Do you love your home town? Sacramento has been mine for the last 45 years (excepting the four years when I lived in Los Angeles). When I first moved here, I experienced a significant culture shock, having spent the first 25 years of my life in and around the nation’s largest city. New York was a mecca for sports, theater, music, art, history, and religious diversity, and I benefitted greatly from the years of my youth and early adulthood that I spent there. But the city also had its drawbacks, most notably its climate (bitterly cold in the winter, uncomfortably humid in the summer, and with only brief periods of pleasant weather in the spring and fall). I left it, with no small amount of anticipation, to move to California, which, in my mind, was an amalgam of Los Angeles, beaches, Disneyland, Hollywood, Big Sur, Monterey, Carmel, San Francisco, the Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mendocino. I pictured glamour, and beauty, and sunshine, and movie stars, and fast cars on modern freeways.
Instead, I found myself in the state capital, which is where the law school I was to attend was located. To be blunt, in 1972 the city seemed little more than a cow-town. At best, it was a relatively short drive from San Francisco, which was where I sometimes went to feel like I wasn’t really in a foreign country. At worst, it was a culturally destitute city that didn’t seem to have a real identity.
But I was a law student, and when you’re a law student you don’t have a lot of time to fret about the city where you’re living. Still, the desire to leave Sacramento when I graduated was intense, and the move I made to Los Angeles to take up my legal career was most welcome. And L.A. was great. First of all, it’s where I met my wife. Second of all, it’s where my team, the Dodgers, played. And third of all, it was loaded with all the enrichments I’d left behind in New York without the grim climate, the potholes, the seemingly angry rush hours that lasted all morning and well into the evening, and all the other aspects of the city that make living in New York especially challenging.
Still, with all the reasons to stay in Tinseltown, the lure of Sacramento beckoned, and I accepted a job offer in 1979 and returned, wife in hand. Two years later our first son was born, followed in 1983 with the birth of our second. The capital still wasn’t what I considered a real city, but in our little community in Carmichael (where we bought a home), we felt secure, safe, comfortable. And then, with our careers getting established and the boys set in pre-school, the city suddenly got a new look and had a new feel, when, in 1985, it became the home of a major league sports franchise.
The arrival of the National Basketball Association’s Kings from Kansas City was the kind of breakthrough in the development of a community that opens the door for many other advances. The Kings were not a great team for its first ten or so years in Sacramento, but it didn’t matter to most of us. We were now a major league city, hosting games that featured the biggest athletic stars in the sport. And when their teams were in town for a game, you could (and sometimes did) run into them in hotel gift shops or at the mall (as I did when I got Michael Jordan’s autograph at the Hyatt gift shop or saw Danny Ainge with his son at the Arden Fair Mall). The Kings put Sacramento on the map. No longer did you have to explain that it wasn’t a suburb of Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Perhaps the town would have grown even without the presence of the Kings, but their identification with the city definitely accelerated the process. Now, over 30 years since the Kings’ arrival, Sacramento bears little resemblance to the sleepy community I discovered back in 1972. It still can’t claim to be a must-visit city on the scale of a New York or a Chicago or a Los Angeles, but Sacramento does rank in the top 50 of all media markets in the country, and it has developed some reasons for recognition beyond the NBA franchise it continues to host.
At a New Year’s Eve party my wife and I hosted this week, our guests voted on Sacramento’s best attraction. The list of choices included 40 different reasons to appreciate what the town offers. Among those receiving votes were the following landmarks, iconic buildings, artistic organizations, or notable activities:
The Railroad Museum
The Crocker Art Museum
The Tower Theater
The Crest Theater
Golden One Center
B Street Theater
The State Fair
Rafting on the American River
The American River Bike Trail
The City’s Climate
The list also included over a half dozen restaurants and eateries that elevate the quality of life available to residents and visitors. Included in that group were Biba’s, the Kitchen, Mulvaney’s, the Firehouse, the Waterboy, and Gunther’s and Vic’s Ice Cream Parlors. Not on the list, but certainly added reasons Sacramento can be considered a legitimate city were these hotels: the Hyatt, the Sheraton-Grand, the Citizen, and the Sterling. Not included (because it is outside of the county), but definitely a major cultural asset for residents, was the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts (on the campus of U.C. Davis).
The value of living in a particular town or city can be measured in a number of ways. Various metrics exist that are espoused by entities like chambers of commerce and economic think-tanks. In the end, however, one’s appreciation for the quality of life a town offers may best be measured by the sense one has of being a part of its community. For more than a few years, on first moving to and then re-settling in Sacramento, I resisted the sense that I was a “Sacramentan” (to coin a word that probably needs to be recognized). I fully adopted California as my new home state long before I acknowledged Sacramento as my home town.
But now, after sharing in the growth of the city and forming friendships that have endured and feeling great pride in some of the city’s treasures, I feel at home here. Sacramento is my home, and I’m glad it is.