Friday, February 4, 2011
Day 170: Whoa
Fontana to Glendora. 19.7 miles/3287.8 total
Friday, February 3, 2011
8:40 a.m. I leave the WinCo supermarket parking lot on Foothill in Fontana, heading west for 19.7 miles to Glendora.
It’s another cloudless day, with faint brown haze in the western distance. The temperature is in the high 40s, expected to get into the mid-60s
Things are looking pretty chipper down here at the western end of Fontana, although the last vestiges of a once more modest past remain, like this little pink stucco ten-room motel now used as permanent housing.
At 1.4 miles I enter Rancho Cucamonga, a city whose name I have always enjoyed saying. It’s a big one, with about 177,000 people. Another very densely populated chunk of pure suburban living. I think the “Rancho” is a recent addition to the name, although there was no doubt a rancho before there was a town, but adding that may have been an attempt to make it sound a little less silly, and less like “Kowabunga.”
There’s no denying the homogeneity of these instant neighborhoods, even when the builders give a small nod in the direction of variety by making them slightly different colors and in several different basic styles. The need for housing and the tremendous popularity of these areas, accessible by freeway to Los Angeles but far enough out to have a little character of their own, just fuels the growth. And these new neighborhoods serve another important function: they give people in older, shadier areas something to look down their noses at--to say “Oh Gawd, I’m so glad I don’t live there.”
Although I know it exists, I really don’t understand, intellectually or emotionally, the pride or satisfaction of living in one city as opposed to another one. The quest for the perfect place to live is a middle class preoccupation that’s nevertheless real, even if it's a bit embarrassing to think about. I suppose it’s what brought most of our ancestors to this country in the first place, though their considerations were more than just whether the neighborhood was shady or not. And this search for the perfect home is why so many people live in California. This is the last stop, except for Hawaii, in the quest for a better place to live within the United States. Ironically, the fact that this quest is so universal has made this one of the most densely populated spots in the country.
I pass the Rancho Cucamonga Walmart, where I spent two nights. I was informed by the security guard on the second morning that I should only have stayed one night. Oh well. That was a first in my long journey, although in the previous Walmart, in Redlands, I was told that I could park overnight on the street next to the store parking lot, but not in the lot itself. And last night I experienced yet another and even more ignominious first. In Upland I was told by the security guard that I should not stay at the Walmart, or the police would give me a ticket. In both Upland and Redlands, the rent-a-guards were quick to point out that Walmart itself had absolutely no problem with my staying; it was the police and the city who objected. All this is a disturbing recent development that has me wondering, after all these months and all the friendly Walmarts I’ve stayed in, why greater Los Angeles has a bug up its ass about overnight parking at Walmart. I really can’t think how it would matter to the municipalities, especially if it doesn’t matter to the store itself.
I guess there are some people who find the idea that people in recreational vehicles might stop and park overnight to be unseemly. Maybe they think of us as Gypsies or something, out to steal money and babies from the locals. There is a bright side to all this, though. It’s obvious that any town where the police would come and give tickets to people like me for parking overnight in Walmart doesn’t have much crime, or the cops would be busy elsewhere. So good for Upland and Redlands.
Despite these glitches, I remain stalwart in my praise of Walmart for its generosity in this regard, though I'm beginning to have my doubts about these southern California communities.
So, what of Rancho Cucamonga, at least the part I’m going through? Strip malls, business parks, office parks, housing developments. That accounts for the bulk of the Rancho Cucamonga of today. Whenever I say “Cucamonga” I invariably think of a 45rpm record that came out in the late 50s, called “The Battle of Cucamonga.” It was a parody of another popular song of the time, “The Battle of New Orleans.” Its refrain went as follows:
We’re the boys of Camp Cucamonga
Our mothers sent us here for to study nature’s ways.
We learn to make sparks by rubbing sticks together,
But if we catch the girls then we’ll set the woods ablaze.
I come to a little display in front of a shopping center, called Vinter’s Walk. Several plaques tell of the history of wine grape growing in this area. In the 1860s there was a Cucamonga Rancho where grapes were grown, owned by a man named John Rains. He was murdered in 1862 and his widow was bought out by Isaias Hellman, a German. He in turn sold the lands to investors. People from Italy and France came to make wine. Irrigation from the San Bernardino Mountains was brought in, and more and more people began to set up wineries around here, along with citrus and nut farms. The name Cucamonga comes from the local Kucamongan Indians. Always the last thing left, after the Indians have vanished, is the name.
If Rancho Cucamonga has a seamy side it has the good sense to keep it well hidden from Foothill Boulevard. Years from now this area will be an example of early 21st century California strip mall architecture and people will object to buildings being torn down because they’re gems of the period. There will be architectural conservancies to see that they stay up. I’d love to be around in the year 2100, first because I’d simply love to hang around that long, and second because it would be interesting to see what lasts. Some of the commercial architecture of the 1990s and 2000s, Asian influenced with pagoda-curved roofs and wide overhangs, looks as if it might survive.
