It’s 5 AM in Victorville, California, and I haven’t slept in 48 hours. Outside my second-story window, the sun is rising up over the jagged mountains across the desert. In the three months I’ve lived here, I’ve seen more sunrises than I have in my 28 years. There is something about living in a barren house in a half-empty suburb out in the middle of a sun-baked nowhere that brings out the tweaker in me—and judging by daily news reports, most of my neighbors, too.
It’s a perfect lifestyle for a subprime city. Located on the edge of the Mojave Desert 100 miles east of LA, Victorville got higher and crashed harder, in terms of real estate, than almost any other place in California. In less than ten years, this place grew from an isolated hick outpost into a booming commuter suburb filled with the cheapest McMansions south of Fresno. It doubled its size to 100,000 in just eight short years.
But the boom is gone. A quarter of the houses on my street stand empty and most strip malls around me are vacant, too. I can go for weeks without saying more than, “Hey, how are you,” “Paper, please,” “No cash back,” and “Thanks,” to the fat kid with the greasy face who mans the check-out machine at my local megamarket during the late-night shift. Sometimes the isolation gets too strong, though, and I start craving human contact. When that happens, a bout of public drunkenness at some grimy local dive is sure to follow. And so is some sinister realization. This is Victorville, after all, the taint of the High Desert.
That’s exactly what happened tonight. About five hours ago, I decided to meet up with CJ, a Victorville native I sorta know, at a seedy lounge located in a motel lobby a few miles from my house. I was expecting it to be the same depressing redneck dive bar atmosphere I saw not too long ago: shriveled old men in trucker hats and saggy white women nursing gin and tonics praying for a lay. But I walked into a scene straight outta Hustle and Flow. As it turned out, Sunday nights at the lounge were “old-skool hip-hop dance party nights,” featuring two dance-floors, two DJs mixing rap and R&B classics, and a mini swap meet.
We paid the $15 entrance fee, got patted down by a security guard dressed in all-black full-combat fatigues, and started making our way over to the bar. We shouldered our way through a hot, dark, sweaty room filled with ass-jiggling and grinding, past a hallway where vendors had set up an upscale and scaled-down version of a flea market with assorted bags, shoes, shirts, skirts, canes, jewelry, and other assorted shit for sale, all laid out on tables and squeezed in at the bar right next to a guy in a pimp-white three-piece suit, white shirt, white tie, and thick gold chain who was leaning on his cane and hitting on a chick.
The bar was packed. Two old barmaids struggled to keep up with demand. The DJ was playing some soulful slow-grind tune I couldn’t place. To my left, two beautiful black girls in short summer dresses were ignoring my underdressed white ass. Behind me, the dance floor was filled with couples getting their freak on. Looking around, I suddenly realized I was the only white patron in the place.
“What, you scared, white boy?” CJ said, laughing at me when he saw me swiveling my head to take in the room.
“No, not scared,” I replied. “Just fucking shocked.” A hick bar filled with black folk—it’s not a scene I expected to find out in an isolated desert city historically known for its military bases, angry white people, and meth labs. But there it was anyway, a reminder that there are two sides to Victorville: the old and the new.
Before its stint as a dirt-cheap suburban paradise, Victorville was a tiny God-fearing community populated by white conservatives living an isolated frontier lifestyle. But these days, Victorville is more ethnically diverse than nearby Los Angeles. In 2008, African Americans made up about 12% of Victorville’s population compared to LA’s 9%. The racial mix has been growing every year, and that has not been going over too well with local old-timers who bitch and moan about the “race problem” any chance they get. They restrict their hatred for their new, non-white residents on Internet forums and comment sections—for now.
But I couldn’t be happier. There are three outside-the-house activities I have quickly come to enjoy here: shooting my gun, sucking down Vietnamese Pho soup, and eating amazingly authentic 99-cent tacos from the 24-hour drive thru. And now I could add a fourth: getting plastered at the Sunday night R&B party.
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