There is nowhere else in the world I want to live but Sacramento, Calif. Bold statement? Not for me. Let me explain why.
Two recent life events have reopened my eyes as to why this place is unique. I’ll get to those in a minute, but first it’s important I define Sacramento. When I say Sacramento, I think of one place: the grid. That’s the area from Old Sacramento on the west to Interstate 80 Business on the east, and from the American River to the north to the WX Freeway on the south.
It’s a roughly 900-square block area that contains world-class food, entertainment, nightlife, shopping, art, recreation and businesses. It also has acres of parks, a beach (no, I’m not telling you where), miles of bike lanes – oh, and it just happens to be the center of power for the state of California. Which just happens to be the most influential state in the United States. Which just happens to be the most influential country on Earth. Which just happens to be the most influential planet in the galaxy. So, one could argue that Sacramento is the center of the galaxy. Think about it.
That is, to me, Sacramento. If you live in one of the beige stucco boxes off the grid, you may or may not hate your life. And you might as well go live in Omaha, Tallahassee, Spokane or anywhere else that worships at the altar of car-centric strip malls.
But I digress.
About six months ago, I started dating someone from Nashville, Tenn. During that time, she’s visited Sacramento about a half-dozen times. And what do we do while she’s here? Well, some of that is none of your business. But the rest of the time, we’re out living. That means walking, bicycling, eating, recreating, patronizing the arts, etc. I’ve been introducing her to all of the great things Sacramento has to offer. Through those introductions, I’ve seen this place through fresh eyes. It’s offered me fresh perspective.
Damn, Sacramento rocks.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have also had the great fortune to spend time in Dubai, London, Paris and San Francisco. In each of those cities I have had a blast. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t? But, and you knew there was a but, they are not Sacramento – not by a long shot. Yes, they have more art, restaurants, skyscrapers, people, businesses, attractions, etc. – they’re supposed to. With all of that “greatness” comes more congestion, crime, smog and other challenges.
Mad love to Dubai, London, Paris and San Francisco. I will visit again. And again. I appreciate them – perhaps most for the perspective they have given me. You know that unique perspective that only comes from travel. Sacramento is still on the short end of the teeter-totter. We have room to grow. And grow we will, in a positive way.
The first five years
My first visit to Sacramento was in 2000. I remember it vividly for some reason, a surprise even to me. My mother-in-law-to-be picked my future wife and I up at Sacramento International Airport. We drove south on I-5, exited onto J street, then drove down to Fleet Feet at the corner of 20th. I remember the blight. I remember the conversation. That’s when it happened – I instantly hated this fucking cow town.
I was told not to go downtown. I was told that’s where the crime happens. I was told that’s where the homeless people live. I was told there is nothing to do. I was told there is no parking (which seems ironic since there is nothing to do). I was told zombies crawl into windows and steal babies. OK, maybe not that last part. But you get the point.
I believed it – all of it. And when I finally moved to Sacramento in 2004, I avoided downtown as much as possible. I lived in suburbia and rarely soiled my SUV by driving it on the grid. I attended the occasional Broadway show or business networking happy hour. Other than that, I left the dirty people alone.
The page turns
When my wife and I separated in 2009, my life changed. I could write (and I have) volumes about the personal evolution, but what is important in this narrative is that I landed on the grid. In my haste to find a place to live, I stumbled upon a short-term lease. I thought, “How bad could living downtown be for a couple of months?” I mean, I could always go find a new stucco box in the ‘burbs later.
Holy shit. Talk about fate. You have to remember, I had lived in Sacramento for five years, but never taken a walk on the grid. I had no idea. Well, I did, but it was tainted (see zombie brain eaters above).
And walked I did. Having no family within 3,000 miles and no friends, I turned to the grid for entertainment, engagement and enlightenment. I found it all.
I challenge everyone to get out of their car (a frightening proposition, to be sure), and just walk. Look at the homes. Go into the stores. Eat in the restaurants. Talk to strangers. You will see why this is a spectacular and special place. It’s all right at your fingertips – everything you could want. It’s walkable and bikeable, unlike Dubai, London, Paris and San Francisco. So, there.
What about the homeless issue?
Yep. Sacramento has become the regional dumping ground for the mentally ill and chemically dependent. It is also home to the volunteer vagrants. But what of it? Other than the occasional brief and uncomfortable encounter with a panhandler, and the time I have volunteered at Loaves and Fishes, I have had zero interactions with homeless on the grid.
Is this an issue that needs to be addressed? You bet your ass it does. Is it a serious problem? Yep. Is it a black eye? Sure. But are these people dangerous criminals who want to rob me and eat my brains? Nah.
What about the parking problems?
You have got to be kidding me. Finding a parking spot in Sacramento is easier than finding a tattoo parlor or hair salon. I know, I know, I know … we Americans feel a sense of asphalt entitlement when it comes to parking. We’ll wait three minutes in our SUVs for a car to pull out of a spot at the mall instead of instantly parking 10 spots further away. If I can’t throw a football from my parking space to the door of Target, it’s a goddamn Greek tragedy.
The farthest I have ever parked away from anything in Sacramento is three blocks. Ever.
But don’t they give a bunch of tickets downtown?
Yep. There are these things called meters. Within seconds of when they expire, a crack team of Israeli-trained soldiers descends from black helicopters and places a $52 ticket under your windshield wiper. Well, sometimes it seems like that. But in actuality, we have parking enforcement. They, and I know this is hard for some people to understand, enforce parking regulations. If you park where you are supposed to, when you are supposed to, you will avoid feeling their wrath. So, let’s get mad at others when we screw up, shall we?
What about the crime?
What crime? You mean you left your purse on the front seat of your car and someone stole it? Holy shit. Alert the ATF. That’s called a crime of opportunity, Junior. Show me one violent crime report that shows downtown is a dangerous place. One.
People know their neighbors downtown. There’s none of that driving up to your garage, remotely opening the door, pulling in, closing the door… and never talking to a damn person. You see these people. You say hi. Again, I know this is scary. But give it a chance.
To bring this diatribe to a conclusion, let me just say that I’m here to stay. I’m building a life and a business in downtown Sacramento. I love the lifestyle. I love not driving my car for days at a time (when is the last time you can say you did that?). I love the food. I love the people. I love the energy. I love the art. And I love the opportunity. Sacramento is going places.
So, if you don’t like Sacramento, ask yourself how you experience this city. If you bash it from afar, deriding its evils, I challenge you to roll around in it for a while. Come spend some time on the grid.
If you’re one of the long-time Sacramentans who constantly complain about our city, ask yourself exactly what it is you hate about Sacramento…and what you are doing to fix it. Because if you do not like where you live, you have two options: change it or move. If neither of those options appeal to you and you just want to sit idly by and complain, please stop. Do us all a favor and just be quiet while the grownups enjoy all that Sacramento is, and work hard to fix its ills.