At 8 miles I enter Upland, the town whose Walmart I was run out of last night. It’s a little more green and shady than Rancho Cucamonga was, but otherwise appears about the same. In the center of town, at Euclid Avenue, stands a statue put up by the D.A.R. to commemorate the pioneer women, part of a series of sculptures called Madonna of the Trail. Upland, a city of 70,000, was incorporated in 1906, after previously being called North Ontario. More citrus fruit and grape cultivation here, giving way to suburban development.
At 12.2 miles I leave Upland and enter Claremont, and more importantly, Los Angeles County. So this is it. The last county on the journey. I pause for a moment to reflect on all the counties I’ve been through since leaving Kent County in Michigan—dozens, if not hundreds. True, this is only my third one in California, but further east they came thick and fast. There was desolate Borden County, Texas, where the population was only a few hundred. The Spanish moss of the parishes of Louisiana. The Mississippi delta counties with their dark bottom lands. The sturdy corn-growing sameness of the counties of Indiana and Illinois. But it all comes down to this.
What greet me as I enter Claremont are the campuses of Pitzer College and Harvey Mudd College, right next to each other along the south side of Foothill. The road is lined with those huge trees with the sinuous gray-tan trunks, sometimes with shaggy reddish outer bark peeling off them. I stop to ask a learned-looking man on the street what these trees are, and he tells me they’re eucalyptus trees, brought in originally from Australia. Of course. I pick up a leaf and crush it. It’s sticky and smells like, well, you guessed it. So that tree mystery is solved.
Clarement is known as a college town, and its nickname is the City of Trees and PhDs. It has several institutions of higher education—Pitzer, Harvey Mudd, Pomona College, Scripps College, and Claremont McKenna College; and two graduate institutes. In addition there is the Claremont School of Theology, affiliated with the United Methodist Church. So that’s the big thing here in this city of 37,000.
And whether or not it's the power of suggestion, the way Foothill is dotted with apartment complexes and nice older houses reminds me of Ann Arbor.
As I pass Claremont School of Theology it occurs to me that there are few pursuits more pointless than the study of what’s going on in God’s head. Clearly an avocation for those who have far too much time on their hands.
At 14.2 miles I leave Claremont. I was only there for two miles and I realize I saw just the tip of the iceberg. Now I’m in Pomona, but only for a short time, too. Pomona is a large community, with about 170,000 people. It’s the site of the Los Angeles County Fair. It was named for Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit.
After only a mile in Pomona I cross into LaVerne, population 31,000. It was first settled by a Mexican landholder named Ygnacio Palomares in the 1830s, then after California became part of the U.S. the land was gradually dealt off to Anglos, becoming parts of this town and neighboring Pomona, Claremont, San Dimas, and Glendora.
After about three miles in LaVerne I pass into yet another town, San Dimas. I’m in the San Gabriel Valley. San Dimas became a major citrus growing and packing center, and the name “Sunkist” was begun here. The name San Dimas, which was adopted in the late 19th century, is Spanish for Saint Dismas, the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus.
Perhaps no greater claim to fame exists for San Dimas than that it was the setting for the 1989 movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” starring Keanu Reeves as Ted and featuring George Carlin. Set in San Dimas and telling the story of two slackers from San Dimas High School who engage in time travel in order to complete a school history project, the movie occupies a place midway between “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Wayne’s World.” Whoa. And so San Dimas occupies a special place in my imagination.
The first thing to greet me in San Dimas is the smell of horse shit. I look across the street to see the Equestrian Center, surrounded by white railed horse fencing. Apparently this is a horsy town, featuring mounted rides up into the mountains. On the lampposts hang banners naming young citizens of the town who are in various branches of the military, calling them “San Dimas Heroes.” I look in vain for the names of Bill and Ted, and conclude that they were smart enough not to go into the service. But had they done so, I’m sure they would have wanted to be in the cavalry, what with all these horses. Also, the name of the heavy metal band that existed in their imaginations was the Wyld Stallyns, which consisted of the two of them and the instruments they couldn’t play yet.
I won’t go through the center of San Dimas, which lies to the south. Foothill is a little hillier here than in other towns. Up on the foothills themselves perch large houses, isolated in their splendor.
At 19.5 miles I reach Amelia Avenue, and the dividing line between San Dimas and Glendora. I walk across into the eighth municipality I’ve been in today. That could be a record for me.
The air conditioner of the motor home comes into view in front of an empty store just on the other side of Ameila, in a parking lot festooned with No Parking Under Penalty of Death signs, which is at least half full of vehicles.