Sushi in Smallville

Ten years ago, or even five, I would not have thought that a pleasant evening in this town I live in would consist of a workout at the gym, followed up by sushi downtown.

GYM? SUSHI? We don't HAVE a downtown!

A new hotel, like the legendary phoenix, has emerged from the ashes that was our biggest downtown eyesore. But unlike its historical roots, this new bird has risen with a sushi bar inside.

Our town was founded by a real certified nut case. Over a century ago, he envisioned dividing up a large tract of land, which he obtained from spanish land holders, into parcels, and selling them to the masses for cheap...with a catch. The catch was, you had to work for him first. Then you could bid on your parcel. I told you -- nut case.

A tent city sprouted, mostly immigrants fresh off the boat from Ireland lived there. The Early 1900s saw the most rapid growth of the city, and after the nut case-turned-founder had his mansion built, on the backs of the immigrants, he lost interest in the city he had so brilliantly designed and focused on trying to stay out of jail for land fraud, embezzlement, grand larceny and other charges. He was not successful and died a poor man in prison.

Our founder was a nut case, but he was a genius when it came to architecture and city planning. Back when he was devising plans for streets, city hall, municipal water, this part of the country was still the Wild West. He had already planned one city using his "master planned community" concept. Our town, the place I call home now, would be the nut case's second attempt at civic perfection through "master planning".

As I read the history of our little town, I realize that our founder was either the most civic-minded idealist, bent on creating Utopia, or a diabolical criminal enslaving thousands with the promise of cheap land. I can't decide which. But he was also a businessman, a publisher, who had the largest printing press on the west coast, until a guy named Hearst -- William Randolph Hearst -- used his daddy's millions to build one bigger. Hearst decided he wanted a mansion, too, just like the nut case founder. Hearst's mansion is just a short drive away. The one-upmanship lives on, as Hearst's home is referred to as "Hearst Castle".

Our founder's mansion burned to the ground, almost as soon as it was finished, due to a fire of suspicious origin. All that remain are some tall palm trees, not native to the area, that our founder had planted to mark the grand driveway to his Utopian estate. you can visit the palm trees. Just go to the shopping center in the center of town. Our founder's home has been replaced with a drugstore, a video rental place, a bank, and a grocery store. Sad.

Besides City hall and the civic center, our founder was also instrumental in the design of the downtown business area, which, like many downtown areas, had been blighted for some time now. At the corner stood a modest, but for its day luxurious, hotel, "The Carlton". Being halfway between the megalopolises of Los Angeles and San Francisco, The Carlton was a place for the well-to-do to take a break while en route between Hollywood and the Golden Gate. It was also the biggest building in town.

But, like most things old, The Carlton fell on hard times. Fires, decay, old age, urban blight all took a toll on the building and the surrounding area. But unlike many cities far larger, our little burg has developed a very active, and I'm glad to say now a very effective, historical society with an eye toward preservation. The Carlton, which sat as a rundown shell of a building for the first 12 years I lived in this town, is now a luxury hotel once again, complete with valet parking.

Our town isn't big enough for a Wal-Mart. We have 8 exits off the freeway. We have one high school for the entire town. "Valet Parking?" I remember thinking when the signs went up. There's a Jack-in-the-box burger joint right across the street. The nearby buildings that flank the hotel are still as rundown as The Carlton was. the Carlton stands alone amidst the rubble -- or ashes -- of my little town's history.

"Are people really going to stay here, eat here, spend money here?" I remember asking members of the community about this grand plan and grand hotel. This town is hicksville, and we have this hotel here. I keep looking for Rod Serling, standing on the corner smoking a cigarette and taking us on a journey not of sight and sound but of mind. This place just doesn't belong here, and I just can't quite wrap my brain around the concept of a luxury hotel in my tiny town.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Carlton is a fabulous place. Its a bit pricey for me. I'd never book a room there. But then, of course, my house is less than a mile away...the town is that small. I think the city council entertained bids to have the whole town carpeted -- its that small.

But you know, on a warm summer evening, fresh from the torture implements at the "club" -- a euphemism for the place I pay mothly dues to inflict agony upon my body -- The Carlton is a very nice place to go and settle my weary self into the plush dining room, scoot the chairs across the hardwood floors reminiscent of days gone by, sip herbal iced tea, order up a couple plates of California Rolls, and think about old Twilight Zone episodes.

I just never would've thought I'd be doing this in my town.

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