Nov. 19: Roseville to Placerville

Having finally extricated ourselves from the corporate netherspace of Redding, we made it a good 150 miles south Sunday before driving nto Roseville.
We were looking for a Grocery Outlet, but we found Trader Joe’s, and better.
Roseville is an ever-expanding retail wonderland situated on the northeastern periphery of Sacramento.  It is what Johnny Cash would’ve called a two-Walmart town.
They used to call it Griders, but a lot of what they used to say about Roseville no longer applies. There were barely more than 18,000 inhabitants here in 1970. Forty years later, as per the 2010 census, Roseville had mushroomed to include 118,788 people.  They expect there’ll be more than 133,000 people here by 2015.
Tired of the rat race, poor in living space and yearning to breathe free again, the affluent masses of California have found a new home in Roseville.
It hardly strikes you as the typical California city, demographically speaking. Nearly 80 percent of its citizens are white, and fewer than 15 percent are Hispanic. And it’s not fat at all. Per CNN Money’s 2006 survey, Roseville’s average body mass index of 24.5 earned it distinction as America’s “skinniest city.”
We found our way onto Main Street, where the auto dealers were open for business late on a Sunday afternoon. Later we encountered a giant auto mall on the outskirts of town. By the looks of it, Roseville is the Car Dealership capital of California.
After stocking up on 2-buck Chuck, we crossed Harding Boulevard in the direction of the Dollar Tree. Becky, sweet lass that she be, planned to get some bleach and a spray bottle and go at the camper in an effort to rid it of the mildew and mold that has been making it difficult for me to speak without coughing.
Before we got to the Dollar Tree, my eyes fell upon Super Sam’s Christmas mural.
First let me say that, despite having an acquisitive 5-year-old in tow, I’ve had a hard time summoning the Christmas spirit in recent years. Hearing premature Yuletide music in the big box stores over the weekend did little to brighten my mood.
The great, grasping, covetous beast of Christmas Capitalism is refashioning me into a latter-day Ebeneezer Scrooge. A Scrooge without a job or a fortune, that is.
It is a simple scene redolent of yesteryear. There’s Sam kneeling in front of the Ace Hardware Store, stuck between the O’Reilly Auto Parts and the Dollar Tree, hand-painting a holiday mural.
This sight had a leavening effect on my cynical soul. I thought of Santa Claus schussing down a ski slope on a Norelco razor. I thought of “A Christmas Story.”
I could imagine an old-fashioned craftsman painting a Christmas mural on the plate-glass window of Howard Cunningham’s hardware emporium in Milwaukee. But this startled me

Now, I know the 1950s were replete with all sorts of banality. Jim Crow was still lynching blacks down south while the suburban housing tracts were overtaking the north. I know the 1950s hardly represented paradise on earth.
Still, the throwback scene stirred something in me. I wanted to know a little bit more about the guy behind it. And so we met Mohammed Aslam, aka Sam.
We walked over to check it out, but Sam wasn’t around. I instructed Max to pose before the mural, and as I focused in on him, Sam pulled up in his Toyota van. His day was done, and he was about to pack up his supplies.

Max poses in front of Sam’s unfinished mural outside Ace Hardware in Roseville.

