At least I don't live in the worst place to live, Stockton California, which is about 25 miles from my house. I wonder if that's what dragged Modesto down. It could be that proximity to other miserable cities is one of the key criteria that Forbes magazine considers in ranking the cities. From what I understand, when Forbes lists Modesto, they really mean the Stanislaus County metropolitan area. Modesto, which has about 200,000 residents, is surrounded by a number of smaller towns, villages, hamlets, and wide places in the road. So, Turlock, Ceres, Hughson, and even Oakdale--I have a message for you--don't get smug because you're fifth-most miserable, too (Ironically, Oakdale California, about 15 minutes east of Modesto, was recently named one of the 20 best places to live by Cowboy magazine, which is apparently not a Steve Forbes publication.).
Because I am a typical American, I did not read the whole article that reported the miserable-ness rankings, nor did I read the actual article in Forbes. Therefore, I have no idea what the official criteria were for the ranking. But I suspect that the criteria did not include the following:
- abundant food supply: it's two minutes to McDonald's from my house;
- convenient shopping: one word--Costco. Okay, for the wife and kids there's also a mall.
- affordable housing: the three bedroom, two bath home across the street from my house is available for $170,000. The best neighbors in the world lost the home to foreclosure last year, and now it's empty and waiting for anyone who can get the bankrupt (in every way) bank to accept an offer
- land for landfills: if it is so miserable here, why do higher-ranking cities like San Francisco and Berkeley think we are good enough for their garbage? Every day trucks full of high-class Bay Area trash make the trek over the Altamont Pass to our miserable valley to bestow upon us the leftovers that our green brothers and sisters won't allow in their own backyards.
As good as valley life must sound, we do have our problems, too. Sometimes we're called the meth capital of the country, sometimes the auto theft capital. And we have a large collection of street gangs in the area. But these challenges only serve to remind us of the splendid diversity of "Mo-town" living.
Speaking of diversity, on my block there are Hispanic people, Indian people, Pacific Islander people, Southeast Asian people, African-American people, and white people. I have heard my well-meaning and higher-ranked Bay Area colleagues scoff at the very idea that the valley could be a hotbed of multiculturalism, but none has ever been to my neighborhood. Of course, many Bay Area residents do venture out into the hinterlands, and they stay here. These people are sometimes called BATs: Bay Area Transplants. And every housing boom that brings more residential development to the valley brings new people to the valley from the high-ranking Bay Area. The BATs are typically commuters, like me, who still work somewhere in the Bay Area. For the record, I have commuted for 15 years to Holy Names University in Oakland, but I am a valley native, not a BAT--not that there's anything wrong with that.
Why, the reader might be asking, would anyone choose to live in, or move to, the fifth-worst place in the country? For me it's home. Family, friends, church are here. I can see the Sierras on most days and get good strawberries from roadside stands for a good part of the year. For people who come here and stay here, the easy answer is cheaper real estate than on the coast. I think, though, it's the fact that the real estate usually comes with a front and back yard, maybe even a swimming pool, and room to park your car. Parking is another of our strengths.
I will admit, finally, that there are trade-offs when you choose to live in the fifth-worst place rather than, say, San Francisco. For culture and entertainment, San Francisco has the famed Gay Men's Chorus. But here, Stanislaus County operates two, not one but two, off-highway vehicle recreation parks. No doubt many fine people would prefer the Chorus. We happen to own several all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). So, as a great gay writer often said, "There you are," which might be the only thing to take from mostly meaningless studies and surveys that tell us how good or bad we have it.
I know where I am, and it's okay.