I feel very fortunate to have grown up in the Boston area. Even through the worst of times growing up (and there were plenty), I was convinced that there was no more perfect city for me to be living in. It was my ancestors’ hometown. From the first day of their arrivals from Ireland, they called no other city home.
My mom was a Jamaica Plain native, my dad from Winthrop. Their parents and grandparents fought in the Civil War, ran tugboat crews, chased Pancho Villa over the border, and worked wards for a guy named James Michael Curley. My mom worked at Filene’s and Jordan Marsh; my dad delivered heating oil to the homes of Carl Yastrzemski and Rico Petrocelli. Thanks to my life in that area, I have fond memories of Fenway Park, the Boston Garden, the Rat, the Channel, Harvard Square, and a chaotic road trip down to NYC to see the Clash at Bond’s. Even field trips as an elementary school student involved places that other kids only read about during their American History classes.
If I could do it all over again, I would grow up in no other city.
What I’m writing about here isn’t about Boston, however.
It’s about my current home city.
I have lived as a grown man in Sacramento, California for 32 years. I have spent a couple of years in Oak Park, a few in Colonial Heights, and a short stretch in Del Paso Heights. Most of my years here have been right smack dab in the middle of Midtown, in five different residences within a six block radius. I currently live in a neighborhood named Marshall School, three blocks and a freeway overpass away from a city park where I saw my first punk band show, sang my own music in its hall, got drunk in numerous times at night, and eventually got married in its Rose Garden.
I got to Sacramento in 1984 with my first wife and serious delusions of a fresh start. She had screwed around on me with a mutual friend, we split up and, in pure 1980’s Brat Pack film action, I went over to her new paramour’s place and walked into her bedroom (drunk) while she was nekkid in bed with him to ask her to get back with me. She did. Funded for tickets by her family, we caught a plane to SFO about three days later.
I made a lot of friends and got involved in a lot of art and music. Unfortunately, the marriage slogged on for almost seven years and in hindsight, I never should have stepped up to try and reconcile back in Boston, and should have simply let her go to Sacramento alone. Déjà vu. She screwed around with a mutual friend once again and this time drained the bank account. Eventually, I ended up living on the streets. After some time, I found a place to live, began to pull some work here and there, and started making a decent living, at least for my own personal standards. I did all of that "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" bullshit and then some. I got married again, and divorced again, though the second divorce wasn’t even remotely as ugly as the first. I kept working and making money and life goes on.
The reason I’m sharing this information is not to pour out details of my personal life to you or even embarrass any of the aforementioned parties. I’m telling you about all of this because I feel that it is important to assure you that I am, and have been, a longtime resident of Sacramento simply because that is what the circumstances of my life led me to do.
I did not come to this city to buy and sell land, or try to make a career out of vacuous homer cheerleading (and, I must clarify, by that I mean literally move to Sacramento and try to make money promoting the city, aka carpetbagging) and, most certainly, I did not move to Sacramento to make money in any various form to promote, or give blind groupie-like allegiance in any form to, the Sacramento Kings.
As a matter of fact, when I moved here to Sacramento in 1984, there were no Sacramento Kings. There was no light rail transit, no high speed internet or wifi, and cable television lines were barely getting up and running. There were, however, some breathless blowhards whose job it was to tell you about how Sacramento was destined to become a world class city and a bunch of new building developments were going to usher in a new era of pride and blah blah blah, rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric. Nothing but flowery words. There just happens to be much more of those people crawling around today by the hundredfold.
And to be perfectly honest, there are three big reasons why I would never be a Sacramento Kings fan:
1 1. As I said, when I moved here, there were no Kings. This team is just a childhood memory of easy Celtics wins viewed on a black and white TV in my bedroom as I tried to fall asleep on a school night (Kemper Arena games started late in my time zone).
2. What? Give up on the Celtics? Are you fuckin’ nuts?
I 3. I grew up in the first American city that stood up to the reigning King. There is no way in hell I am going to root for any kings, period.
As my title implies, this is intended to be an open letter to those of you outside of Sacramento. An open letter was already written to the local residents by the same kind of opportunist carpetbagger I had described to you earlier.
In it, he was trying to play Mother Superior to the people of Sacramento by admonishing them not to say anything bad about our city because there’s a big ass giant covered fruit bowl arena opening downtown with a hideous sculpture in its plaza by a world famous artist whose early claim to fame was photos with his then-porno star wife bought by an Indian tech tycoon who thinks that he can help his team win because he coached his daughter’s middle-school squad and the city run by its teen lusting mayor pitched in some cash for the ugly public art and we don’t want any outsiders to get a bad impression so go spend money and smile all the time and shut up and buy.
