Written: February 20, 2021
Added to Site: February 20, 2021
A Good Idea at the Time
I’m done. When I first retired, I set out to see each of the fifty states in the USA. I referred to it as my “50 State Pledge.” Mission accomplished, but as I neared the end of the 50 State Pledge it became apparent that there would be some downtime, and I started my “58 County Pledge,” an effort to see every county in my home state of California. Oddly, this one took longer than the states, nearly ten years, but again, mission accomplished. After a long hiatus, I finished number fifty-eight in the nearby city and county of San Mateo on my birthday, March 3, 2018.
I’d always enjoyed walking, and in the summer of 2018, set out to walk the length of every street in my home town of Kensington, plus the length of every accessible walking path. Again, mission accomplished. An obvious question remains, what’s missing here? All the towns in my home county, obviously. Thus, I decided on a 53 Town Pledge. As with the others, the results would be placed on my website, JohnShinnick.com.
There is a total of fifty-three cities, towns, and (this designation was new to me as I started the project, ironic in that Kensington is one) “census designated places,” or CDPs. CDPs are relatively small places that are unincorporated, and recognized by the Census Bureau to facilitate their efforts. The term was coined for the 1980 census, though many of the CDP names, Kensington being one, had already been in use for many years. Not only is Kensington a CDP, thirty-three of the other fifty-two burgs within Contra Costa County carry this designation. I’m using the term “burg” to define any recognized subdivision of a county. Don’t like it? Talk to my lawyer.
Why include CDPs? I decided that 19 Cities and towns just wouldn’t be enough of a project. But would there be things worth seeing in these CDPs? Kensington certainly can boast Blake Gardens, which I would recommend to anyone. Oddly, I hadn’t seen this attraction until my 84 Street Pledge. Likely the other CDPs would have such treasures, so yes, census designated places made sense.
So here I am, nearly two years since the start of my 53 Town Pledge. (I chose the designation “town” because of its generic sound. There are only two burgs that are technically towns.) But what was I going to look for? Things that I’d want to recommend to an outsider? Things that perhaps had meaning to me but not to anyone else? Or maybe I’d just show up and see what was there.
The project has been a curious combination of the three, with often disappointing results. For instance, Big Daddy Ross’s Café in Bay Point was a fun place even with the pandemic raging. It was in the “just show up” category. I was looking for something to see on the bay and, since it was lunchtime, I stopped in. I had a great laugh overhearing a telephone conversation of a guy giving a car warranty seller all kinds of much-deserved grief (“Which of my twenty-eight cars are you referring to?”) In the “personal meaning” category, I stopped at a couple of places I’d played in with old bands of mine. One of these was the Blackhawk Auto Museum, which I highly recommend to anyone. For my home town (home CDC just doesn’t sound right) I bypassed the landmark Blake Gardens, since I’d already put it on my website as part of my 84 Street Pledge. Instead, I used my own front door.
But for many of my destinations, I had no personal knowledge, and looking on the internet gave me nothing. Several times I
Gorgeous views in Castle Hill
found myself driving several miles just to take a picture of the street signs denoting an intersection that my GPS said was the “city center” because there was nothing else there. I would have preferred at least an entry sign which would at least prove I was actually in the burg. Indeed, I used these labeled entrances in a handful of cases, or would use some random building which, though far from iconic, at least was a change from a street sign.
Had this venture, on further reflection, been a mistake? To date, what have I seen that I haven’t seen before and was worth the trip? Certainly, the Crosses of Lafayette and maybe Refugio Valley Park in Hercules. Were it not for the pandemic, St. Mary’s College in Moraga and the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Richmond might have been worth a walk-through, but these were unavailable. Perhaps the C&H sugar refinery in Crockett might have had a tour. The VA Hospital in Martinez was certainly enlightening, and the before-mentioned Big Daddy Ross’s Café was fun. But really? These were my highlights?
When I performed as a member of a band, I was always concerned about what I called filler. They weren’t songs that people would remember, but we were being paid to do three sets and we needed to fill the time with something. Anything. My project seemed to have turned into far more filler than inspiration.
So I finished the project on February 18, 2021. But if I had it to do over again, would I do any of this project? Might I shorten it by not doing CDPs? Perhaps on second thought, no, but on third thought, yes. I’d do the whole thing.
Doing all the towns, cities and CDPs in Contra Costa really was a command performance, even if the command only came from me. Not only did I feel the need (however trivial) to fill the gap between the streets of my CDP and the counties of my state, I desperately needed to get out of the house, especially during the pandemic. I can easily become too housebound if I have no clear motive to leave. Inertia can be a terrible thing. Each visit certainly provided a place to go, even if there was nothing to see once I got there.
The whole venture, however, leaves me one burning question. There must be a word for city or town or village or CDP or any other place where people reside one level down from a county. What is it? I’ve used “burg” here, but I don’t think that’s right. When I recommended you talk to my lawyer about it, I was just kidding. I don’t even have a lawyer. But I’m sure such a word must exist, but after nearly seventy years speaking English, my vocabulary still isn’t what it ought to be. I know! My next project will be to visit every word in the dictionary! On second thought…