“They’re building a hospital right next to Kaiser” my mom interrupts.
I sit, focused on the golden countryside and half built structures as we inch down the freeway.
“Why is there so much traffic? Where are these people going? San Francisco? ” I ask, hearing her, but focusing on my own observations.
“Ugh, traffic is always bad on the 80” my mom groans as my dad gets off at Davis Street, a shortcut he alone swears by.
The familiar knot in my stomach arrives as we drive through streets and closer to my house. I notice the changes in structures, businesses and signage. I’ve been back dozens of times since I left for San Diego 5 years ago but every-time I return, there it is, the knot.
The city struggles to maintain its small town feel as it develops. Just east of San Francisco and West of Sacramento, Vacaville still feels isolated. Vacaville, California is home of The Nut Tree; “California’s legendary road stop.” A place to shop, eat, grab some dried fruit and a ride on the miniature railroad, The Nut Tree, which opened in 1921, offered relief for drivers and their families on road trips across the state. The Nut Tree was closed for most of my life in Vacaville but since I’ve left home, it has reopened maintaining it’s country feel yet housing outlets that are far from the simple fruit stand that originated there. While The Nut Tree is flourishing once again the country seems to dwindle with each visit.
“You can use my car tonight” my dad offers as we pull into the driveway, “just have it back before morning.” He snickers, pleased with his joke as my mom rolls her eyes.
It’s the day before Thanksgiving, the time of year it’s actually worth being out and about in Vacaville. Everyone will be in town.
I laugh at the thought, “I don’t think I’ll be driving tonight, but thanks.”
After a few hours of settling in at home, I take up my Dad’s offer to use his car. Fall is beautiful in Vacaville and cruising around is a must. I drive down Buck street and admire the houses with huge front yards and the canopy of trees with golden and brown leaves lining the sidewalks. I slow to look at the people passing to see if I recognize them -I don’t.
The car drives almost by itself, downtown. It has a new look, like old school Vacaville, mixed with Napa Valley inspired buildings. It looks classy. Memories of evenings spent downtown as a young teenager, drift into my mind and I laugh. What a pleasant place to sculpt the beginning, not entire story of my life. The people and experiences have stayed the same, yet I have not.
Two hours later I find myself walking towards Merchant and Main; the bar before all the bars, on Thanksgiving eve. A guaranteed high school reunion is about to happen. I recognize faces all around me. People fill the tiny place like the mosh pit of a concert. Sensory overload.
I see a huge red-head climbing through the crowd, my brother. A feeling of relief untangles the knot.
“THROCK!” is screamed and we both turn to look. I laugh. There is only one place in the world I hear my last name more than my first.