Note: First published on Blogger on September 24, 2006
We've hit the central valley, Littourati, and are almost within sight of San Francisco. But first, something about California's capitol. Click on the image to see our progress.
"...then down the hills to the flats of Sacramento. I suddenly realized I was in California. Warm, palmy air -- air you can kiss -- and palms. Along the storied Sacramento River on a superhighway..."
On the Road, Chapter 11
Sacramento is the capitol of my home state, and a city I really don't know much about, even though my sister currently lives and works there. Why is this? I think that part of it was my upbringing in rural northern California. One thing that becomes apparent upon a visit to California is that the length of the state allows for very different experiences of environment and cultures wherever you are. You can find urban California, rural California, even redneck California. I grew up in "its sometimes scary where you walk in the woods because some bearded solitary pot grower will shoot you" California. And it becomes apparent when you talk to Californians that they live in their own little microcosms.
Besides that, Sacramento is probably the least flashy of California's urban areas. The downtown is nice but not very impressive. It doesn't have the chic- and plasticness of Los Angeles, nor does it have the countercultural flair of San Francisco. Sacramento is probably California's plainest city, almost perfect to house the massive state bureaucracy. It is very uninteresting to those used to more high-profile California places; even the governor, Schwarzenegger, only goes there when he has to.
However, Sacramento, from the reports of my sister, has a lively music scene, and a laid-back kind of urban atmosphere. The heat in the summer, often triple digits, means that there are few venturing outdoors, but in the winters when the temperatures are cooler (and providing it isn't raining cats and dogs) one will see a cross section of California. It is home to Sacramento State University, a large campus that draws from around the state.
Of course, Sacramento does have a storied tradition about it. It grew up in the gold rush, starting at Sutter's Fort, and was the often the first major stop for those who happened to make it across the Sierra Nevada and into the Golden State. During the gold rush, miners spread out from the city into the streams where they hoped to make a big strike. They built Sacramento by spending money there, enriching Sacramento's coffers as they bought supplies for their expeditions.
In the late 1940s, when Sal passes through in On the Road, Sacramento was much smaller, and probably had a kind of big-small town feeling about it. Of course Sal didn't stop, his eyes firmly fixed on San Francisco, and I'm not sure what he would have found there if he did.
My own experiences in Sacramento have been mostly benign affairs. I usually hang out with my sister in her little downtown apartment. Occasionally we go to some of her favorite places to eat. Unfortunately, she's never taken me to her favorite clubs to see her favorite local bands, but that's mostly been because of my schedule. Like Sal and Jack, when I get to Sacramento, my eyes are usually fixed on some other goal -- like getting to my family's house on the coast, or going down to meet some friends in San Francisco. That has left little time and motivation to explore Sacramento myself.
In a sense, that's the history of Sacramento -- individuals who live there who know and value its secrets and are perfectly willing to let others, their eyes fixed on some other goal, pass through unaware of what they may be missing.
If you want to know more about Sacramento
Next stop: Oakland Bay Bridge