By: Paul William Fassett
An example of the deteriorating cities of America; Stockton was one of the first cities in California to officially declare bankruptcy, but this city’s decline was well in the making some time ago.
I went to Stockton with eyes full of diamonds, and well wishes. I was sent there to film a fight which would air at a later date on HBO. I was excited because not only had I not seen a fight in a while, but I also hadn’t been behind a broadcast camera in an even longer time. When I arrived at the hotel, I was greeted by an electrically sealed door at the entrance to the lobby. Now, I’m not that well versed in high-rise hotels, but I have never seen one locked up this tight before. When I asked the person at the courtesy desk if there was anything interesting close by that I could photograph at night I was told: “That’s not a good idea. It gets pretty bad at night.” Not exactly a glowing endorsement. In fact I learned that the only places open in this city at night were the strip clubs.
So I waited until the morning came, and rose early with the sun to get some pictures. In the lobby we met the fighters, some of them coming from as far away as Brazil to compete in this little known tournament. One fighter in particular I talked to at length. He mentioned that his family was from Stockton, but they moved closer to San Francisco when the Police stopped patrolling the streets. “Things got bad.” He said, and they could no longer maintain residence in the city they called home for so long. Hearing tales like this makes you wonder if it’s such a good idea to walk around with a camera around your neck.
Being reckless, I went out anyway, and I came across the most peculiar thing almost right away. A giant radio tower, some 50 feet tall, tension wires and all, right next to two houses, and surrounded by apartment buildings. I saw a lady talking on her cell phone sitting on the stoop of a town house situated right next to the tower. She saw me taking pictures, and asked me if I worked for the city. We exchanged words, and I learned that she had been finding dead birds next to the tower, and her mother was admitted to the hospital for migraines. She said the tower was put in when the city went tits up. Seems like Stockton’s new gold rush is a land grab.
The thing I noticed in my walk about was the lack of a police presence, and just how quiet the city was. Then I stumbled across the court house. It was empty. No one going in or out of the thing. It showed all the signs of neglect without the obvious boarding of windows. I later found out that among other things, the city had to let go of its police force, and with it, it’s courts, and in cases of dire emergency, they call in officers from other cities. The only security presence I found were rent-a-cops, and even they seemed disinterested.
I had the distasteful pleasure of accompanying one of the photographers of this job to one of the aforementioned strip bars, in the guise of looking for a ring card girl. The humanity of these places. The desperation evident in every single eye on stage. The sheer business like attitude of some, I couldn’t get out of that place quick enough. (Not a terribly big fan of these places as it is) If this was evidence of where the place had gone, and where it will soon be, Stockton in a few years will be a sink hole.
The silence and darkness in the recesses of a place forgotten. The poor and helpless left to rot in a city being eaten away by greed and disinterest. Stockton is an interesting case study in the decline of the American city, and if it is any indication of what’s to come, I pray for the future of Los Angeles. Like any desperate animal, the masters of Stockton will cannibalize its own to survive, and it would seem the beast has already begun it first course.