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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Our Desert Trip; Part 1

Part 1 in which we drive from Sacramento to 29 Palms, and see where suburban sprawl and rural poverty meet in California’s Central Valley.

We visited some desert parks and missions last week. It was a good vacation for both of us, as well as a source of grist for the blog. I expect to do several entries over the week about our experience with Southern CA.

This is the first time I had ever driven down the dreaded highway 5. Although we left the highway well before Los Angeles, most of it was a very dull drive, with one exception. A stretch of a little over 50 miles south of Tracy runs though the edge of the foothills, with views of the California aqueduct below. The rest of the route is a constant fight against falling asleep.

We stopped at Wonderful Wasco, CA for lunch. I have never seen a town with so many boarded up businesses. That’s not surprizing, given that the official unemployment rate in the Central Valley is about 20% (remember, cub economists, the federal unemployment rates exclude most long term unemployed workers). We drove down the main street looking for local restaurants, and the first three we saw were boarded up. We ended up eating at Perko’s, a California chain. The waitresses were all fluent in Spanish and English, and an old guy in the next booth was a packers fan. The place felt a little like Kenosha in the 1980’s but dryer and sunnier. Mothballed business became an underlying theme of this trip.

As the chamber of commerce tells us, Wasco is ‘just’ 130miles north of Los Angeles. In California’s wacky relativistic universe, that made Wasco a potential gold mine for developers. We could see this partially completed development from Perko’s. I don’t know what will happen to these unfinished and abandoned developments.

We saw a lot of parched fields and orchards full of dead trees. Apparently, as water has become more scarce, agribusiness has figured out they can make more money by selling water rights to Southern California urban areas than they can make growing stuff. Great deal, except for those of us who like to eat. Expect more on this at your grocery store this fall.

Next (really first) stop is 29 Palms and Joshua Tree.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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