This week came the awful news that my hometown of Stockton, California has declared bankruptsy. Once again, Stockton makes national news for all the wrong reasons. For the past few years, it’s made the top ten list of worst cities in America, but now it holds the not-so-coveted title of Loserville, USA. A place that used to be known as Fat City has been chewed down to the bone with its marrow completely sucked dry.
The last couple of times I visited Stockton, it resembled Bedford Falls if George Bailey had never been born. What I witnessed was the 21st century version of Potterville (and in some places, downtown Fallujah). Stockton was dark, foreboding and, in certain areas, downright fucking scary. It certainly wasn’t any vacation destination in the last years I lived there back in the late 90s. Many a night, the sweet sounds semi-automatic gunfire echoing from the other side of Oak Park would lull me to sleep. But these more recent trips were positively-or should I say negatively-eye-opening, maybe because I had been away for so long I could get a fresh perspective and I could see how bad things had gotten. Absence hadn’t made the heart grow fonder, but gave me palpitations instead.
Alas, the Frank Capra WONDERFUL LIFE analogy didn’t end there. Stockton had always had its share of Mr. Potters robbing the populace blind and grinding them under their greedy thumbs. It has also had its share of stupid Uncle Billys fumbling and bumbling their way through local government and generally screwing things up for everyone concerned. And for the most part, the good people of Stockton just bend over and take it, letting these bastards have their way with them like the opening cermonies at the annual meeitng of the Ned Beatty Fan Club. Stocktonians have always been their own worst enemies especially in the victim department where they have become regulars and everyone knows their names.
It’s a tragedy what’s happened to my old stomping grounds. It won’t be the last American city to hit rock bottom nor is it the first. However, it is the most recent and that’s what made the news headlines. If it bleeds, it leads and Stockton is a hemophiliac. It sure would be great to read something positive about Stockton and not in the past tense. Hindsight in the golden glow of nostalgia can sometimes be blinding.
But instead of wallowing in your misery or living in denial, Stockton, why not turn it around? Embrace your horribleness. Mock what you are. Be in on your own joke. Deliver the punchline before anyone else can. Take the William Shatner approach. Back in the day, I used to say that instead “Someplace Special”, the town motto should “Welcome to Stockton…Duck!” Put the city limits sign in the center of a target and market the damn thing. Contact Mark Burnett and pitch the idea of SURVIVOR: STOCKTON. You’re bankrupt? Have the world’s biggest bake sale. I posted a smart-ass comment on Facebook that said that maybe Stockton should consider using Kickstarter. Run with that. Give the city council cardboard signs and put them on freeway ramps. This isn’t a if life gives you lemons, make lemonade affirmation.This is survival, people. No one is going to help you unless you start to help yourselves, Besides, smell the contents of that glass. That ain’t lemonade.
I hope for the best for you, Stockton. You will always be a part of me and not just because I still have family and friends there. Stockton is the place of my birth and somewhere I called home for most of my life. But you ‘d better wake the hell up. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. And don’t get looking for Zuzu’s petals. There’s nothing in your pockets. But there might be something up your sleeves. All you have to do is look.