The Bucolic Life For Me: Exploring California’s Central Valley, Part 2

**This is a continuation of an entry from a few days ago that featured the towns Turlock, Modesto, and Fresno.


Lodi, CA

After I pull in to the parking lot of a 711, three humans dressed in wedding attire pile into my car, holding cardboard trays filled with burgers and fries. The bride’s dress takes up the entire backseat, spilling into the laps of her two companions and also appearing very out of place in my not exactly elegant Toyota Corolla. The greasy smell of the burgers competes with the buttery smell of Mexican wedding cookies that the crew has also brought in with them.

Both the man to the bride’s left and the woman to her right wear suits. I’m so curious to know which one she married. How cool would it be if I were driving two lesbians on their wedding night? I think.

The ride is very short though and no opportunity to clarify seems to organically present itself, alas it remains a mystery. 

Right before she gets out the bride places her hand on my dashboard. When she removes it, a tiny disco ball spins in glowing circles, beaming bright colors against the ceiling of my car. She tells me it’s my tip.

The car ride, which lasts lasts only two minutes and covers a distance of about five blocks, happens so fast I almost question whether it really did.

I’m in Lodi, a town of 66,000 in San Joaquin County known for its vineyards and wineries. Many people who reside in neighboring Stockton, one of my passengers explains, come to Lodi for the night life.

Stepping out of my car to explore, I find that the city indeed feels classy and calm. Used bookstores, furniture shops, and wineries pepper downtown’s red brick sidewalks. The tall black lanterns that line them add an elegant touch.

I pass by a clock shop, as well as an entire store dedicated to large paper flowers (a sign in the door encourages passers-by to take selfies with them). In the window of Tom’s Used Bookstore, two live cats– one a tuxedo, the other white and grey–perch between a pile of books and a small brass statue of three monkeys holding hands.

From down the road I spot a sculpture in the distance that looks like two people posing for a selfie. Closer up, the supposed camera phone reveals itself to be a glass of wine, lifted up towards the sky by the couple’s interlaced hands.

 “Her bare feet allowing the essence of the soil to flow through her as she joins her husband in the vineyard, caressed by the vines and surrounded by the aroma of grapes, she brings to him the taste of life that is wine,” reads the placard next to them. 


Stockton, CA

“Biking in Stockton is just like being on a treadmill or stationary bike. Bike and bike, pedal and pedal and pedal, and the scenery doesn’t change,” one passenger said.

“We don’t have freeways so there’s just this sprawl. It takes forever to get anywhere. You drive and you still feel like you’re in the same place because everything is spread so far apart,” said another.

 I’d heard a lot of people–some of whom had actually visited it, others who’d lived there, and still others who had never set one foot inside it– speak disparagingly of Stockton. Many write off this 310,000 person city as Central Valley No Man’s Land. 

Commenters on the forum described it as a “boring and bland suburb, with very little character or scenery,” “no real “culture” to speak of, and “smelly in parts.”

“There are other bad things about Stockton, but it’s more of a ‘feeling’ that can’t be put into words,” wrote one Yelp commenter.

Still, I’m curious. I feel the way I imagine Simba did when Mufasa warned him not to step paw into the dark land. After driving some passengers around, I take a walk through downtown. A reservoir flows just outside of it, along which joggers and rollerbladers skate and run on either side. Some pause to look down over the railings, onto the occasional smattering of ducks. 

Spanish is spoken. Sirens sound. A white 20-something guy wearing a black hoodie and a backwards cap zigzags his bike wheels from the street onto the sidewalk, where he pedals bikes in a squiggly line past pedestrians. Silver chains hang from his sagging jeans.

“We said we wouldn’t do this in public anymore,” a mother says to her young pouting daughter.

An engine revs and a motorcycle blasts by. One red billboard with a close-up shot of a dragon’s face advertises Stockton’s Chinese New Year festival. Another promotes anti cyber-bullying services. 

Once out of downtown and into a residential neighborhood, I notice the ample space calms me. I feel less boxed in the way I do in more congested cities.  

Another perk of that space, as Kathryn People put it: “You get a whole lot of house for your money.” 

I pause to admire the expansive green lawns and classy brick facades that are a far cry from what I pictured houses to look like in Stockton.

At least one or two mansions line these streets. Castle-like and complete with doric columns and well-tended gardens, they are fine houses fit for royalty,

And as is the case with most preconceived notions, they often turn out to be partly accurate, partly not. There are people to disprove them and fall into the outlier category as well as ones to uphold them (but maybe those people were just having bad days?).

Passenger Drew*, who lives in Stockton but commutes to SF every day, defends the city: “Despite all that and my two-and-a-half hour one-way commute, I’m not leaving Foreclosureville for Fog City any time soon.”

 I also overheard this classy gem (dropped by men dressed in onesies headed to a party in Discovery Bay: “Dude the more you treat her like shit the more she’s gona text you. Just ask her to marry you, then she’ll go away”).


# Lyft Dream: Cow Whisperers on Demand

The night after my Central Valley escapades, I dream the following: a passenger had invented an app that was similar in structure, concept, and design to Lyft and Uber.

Rather than serving passengers in need of a ride though, this app would satisfy the needs of farmers and busy pet owners. When they were having trouble reading their cow’s mood, these customers could swipe for the closest “Animal Empath” to come and do a reading of the creature’s soul.

This entrepreneurial passenger wanted to add me to their database. I can’t remember what we’d been talking about that had led up to this invitation; I only know that I was doubtful of my abilities and confused by her request.

“I’m not sure that I’m the most qualified candidate for this,” I admit to her.

“You’ll be great. I can see it in your eyes,” she reassures.

Really? I can’t. I guess it’s nice that she can though, even if she’s picking up on some illusory energy that’s not really there. I guess it can’t hurt to try…

I wake up before I can find out whether I have what it takes though.


*Thanks for reading! Check back soon for more Lyft stories, and follow us on IG @lyft_tales

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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