Note: First published on Blogger on April 27, 2007
Unfolding the Map
We're in the heart of California's Central Valley, moving on down toward LA. Click the map!
"He drove me into buzzing Fresno and let me off by the south side of town. I went for a quick Coke in a little grocery by the tracks, and here came a melancholy Armenian youth along the red boxcars, and just at that moment a locomotive howled, and I said to myself, yes, yes Saroyan's town."
On the Road, Chapter 12
Californians can be very provincial. I'm not sure this isn't like other parts of the United States, and we certainly know that provincialism on a larger scale is known as nationalism and has caused many problems on the international stage. When I write "provincial," I mean an attitude that not only is the place where one is the best place, but also that one has a lack of interest in other places.
I will provide my own mother as an example, who has been a place or two, but who really never left my hometown except for some temporary trips, and who doesn't seem to have a great curiousity about the outside world. But I have more as well. There seems to be a reluctance among many New Orleanians, and having lived there I have found this to be true in many cases, to leave their home and settle in any other place. This can be summed up for two reasons -- one is that New Orleans was and still is a very unique place in our country, but the other is that New Orleanians feel this uniqueness and cannot see themselves in any other place, despite the problems and the difficulties that come with living in New Orleans. This is why post-Katrina, the diaspora was so difficult for many New Orleanians -- they have difficulty adjusting to life outside of New Orleans because of their attitudes, their rootedness to the place and to their social environment.
So, in California, the Bay Area thinks it is THE place to live. All of Northern California is very resentful of Southern California, and Southern Californians feel pretty superior to everyone else.
About the only thing that urban dwellers in California can agree upon is that they can look down upon more rural areas of California, and when I was growing up, going to or living in Fresno (or Bakersfield, which will be considered in the next post) was considered to be a karmic punishment.
Why this is, I don't know. I haven't been to Fresno. But I heard about the blazing hot summers, the thick tule (pronounced too-lee) fog in the mornings that made driving hazardous. The lack of things to do. I bought into these attitudes, but have since learned in my life that making pronouncements about places not only does an injustice to them, but also limits one from ever exploring what they may have to offer. I offer as an example Houston. When I lived in Texas and in New Orleans, everyone pretty much put down Houston. It was hot and humid, it was a concrete jungle, it was too big, you had to drive long distances to do anything. Yes, Houston was these things and more, but we found by exploring it that there are fantastic things in Houston that make some of the inconveniences worth negotiating, like the Art Car Parade, or the Rothko Chapel.
So I try not to bias myself against Fresno or any other place any more. Sure I have my favorites, but everything seems to have at least something to offer. And it is notable that in this particular Kerouac passage, Sal acknowledges that Fresno is the hometown of William Saroyan, who wrote optimistic tales set in some of America's darkest times. If Fresno was such a terrible place, then wouldn't it have made a worse impression on Saroyan? Wouldn't Saroyan's stories and plays be darker?
If you want to learn more about Fresno
California State University - Fresno
City of Fresno
Fresno City and County Historical Society
Fresno Convention and Visitor's Bureau
Wikipedia: William Saroyan
William Saroyan Society
Next up: Bakersfield, California