Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Day 168: Newborn Cities
Beaumont to Redlands. 20.2 miles/3248.9 total
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
8:20 a.m. I set out from the Walmart in Beaumont on Second Street, heading for the Walmart in Redlands, just off Redlands Boulevard, 20.2 miles.
It’s a mostly clear day, with some very high cirrus clouds in the western distance. The temperature is about 50, and it feels like it might get up to 60 or so.
Rather than backtrack to the closest street and go under the freeway I have decided to go straight west, cross country, to get to the next street down, Pennsylvania Ave. I’m walking through a plowed field in the direction of the railroad tracks. The morning dew on the grass is soaking my feet, a sensation I haven’t felt since I was in the east.
A pair of Union Pacific freight trains, going in opposite directions, are just clearing the tracks as I reach Pennsylvania. I go up under the interstate to Sixth Street, which was called Ramsey yesterday.
As with Banning, I’m trying to get a feel for Beaumont this morning as I go down what I think is its main thoroughfare. I can say that the population is over 33,000, having tripled since 2000. Both Banning and Beaumont are in the San Gorgonio Pass, a break in the mountains between the coast and points east, and were settled for that reason as stopping off points. Beaumont’s original name, when the railroad came through, was Edgar Pass, and later it became San Gorgonio. In 1912 when it was incorporated it took its present fanciful name, which means “beautiful mountain” in French.
I confess that I do very little planning in connection with my walking. I can make this admission after over 3,200 miles, as if no one has noticed. I like to see things unfold in front of me as much as possible, and even though I could Google various routes and avoid surprises and study up on places beforehand, often I haven’t found out much about where I am. If I supply data about a place, chances are that I have discovered it in the process of transcribing the day’s recording. Of course I have my route planned out, but if that turns out not to have been a good choice, there’s not much I can do about it once I’ve begun. The main point is, and always has been, to go west.
I pass the Beaumont Civic Center, so I’m probably in the center of the city. It was originally a lower middle class town, at least this part of it. Trailer parks dot the way. Various of the scruffier types are up already and shuffling down the street or hanging out in front of liquor stores, smoking and joking and coughing.
At the corner of Sixth Street and Beaumont Avenue, in front of the Yum Yum Donut place, I catch sight of the Cross-Carrying Dude again. He has paused at the intersection. He’s a curious combination of the old and the new—an old fashioned ascetic hauling the cross of Christ, but with a little wheel on the bottom. And he’s talking on his cell phone. He’s about 65 or 70, with a beard and a cowboy hat. In fact, he reminds me a little of the Naked Book Guy, though the Naked Book Guy would never do anything as crass as walk the streets with a cross. In any event, it’s evident that he isn’t on a long-distance trek, but rather making a circuit of some kind. Yesterday he was heading east on Ramsey, and now he’s a few miles west of that spot, coming down from the north. A local loony.
Some of my readers are no doubt wishing that I would go over and chat him up. And this, I suppose, is one of the flaws in my modus operandi on this journey. I feel very little desire to do things like that. I’d rather live in my imaginary world regarding these people.
In fact, I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how little I do to make this walk interesting in a peripatetic wandering journalist kind of way. I am content to let things unfold in front of me on the narrow path I travel, and if something happens to be there in front of me, I might check it out or Google it later. But really, whatever I do see mostly serves the purpose of putting the stuff that’s already floating around in my head into some context. A place could be one of the most wonderful communities in all of the Inland Empire, as they call this part of California, but if a sign doesn’t say that the fact will be lost on me.
One thing I should mention about Beaumont, gleaned not on the walk itself but later from the internet, is that it has been the shooting locale of some TV shows and movies. A few episodes of “My Name is Earl” were filmed on location here, as well as some of the opening scenes. The liquor store where he buys the winning lottery ticket, the car wash, and the scene where he gets hit by a car were all filmed back near Sixth Street and Pennsylvania. And here’s a tidbit that I defy anyone to top: professional wrestler Gorgeous George had a turkey ranch in Beaumont in the 50s and 60s.
