Alamo, California 94507
God's Country. Ever since I can remember, that's what my dad called our hometown of Alamo, tucked deep inside the coastal range of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Like everything in California, Alamo has changed since the long summers of the late '60s when I was riding my Schwinn banana-seat sting ray around its tree-lined corners and cul-de-sacs. Now there's a signal light at the intersection and a Starbucks. The formerly quiet boulevard that connected Alamo with neighboring San Ramon Valley towns now bears stressed commuters seeking an alternative to traffic-choked Interstate 680. I imagine Alamo mothers no longer approve of their sons and daughters taking their bikes on Danville Boulevard to get an afternoon Slurpee at Seven-Eleven.
But before I start sounding like an old guy, let me steer you around the ol' hometown because there are some places of modest interest.
A life-sized statue of a Palomino horse still stands like a sentinel atop the Alamo Hay & Grain at the town's main intersection of Stone Valley Road and Danville Boulevard. The Hay & Grain is where I used to turn in gunnysacks full of black walnuts for $1.50 on Saturday mornings. I collected the messy green and black walnuts off the driveway and groundcover landscaping my family home. My dad told me they ground them into cattle feed, an image that always grossed me out. I'd buy baseball cards and Hot Wheels with my hard-earned wages. We used to get food for my sister's 4-H rabbits at the Hay & Grain. My sister, being of a rural bent, loved walking through the aisles.
Its open-air barn architecture still holds a lot of interesting and anachronistic stuff. Riding tack and horse liniment, animal traps and, yessir, hay and grain. Overall, the merchandise of the Hay & Grain has changed as local ranches have sold and subdivided into tony housing tracts, and today they sell more dog collars than ranch supplies.
Next to the Hay and Grain is Walt's Shoe Repair. Nicest guy you'll ever meet. Generally you'd find Walt in the same slightly bemused mood, the start of a smile underneath his thick Jepetto mustache, wearing the cobbler's leather apron with all kinds of awls, blades and shears -- tools of the trade -- poking out of the pockets. Walt always seemed more interested in what leather item you were bringing to him than in chatting with you, which is good in a shoe guy. Another thing about Walt: he was an absolute wizard with baseball gloves. Bring him an old flimsy hunk of barely hanging together cowhide and in a week he would re-stitch and lace it into something that Brooks Robinson could have used.