Thursday, August 9, 2007
I always seem to come to San Benito during times of transition. My first arrival was in 1981, I was six and the local elementary school my parents enrolled me in was the second one I had attended that year (and the third of my short academic career). I was the new kid for the next 12 years, as most of my classmates were either 1) related or 2) had gone to the same preschool. Even as I gave my valedictory speech, looking at nearly the same crowd that had greeted my arrival with a strange combination of hostility and indifference, I was deeply relieved to know that in a few short months I'd be in an entirely different universe.
The second arrival was in 2001, before the Crash, to the home of some generous family friends who put me up for the seven months it took me to find a room in Flip Flop. Some of the dotcom excitement seeped across the Fault and raised a little local wealth. Quite a few more shiny SUVs dominated the narrow roads and some of the artichoke fields were replaced with mcmansions. The town had a shiny appearance, with bistros instead of diners, and boutiques replacing the Mexican markets.
Now I am here again. The prosperity of the turn of the century has worn off like a badly-applied veneer. The streets returned to their old dusty and crumbling selves. The bistros and boutiques are still here, but the wares in the windows are gaudy, grasping a wealthy clientele that disappeared with the Newton.
One of the artichoke farms still dominates the west side of town, and the Italian family who has tilled it for the last 60 years is still there (we can thank/damn Mussolini for that).
[insert thoughtful pause as our writer contemplates that farm, that farm family, the piano lessons, the eggs-and-gossip, the droughts, the floods, the city-actions, the pumpkins lounging like overfed football players, the first artichokes eaten with mayonnaise, the legendary town proclamation forcing all the Italians to move to the west side of town just in case the Japanese attacked, the fat bunches of Swiss chard and the fact that the library computer will shut itself off and this will have to be continued later...]