing an internship at a university in a neighboring state, and I spent some time traveling in which I didn’t set foot in California for almost four months, but I always kept a permanent address in California, so that doesn’t really count.  And in that time, I’ve grown to develop a love-hate relationship with my home state.

I love the geographical diversity and the scenery.  We have beaches, mountains, dry heat, snow, big cities, small towns, farms, deserts, forests, and pretty much anything you could imagine within weekend trip distance at the most.  I love the cultural diversity.  You find people from all over the world who bring their cultures (and their ethnic food) to California, as well as big city liberals, small town conservatives, suburban conservatives, small town working class liberals, rednecks, hippies, and just about every type of American subculture possible.  I love the weather.  Where I am, it’s mild in the winter but never too far from snow, and hot and dry in the summer but never too far from the cool coastal climate.

I hate the way that California is so divided.  So many Californians on both sides of the political spectrum carry an elitist attitude where those who don’t see the world their way are viewed as lower life forms.  I hate the way that the government is similarly divided in a way that makes the state ungovernable.  Either no one can agree enough to get anything passed, or one side will do something that the other side sees as imposing radical unworkable ideas on the rest of the state that doesn’t want them.  I hate the way that California is so crowded.  The infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with population growth, and so many parts of the state, especially the more populated areas, are full of traffic with crowded schools and subdivisions taking good farmland out of production.  I hate the way that Californians can be self-centered in thinking that the world revolves around them.  Any time I hear Californians say that they don’t have an accent, I want to cringe, then make them listen to people who actually live in places other than California (or New York or London).  (Psst: “Cot” and “caught” aren’t supposed to be homophones.  They have different vowel sounds with different spellings.  We Californians pronounce them the same.  That’s an accent.  And don’t even get me started about people who pronounce “back” almost like “bock,” which by the way isn’t me.)  I hate the way that Californians jump on emotionally charged political bandwagons without thinking of the real consequences of their policies.  And I hate the way that so many other states see us as a laughingstock.  We really do deserve that reputation, because of the rest of the reasons in this paragraph.

Sometimes I fear for the future of my home.  Will we keep paving over everything until there is no open space left?  Will we run out of water?  Will our poor political decisions result in jobs leaving the state for more business friendly environments?  Will the nanny government tendencies continue to grow until one’s every move is scrutinized with freedoms continually eroding?  As I mentioned before, California statehood was born of a compromise between two very antagonistic factions in Congress.  This art of compromise seems completely lost in today’s government, both at the federal and state levels.  I wish it would come back.  I don’t want to see this state’s problems continue to go unsolved because two sides can’t agree, nor do I want to see either side destroy the state by imposing their will on an uncooperative populace.  Bringing together so many diverse populations within one state should involve give and take rather than so many disagreements.  Recently, a petition to divide California into six states failed to qualify for the ballot.  I had mixed feelings about it.  Part of me feels like I would have liked to be in a different state from San Francisco and Los Angeles, so that politicians from there with whom I disagree  wouldn’t be able to dictate what I do.  But like I said, I love the diversity of this state, and I would hate to see us admit that it doesn’t work… not to mention that any specific plan to divide California would come with so many kinks that it would probably get worse before it got better.

Despite all this, despite everything I don’t like about California, I can’t deny that California is in my blood.  That is why I chose a California highway sign for the logo of this blog, and the Bear Flag for the cover photo of the blog’s Facebook page.  California has always been a big part of who I am.  When I spent the four months on the road, I left thinking I was only coming back to California to get my stuff.  I ended up settling back here in Sacramento County (which, interestingly enough, borders two of the other three counties in which I had lived, including the one I was moving away from) because Sacramento is California’s happy medium.  It’s not as elitist as San Francisco, not as shallow as Los Angeles, and not as rural and provincial as much of the rest of inland California.  It’s just right for a guy like me, and it’s home now.  And in addition to all the things I like about it here, I’m also never too far from most of the rest of California.  Because, as Tupac and Dre said, California knows how to party.