my first week living in mammoth lakes

It’s 5:03am, which means I have 47 minutes to write this and nurse my coffee before the morning routine begins. This afternoon will mark our first week of living up here in our new house. For now, here are a few items that stand out.

It’s beautiful up here.

I’ve lived in some beautiful places and been to even more but the Eastern Sierra is really just spectacular. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that about six miles east of here is where Ansel Adams photographed some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth.

Ansel Adams Wilderness, about six miles from my house.

And being surrounded by that beauty impacts you in certain ways. There’s the general jaw-dropping nature of just driving or walking around, with monuments to Earth’s violence and majesty looming all about. But there are more practical and brass tacks effects as well.

Trash management.

Around these here parts you haul your trash to the transfer station: a bunch of dumpsters near the outside of town where for ~$20/month you are allowed to throw your trash and recycling. True, there technically is curbside service but it’s quite rare to see and it’s cautioned against even by the people who provide it:

[curbside trash service] is less common because of difficult winter conditions and bear activity.

So even if you don’t want to haul your own trash, you have to contend with bears and the reality of a place that can get six feet of snow per day.

Ahh, nature: with us dumping all our shit in it.

But the reality of such a beautiful area stands in contrast to the effects of trash. All those plastic containers, all that styrofoam, all that four-and-some-change pounds of general shit that we dump onto the planet per person, per day.

Don’t worry: as a tourist or visitor you won’t have to see any trash or landfills anywhere. Other than “Dump Road” off the 395 and a bulldozer sitting on a hill near Bishop, you can do what we all do and just pretend that there’s a magic fairy shepherding all of our trash into some mystical realm. Keep up the Amazon orders, don’t put packaging materials and waste generation into your calculus when you buy products: the magic fairy will just take care of it all.

The Sheet News has some good articles about trash management in the Eastern Sierra, if you’re interested in reading more.

It really is a small town.

The numbers are suspect. The 2010 census has the town at 8,234. The guy at my gym says it’s really like 5,000. Town boosters will claim it’s more like 9,000 or 10,000. During peak holiday seasons up to 50,000 tourists can flood in. Still, similar to most tourist towns the tourists tend to stay in certain areas.

Even with 50,000 tourists you can be sure none of them are buying lumber at the local yard. They’re not paying their water and sewage bill. They’re not at the elementary school play rehearsal. Those 50,000 tourists are on the mountain, in the village, in AirBnB’s, in hotels, at the lakes, spending money on Mammoth’s many ridiculously overpriced eateries, and stopping their cars along the roads to take pictures out the window of a deer standing in a field.

But pretty much everyone you meet knows three other people you already know, and that’s just as a guy who’s been here for one week.

The class divide is glaring.

The pejorative term for Mammoth Lakes High School is that it is filled with “millionaires and Mexicans”. That you are essentially in one of two class structures with very little cross over:

  • You are a white person with enough money and means to live up here and enjoy all that the place has to offer.
    • A sub category here is that you are a young-ish white person, with a family safety net that allows you to make minimum wage as a lift operator because you always have something else to fall back on if push comes to shove.
  • You are a Latino and work in the service industry. You are cleaning the the rooms at the hotels of the wealthy people who stay there. You are cooking the food that the wealthy people are eating.

As someone who’s lived in Mexico for two years, has a dual citizen (Mexican and American) daughter, this topic is one I tend to zoom in on.

I see the microexpressions when I ask something like “You mean the Mexican guy over there?” Because in white America “Mexican” is not on par with “Canadian” as merely representing someone from a different culture. It has baggage and means something more than just someone’s heritage.

This topic is one that I’m sure I’ll keep harping on. Politicians often say that we need a “national dialogue” on race, and I agree. It’s not a pleasant topic and similar to trash management it’s not anything a visiting tourist wants to really pay attention to. Even leftist-green-progressives coming up here to go backpacking would probably never put the issue of class division in Mammoth on their radar: they’re here to have a good time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But specifically to the boosters of Mammoth Lakes, I would simply say that a community is not defined by hiding its problems and erecting Potemkin villages. Communities gain strength by being honest about their issues and tackling them head on.

It’s past 6:00am, time to get started on week number two.