salinas

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 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 81. If everyone feels this way, then the terrorists have already won.

The news this week hasn’t been good, for the most part.  Lots of terrorist attacks, drive by shootings, and other tragedies that have become all too commonplace in the world of today.  In response to this, a younger college student friend posted on Facebook that it was crazy that we have to be afraid to go anywhere these days because of terrorists.  She said that every day in class, or every time she goes to a movie, she wonders if someone is going to shoot everyone there.

I don’t mean to be harsh in my reply to this, but if everyone feels this way, then the terrorists have already won.

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t take these incidents seriously.  We should.  I’m not saying we should forget that they happened.  We shouldn’t.  There are a lot of people still out there who have lost loved ones in incidents like this.  They are suffering in a way I can’t imagine.  But I, for one, refuse to capitulate to fear.  Terrorists want to spread terror.  That’s why they’re called terrorists, not murderists or explosionists.  They want us to be afraid and capitulate to them.

I grew up in Salinas.  Historically, my hometown’s claim to fame is being the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.  But more recently, Salinas has been earning a dubious distinction as a gang battleground.  A few years ago, I was visiting my family there, and one of the major local news stories was that a young child had been killed as an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting.  In response to that incident, some sort of youth sports team based in nearby Monterey cancelled a tournament appearance in Salinas, fearing for the safety of the kids on the team.  A columnist for the Salinas newspaper wrote a brilliantly sarcastic column that I wish I had saved.  (If the author of this column happens to read this, I’m sorry I didn’t give you the proper credit, or if I got anything wrong.  And I’m going to use masculine pronouns, because I remember it being a man who wrote this, but I could be wrong on this as well.)  He wrote about how his nephew (or possibly some other kid he knew, I don’t think it was his own kid; as I said, I may be getting details wrong) had recently had a baseball game in the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred.  He explained how everyone around him was watching the game, not fearing for their lives, and when his nephew’s team scored, everyone cheered so loud that he couldn’t hear any shooting.  He said that if anyone from “crime-free Monterey” (a phrase he repeatedly used with proverbial tongue in cheek) had attended the game, they would have had just as much fun as if they’d been attending a game in crime-free Monterey without the threat of gunfire.  He concluded on a serious note, that someone can choose to live in fear whenever tragedies like this happen, but he and the families from his nephew’s baseball team chose to stand up for their neighborhood and not be afraid to live their lives.

Living in fear is easy, but you miss out on so much that way.  Yes, I could get shot tomorrow.  I could also die in a car accident through no fault of my own, or a crashing airplane could fall out of the sky on me, or a building could collapse on top of me or with me inside, or I could have a heart attack.  Bad stuff happens.  Jesus predicted that the world would plunge into chaos before he returned (Matthew 24).    There are plenty of reasons to be afraid, and living in fear like that gets me nowhere and do nothing about it.  I’ve learned that the hard way, and I’m still not always very good at it.  But living in fear isn’t going to help me grow.

Lord Jesus, I pray for Paris, and Sacramento, and the regions in the Middle East experiencing unrest, and for the whole world, as we cope with tragedy.  I pray for healing.  I pray that we will come together to support each other in difficult times, and I pray that we will love each other to the point that potential future terrorists don’t feel a need to turn to that life anymore.  And I pray that those who are afraid or hurting will be comforted and find peace.