By most standards you read in the paper, the San Joaquin Valley is a mess, but a necessary one, as a huge percentage of the nation’s food comes from here. We’re learning that the complex irrigation system is not sustainable, and the region is experiencing a significant drought, with large swaths of land being pulled out of production.
The small towns on the east side of the valley were home to some of the worst sub-prime mortgage disasters, and both the foreclosure rates and unemployment rates are among the highest in the country, and that hardly includes the large number of migrant workers, who aren’t going to show up in these tallies. If our economic downturn is a depression anywhere, it’s here.
With Vic in a conference for three days, I took the opportunity to drive out to Hanford, a small city south of Fresno. My grandfather is in a nursing home in Hanford, and I’ve got a bit of extended family living there. I guess I was expecting it to be boarded-up and shut down, with sallow-eyed folks on every corner selling apples. Instead, while it may be hard-scrabble to get by and find a job here (and my cousins point to the future—working in prisons and Walmart), it was still quite a lovely, tidy little town, and at least downtown, more of a pleasant time warp to the ’40s than anywhere I’ve ever been. I do like visiting Hanford.
It was hot for my Seattle-acclimatized pale self, but for the locals, a pleasant 80-degree day when I arrived on Monday afternoon. It’s a rare thing for us to sit outside after dark, even in the middle of the summer, without a light jacket, so my delight was extreme to sit in the warm night, under the patio lights, enjoying the company of relatives I’ve not visited since I was twelve.
Staying off the Interstate as much as possible, the drive in both directions was exceptional.
On the way there, I followed long straight roads through Mendota, Kerman, Tranquility, and Burrel past garlic and almonds. On the way back to San Jose, I went through Five Points where the lettuce harvest was in full swing, and took the winding road through Mercey Hotsprings with the clouds piling up and finally dumping rain a few miles out of Tres Pinos and the cookie-cutter houses of Hollister.