Sometimes the story of life needs to be coaxed. Too much travel can kill it, I am convinced. Making me redefine travel these days. A balance is what’s needed. Once I have traveled enough at home, facing the great screen of word processing life, then it’s time to hit the physical road. Now the road is here. It does not lead very far. I don’t want it to.
Accompanied by Alexandra and Matt, twentysomethings, I reencounter the Menlo Park Farmer’s Market. I knew they would like the place. Alexandra, my cousin’s daughter, and a cousin of some removal to me…if we can ever work it out…was bound to like the place. This is California’s time of agricultural bounty. The fields are giving up their fruits. Some of which are vegetables, of course. And they array themselves in great profusion across the stalls and bins and tables. Alexandra, a redoubtable foodie who actually works in the UK food industry, seems slightly daunted. She wanted to make us dinner and still did, although the choices appear to dizzy her slightly. She bought some prawns. Then she returned to the same stall to buy some cod. Then in search of scallions. Then in search…of what to search for. I enjoyed the process. I am searching myself.
It doesn’t take long to find the story in contemporary Menlo Park, for the town is beset by divisive politics. In this small burg both sides tend to find themselves cheek by jowl. In the market, I saw someone opposing Measure M…my position…and approached, hoping that Matt and Alexandra would give a sense of local politics. Why? Oh, because it’s part of my local life, and there we were. He turned out to be a supporter, of course. And as he rattled off his position, I could not help but interrupt. We talked of traffic. We talked of Caltrain. We talked different languages. I found myself impatient, borderline intolerant. And why? Our differences couldn’t be clearer. The man told me that when he crosses El Camino Real, the main boulevard in our fair suburb, he takes his life in his hands.
I turned to Alexandra and Matt and explained that the traffic on El Camino represents about 10% of Notting Hill Gate’s. Which may be approximately true. But it doesn’t matter. We had no common ground, this man and I. We had no common experience, either. Matt turned to me and asked the obvious question – was ours a generational divide? Are the older property owners aligned against the younger residents? Of course, yes. Which makes me feel righteous, being on the side of the future, one might say. But mostly I am dismayed at my own intolerance. Let them have their Menlo Park. I’m leaving it, after all.
But the human condition will come with me, after all. There are no absolutes in anything political. So I imagine Menlo Park post-election. Let’s say that the antigrowth people lose and we do become much more urban. With four and five story buildings along the main drag, there will be more noise. There will be more hubbub. The place will have more urban excitement and, one must admit, less backwater charm. I see a selfishness to the antigrowth crowd, their insistence that people who want to work in Silicon Valley, one of the few economic hotspots in the nation, must live elsewhere, commuting long distances, suburbanizing the countryside, further despoiling the air. But I have the equally selfish luxury of stirring up trouble, then leaving town.
My question – after this bitter political fight, what will the town be like? Can we live with each other?