San Francisco to Nipomo (Bill’s Farm Hostel)
This section of the trip involved a lot of buzzkilling clouds and not nearly as many friends. In fact, this part of the trip seems like a total blur due to our lack of socialization. In the
morning in San Francisco, the sun shone brightly. The day looked perfect. We cleaned our clothes, and around noon, we left the MVS (Mennonite Voluntary Service) house. At a grocery store, we bought lunch. As I sat, eating and talking to my sister on the phone, I watched the clouds roll in and ruin our fabulous day. We left. Riding out of San Fran, we took a highway right next to the coast. The winds and cars made this miserable. We proceeded to Pacifica. Normally, a town like Pacifica would never stand out, but in order to exit Pacifica, we road up a giant hill with absolutely no shoulder whatsoever. It scared me terribly. Cars flew by at 60 and 70 miles per hour. The hill seemed to unfold before us forever. When we finally reached Half-Moon Bay, my heartbeat was barely leveling off after the frightening ride.
From Half-Moon Bay, we went to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was awesome. Perhaps we loved it because the sun came out while we were there, but Santa Cruz helped confirm the beauty and pleasant nature of college towns. We camped a little south of Santa Cruz in the midst of strawberry fields. I could smell the fields as we rode passed. It was heavenly. The strawberry scent followed us all the way to Monterey the next day. For me, this ride ended up being very special. John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, and he grew up and and lived in this area of California. I read several books by him about this area (Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, and Sweet Thursday). Finally seeing it in real life filled me with joy. It was beautiful, and it reminded me of home. His writings will now take on new meaning for me.
After Monterey, we stayed in Big Sur. I went to Big Sur once as a kid. Everyone talks about how awesome it is, but it failed to impress me. To me, it seemed like a nice forest developed to attract tourists from the two big cities—San Francisco and Los Angeles—it sits between. This depressed me. Big Sur lacked the raw, majestic beauty of the mighty Redwoods. The clouds ruined the views. We rode an extremely short day in order to get through Big Sur. From Big Sur, we went to a very grassy campground called Plaskett, and the next day we hit up Morro Bay. Morro Bay had a nice feel. We went to a really rad coffee shop for breakfast. Everyone seemed really chill, and it really began to feel like Southern California while we were there. The weather still sucked, but the people dressed, talked, and acted less NoCal. Lots of people carried surfboards on top of their cars which I felt indicated a greater SoCal culture.
The next day, we rode to a town called Nipomo. Really, it was a conglomeration of
housing complexes. We never really saw a “city” per se. In Nipomo, we stayed at “Bill’s Farm Hostel”. What started out as a simple excursion to the hostel turned into a crazy experience. Bill turned out to be an 86-year-old retired biology professor with a passion for population control, goat’s milk, “forties”, and absolutely no smoking. He used his house as a place to shelter bikers and travelers, especially Europeans. Bill disliked people from New York, and he told us so. In his very old age, Bill allowed the house to fall into disrepair. Cobwebs covered nearly everything. Even his pots and pans hosted spiders. Pictures revealed how at one time, Bill shared his home with dozens of people who would help clean and work on the farm in exchange for a bed, and despite the dust and clutter, the house spoke to me with a holy spirit of life well lived. Often times, spotlessly clean homes which shine with sterility feel dead. They seem as if no one ever lived in them. Bill’s walls spoke. They carried memories I could feel when I closed my eyes, breathed deep, and listened. I felt like the receiver in the book The Giver, and the house and Bill granted me memories. Tyler called it the filthiest house he had ever seen; I thought it was one of the most beautiful.
Wondering through rural California provided an incredible experience. California produces massive amounts of food, and we saw this production firsthand. Unfortunately, we saw the gross inequalities created by this same agricultural production. If you want to see disturbing inequalities across racial and class lines, visit a large farm. More than once we saw Latina/o people working hard to collect California’s bounty while the European-American landowner watched over them. As someone who has worked on farms, I know how to spot this overt racism. With my own eyes, I have seen European-American people essentially collect huge sums of money for their crops while their workers live in squalor. I know the daughters and sons of these farmers; they drive 4-wheelers, dirt bikes, big trucks, and fast cars. They live in large houses and oftentimes receive higher pay than the field workers for less work during the summer season. I knew just as many poor farmers as rich ones while growing up, but frequently, these poor farmers identified with the wealthy European-Americans causing a false sense of class hierarchy to blend with their racism. All through California’s abundant fields, I could not get this out of my head. We saw the cities these fieldworkers lived in. Towns like Guadalupe looked like shantytowns while the country homes in the surrounding area stood like aloof giants at the end of a private roadway.
The plight of Latina/o people in fields and urban areas traces its roots to capitalism. As European-American people pressed further west, they took ownership of land that never belonged to them. For many of the people living in the West, no one owned the land.
When the ecosystem became a commodity and European-Americans labeled it as “capital”, the hierarchy between owner and worker formed. Many times, people want to know how to solve the issues of low wages and poor working conditions. All too often, the answers to these problems do little to actually liberate people from their oppression. We might define their oppression as a lack of influence. Who decides what is to be grown? Who allocates the wealth acquired from that growth? If people do not have a say in these matters, they work simply for wages. Wages may be enough to pay for their housing and food, but it restricts their way of life. The work they do functions as a slave master, an oppressor. It provides basic necessities, but it prevents them from actually incorporating their work into their own life. They possess no real investment into their work due to the intermediary owner.
In order to mitigate and ultimately end the wage oppression—that is to say hierarchy between owner and worker—we must eliminate our belief in capital. Remembering that no one owns land, (which to a Christian should make perfect sense since “Indeed, the whole earth is [Yhwh’s]” (Ex. 19.5b)) because life cannot be owned, may be a good place to start. Since no one owns this land, the decisions about how to utilize it fall into the hands of those who live on it rather than from those who make money off it. By popularizing the land, food turns back into sustenance rather than profit. The idea of sharing all land in common should hardly seem odd to Christians (Acts 2.44; 4.34-5), and it reflects our eschatological hope for a world in which all people live in total equality. We can only dream of this world.
I thought heavily on these issues while on my bike. At times, I found myself profoundly angry. When the guy who helped Bill out, Jim, began spewing horribly racist comments at us, I felt even more frustrated. What irks me the most is how the very oppressed amongst us, those reduced to working long, difficult days for low, unsatisfactory wages, have been bamboozled into believing that one day they might find the “good life”. As we rode passed fields, I saw cars with decals and big rims. Just the sight of flaunting luxuries amongst the poor displays the upwardly mobile indoctrination we encounter daily in our culture of capitalism. Those who created this deception and sold it to us all created the marginalized and their plight. Ultimately, they will be held accountable for this. When I pray, I pray that all this injustice might end.