My wife and I went on vacation last week. We decided to drive north, (because heading into the frigid cold of February is a great vacation plan, just ask the Donner party), ultimate destination Ashland, Oregon.
I had never been to Ashland before, and it’s hard to classify the town. It’s somewhat schizophrenic, you have the young folks from the college with their facial hair, longboards, and blond dreadlocks vying for supremacy against the active seniors with their white hair, expensive outdoor clothing, and sensible shoes, (and by sensible shoes I mean hiking shoes that could handle climbing to the top of K2 at a moments notice.) Basically, if you took all the white people in Calistoga and crossbred them with all the white people on Berkeley’s Fourth Street, then swaddled the subsequent child in polyester fleece and suckled it with the milk of an ovo-lacto vegetarian mother who would never eat meat (but might smoke cigarettes), then you’re ready to populate Ashland.
Don’t get me wrong, Ashland is a gorgeous little jewel box of a town. Beautiful parks and scenery, wonderful food, quirky boutiques. It’s the type of place you feel comfortable in within moments but then take days to explore; the type of town where the real estate agents proudly display their available properties sheets in front windows, because people visiting immediately begin to ponder how nice it would be to live there. The type of town that would lure someone to impulse buy an entire life as if it were a blouse or antique spittoon.
Ashland is geographically blessed with scenery, they have fancy water that tastes bad but is supposedly good, and they have a thriving university, but those factors on their own don’t make Ashland world renowned. Those factors might make people pull off the highway and take a peek, like at the ostrich farm near Solvang or Pea Soup Andersen’s on I-5, but the real engine that drives Ashland is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
With all of the wineries, food, parks, rivers, peaks, and boutiques, one could easily go to Ashland and have a great vacation without ever stepping into one of the Oregon Shakespeare productions, however without the festival, the infrastructure and demand for those activities would have never germinated. I’m going to jump back to the scenery of I-5 for just a moment, while driving I-5 one will often see the sign in the fields that reads, “Food grows where water flows,” in the case of a town like Ashland, you could change the slogan to something like, “Opportunity (i.e.. money) grows where people go” Okay, it’s a rough slogan; you want an ad man call Don Draper, I’m just a second rate blogger, the point is the Shakespeare Festival brings the people, the people bring their wallets.
And here’s the abbreviated, outsiders history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: the town had an old, broken down stage, and someone said, “Hey, let’s put on a show.” It may as well have been Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney rather than Oregon drama professor, Angus L. Bowmer.
You can’t spend the amount of time I spend, writing and thinking about Castro Valley, (of course I’m going to hamfistedly turn this back to Castro Valley, otherwise it’s just the worst travelog ever), without comparing our town to every town I visit. It has struck me that Castro Valley needs more people saying, “let’s put on a show,” and less people saying, “we can’t,” “we shouldn’t,” and, “that’s too different.”
Of course I’m not suggesting some sort of Castro Valley Christopher Marlowe Festival. You can’t even copy someone else’s ideas on Facebook, let alone an entire festival. Folks notice those things.
What I am saying is that as citizens of Castro Valley we need to follow our passions and our interests and step up and make things happen. We need to be our own economic engine. We have no elected representation to speak of, we can’t expect anyone to do things for us. The collective complaining, foot dragging, and naysaying will only ever be silenced, albeit temporarily, by success.
Driving home from Ashland we stopped in Redding. The only thing I knew about Redding was heat, it was the city you drove through with the windows rolled up and the air conditioner turned on. We stopped at the Sundial Bridge, erected over the Sacramento River, and one of the first things I wondered is, “Here is an inspired, world class piece of architecture, connected to a trail system, museums, botanical gardens, and it’s in Redding? How did they do this?” And sure enough it was a small group of people effectively saying, “Let’s put on a show,” that made it happen. Now, according to the Redding city manager, that bridge is bringing in millions of dollars annually in tourism and commerce.
Once again, I’m not suggesting we erect a giant zip line over Lake Chabot. I’m saying that if we are going to steal anything from these towns we steal inspiration, we steal the radical idea that our town can be better, we steal the audacity to believe in ourselves. We stop complaining and start doing.
The first year Ashland put on a Shakespeare performance they weren’t cravenly selling futures in Bed & Breakfasts, they were just putting on a show, unwittingly planting the seeds for a bright future. We need to start planting some seeds Castro Valley, I don’t know what’s going to take hold, but if we plant nothing, the only thing that will grow will be weeds and bramble.
So, hey Castro Valley, let’s put on a show.