Sactopia: What if Sacramento seceded from the nation?
This Fourth of July, SN&R writers imagine what would happen if Sacramento split from the rest of the nation to create its own perfect society. You're welcome.
We've had it with 'Murica.
Not America, mind you, but the jingoistic bastard cousin that too often gets passed off in her sweet stead. According to the citizens of ’Murica—which include cable-news blowhards, right-wing survivalists and Stephen Baldwin—the end is nigh. There’s a war on Christmas, guns and all those unfortunate, oppressed white people. Minority groups, the poor and us godless heathens, on the other hand, have been skating along easy street.
Chances are you’re someplace where nonnative fireworks are smearing sulfur across a boiling sky. As the shallow festivities rage, the real threats to national security party on. Massive financial institutions remain too big to fail or regulate, but your personal emails and LOL-ing cellphone texts are just the right size to snoop on.
Militia freaks want to take over. We say, let them.
On this, the 237th occasion of this great nation’s birth, SN&R is rolling back the dial to year zero and starting over. You say you want a revolution? Well, you’ve got it. Just leave us the good ol’ United Grid of Sactopia.
In these pages, we cover the essentials—food, shelter, transportation, culture—to show you what to expect and how to remake Sacramento into the hipster utopia we all know it can and should be. Learn how to master your own bee colony, pedal the rails and keep that ’stache looking sweet for the utopia. We’re creating our own ideal society, and peopling it with diverse DIY enthusiasts who can cobble together the most basic of necessities: booze, bikes and backyard concerts. Because if a revolution is approaching, we’re cranking up the volume and getting drunk.
Love it or leave it.
Like many concerned, NPR-listening citizens, colony collapse disorder has been on my terrifying-world-problems radar for a few years now. The crisis, believed to be largely due to pesticide use in commercial farming, has resulted in drastic reductions in the honeybee population.
On an abstract level, it’s not hard to understand that the world would, uh, likely end without honeybees (bye, crops). But on a personal level, bees make me nervous. I’ve never really been able to get over what they did to Macaulay Culkin’s character in My Girl, and getting stung is the pits, even if you aren’t deathly allergic.
But the emergence of Sactopia calls for conquering those fears, seeing as we’ll need to be squared away in the bee department in order to keep this whole thing going. Enter Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies (2110 X Street), the city’s ultimate resource for amateur and experienced beekeepers alike. The 28-year-old shop, run by husband-and-wife team Nancy and Fred Stewart, is a curious little time warp, decked out in dusty-rose shag carpeting and packed with with the latest in apiary fashion, honey jars, beeswax beauty products, beehive boxes and sundry other beekeeping essentials.
So, how does someone overcome a phobia to start keeping bees? Nancy Stewart suggests it happens quite naturally. “People begin to learn about [bee behavior], and it’s so fascinating that, most of the time, the fear falls away,” she said. She then added (dare I say conspiratorially), “You know, the worker bees are all females. The drones are there only to mate, and in the wintertime, they kick the drones out, because they’re not going to feed them. And a lot of women take to that!”
For those interested in taking on a backyard colony of their own, a starter kit will cost from $200 to $400, depending on the materials you choose, and your first batch of bees will run from $100 to $150. Place your order in the fall, and come spring, you’ll have a couple thousand new pets, plus anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds of honey per month, once your colony is established. That will be quite a prized resource in our new economy. All this, plus you’ll be helping to save the planet—a gift from Sactopians to the rest of the world, sent with love from our high horse. (D.D.)
Build the butcher
If you want some good old-fashioned protein in the new world, you’re going to have to slaughter it yourself. Enter Paul Carras, the meat-department manager at Taylor’s Market (2900 Freeport Boulevard), and just the person to show you how to wield that butcher’s blade. Carras has 17 years of experience carving meat and 10 years as a deer hunter, so he’s a useful friend to have. Here are his three essential tips for staying fat and happy: sharp knives, cleanliness and practice. If you’re hunting your own game, you’ll want to preserve as much of the kill as possible. Carras urges hunters “to field dress the animal as soon as you can.” Remove the guts and esophagus and cool the meat by wrapping it in cloth. But if you’re on the squeamish side, you can always trade your wares with Carras, who plans on building a smokehouse to cure his venison, rabbit, salmon and wild turkey. “I’d be a bartering fool!” he said. (C.D.)
