Impressions of Hometown Redding, Years After Moving Away

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Brandon Rogers, right, and his husband Justin on their wedding day in downtown Redding in 2008.

After living in Redding for 10 years, we moved eight years ago this summer to Portland, Oregon.

Redding has always been a hard-scrabble town, from its earliest days as a railroad outpost when it was known as Poverty Flats, to last decade’s Great Recession.This past week I visited for the first time since we moved away.

After a handful of wet, cold winters in Oregon, I had forgotten about the winter sunshine. It was sunny and warm and the stars were bright in the sky. I walked around downtown and noticed the new courthouse under construction; the Dobrowsky house was gone but the trees remained. The old slump-block Dicker’s building was gone and a new mixed-use building was starting to take its place. The Art Deco Greyhound Bus Station had fallen for a generic stucco development that would fit in anywhere. The crusty old Americana Hotel had been renovated and was welcoming weary travelers. Judge Eaton’s Victorian house looked beautiful, reincarnated as a museum. I saw the lights of the Cascade Theatre brightly beckoning on Market Street. The Caramel Corn lady’s house was gone, I remembered her late-1800s house on the corner of Sacramento and Court street for its decorative front porch pillars. Some people might remember the Caramel Corn lady from the old Downtown Mall. I never knew her name, but I always remembered her face.

When I moved back to Redding after graduating from Humboldt State University in 2001, I felt like I wanted to stay and make a change in my hometown. I put in 10 years, bought a home and worked hard to find my niche. I married my sweetheart Justin in October of 2008 in downtown Redding. Then the housing crisis came and we lost our jobs and eventually had to let our house go, too. Moving to a bigger city presented a chance to establish ourselves again, so we packed up and drove north.

We left Redding in search of opportunity, to find a place where gay people have a better chance at fitting in. A place where the economy was more resilient. Somewhere where we could feel like we fit into a community. Portland gave us all of those things and welcomed us with a warm heart.

Living in Redding isn’t easy for many people. The economy is fickle and there aren’t enough good paying jobs. Local government is deaf to equity. Conservative values abound at the cost of creating community. It’s been that way since its beginnings as Poverty Flats. While I was there I heard a country western song on the radio blaring, “I believe in working hard for what you’ve got. Even if it don’t add up to a hell of a lot,” and it reminded me of the hard- working people I knew in Redding who were barely making it.

But it’s sunny, and there’s that fancy bridge and the river, Whiskeytown Lake and lots of great places to ride a mountain bike. On my visit, aside from my old friends, those were the things I missed the most.

There’s still a part of me that would like to move back and stand up for the gays, trans people, women and minorities and everyone who doesn’t fit in to the hegemonic culture. But for now, I’ll stay up north and work to find my niche.

Brandon Rogers was raised in Redding’s east side, is a graduate of Enterprise High School and Humboldt State University and now works as a City Planner in Portland, Oregon. 

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33 Responses

  1. Frank Treadway Frank Treadway says:

    Most of what Brandon says is true, but after living here since 1945, I’ve seen many friends move and then come back to Redding. I hope Brandon and Justin do just that. I miss Justin checking me out at Safeway, a friendly face and knowing how to chat and push those groceries along at the same time. On the other hand, Portland is one great place, all anyone could ask for. Redding is getting there, just look at our downtown. Best to you both.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      I assume Justin was a checker. I totally misread “I miss Justin checking me out at Safeway…” the first time. 🙂

  2. Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

    It’s always interesting to see a town that you once lived in after a decade’s absence, or seeing the place where you live through the eyes of someone who’s been away for many years.

    Living in a place makes it harder to see the gradual changes—residents are like the proverbial frog in the pot of water that’s slowly rising to a boil. (That sounds negative, but it works that way for both good and bad.) But that said, I distinctly remember Redding’s downtown when I first moved here—I couldn’t believe how dead it was. The restaurant was Jack’s. The nightclub was Billy Bombay’s. The Cascade was a 2nd-run dump. The covered mall was more or less abandoned.

    The only thing I really miss from those days is Redding Bookstore on the corner that unfortunately is now a vape shop.

    • Avatar Candace says:

      Steve, I miss the Redding Bookstore too.

    • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

      Steve, I went into Jacks once, it was an overcrowded, over hyped sardine can. I went into Billy Bombays once and only because a friend was playing drums with a group one night. If that was your only experience with downtown Redding nightlife no wonder you didn’t like it.
      I liked The Elbow Room, The Porthole, Oak Grove, The Saloon, and I don’t remember the name but there was a little card room downtown.
      And I always liked the small shop feel of the downtown Mall.

