Life on the Left Coast is a weekly column that examines the strangess, the beauty, the political foolishness, and everything in between that takes place in the Golden State.
There’s not much that would make me go back to California except to visit family and friends, but this past week, that’s what sent me home – a Celebration of Life for my aunt and uncle, who passed away within a couple of weeks of each other. As always, when I go back to the Central Valley, I feel depressed, yet also grateful that I am no longer living there.
I’m from the Atwater-Merced area – small farming communities. As I drive down the street where my mother lives, where I was raised, I look around at how much things have changed in just a year since my last visit. Everything is so brown from years of a severe drought; only a few lawns with die-hard homeowners look healthy and green. Large buildings that used to boast business and employment stand as silent grim reapers, with weeds growing up through cracks in the parking lots. It’s depressing to see a once thriving little community sitting on the brink of desolation.
Neglected and Ignored
The police station, however, had a nice solar paneled parking lot and looked out of place next to the nearly abandoned bowling alley and other businesses in the neighborhood. Just down the street was a strip mall with a huge building that used to be the old K-Mart, but now also sits neglected and unused.
My first night in town, I got together with a couple of friends. We went to the old haunts, but it’s just not the same. I see my friends struggling financially just to get by. While it’s not easy to make ends meet in the Seattle, WA area, where I now live, at least what I’m paying for is worth it – but not here. The area is too poor to afford much, including entertainment and nice places to eat. At midnight, we went to the local Applebee’s and were told it would be an hour wait. There weren’t many choices to eat on a Friday night at that time.
So we went to Denny’s instead, where there was only one available table. And here, folks, is where I really started to grind my teeth in frustration. The waitress greeted us as Senoritas and every time she’d come to the table, she’d say, “How are we doing, chicas?” While the term is considered a compliment or a friendly greeting to girls, it’s a pet peeve of mine to hear Spanish everywhere I go, and you can’t go anywhere in Central California without hearing it.
Spanish continued to haunt me everywhere I went. If people weren’t speaking Spanish, they were talking with a thick accent. I can’t help but think about the illegal immigrants in the area and wonder how much worse it has gotten since California became a sanctuary state.
In all, it was sad to see my old stomping grounds looking so dismal and depressing, poor and downtrodden. This, after all, is one of the country’s top producing agricultural areas. Much of America’s produce, nuts and dairy come from the Valley; yet the people who provide us with food for our tables are struggling to put food on their own.
The Party Barn
On a brighter note, that Sunday, I attended my aunt and uncle’s Celebration of Life. It was held at The Party Barn, which is a beautiful barn built by my family’s in-laws and donated to the community to use for free for almost any kind of event. Those who use the venue only have to pay for insurance required by the city/county.
This is what I’ve always admired about the folks in poor areas – they really know how to come together and help each other. I’ve seen it time and again; the poorest people are usually the most generous, willing to give the shirts off their backs to help someone in need. These are genuine, hardworking people who just want to provide for their families and make a difference in the world, no matter how small.
Most of the people I talked to were disgusted with California politics and the sanctuary status. And why not? These are the folks who deal with illegal migrants constantly as they flock to the area to work on farms and dairies.
And so I’m left, once again, with mixed feelings from my trip back home. I’m glad I got to see friends and family, but I can’t help but worry for them as the state’s politics continue to grow in insanity. With politicians such as “Mad” Maxine Waters, Governor Jerry Brown (though thankfully, he’s almost out of there), and Dianne Feinstein, plus the crusades to either split California into three separate states or secede from the Union, the Golden State is rapidly sliding towards doom.