MODESTO – When my wife and I were looking at houses to rent in Modesto just before moving in together, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what the city had to offer.
Downtown was becoming a destination for foodies, McHenry was the commercial heart of the city, and homes were being built all around the outside perimeters of the city.
But when we passed Oakdale Road and hit a stretch of country I wasn’t quite so sure I had ever seen before, the immense of how far Modesto stretches from the Highway 99 began to blow me away.
And ever since I’ve been a student of the community – it’s practices and it’s people and it’s businesses and all-in-all — I’m immensely impressed with Modesto as a whole.
It wasn’t always that way.
While I would cruise McHenry with friends in high school (a friend had a 1965 Mustang that he restored himself and we would spend hours going up-and-back looking for girls to talk to) it wasn’t until I met a co-worker at my first real job – a utility clerk at Food-4-Less in Weston Ranch – that I found a new group of friends that I could fall in with.
And they lived in Linden.
Surely we would spend time hanging out and doing the things that people do in that neck of the
woods – none of which is technically legal – but when it came time to going and doing anything of substance we would have to drive into Stockton.
When some of those friends got an apartment in Stockton, it became a second home to me for a long period of time – feeling as comfortable on that couch as I did in my bed at home.
But Stockton has issues. While in all of the time spent there I’ve never had a single problem, the friend who I worked with was attacked one night outside of the West Lane bowling alley by a group that didn’t like the fact he was “looking at their girls.”
And when I say attacked, I mean he was clubbed in the chest with the curved end of a tire iron. The rod stuck, and so did the nickname “Tire Iron Todd” after he pulled it out of his chest and chucked it back in their direction.
So technically, my friend got stabbed.
And I operated under the impression that if Stockton, the largest city close to Manteca, had issues like that, then Modesto must have had the same problems.
I had the heard the stories about the gangs at the mall (growing up in the early 1990s gangs were pretty much all that you heard about) and about how Modesto was the auto-theft capital of California (a title that it trades off with Stockton every few years or so) so therefore it shaped my entire worldview of the place.
Not even the fact that the majority of the people that I met while cruising McHenry were farm kids from places like Ripon, Escalon, Livingston, Denair, Hughson and (insert Stanislaus County farming community town name here) I still always worried about Modesto’s seedy underbelly.
Don’t get me wrong – Modesto has problems. A few years ago, a guy holed himself up in the attic of an apartment complex and I believe the flashbangs and teargas cannisters that were fired up there set the entire building on fire. My best friend – the guy who was my best man – had moved out of that complex not long before that happened.
Homeless people are a constant issue in Downtown Modesto, and there are some parts (Airport District) you just don’t ever want to find yourself in at any point of the day – especially at night.
But here is what Modesto does have going for it:
uCharm – I always thought that Stockton had Modesto when it came to the community feel because they had a beautiful university. And while that is true, the neighborhoods around UOP – the tree-lined, streets, the mid-century craftsman homes – can be found all around Modesto Junior College as well, and in pockets up and down Briggsmore and Standiford. You can almost feel the history when you drive past some of those homes, and imagine what those streets looked like 50,60 or 70 years ago when they were first built.
uCuisine – As my wife is a major foodie, this has been a big one for us. Downtown Modesto completely blows Stockton out of the water when it comes to fine dining options. Now, I’m not taking anything away from Market Tavern or Midgley’s, but when you have Tresetti’s and Galleto Ristorante practically across the street from one another, Dewz and Surla’s up the street, and new places like Commonwealth opening up all the time, it’s the perfect place to go downtown and have a nice dinner.
uEntertainment – If you count Modesto as the Modesto/Riverbank area (the two communities will eventually overlap) then you’re talking about a community that has four movie theaters. One of them, Galaxy in Riverbank, has reclining seats in every theater. Brenden, once the new kid on the block, just added a gourmet food section to their snackbar and now serve beer and wine. And the State Theater is the only place in two counties where you can see limited run independent movies consistently. Throw in the live events at the State Theater and the Gallo Center for the Arts – which hosts comedians big and small as well as musical acts from today and yesteryear – and all of a sudden you don’t have to drive over to the Bay Area to spend a Saturday night.
uLocation – I love the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and I particularly love the drive up Highway 108 up and over the Sonora Pass. That highway starts in Modesto. While it takes longer to get to Northern California’s more populated areas like the Bay Area and Sacramento than it does from Stockton or Manteca – the backtracking kills me every time – you’re still a hop, skip and jump away.
I always thought that I would have a house in Quail Lakes in Stockton one day and know my neighbors and spend my free time taking my boat out that was stored at the Downtown Marina. I literally thought this would be my life one day.
But sometimes things change and while I still have my grievances with Modesto – the smug attitudes, the traffic, the fact that it takes 2 hours to drive across town at certain times – I’m happy to call it home.
Just don’t tell my friends from Linden. They’ll disown me.