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I didn’t choose Redding. I arrived here at the age of 5 via train from Vancouver, B.C., along with my mother and three sisters.
Redding was not my New-York-born mother’s choice, either, and she vocalized her deep hatred for this city that she proclaimed only fit for “mad dogs and Englishmen” (no offense to dogs or Englishmen). So I inherited a hefty portion of my mother’s knee-jerk disdain for Redding, but it didn’t help that we were poor, and without a car or a father figure, except for two tumultuous years. Because of that, the Redding of my childhood was not filled with happy family excursions to our region’s surrounding outdoor wonders like Mt. Shasta, Lassen Peak or Whiskeytown. Rather, the Redding of my youth consisted of all we could cover on foot to and fro one of our string of old downtown rentals: Butte Street, East Street, Trinity Street, South Street and finally, Chestnut Street. In that order.
I daydreamed of growing up and moving away, but hadn’t a clue where or how. The only years I departed Redding were the three when Husband No. 1 needed to attend school in Stockton, but we returned to Redding after his graduation to raise our family. Oh, and there were those years in Igo with Husband No. 2, but other then that, it was only Redding.
And I’ve been here ever since, trying to find the silver lining in this sometimes pathetic city, especially when defending it to outsiders or visitors. All my adult life, when I enthusiastically listed Redding’s attributes, I was mostly trying to convince myself. I was both a Redding apologist and cheerleader who did my best to present the glass as half full, even when the truth was, that full glass contained some unappetizing pond-scummy stuff.
Let’s face it. The last decade or so in Redding has sucked. Our city and county does such a lousy job dealing with its homeless and the addicted and street people and crime that We, the People, often feel we’re in it alone and on our own to stay safe and buy the security cameras and carry the weapons and blame ourselves if our cars are broken into on river trails or movie theaters or residential driveways. Here, business is booming for fence companies and glass companies and alarm companies, but where I cannot have mail or packages delivered to my home because they’ll be stolen. There’s no need to recite the boring laundry list of Redding’s deplorable examples. You know.
But at least we had our surrounding nature to which we could escape and marvel at Mother Nature’s blessings and forget about unmarvelous Redding. And then came the Carr Fire that wiped out great gorgeous swaths of west Redding and beyond, including much of precious Whiskeytown National Forest.
Last month – happy Valentine’s Day to us – Redding got a special delivery of an epic snow storm that didn’t just immobilize the city, but left thousands of us powerless for days.
Broken branches and trees still litter streets and sidewalks, like old Christmas trees that are put curbside in April, that the city ignores, as if oblivious to branches that still encroach into traffic lanes.
Then came the rain, remember how we prayed for rain during the drought? The rain came with a vengeance, which brought with it flooding. Poor Redding and its terrible sense of timing. Can we just get a freakin’ break here, please?
The last year or so, I’ve felt simultaneously happy for and jealous of people who’d fled elsewhere – anywhere. Lucky dogs. Good for them. I guess.
No segue but I decided a long time ago to not publish the majority of crime press releases we receive, both for space and morale. Likewise, I don’t publish Shasta County’s Most Wanted weekly press releases at all, mainly because the photos are such a sad spectacle of humanity at its saddest, lowest, sickest point … lots of dead-eyed, toothless, tattoo-and-sore-covered people, some of whom I recognize. I look at them, and they make me feel like crying every time.
In short, this city is depressing the shit out of me. Yes, Redding and I have been together for a long, long time, but any remaining love I felt for this place is rapidly slipping away. It wasn’t as if another place had turned my head, or that I was fooling around with another city. I was just profoundly disappointed with this one. You know you’ve fallen out of love with your city when you’re embarrassed by mere association. Outsiders are like, What? You live there? Seriously, you can do better.
Have you seen that license plate holder? Redding – You have to live somewhere.
I’m not making that up. And more and more, just living in Redding is its own geographical I.Q./income test: Those with enough brains and money have already left or are planning to leave.
On a happy note, something happened all last week that made me feel a bit better about Redding. For one week, I pretended as if I were new here, or a visitor looking for fun, simple stuff to do. For starters, I often meet people over coffee or for lunch, but for a change I went out to dinner three times at three different places. All were good experiences.
I walked the river trail with a friend. I also walked my neighborhood, then pushed beyond my usual route to take in streets I’d not seen before.
Saturday I attended the Methodist Church’s monthly thrift sale for the first time, located downstairs in the big fellowship hall. I found some cool stuff.
Immediately after that I went to a place a friend had talked about called Gather Marketplace, a kind of groovy little indoor Saturday-morning market located on State Street (on the back of Living Hope Ministries). It’s a funky, tiny space, but it was crammed with local produce, cheeses, wine, bread, nuts, flower arrangements, eggs, meats and even goat-milk ice cream. I bought some cheese. My sister bought a gorgeous flower arrangement. One friend bought honey, and another friend bought cheese. A musician softly played the guitar in the corner.
It was so lovely I forgot I was in Redding, and of course, in that context, that means it was a delightful enough place that it helped me forget all that’s crappy about Redding, at least for a little while.
Next I went to the antique store on the corner of Pine and Placer, because the print shop next door that had an order waiting for me was closed, but what the heck, I was out of the car, so I went inside. I spent an hour there and found a hat rack that was perfect for my living room.
I went to the Salvation Army down the street, and found more cool stuff. And then to People of Progress thrift shop, where I got things that brought me joy, like a vegetable spiralizer, never taken from the box, and a cotton candy machine. I’ll give you one guess which one I’m the most excited about.
I went to the Oregon Street Antique Mall to work on the booth my twin and I share as vendors, and then did what I usually forget to do there: I shopped. I found some cool old cookbooks.
Monday morning I met a friend for coffee at a new place in my neighborhood, The Old Shasta Coffee Company, which surprised me, because it was cute and hip and had good coffee. Plus, it’s so close that I can walk there, when it stops raining. Do you know how rare it is in Redding to live within safe, short walking distance to a restaurant or coffee shop? Very.
This week came just in time, because no doubt about it, Redding has been pretty damn unlovable lately. And as much as I’d like to go all Pollyanna here, I can’t turn a blind eye to Redding’s most obvious weaknesses, or pretend I don’t see this city’s deep flaws and shortcomings.
But this single week of acting like a Redding visitor reminded me that the best things about our city aren’t the city, but its engaged, enterprising, optimistic people who create interesting spaces, experiences and places; reasons that make us not regret we live here. It reminded me that it’s easy to leave town, to find the good in somewhere else. It’s harder to stick around and find the good in the place that’s struggled for so long.
That said, I’m at a turning point with regard to this city. I don’t want to just tolerate Redding, but be proud to admit it’s my hometown. I don’t want to close my eyes and pretend I’m not in Redding, to say about nice places, “This doesn’t feel like Redding”. I want to live here on purpose, with my eyes wide open. I want to choose Redding. I don’t want to just live in Redding. I want to love Redding.
The thing is, I can want what I want, but Redding is in this relationship, too. It has to show us the love, too. It has to choose us, too. When it’s a choice between making life easier or more difficult for its people, it must choose us. When it’s a choice between tying us up in red tape or rolling out the red carpet, it must choose us, demonstrated by common sense, kindness and compassion. When it’s a matter of giving us safety or giving us excuses, it must choose us. When it’s a choice between helping government or helping us, it must choose us. Every time.
Redding, are you listening? Your people are weary, and our patience is wearing thin. We’ve hung in there with you, in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad. But now, it’s your turn.
Choose us. Love us or lose us.