There is a cultural fissure that severs the city of Santa Rosa in two. The royal California Highway 101 acts as the great divide. To the West junkyards, grape vines, and low-income housing are strewn like dice. To the East lush rolling hills are dotted neatly with million dollar homes, Escalades[CC2][SM1], and outdoor spas. I was a stranger to this segregated municipality as a newly arrived high school freshman. Through two dissimilar friends I was able to swing safely back and forth over the crevice. Occasionally, when the conditions were right, I bore witness to some extremely violent eruptions of the socioeconomic rift. But far more common was my enjoyment of the underlying conjunct motion these two communities shared.
My family and I moved to this once small town ninety miles North of San Francisco in the fall of the 1995. As a biomedical engineer my father had us moving every three to five years to follow the cutting edge research facilities and combat his boredom with upper management. Walking into high school the first day was quite the intimidating experience. By the time my mother and I made the ten-mile drive to Piner High School I was sufficiently scared to the point of sweaty-palmdom[CC4][SM3]. I walked into Mrs. Milkoff’s homeroom English class at 8 o’clock sharp and sat down quickly in the first seat I could find. “Que Tal Vato?” was the first thing Ricardo said to me. Having lived in the bay area for a typical four years [CC5]I [SM6]wasn’t surprised by this at all. I had several years of Spanish in middle school and I had a great appreciation for the Latino community as well as its antiquated slang[SM7]. To break the ice I responded “Nada Mucho Puto!” in my very best fake Spanish accent. Ricardo roared with laughter and from then up until this day we have been the closest of friends.
After school one day, about a week later, he invited me to come over and hang out at his house. Since Piner was on the West side it was only a short walk to Ricardo’s house. On the way we passed an energetic open-air market, a park filled with Eritrean and Mexican children laughing and playing together, and numerous oily driveway mechanics. As we walked through the front door Ricardo’s mother Maria was cooking Carnitas and singing Perdón by Vicente Fernandez, a cancion that would become my favorite. I got to meet both of Ricardo’s brothers and his father as well. They all worked in expensive hotels and restaurants on the East side of town. After a short enlightening conversation it became apparent that this family appreciated even the most simple of commodities[SM8]. It had taken years for Maximiliano to save up enough money to purchase the land and to build the house in which we all sat. In twenty-two years of work he had only been absent twice. The first time was when his father died and the second was when he was too sick to move. My respect for Ricardo’s family continued to deepen like this through the entire meal as my stomach unceasingly processed more and more servings of Carnitas[SM9][CC10]. After dinner my dad picked me up and we drove home. He couldn’t shut me up.
Jordan was Ricardo’s complete opposite. Before attending Piner he had been at Cardinal Newman, a private Catholic school, nestled serenely at the foot of the gently sloped hills that lined the East side of Highway 101. As an aristocratic sophomore he was infinitely more intelligent than Ricardo and me[CC12][SM11]. His manners were refined. His speech was free of profanity and slang. His clothes were clean, trendy, and expensive. But above all Jordan knew how to have a good time. Hailing from a very wealthy family he had all the toys a 16 year old would die for: an Ion Blue Honda Civic Si with dual overhead cams, two Technic 1200 turntables with Rane mixer, and an assortment of small motor vehicles for both land and sea. It was plain however that the best part of owning all these things was showing them to other people; a large number of his gadgets had a fine layer of dust over them[SM13][CC14]. His father was an executive for Hewlett-Packard, which was situated on the top of Fountain Grove, a short drive up the mountain. They had paid cash for their home.
