Thursday, June 7, 2018

On Returning to Sacramento for the First Time in Almost Six Years

What an adventure.

Strange as could be, though.

Both Ms. Ché and I have deep roots in Sacramento -- she was born there, I became a resident when I  was 10 or 11.

After being away for so long, though, much was still familiar, some was not. And one thing we both said was "this is not 'home'". And it isn't. It's a very important place in our lives, but it's not "home."

Sitting outside  of Gunther's having ice cream on an extraordinarily beautiful day

we thought that if we did live there, we'd have compensations.

Gunther's is an iconic neighborhood ice cream place that's been in Curtis Park for decades and decades. It's always been popular, but it seems to have become a fashion destination for the whole city in recent times.

We lived a few blocks south in this house

Small by today's standards, it was considered more than adequate when it was built in 1940. Two bedrooms, one bath, a living room with fireplace, dining room, kitchen, laundry room and hall, that was it. There is a porch behind the overgrown shrubs in front, and a two car detached garage at the rear of the lot. We lived there for over twenty years, and truthfully it was a very warm and welcoming home for us at the time. When we checked it out this time, it hadn't changed much since we moved. It looks like there have been a few interior renovations (kitchen at least) and central air conditioning has been added, but that's about it.

Across the street, this place still commanded the block.

I'm sure it's not the biggest house in the neighborhood, but it's close to it. Dorothy lived there as a widow with her two standard poodles until she died in the mid '90s. There was a big sale of her things and then the house was sold to a doctor and his boyfriend (I think they got married as soon as same sex marriage was legalized in California.) It's a beautiful house, no doubt about it, and like most of the others in the neighborhood, it's been largely preserved intact through the years. Occasional redecoration and infrequent kitchen and bath renovation are about all that happens to most of these places.

Nearby, one of Ms. Ché's work colleagues lived here:

This house had quite a history.  One day in the late '90's the housekeeper found the owner shot dead in a pool of blood in front of the fireplace. A few things of value had been taken from the house. At first it was assumed that a burglar had broken into the house and killed the owner before absconding with whatever it was that was stolen. 

However, soon enough, suspicion fell on the 16 year old boy the owner had taken in some weeks prior. Exactly what was going on with the two has never been entirely clear, but the boy was found in possession of some of the man's things at his grandmother's house not far away, and shortly he confessed to the murder, saying he had killed the man because he was being molested by him. Whether it was true or not could not be determined, but if I recall correctly, the boy was not tried as an adult and I believe was released from juvenile custody when he was 21. 

This is where my sister lived from 1956 to (about) 1963.

It was built by her then-husband's grandparents in 1924 from plans they apparently got from House Beautiful magazine. I know of at least two other examples built from this house  plan, one in upstate New York (I believe in Scarsdale) and one in Connecticut (Greenwich?). 

Until about 1961, my sister's then-husband's widowed grandmother lived in the house with my sister and her then two children. Though the house is large, it was becoming cramped and crowded what with all the children and their things as well as three adults, two of whom needed special care. My sister's then-husband was legally blind and his grandmother was in deteriorating health. 

Eventually, Grannyma went to live with her daughter in the Bay Area. As it happened, she outlived her daughter and died in a care home. The house (and another one she owned at Lake Tahoe) was put up for sale, and as I recall the Sacramento house was purchased by a doctor whose fancy house a few blocks away had become somewhat notorious for his over the top French decorating scheme. 

The houses are somewhat similar, though I believe the one above was built in 1928 or 29 and is actually smaller than the one he purchased from Grannyma's estate.

The house where my sister and her then husband and children lived with Grannyma was in remarkably original condition when they lived there; everything was from the '20's except for the kitchen which had been modernized after WWII with a six burner electric range, a built in dishwasher and an enormous built in refrigerator -- which didn't work and was supplemented by a newer, normal sized fridge on the service porch. I thought of the house as Spanish revival -- due to its tile roof -- but it was actually Norman French revival, and when the doctor bought it, he went whole hog with a rustic French theme, painting much of the interior white including some of the heavy oak woodwork, and adding crystal chandeliers in practically every room. 

