The Times Picks A Dumb Place for an Epic Series
Comes now the classic Pulitzer-bait multi-part epic from the New York Times, a deep look at the folks living on a single cul-de-sac in Southern California as they weather a housing bust in a deep recession. The series, which currently has no end in sight, is modestly tagged "Beth Court" and includes the sorts of multi-media doodads (a slide show! with audio!) that j-profs tell us is the wave of the future.
The Times wants us to take these articles very seriously, not just as fodder for journalism awards, but also so that we draw deep, meaningful conclusions about the State of Our Nation Today based on how much the original buyers on Beth Court hate their new low-rent neighbors. Naturally, the newspaper's own writers are Twittering the series, and David Carr was especially effusive, calling the series "as good as newspapers get."
But there's a problem: Moreno Valley? The Times picked just about the worst possible place to draw any larger lessons from.
After something like thirteen stories, (we're not actually sure how to count those slide show pieces), the Times has yet to give readers any kind of useful description of Moreno Valley, the setting for its epic investigation. We are told repeatedly that it's "about 60 miles east of Los Angeles," as if that explained anything.
Well, let a couple of Southern California homies fill you in.
I grew up in the Southland and watched as young couples in the 1980s began increasingly hightailing it to ridiculous new housing developments in completely unlivable places like Moreno Valley simply because prices were low. These were desert tracts in the middle of nowhere, with no promise that something resembling the amenities of decent living would actually follow. If you were a buyer, you knew the deal: you paid a low price for an unironically garish home that came with an hour-long (or longer) driving commute to anywhere that actually had jobs or even a semblance of life and entertainment. And you put up with it simply so that you could say you had a four-car garage and a (completely inappropriate) lush green lawn.
In other words, these crappy developments were designed to lure working class folks with aspirations (perhaps delusional) of a middle-class existence, or at least dreams of a quick profit by flipping their flimsy desert rattraps.
So today, ten to twenty years after these horrendous developments were built, the Times finds that the people living in them are barely able to afford their preposterous, ugly houses on the crap jobs they tend to have? Shocking, I know.
The Times clearly wants you to conclude that Beth Court serves as a metaphor for the country at large, struggling to live within its means in an economic downturn.
But really, the lesson is not nearly that general. There's really only one thing to take away from these stories of woe: Moreno Valley sucks. Always has.
Don't take it just from me. I asked my compadre Gustavo Arellano, our Ask a Mexican columnist, to weigh in. This is what he wrote:
My sole Moreno Valley experience happened in 1998, when some methed-out gabacho stole my run-down 1983 Camaro from the parking lot of the former Huish Family Fun Center in Anaheim right next to Camelot (it's now an industrial park). When the cops told me that they found my car in Moreno Valley, my first reaction was "What the fuck is the Moreno Valley?" When I found it it was about an hour away and far from Rialto, Norco, Corona, Chino, and the other cities where distant cousins lived, my next reaction was, "Why the fuck would anyone want to live here?"
My vulgar bewilderment was further stoked by the actual drive there--baking hot, horrible 91 Freeway traffic, in an unreliable Ford Explorer driven by an honest-to-goodness Cajun who was our family mechanic. The Moreno Valley reminded me of rural Mexico: underdeveloped, barren, shoddy, filled with weird people, but with a lot of lawns. Sprinklers on all the time. Eerie. I picked up my car, drove away, and never gave the town another thought.
The Moreno Valley is now the poster child for American housing gone wrong, and the New York Times weighed in with one of their stock magisterial pieces, the kinds that read purty but don't say jack shit about reality. The Orange County connection is that two of the homeowners profiled in the piece moved to the MV because they couldn't afford apartments in OC, which should clue the rest of the nation into how stupid they were to buy into Moreno Valley. Reporter Jennifer Steinhauer doesn't note that even people in Colton ridicule Moreno Valley residents for living there. It's not an area "filled with people priced out of Los Angeles and Orange Counties, or looking to escape louder, less-safe cities," as the Times notes; it's a place for fools who weren't smart enough to buy a house in Calimesa. Shit, even Beaumont is better than Moreno Valley, and Beamount is sketchy.