Dinner at “Chateau de Jordan” was an entirely different event. The dining room table was easily three times as large as Ricardo’s and made of solid Oak. Neither of Jordan’s parents cooked well since both worked incessantly so we ordered Chinese food from the finest restaurant in town. The Peking duck was excellent, the conversation far more dry. Jordan’s father and mother grilled me with questions on my college aspirations, fields of interests, and parent’s occupations. They wanted to know the most about me in the smallest amount of time so that all pertinent facts could be filed away neatly and efficiently for future use. They loved to give me advice based on their experiences and I was fascinated how quickly they could parse information and dispense knowledgeable commentary on just about any subject. This superior intellect teamed with business savvy had made Jordan’s parents extremely wealthy. They had all but forgotten how tough times had been when they had just graduated from college and were newlywed. High thread count sheets and imported coffee had washed away the memories of hardship. This was reflected in their speech about the “other side” which I’m sure would have killed to live in their house and dine on their hundred-dollar duck dinner[SM15]. [CC16]
Joining the basketball team and making the highly acclaimed Varsity team two years later exposed me to how these sides interacted when they had to. The pinnacle[SM17] of tension for me came with the final playoff game of the season. We were playing at Jordan’s old stomping grounds: Cardinal Newman High School. Our team was undefeated since we had the scrappiest and hardest working kids in the North Bay but Cardinal Newman had better recruitment and the best coaches money could buy. It was an incredible game, going right down to the last few seconds. The crowd erupted as the final honk and scoreboard confirmed that we had beat Cardinal Newman by three points. As we were strolling victoriously out of the locker room to our beat up little yellow bus I remember the sound of a metal pipe striking the pavement to my right. About twenty yards in front of me was the largest fight I have ever seen in person. The Piner crowd that entered the battle was dressed almost entirely in black. We had some of the biggest, meanest looking African and Mexican guys there that night. In stark contrast were the entirely white boys of Cardinal Newman dressed in a montage of designer fall colors. For a group of supposed pacifists the Catholics fought extremely well but they were no match for the street mentality and vicious homemade weapons of the Westsiders. Nine Eastside residents were hospitalized[CC18]. I learned a few days later, through the churning rumor mill, that the [SM19]words “why don’t you go make me a sandwich and vacuum my bedroom?” had smoothly left the lips of a Cardinal Newman senior.
Later that week the police made a thorough investigation of several communities near our high school. They made some showy arrests and the people who signed their checks were pleased. [CC20]Piner High went on to win the division in Basketball without further incident. As for Santa Rosa, the West side is still destitute but culturally diverse and joyous. The East side is still rich, sterile, and homogeneous but happy with those facts. Both sides still work very hard to acquire what they desire.
Ricardo, Jordan, and I continue to form a mini United Nations, showing the rest of the partitioned town that it is indeed possible to put up with each other. Every time I come home for a visit the three of us have a few beers, some enchiladas, and an occasional good-natured chuckle about the way things are in Santa Rosa. The social tectonic plates are still as prone to violent friction as they ever were but the difference in communities truly remains as marginal as the four lanes of asphalt that separate them[SM21]. [CC22]
[SM1]Thanks—and forgive my ignorance
[CC2]This is a type of Cadillac found in many decadent Hip-Hop videos
Many people should get the reference
[SM3]Just leave out the sufficiently
[CC4]Might not work but I like making up words for dramatic effect sometimes.
[CC5]Explained earlier when I say "moving every three to five years."
I might need help making the inference better.
[SM6]Still confusing; just leave it out—you’ve already provided this information and it has nothing to do with your knowledge of spanish
[CC10]Left out Ricardo's brothers. Not too necessary.
[SM11]Intelligent doesnt do it, try with-it or urbane
[CC12]Tried to make more clear
[SM13]yes on both, but its semi-colon
[CC14]Proper use of semi-colin ? Added description
[SM15]this has the makings of a fine dinner account. But it still needs revision to eliminate repetition and backtracking, and the last sentence is a disaster. Tell us what they said about the other side, and delete your unsupported assertion about what the other side would want.
[SM19]the fight had started when the
[SM21]lovely concluding paragraph. Chris: I appreciate the work and ability you’ve put into this revision. It still has a few rough spots, but overall is a lively, insightful and engaging essay that succeeds in making you the hero of both worlds. A-