When your town turns into a movie set, it’s hard to distinguish what’s built to last.

One of the biggest events in a summer of big events was that my family moved to Vallejo.

As I haven’t been in this “Up Bay” city for long I am only able to tell you a few things about Vallejo: it is much less expensive to live here; if you are into Rap it is the city where the Hyphy movement was pioneered; it has a ferry to San Francisco, and until 1996 it was the site of a rather significant Naval shipyard that employed close to 6,000 persons.

When the shipyard closed the city struggled. The city center struggled even further as housing and shopping centers were built on the fringes of the city. I am told that downtown was decimated and was quite unwelcoming, if not outright dangerous.

The city center is still rather empty, although there is an attempt to invite artists to flee high-cost Bay Area cities and set up shop in less expensive Vallejo. But most of the storefronts downtown are without tenants and while now safe it lacks activity.

Which makes Vallejo strangely attractive to Paramount Pictures.

They have been in the city filming the controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. Apparently Vallejo is a perfect back lot for Paramount. Over the last several weeks they have “transformed” the city into a 1980s movie set. They have taken an empty storefront and turned it into a video store, another a Montgomery Ward department store, and several marquees have been added with the 1980 logos for companies such as Citibank.

They turned one empty storefront into a a vinyl record store which also advertises cassette tapes. It was reported to me by Rebecca, who also lives in Vallejo, that on Next Door one of our neighbors reported that all week he was driving by this new record store and was very excited to see the expansion of the “arts scene” in downtown Vallejo. All week he was waiting for the weekend so he could visit the new store and peruse the collections and discover hidden treasures.

You know the end of this story! The fellow walks to the “record store” which also advertises cassette tapes only to find it ain’t what it claims to be. He discovers it is empty and he is not only disappointed but a little embarrassed.

I know how the neighbor feels because I had a similar emotional experience when I saw that a new “bakery” had opened up downtown. I love bakeries and have been known to drive quite some distance to buy a great loaf of bread. So what joy to see a bread maker only minutes away. Only to discover it too was a set for this TV show. Silly me!

I know the Vallejo neighbor and I are not alone in this experience.

I am willing to guess that at some time in all of our lives we have encountered a facade that was exciting when we first engaged, only to discover that it wasn’t what it appeared to be. As a matter of fact it was quite empty inside.

It may have been a movie set or another storefront. But, it is much more likely to have been a job which looked so promising only to discover it was empty of that promise.

It is much more likely to have been a sales pitch that so inspired you that it led to you empty your wallet. Only to find that the item was an empty sham.

It is much more likely to have been a relationship where you felt that your soul had entered into heaven, only to discover that the heavenly room was actually quite empty.

It is an experience that comes in many different guises but is not unknown to most of us.

It is also the experience of all the youth that we serve. Promise after promise. Pitch after pitch. Relationship after relationship. Mostly turning out to be an empty storefront.

Which is why I am so proud of us. For we are not in the business of building a movie set for these young people that is only a facade and not much else. Week in and week out we are in the business of building a neighborhood. From the ground up. And the material for this neighborhood is your/our/my willingness to bring mySELF to the work. Not a facade. Not a promise. Not a sales pitch. Not an empty relationship. But our authentic SELF. Which allows our youth to see a real relationship. So they can discover their real SELF. So we can build something real where souls can live. And find joy.

 

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