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Dispatch / March 25, 2009

Home Hunting in Stockton

Last weekend, I took a drive up to Stockton to scope out a place I could call home for the next few months. My demands were very simple: I wanted to rent a house in a foreclosure nightmare, one of those brand new McMansion neighborhoods that have sprouted from cabbage patches and rocky desert landscapes all across the country in the past few years.

I’ve been watching the rise and fall of this miserable incarnation of the American Dream from afar. From Russia, I looked on as the rabid middle class snapped up monstrously ugly properties in the most depressing out-of-the-way spots imaginable, paying double and triple their value. They strained to make ends meet for a few years and then vanished as if fleeing from some monstrous plague, leaving their flat screen TVs, computers, family albums and everything else they used to pad their sub-suburban exile. Nothing illustrated how much of a mind-fuck this housing bubble was for those foolish enough to get caught up in it than this short doc by a Southern California TV station filmed in October, 2008.

All this time, I felt like I’d been missing out on the action. The American Dream was being destroyed, its advance routed at the fringes of metropolitan areas all across America, and I wanted to get in on the debacle: to walk on the freshly paved deserted streets and smell the new asphalt; to breathe in the raspy dryness of blocks and blocks worth of yellow lawns; to break into abandoned homes, some of them ransacked by looters, others turned into prime real estate for squatters and all sorts of critters. In the words of Rafter Man, I wanted to get into the shit. But all I’d done was watch it on my computer, filtered through the fluffy blather of hack reporters. Well, not any more. And Stockton was my ticket there.

Stockton was ground zero for the housing boom and now the subsequent bust. Home prices more than tripled between 1998 and 2005 and then came crashing down last year. Stockton had the country’s highest foreclosure rate last year at 9.5%, according to RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed property.

So said Forbes magazine, and went on to name Stockton “America’s Most Miserable City.” This drive-by agricultural and port town located in the Central Valley about an hour south of Sacramento had the distinct honor of edging out such Miserable City Hall-of-Famers like Flint, Michigan (whose misery was immortalized by Michael Moore’s film “Roger & Me”). It was an unexpected honor for a town virtually unknown outside of California. But there it was, anyway, ranking in the bottom of virtually all of Forbes’ criteria: foreclosures, unemployment, corruption, commute time and violent crime. In short, it couldn’t be any more perfect as far as I was concerned. There was another huge plus to the city that Forbes didn’t mention: Stockton is the de facto Meth Capitol of America (in part thanks to the huge distribution potential the Port of Stockton offers to meth manufacturers). I couldn’t help myself from yelling out in excitement: “Hell, yes! I’m there.” Not only would I be in the shit, I’d be able to experience it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for at least a month straight. I’d be getting it all!

A friend of mine, born and raised in Stockton, helped me pick out the three or four most desirable commuter McMansion developments. Most of them were located on the very edges of the Stockton sprawl, mazes of curvy streets and cul de sacs jutting out into the vast fields surrounding the city. Most of them were so new they hadn’t yet been updated on the satellite view of Google Maps, showing up as half-built roads and tracts of sandy land being bulldozed and prepped. Craigslist was filled with rentals coming out of these hoods. All of them had the same specs: two-story, 4 or 5 bedrooms, two-car garage, master bedroom, master bathroom with his and hers sinks and jacuzzi tubs, and access to a community rec center with a pool, jacuzzi, and tennis and basketball courts—the kind you usually find in huge condominium complexes. The rent ranged from $1,000 to $1,500 for the nicer, gated community type. All of them were ready to rent ASAP. So it should’ve been as easy as ringing up the first place I liked and making the five-hour drive from LA to hand over the check. But it didn’t turn out that way.

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27 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. call me the ganja farmer hydroponic  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I heard Tracy is a disaster zone. Also Marysville, north of Sacramento.

  • 2. geo8rge  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    FWIW, Stockton may declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Although the mysteriously successful California bond auction, as compared to the failed UK Gilt auction, may indicate things are OK. You migh find out what your neighbors do for a living, I always wondered what people in stockton did for a living. Everyone can’t work for the government, can they?

  • 3. Gooftroop  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Oh my god, fearmongers, maybe the evil American empire isn’t collapsing? Maybe all your cries of the impending apocalypse were a little hasty and reminiscent of the 24 hour cable news channels you usually mock? or is the sky still falling? or maybe americans are dumber than lemmings.

  • 4. geo8rge  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Just for fun you might look up the title records and see what the history of the property is.

