"Trailers for sale or rent / Rooms to let, 50 cents."
—"King of the Road" by Roger Miller, said to have been inspired by Miller's passage through Garden City in the late 1950s
Touring Chinden Boulevard with Kerri Hahn at the wheel can be unnerving.
"Do you know why they call this road 'Chinden?'" she asks, glaring with withering scorn at an advertising display on wheels emblazoned with flashing red light bulbs. It reads, "Tat oos!!!--Half-Pric Tuesdays F r Th Ladyzzz!!!"
From inattention to the road ahead, Hahn's late model SUV starts to drift across the center line.
"Because the Chinese people who came here way back when had all kinds of gardens down here. Vegetable gardens, I suppose. But maybe flower gardens, too. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody grew some poppies along here. For the opium, you know. Anyway, that's how Chinden got its name. Chin-ese gar-den. At least, that's what some old Idaho guy told me. It was probably really pretty once," she says.
A minuscule payday loans business painted a garish fuchsia with teal trim catches her eye and she jabs a finger at it.
"Now, does that look pretty to you? Really?"
Hahn's right hand crosses over her left to do the pointing, and the left hand, assigned to steer the vehicle alone, swings the opposite way in reaction, causing her to veer toward a camper shell outlet across the boulevard from the quickie loans place. Hahn doesn't seem to notice that she almost drove off the road.
"Do you see what I mean? They don't have anything like this in Columbia Village, do they? Or in Banbury? No, they don't. And some of our neighborhoods and houses are just as nice as anything in Columbia Village, I think. So why should we have to put up with this?"
She sweeps her arm across the view beyond her windshield, making sure there is no mistake what the "this" she's referring to is.
Garden City. The Garden City of pawn shops and trailer parks, porn outlets and used everything.
Hahn has undertaken a mission to do something about this, what she sees as the less-attractive qualities of her adopted hometown. If she and several dozen of her neighbors have their way, they will be leaving Garden City behind. However, this exodus will not be the result of those families moving out, relocating to different towns or valley locales.
Since last summer, Hahn and the group she started, the Goodbye Garden City Action Force, have been quietly circulating a petition that would force a special election applicable only to Garden City residents. On the ballot would be a citizens' initiative which, if passed, would tear the municipality into two distinct entities.
In other words, Hahn and her allies have every intention of seceding from Garden City and starting their own town.
The question arises as to why Hahn, 38, would have chosen to buy a home in Garden City in the first place if she is so unhappy with her surroundings.
In February 2007, her husband Brock Hahn, a division manager for Hewlett-Packard, was transferred to Boise from Irving, Texas. While Hahn stayed behind in Irving until their two young children finished the school year, Brock rented a furnished apartment by the week and shopped around for a house whenever he wasn't at work. He admits that he felt pressured to find something quickly.
"The idea was for Kerri and the kids to come from Texas straight to their new home. Besides, I've been house hunting with Kerri before, and I was trying to avoid a repeat of that nightmare at all costs. Kerri can be a little ... uh, I'm not sure what the word for it is," Brock says.
Other communities beckoned; parts of Eagle and the subdivisions west and south of the HP campus were very attractive to Brock. But after seeing what he could get in Garden City with the money he had available, and considering the proximity to his work, his decision was made. By the time Hahn and their children moved here, Brock had closed on a five bedroom/four bath, Stockton-style tri-level within two blocks of the Boise river.
"I can ride my bike to work," says Brock. "At least, during daylight saving time. I sure as heck don't want to get caught down here on a bike after dark."
In regard to the house only, Hahn knew beforehand what she was getting into. Brock had texted an extensive gallery of pictures of every room in the house, the exterior and the yard. He even went on a photo safari along the Greenbelt, and sent his wife shots of the most appealing areas.
In retrospect, had Hahn been examining those photos with a keen eye to understand the neighborhood, she would have noticed in the upper corner of one an abandoned blue church bus on blocks, and in the background of another, a tiny bungalow almost entirely hidden behind a curtain of wind chimes, whirligigs and an army of plaster garden gnomes.
But from afar in Irving, Hahn loved the house. In her mind, she was redecorating and refurnishing weeks before she actually arrived in Boise.
"I Fed-Exed Brocky some carpet swatches and he had all the recarpeting done by the time me and the kids got here. Except it all ended up in the wrong rooms. He had them put the Taos Yellow Berber in our master bathroom. Can you believe it? A yellow Berber in a bathroom? Really?"
She wouldn't know until Brock drove her home from the airport that two blocks on the other side of her dream house, on the side away from the river, was a salvage yard for dilapidated construction equipment, or that the reason there were yellow ribbons around the house a block to the east was that a week before her move, an elderly woman had been found suspiciously dead on the floor of her kitchen.
The woman's autopsy was complicated by the fact that her 17 cats, having run out of their regular food, had eaten away any outward signs of possible entry wounds or blunt force trauma.
"I can't tell you how let-down I felt," Hahn explains. "I had this picture in my head that the whole neighborhood was like something out of a Spielberg movie. One of the early ones, you know, like E.T. or Close Encounters. Nothing but nice houses and nice cul-de-sacs. But no, it's more like something out of a Tarantino movie, isn't it? Like in Pulp Fiction, where Bruce Willis runs into that weird shop with the freak chained up in the basement? That's where I feel like I'm living sometimes."
Hahn reflects for a moment before continuing, "To this day, I tell people how to get to our place and they're like, 'You live in Garden City? Really?'"
The aura of disreputableness that hovers over Garden City has not always been there. As suggested by Hahn, the town's name does indeed come from the gardening done by Chinese immigrants going back to the earliest days of the Idaho Territory.