I don’t think I ever heard the terms “redneck”, “cracker”, “white trash” and “white flight” until we moved to Auburn in the fall of 1980. I had to have them explained to me by middle class neighbors. We were surrounded by people fleeing from blacks.

Michigan Wave tweets: “Get the sense that films like Deliverance, Easy Rider & tv such as the Geraldo Rivera, Maury Povich, & Jerry Springer shows helped to propel this term. They certainly boosted the archetype of the cruel White, backwoods lowlife into pop culture.”

David Hackett Fischer writes in Albion’s Seed:

Another term for this rural proletariat was redneck, which was originally applied to the backsettlers because of their religion. The earliest American example known to this historian was recorded in North Carolina by Anne Royall in 1830, who noted that “red-neck” was “a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians.” It had long been a slang word for religious dissenters in the north of England. A third word for this rural proletariat which also came from Britain was cracker, which derived from an English pejorative for a low and vulgar braggart.

I’m trying to figure out why I associate Auburn and Sacramento with sadness. On the rare times I’ve been back (1999 and 2000, I think were the last times), I get distinctly melancholy driving north on I-5 from Los Angeles, particularly once I start to smell the farm land around Sacramento. Once I turn around and head south, I get increasingly happy. LA is the place where I will make my dreams come true. Auburn, there’s nothing wrong with you, but I wasn’t at ease with myself when I was with you.

I met a new type of white in Auburn in 1980. They were rougher, tougher, meaner, and more ready to fight than the previous white people I’d known (who tended to be the children of Seventh-Day Adventist professors).

High school was not unpleasant, but to be honest, I had the overwhelming conviction up through the fall of 1988 that my life hadn’t really taken off yet, that it would only take off once I got to university. Then, when I finally made it to UCLA at age 22, I was hobbled by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, spent most of the next six years in bed back home around Auburn, and then upon making a partial recovery, I lit off for Los Angeles in March of 1994.

If I was to chart an emotional history of my life, I would say that my years up to age 11 (in Australia and England) were sad and mad, that from 11 to 14 at Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley I experienced some times of sustained happiness (particularly in the first six months of 1980, the end of 8th grade, I felt normal), then 9th grade was miserable (the transition out of Seventh-Day Adventism), by tenth grade (my first time in public school) on through age 25 I was striving but insecure, and that Los Angeles was a paradise that even I couldn’t completely spoil, with happiness settling in for me from 2016 onwards.

(Between 1980 and 1993, the smog steadily thickened and climbed up I-80 from Sacramento and enveloped us in the foothills. My primary view of Sacramento was as smudge seen from our deck. In Los Angeles, by contrast, the air seems to keep getting cleaner from my first residence in 1988. Back then, the air burned. I rarely feel that now.)

So I think I associate Auburn as the intermediate stage between my happy years at Pacific Union College before and Los Angeles after.

The biggest cause for how I feel about a place, I think, is the quality of my relationships there.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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