The tourist magazines always say that the best wine is grown here. They never seem to mention anything else. What about the corn, the meth, the weed, the dreams of children who grow up to kill each other? They all grow here too. The Tuolomne and the San Joaquin come to reclaim everything after the harvest is over.
A truck drives every night along the east edge of town, where the facade of civilization begins to turn back into dust and scrub and dead grass. You hear it clatter and crash and rumble, reminding you how close you are to being one of them.
Oakdale is the cowboy capital of the world. The buildings are all wood, there are ranches and open tracks and fair meadows. The Wild West never ended there. When you leave, you realize it hasn’t ended for hundreds of miles around.
Each corner of Modesto has a different smell. In the southeast you smell rotting tomatoes. In the northeast the stench of manure is everywhere. In the center of town, there is nothing but the smell of fresh lead and rotting corpses. You have ceased to ask yourself why.
No one talks about Merced anymore. They got taken too. But it’s okay. We got over Stockton.
There are always cars on the side of the road, for however many thousand dollars, ready to be sold to whoever wants them. Where did they come from? Who is selling them? Who will buy them? They rot, and so do you.
The 50’s and 60’s are alive in Modesto. The sun never sets on McHenry Bowl. The mosaic outside of the theater is as bright as it always has been. The statue at Five Points will always be there. The elderly are watching you and your skin, and the words coming from your lips. The 50’s and 60’s are alive in Modesto. They will never, ever die.
It’s two hours from San Francisco. It’s two hours from Sacramento. It’s two hours from Fresno. Two hours is too long. Two hours will not save you.