I recently did a little bird-watching in Manteca. Not at Caswell Park or some country field, but right in the middle of town. The Chevron at the corner of Yosemite and Spreckels is my preferred watching habitat. It was 6 a.m. and the coffee lineup was full. That’s when I spotted one. “Lots of bad stuff in the paper lately. Manteca sure isn’t how it used to be.”
I instantly recognized it as the call of the “Manteca Parrot.” This breed is known for squawking out useless and unoriginal thoughts. Parrots are limited by the fact they have no cognitive thoughts on any subject matter. Having lived in a cage most of their lives, they are relegated to squawking things they’ve heard others say. It only took a few seconds for another parrot within earshot to squawk back, “It’s all that meth. They gotta get it out.” There’s another telltale sign of the parrot. Living in a cage has forced them to see life through “they” colored glasses.
Parrots are great at pointing out the obvious, but rarely formulate anything to help their own cause. Unable to put any actual ideas together to rectify the problems they squawked of, I watched as the two parrots headed to the counter in their brightly colored flannels. I was pouring in my creamer when I heard someone respond to the parrots under their breath. “There’s no meth problem in this town.” Ah, the lovely “Manteca Ostrich.” This town breed generally runs in the 50 and up age group. The Manteca Ostrich is a respected and majestic animal that unfortunately keeps its head in the sand. I moved in closer and politely said. “It’s pretty hard to miss the meth problem. Try driving the streets after 11 p.m.” The ostrich froze in its tracks. You have to be careful with these old temperamental birds. There are usually just two reactions in the ostrich’s arsenal. Head back in the sand, or full frontal assault! Luckily, this old bird recognized me from this column. “Well, I hope young fellas like yourself keep off that junk. You do a good job with that column.” He gave me the obligatory ostrich nod and was off to Perkos – or wherever the local ostrich spot is these days
I was startled back to reality by a HONK! HONK! No, a car wasn’t driving into the Chevron; it was the sound of two young “Manteca Geese.” They had heard the banter between me and the ostrich. “Manteca sucks. I can’t wait to get out of here,” one honked. Always the gamesman, I asked him where he planned to fly. “Anywhere but here; this place sucks” That is unfortunately the response most Manteca Geese give – and they range in all shapes and sizes. I responded, “That’s a great plan. I hear ‘Anywhere’ is lovely this time of year.” This goose hadn’t developed his sarcasm senses yet and honked back, “Yeah, somewhere cool like LA.” It was obvious that his grasp of the word “sucks” also hadn’t developed, so I moved on. In truth, I respect most Manteca Geese. Spreading your wings and heading out into the world is an admirable trait, but when done under the guise of “this town sucks” it almost guarantees their return. Head off into the world because you want to better yourself – not because you are running from a climate. Because like most geese, when the weather changes at your new place that “doesn’t suck,” you’ll spend your life migrating without ever planting your little webbed feet in a home.
The bird-watching done, I headed to my Jeep at the gas pump and there they were – a couple of Manteca Crows. The crow is hands-down my favorite Manteca bird. Resilient, thrifty, hard working. Crows also tend to work in groups. (A group of crows is called a Murder. I actually wrote this entire column just to convey that fact; I think it sounds cool.) And when one crow is injured, guess what? The other crows rally around and pick up the slack. This crow was my friend and lifelong Mantecan Derek Stocker. He spotted me and yelled across the pumps, “Hey stupid, do you live in those coveralls?!” Crows are never inhibited by their surroundings and often lack tact, which happens to be what makes them awesome! I headed over and saw that he and his buddy Hank had a truckload of junk. “My mom’s neighbor is old. We saw she had a bunch of junk in her backyard – fire hazard – so we’re hauling it to the trash for her.” Hank held a pie out the window and laughed, “We’re getting paid in apples and pecans.” Chalk one up for the crows! They rarely ask and never take. They just get out and do what needs to be done.
It’s been a rough month here in Manteca, but squawking at it, sticking our heads in the sand, and flying away aren’t going to fix the problems with this great town. We need more crows like Derek and Hank – people that see an opportunity to help and just do it. There is nothing more unoriginal or sad than a person that constantly beats up on their hometown and it has reached epidemic levels in Manteca. Tossing around phrases like “this town sucks” and “Mantweeka” are completely pervasive in nature and do nothing to fix our problems. If a town is unable to find its pride then it is doomed ... and I know way too many crows that call Manteca home, people that are willing to get out and do – not just squawk. So the next time you hear someone running down your hometown, just give them a little “Caw!” I guarantee the other crows will hear and come to help you out.
Attention Parrots, here is a list of things that make this town great:
• Flags over Manteca. Tell me seeing the streets of Manteca lined with American flags doesn’t make you well up with pride. The crows rise early in the morning to put out 1000s of them as we sleep.
• People like Chuck Crutchfield that was the backbone of our Boys and Girls Club, and now works with Give Every Child A Chance … Steve Sonntag, who dedicated his life to education and still tutors, mentors, and motivates … Shim Lacy-Watson heading Manteca Youth Focus ... Mrs. Kinlaw at Brock Elliot School, who, as my friend Dave Mazzy says, has “no superpowers; just a teacher that helps kids” … Manteca Parks and Recreation, because while most towns have closed public pools, Lincoln Pool remains open … The Raymus, Perry, Kinlaw and numerous Manteca families that have dedicated their lives to the people of our town … The VFW troop that meets for donuts every morning, sharing stories with everyone ... Manteca’s CERT team, a dedicated group of volunteers that help citizens during emergencies … John Teicheira, John Rossi, and their band of “FESTAneers” who headed up to Kennedy Meadows this last weekend with 500 pounds of meat and 100 loaves of bread – feeding a campground full of hungry firefighters ... Pastor Mike Dillman and his congregation at A Place of Refuge Church who work tirelessly to put on our great Memorial Day events every year to honor our veterans and military ... Second Harvest Food Bank and Manteca CAPS.
• Ann Evans wanted me to remind people of another thing that makes Manteca special: Location, location, location. Where else can you live and be an hour from the ocean, mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes? Not to mention the scenery that exists within our own town – orchards, farms and the sunset over the Altamont.
Take pride in our town, crows; it is your responsibility and duty as a Mantecan.
“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do”