      • Avatar Jack says:

        Bruce, Let me guess, Cheyenne Wyoming has a better steak joint. Jacks is far from overrated and is still my favorite place to get a steak and I live in San Francisco.

        • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

          Jack, Cheyenne didn’t have just one but a few steakhouses better than Jacks. TJs, Alpine and with country music The Bunkhouse. In fact there were other steakhouses in Redding that were better than Jacks.

          • Avatar Jack for the win says:

            Bruce aka Cheyenne, It’s obvious that you are the real bunkhouse right now.
            Good luck with that sweet Applebee’s gift card. I hope you get your boot scootin boogie on. Make sure to stay hydrated.

          • Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

            Jack, Appebees? If that is your culinary choice so be it but that is one of the worst of the chains. When I lived in SF I chose the small, every ethnic possible, cafes on Clement Street as opposed to the over priced, over hyped spots downtown.

    • Avatar Richard Christoph says:

      And I miss Hyatt’s as well.

  3. Avatar Candace says:

    Hi Justin, nice read, thanks for the well wishes. if you haven’t already, check out my nephew, Brendon Constans’s place, Lovejoy’s Tea Room Of Portland. If you go, please give him a squeeze from his Auntie Candace in Redding.

  4. Avatar Candace says:

    Whoops, meant to address my comment to you, Brandon, sorry.

  5. Brandon, thank you for sharing this insightful piece. I’m of two minds: one, so happy you’ve made a life for yourself and Justin in a place that’s welcoming; and two, so sad that you – exactly the kind of person Redding needs more of – left. So many good people are leaving the area. It makes me wonder who’ll be left and what will be the face of Redding.

    On a happier note, YES I remember the Caramel Corn lady, though I don’t remember her name. I remember her being stooped over (probably from years over those huge copper cauldrons stirring caramel and making fudge), and her white hair and her thick glasses on a small face. I remember her outfit: a dress – pink and white stripe? – beneath a white crisp apron. I remember her walking downtown, long strides with dark heavy shoes. At some point I remember her walking with a dog … was it a pit bull? I distinctly remember the aroma of her shop. That’s what heaven must smell like.

    Thanks for conjuring up that memory, Brandon. And thanks, most of all, for sharing your trip to your former hometown with us. I loved it. And I appreciate you for continuing as part of the ANC family of readers and subscribers, even though you’ve moved far away. I’m so glad you’re here.

    Side note: Have you ever taken the train from Portland to Redding? It’s a lot of fun, and a beautiful trip – especially from the observation car, and in the dining car, (if you don’t mind being at the Redding Train Depot at 3:30 a.m.).

    • Adrienne Jacoby Adrienne Jacoby says:

      Also another tip. Amtrak has an 800 number (800-872-7245) you can call 24/7 to see if your train is on time/early/late and by how much.You deal with Julie, the Amtrak automated operator and it is easy. You say, TRAIN STATUS. She asks your train number (11 or 9 depending on if you’re going north or south) and then she gives you the latest info on your train. Saves having to wait at the station any longer than necessary.

  6. Avatar Candace says:

    Doni, I used to go with a friend every week to see the Caramel Corn lady and we’d both get freshly made, warm, red licorice ropes. Great memory. Also, good to know about the Redding to Portland train since I’ve been wanting to try it out and visit my aforementioned nephew. Is it fairly inexpensive?

  7. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    I really think Redding missed the boat with the train depot. I rode Amtrack from Lincoln, Nebraska to Sacramento a couple of times. To finish my return to Anderson I had to take a bus from Sac to the Redding Train Depot, and that was scary at 3AM then, I can only imagine it has gotten worse since then. Many towns have renovated their train depots into fantastic stops, Las Vegas, New Mexico, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City. Cheyenne Frontier Days has a special “Cowboy” train from Denver to Cheyenne during CFD days and it is always sold out. A special train from the Bay Area for Cool April Nights or the Redding Rodeo would bring urban tourists to Redding. But alas Redding seems hell bent on destroying its historic past. Just take a drive to Red Bluff and see how they have preserved their historic sites.

    • Actually, way back into my second marriage, we were part of a group that helped restore the Redding train depot. (Local train buffs led he project, including Dick and Betty Dickerson, and Betty and Wally Haas, and others.) Missy McArthur donated the wood for a custom-built depot bench, and the whole place was painted and spiffed up. That’s been a good 15, maybe even 20 years ago.

      I love your ideas about special trains coming for special events, but it’s all about Southern Pacific and its tracks, and Amtrak’s crazy schedules that bring the train through Redding in the wee hours of the morning.

  8. Avatar Denise says:

    So true! Redding is growing up since I’ve been here (1984).