I pass a Mexican restaurant that advertises the availability of menudo on Sundays. I will report that I partook of menudo for the first time this past Sunday, on the day it was rainy and windy and I didn’t walk. For those who aren’t familiar with it, menudo is a thick soup made from beef tripe, other lesser cuts of stewing beef, tomatoes, hominy, and several other ingredients. It was served to me with diced onions, cilantro, oregano, and dried red pepper on the side. Once you get past the rather intestinal smell of it, it’s not bad. The tripe has a nice chewiness and texture on the tongue. Menudo is one those dishes that evokes the shitty way people had to eat when they were peons, because frankly a bowl of beef fat and tripe isn’t really a delicacy. Like chitterlings, it is made from parts of the animal that are pretty unpalatable unless you're French or Asian. This is what people like about it, because it reminds them of their roots. I wouldn’t turn it down if it were offered to me, but I wouldn’t order it again.
Sixth Street has ended, and I cut up to Eighth Street. I’m now going through the western outskirts of Beaumont, where a great deal of recent development has occurred, transforming this city, at least partially, into an upscale suburb. It's hundreds of acres of planned developments containing handsome two-story houses, going on for a mile or two, barricaded from the interstate by brick walls on both sides of the street. Bushes with a profusion of red berries grow along the walls. Trees with reddish bark and willowy leaves grow between the bushes.
When people ask me what's the most interesting thing I’ve seen, I always have difficulty answering, because it’s all interesting in context. I really don’t think that way. I love museums, of course, and cemeteries, and parks, but they are really comfort food for the mind. What interests me most is seeing the way people live every day in these places—trying to put myself into the scene in its most mundane aspects. Urine and litter-soaked alleyways, a species of tree or bush that’s new to me, a new landscape or vista. Moreover, once I’ve transcribed the notes from one day and finished the blog, I tend to put it into the back of my mind. I can’t afford to bask in the bright light of yesterday’s walk, but must look forward to the one at hand. Every day has new promises, both of different things and of the sameness and fatigue of putting one foot in front of the other more than 40,000 times before it’s over. At some point I’ll go back and read the blog, and then maybe I’ll remember some of the details.
It’s been about 3 miles since I began today, and my feet have almost dried out. The morning chill is beginning to wear off. Suddenly this street comes to an end, too, and once again I’m going out into the fields, this time down a steep hill and back up. At 4.2 miles I get to Oak Valley Road, and take that over to the south side of the highway to find a paved access road.
I’ve always been fascinated by expressways and busy roads. It goes back to when my father used to take me across Dixie Highway to the post office in Drayton Plains. It was a busy four-lane road, and he’d always cross between intersections, walking briskly across the first two lanes then standing on the yellow line while traffic cleared in the other direction. None of that going to the light and waiting for the “walk” sign for him. And since I did it with him, I felt deliciously complicit in this recklessness of an otherwise cautious man. Heady stuff for a small boy.
In recent years I’ve taken to fantasizing about living in the broad wooded areas that sometimes appear in the middle of expressways. Some of them are so large that I’m sure you could burrow down and dig a great house there, unbeknownst to anyone. Who checks these pieces of land? In my mind I have dug large underground multi-roomed places complete with generators, and have lived absolutely undetected, all the while surrounded by traffic. Mutant raccoons and deer, cut off for generations from access to the outside world, are my faithful companions. And I get to trot across the freeway to and from my house. I wonder if anyone has ever done that. Sure, living under highway bridges in cities is almost a cliché, but has anyone ever lived in the middle of an expressway?
Down here along the access road things are pretty well staked out for development. Neighborhoods and golf courses in the making. Years from now these places will be shady and verdant, but for now they’re all rooftops. Knowing that this newness someday will be old, and that the old places will eventually be torn down to make way for new ones, I regard these suburban developments not with disdain, but rather with the curiosity and affection one might show to a newborn baby, realizing that in its infancy it’s not fully formed, but will someday probably become a serviceable adult. Knowing also that as with human beings, some neighborhoods grow up to be great, some merely respectable, and most lead lives of quiet mediocrity. Some, ill conceived and ill nurtured, grow up to be bad, and some are scarred or die through accident and circumstances utterly unforeseen at the time of their birth. Newborn cities and towns.
I come to Desert Lawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park. I venture into the front section and see some of the older graves, flat against the ground. I stop to contemplate and to honor some of the dead, most of whom are visited only seldom. Here's Howard Purnell, who lived from 1945 to 2009. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." There's nothing like the comfort of a self-fulfilling Beatitude in the hour of grief. Then I go on.
