Sunday, May 4, 2008

Breaking and Entering: Better Days

State Route 120, known as "the bypass" in these parts, is a road that connects giant Interstate 5 with two-lane Highway 99. It starts with a few miles of freeway before it dumps out onto country roads and travels all the way east through the foothills and into Yosemite National Park.

In those first few miles of freeway, you pass through about 20 years of "progress" in about three minutes. First are deep plots of farmland that may or may not be producing anything nowadays; it's possible a developer has gobbled it up and is biding her time to cash in. Then an industrial stretch, where enormous lot of trailers, used to haul fruit, I think, lead off into the distance.

After this the subdivisions start: a sound wall appears to buffer the thousands of beige, near-identical homes from the hum of traffic. And then, of course, those homes need commodities - an Old Navy, Kohl's, sports park and the metal frame of what will later this year become yet another shopping center.

In the lull, just after the farmland ends and before the subdivisions begin, is this barn.

The barn looks completely out of place from the highway, but if you get off the road you find it fits perfectly in a stretch of mostly-modest homes and farmhouses. Down the road a bit, there's a strawberry stand and a taco shop - both advertised by chipping, hand-painted signs out front - a couple low-to-the-ground Jesus billboards, and some nondescript industrial joints.

Over the course of a year and a half commuting on the bypass, this barn and its big, sad, hopeful proclamation came to epitomize "here and now" to me. I wanted to know who wrote it, why, where they've gone. More so, I wanted to know what this farm looked like before it became what we see today. I had it all built up in my mind: Uninsured farm family flees after an illness claims its father. Longtime landowners migrate east after city snatches their land for an ill-fated interchange.

Unfortunately, I don't have any answers. A while back I did go out and talk to some neighbors, but no one had too much to say. It's been that way for ages, a woman with a yardfull of old trailers and boats told me. The landowner lives in San Jose. Dead end.

Yesterday I went back to catch a glimpse of the barn's interior - a perfect Breaking and Entering, I thought. After wading through mounds of silty, hot dirt I found the one door was padlocked, and there were no windows to shimmy through. Big men in pick-up trucks kept driving past and staring.

Conveniently, though, there was a gap in one wall just big enough for my camara-ed hand. Inside I found a gold mine that re-infuses the Better Days barn with the melancholy romance I know it deserves.

Better days indeed. Within a decade all of this will probably be gone; that'll be better days for that developer, who can send her kids to Berkeley and live in one of the $1 million homes that will soon perch over the San Joaquin River down the street. Can't say it'll better days for the strawberry man or the folks with the yard full of boats. I doubt we'll hear much from them, though. History has a way of taking the winner's side, doesn't it.

1 comment:

Eden From Sweden said...

In Walla Walla (Eden's St. Olaf), there was a extremely modest farm somewhat in town (maybe ten acres) where I watched them grow (wheat and alfalfa) year after year my entire childhood until they sold it to to a guy who piled 50 homes on the land. They didn't move though. They stayed in their modest little house (which now stuck out like a dusty sore thumb) and - I dunno - sat on the money they made? Retired? It was depressing, and the view of their fields turned into a view of a manufactured neighborhood. Like their entire history had been voided. I completely agree with you. Seeing the contrasts like that make me queasy, and I think, "Was it worth it?"