    When you look closely, you’ll find your compassionate circles: United Methodist Church; Center for Spiritual Living; various theater groups; music scenes.

    But I always notice how far we still have to go after a visit to San Diego or of course, SF. Portland seems like a dreamscape, so I’m happy for you and can’t find fault.

  9. Avatar Hilary Mosher says:

    I was born in Redding in 1952. Left for the Bay Area when I was 1. Came back every summer to spend two weeks at my cousin’s Cottonwood ranch starting at age 6. The heat was torture so I refused to come back at age 10. Stayed away with zero regrets until my mom retired there and got cancer. I came back to care for her in ’91 with my special needs son, who was 7. For 5 years I ran the Shasta County Arts Council and started the Young Actor’s Company children’s theater. I did my utmost to enrich my community and in return, my son was discriminated against, his special education rights constantly violated, and my mom died of cancer while being given absolutely unforgivably bad medical care. In the end, in a self-confessed effort to get my son out of the county school districts, one of the board members at my job went on a campaign to get me fired. As a result, I suffered a horrible stress injury and collapsed in the Urgent Care reception room. I got out of Shasta County as fast as I could and dont even look sideways when I have to drive by on I5. I hate the ignorance, the bigotry, and the hellish heat. I made some wonderful friends who I will always be grateful for, but I’ve lived in a lot of places before and since and none were as bad…

  10. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    I loved your article and I’m glad you and Justin found a new home in Portland. Maybe in time Redding will be a place where people can just be themselves and not have to “stand up for” or defend themselves.
    I worked at the Computer Place in the Downtown mall in the early 80’s and remember the wonderful woman who had the candy shop. There was a little bookstore….Hyat’s books, and the Grasshopper bar. Or did it have another name and I drank a Grasshopper there and am confused. Thank you again Brandon.

  11. Avatar Jist Cuz says:

    Thank you Anews and the Author of this piece both. Poverty Flat is not all bad, infact the exact opposite. When your CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED sue the local government in FEDERAL COURT pro per and don’t be bashful about it. In the meanwhile vote out the corrupt graft operators and call out the dirty cop files… Keep your eye on the Activists and those that have suffered through it doing exactly that. There is no evil in choosing lesser of evils and pacifity is not in the way of progress, Amen +!+

  12. This was a great article! I grew up in a small town a little south of Redding. It brought back a lot of memories. I really appreciate that. Although I was born in 1966 , much of what we observed and experienced and miss is the same. I moved away in 1985, and back in 1990. Continued to live in the area until 2013. We have been gone now for seven years. I still miss much about the area. My boyfriend can go in to town here, though; and not be harassed about his long hair by the police. Thank you for not forgetting your roots , and helping me to remember mine. All the best in future endeavors to you both!

  13. Avatar Roxanna says:

    Gosh Doni! Thank you for sharing your memories of the caramel corn lady! I do remember her in her little shop and the smell that drew me in. My sister & I walked between the top of Placer hill and Sequoia School each school day and we cut through the mall to spend our babysitting money. So many wonderful memories there. I recall the little planted areas with the ponds. We threw in a copper coin and made a wish. I wish I’d known what to wish for. But, even as I write the words, I’m glad I didn’t know.

    • My sisters and I made the trek from Sequoia School home to our home in old Redding, and I remember the ponds with the fish.

      It’s never too late to make a wish, especially now that you may know what to wish for. Good luck!

  14. Avatar Chad Magnuson says:

    Brandon, thanks for your thoughts and comments concerning the place you moved from.
    While I’m a somewhat newbie to Redding, moving here 30 years ago from the Bay Area, I always encourage young people to move away from here if the opportunity arises, or circumstances necessitates the relocation.
    Redding is a retirement area. A vacation area.
    The limited cultural, inclusiveness, acceptance and welcome is non existence.
    An area where crazy religions camouflaged as Christian, believe in raising the dead, gold dust falling and prosperity will save you. As long as you contribute enough.
    An area where the confederate flag is not uncommon to see flying from the back of a pick up.
    Redding, the home to the brutal killings of a couple in love with each other, simply because they were gay.
    Where LE killing of suspects is, well suspect.

    Your move to Portland was a great decision.
    Best of luck.

    • I feel sad reading your comment, Chad, but I cannot disagree, except to say that I’m not sure Redding is so much a vacation spot … maybe the outside areas, but the city itself, not so much.

      My heart ached at the reminder of Gary and Winfield’s murders.

      And you’re right about the Confederate flag sightings. I was in the store just yesterday and saw a man wearing a Confederate flag bandanna around his head. Made my stomach flip.

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