Part 1 -
During my stay on Kentucky Street, I couldn’t
help notice a lot of police cars and fire-engines racing through the streets,
day and night. When I mentioned this to
a friend, she said, “Good. Let them
work. They’re paid more than enough, and
when they retire they’ll be overpaid.”
I know my friend wasn’t glad about fires
and crime in Vallejo, but her attitude reflects a discontent I hear from many
people here, a backlash to the dire financial problems of the city, the subject
of a story I saw on PBS recently, and a conundrum that must be solved. Cut pensions, or fix roads & improve
schools? Is there really a choice? I also know for a fact that nobody gives up
power or money voluntarily. Challenges
await my arrival in Vallejo.
I called a friend of a friend, a retired
academic who moved to Vallejo because of cheap real estate prices, to tell him
I was planning to move here too, and maybe we could meet. “Are you crazy?” he asked. “Better you should move to Marin or Tiburon,
where people don’t get robbed in their own homes, prostitutes don’t walk the
streets, council members aren’t ultra-right tea-party types, and the city isn’t
run by religious bigots and corrupt politicians.” I wanted to discuss this challenging
situation with him, but he wasn’t done yet. “Vallejo has no culture,” he
said. “My wife and I have lived here 13
years and haven’t met anyone to talk to; there are no intellectuals or cultured
My month in Vallejo taught me otherwise;
my networking efforts had brought intelligent, interesting, artistic and
helpful people into my life. I suggested
he become politically active, meet good, like-minded people, help make the city
a better place. As it was Wednesday, I
invited him and his wife to join me at the Empress Theatre for a jazz concert
that night. He’d never heard of the
Empress Theatre, and had no desire to go.
He suddenly remembered a prior appointment and said he’d call me back
later. Never heard from him again.
I met a poet, a real intellectual artist,
originally from New York, who works as a school administrator in Vallejo. I asked how she liked living in this city. I know poets don’t need a lot of words to
express emotions, but I didn’t expect such a succinct response. “Vallejo
sucks,” she said. And, as if that wasn’t
graphic enough, she added, “Vallejo is Staten Island,” an image she knew I
The auto mechanic who repaired my flat
tire told me he’s been working at the same garage for 17 years. Recently, however, the owner sold his
business and the new boss reduced everyone’s pay and told them if they wanted
health insurance they’d have to get on their own. This mechanic grew up in Vallejo, went to
school here, married and brought up his kids here. His whole family lives in Vallejo. Now he has
a heart condition and has lost all his front teeth. He can’t afford to take care of his heart so
he can get new teeth, and doesn’t know what he can do about it.
A blue-eyed blonde real estate agent, who
grew up in Vallejo, told me she moved to Napa when she got re-married and
blended families. Her second husband’s
from South America and his daughter is black.
The agent has a Mexican son-in-law and grandchildren of various
colors. She said her family stood out
like a sore thumb in Napa, which, in her opinion, is uptight and bigoted, so
they moved back to Vallejo and feel much more comfortable here.
While I love living in an integrated
city, and am ready to take on its challenges, I wish I was more democratic and
tolerant when it comes to art and culture.
After attending the book shop opening on Marin Street, I walked around
the corner to watch the open-mike talent night at the HUB. While I was impressed with the general
enthusiasm, I found some of the work amateurish, and complained to my
He told me my attitude is off the mark:
“It’s better than getting mugged on the street corner, or being accosted by
junkies and prostitutes, which is what used to go on in this neighborhood.”
Wharf rat is right, I’m too
cosmopolitan. I’m going to work on that
when I move to Vallejo.