Exit 252. Traumatized.

[EDIT from spring 2020: This blog is pretty much inactive indefinitely at this point.  The last post below was written in September 2019.  Someone today posted a link to this site on a post intended to get people to check out new blogs.  So if you are reading this for the first time and are looking for a new blog to follow, you might want to check out my other blog instead, which I’m still updating although I just finished a month long hiatus.  Also, as of now there haven’t been any other major problems with the house, and the trip to New Mexico in October was wonderful.]

I haven’t been posting very regularly on this blog, and I don’t know if I ever will be again.  I could blame it on the other blog taking up more of my writing time, but now I’m not posting very regularly there either.

I feel like the events of 2019 have completely traumatized me.  I have had so many things at my house fall apart.  I have spent so much money on repairs and improvements, and many of those either didn’t do anything or just made things worse.  Any time I hear heavy wind, or water running, or even think about rain, I’m terrified that the house is going to fall apart even more.  Sometimes, when I leave the house, or when I go to bed, I double- and triple-check to make sure I didn’t leave any water running, and that the oven and stove are turned off, and lots of stuff like that.  I was almost late to work this last Friday because I kept running back inside double-checking things.

And now I got screwed out of $2600 by a company that didn’t tell me that the product they installed on my house was not completely compatible with the way my house is built.  The first time they attempted to install it, they caused more damage.  They eventually came back to fix that, but they didn’t fix all the damage they caused, and it took them about a month.  I was looking more closely at their work recently, particularly after another home repair professional pointed out that their product might cause more damage in the future.  I took a picture of their project not working as intended, sent it to my contact person with that company, and he basically said he had done enough and didn’t want to talk to me anymore, and that poor construction isn’t his fault.  So now I either cut my losses and consider the $2600 a bad investment, or I take them to court and give myself an even bigger hassle.

So, yeah, I’m a little stressed now.  I have work on top of all this.  And I’m going to be in New Mexico for five days in October, which will be awesome unless something happens to my house while I’m gone.

But I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, because there are some good things happening too.  And I know that I should be trusting God to take care of me, but on the other hand I still have responsibilities that I need to deal with.

So I’m just going to write in both blogs when I feel like it.  Hopefully you guys will stick with me.  Happy last weekend of summer.

Exit 198. It’s okay to have two hometowns.

I was born in Salinas.  Salinas is a medium-sized city in central California, by which I mean it is considered small by California standards, but if it were located in Wyoming or West Virginia, it would be the largest city in the state.  It is located 100 miles south of San Francisco and one row of hills inland from the Monterey Bay, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.  I lived there until I was 18, the day I moved away to begin my university education, in the same house where my parents live now.

In some ways, Salinas will always be home.  That is where my memories of school take place, and that is where I spent many hours playing with Legos and Hot Wheels.  That is where I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, Full House, the 80s-90s Mickey Mouse Club, and the early seasons of the Simpsons.  That is where I spent hours in my room reading Choose Your Own Adventure books and playing the early Mario and Zelda games.

But in other ways, Salinas does not feel like home.  In addition to the memories above, many people seem to have memories of home that involve good friends, organized youth activities like Boy/Girl Scouts or sports, and first loves.  I don’t have many of those memories associated with Salinas.  I did not really have friends until I was a teenager.  There were kids in the neighborhood, but many of them only lived there for a short time, and some of them also weren’t so much friends as people who came over to play with my toys.  I went to school one town over from where I should have, as I have explained before, so until I was old enough to drive, I never saw my school friends outside of school.  My brief forays into Cub Scouts and tee ball were very forgettable, and I did not have anything resembling a first love, beyond a couple of formal school dances that I actually did go to with someone, and a few crushes that left me heartbroken, with the other person never knowing how I felt in most cases.

Yesterday was Picnic Day, a large event that I have mentioned a few other times in this blog; it is essentially an open house and community festival event at my alma mater, UC Davis.  And I realized that I have a second place that feels like home in some ways.  I lived in Davis, a university town just outside of Sacramento, from age 18 until a few weeks before age 25.  Many of those maturing experiences revolving around friendship happened to me there.  This is where I finally felt like I had a community that wanted me around.  Davis is where I came to faith, and where I finally felt like I had connections to the greater community, after I started getting involved in church activities and volunteering with the youth group.  In many ways, going to Davis and the adjacent campus also feels like going home.

I should point out that I don’t mean to put down Salinas or any of my old neighbors or school friends.  I’m just stating things the way they were.  There were some neighborhood kids and classmates who were nice to me, and I started to finally have something resembling a group of close friends by the end of high school.  I think if I had had another year or two around those friends before we all scattered for college, I would have grown a lot closer to them.

Neither Salinas or Davis feels completely like home, and neither one is home anymore.  But being both places gives me a feeling of going back home, each in its own ways.  And that’s okay.  Everyone is different.  Not everyone has one place they consider home; many people move away during childhood, for example.  And, of course, I did not experience a first love in either Salinas nor Davis.  What I would call my first true relationship, with Vega The Nice Ex, happened later during a time when I really did not have a home, but that’s another story.  For now, it’s okay to have two hometowns.

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.