Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Like Living Here. What's Your Excuse?

"You live where?" I get that question a lot.

Salinas. I live in Salinas.

I like it here. I just can't help myself.

It is hot here for precisely four days a year. Almost every afternoon, the marine layer rolls in off the Monterey Bay. We're seven miles from the coast, but there is nothing between us and the ocean--no hills--to keep the cold from coming in. I come home from work and drive through what we call "Chill Hill," that grove of eucalyptus on 101, and the temperature will drop 20-degrees in less than a mile. This means my cashmere and I stay connected throughout the year. That's the kind of weather I can get behind.

I like it here because although John Steinbeck was born and raised here, he saw all of its deep flaws and wrote about it accordingly. (According to stories from my husband's family, Steinbeck really only liked one person in Salinas, the Rev. Kemper, late pastor of First Presbyterian Church. When the government was sending Japanese-Americans to internment camps during WWII, the rev bought all of the farms owned by local Japanese Americans for $1 each and held on to them, selling them back when the insanity of those camps ended. That was an establishment guy Steinbeck could get behind.)

I don't know if the church would do the same this time around. They seem to be more of a 'round up the usual supects' group. But I hear they have a rather lively rock band on Sundays.

And while the establishment didn't love John Steinbeck in his life, they love him in his death, enough to realize when you have a Nobel Prize-winning author on your hands--bad attitude or not-- you capitalize it by building a museum and holding an annual festival in his honor. This year's events featured a dress-your-dog-like-Steinbeck (or a Steinbeck character) contest. My friend Carmela made her German Shepherds tuxedos, a la Steinbeck at the Nobel Prize Ceremony.

They're kind of cute in a, "hey, is that a German Shepherd in a tux?" kind of way. Carmela is the dog whisperer of Salinas. If you have a pooch with issues, she will tell you that your dog is fine, it's most likely you, the owner, who is the problem.

I like it here because you can buy potted orchids for a few bucks at the farmer's market, because the guy who thought, "Why not pot the orchids before selling them?" is from here. And now that he's made a fortune from his idea, he sends poor, smart kids to college.

The Sausage King of Salinas

I like that there is now a Sausage King of Salinas. Butch Francis, an upstate New Yorker who came here who knows when and now makes about 400-pounds of sausage each week. He also makes the world's best chili. Every Saturday, by the end of the Old Town Salinas Farmer's market, two crockpots of it have been emptied.

We've been doing a lot of trekking back and forth to Berkeley this summer, because Bobby is attending theater school at the Berkeley Rep, and Sam went to computer camp at Cal. We'll get off the 980 and head down MLK, past all of the fabulous Berkeley things--the yarn bombed signs and sculptures, the Arnieville tent city set up to protest Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts to Medi-Cal. The restaurants and stores we used to visit. Life's rich pageant. And I'll think to myself, "Why? Why didn't you like it here?"

And then some Trustafarian on a $4,000 bike will ride out in front of my car, flipping me off while doing it, and I remember. That's why.

Salinas is delusional in its own way. Right now the city is searching for a national agency to help it re-brand itself--there's no money involved, but the city is willing to share the proceeds of t-shirt and mug sales. I don't know how you rebrand something that wallows in self-loathing, but it's going to be fun to watch.


  1. Mary, I may have told you that Salinas is Terry's hometown. She and I brought our oldest to visit her grandparents on three occasions, so I've spent a few days there.

    As a lifelong Midwesterner, even a blue-collar town like Salinas is a fascinating trip to someplace outside my experience. And Monterey is just beautiful. I have experienced that temperature drop, too.

  2. "Sausage King" = Abe Froman...forever and ever, amen.
    By the way, I love the fog. It's one of the things I miss whenever I am away. Went fro a great drive along the coast in thick fog last night. Awesome, eerie, and amazing.

  3. LOL... You are HYSTERICAL!!!

    As someone who's lived here my entire life and wants to get the hell out, it's nice to read what non-Salinas natives find charming about the area.

    I have yet to go a Farmer's market. I must go one of these days!

  4. Trying most desperately to find a coherent thought that doesn't sound like spam or zealotry ...and coming up short. Yay Salinas for embracing it's favorite son...and it's Dog-Citizens and all of the goodness that comes out of Saturday Mornings. So glad I am here, in this place, now.

  5. I am enjoying the ongoing saga. We fixed up a 19th century farmhouse in Maine - nothing so grand as house226 looks to be. One thing I am sorry to have left behind - after my late father-in-law sanded many layers of paint from the living room floor and refinished it, he signed the floor in a corner. I hope that's still there.


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