To which I say, fuck that guy.
Nobody has the right in this country to even so much as attempt to coerce the general public to suppress dissent in the public arena, whether by legal or illegal means. If anyone tried to stop me from speaking my mind, especially if said parties resorted to physical violence, I would use every possible means at my disposal to smack right back at them and teach them an important lesson about civilized public discourse.
In that sense, I’m going to tell you the truth about this city, right now.
There are many good things about Sacramento now that I have witnessed, and there has been in the past. Hey, the trees, that alone! Not just that, of course. This is a city where creative working class people have somehow created unique and interesting stuff for the participation and enjoyment of other unique and interesting people. Music and art festivals and related activities abound, such as the Norcal Noisefest, the Porchfest in Midtown (a similar event is held every year in my mom’s old Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain) and other events that are somehow organized and operated by folks whose only interest is making something worthwhile happen. In short, over the years, Sacramento has been a city where people who are unusual and unique can be free to be unusual and unique. I can't say I love living in the city, but there's a lot I've seen in Sacramento that I have really liked.
If the current crop of self-made movers and shakers tying to take over this city have their way, that will change, and not for the better.
They want you to think that there is some sort of vibrant “world class city” core and if you move to Sacramento or even visit, a winged talking unicorn will greet you at the Tower Bridge or Terminal B at Sac International and carry you into a magic journey through a Jeff Koons illustrated wonderland of phantasmagorical whimsy and boundless slurping of magic purple nectar, the likes of which you will not see even in your wildest idea of the afterlife.
In reality, Sacramento is more or less just another American city of its population size. In terms of the major economic players, it’s pretty much only two things:
2. A real estate racket.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, in the mainstream conformist circles of this city is going to break it down that simply to you. Especially not the local daily newspaper, since their parent company has been trying to dump more real estate properties recently than the total dead bodies found on Dorothea Puente’s property. Their blowhard paid mouthpiece for the land barons and homer merchants would absolutely roll over and pee himself writing yet one more business-friendly manifesto extolling the noble mission of the Sac Metro Chamber of Commerce and throw down praise at the usual list of elitist conspirators just to refute my take.
This is a city where, currently, real estate speculators have scooped up properties, tried to turn them for a profit, and generally, don’t give a fuck about what gets built on them. They convince businesses to pay the increasingly ridiculous sale prices and rents, and then the businesses panic to pay the bills and goosestep right along with the “New Era of Proud” hymn. Then there are the residential properties. Working class renters in existing places are being increasingly priced out of the market by landlords who have been gobbling down way too much of the arena Kool-Aid and think that their rentals will be populated by starry eyed yuppie scum moving in from the Bay Area to revel in New World City success and glory. Some new properties are overpriced Family Affair styled monstrosities that no one in their right mind would find to be an attractive home destination. They put up targeted billboards around town with generic pictures of “residents” for their new developments. On one development ad, what seems like a vaguely hipster slightly pre-millennial straight couple, and in another, what seems to imply a pair of… either dudebro roomates or a gay couple; I’m honestly not sure which.
Somehow, the vision of this new civic junta seems to think that the appearance of a “World Class City” depends upon meeting as many unnecessarily expensive and generic benchmarks as possible. Practically everything that makes this city unique and defines the best qualities of its historic cultural legacy is being slowly destroyed. These people are not going to stop until the soul of this city is being completely raped, pillaged, and plundered into their bank accounts.
Personally, the only hope I seem to have anymore is my ability over time to outlive things. If there’s one thing that I have proved to myself over the course of my life, it’s that I have an ability to survive. I can only hope that, in regards to the current state of affairs in Sacramento that this is just one more unpleasant era of occurrences to outlive. Still, I don’t see any reason to leave. My life has been invested here for over half of my years here on Earth.
Still, I’m starting to look at other cities and some of them do look a lot better at this point. Unlike what Sacramento is rapidly turning into, at least other cities still seem to be part of the United States, where it won’t be an attitude of “embrace the local leadership’s world class vision, or get out”. The new insurgents attempting to pull a ruling junta in Sacramento better hope that they are not encouraging a lot of people like me to consider an exit. But then again, when your life is defined by profit, propaganda, and vacant homeland huckstering in lieu of actual skills and talents, any old rube (with money to spend) to replace me will do. Hopefully, in the event that I ever do have to leave this city, I can join the world in watching their cheesy carnival scam all falling to bits, gloriously.
And for those of you who have been living in Sacramento all your lives, especially who weren't even born when I arrived here, who want to turn this into a pissing contest, go on. I'm done here. Respond if you need to. I'll wait.