Thursday, February 3, 2011
Day 169: The Inland Empire
Redlands to Fontana. 19.2 miles/3268.1 total
Thursday, February 3, 2011
8:52 a.m. It’s a cloudless day with a smudge of smog far to the west over the big city as I head out from the Walmart parking lot in Redlands, down Redlands Boulevard a few miles to Waterman, then north into the center of San Bernardino and west again on old Route 66, ending today’s walk in Fontana. It’ll be 19.2 miles.
I had another unscheduled day off due to weather yesterday. It was high winds, up to 35 miles an hour. But they’ve died down and things are just breezy now. It’s about 50, with the temperature climbing to 60 by afternoon here in the Inland Empire. That designation, by the way, is an informal one given to the areas around Riverside and San Bernardino to distinguish them from the coastal parts of southern California. At one time this was a major agricultural center--citrus, vineyards, vegetables--but much less so now because it’s becoming so built up and suburban. The question is, suburban with respect to what? Are these suburbs of San Bernardino or Los Angeles? They're pretty far out from L.A., and some of them rival San Bernardino in population. I think the answer is they're just suburbs.
Very soon after I start down the road I leave Redlands and enter Loma Linda, a somewhat more countrified place than its neighbor. It was only incorporated in 1970, and has a population of about 22,000. Loma Linda University is a center for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Also, according to Wikipedia, Loma Linda was listed by National Geographic as one of the three places in the world with the highest longevity. Don’t know if there’s a connection between the sabbatarians and long life. They do encourage vegetarianism, for what that’s worth.
Citrus trees grow matter-of-factly in all of southern California, in groves or in lines or stands alongside the roads or in people's yards. It’s no problem to reach up and pluck an orange off a tree as one is walking by, and I do so this morning again, cutting it open with my trusty Winchester pocket knife, which has had many uses on this journey and has served me well. Of course the oranges belong to someone and I’m technically stealing this one. It’s the kind of thing that in another day and age a Jean Valjean would have gone to prison for, or that would precipitated the Peach Tree War between the Dutch and the Indians involving my less-than-illustrious ancestor Cornelis Van Tienhoven. But there really is so much fruit on the trees and lying on the ground going to waste that it's a shame not to take some.
At 3.2 miles I reach Waterman Avenue and turn north into San Bernardino. I pass the San Bernardino Golf Club and head up toward the center of town. At Fifth Street, at about 6 miles, I turn left. The first thing I go by is a large park. Here my slightly eccentric getup, with the walking vest, blends in well with the garb of the various shopping cart people and other marginal hangers on who carry things in all their pockets and also have improbably large garbage bags of stuff and shuffle around rooting for yet more stuff. They fill the park and the sidewalk alongside it, eyeing me appraisingly as I stroll by. Look at all those pockets, they're probably thinking.
San Bernardino is a city of about 210,000, and the seat of San Bernardino County. The city was officially founded in 1851 by Mormons, but they were recalled to Utah by Brigham Young in 1857. Meanwhile San Bernardino was incorporated and began to grow as a commercial hub--railroads, highways, the usual. There’s a lot going on here, and it would be difficult to give anything but a passing nod to most of it. I will say that it is the birthplace of Gene Hackman, and also where Richard and Maurice McDonald started McDonald’s in the 1940s, beginning the concept of the fast food restaurant. Of course it was Ray Kroc who opened a franchise in Illinois in 1955 and eventually bought out the brothers.
San Bernardino is also a city along historic Route 66, and the famous Bobby Troup song “Route 66” mentions this among the cities through which the highway winds. Troup wrote the song in 1946, two decades before he became a doctor at Rampart Hospital in the TV show Emergency!, in which his wife, torch singer Julie London, also starred as a nurse. “Rampart, this is Squad 51. We have a white male, about 61, with an apparent heart attack. Patient is diaphoretic, his pulse is 120 and his blood pressure is 90 over 50.” In response to which Bobby Troup would invariably say, “Squad 51, this is Rampart. Start an IV of D5W and transport immediately.”
And it is on Route 66 that I am walking at this very moment, as I pause to read a plaque in front of a black iron fence surrounding a mound of grass. It says that here once stood the Martin Adobe House. It was the home of the Moses Martin family, Mormons, and was built in something called the Mormon adobe style. Nothing remains but this plaque and I'd like to see an example of the style.
