I ‘ve been struggling with the title for this week’s post (and maybe it’s because the topic itself has been a little bit slippery and hard for me to get my hands around). So far I’ve considered: ” I live in Sacramento” or “Sur de Sacramento” (that’s South Sacramento in Spanish, but it doesn’t come off quite as exotic as I had hoped for). Also I thought of “In defense of Sacramento” or “Wherever you go, there you are”. I even toyed with “Writers Block” (but I think I’ll keep that one in my back pocket for when I have a really bad case).
See, here’s what happened. I have been ruminating on this whole topic of The Place That I Live for quite some time. Percolating thoughts now naturally take the form of future blogs posts, and in my mind I was already writing the story of my neighborhood and the unique sights and sounds of this little plot of land we currently call Home.
But then another angle to this story developed over the past week, with East Twin’s imminent purchase of a spacious, beautiful and affordable home in NC (putting down roots it seems; now at least the premise for this blog is secure…book deal anyone??).
And of course this week there was also this ruthless Forbes.com article which ranked poor old Sacramento as number 5 in Amercia’s Twenty Most Miserable Cities. But when a little friendie on FB commented with “Excramento”, I just had to speak up.
I mean, someone’s got to.
The group women I drank coffee with this morning were similarly nonplussed with this notion that Sacramento is a miserable place to live in. “I’ve seen worse” was the consensus, and we went on to rattle off all the fun and unique things there are happening in this town: Second Saturday Art Walk, the farmers market, the rivers, Midtown, riding bikes, and the wonderfully small world it always seems to turn out to be here, when we realize we know someone who knows so-and-so; the thread of fantastic people who wind through our quilted community.
“Miserable is a state of mind” my friend Anne sagely said.
So, in order to alter my own state of mind (there’s a joke there) about my 1067-square-foot piece of the earth, I started taking another look around the neighborhood where we finally bought our first home, a little under two years ago.
Somehow, and I don’t really know how, I ended up living here in South Sacramento. Okay I do know how. The man I love was born and raised here, just a mile up the street from where we live now. There is definitely some sweetness and nostalgia to that aspect, but I will say that it isn’t exactly the place I imagined I’d be living in my girlhood fantasies of “when I’m all grown-up….”.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many great things about where we are living. Example A: we own a home – something which at one time, seemed like an unattainable pipe dream thanks to the inflated California housing market. Luckily for us, the bottom dropped out of the economy in 2008 and presto…we were in the game.
But… I do live on the wrong side of the tracks. Literally. We bought a home in the little neighborhood right behind 24th and Fruitridge. Technically it is known as Brentwood Village but I like to call it ‘the hang-nail of Hollywood Park’. If you are from Sacramento you know what that means. If you are not, all you need to remember is that 24th & Fruitridge is the place where the where you cross into the south area and neighborhoods become ‘hoods’.
I know three other families from my eldest son’s school who share the same street address as us, not the house number mind you, but we’re all on 25th Street. It’s just that they are waayyyy up the street in picturesque Curtis Park, while we are down on the tail-end of 25th; on the south side of the railroad tracks, behind the Dairy Queen and the Bethany Presbyterian Church.
I will say though, except for the blight and sirens on Fruitridge and the hot-pocket of crime that always seems to bring out the helicopters buzzing ominously overhead, I like it here.
Our little neighborhood is kind of a gem. Within a 1-mile radius of my house we have: a decent Fish and Chip shop (Tugboat), a pool hall with a lunch counter that makes a tasty hamburger on a vintage grill (The Jointed Cue), cheap gas, the Lalos sign giving the big F-you to passersby, the venerated Swiss Buda (who knew?), a Buddhist temple, Sac City Community College (our kids may never leave home now), a medical marijuana dispensary, and a vibrant little retail oasis at Panama Pottery (who not only have great pottery and ceramic art but also now have vendors selling a great mix of everything from jewelry to local honey). And then there is Franklin Blvd with its plethora of delicious taquerias, creamy filled churros at the panaderia, fabulous synthetic ball gowns in shops dedicated to weddings and Quincineras, and lots of places to buy cheap phonecards, prepaid to Mexico.
