Unlike most parks we visit, this one allowed Leia and me to hop BART and Muni right to its gate. Beyond the gate a wide trail switchbacked to an overlook revealing a field of burning green encased in a box canyon. We could have climbed to the top for a view of the Bay and Alameda County, but a park ranger escorted us to a spot close to the field. We’d barely settled in when a hundred-decibel voice burst above us and ricocheted off the canyon walls.
Like Mom’s mashed potatoes with roast beef gravy, the park called AT&T transports me back in time and space: in this case, 20th century Wrigley Field, Chicago – a friendly space confined by vines, its grandstands snuggling intimately against the diamond. From the upper deck third-base side you can watch sailboats glide. Lake Michigan, San Francisco Bay – same color, same sparkle.
The sameness came to a screeching halt when another set of images, tattooed onto the outfield wall and across the scoreboard, came into focus. What I saw set off a chain of thoughts that transported me to another time and place: 21st century Brentwood – a friendly space confined by the Urban Limit Line, its former farmland concealed by a spreading concrete mask. What I saw, from pole to shining foul pole, was this: See’s Candies, Bank of America, Diamond Nuts, Visa, Sharp, Yahoo, Emerald, Bud Light, Chevron, Toyota, Safeway, PlayStation, Fusion Storm, CHW Health Services, Charles Schwab, Budweiser (not to be confused with Bud Light) and a Coke bottle the size of a yacht.
In the 1950s, Wrigley Field was a charming place to watch an inconsequential team play baseball. Some things never change. Back then, few Chicagoans considered P.K. Wrigley’s playhouse a civic treasure. As the ’60s rolled along, baseball burgs began replacing their historic and decrepit parks with monumental structures. The charming parish church in St. Louis where the faithful had come to worship Stan Musial was plowed under. In its place was raised a shiny and sterile cathedral that could hold 46,000 pilgrims. Astroturf was the surface of choice, but the fans in the stands didn’t mind. Their seats were too far from the field for them to notice.
As old ballparks fell to the wrecking ball, Wrigley Field became a polarizing subject in Chi-town. Some found the park embarrassingly quaint and lobbied P.K. to erect a modern building for the Cubs to stink up. Others, of a preservationist bent, considered the park an endangered species worth protecting. The latter won the war but lost the battle. In 1988, a switch was flipped and fans saw their first night game at Wrigley.
A tip of my MLB-sanctioned cap to the planners of PacBell/SBC/AT&T Park for giving Giants fans a comfy spot to spend three hours. Like Wrigley, the seats are close to the foul lines and the Bleacher Bums are allowed to consume alarming quantities of beer, hang over the wall and taunt opposing outfielders till they pass out – the bums, i.e.
But if you want to bring in the revenue that buys a better team so you can put more fannies in the seats so you can bring in more revenue, don’t let beauty – whether natural ivy or plain green paint on an outfield wall – obstruct your way to wealth. That’s the message I was getting in San Fran on a lovely Thursday afternoon.
I recall, in the winter of 2006, walking the Marsh Creek Trail in Oakley, crossing Cypress Road southbound and passing beneath the shadow of houses. The last time I’d come that way the houses hadn’t been there. Now they were up and running. Adorning the trail between Cypress and Delta roads had been orchards, billowing like storm clouds, fragrant in spring. Gone.
I confess to a bias against the imagery of human habitation. I prefer the sandstone escarpments of Round Valley to the stucco exteriors of Garin or Summerset; the fractal subdivision of an oak branch to the Euclidean subdivision of city acreage; yes, even the scrubland, where the long ears of jackrabbits bound behind the bramble, to the association-approved landscaping where no wild creature dares trespass.
I also confess to hypocrisy: I live in a house built on former farmland. Seven years ago the house hadn’t been there. Now it’s up and running.
East Contra Costa County was never meant to remain a best-kept secret. The lords of commerce and politics were never tempted to build a barricade against the tide of population growth. But the ugly trappings of so-called progress – noise pollution, light pollution, sight pollution – these are inevitable only if we make a conscious decision to permit them.
Read “permit” as a legal term.
Here’s a drop in the suggestion bucket: Tear down the roadside campaign eyesores. And don’t tear down the vines.