At Fifth and D Street I come to the main U.S. Post Office, a handsome white Spanish colonial building that looks as if it dates from the 1930s, when public architecture in this country was at its zenith.
At E Street I decide to go south toward the what looks like the center of town. At Fourth I come to Theater Square, between the Rosa Parks Memorial State Office Building and the California Theater. I go down another block to Court Street and arrive at another park. Several more interesting old buildings and a fountain.
I strike back west, cutting through the parking lot of the Carousel Mall. My little detour to downtown has gotten me into a bit of a bind. Instead of being able to go straight back up to Fifth, I have to stay on Third Street for a bit because a gigantic railroad freight yard, at least a mile long and half a mile wide, is between Third and Fifth and there’s no way to go through it here. This takes me past the San Bernardino Santa Fe Railroad Depot, still operating as a passenger station but undergoing extensive restoration. The station was built in 1909 in a Spanish mission style. I go in to use the rest room, which has a nice old fashioned panache to it, with lots of octagonal tile work. There’s a railroad museum here, too, but it’s only open on Saturdays.
At last I find a street that bridges the freight yard and I get back up to Fifth. Going out of town I pass one of those great wide concrete ditches you see in the movies where the boys race cars while the girls watch, in their poodle skirts and pony tails.
At Macy Street I notice the road is now called Foothill. Still historic Route 66, and those signs are beginning to pop up all over the place, on motels, old restaurants, and businesses. I come to the Wigwam Motel, which consists of a couple dozen free-standing tepee-shaped units about fifteen feet in diameter and about twenty feet high. The signs in front say “Welcome Route 66 Travelers” and "Get Your Kicks on Route 66."
Just past the Wigwam I leave San Bernardino and enter Rialto. Rialto is nothing to sneeze at, with over 93,000 people. It was incorporated in 1911, but has been around for about as long as San Bernardino, although it didn’t start shooting up in population until about thirty years ago. A city of warehouses and distributions centers, and increasingly, subdivisions.
For the most part Foothills has all the same things you’ll find anywhere else in America along those busy strips we all love to hate. So those of you from elsewhere might be asking yourselves what’s different about a street like this in southern California from one in, say, Michigan, aside from the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains to the north and the palm trees everywhere and the spiky junipers standing like green upside down icicles and the warm weather in early February. What about the businesses themselves? On the whole there isn’t much difference. They’ve got all the big box stores you can think of, all the chain retailers (except Meijer), all the fast food places. Okay, no Culver’s. But how are they different? Well for one thing, take the Mexican restaurants in your town and multiply them by ten, and multiply the Asian restaurants by about five. And add In-N-Out Burger, Baker’s Restaurants, Yum Yum Donuts, Stater Bros., smog check stations, increase the gas prices by about 15%, and you’ve got southern California.
At 14.4 miles, at Maple Avenue, I leave Rialto and enter Fontana. Fontana, founded in 1913, is another very large town that took off in population and went from 87,000 in 1990 to over 190,000 today. Before World War II it was an agricultural area with citrus and vineyards and chicken farms, but then during the war Henry J. Kaiser built the only steel mill west of the Mississippi just outside the city limits.
Fontana seems to have a marked tendency toward working-class housing, with lots of shabby and forlorn little one-story half-ranches and trailer parks and manufactured home villages a half mile back from Foothill in either direction. The stores along the boulevard are from the 1950s, and scattered far apart, and many of them are empty and dilapidated or boarded up. Empty bottles lie in vacant lots behind chain link fences that collect trash at the bottoms. Then in spots there are modern strip malls and Starbucks and Walgreens and neighborhoods of newer two-story houses.
Fontana seems to be struggling with itself to become more middle class, and it's gradually winning the battle. After a few miles Foothill divides into a boulevard with royal palms running down the middle. Then there’s a mile or so of empty land and more trailer parks in the distance behind it.
The cross streets are named for trees—Maple, Sycamore, Sierra, Juniper, Citrus, Redwood, and finally Cherry, at the corner of which is a McDonald’s Chevron combination, and just behind that, in the WinCo parking lot, the motor home.
And speaking of trees, the ones I couldn’t identify that I saw in Redlands, and have seen all along the road since then, may be California laurels.