Dave Rice 2:29 p.m., Dec. 5
When asked where I’m from I often hesitate to respond. I pause and vacillate between versions of the truth before finally settling upon, “San Diego.” But often this answer is too vague, and requires further specification. A more precise, slightly more glamorous response would be, “Del Mar,” however this is borderline dishonest—as in across the borderline of Interstate 5. The un-vague, less-glamorous, honest truth is this: I’m from Carmel Valley.
I was in third grade when we moved here. To my unseasoned eye, Carmel Valley wasn’t like other places. Life here was still developing and we were on the forefront of it—pioneers—ushering in the progress. The settlement was characterized by newness. New housing developments, new schools, new strip malls. My family moved into a model two home in Cantamar, custom tailored to my mother’s tastes, right down to the periwinkle tile in the kitchen. I chose the room with the window seat and my brother settled for the walk-in closet. Heaven was having your own room.
The sparse geography was a blank canvas for our minds. My brother and I need only hop over our back wall to explore the infinite possibilities of a dirt lot; or walk our dusty street to scour the skeletons of houses undergoing construction. We rode our bikes voraciously, investigating this new territory. Spurred by the limitless landscape, our 7-year-old imaginations took shape.
Carmel Valley would soon gain a reputation as a family’s paradise. It was the promise land of good schools and safe cul-de-sacs. The community grew exponentially, dividing and multiplying like out of control cells. Housing developments, roads, grocery stores, gas stations, schools: it was the stuff of the Sim City computer games we played in school, and it was happening all around us.
In time, my inner snob would emerge. I started to notice the stuff other families were made of: the interior décor of their homes, the cars in their driveways, their yards—landscaped with fresh sod and their sparkling, azure swimming pools. The subtle differences between us and them set my family apart in an otherwise, homogonous neighborhood. Ours was the only house on the block still without landscaping; and unlike anyone else, my mother drove a 1984 Honda Accord with screeching breaks and a ceiling that billowed like a Bedouin tent. After assessing our net worth, it was clear that my family didn’t measure up. I managed this indignity by learning to tactfully evade embarrassing situations. Concealing the humiliating truth about my ill-equipped family became an art. I discouraged my friends from coming over: “Let’s hang out at your house instead. My parents are Vegans,” I’d say, as though it were some disease. Driving past highly visible areas, where I might be recognized by someone I knew, was always a convenient time to tie my shoe.
High school only inflated my insecurities. There, I was surrounded by kids from some of the wealthiest communities in the nation. I was a measly gold fish in a very expensive fish tank. The parking lot told the story: teachers drove the Hondas and rusted-out Oldsmobiles, while students flaunted BMWs and Mercedes the second they turned 16. Preoccupied with pretense and perfection, I did everything I could to keep up appearances.
In the years to come, I would move to Seattle and attend college. I would mature and grow a social conscience and come to see the great blunders of our culture—the wasteful, consumerist, narcissistic, money driven culture—all of which I associated with suburbia. Upon each return home, I was stabbed by a pang of disgust for this vast urban sprawl. The completion of Highway 56 only affirmed my distaste—Carmel Valley now joined together a slue of neighboring suburbs, making it one colossal indefinite conglomeration.
The suburban paradise lacked the flavor of some of its more noble counterparts. It lacked the history of a Del Mar—the iconic stage for the glory days of surfing and horse racing. It didn’t have the eccentricity of a community like Encinitas, which resonates a kind of off-beat eclecticism and non-conformist attitude. The conventionality and practicality of suburban living came at the expense of personality and individuality.
It has been 17 years since my parents moved into the model two in Cantamar. A few cosmetic improvements have been made, but the house has largely remained the same (including the periwinkle kitchen tile). It is now landscaped, with a flourishing garden and a Koi pond. Everything around the house has changed. An athletic club the size of a small planet, inhabited by svelte blond women in pink velour sweat suits, has taken over the dirt lot. Only two of our original neighbors remain, everyone else has moved into newer developments. We no longer keep track of who lives in which house, but refer to our neighbors by their home’s original owners like, “the people that live in the Miller’s old house.”
Growing up in Carmel Valley meant watching my neighborhood transform before my eyes—from nothing, to housing development after housing development of stucco and concrete. But in an ever-changing world, our house seems like a monument of stability—the one thing that my family can count on. I now understand why my parents scrimped and saved for this house. This house—mortgaged three times—has put both my brother and I through college, it’s seasoned wildfires and seen us through economic and personal crises. As we weather all kinds of storms—Hurricane Ikes and stock market crashes—those of us with a place to call home count it as a rare blessing. These walls hold our lives together.
Carmel Valley may not be a true-blue, picturesque American neighborhood, with mom and pop grocery stores and milk deliveries to your front door. It may have a few glaring eyesores of a suburb, but never-the-less, it is where I am from. And at the end of the day, I’m cool with that.