The Case for Walnut Creek
The last place I thought I’d end up was Walnut Creek. “There’s no way,” I’d cough to my friends as we passed around a TAP Plastics–made bong. “Not me. The people here are dicks.” We’d laugh, cough some more, get the munchies, and head down to 7-11 in a beat-up Honda Civic, the sounds of Cypress Hill thumping from a 10" MTX bass tube. It went that way for the majority of my high school life. My friends and I would plot our escape. We’d plan trips abroad, even go on a few. We’d dream up “genius” business ideas in between rips, and in typical stoner fashion, never write anything down. We wanted to be anywhere but there. Walnut Creek was an uppity stench we couldn’t wash off quick enough.
Looking back, I admit that I was really just lying to myself. But who would blame me? In those days I was more concerned with not letting the hacky sack hit the ground than where my kids would go to school. I cared about what girls, not employers, thought. I didn’t have any perspective. Meaning: I had nothing to compare Walnut Creek to. After stints of living in Berkeley and Oakland, traveling the country and living out of my truck, and working in San Francisco, only then did Walnut Creek become that girl that I was comparing everyone else to. I saw that her vast open spaces gave me a sense of freedom. How she was always cool with me hanging out with friends in the city and Oakland because she was simply a BART ride away. Long distance trips to Tahoe, Big Sur, or LA were never an issue because her freeways were so centrally located and wide.
My city friends think Walnut Creek may as well be on the East Coast, rather than the East Bay. Their minds can't comprehend anything beyond the Bay Bridge. Someone even asked me if it was in Sacramento. I don’t blame them – many think the world falls into a sinkhole East of Oakland. How could I expect them to know what the Caldecott Tunnel is? I put it to them this way: Walnut Creek is a light at the end of the tunnel. It signifies a 20-degree difference on the thermometer: up (summer) or down (winter). It leads to golden hills spotted by oak trees and fire trails and rattlesnake warnings. It's a city I'm not ashamed to say I grew up loving to hate and now own a home in.
Here's the thing about living in the suburbs: In the morning, there's a sunrise. I see orange and yellow colors spill over Mt. Diablo and hear nothing but my own thoughts. Actually, the soundtrack to my thoughts is serenaded by a variety of birds that feed off three different feeders hanging from my trellis. They are mourning doves, scrub jays, robins, and finches. One morning, three ducks landed in my backyard. I rarely see pigeons.
Also, a redwood fence envelops me in a fortress of privacy. No one lives above me or below me. No one bangs on my walls or ceiling when my TV is too loud. There are no people shuffling past my door at 3 a.m., or 2 p.m. for that matter. And no one is sleeping in my doorway. The best part? I have three bedrooms and two baths and pay the same amount as my old Victorian flat off Lake Merritt. Which was cheaper than a junior studio in the Mission. But I have a garage and a man cave (work in progress) and a yard. I also don’t have to pay to put my kids into a good school. A public school in Walnut Creek equals a quality education.
In the summer, I wear shorts and flip-flops and I'm still hot. So I'll put a Slip 'N Slide on my lawn, turn the sprinklers on, and run like the Warriors on a fast break transition.
Forgive me, I don’t want to blow too much 'burb smoke up your ass. I mean, Walnut Creek isn’t a complete paradise. For starters, it is about as diverse as the Bird-led Celtics. Honestly, it really looks and feels like a John Hughes film. Although I’m seeing more and more city folks migrate east to start families, the most culture you'll get is in the probiotics section of Whole Foods. And as a parent, this is a serious concern of mine. I want my kids to be exposed to a diversity of people and experiences, and everybody pretty much looks and acts the same out here. That sucks. There’s also an air of entitlement (remember that uppity stench?) which only gets magnified with every Neiman Marcus slash Tiffany & Co. type store that opens on Main St. A high school parking lot in Walnut Creek looks like an episode of Top Gear.
I have also given up on trying to find a good cup of coffee; it just doesn’t exist. I’ll plan a weekend trip to IKEA in Emeryville just to stop by Subrosa Coffee in Oakland. San Francisco’s food truck scene is way better than Walnut Creek’s sit-down options. When you’re in Walnut Creek, you’re truly Off the Grid. Fortunately, we’re sandwiched between Chow Lafayette and Chow Danville. Plus, a hipster ice cream shop, Lottie’s Creamery, just opened up downtown and has satiated my Humphry Slocombe appetite. As for the nightlife, don't even get me started. That doesn't exist either, at least not in the "that was fun" sort of way. It's all sports bars and doosh clubs. Walnut Creek sort of feels like a convalescent version of the Marina. I also loathe the fact that there are no good places to see live music or any handle-barred mustachioed bartenders serving up innovative concoctions (though Corners Tavern is trying).
Walnut Creek will never be Oakland or San Francisco. It’ll never be a city that inspires forward thinkers or social movements. It’ll never foster the innovation of great products or be known for its progressiveness. And it doesn’t need to. It wasn’t built for that. It was built to take a break from those things before you go back to them on Monday mornings. It's so refreshing when someone doesn't know what a hashtag is or doesn't bother checking in. Because in the suburbs no one cares. It’s amazing to walk down the street and not catch a whiff of piss. It’s even better watching my kids run around their own hilly backyard like Fraulein Maria in The Sound of Music.
I will say, though, that with a little help from you urbanites, Walnut Creek could aspire to be that cousin city that surprises you with its hipness and charm. I ask a simple question to those ready to settle down (all you others will be bored out of your minds here): What are you waiting for? For the sake of all the kids out here, come diversify the sunny side with fresh perspectives and different cultural backgrounds – and bring good coffee with you.