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In late January in California, in the East Bay, the fences along the streets that I walk are sporadically punctuated with blooming jasmine. The scent is sweet but not heady: a spring scent, reminding me of forsythia, or of the mock-oranges — Philadelphus lewisii, discovered by (and named for) the voyageur Meriwether Lewis in some ditch of eastern Oregon. It’s pleasant, muted yet pervasive, calm. The fences they adorn, however, are anything but subtle. Some are made of board, rough and unpainted, just barely standing, aided by wire or many, many appended nails. Others are bare chain-link, the galvanized wire mesh epitomizing a no-nonsense, function-before-status period of this bungalow-belt neighborhood in Oakland.

This is not atypical. Flowers in January, brilliant sunlight, a sense that you can walk down the street wearing a t-shirt almost any day of the year and not be cold beyond reason. Nor, for that matter, will you be stared at for having made a social or fashion faux pas. Just as the ramshackle wood fence and the no-nonsense mesh fence still stand unremarked upon, taste in clothes is equally unseen. Cars come and go on the street. Drivers hold up hands against the setting sun or flip down sunshades, and all is the same, though one may drive a new BMW, and one a 1980s Toyota Corolla. Though one may wear Gucci and Prada or Tom Ford and another Hanes and Goodwill. And critically, there will be no correlation. Mr. Hanes may be in a Porsche Carrera, and Mr. Ford might be behind the wheel of a Honda Accord. More… “Jasmine and the Good Life”

Alexander Craghead is a historian of design and place. His writing and photography has appeared in regional and national publications, including BOOM: A Journal of California, Railroad Heritage, Trains, and is the author of The Railway Palaces of Portland, Oregon: The Architectural Legacy of Henry Villard(The History Press, 2016). He currently teaches in the American Studies program at University of California Berkley, where he is also a doctoral candidate.

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When I was a teenager in Los Angeles and newly licensed to drive, my friends and I began to tentatively road trip up and down the California coast, ostensibly looking for surfing breaks, parties, girls, but really just driving as far as we could on the $25 it took to fill a gas tank and the few dollars more we could scrounge for food. We would head south to San Diego and, when we were adventurous, beyond that to Tijuana, Mexico. To secure parental approval we assured our mothers and fathers that our trips had a purpose: to visit potential colleges.

San Francisco represented the outside range of the voyages possible for unchaperoned, Southern California minors. Eight hours by car along the 5, past the other university towns of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz, it was always a mysterious destination for Angelino boys like us. For one… More…

When I started walking the 450 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I wanted to hear birds and waves and let my mind wander towards contemplations of life and philosophy and the divine. That was what I hoped for. My brain, however, had its own agenda.

 

The trip began pleasantly enough on a clear and cool October morning, following paths and small roads that hugged the crenulations of the northern California coast. In those first few days everything was novel: I felt the weight of the backpack, enjoyed the breeze coming off the coast, smelled the salt air.

That first night out I met a middle-aged man named Gary who was riding his bicycle down the coast. He was overweight and out of shape and had to push his bike up hills, so for a few days… More…