At 6.7 miles I come to Cherry Valley Road, and continue on this access road on the south side. A mile or so later I find that I’m on the edge of a broad meadow in which cattle graze. Beyond, in the haze, are a couple of snow-peaked mountains whose names I can’t find on the map, the area being designated simply as The Badlands. But they look pretty damn good to me, so green and pastoral. I could pinpoint this spot and tell people to come an see it, but very soon the scene will change, as it does here, where the road comes to an end once again.
I go over the freeway again to start walking on Calimesa Road, through the city of Calimesa. This is a small, recently incorporated town of about 7,500 people, out at the edge of Riverside County. And at 10 miles I enter San Bernardino County, having reached the end of Calimesa and the end of the county I’ve been in for the 175 miles since I entered California. This must be a record for me for total miles walked within a county. In fact, I walked less in several of the states I’ve been through than I have in Riverside County. So farewell, and hail to San Bernardino County, the largest county in the continental United States. But I’ll only be walking across a bit of its western edge, and will be out of it in a day or two.
I’m walking through another little space between towns. At about 11 miles the road takes a sharp turn away from the interstate, and I choose to remain close to the highway on Dunlap Road, through part of Yucaipa, whose name comes from “Yucaipat,” a word in the Serrano Indian language meaning green valley.
At 13.6 miles I cross over Yucaipa Boulevard, remaining on the north side of I-10. Soon I find myself in another sticky wicket, the road having ended. This time my options are limited. The chainlink fences on either side of the freeway are tall and unstable and not as easily climbed as the four-foot barbed wire ones were, and in the middle of the highway is only a narrow row of Jersey barriers with heavy traffic in both directions, a challenge even to that daring dodger, the Rev. W. J. Teeuwissen, Jr. So I strike out cross country toward some steep hills scarred with dusty trails.
I pause to catch my breath at the top of the first hill, then notice a road that it winds around to the right on the north side of the next one. After walking sideways down the hill, mountain goat style, I find the path that takes me through to the next paved road, about two miles hence. This circuit probably added at least a half mile to the walk.
Now I’m on Reservoir Road, within the City of Redlands, walking next to an orange grove. I reach up and pluck one off the tree and eat it. It's perfectly ripe and delicious. That, I imagine, is what Eve said.
At about 16 miles I come to an underpass and go to the south side of the interstate for the last time, to begin walking on Redlands Boulevard. I stop to pick up a penny, which brings my total in California up to three cents so far.
Redlands is a prosperous city of about 70,000, with the feel of a university town. It nickname is “The Jewel of the Inland Empire.” It is home to the University of Redlands, a school of about 4,500 students started in 1907 as a Baptist college. Redlands is nicely landscaped, and at one time was known for the visual charm of its downtown.
The first Europeans to settle in the area were Spanish missionaries, among them Father Francisco Dumetz, who in 1810 named the area the San Bernardino Valley. Franciscan priests established a mission, the San Bernardino Assistencia, and proceeded to do what they did best, which was to try to convince the local Indians to adopt a religion they had no use for. Later Mormons came to the area, but didn’t stay long.
This is a city of big fat churches and high end housing. I pass Redlands High School, home of the Terriers. The downtown, which I’m approaching, is a nice eclectic little collection of gas stations and independent burger joints. On the Chase bank there’s a sort of mosaic mural showing three Victorian-looking scenes, of women in bustles and funny hats and of a man picking oranges from a ladder. For the Anglos, the city was pretty much kick started by the arrival of the railroads in the 1880s. Later it was a stop on the interurban electric railway between Los Angeles and San Bernardino. People would come out here to vacation. Now they come to stay.
On the western end of town I come to some large trees planted next to the sidewalk, another species I can’t identify, for which I beg the assistance of my readers. They have oblong leaves resembling those of a live oak, and the leaves are on them now. The bark is reddish brown and shaggy, but peels off to reveal a smooth mottled tan underneath. They grow very large, some of the trunks being three feet in diameter.
Down at the corner of Redlands Boulevard and New Jersey Street is the U.S. Postal Service San Bernardino processing and distribution center, a gigantic facility. I take a right and the discreetly placed Walmart comes into view.