Saturday, November 3, 2007

Creepy Ventura County Drive

According to the Jiffy Lube sign round the corner, it's only 86 degrees at 1 pm, but it feels much hotter. I just paid a small fortune for gas: $3.24! Late October - November-December is the heaviest time of the year for bills. Car insurance (nearly $2,000 a year, and it's nothing fancy), property taxes, Blue Cross, post office box renewal, DMV fees, Auto Club membership, plus the usual rent, credit card, utilities, etc. It's quite a whallop.

In the heat of the dying autumn I get restless too. This is the first weekend in quite a stretch that I haven't gone home. Instead I'm here in Northridge and SHOULD be cleaning, sorting, studying, correcting papers, etc. But like I said, I get restless. So I got on the road about 9:30 this morning to drive up into Ventura County. I headed for Moorpark as I'd only ever passed through once before, and that is where my dear friend Danielle lives. She should be home from the hospital next week and I'd like to go visit her at home. Thought I should check it out in advance.

Well, the 118 freeway up through Simi Valley is colorless except for the mega huge rock outcroppings along the side. Reminds me of Joshua Tree and I'd
love to take photos, only I'm driving on the freeway at the time. All new-ish residences packed into Simi alongside the rocks which used to be used as western movie ranches, where they filmed serials that my dad was nostalgic about, where Chatsworth and Simi meet. As you leave Simi, the freeway becomes more like a highway and narrows down to two lanes and you start to get that "hicksville" feeling.

In my case, I got that CREEPY feeling. This morning's Moorpark and thereabouts outing gave me the creeps! Admittedly, if you don't know your way around a new place, you can be a little "out of your element," but heading into Moorpark I felt trapped. It gave me an overwhelming sensation of being trapped and that sudden panic of "can't breathe!" My coworker Monika, whose parents are Dutch, lives out there too and just loves it. The place has 36,000 people and she reckons it is a wonderful small town, surrounded by a lovely greenbelt, with convenient shopping and neighborly people. Danielle always makes it sound very "whitebread" as they say (hate that term).

From my drive-by today, it seemed mostly Hispanic. The Mexican, etc. population may well be long-time residents or kin of long-time residents because many were lined up in front of a liquor store as day laborers in an area where even a "cheap" condo now starts at $300,000. I don't see how working people can afford it. They must've gotten in at an earlier time. The place is a mix of half-rotting, maybe-hundred-year-old remnants and modern gated "communities" that are "now selling" according to the signs. Plus the usual style of California homes are there, all pushed right up against their neighbors. There are lots of trees, but few of them look healthy. Of course, fires have swept through more than once. In fact, a small army of fire trucks drove through, lights flashing, while I was driving in the area. Motorcycles too--whole clubs of motorcycle riders seem to fill the place. Danielle makes it sound like true suburbia, Monika makes it sound like a nice small town, and now I shall claim it's a claustrophobic, ugly corridor on the way up to the more farm land-ish parts of Ventura County.

As I drove on out of Moorpark and toward Fillmore, where fireworks are legal (??), I passed through the actual VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH. I kid you not. I'm not sure how much was carved out simply to make room for the narrow road, how much is an actual rock quarry, and how much is burn area, but it is desolate and looks like the Forbidden Zone or Mars. Some of it is actually RED. I wonder if that was from the flame retardant the fire crews drop? I wanted to take pictures of actual hell, but nowhere to stop. On the way back through I did manage to pull onto the shoulder a couple times. Some fools had carved their names into the sand-rocks. That's like asking for it. Oddly, up around the corner two school buses from Pasadena College were parked, and about twenty students were out staring at the area. Kids, this is Deathville.

Photos appear here now.

What drives me crazy EVERYWHERE I go exploring, is that there is always someone RIGHT on my bumper who wants me to go faster, faster. I am always slowing someone down and there is no chance for me to just pull over, stop, get out, take photos, etc. I can barely enjoy looking around
because I'm caught on this racetrack. Grr grr.

Fillmore seemed to be a small crossroads of a community, again Latino, and onwards I went to Santa Paula. The highway to Santa Paula is lined with fields and rented plots of tree farms and other crops I presume. Actual farm land! There are also a few Victorian-era homes right at the roadside, mostly in lesser condition and well-hidden behind trees. Those were mega cool and spooky and I managed to pull over onto the shoulder and attempt a few photos. Not the best photos, nor did I manage to get one of the spookier places, due to it being behind trees, and everyone behind me going 65 mph, all racing who knows where, but definitely in a big hurry.

In Santa Paula itself, I was the only white person to be seen, and the place is how I picture Mexico to be in parts. Wikipedia says the town is 90% Hispanic. Found this one museum, "the old oil building" or such, from 1890. [See the official site here] I parked on the street and got pix but didn't go in. A few dilapidated older homes were handy to photograph as well. I walked across a couple streets, despite not having put on any sunblock this morning. I'm sure I got burned. It was hot out there and I could feel the sun damaging my face further. There was a woman pushing her baby along, all the while jabbering away in Spanish on
her cell phone, older men sitting on benches, the main street has that angular parking of yesteryear, most the businesses were food or clothes, and all signs in Spanish. Lots of children about and even boys in the park in one of those skateboard "pits"--what do you call that? Concrete that goes down in and forms a bowl so guys can try skateboarding up and down its walls...I wanna call it a "pipe"--I dunno! I felt like a total foreigner and it was hot, so back on the freeway (highway) I got.

I managed to stop on the shoulder a couple times for photos, including this older building, painted red, that is a girls' schoolhouse.
Near that schoolhouse was also an older building turned garden center, and I pulled in to photograph the home. This other car was also in the driveway and they got out and began picking fruit off a tree in the yard! Sure, help yourselves! It was NOT one of those "pay and pick" places either. I don't know what the fruit was, but I got a photo so Lopex can I.D. it for me (as I am confident she can; I am clueless about trees, plants, fruits, flowers... but I like weeping willows. I was surprised to find one in a crowded suburban yard when I first entered Moorpark. Got a pic!)

When I got back into Moorpark, the 118 sign went both ways, and I couldn't recall which way I'd turned. Of course, I made the wrong choice, and maybe five miles down the unfamiliar road of yet more potted palm trees for sale, I turned back, doing a U across a highway of speeding trucks (well, I waited for an opening!) There were many, many dead wild animals in the road. Poor babies. Every other sign announces a place called Grimes Canyon Road. For my non-California friends, Ventura County is north of Los Angeles County, and where I am in Northridge is not far from the county line. Ventura is smaller, greener, more farmland, more fires (more dry trees to burn).... Don't confuse Ventura County with the pleasant beach community of Ventura itself. That is, of course, on the coast, and the places I went this morning are inland.

I returned to Northridge feeling very out-of-place as I can't speak much Spanish, saddened about the dead animals, angry about all the people constantly on my tail, curious about the old houses, worried about my sun-damaged skin, and unhappy about the dry trees, strong winds, price of homes, narrow stretch of highway, and life in general. Surely I forgot some comments I had in my head as I drove... I will post photos on my now-PRO (hey!) Flickr account and link them here.

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