Marysville: population: 12,268. 71% white; 18% Latino. Median household income: $28,494; 19% live below the poverty line. The 2000 Census.
My wife and I, lost, stopped the car. The roadside sign had warned: “Gateway to The Gold Fields.” Two adolescents, arms around each other, bouncing and laughing, shouted instructions to the motel.
“Tweakers,” I said. My wife agreed. Surprise, there’s methamphetamine use among adolescents in small town Northern California!
The motel desk clerk, asked about good places to eat, replied: “There’s a McDonald’s and Burger King just down the road,” she pointed and paused. “And a Carl’s Jr. too.”
How about not fast food?
“The super best food in town is at the Silver Dollar Saloon. I send all the guests there, those that ask me anyway. I should get some kinda discount or something.” She laughed.
Understanding her culinary limits, but in exploratory mode, we followed her directions to the “historic district” and after seeing a mysteriously locked Temple Beth Shalom, we crossed the street to a closed Chinese Museum.
In 1854, we learned, the discovery of gold had lured Chinese to California. The immigrants built a temple in Marysville to Bok Eye, god of water who controlled rain. In 1886, however, the white population killed some Chinese and drove the rest out of town.
We decided against the one Chinese restaurant in the area – unoccupied except for one unhappy family – and headed to the Silver Dollar. A buffalo head, with rifles hanging on either side of the once proud beast, adorned one wall. Saddles and other horse paraphernalia drooped from the wall facing it.
At the bar, a guy of about thirty wearing a cowboy hat and another with a baseball hat drank beer from the bottle. The waitress brought my beer to our table without a glass, so I too could follow in the bar slugs’ manly footsteps. Or was it a house rule while one listened to Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings croon at high volume from the juke box? At least the management had muted the TVs, located strategically around the bar and restaurant featuring football games. The noise didn’t seem to bother the young white men and young white women in jeans and kids at tables gnawing on beef, drinking cokes with their parents slurping brew. Other kids screamed, bumping up and down on the electric horse, which cost fifty cents for a short buck.
“Do all the blacks and Mexicans in the place scare you?” I asked my wife.
The waitress brought plates of beef, and actual metal knives and forks. The bar conversation turned louder as five men in their twenties and thirties drinking beer and whiskey – in a glass – started some locker room talk near our table, drowning out some brutally loud Dolly Parton imitator on the jukebox.
“It gets real noisy when karaoke starts later tonight,” the waitress smiled.
As we exited, we attracted stares. I wanted to shout in a Yiddish New York accent: “Whassa matta wid you? Ya never seen a Yenkee before?”
Instead, we walked down historic D Street. More tweaking teenagers bounded along the sidewalks. We passed twelve “for lease” signs and boarded up shops in five blocks. Average for small businesses in small towns in recession? Marysville official unemployment rate: 18.6%. Yet, Republicans won all state and national offices.
We awoke to a roar: a dirt bike race in progress on the Feather River flats. Spectators shivered in the November chill. Motor bikers sped around the hard sand track.
A store window in the historic district featured framed Ronald Reagan photos, his sayings printed in gold. “Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems men face.” “Some people wonder all their lives if they’ve made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.” “One way to make sure crime doesn’t pay would be to let the government run it.”
But John Winks, on the newspaper’s letter page, wrote: “Government is not the problem.” He blamed Reagan’s deregulation that allowed “the corporations, the banks and Wall Street” to steal “the golden goose.”
Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue opposed restrictions on ammunition sales because “the Founding Fathers knew the right to keep and bear arms was the basic premise of a free nation.” (The Territorial Dispatch, November 11, 2009)
At a bookstore, the manager apologized. “The store is closed, because writers are meeting, but take some samples of the works we’re doing.” The pamphlet contained innovative creative writing samples!
On the street, Bush-Cheney bumper stickers adorned pick-ups. The newspaper at least made some space for liberal ideas in Red Country.
Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow whose films are on dvd from roundworldproductions.com. His book, A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD, was published by Counterpunch.