We can pickle that
Pickling is so hip, Portlandia made fun of it (they pickled cucumbers, a parking ticket and a Band-Aid). But aside from that, it’s a highly practical way to preserve food, and if we’re going to be striking out on our own, it’s time to get creative. Did you know you can pickle hot dogs? Did you know you can make Sriracha-flavored pickling brine? Are you now thinking about Sriracha-pickled hot dogs? To learn the basics of pickling, consult the Master Food Preservers (4145 Branch Center Road), which only sounds like a guild from the Middle Ages: They are, in fact, part of the University of California Cooperative Extension, and they offer a wide range of food-preservation classes either for free or for $3. Affordable even by Sactopia standards. (D.D.)
Harness the sun
While the rest of the United States is scrambling for the last remaining gas and electric-powered stoves, Sactopia can benefit from the wisdom and expertise of local company Solar Cookers International (1919 21st Street, Suite 101). The nonprofit specializes in educating people—especially those without many resources—on how to harness the power of the sun to fire up solar grills. These inexpensive cookers can be assembled out of simple existing resources (cardboard and tin foil) or can be purchased for as little as $30. SCI also sells solar water-pasteurization kits, which will be incredibly useful to create a clean supply of drinking water. (J.M.)
Use what your mama (nature) gave you
It’s hard to live off the land in urban areas, right? But in a metropolis with such a lush canopy that it earned the nickname City of Trees, don’t be surprised that lots of those arbors harbor fruit. And instead of letting them ripen and fall onto the sidewalk to get squashed, potentially tons of food can be harvested to fuel the united state of Sacramento. Gleaning fruit from trees or shrubs on public property—or branches that hang over sidewalks—is kosher. On the grid, bellies can be kept full by harvesting figs, feijoas, oranges, jujubes, loquats, avocados and mulberries. Blackberries and grapes can be plucked along the American River Bike Trail. Flour and mush can be made with the fruit from the numerous desert fan palms lining the capital’s streets. There’s also carob, bay laurel, Mediterranean hackberry, ginko, cherry plums and small-leaved linden, the flowers of which can be used to make an anti-inflammatory tea for colds and flus! Take that, Tylenol! We will live off the land. Locate the trees with the map at http://fallingfruit.org. (S.)
In their DIY Network show Yardcore (www.diynetwork.com/yardcore), Jake and Joel Moss scrounge up reclaimed wood, scrap metal and otherwise useless construction waste to create functional yard furniture and landscaping. They’ve perfected the art of reuse to the extent that the show basically consists of the duo and their construction partners turning trash into treasure. In one episode, they repurpose empty beer kegs into stools by adding some padding. In another, they use a few old wooden beams to create rustic outdoor tables.
Following their lead, I’ve attempted a few DIY house projects that use reclaimed stuff. None have been as fancy as any of the Moss’ projects, but here’s what I’ve accomplished so far: I used a couple of old 2-by-4-inch pieces of lumber to create a sturdy wooden mount for my heavy plasma television; I reused a handful of dried bamboo sticks and rope to create a trellis for some tomato plants; and I repurposed a bunch of stray stones to create a makeshift retaining wall around my landscaped front yard. In the works is a patio gazebo—or, perhaps, a small greenhouse—made out of a wooden roof that once covered a broken outdoor hot tub.
Obviously, these projects aren’t anything near as MacGyver-esque as what the Moss brothers do on Yardcore. But they’re a start, and they’ve helped me gain some sort of semispiritual (but probably unfounded) confidence in my handyman skills. Hell, if we all do our part and watch the entirety of the Yardcore catalog, we might be able to hone our collective skills enough to craft a DIY barricade around Sactopia agrave; la Les Misérables or The Walking Dead. Or at least some shanty-style tin-roof huts. (J.M.)
