'Lunch Bucket Paradise' - Hail Suburbia

Sometimes a person just got lucky, and everything fell into place. And then the place kept growing and growing.

(This is the sixth excerpt from "Lunch Bucket Paradise," East Bay author Fred Setterberg's fictionalized account of growing up in San Leandro's Washington Manor -- Jefferson Manor in the novel. See links to prior excerpts below.)

The suburbs thrive and then quickly spread, new homes fixing a fresh grid of rectangles atop the bracken and duck sloughs, the oceans of stucco washing over acres of cherry orchards.

Men laboring weekends in their yards and gardens witness their dreams come to fruition: a sycamore seedling now arching across the front sidewalk, the shade splashed upon a small patch of emerald lawn, the homeowner lolling under the fluttering canopy with a bottle of Lucky Lager clasped in hand.

Men patch up their old canvas hunting jackets with iron-gray duct tape and sell their .308 Winchesters and 16-gauges, declaring themselves partisans of the Canada geese that now wing their way north since the sacrifice of their marsh. Weekend gardeners and carpenters settle down to the business of propagation and improvement.

All this is to say that they cannot believe the good fortune that has come their way.

“The reasons for the rapid growth of suburbia are easy to understand,” explains a lavish color supplement to the Sunday paper. “They are but the fulfillment of the unyielding rules of economics and the inexorable laws of supply and demand.”

“First Advantage—Strategic location.” (The newspaper calls the new suburbs “irresistible to the industrious man and woman who seek an affordable house, an opportunity to labor honestly, and a good, decent place to raise a family.”

“Second—All the year-round climate and the low city tax rate.” (As though weather and taxes are twined together in an aspect of natural selection.)

“Third—Splendid opportunities for employment, and unexcelled potential for the opening of even more factories.”

Sooner or later, it all comes down to jobs for working people—but something else, too. Something hardly ever mentioned.

If you’re halfway honest, you’ve got to thank God for the sheer dumb luck of being born in such a time and place. You can tell yourself that hard work and smart choices made all the difference, but why lie?

For those acquainted with Thomas Jefferson—and every subdivision has a few citizens equipped with curiosity and a library card—there is a passage in Notes on the State of Virginia that feels pleasant to ponder at the foot of a blossoming pear tree when Saturday afternoons turn too hot to work. The homeowner sinks into the foam pad of his chaise lounge and reflects, as had Jefferson, on the landed yeoman as the ideal citizen of the new nation. He reflects upon his neighbors and himself.

“I view large cities,” Jefferson declared in a revelatory passage that any sly burgher will pounce on, “as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberty of man. True, they nourish the elegant arts, but the useful ones can thrive elsewhere…”

They’re thriving right here, wrested from the ground and pieced together at the workbench. Maybe you could pat yourself on the back just a little for everything that seems to be going right.

Also on Patch:

If this is your first exposure to "Lunch Bucket Paradise," check out these prior excerpts.

  • Meet the .
  • The enjoyed by working families.
  • The .
  • The . 
  • A carefree tramp .

(Publisher Heyday Books in Berkeley has offered San Leandro Patch readers a 30 percent discount off the $15.95 cover price of "Lunch Bucket Paradise." To order call 510-549-3564 (extension 304) or email orders@heydaybooks.com. Be sure to mention "PATCH" to get the discount.)


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Leah Hall February 08, 2012 at 11:03 PM
The suburban dream/lunch box paradise lore, from Jefferson to the present day, consists of innumerous folk beliefs. The city is dangerous, unhealthy and immoral. "But the useful ones can thrive elsewhere" (...with automobiles, cheap fuel, and high speed multi-lane freeways to bridge the distances needed.) I can't help but point out that tellingly, Jefferson also advocated for the deportation of former African American slaves, to be settled in another country and environment. "According to Greg Warnusz, Jefferson held contemporary 19th-century beliefs that blacks were inferior to whites in terms of "potential for citizenship," and he wanted them deported. His views of a democratic society were based on homogeneity of men. He claimed to be interested in helping both races in his proposal, which was based on gradually freeing slaves after the age of 45 (when they would have repaid their owner's investment) and resettling them in Africa." -from Wikipedia In contrast, urban visionaries success, such as the architects of the Viennese housing blocks, comes from building housing fabric as /urban reconstruction/. "...housing fabric in the center of town, where it is accessible to jobs, services, and the culture of the city; housing fabric that blurs the separations of class, race, and age; housing fabric of sufficient grandeur that it is a source of pride and identity for its residents." -Daniel Solomon, Global City Blues
David February 09, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Leah, in Jefferson's time, cities like London WERE dangerous and unhealthy. The population of London only became self-sustaining after Jefferson's time, before that, the population was only sustains by new people moving in, the death rates of residents due to disease and crime were so high. Jefferson was smarter than either of us, if you werent so enamored of your urbanism religion, you might wonder about the historical background for his views of large cities, rather than assume such a man was wrong.
Leah Hall February 09, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Agreed, anytime before antibiotics were discovered (1940ish?) was a scary time. Agreed, Jefferson was smarter than us. We are not going to go down in history for creating our own governing philosopy, such as "Jeffersonian" democracy. It is interesting that our country has used the fruitful back and forth between Jeffersonion Democracy and Hamiltonian Federalism to great advantage for 200 years. Perhaps our political controversies are our "secret" sauce.
Tom Abate (Editor) February 09, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Cities are on the rise once again. All over the world people are flocking to cities for economic benefit. Suburbs are getting absorbed into megacities. The inner East Bay is one more or less unbroken city from Richmond to Hayward, and it is nested in the the greater Bay Area. Do we even have suburbs? Does the Tri-Valley area qualify?
David February 09, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Depends on how you define cities then Tom. The suburbs and exurbs as traditionally defined have seen over 90% of the past decade's population growth, itself a trend that's been pretty much unbroken since the 50's. As I previously posted"cities" as defined by city bounds, like San Francisco and new York and Boston have the same population as they did in the middle of the last century. And these are the usa's "best" performing cities by population growth.
Leah Hall February 09, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I don't know a whole lot of people who work for a living that would trade a longer commute with a cheaper mortgage or rent for a shorter commute and entry level mortgage or rent. Anyone who is living in Tracey right now is really hurting, while friends who moved to Temescal, Uptown/Downtown, or the Southeast side of Lake Meritt within the last 10 years are pretty happy urban campers. Schools have improved, parents and kids are out on bicycles, neighborhoods have really transformed...
David February 10, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Why do you live here again, Leah? It doesn't matter who you know, the facts are the facts. Cities, as defined by their boundaries, are lucky to have merely maintained the population they achieved in the 1950's. Suburbs and exurbs have grown and are the choice of the vast majority of young people and young families-- the future.
Leah Hall February 10, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Agreed. The facts are the facts. It's the human interpretations and designation of abundant and scarce resources that seem to swing, based on politics for the most part, I suppose. Hopefully science, careful observation, and quality urban design play a major role as well.
David February 10, 2012 at 03:49 AM
If you're referring to artificial scarcity created by humans, you could be right. There's ample research that the reason NYC is as expensive as it is (and therefore drives a lot of people to the burbs) is because of rent control and land use restrictions (for "views" or "historical" significance). Ditto for San Francisco. Somehow I doubt your urban engineering fantasies involve massive destruction and rebuilding of the urban cores of san Francisco etc.
David February 10, 2012 at 03:52 AM
But then again, given that burbs existed since the ancient days, I doubt you can engineer them out of human desires. As someone said about socialism, "great idea, wrong species.".


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