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that other town

August 31, 2012

You know which one I mean.

I actually don’t think I’ve been over there for three or four years– can you believe that? I don’t get around much anymore.

When we were little kids, Pittsburg was the main town around here. Antioch was smaller and less developed, and Brentwood and Oakley were tiny country hamlets. We went to Pittsburg to shop in a department store, to take the train, to attend concerts, even to go to Kaiser.

Its fortunes were already declining. Ten years later, there were no more trains, Kaiser was in Antioch, and we could shop at Sunvalley. A lot of Pittsburg has had that ghost-towny feeling for a very long time.

But lately I hear, “Pittsburg is doing great!” And thanks to the charming Melania, I actually got to go and see for myself.

We went to Concord, and we decided to eat at the Mecca on the way home. Because, you know, no matter what happens to Concord, its always Concord. The only edgy thing there, ever, was the stabby sculpture, and that’s long gone.

The Mecca says, “Closed on Wednesdays.” Closed on Wednesdays? Oh well. We drove down to look at the Marina, and then we decided to park and walk around.

And it is like a whole new place, though thankfully, without destroying too many old buildings, as far as I could tell. And there were PEOPLE! In a lot of different places all up and down the street!

It wasn’t quite as good as it looked: on closer inspection, a lot of places that had signs out front were actually empty. But not every place. They have a BOOKSTORE right on Railroad Ave. which is sponsored by the arts commission. It was beautiful! Is that a great idea or what?

We decided to go to the Pittsburg Historical Museum, in the old Post Dispatch building, as Melania is something of an historical society aficionado. Aficionada? When we walked in, there were a whole bunch of happy docents laughing and living it up at a side table. “Wow,” I said, thinking of the Antioch Historical Society. “This is nice! It makes it seem less like a…” “A MORGUE?” she says. Uh huh.

Now, here’s where some of it gets politically incorrect. It’s going to be so politically incorrect I may have to take it down, but let’s give it a try.

They welcomed us so warmly, and told us not to worry about the closing time; they wouldn’t hurry us out. We started to look around, and a few minutes later one of the guys came over to give us the history of Pittsburg, illustrated by the mural on the side wall.

He starts out, “There were three Indian tribes that lived in the area, but I can never remember their names.” FAIL.

The Spanish owned California, he informed us, so we heard about the land grants. Later we heard about an army officer who was here for awhile, that guy who got in a lot of trouble for burning up the South… what was his name? Oh yeah, SHERMAN.

That’s right, apparently General Sherman was hanging around here for awhile, before he was a general, of course. Wikipedia says he was in Sacramento, so I guess it’s not impossible.

The rest of the history was heavy on Italian fishermen, steel and rubber mills, and Camp Stoneman. Melania was paying better attention than I was; I was looking at the cannery pictures– I have a personal interest in them.

So, then we took off to see the rest of the museum. We did a pretty fast tour, so if I get it wrong and you want to set me straight, please feel free.

It’s a great little museum, overflowing with content; they even have a fake mine shaft you can walk through to get to the back rooms. But after half an hour in there, I pretty much got the impression that the ONLY people who ever put down roots in Pittsburg were Italian.

Like, I seem to remember that a lot of those fishermen were Spanish, Mexican, and Portuguese. And what about the large African-American community that has been there since at least the Second World War? Oh, here’s a life-sized cutout of Barack Obama, and a tiny little table with some generic Black People stuff thrown on it, including a couple more very bad books on Obama and a tourist guide for Africa.

The other side of that little table had a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and some vaguely Hispanic items. From what I could tell. The interpretive guidance didn’t extend to this area.

OK, I may have missed something. We gave it the once-through, so we didn’t exactly go over the displays with a fine-toothed comb. I do think I recall seeing a small photograph of the Greek church.

After I left, I thought I should have asked him where the MAFIA exhibit was.

It’s a really great start for a museum– great site, wonderful space, lots of material– not as well thought out as the presentations in Antioch, IMO, but that’s always a work in progress. But c’mon, Pittsburg! It’s great to be Italian, but you’re the most culturally rich and awesomely diverse community in the whole county! You need to run with that. I mean it. And Mecca– a normal restaurant is closed on Mondays.

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