05 April 2010

Where I Come From

In geography, everything is about place. I once wrote a paper about how the political geography of the Franco-Prussian War influenced the philosophies of both Nietzsche & Sartre. To understand why I feel the way I do about pedestrian/transit/bicycling issues, you need to know about where I spent my formative years.

Mira Loma, California. You've probably never heard of it unless you live nearby. If you do, you probably know it as the place with all the dairy cows. The dairies are mostly gone now, but as a kid I dreaded shifts in the wind. Mira Loma is an unincorporated town in northwestern Riverside County. The most notable event to ever happen there would be the once-infamous "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders" that inspired the recent film Changeling. In 1930, this brought so much unwanted attention that the residents changed the name of the town to Mira Loma.

I grew up in a pretty typical Southern California subdivision of late-70s-vintage ranch-styles, with the rather atypical features of a.) all the streets being named after planets and constellations (I grew up on Big Dipper Drive) and b.) being zoned for horse ownership. As a result of this, sidewalks were forsaken in preference for dirt bridle trails. Here's my house, sans sidewalk. (Hi, mom & dad!)

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So yeah, no sidewalks. Also, it's very windy. Combine that with the dirt trails and you get a lot of dust in the air. Oh, and the temperature often pushes 100 degrees in mid-summer. Nonetheless, I walked or biked to school almost every day from second to tenth grades (except during junior high when I lived far enough away to ride the school bus). Activities for teenagers were few and far between. The closest anything to walk to is a strip mall a mile away. Supermarket, Jack in the Box, pizza place...you have to walk down this street, one of the town's two main thoroughfares, to get there...

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Four lanes of traffic, fifty mph speed limit. Still no sidewalks, and a big empty lot. Fun.

The last two years of high school were spent at a private school in Riverside, to which I carpooled. Upon graduation, I began attending community college in Riverside. I was sixteen, but I still didn't have a car or even a license (I failed the behind-the-wheel test the first time out). I had graduated to the world of the Riverside Transit Agency. The bus to downtown Riverside left once an hour, which led to many afternoons waiting alongside a very busy street on a very hot day for a very long time. After a fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, and an unknown waiting period, I had a ten-mile bus ride (plus a transfer) to look forward to. And somehow, I didn't really mind...I learned fairly quickly that I could use that time to read, write, listen to music, you name it. I found myself with more personal time than I knew what to do with.

Then one day, everything changed. Family issues arose which found me moving to a small town on the Oregon coast. Here, taking a bus, even the most inconvenient one imaginable, was not an option. I had to get a license to go to school and work thirty miles away. I adapted, such is the human way...it's a beautiful part of the country, and I found the weather to be a lot more agreeable to my disposition. A year goes by, and I found the rural life a bit too slow and the rural poverty a bit too depressing for a sensitive 19 year old kid interested in the outside world. I moved to Portland in 1996 (in the days long before it was well-known for high levels of bike commuting and smugness) and fell in love with public transit that worked. I got rid of my car, I didn't miss it, and I haven't owned one since. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was on my way.

Mira Loma has changed since my days there, but not for the better. The housing boom of the '00s ate up all the dairies and truck farms and replaced them with tract housing by the bushel. The newer subdivisions have sidewalks at least, but
traffic is worse than ever, and there's still nowhere to walk to.

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