"it's just something in the water..."

...that's what everyone said about sacramento. i didn't believe them for a long time. i figured they were just dyed-in-the-wool locals who felt obliged to justify their passion for a town most people hated. sure, i was living there too, but i'd be gone soon enough...and when i left, i'd hardly be returning anytime soon. that's what i THOUGHT, anyway. thing is, i DID return-not once or even twice, but THREE times. before i even realized it, i'd devoted a whole year of my life to the town. i don't know if there really was "something in the water"-other than petroleum, of course-but with my third departure imminent i realized that something had made me love sacto as much as i hated it. maybe a little bit more.

there i was, the week before i was due to leave on a cross-country trip, and i was walking around aimlessly. shucks, it had taken me long enough! i'd lived there for 12 months off and on, that much was true, but there always seemed to be a bicycle seat beneath my crotch. there's an inverse equation, it esems, between the complexity of one's vehicle of choice and the intimacy of their relations with their town. motorists often seem detached and aloof from their environment. bicyclists are friendly while managing to maintain a safe distance. pedestrians, however, are a whole 'nother story. the true pedestrians are the ones who stroll for the sheer joy of it, not because their car's in the shop getting a new muffler. those who walk as an act of love are the folk who hold flower petals to their nostrils and inhale so deeply they sneeze. they step on each and every spiny fruit that the sycamore has shed and feign rollerskating on the cement when several are beneath their feet at once. the walking folk aren't that difficult from "the marrying kind." they give themselves wholly, much preferring a single entree of quality to a sampling of hors d'ouevres. i have a great deal of respect for the pedestrians of the world, but i've admittedly always been more of a bicyclist myself. i dabble in things rather than diving into them. i skim through good books and then skip to the last chapter for the surprise ending. it never took me very many licks to get to the center of the tootsie roll pop. i always bit it after a few seconds and crunched away.

don't get me wrong. i neer shut myself off from things-from people- entirely. i'm not a motorist, after all. i like to feel the air rushing past my body, to watch my shirt sleeves billow. i like to experience kisses fully, but i'm terrified if they occur more than once or twice. i like to breathe in the scent of the honeysuckle from five feet away. i want to know towns, but all from the safe height of my bicycle. i love to explore, but when i start to discover too much i get scared. i've been transient for so long that i'm afraid i wouldn't know how to be stable if i tried. i guess it only made sense, then, that as soon as i abandoned the speed of 2 wheels for the precision of two legs, it was high time to leave town.

ONE WHOLE YEAR. those words echoed through my mind again and again, and i could scarcely believe the truth of them. i had spent one whole year in the river city, and i wasn't even sure what i had gotten out of the experience. certainly a tan and a few good friends, but what lessons had i learned? it seemed to be one of the slowest and least significant years of my life. other years contained landmark events- dramatic if short-lived relationships, the discovery of punk and zines, coming out to my mother and friends, my first cross-country greyhound trip. the most exciting thing i did this year was to shave my head for the first time, and that hardly counts as a landmark event. the lessons i learned in other towns were blatantly obvious. parkersburg, west virginia taught me that optimism is the single most important trait a person can possess. that town was so depressing that pessimists ended up killing themselves: smiling was a survival skill. in tucson i learned the importance of solitude. the vastness of the desert sky can make one feel pretty damn lonely if they don't learn to love their own company. in florida i learned that freedom is more important than anything else, and that living for someone else isn't living at all. every town i've known has taught me something big, yes, but what was sacramento's lesson? there was nothing glaringly obvious. no major revelations occurred. no drastic life changes took place, and yet i seemed to have grown quite a bit despite it all. maybe it was all the little things added up, or maybe sacramento's slow and easy pace had taught me to finally appreciate the art of subtlety. it was the little things about my time in sacramento that stood out, the stories that lacked lustre when told and didn't read so well on paper. going to the trainyards with clay and watching the grass catch fire as a locomotive flew by with sparks spraying underneath it. we put pennies on the tracks and made a pact to give them to the next people who stole our hearts. his flattened copper coin is somewhere in new england right now; mine is still stuck in my wallet. i walked home with a stick slung behind my neck that night: it was three am and i wa alone, and i didn't particularly want anyone to steal either my penny or my wallet. i was thankful for having no hair at that time of morning: all of the drug dealers politely called me "sir" when offerring their wares, reassuring me that i wouldn't easily be identified as a helpless woman walking home alone. perhaps the stick was an exception to my growing appreciation of subtlety. i was hardly inconspicuous with a four foot long knobby branch cradling my biceps. usually i just try to blend into the land- scape, hoping my earth-toned clothes and no-frills look will grant me the anonymity i so often crave. that night however, i felt like a warrior, and showed no restraint in my efforts to let the world know as much.

in sacramento i learned the travelling punk's rule of economic balance. the universe will never let me have more than a few hundred dollars to my name, because when i amass too much dough my life becomes too easy and i don't have any adventures. it only makes sense, then, that when i finally started to reap the financial rewards of my first full-time job in over a year, my right foot plunged through the drywall in the under-construction kitchen of the apartment where pam was staying. it was pretty funny at first. just like lionel richie, i joked, i had been "dancing on the ceiling". the mishap became slightly less humorous, however, when i discovered that my wee accident would cost me $75...and that was even with my "punk discount"! it really is true, though. when i've got cash to burn i lead a considerably less interesting life. buying bus tickets rather than hitchhiking or hopping a train. buying a walkman instead of learning to play the guitar. buying yuppie burritos from the co-op's freezer instead of figuring out what amazing combination of spices they use so i can make my own. forced resourcefulness is fun. hmm... maybe i learned more than i thought in sacramento.

there was something else, too, but it won't do me any good til next february. victoria and i's upstairs neighbor greg bought us tangerines on the eve of the chinese new year. in addition to eating oranges and tangerines on the holiday, i learned that one should also wear red, give money to small children, and cut their hair the night before so as not to snip away any good luck in the new year. i cut my hair but ended up breaking out the scissors the following week anyway. so much for good luck. did i mention that i broke a mirror a few months back as well?

i've only been gone from sacto for three weeks now, but the chicago landscape has sucked me in. i honestly believe that i'll never attempt to live in sacto again, but i know i'll be back to visit. lots. it's the subtlest of lessons that stick with you the longest, you know, and there is, after all, something in the water. now if only it didn't taste like lead...