Cramped living isn’t just for New Yorkers anymore. It’s time to give up the McMansions and luxury lofts, and what better way than to follow the so-called small-house edict, which serves as an antithesis to sprawl and needless consumerism. The movement, whose origins are credited to British architect Sarah Susanka, author of the 1997 book The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live, advocates that people downsize into compact, environmentally friendly homes. Think cute cottages, cozy bungalows, sturdy yurts and even sky-high tree houses. Small-house enthusiasts have also taken to the road. Outfits like Tumbleweed Tiny House Company (www.tumble weedhouses.com) make portable, towable houses, and some enthusiasts are hitting the highways and byways, retrofitting Grandpa’s vacation luxury trailer into a new living standard that redefines the concept of property lines. Figure out a way to convert these motor beasts from gas guzzlers into hybrids, and there goes the neighborhood, from zero to, er, well, to as fast as an Airstream trailer can conceivably manage. Here’s another idea: Get a bunch of friends to join in with similar on-the-go microhomes, and take Sacramento wherever the spirit (or cops) move you. (R.L.)
Make love, not babies
Crossing borders to illegally acquire South American condom rubber or selling kidneys on the black market for birth-control pills sounds like a lot of work just so we can get a little sumpin’ sumpin’ without overpopulating Sactopia. Beyond the standard old-fashioned, primitive methods, there must be better ways to have sex, not babies—right? Um, maybe. Herbs like rue, cohosh, pennyroyal and Queen Anne’s lace have been ingested for centuries because of their unproven anti-fertility qualities. Sactopia will have space for a contraceptive community garden, dedicated solely to growing prophylactic plants. But for showers, not growers, who barter for their neighbor’s sheep, keep the intestine to make a natural, old-school sausage casing. Those favoring a less scientific, even grosser method can always do it vermin-style: Women once believed that wearing weasel testicles on their thighs during sex prevented insemination. What say we put Sacramento’s rat population to good use? Or not. (Disclaimer: SN&R does not promote the usage of these birth-control methods, and shame on you for thinking so.) (J.R.)
Follow the arrow
Guns are so Middle America. In Sactopia, citizens wishing to hunt should familiarize themselves with the not-ancient-but-old-enough art of archery. We suspect this will significantly reduce violence because: 1. It’s really hard, and 2. it’s difficult to conceal a bow and a quiver full of arrows in your slim-fit hoodie. For those interested in living your life more like Katniss in The Hunger Games, Hawkeye in The Avengers or Robin Hood (that’s everyone, no?), MAYA Archers Inc. in Roseville (750 Galleria Boulevard) offers a range of classes starting at $29 for a single two-hour lesson, or $119 for a five-day course. Once you get good, you can have your custom arrows made at Rendezvous Primitive Arms in Ione (28 W. Main Street). (D.D.)
Check out that tool
If Sacramento is going to be its own island, it’s going to need its own tool library—and no, that is not a euphemism for K Street clubs after dark. It’s a community pool of hedge shears, hoes, hammers and handsaws that citizens can check out and return when the job is done without having to buy and store all that expensive hardware in their garages. Which is a good thing, since most garages in Sactopia have been turned into moonshine labs. These kind of libraries exist in other California cities—Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Rosa—and a local group is currently in talks with the Sacramento Public Library to launch this resource, but it needs community members to show interest to secure funding. Direct letters to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Nina Biddle, Sacramento Public Library, 828 I Street; Sacramento; CA 95814; and check in on the progress at http://sactoollibrary.tumblr.com. (S.)
Working with one’s hands is a disappearing art. But it ain’t kaput. In Sactopia, all us callous-free dandies who’ve never changed our own oil or fashioned a splint out of maple wood are at a huge disadvantage in this do-it-yourself idyll. Luckily, we’ve got handyman of all trades, Tim Gene Sanders, on speed dial. The sun-kissed 57-year-old has worked on Alaskan oil rigs and fishing boats. He’s curled LED tubing through neon strip-mall signs, and hewed and distressed slabs of wood into medieval-style castle doors. Today, he holds court behind a Citrus Heights cigarette shop, where you’ll see a refurbished British sports car undergoing a needed paint job. “I’m a hands-on guy,” he said. “I like to fix things and … make them better.” And when Sactopia gets going, his skills will be in premium demand. Which is why he’s only giving out his email address: email@example.com. (R.F.H.)