We went downtown while we were visiting Sacramento last week, and we walked around some of our old haunts. Surprisingly little had changed. Except for traffic -- which was horrendous. Well, it was horrendous everywhere we went in California. I can't believe it was this bad before we left, yet I could be misremembering, and I've been spoiled by the relative lack of traffic in New Mexico.

McCormick & Schmick's is now Claim Jumpers -- which is kind of sad as McCormick's was one of our favorites in Sacramento, San Francisco and Seattle.  We tried Claim Jumpers. It was... adequate though it seemed to take forever for us to be served our main course, and by the time we got the plates, some of the food was tepid. 

The space where we had our theatre is now a (ahem) talent agency. On the other hand, the space also  hosts an art exhibit area  with large windows on the sidewalk. There was an angel-figure in the window that we found quite charming. 

Homeless wanderers were everywhere in Downtown Sacramento, many more than we remember when we lived and worked there. I asked a friend what if anything was being done about homelessness, and he said that the problem of homelessness was national, and until something is done about it nationally nothing can be done about it in Sacramento. I told him that was bullshit. But apparently, even some of Sacramento's most influential "progressives" believe it.

We only stayed two days and spent four days driving to and from Sacramento. Traffic on Highway 99 through the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley was sometimes terrifying. Drivers didn't think twice about going 90 miles an hour bumper to bumper, weaving in and out of slower traffic, and causing wrecks and near-wrecks all along the way. The Highway Patrol seemed only interested in stopping truckers and cleaning up after wrecks. 

The weather was surprisingly sunny and cool. The temperature never rose above about 75° in Sacramento, and it was barely above 90° in parts of the Mojave Desert. 

Unfortunately the car had an unanticipated problem on the return trip. The Check Engine light went on just after we crossed into New Mexico from Arizona. As soon as we could we stopped to try to figure out what was going on. Turns out the crank case was bone dry. No oil. We'd had the car serviced including oil change only a month or so before, and as far as we know there are no leaks, so the absence of oil in the crankcase was a puzzlement. I suspect the oil was never replaced or never fully replaced when the oil was changed in April.

I put oil in the car, and it seemed to be fine for the rest of the way home (about 160 miles). It's going back to the dealer where the service was performed to figure out what happened.

It was a decidedly quick and focused trip to start the process of clearing out our long-held storage unit. When we moved, we didn't have time to sort everything and get rid of things we didn't need, so we just packed the leftovers into a storage unit and said we'd deal with it later. It's been almost six years, and this is the first time we've been back. We loaded the car with things we had forgotten or thought were long gone: family photos, Ms Ché's mother's rolling pin, a few books and so forth. The rolling pin was especially important because Ms Ché was certain it had gone to Goodwill or the dump with other excess stuff we got rid of before we moved. She'd written a story about it and the memories she had of her mother making donuts when the thunder roared, and how important that rolling pin was to her memories of her mother. When she found it in the storage unit, she cried. It was almost overwhelming. So it was with a number of other items we brought back with us.

There is perhaps one small truckload of stuff remaining in storage, some pieces of furniture, boxes of photos and books, a mattress and springs and bed frame, a few other things, but we've reduced the accumulation by about half, and one more trip to Sacramento is being contemplated for October. And then? Who knows.

Ms. Ché leaves on Sunday for three weeks at Naropa in Boulder, CO, where she'll be studying with the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." I told her I hoped the surviving Beats, like Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and such -- I think Ferlinghetti is still alive too -- would show up just because. And I've been re-reading the original scroll version of "On the Road" to get myself in the right frame of mind for her departure. It's been interesting, too, because Kerouac trod many of the same paths we have, including mad dashing up and down the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley back in the day. I think there must be a psychic link there.
Of course Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) died some years back, but in my mind, he lives forever. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. A comment on the comment I removed.

    Whatever "movies365" was going on about -- and I can't figure out what it was, so I suspect it was an automatically generated something or other -- it had nothing to do with the post. Usually comments like that are dealt with by Blogger commenting software, but this one got through.

    Oh well!