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Stockton beats Modesto but even so . . .
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Stockton is the Rodney Dangerfield of California cities.
It gets no respect.
Well, maybe a little bit more respect than Bakersfield, but that’s about it.
Then there’s Modesto. It’s W.C. Field’s kind of place according to “Men’s Health” magazine. Back in 2004 the magazine dubbed the place just south of Salida as the most out-of-shape city in the United States.
And we’re stuck in the middle in a city with a name that translates into English as lard. To the folks from self-described utopias such as San Francisco where droves of homeless populate the streets and the populace disdains the world of Wal-Mart and Home Depot for being consumer havens for the unwashed masses in favor of places like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, this is about as close to hell on earth that you can get.
Manteca is mid-way between two teeming urban centers of roughly 300,000 residents each.
Drive through them at high speed on the freeway and you’re left with the impression that if you opened Webster’s to the word “ugly” there would be a picture of either the Modesto or Stockton skyline.
Actually, Stockton takes the bigger hit thanks to those car door-locking views as you speed along the Cross-town Freeway.
But judging a book — or a city — by its cover means you can easily reach the wrong conclusion.
I confess. I prefer Stockton over Modesto. Some people may think that’s nuts but take away Vintage Faire Mall, some dining options, Lowe’s and most people in Manteca who say they prefer Modesto can’t come up with a reason to go there.
They’re missing out, of course, on a lot Modesto has to offer: The State Theater, McHenry Mansion,  McHenry Village, and the Gallo Center to name a few. Modesto’s downtown has restaurants with sidewalk dining, outdoor concerts, clubs (if you’re into that) and more shopping than downtown Stockton. But when push comes to shove, that’s about it.
Yes, there is McHenry Avenue. If it wasn’t the birthplace of American cruising, it certainly personified it. But that’s the problem with Modesto. To get to any place you have to drive. And drive. And drive. And drive.
When the God of California was handing out freeways and expressways, Modesto was sound asleep. The end result is mile after mile of subdivisions, broken up my shopping centers as you head from Highway 99 to the east.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of neat shops and restaurants in Modesto. And the downtown is more appealing — for now.
But Stockton has made a conscious effort to take advantage of being on the Delta.
Stockton’s Quail Lakes neighborhood offers homes, offices and restaurants that overlook the water. The closest you’ll get to such ambiance  in Modesto is during a heavy winter storm when the run-off has nowhere to go.
Then there is Brookside on the water at the end of March Lane on the way to the Stockton Yacht Club. And while we’re on the subject of water, where in Modesto is there a European-on-the-water feel as Stockton has a Venetian Bridges by the Radisson Hotel complete with apartments, the Stockton Civic Theater, dining spots and shops?
Modesto has culture, but Stockton has a double dose of it thanks in a large part to the University of Pacific and Delta College with its Atherton Auditorium that is conducive to symphonic and operatic performances.
Lincoln Village can match McHenry Village any day of the week for quaint specialty shops. Stockton also has the Miracle Mile on Pacific Avenue that takes on a distinctive college air at times thanks to its proximity to UOP. It also has Stone Creek Village anchored by REI.
Then there are things you just won’t find in Modesto such as Pixie Woods at the end of Mt. Diablo Avenue and Micke Grove Park (just a bit north of town complete with a zoo and rides). There is the Bob Hope Theatre and the Children’s Museum.
Stockton has its share of run-of-the-mill subdivisions. But it also has stately areas near UOP. The problem with Stockton is you see its warts right at the front door. Modesto is able to hide most of theirs thanks to freeway routing.
And it is the warts that make the lasting impression. The first look most people in Manteca get of Stockton is jury duty. It’s better since the parking garage was built. But there was a time jury duty meant walking through hell along Weber Avenue past druggies, prostitutes and others who are even more upstanding citizens. All of this was against the ambiance of boarded up buildings, vacant store fronts and general decay. You feared for your vehicle and for your life.
Weber’s Point event center on the water has helped change all of that. So has the 16-screen City Center Cinema that opens up to a plaza and a large water feature with plaza at the edge of the Delta.
The Stockton Ports play baseball in the Banner Island Ballpark downtown along the Delta inlet.  And there’s the Stockton Heat pro hockey team that plays at the Stockton Arena.
Manteca residents can access a lot of things by driving 15 miles to the north or 15 miles to the south.
Stockton is definitely on the move. But even now, I’d take Stockton over Modesto unless, of course, I’m heading to Vintage Faire Mall or McHenry Village.