Hometown

I left my hometown the summer I graduated from high school, climbing into the front of a Ford truck to ride more than 300 miles as we headed to Santa Rosa with rock blaring from the eight track, providing a backdrop to the new life I was launching as a college student. California was still considered golden and I headed out for a place where the sun shined at least part of the time, where my dim view of life might be brightened. Other graduates of my class took up their lives in the town where most of us were born, marrying classmates, taking jobs and not so gradually growing old. Not so unlike their parents before them.


Crescent City, where I was born is isolated on the border coast, where things often skew to the right. I share some of the general dissatisfaction with the way things have gone in the world since we graduated. I do not attribute it to the same sources. I am from Crescent City, they call it “Comeback Town USA”, I can’t help but wonder if it is because so many of us return home. I have come and gone many times and this time I have been gone for ten years. I wonder if it is time to say “goodbye” or just “see you later”.


In 2013, my high-school graduating class will be holding its 30-year reunion. I would love to attend for some perverse reason. We were a great group when we graduated, and those bonds have been strained in the years since then. More than a few of the people turned out to be the core demographic that sustains Fox “News” and right-wing talk radio. I am sure Tom, Eric and Bonnie want me to note that they are not in that group.


The unremarkable goes unremarked upon, and so all those members of my generation who disappeared into those non-descript service industry jobs never got much press coverage. But many of them long for a simpler time, when working people did not need government handouts.


There were less than 200 of us in my graduating class. I graduated near the bottom of that class. We entered adolescence as Jeff Spicoli was offering lessons in how to be a teenager. We were misunderstood youth, born to a world we never made, a place bristling with nuclear missiles that made a catch phrase like “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse” seem like a good idea.


I see that attitude as a charade against fear. Lots of us were scared, with troubled lives at home and rather frightening prospects facing us when we left high school. So we attempted to appear indifferent to the expectations, even as we feared not being able to meet those expectations.


One of the first pieces of adult mail I ever received was a note instructing me to pay a visit to the local post office. I can still remember going to the post office in Santa Rosa just after my 18th birthday. I remember the vision I carried of a war breaking out and a lottery determining who would be taken by the military.


We were never really insulated from the prevalent marijuana culture of our hometown. I knew there was marijuana around. I just never wanted to be involved with it. I participated in drinking, fighting and hanging out. Though there was talk about harder drugs, it was all bullshit. That stuff was going on inside Studio 54 in New York, where real life was being lived. Small town Crescent City of 1983 was not a hard drug Mecca.


Cable television was just starting to grab some market share from the three major networks. ESPN was a small start-up cable channel. The minimum wage was $3.35 an hour, and gas cost about $1.20 a gallon. Most people seldom called anyone long distance unless it was an emergency. The U.S. automakers and the U.S. steel makers had just begun to face serious competition from Japan and other countries around the world. Unions were strong, and as a result, so was the American middle class.


The American road was the place to seek freedom, so people set out to do a lot of mindless driving from place to place. No one I knew had ever seen a seat belt, let alone an air bag. We went for a drive.


Judging from the messages my fellow students wrote in my yearbook, the word nice was the highest accolade a person could receive. “You’re a real nice guy,” several girls scribbled. Could that have been shared a few years earlier?


A large percentage of my classmates lived out their lives in our hometown, marrying and divorcing there, and taking jobs in the mills that have, one by one, closed down. Their wives taking jobs at the local restaurants that were one by one pushed out of business by the national hamburger chains. There were ten such lumber mills in Del Norte County providing work and futures, all of them now gone, along with the heart of town, a once thriving nine-block business district with boarded up shops and vacant lots where small businesses once supported families.


John Lennon, a man who was tragically taken from us during our high school years, said, “The older generation are leading this country to galloping ruin.” That was true when John was young and alive, and it is true today, except now the old people who were ruining everything have been replaced by a new batch of old people.


In a couple decades or so, most of us will be gone, leaving behind our children and grandchildren, along with the history we made. It wasn’t all good, not by a long shot, but, it is what it is, and we were what we were.

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5 Responses to “Hometown”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Vic,

    Just for the record, feel free to not include me in that “core demographic that sustains Fox “News” and right-wing talk radio.” lol.

    Looking back one cannot underestimate the freedom we had as teenagers. Pin it on the sign of the times, the remoteness of CC or both, it was a hell of a lot of fun. Those parties in down in the Glenn just cannot be reproduced as they had it all; lively conversation, alcohol, killer weed, and always entertainment in the form of fight or two just to make sure we were paying attention. lol.

    Hey, let get together one of the these days. You drive right by often.

    Thomas.

  2. Myra Says:

    I googled Coos Bay Oregon images and found yours. I lived in Coos Bay in 1977… left an ex to figure things out on his own… all the way from Georgia. It was the year of the drought and I don’t know the Oregon everyone else does. I appreciate your thoughts. Nowadays I wonder about how things have changed, and wondered how much oregon had. I’m glad in a weird way, that my home town in Georgia isn’t the only one to have gone through everything closing down and leaving. Wonder what’s next.

  3. Ellen Says:

    Victor, you bring back a lot of memories. Doesn’t seem like it has been 30 years. I lived there from 1959 to 1991 and I’ll always have a spot in my heart for CC.
    Ellen

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