  • 5. Evilcor  |  March 25th, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Naturally the rental market is choked. All those former homeowners just got dumped on the market and they’re too fucking stupid to understand the concept of “lowered standard of living.”

  • 6. robotslave  |  March 26th, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Quit dicking around and find a place in Modesto, already.

  • 7. Baltimoron  |  March 26th, 2009 at 4:21 am

    If you’re not committed to California, take the six hour drive to Phoenix. Along I-17, just north of the more developed parts of the city, there’s a long chain of mcmansion and townhouse subdivisions that have never been occupied. These “neighborhoods” were nearing completion right as the bubble burst and the developers went ahead with finishing them just in case they could find any buyers. Unsurprisingly, no yuppies materialized to help the investors recoup their costs.

    I’ve seen the perfectly manicured desolation with my own eyes and can vouch for its post-neutron bomb attack emptiness. Even if you can’t find a place for rent, the area provides ample squatting opportunities if you’re willing to go that extra step in the name of gonzo.

    Phoenix is the place to be right now if you’re looking to chronicle the rock-bottom moment of Amerika’s debt addiction. The snowbirds so vital to the city’s economy can no longer afford to come down during the winter, guys in the building trades (the heart of Phoenix’s economy for a number of decades) can’t get work despite being the front-runners in scab labor’s race the the bottom, and the Mexicans are leaving faster than you can say “andale” as the jobs disappear and a xenophobic honky reaction gains momentum.

    You’ve also got the local spectacle of brown-shirted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. This fascist goon made his law enforcement bones at the DEA, where he was known as “Dimebag Joe” for the quality of his arrests and the caliber of WOD POW he liked creating. No surprise that he’s the most popular area politician among Phoenix’s white idiots. Ideal fodder for any journalist looking to stir the pot.

  • 8. Jasen Comstock  |  March 26th, 2009 at 6:11 am

    WoooooHoooooo Victorville! I spent three years of high school living in that miserable shithole. three years competing with college grads for jobs at fast food restaurants because they went insane with the 4 hour daily commute to LA. I had to join the military to get out of it.

    Stockton doesn’t have shit on Victorville.

  • 9. FloridaLotteryWinningNumber  |  March 26th, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Very good post

  • 10. 28  |  March 26th, 2009 at 11:21 am

    @Gooftroop: I’m going to be leaving my job soon, but I’m interested in being a professional PR co. blog commenter. Does you company let you telecommute?

  • 11. Eric  |  March 26th, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    bakersville. bakersville. BAKERSVILLE.

  • 12. DocAmazing  |  March 26th, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Y’mean Bakersfield?

  • 13. Brody  |  March 26th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    I am assuming Valencia, California must be looking shitty right now. I visited a couple times when my friends were at CalArts. The town was only created in the eighties, and is full of McMansions and is anchored by mini malls with the usual chain store suspects. So devoted to the shitty parts of Anywhere USA that its a bit surreal, albeit in a boring way, not in a Dali kind of way. The commute from LA is probably two and a half hours with traffic at rush hour.

    For a place full of beauty and intellectual firepower, Cali sure has a lot of dead zones with vapid, bone-dry suburban cultural voids. Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, Bakersfield, Victorville, Santee, Irvine, Modesto, and San Jose, perhaps the most non-descript large city in America.

  • 14. Gooftroop  |  March 27th, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I’m living off the dole, actually, chap, while I write the great American novel. Thanks for your tax dollars, they make going to the bar at noon so much fun!

  • 15. d0man72  |  March 27th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    California has the most military bases than any other state (just look at California’s war on terrorism casualties), the 8th largest economy in the world (for now), houses Silicon Valley, California the 2nd most important technological center in the world, and is the state that is in the forefront of alternative energy and technology. The city of L.A. has more influence on world culture than any other city in the world. Suburbia is what fuwked up California over the long wrong. The whole place is devoid of cultural outlets and everything is land of the tract houses with superfreeways running for miles. Land of the automobiles, tract homes, and superfreeways is all Cali has going for it. California is incapable of having its own intellectual pool of people it has to import it from other states because the natives drop out of high school. Not to mention California is over taxed by the federal govt. and the govt. re-distributes the money to the GOP states yet the native Californians are too clueless and too pussy sh*T to start their own militias to stand up to it becuase the whole place has no identity.

