Saturday, May 29, 2010

The small town as a large metaphor. Take Bakersfield. No, you take Bakersfield.

Gilroy, California, is located between Salinas and San Jose like a place on your back you cannot reach to scratch; it is about twenty-five miles north of Salinas, which itself is more famous for things that were rather than what now is, and about forty-five miles below San Jose, which is big enough in area to think of taking on Los Angeles for sprawl, but doesn't seriously have the imagination to do so. This leaves Gilroy in a state of wanting to be scratched or possibly always just at an itch.

You have traveled through small towns in North America, and a number of them in England, which is in this context is best left to fend for itself. Small towns in North America are defined by men wearing hats and women coping with hair-do. 

 The hats worn by men in small towns in Mexico are of woven straw. In the U.S., the hats west of the Mississippi are baseball caps with the brims worn backwards, presumably to shade the neck, although the men in the Western states who do wear their hats with the bill facing outward tend to be into their sixties, their hats decorated with some military designation.

Although it is true that in some parts of the west men may be seen in the company of Stetsons, you can with good faith reason that these men are not so much wearing their hats as transporting them about. However tall their crowns or bent, spindled, and folded their felt brims, these Stetsons appear to be hovering slightly over the heads of their owners, a sort of Texas-style halo.

The women in small towns such as Gilroy cope with their hair-do as military personnel display hashmarks, as a demonstration of service. You can tell just by looking at their hair-dos that women in Gilroy have a hard life. The principal product of Gilroy is garlic, a delightful thing to discover in one's food, although the growing of garlic is not something you or anyone you know is particularly interested in talking about. To judge by appearances of their respective hair-dos, the women in Bakersfield have an even harder life than the women in Gilroy; the women in Bakersfield have some carrots to talk about and a good deal of whacked-out religious beliefs, which helps them feel entitled to feel that their life is harder than the life in Gilroy.

It is not so much the food that draws you to the Sunrise Cafe in Gilroy as the early morning gatherings of men who grow things, hunt ducks, and leave the house early rather than facing the hair-do of their wife. 

 Their conversation has a distinct southern twang to it, Arkansas and possibly Kentucky, but definitely places of origin that cause the Sunrise Cafe to place biscuits and gravy on the breakfast menu as well as grits and pretty nearly anything you could possibly think of in chicken-friend form. Their conversation is a recitative, done in a kind of rural Wagnerian opera cadence with the leader making a statement, the respondents either sneezing or simultaneously agreeing with him.

Mornings at small restaurants in small towns are mythic; their menus produce cannonball stomachs and a kind of dull, glazed over good fellowship that makes Shakesperean comedy seem mild in comparison. Teasing, exaggeration, and boiled-over coffee are the lubricants to the twenty-first century, postmodernist answer to the angst and anomie of the big city of the East, where a young person's life and social careers are often determined as early as pre-School, and the big city of the West where you could live your entire working career life in a neighborhood where there were only big box stores, franchises, and a constantly shifting set of neighbors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Around harvest time, Gilroy smells wonderful - garlic is most fragrant when it's just being pulled from the field, or when you're lucky enough to be driving behind a garlic truck that's on its way to a packing shed. -Karen