Every day I talk to people who are amazed that I grew up here, in the Bay Area. Honestly, I really feel like a small town girl. (Apologies in advance to my family who are featured in some of these photos.)
I grew up in San Carlos and back in the day, we didn’t lock our door, we knew all of our neighbors, and the kids stayed outside until it got dark. I rode this big wheel all the way up and down the block for hours without seeing my parents. I did however stop and visit with most if not all of my neighbors from my very best friend to the man we called my surrogate grandfather that lived mid-way down the block. We played football in the middle of the street and my brother taught me how to ride a bicycle. (Yes, with no helmet!)
When we (or my Mom) needed a break, we went to one of the local parks. We played in the sand (not tanbark or cushioned pads) and digested whatever parts of it that made it into our mouths. We flew and jumped off the swings and played on the metal based slides. We basically ran amok so the mothers could sit on the sidelines and chat. They somehow managed to keep one ear tuned into our cries or complaints but mostly told us kids to, “figure it out.” Some 40 odd years later, we are still good friends with one of these families. I have actually shared more than 30 Thanksgiving meals with them over the course of my life and my food expectations are shaped by having “the best Thanksgiving ever,” year after year.
Birthdays were wondrous things that included gifts, and goodie bags and if we were really good, a trip to Farrell’s. (Note my brother’s birthday is dangerously close to Christmas, hence the hat) I think these were all over the place but there was nothing like getting the giant bucket of ice cream and toppings delivered to your table by trumpeting, drumming food-servers. It was like your personal “American Idol” moment where the spotlight was all yours.
Then there were the activities. It was mostly organized sports but also Bluebirds, Scouts, music and swim lessons. A myriad of community driven opportunities to keep my brother and I engaged for hours. (Mostly so we didn’t smack each other during the summer months.) I couldn’t wait until I was big enough to go to the local high school and take a swim lesson from a teenager! If I was super brave, I might jump off the diving board. This photo was taken at San Carlos High School which has since been razed to make way for more single family homes.
As I got older, we had more interesting adventures, including visits to Marine World Africa, USA. This amusement park, now located in Vallejo, used to sit in an unincorporated part of Redwood City. If the fading Polaroid photo had more of a background, you might actually recognize it. For the few years that I worked at Oracle, I took a large amount of joy looking out the window and remembering that the elephants used to be right outside. Yes, that’s right a variety of tigers and lions and.. well not bears, used to live on the land that has since been taken over by Oracle among other technology vendors.
There’s always been those five really hot summer days when the peninsula hits triple digit temperatures. Just like every other family, we would climb into the station wagon, where my brother and I would sit in the waaaay back with the dog (again – no seat belts, or car seats). Then we’d inch our way over the hills to the coast. We’d rush into the water only to run out five minutes later when our feet had turned blue from the freezing ocean. We built sand castles, buried each other and searched up and down the beach for our favorite sea-shells. Sunscreen? What’s that? We tracked all that sand into the station wagon and stopped at the A&W for root beer and hamburgers on the way home. This was the “drive-in” A&W – not drive-thru. At this A&W, someone came to your car, took your order and delivered your food to your window. Imagine that. You had those tiny trays hanging off your car window that no one used. My Dad would pass back the food and we stuffed our faces. This added french fry detritus and crumbs to the sand until you couldn’t tell which was which.
So, I laugh when I hear my friends tell stories of their “small town” life. They are more like my childhood than most expect, but they usually involve a lake instead of the ocean or some geo specific sport like field hockey. The net-net, I feel blessed and cursed at the same time. I love everything about the Bay Area except how ridiculously expensive it’s become to live here. But that point aside, honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. (I’ve tried.)