Don't impede the velocipede
Sactopia residents don’t have to choose between riding the rails and pedaling the bike path—they can do both. At the same time. With something called a velocipede. The 19th-century bicycle designed for riding on train tracks has a whimsical, steampunk quality, combining the best modes of beatnik transportion without reinventing the wheel. But Zach Waddle, general manager and part owner of the Bicycle Business (3077 Freeport Boulevard), reminded velocipede designers to “weld the steering wheel in a fixed position” to keep your ride on track. For a single-bike design, the most important feature is “a counterweight to keep the other side heavy,” the 20-year bike-industry veteran added. For a double-bike design, the other rider should provide extra power and a counterweight. To get the best traction on train tracks, Waddle recommended “smooth and fat tires,” which provide the most grip, adding that velocipede enthusiasts should “pump up to a high P.S.I.”—pounds per square inch, that is—for a premium ride. Premium, indeed. (C.D.)
Neither rain nor snow nor threat of flat tire
Even if the citizens of this new Sacramento cut themselves off completely from the rest of the world, there still needs to be a system of physical intracity exchange. You know, a post office of sorts for letters and packages. According to users of the DIYCity website, residents of Portland, Oregon, experimented with that idea in the early 2000s by implementing an “anarchist post office,” using a free and independently run bike-messenger service that served the central city. It’d be a relatively easy idea to adopt here as well. Stock up on sturdy basket-laden cycles, divide the city into regions (perhaps by existing zip codes?), and use social media or text messages to post pick-up and delivery requests. Need to go further? Create a delivery fleet of sorts using privately owned vehicles and allow people to rent them, Zipcar style. (R.L.)
Captain Bill's wild rides
Many people have knocked Sacramento as a place where you absolutely need a car to get around. Not so. Just ask the 74-year-old “Captain Bill” Son. After all, how many people can fashion a motorized “you are your own airbag” barstool out of a tricycle, yard-trimmer engine and a go-cart in a few hours?
Granted, he was aided by a friend and “too much tequila,” but still, it’s got to be a short list. Which is why Son tops our list to head Sactopia’s unofficial Department of Unusual Transportation. Seriously, this guy can make any hunk of machinery go.
Son looks equal parts mechanical engineer and seafaring boat captain—a blue, short-sleeve button-up shirt, reined in by thick black suspenders, covers a sloping belly, while his straight, white locks are capped under an old-fashioned black captain’s hat with a gold anchor in the center. Completing the look is a saxophone-shaped pipe that extends the length of his blanched beard and grazes his chest.
Folks started calling him “Captain” back when he ran his own fishing boat and was the former harbor master at the Virgin Sturgeon Marina on the Sacramento River. “But they call me a lot of other things, too,” he cracked in his gruff but kind voice.
How about mechanical wizard?
Although Son has helped build one-eighth scale steam engines with Sacramento Valley Live Steamers Railroad Museum, the vehicles he’s currently bringing to life are antique red Farmall tractors. The tractors, often neglected for decades, come to him as masses of rust. But in his large workshop behind his north Sacramento home, he’ll blast the rust, paint the pieces a glossy, lipstick red, and build engines for them from blueprints, cutting the gears himself.
So what’s next on the captain’s to-make list? Son points to a photo he found online and keeps on his workbench, calling it the “senior scooter”: It’s a motorized cart with a toilet as the seat, and the tank is an ice chest (http://tinyurl.com/seniorscooter). Grab a cold one from back there, Sacramento, and let’s roll. (S.)
Waterproof that fixie
Since stolen fixed-gear bicycles will most likely be our “beasts of burden” to transport ourselves and all our stuff around Sactopia, we’ll need some panniers—a.k.a. containters that latch onto our bikes—to carry all our stuff. Local company Carsick Designs (www.carsickdesigns.com), run by Monica and Brian Laplander, offers several handmade water-resistant panniers that will be able to hold lock cutters, mustache survival kits and homemade prophylactics. They come with a roll top, which ensures that whatever’s in the bags will be protected against the elements. Carsick Designs also sells clutches, tote bags and ankle straps—so we don’t get our pants caught in our bike chains. Duh. (J.M.)
