While I have lived in Stockton the past couple of years, the place I miss – not quite as much as Maine, of course – is Vacaville.
It is the closest thing to home that I have known since moving to California. I spent more than 13 years living and working in Vacaville, positioned along Interstate 80 between Sacramento and San Francisco. That location has made Vacaville a fine commuter community.
But Vacaville – a farming and ranching community and home to two state prisons long before it was a commuter town – is more than a wide spot along the freeway. It is a family-friendly city with parks and events. A fine selection of retail shops are here, too, mostly because of the freeway access. It is not far from recreational opportunities, including Lake Berryessa and Lagoon Valley Regional Park; it is not that far from the Napa wine region, either.
And the city is nestled at the base of California’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Or, at least, I believe they are part of California’s Blue Ridge Mountains. They are beautiful most of the year and when they are not spotted with brush fire.
Vacaville is a place I regretted leaving. I did so for career opportunities, which since have soured and dried up. Vacaville is a place where I would live again if I had the opportunity.
I ventured to Vacaville today, however, not out of nostalgia, but out of desperation. I have run through my Unemployment Insurance benefits and there will not be more coming unless Congress does something to ease the suffering of the 99ers, the long-term unemployed Americans who have gone through their 99 weeks of Unemployment Insurance.
I came to do the unthinkable – cash out an IRA to pay my bills for the next couple of months. I hated doing it; it is just one more sign of personal failure, I suppose. I calculate I will have enough to pay my basic expenses for the next two or three months and still have enough to cover a complete retreat out of California if I still have not found a job in that time.
But at this very moment, I am sitting at a table in the Solano County Library’s Vacaville Town Square branch in the heart of downtown Vacaville. Outside the grand floor-to-ceiling windows are Andrews Park and the CreekWalk. A gray squirrel just ran up the embankment along the walk and jumped into a redwood tree. Just a short distance away, two blue jays swept up the creek and into a conifer. People have been walking back and forth since I sat down and up on the hill at Great Wonders Playground, children are playing.
Great Wonders was built many years ago with volunteer labor and donations. It was burned down a short time later due to negligence. Volunteers rebuilt the place even better than it was before.
That sort of community spirit – building a playground and then rebuilding it just short few weeks later – is what I miss about Maine and what I miss about Vacaville.