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Be Sure to Leave the Light On for Us

I’ve been in this Carolina town about 15 minutes (couple months, actually) and already I’m more knowledgeable about its roads and streets than after 100 (40, actually) years in Ukiah.

Here I can give you directions and shortcuts to the police station, the welfare and unemployment offices and probation headquarters. I could draw you an accurate map of downtown with the courthouse in the middle.

Ukiah? I still don’t know where Mohawk Drive is, and I can’t name a single street in El Dorado Estates. San Jacinto (or is it Jacinta?) is somewhere up on a hill not far from a canyon across from a meadow, but I only sound like I know what I’m talking about because I’m making it up.

Even the west side, where I’ve lived since around 1980, is a dense, impenetrable forest, a rabbit warren of places named Calvert Court, Doolin (Doolan?) Canyon, Live Oak and North Oak and Oak Park and Marwen Drive. Do Hope and Spring Streets intersect with Stephenson? Standley?

Here I already know where I am and have a fair idea of how to get back, even without the google thing. I know Parker Street runs alongside the cemetery, and if you go north it cuts into Jefferson; go left and you’re at the Old Charlotte Highway. Running parallel to my two lane road is Church Street, with all those triple-tiered wedding cake mansions, and it cuts perpendicular across Hudson and Houston Streets. Either will take you over to Maurice Avenue.

Compare and contrast that with my being lost and confused at the corner of Perkins and Hortense which for all I know don’t come within three blocks of each other. I’m not the only guy unable to navigate Ukiah’s wilderness.

Mike Rogers, for instance, moved to Ukiah as a toddler. Back then the roads were dirt and livestock grazed around the old courthouse, a one-story shed with a tarpaper roof. He’s lived here ever since, and yet Mike Rogers still can’t name the four streets that surround the courthouse, and would have to call 9-1-1 if he was abandoned on Jackson Street.

He’s not alone. We aren’t alone. On second thought, yes we are. We’re all alone, confused and wandering blind among neighborhoods where street signs seem to change overnight.

Ask someone the quickest way to get from Fairway to Fairview and you’ll wait a long long time for an answer, which could be right, which is just another way of saying it could be wrong. Then ask how to get to Anton Stadium; you’ll end up at Burger King.

What is it about the streets of Ukiah that produce a massive fog clouding our near-term memory bank when we try to hack our way through the unexplored jungles enroute to Giorno Drive?

Through the years I’ve written about it, talked about it, and thought about it, especially when lost down on Irvington Street doing u-turns on Burlington and Arlington until finally marooned at Vinewood Park. The survival kit (Sextant, compass, snowshoes, provisions) brings us to within spitting distance of Frank Zeek Elementary. Maybe we’ll be home for Christmas after all.

I know no one whose experience is contrary. Everybody admits to being adrift, looking for the street signs to try to figure out which way to go in a town—no, a neighborhood—we’ve travelled hundreds of times before, three times this week alone. How can it be we can’t remember whether Freitas runs this side of Observatory or dead ends at Oak?

It’s personal amnesia shared collectively, concentrated within a few dozen square blocks where we live, the very epicenter we should all know best because we are most familiar with it. Bah.

A couple years ago a few of us who meet daily to walk around Todd Grove Park all heard fire trucks and ambulance sirens. It had been a few minutes earlier and a few blocks east of where we were standing.

One lady said the commotion started behind the house she’d been living in for 60 years, but couldn’t remember the name(s) of nearby street(s). Nobody else could help pinpoint it because no one knew whether Hazel crosses Dora Avenue or runs next to Grove. What’s north of Walnut anyway?

It might as well have happened in Fresno.

In the late 1960s I worked as a police reporter for the Cleveland Press. My shift went midnight to 9 a.m. and I covered the entire city and whatever suburb interested me that night.

I can still remember many of the streets of Cleveland, at the time the ninth biggest city in the USA, more accurately than I remember the pattern of streets named for wines out north of Ukiah High.

My wife can direct you around San Francisco as if she has a map glued inside her eyelids, all because she worked and lived there for five years, 25 years ago. But neither of us know where Morris Street is. (Note: I looked it up. Morris dead-ends about 40 feet from the front door of the house we lived in on North Oak.)

Once again, don’t let me die in Ukiah; I’d get lost trying to find my way to the cemetery.

(Tom Hine thinks that since everyone is so hot to tear down monuments, re-name cities and in general raise havoc across the land, why not change the name of every Ukiah street to Road A, Road B, Road C, etc., crisscrossed by others named 1st Street, 2nd Street, 3rd Street? TWK says it works in Redwood Valley and look how nice life is out there.)

One Comment

  1. Kirk Lang December 13, 2021

    tooo funny…lol!

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