Bring the backyard noise
Food, shelter, protection—great, the basics are covered. Now it’s time to blow off a little steam. Chill. Relax. Hang out with some friends. But if you thought there was nothing to do in Sacramento before, now you’re really screwed. The bars and clubs have shut down, which means it’s time to bring the noise yourself. It’s easy (really!), especially if you have access to a fenced-in backyard.
I know a guy who throws a massive backyard concert nearly every year as a fundraiser for various causes. He does this without much hassle because he: 1. plans ahead—scrupulously, 2. follows the basic rules of human decency and 3. never, ever allows the music to play past 10 p.m. With that in mind, here are some other dos—and don’ts—to staging your own backyard gig:
Do let your neighbors know as soon as possible that a band (or two, or three) will be playing. Reassure them it won’t be too loud or go too late.
Don’t break your word. Even if you’ve managed to siphon off some precious electricity from the grid, there’s no need to crank it to 11. Also, this might not be the time to give your nephew’s death-metal band its first gig.
Do provide the necessities. If you’ve been to one crappy music festival and tried to find a bathroom, then you’ve essentially been to all crappy, bathroom-deficient music festivals. Make sure you have clean accommodations.
Don’t forget to fuel up: Stock up on drinks and food—in fact, turn it into a co-op experience and have people bring booze and baked goods to resell. Profits cover any expenses, and the money you’ll need to pay off your neighbors if you broke the first rule. Speaking of which …
Do establish rules: Whether you’re starting to freak out about an open invite list or the stoner kids from down the street, now’s the time to set guidelines covering sex, drugs and curfews, etc. It’s a brave new world, so the rules are yours to make—and break. (R.L.)
Who wants a mustache guide?
For better or worse, Sacto-Darwinian law heavily favors hipsters and homeless residents. The upside to that? Some crazy facial hair. Whether it be the new Charlie Chaplin look in the Roseville and Folsom region, the Mayor Kevin Johnson-inspired pencil-mustaches near the old state Capitol, or the ironically bare-lipped Lincoln beards in east Midtown, facial hair now draws the cultural lines across the region. As a recent mustache acolyte myself, I’ve taken to keeping my lip protector clean and shapely using an ordinary comb, trimming scissors and ye olde mustache wax, which nowadays is made from unwashed hippie-hair grease and honeysuckle drippings. But a warning: Groom that facial hair too much, and you’ll be suspected of being an uppity infiltrator from the north country. And thems we hang. Oh, did we forget to mention that women have facial hair now, too? Well, they do. Because equality. (D.K.)
City data says about 37 percent of Sacramento’s population is religious. But when Sactopia is cut off from the rest of America’s influence, what happens to faith? Will people continue searching for higher meaning through one creator? Take up meditation and focus on personal spiritual health? Build a temple of fire to sacrifice virgins and politicians every full moon, while dancing naked to appease the gods? Scott Eaton, executive pastor at Impact Community Church, thinks there’s no substitute for the classic Coke version of a higher power, and says people need a relationship with God to function. But Sacramento is already so diverse that the Rev. Doug Kraft, of the United Universalist Society of Sacramento, said the challenge is to reach across ethnic identities and work toward a common good. Meanwhile, local atheist James Miller hopes people will just practice what he calls “moralistic humanism”: “Do what is best for other people, even if they are different from you,” he said. Sounds like a spin on the old golden rule. Sactopia can dig it. (J.R.)
Time bank it
In the new society, money is meaningless, and the bartering system is back. And what’s a more valuable commodity to trade than time? Time banking mashes capitalism with a Karl Marx-approved exchange of equal services. The only denomination is the hour, and time traders have to spend hours to make hours. How do you do this? Well, let’s say you spend the next 60 minutes grooming and feeding your neighbor’s dog. You’ve just earned one time dollar that you can cash in for an hour of service yourself. The concept has caught on in Davis, which has a virtual time bank set up at http://davis timebank.weebly.com, and in Portland, where people on a fixed income can actually trade time dollars for medical service. “The potentiality is great,” said Eileen Murray, who pitched the startup Community Skills Exchange Sacramento during a June potluck at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. Another one is scheduled on August 3, at the Southside Park Cohousing common house (434 T Street). Interested time traders can RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org. “We’re getting born … and looking for people to come and be a part of it,” Murray said. Well, what are you wasting those time dollars for? (R.F.H.)