I asked him about his mural.
“It’s a lost art,” he said.
Sam does excellent work, and he’s a hell of a nice guy besides. Meeting Sam is (almost) enough to make you revive your belief in the hoary notion of America. He’s a Muslim, making ends meet by painting nostalgic Christmas murals in America, where in some corners Muslim has become code word for “terrorist.”
He’s a Pakistani by birth, an American by choice. He’s from Sadiqabad in the Punjab, the region that was partitioned between Pakistan and India in 1947 when the British finally called it a day in India.
At 45, Sam’s been in America for 20 years. He makes his living painting signs and murals, but he doesn’t go in for rush jobs or shoddy work. He’s a master craftsman.
He’d already put in a day and a half and had several more days to go. The panel in the photograph is just one of three that will cover the storefront. He won’t work for you if you’re not interested in quality work or if you’re “too grumpy.”
I imagine it’s hard to stay grumpy in Sam’s presence. I think Sam might singlehandedly restore my purchase on the Christmas spirit. We’ll see.
We stayed in Roseville at the all-night Walmart (I saw about 50 employees gather in the bakery section for calisthenics at about 10 p.m. Sunday night) and started east on 80 late this morning. We stopped in at the California Welcome Center in Auburn, where U.S. 49 breaks off of I-80 and heads south and east toward Placerville and U.S. 50.
Becky parked the behemoth, and I walked inside to ask about the weather in the passes. I was greeted by Maria, another extraordinarily helpful volunteer. She grew up in Orange County,  then joined the Army, which took her abroad to Germany and back to California and the San Francisco Presidio.
Maria checked the weather, said we should be fine either on 80 or 50. She recommended the latter route, and since it will skirt the southern end of Lake Tahoe and take us to Minden more directly, I assented. I thanked her for her help, and bid her adieu.
We soon crossed over the American River, made it to gold country and took a brief tour of the site of Sutter’s Mill in Coloma.
We wandered around the trails of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historical Park. We didn’t have time to absorb much (more accurately, we didn’t take the time to absorb much), but I take a couple mental notes.
The first thing to grab my attention was an old water cannon which was employed in “hydraulicking.” The cannon’s high-powered water streams tore gold loose from gravel beds, leveling hillsides and creating run-off that destroyed downstream ecosystems. This damage produced a new state law that made mining companies responsible for ecological damage, and hydraulicking was soon abandoned.
The mind reels forward more than a century to briefly consider the putative boon that is hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. Fracking is all the rage in our native and future home of Pennsylvania, where energy corporations are going apeshit to get at natural gas, the modern gold that lies underground in the fertile Marcellus Shale.
While some “shaleionaires” have struck it rich, others have seen their water turn brown or catch fire. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Since fracking was exempted from the 2005 Safe Drinking Water Act, and drillers aren’t even required to disclose what chemicals they use in the extraction process, you have to wonder if natural gas concerns will ever be subject to the kind of regulatory oversight that ended hydraulicking in the California gold rush.
We moved on, and soon found ourselves clambering up a bedrock outcropping that looked as if it were made with Introduction to Rock Climbing in mind. At the top of the rock, holes were hollowed out where the native Nisenan people grinded and processed acorns, their dietary staple.
Decimated by malaria in 1833, the Nisenan were an easy mark when the gold madness struck and the whites flooded into the valley of the American and Bear rivers in 1849. An ad hoc militia calling itself the Placer Blades annihilated the remaining Indians, burning their villages and scalping their men.
Of course, the literature available at the state park is more forgiving. It allows only that the survivors of “the combined hardships of disease and conflicts with settlers had dispersed to more remote areas of the Gold Country.” The neighborhood’s gone to hell, so let’s disperse to nicer climes.
When we reached the humble summit, we read a historical plaque that explained the importance of the site to the Nisenan, who called it Grandmother Rock.
Out of respect to Nisenan tradition, the plaque asks visitors to keep off their grubby hands and feet off Grandmother Rock.
Really? We invaded your land, gave you disease, slaughtered your people and destroyed your way of life, and now we draw the line at climbing on your goddamn rock?
That’s gotta make you feel better, Mr. Nisenan. If your ancestors managed to survive the killing grounds and “dispersed” to find a new home on some hospitable reservation or other, it must be nice to know the state of California is asking tourists to stay off your rock.
All your people are dead and gone, and all you got left is this rock.
And we’ll try to stay off your rock, out of respect for your tradition.
It’s the least we can do.

Lester and Becky at the wheel, we head uphill out of Coloma on U.S. 49 .

We said goodbye to Grandmother Rock and the state park, and got back on the road to Placerville.

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