  • 16. d0man72  |  March 27th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    This is not only in California thats happening mass suburbanization is happening across the whole country. American cities are composed of crack town ghettos in the centers and culturaly devoid land of commuter driver consumers in the suburbs. American cities are sad. Even Asian cities look way cooler than American cities.

    http://tigbiz.com/Images/guanzhou_night.jpg

    http://www.online-travel-packages.com/travelImages/singapore.jpg

    Whenever somebody things about Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, Bakersfield, Victorville, Santee, Irvine, Modesto, and San Jose its like who gives a fuwk? what are those places known for anyways?

    San Fransico is the only thing thats worth caring about in Cali.

  • 17. hydroponic  |  March 28th, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Why no mention of Visalia/Tulare/Porterville… CA’s hottest, meanest, dumbest metropolitan area? My guess would be that hick developers ran wild down there during the boom. But only a truly heroic war correspondent would take that assignment.

  • 18. Anonymous  |  March 28th, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I just love how melodramatically the trash-out guy at 4:26 with the gloves on hams it up, WITHOUT TAKING OFF THE SUNGLASSES. Goddamned Los Angeles. The boss seemed sincere though. And I am pleasantly surprised that they at least tried giving the stuff to charity, and that the grass paint is biodegradeable.

    Baltimoron, the Exile is aware of Sheriff Joe:
    http://exiledonline.com/daily-inquisition-sheriff-joe-arpaio/
    http://exiledonline.com/sheriff-joe-arpaio-gets-tv-show-on-fox/

    I hate to admit it, but Gooftroop has a point. Maybe the mindless sprawl beast will keep growing with only a slight hiccup, oozing from oil to gas and coal and uranium and electric cars. And if Gooftroop really is on the dole in the USA and writing a novel, then as far as I’m concerned the poor guy is welcome to use what little tax money he gets from us on alcohol. It won’t fix any of his problems but it might ease his pain a little.

    d0man72, if Silicon Valley is the 2nd most important technological center in the world, what’s #1? Taipei? Tokyo? NYC? Shanghai? Mumbai? Now that Detroit is firmly out of the running, I’m not sure I can think of any other places really known primarily for engineering rather than finance or manufacturing or art and fashion. Engineering work is pretty evenly distributed.

  • 19. Frankenblank  |  March 28th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    *Even* Asian cities? That’s a laugh. No one does cities the way Asian people do. If you want to see what a *real* city looks like, go to Asia. Everything else is just several million people spread out in the burbs, with one or two ‘cultural’ things in the vicinity of the CBD. It’s like saying *even* Lennox Lewis could punch out the local wheelchair-bound midget with spina bifida.

  • 20. aleke  |  March 29th, 2009 at 3:20 am

    So, Gooftroop, how about that PR blog commentator job? I’m looking to supplement my wealth in the Cash Flow Game 2009

  • 21. d0man72  |  March 30th, 2009 at 12:52 am

    to 18. Anonymous Tel Aviv, Israel might be considered the first. Its referred to as a “mini-Los Angeles” by the Economist. Many computer scientists from the former Soviet Union live and work in Tel Aviv and is considered top 10 influential tech hubs of the world.

  • 22. d0man72  |  March 30th, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    19. Frankenblank My point was for a state that has the 8th largest economy in the world, has important world technological hubs, the most military bases than any other state in the union (look at California’s war on terrorism casualties) and has a significant influence on world culture, Cali has alot of suburban devoid dead zones. Suburban expansion over the years messed up California along with suburban expansion in the rest of the nation. China builds like thousands of sky scappers per year while America has ghetto crack towns in the centers and land of the suburban commuter drivers who spent most of their lives commuting in their cars and living in cultural devoid places and act more like demanding consumers to their govt. rather than citizens.

  • 23. Anonymous  |  March 31st, 2009 at 1:23 am

    Ahh, yeah, Tel Aviv, that’s a really good point.

    The US could probably help ourselves as well as the Palestinians by making it stupidly easy for Israelis to become American citizens and move here, and then slowly and gently phasing out the military and no-strings financial aid we send Israel…

  • 24. duke  |  April 1st, 2009 at 11:36 am

    It might exist in the rest of Cali as well, but a company in the Lake Elsinore area offers tours of their McMansion/Stepford deadzones…

  • 25. d0man72  |  April 2nd, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    out of the 500,000 Israelis that have duel ISraeli USA citizenship, 300,000 of them live in Cali. West Coast already under Jew control, which is probably the reason why the west side is the best side.

  • 26. Laius  |  June 15th, 2009 at 10:57 am

    What a glorious civilization we Americans have built! And we deride France. The frontier mentality will never die here and we will continue to crap up the land.

  • 27. Nobody  |  October 2nd, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Mercs? Mercurys? Oh, you mean Benzos.


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