Fontana was originally founded as a rural farm town in the early 1900’s. It grew into a steel town, formed by the white people that flocked to work at Kaiser Steel Mill during WW2. The influx of white steel workers brought racist white people too and the KKK had a strong hold in the city for several decades.
The mill was closed down in the 1980s and the California Speedway was built where it once stood in the mid 90’s. Al Capone built a home in Fontana in the 1920’s, it still stands on Tamarind street. Fontana is also the home of the Hells Angels biker club. Travis Barker of Blink 182 is an alumni of Fontana High School. I want to say nice things about Fontana, but some people call it Fon-tucky and it deserves it.
We moved to Fontana in the summer of 2001, I would turn 15 later that year. By the time we arrived, the majority of new home construction was concentrated south of the 10 Freeway.
We lived in Southridge, the southernmost area of Fontana tucked right up to the Jurupa Hills. There’s “old Southridge” built in the 80’s and “Southridge” which was mostly built in the early 90’s although new construction continued until the mid 2000’s. It’s sea of tract homes with clay tile roofs. Anyone who lives in Southridge usually makes the distinction of telling other people familiar with Fontana that they live in Southridge. The middle part of the city, between the 10 and 210 freeways is a mishmash of homes starting from the 1950’s and a grand wizard of the KKK owned a home there at one point in time. It’s understandable that some people like to differentiate between the areas. Don’t get me started on “North Fontana” those people might as well live in Rancho Cucamonga since they paid twice as much for their homes as the rest of Fontana.
That summer my main friend would be my cousin Mary, I loved that she was within walking distance and always willing to go with whatever scheme I’d conjured up. She told me about her crush who lived in the neighborhood and I, not one to ever turn down friendly crush stalking, quickly came up with a plan to set them up. It would turn out he was a bit of an airhead and he’d show up at my house without warning, prompting to me call Mary to get over there ASAP lest things be awkward. They never got together, I think once she got to know him better he lost his appeal.
It was miserably hot that summer but I’d soon learn that misery is the norm in the Inland Empire. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, right? I really missed the sea breeze even if it came with airplane noise. Hell temperatures aside, I finally had my own room and an office that I’d end up taking over as my hang out space. It had a red futon and walls filled with magazine and poster cutouts.
Mary and I would walk around the neighborhood and we got to know my new neighbors. It turned out there would be several kids around my age on the street, it kept the summer interesting. Alfredo lived two houses down, our families would become really close friends over the years and Mary would date him. Alfredo played football at Kaiser and his favorite band was Godsmack. Up the cul-de-sac lived Sean, although he was just there spending the summer with his mom but he mostly lived in Chino with his dad. Sean was a tall white boy and seemed to be athletic but never wore shoes and we theorized that he didn’t own pants because he only wore shorts. Sean was the easiest person to make jokes about, he knew only one word in Spanish, ‘pescado’, so the little kids called him Pescado. Across the street from Alfredo was Edward and they were best friends. Edward went to a Catholic private school. He was smart, usually way too smart for any of us and he had a tendency to over explain everything. We would all hang out on the street, doing nothing in particular and usually just making fun of Sean and eating ice cream. Sean loved to buy the Big Stick popsicles, the jokes just wrote themselves.
Sean became obsessed with a round steel structure out in the empty field at the end of our cross street. He and Edward thought it led to an underground tunnel system. There was just a padlock keeping them from finding out. We made a plan to sneak out of our houses in the middle of the night and go break the lock. I’d never snuck out of my house before. Hell, I’d barely been allowed to go outside before moving here but it seemed somewhat exciting so I was in.
I slept on the futon downstairs that night and Sean tapped on my window to let me know it was time. We walked down to Alfredo’s house and waited on the curb, his room was upstairs on the backside of the house and there was no way to send him a sign. We waited for what seemed like a really long time, just sitting on the curb. I remember thinking in that moment under the moonlight that Sean was cute but it was too bad he was such a clueless dork. So we just sat and sat until finally Edward came out, he was a pivotal part of the plan since his dad owned a pair of lock cutters. Alfredo had fallen asleep and we gave up on him joining us. We walked down to the structure and they tried for almost an hour to break the lock but they couldn’t get the angle right. It wasn’t going to happen. The next day we would see Sean coming down the street in broad daylight. He was wearing camo pants, of course the only pair of pants he owned were camo, combat boots and carrying god knows what kind of tools. He looked ridiculous but determined. In typical clueless Sean fashion, he would get seen in his stupid getup out in the field by a city worker. They’d soon put a reinforced lock on the thing and we’d never know what the hell was in there.
School would soon start, the neighbor boys would go to their respective schools. Mary and I were headed to Bloomington.