Just a few shots of the signage along this janky retail strip gives the flavor of the place, but don’t use these as the only evidence. I recently stumbled across the photography of Happy Shooter on Flickr and was blown away by his shots of old signs and iconic markers around the area of South Sacramento. Take the time to click on this link, because they really are cool and capture the mood and attitude of our neighborhood so perfectly. Plus, it’s fun to play “how many of these signs do I see every day?” They are the markers of our Sac-town landscape.
Oh! and another thing, we are within 5-10 minutes of our children’s schools. We have lots of dear friends in the very near vicinity (theoretically just a bike ride away but I’ll confess to rolling in the Sienna more often than not). And one of my husband’s colleagues from the amazingly awesome (but not conveniently located) George Washington Carver High School, lives close enough that they can carpool to work: allowing us to continue to maintain a one-car lifestyle.
See, lots to be happy about right? No misery here, no.
It’s just that, like I said out the outset, this isn’t where I pictured myself ending up. Truth be told it’s just that my inner spirit believes it ought to be somewhere more island-y. With a beach really nearby. At the very least I need to be somewhere where there is more NATURE than CONCRETE. I need to be’ out-numbered’ as it were by trees and birds.
I’ll admit to being more than just a little envious of my friends Caitlin and Ian who, with their young daughter, have fled the hustle and bustle of the urban Bay Area living for the wilds of Costa Rica for a year. She is recording their time there in what is easily one of my favorite blogs, Sweeney/Britton Astray ( it is so descriptive and well-written it’s almost like being there) and He is making ice cream – Que Rico! Helado.
Sounds like the life to me….
Of course I’m trying to bring some of my island dreams into our own little South Sac paradise. In fact when we first moved in I found a corny painted tile at a thrift store and made it my mantra, decorating and otherwise:
So…sometimes I can be in the Zen of ‘where you are is where you are meant to be’. And sometimes I can’t. But on those days when the dreary landscape of run down lots and liquor stores starts to wear on my soul, I try to concentrate on all the things I find inspiring about this landscape I inhabit.
It’s the lights on the runway of the executive airport twinkling through the foggy shroud of morning mist as I drive my kids to school.
It’s the greening of Spring along the levee which skirts the northern edge of that same airport. The wide open space of the levee walk and the drainage ditch-cum-marsh just begs to be re-naturalized and turned into a public walkway with wildflowers and native plants. (Listen up Jay Schenirer and other District 5 council members!)
And it’s the many, many empty lots which have been abandoned to future development and in the meantime are reclaimed by Mother Nature. May they never be turned into mini-marts and gas stations but instead be converted into mini-farms and community gardens; sources of food production and supply for the community as well as the many restaurants in the area (Another brilliant idea for you District 5!). I am happy to report that just today I found this little grocery setting up for business next to the Orowheat bread outlet. The sign said: “Coming soon! Fruits and Vegetables!”
But serendipitous and satisfying moments are not hard to find here. Like tonight, when I stepped out my back door and saw a long white string on honking geese flying North through the darkened sky, and heard the melancholic rattle and clank of a freight train heading South on the nearby tracks.
It’s these sights and sounds that make me feel as if I could be anywhere, it’s all really just as beautiful as anything else. And it’s that feeling – that it really doesn’t matter where we are, because of course, there We Are – it is THAT feeling that allows me to see the charm and potential in this place where I live.
Like the man George Clinton says, ‘free your mind and your ass will follow’. So I’ll free my mind. I’ll float up above the landmarks and boundaries and county lines and headlines. Above the tacky and the “miserable”, to the place where I know that this is just one of the many Homes I will inhabit in my lifetime. Far from being defined by the zip-code I’m in, my life remains as yet untitled…and will stay that way until the last siren wails, the last cheeseburger sizzles and the last white goose goes honking over paradise.