Mrs Elliott and I are presently down in California, visiting the kids. The two families live in Fairfield and Vacaville, two cities next to each other, located about 50 minutes east of San Francisco on the I-80 corridor.
It's an area completely lacking in charm. There is sprawl every direction, and it's endless. The cities are composed of two basic elements: housing and shopping centers. Tatty older houses on tiny lots, packed together street after street after street, and by "older" I don't mean charming funky older, I mean they were crappy houses when they were built and they've not gotten any better. They go for miles, relieved only by massive shopping malls embedded every so often into the sea of houses.
In the shopping malls you can find every damn chain store and restaurant of indifferent quality you can think of. Chili's, Applebees, Chuckee Cheeses, McDonalds, Home Buffet, -- this is breeder territory, I have not seen a single restaurant for grown people who don't have kids in tow. The stores are your Targets and Lowe's and J.C. Penny's and Michaels and the list goes on an on and not one of them is a place you haven't visited time and time again. None is unique or interesting. For Christ's sake if you blindfolded someone and set them down in any one of these asphalt surrounded clusters of charmless stores and pulled off the blindfold they'd have no way of knowing what town they were in. There's no here here.
Welcome to Generica.
The people work, come home, spend their money in the chains which suck most of the money right back out from the community. Travis Air Force Base probably dumps a lot of money into the area. So the money comes from our tax dollars into the pockets of the locals here, who then spend it in the chains, and that money that doesn't go to minimum wage store employees promptly departs the community and heads to the store corporate headquarters. This is a business model that can never result in a city getting prosperous because there's no earthly reason why anyone would want to invest in the place unless they were looking for cheap housing and all the crappy stores you could want -- as long as you are willing to drive your car to them. The distances make walking quite impossible, and as I saw yesterday, cycling is no Swiss picnic.
We bought a house here for one of the kids and the grandchildren, a place he could afford which is out of the nasty part of Oakland that they had been living in. The house here has a bit of a back yard. Each child gets his and her own room.
It's a serious fixer-upper, been abandoned for a few years.
Yesterday morning I rode my bicycle to Home Depot to pick up some cabinet hardware, a round trip of about eleven miles. And I was reminded how much I dislike riding a bike in suburban sprawl in California. The cars speed up if they see you crossing the road ahead of them, the accommodations for cycling are rudimentary and clearly show that whoever designed them is unfamiliar with bike riding. It's a struggle to get anywhere safely.
Unlike the PNW, where cycling is more mainstream, the only other people I saw on bicycles were homeless guys or Hispanic men riding little BMX bikes. So around here, riding a bicycle sends the message that one is a marginalized person.
There is a former railroad right of way that cuts through the neighborhoods in a fairly straight direction from the house to the hardware store, and the city thoughtfully put a bike/walking path where the rails used to be. It did get me off the city streets for several miles, but no one really uses it: other than a two sleeping homeless guys and some Mexican men drinking beer, I was the only one using it for its intended purpose.
Anyway, we're working to make this house more liveable, as well as trying to make a habitable "granny flat" in the garage for Mrs Elliott and me to stay in when we visit. Other than the bike ride, I found no time for an oil painting I wanted to work on, the amount of work to be done is so overwhelming.
Visiting here reminded me how places like this are just not for me. I am thankful that I no longer live in suburban California, and live in a pretty place as Bend, which has a sense of community that these soulless places entirely lack. We're driving north today.
Thinking of making it a two-day drive, and stay at this funky little B and B in Dorris, then swing by Crater Lake on the way back home. Spring may arrive later in Central Oregon than it does here, but Bend doesn't crush my soul the way these places do.