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Calaveras - A Road Like No Other
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, is it possible to have a love affair with a road?
At dawn the chorus of birds singing starts on Calaveras. Attracted by the garden
watering, they swoop down for a drink of fresh water, and to gather twigs and
bits to repair nests. Highlight of the early morning parade of birds dancing in the
water at the curb, is one of the Bluebirds that have made Calaveras home.
And with that, the day begins.
All day, and every day, there are folks walking on the road. The constant parade of
folks going about daily life never lets up. Many on the road do not drive, so walking
is the only way they are going to get around. All day long, riders on bicycles can also be
seen, riding on the pavement. On my road, young and old riders seem to prefer the
pavement to the road to ride bicycles.
Unlike many roads in Fresno, Calaveras is a true boulevard, lined with majestic trees
and dotted with homes of true Historic value to Fresno. Calaveras was once an Avenue
and was home to the movers and shakers of the City of Fresno.
The stretch of Calaveras from Divisadero to Belmont has 4 homes of note, some more grand than others. The old grandeur that once was can still be seen. Calaveras is a road surrounded by a gritty neighborhood, and is where born again Christians live side by side with the haves and the have nots. The legal newcomers and the illegal newcomers. The folks who own homes on Calaveras believe that renters are the reason pride of the road is not shared.
Verandas and lanais are not what one thinks of when mentioning a front porch or a balcony. What ever Calaveras is, it is not posh and folks do not put on airs. Some of the residents can be seen on front porch and most use their balcony to hang out some wash to dry. That is not to say that porch sitting is out of fashion, folks still do, but the residents of Calaveras are more prone to get up close and personal and take meeting neighbors on the pavement as the norm.
The conversation between neighbors tends to be about jobs, where to find a good deal, and to
ask if the coppers were seen on the road. Folks on Calaveras are very aware of drug dealers and gangs, so much conversation is spent alerting neighbors of the latest spotting's of illegal activity.
Calaveras truly is a mixture of the whole social strata that makes up Fresno. There are well educated folks, folks with brilliant jobs. Loving families. There are also a large number of single parent families. Folks with a poor education and few job skills. There are home owners who got in when the time was right and have seen value climb. There are renters who have a hard time, some move in and never pay rent and wait to be evicted, thus moving on to another road to repeat the cycle. There are folks who have no money worries and there are folks who barely get by.
Calaveras is home to a large number of children. The parade of children on Calaveras to Dickey Playground is a constant. There are children in prams, children on bicycles, roller blades and in the arms of parents. There are running children, laughing children and there are sad children. To be a child on Calaveras is not the best of times but they try to makes the best of each day. Some of the older boys marvel at the expensive and grand motors seen on Calaveras and perhaps wonder if they will ever own such a thing. Sadly, the owners of many of these motors are drug dealers and clever clogs and one hopes that the boys will not try to emulate their lifestyle to obtain a fancy motor.
Calaveras did not start life as a mean road. It had high hopes at one point. It was built as part of the Alta Mont addition and a letter from a reader who lived on Calaveras in 1932, pointed out, that it was an old neighborhood and road even then.
During the hard times of the Great Depression, neighbors on Calaveras helped one another out. Helping fix up homes, sharing food and watching out for one another. Later, when America went to war, many was the home on Calaveras that had brothers enlist to join the fight to save the world. In some cases there were multiple members of the family serving, and the road was lined with the small flags in the front window showing serving members of the armed services. There were some families who saw the white stars change to gold due to the loss of a brother or father or other family member.
Times change, and so did the character of Calaveras. With the advent of more apartment complexes and the desire of some home owners to move up, the social fabric of the road was pulled apart. One hears many stories placing the blame of what happened on Calaveras on forces beyond the control of the residents. It is hard to separate 'urban legend' from pure bullocks.
MOI has found some residents who have lived on Calaveras 35 or more years and it is not uncommon to meet some who have lived on the road more than 10 years. That lays waste the belief that the road is in a state of constant flux.
Sitting in my flat at the El Capri, with the window open, MOI can hear the happy chirping of the many birds on the road. The sun has come up and the road for the most part is quiet. Have seen folks going off to work and have seen the poor souls wandering the road in search of what ever it is that they require to make it through another day in a 'poison induced fog'.
In a few hours, the early morning hours will have the quiet ruined by the plague of bakery vans, blaring illegal horns trying to attract folks to their wares for sale. It is the American Way to try and make a buck and to some it is a license to be rude and a bad neighbor. There are folks who work different shifts and the horns make for broken sleep. Being neighborly means different things to different folks, so much for the warm feeling that baked goods normally brings to mind.
Many on the road do not work. The City of Fresno provides checks to and they are quite content to
scratch out a meager existence on the little they receive on the dole. It will be afternoon before they rise
from their beds to begin the day. To foster their ability to have a long 'lie-in', they have small children
on the same clock as they live by and it is not uncommon to see children up quite late. There are many
reasons to be on the dole, no shame in that, just never thought it was to be a defining lifestyle. For
some denizens of the road, the leg up has turned into a scheme to rip society off. From illegal use of
EBT cards, to rent vouchers and abuse of the medical system, the clever clogs of Calaveras have every base covered.
MOI has been asked countless times why he stays. To be the ultimate crabby neighbor? To wander the road
in ash cloth and shrilly proclaim to one and all a message of doom? My dears, MOI is that sort of person
who has always looked beyond the dirt and seen the gem that exist. Little did MOI realize on that hot July
afternoon a year ago that the 'fixer upper' that was 135 N Calaveras, would become the 'fixer upper' road
of all time. As the days turned into weeks, then months, the challenge turned into a love affair.
When one is in 'love', one sees the beauty as well as the warts, and still embraces the object of that love. Time
has not diminished the passion MOI feels for Calaveras, even if that passion is not universally felt by
one and all. Over these many months, Calaveras has had more fall in love with her. Neighbors on the
road have joined in and helped to remove some of the dirt, dress her up and make her more pretty.
Calaveras has more admirers now, and they come from all over the City of Fresno.
The hallmark of any great society is its ability to care for the less fortunate members of that society. If
the folks who are Fresno can let Historic Calaveras die, how can they change Downtown? On a clear day,
one has to but look down the road and see the towers of buildings that make up Downtown Fresno, it
is so close and yet so very far away. The seat of local government, so close and yet so ignored.
MOI had started this as a parody on the article written by Diana Marcum that appeared in the Fresno Bee on
June 29th. Ms. Marcum is a gifted writer and MOI is not in the same league as. As MOI got into the writing of
this, the parody fell away and the words just came out as I tried to piece together a slice of life on
Calaveras. Ms. Marcum is partial to quirky, or so the Fresno Bee says, and MOI does not think there is
a more quirky road or neighborhood to be found in Fresno. When Ms. Marcum visited Calaveras in December
of last year, am quite sure she saw that as well. Am still waiting for Diana to come back and have a cuppa
with this old geezer. Much has happened since she was on the road last.
Diana could meet 'Chocolate' and her small son, Michael. Re-visit Robert. Have a chat with H. Spees and Phil Shei.
She could see the new Dickey Youth Development Centre. See the number of American flags flying on the road. Get
a real sense of what the road and neighborhood feels about itself.
Wonder what she would think of Calaveras now? Would she still think of MOI as pedantic Still be amused by MOI's Brit speak?
It would be most illuminating to hear what Diana thought.