Everything has a dark side. An underbelly. An unsightly mole...so to speak.
Every record collection holds a few shitty tracks. Every family has a retarded aunt no one ever calls (right?). Every PG-13 movie has at least one F-bomb, and every clean, quiet, suburban town has what my parents might call an 'Element.'
Element shmelement. I call it the good part.
When I go home, it is to the only place I've ever really known as home. I eat dinner at the table where I did my kindergarten homework, in the house my family has lived in for the last 18 years.
The living room carpet is newer, as is the paint on the kitchen walls, and snazzy granite now rests where once-fashionable pastel blue tile graced the counter tops. But underneath the updated decor are the same beams and sheet-rock that saw me grow up.
When I drive through my neighborhood, I see myself at different heights, like one of those diagrams depicting cavemen evolving over thousands of years from monkeys into men. At 4'6" I'm an orangutan hunting down a cat in the empty lot next door. At 5'2" I'm a biped gorilla picking a bug out of her eye on the way home from school. At 5'8" I'm a full grown human girl, trying to convince her parents that later curfews aren't necessarily the cause of teen pregnancy.
I know all the shortcuts and all the potholes. It's safe. It's clean. It's suburban. Sure, some things are different, but mostly they are the same.
And there is something very comforting in that.
....By the way, how gross is that picture... I had to.
Until just last week I had not seen how unbelievably shady my suburbia is, and has always been, just beneath its shiny surface.
See, while the El Dorado Hills / Folsom Area is indeed a nice place to live, you can still find a backwoods, trailer-trash, whiskey-swilling, hillbilly element if you look in the right places. Those places are called bars. Maybe it's because there's a major state penitentiary--Folsom Prison, of Johnny Cash fame--just a few short miles away, or maybe it's because you can still find cows grazing in between cookie-cutter housing developments*. Whatever explanation you try to come up with, it's damn near impossible to answer the question What makes this place so special?
Oh, oh... it's magic?
That's really all I can think of. I don't think it's the prison.
The other night, I had the unique pleasure of going out [read: drinking lots of beer] in Old Town Folsom. Folsom is indeed a very old town. Right down by the river, where 49ers used to pan for gold, is a tiny street that is home to a few carnival-like watering holes. Growing up, when the concept of grown-up entertainment is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, I had no way of knowing the magic that existed just beyond the saloon-house doors.
Walking in, I immediately got the sense that the night would be the stuff of catchy country songs... this was one of those "low places" where Garth Brooks probably parties down with his hick friends.
Which was fitting. I am probably still at least 7% hick.**
It had to be magic, not hairspray, that kept the mullets in the room stiff to perfection. It had to be magic, not good taste, that kept the cowboy hats from falling off. And it had to be magic, not alcohol, that made every person there, present company included, dance like an imbred assclown to the 80s cover band.
God, I love 80s cover bands.
What I didn't know as a child was that while I was in my backyard collecting rocks and jumping on an over-sized trampoline, fun-seekers of all ages (21-150... I think some of those people may have actually been 49ers) were drinking themselves into a jubilant stupor just a stone's throw away.
From the prison. Which is incidentally a stone's throw from my backyard!
Sarcasm aside, there's a hometown subculture there I'm really glad exists. One that lets everyone play the village idiot and never turns away an eager drinker from joining the parade. Only on the dark side can you watch an intoxicated man in a cowboy hat beat two overweight women in their 40s in a Tahitian dancing contest just before the band turns on their homespun fog machine.
I don't mean to make it sound precious, because I'd take long necks and bad hairdos any night of the week over the bullshit of waiting in a line at pretentious club on Sunset, only to be judged for not dressing like enough of a whore by some starving asshole actor wearing an artificial ball-sack and bad cologne.
Seedy hometown fun is hard to beat. Especially when you're down the block from a maximum-security detention facility. Hicking-out actually doubles as a celebration of freedom.
And it's really fucking fun.
*It's true. Cow-tipping is a real pastime and was once common practice in my hometown.
**Which makes me 93% sophistication, and 100% awesome.