EDITOR’S NOTE: Manteca to a T columnist Chris Teicheira is stuck on a tractor somewhere, so he commissioned Jacob Lile, a Golden West and East Union graduate, to guest write this week’s column.
They call Manteca “The Family City.” My family moved here in 1984, two days before my fifth birthday. We rented a small house on Yvonne and my father worked at the Allied Van Lines building on Main. I went to one grade school from kindergarten until the eighth grade – Golden West. Four years later, I graduated from East Union.
I grew up here, and I grew to hate it.
“The Family City,” the words stuck in my throat. I was a punk, steeped in The Stooges, Black Flag and T.S.O.L. A guidance counselor once cornered me when I was lingering after hours on campus and asked, “What do you want to do with your life?”
“Put this town in my rearview as soon as possible,” I sneered. “I need some adventure.”
The sight of all these raised pickup trucks, cowboy boots, and tractors made me restless. “Adventure!?!” he cried, “Don’t you see the possibilities of starting out with a nice girl, building a home and a career? Making a life for yourself?” I said something disrespectful and headed off to the quad, the heels of my Doc Martins echoing down the breezeway.
“The Family City,” that was the last place I wanted to be. After high school I was a bit lost. My friends had all gone off to universities or were growing roots into the couch taking bong rips and watching The Rockford Files. I was taking classes at Delta and growing more restless by the semester. When I was 20, I stumbled upon a job announcement looking for Outreach Workers to immigrants on the East Coast. I always wanted to learn Spanish, so I signed up. I packed two suitcases and headed to the Oakland Airport. As I hit the Alameda County line and headed up the Altamont, I flipped the bird out the rear window and watched the valley disappear. Laughing maniacally, with the windows rolled down and the stereo blasting, I vowed never to let the sun set on me again in Manteca.
I returned to California a few years later and married the only girl I ever loved. We moved to the Bay Area where I finished my undergraduate and graduate education and she earned a Bachelors of Science in Nursing. We rented an apartment slightly larger than a shoebox in a city I can only describe as the antithesis of Manteca … Berkeley. I spent some time living in Mexico conducting research and began my career in homeless services in the Bay Area. We traveled all over the country and up and down the Western Hemisphere. We bought a little house in Redwood City and, in 2009, welcomed our first child. In 2011, we had another little boy and realized we had outgrown our home.
Our lives had changed significantly by then. We were in our mid 30s; we were young parents, young professionals. We were thinking about 401k and 529 plans, and where we could live that would offer the most for our boys. We sold our tiny home and began looking to relocate. Pacifica was too expensive. We had loved living in Oakland before but, with kids…? One day my wife said to me, “What about Manteca?” My toes curled, my face went cold, my hands got hot.
“Manteca…?” I croaked.
How could I move back after seeing the world? I had friended many of my old high school chums on Facebook and had secretly chuckled, “Nana-nana-boo-boo, I got out not you!” How could I go back to that stuffy, redneck, one-horse town? How could I raise my children there when I had worked so hard to get out?
If I’ve learned one thing in 11 years of marriage it is this: Happy wife, happy life. Against my better judgment we contacted a Realtor and made an appointment to see some homes.
I played hooky from work a few days before and went on a recon mission. I had to see this place for myself first. I took 120 and got off at Yosemite. Almost to Main, I looked to the left at a storefront where a coffee shop used to be, Cuppa Joes. It was the place my wife and I met one crisp December evening in 1995. I rolled through town and stopped where the old Spreckels factory used to be. “Well this is new,” I thought. I headed back and took a left on Main, cruising down to Golden West. Just before there, I saw The Waffle Shop. I, of course, remembered it as The Happy Steak where I stood in ankle deep water, steam blasting my face as I washed mountains of dishes all through high school.
I took a left on Louise and rolled slowly by my childhood home, the paint a little faded, but still in the same spot. I parked there for a minute and fixed my eyes on the branches of the tree in the back yard. I could just make out the outline of the platform my dad and I built as a makeshift tree house when I was in the sixth grade. I drove out of town and headed back to the Bay, passing Mossdale Bridge where a few friends and I would climb high on full moons and sneak smokes and Budweiser’s out of our Jansport backpacks knowing that only the Sheriff patrolled; we were safe from Manteca PD.
I drove home thinking hard. Manteca, “The Family City.” It sort of has a ring to it, doesn’t it? A month later we bought a home; signed a 30-year mortgage in the town I couldn’t wait to forget. I still work in the Bay. The commute is rough, but I ride a Harley-Davidson, blasting The Stooges all the way, so I can’t complain. And when I descend the Altamont and cross the San Joaquin County line a smile crosses my face. When I’m hit with that sweet perfume of freshly tilled earth and silage, my heart warms a little.
I think to myself, “Finally home.”