Lisa Lees gave me that name when I was helping Nicole Hodge getting ready to open Provisions. You see, at that time there were three Tom’s that came around: Nicole’s dad, a bright and funny man, Tom the Father; Tom Pezzuto, the landlord, another bright and kind man, Talking Tom; then there was me, the capable contractor, Rugged Tom. Even before Nicole and I started dating, I would be greeted daily with a text “GMR”, Good Morning Rugged. For almost three years, since right about the time I first started writing this blog, I was called Rugged on a daily basis. As Provisions grew and Nicole and I became more serious, I came to self-identify as . . . well . . . Rugged. Sometimes I would forget myself and tell people that was my name. Those times were quickly followed by a head tilt and a wry joke about my parents not liking me or some such thing.
While my time with Nicole was enjoyable, not all things are meant to last. Still, I enjoyed my new name and my GMR texts. Our friendship was fully cemented by then and even though we were no longer a couple, I still visited Provisions on a regular basis. I helped out when I could and often times enjoyed morning coffee with our lady proprietress. Once again, the forever constant in the universe, change, came along and Nicole found a new close companion. I will admit, it took some time for me to come to grips with this eventuality. Determined not to have our friendship end badly, or at all, we two committed to talking through everything promising complete honesty. Now I do miss my morning coffees with my friend Nicole, but this was to be the way of the world. My life moved on and every stage of grief swept through me until something hit me not so long ago, and it hit me hard. I had not only lost my morning companion, I had lost something even more dear. I had lost my dream, and with it my identity. You see, while Nicole is absolutely to credit for the success of Provisions, I was there at the start, I helped along the way and after a fashion, it became my child too. The thought of it all, and the loss of it all, caught me up short. The last few years you have known me for my writing but also as a part of that lovely little downtown café. Hmm . . .
Paula McConnell wrote an interesting editorial the other day and it was printed in the Times Herald. I was not able to read the entire article as, for some reason, I am not always able to log in to my TH account and so articles, sometimes, quickly disappear. What I did read referred to the infamous piece by Herb Cain saying, Please Don’t Call It Frisco. Mrs. McConnell went on to make a very good point about feeling proud and just calling our town Vallejo. It may seem odd that I am agreeing with her since I entitled my blog the VTown Social Club. It seems that Paula finds the term VTown less respectful, less formal. While I miss being called Rugged, I do agree that there are times when the sound of my full name is appropriate in more formal circles. As I write this I remember how, in the 70’s and 80’s, my employers would ask that I call them by their first names and not their title and surname as my parents had instructed me. I found this level of familiarity odd in an employment situation yet that is what the boss requested. Honestly, I feel now that the level of familiarity my employer was trying to impart may have been counterproductive. He was not one of the guys and some distance may have made it easier overall to do business.
What little I read of Mrs. McConnell’s piece made me think that she too was referring to a lost formality. That perhaps we in Vallejo are too familiar. I chose to use VTown in my title not to be disrespectful of past Vallejo. Rather I chose it in an effort to embrace the new Vallejo: VTown. I had an enjoyable conversation with Justin Saroyan the other day. A longtime resident and former GVRD employee, Justin made a comment just as our time was coming to an end. I will paraphrase. He said, “With the Navy gone, Vallejo doesn’t know who it is.” My draw visibly dropped. Justin had hit the nail on the head. Paula McConnell sees it too. Vallejo has lost its identity. Mrs. McConnell fondly remembers the days when Vallejo had respect. When we were a Navy town. Those of us who embrace VTown as our moniker see Vallejo for what she could be: A town of artists, cafés, music and architecture. A place to be that has shaken of its rough and ready reputation.
As I feel that I have lost my identity, as Provisions and I are less a part of each other’s lives, I feel strongly that we Vallejoans have not reached the final stage of grief with our breakup from the Navy. We have not yet decided who we are as a community, or how we present ourselves to the world. We gather, we drink, we eat good food and listen to amazing music while enjoying world class art and yet, to date, this has all just been a distraction. The time after a breakup when you go to bars, or friends set you up on blind dates. So it has been with us and developers. They come for a bit, try to make it work, and many get frustrated because . . . Vallejo still has baggage. We are not really ready to meet someone new because we have not fully accepted that our future does not wholly lie in the fate of Mare Island.
Vallejo, VTown; we are no longer a Navy town. Neither are we Nimitz-ville or a suburb of Southern Land. What, and who, we are we must still decide. We point fingers at the police, the City Council and even the City Manager. Perhaps some of that is appropriate but in that thinking, a critical part of the equation is missing: Us. We the people. We gave the police the power they wield. We have given the City Council permission to give the City Manager the emergency powers he is using. We are responsible for not knowing who we are and no one else is going to help us figure it out. But they will take advantage of it.
Sometimes I am too rugged. You may not agree with everything I say here or feel that my interpretation is too . . . too. But whether you see me as Thomas, Tom, Tommy or Rugged; I still am trying to decide who I am after a life’s dream came to an end. Knowing that this is a truth for one man, how can we ignore the very possibility that for Vallejo a dream identity came to an end and that, perhaps, after almost 40 years, it is time to set aside our distractions and work together as proud Vallejoans who are a little VTown after hours.
Until the next time,
Tommy “I will always call myself Rugged” Judt