If you’ve been to Salzburg, you know about the Sound of Music Tour, the chance to see (with a guide or on your own) the locations depicted in the movie of that name, and visited decades before by the actual, musical von Trapp Family.

Modesto, California, the boyhood home of director George Lucas, is the implicit setting for the film American Graffiti. The characters refer to their milieu as “the Valley,” but the allusions to specific places are unmistakable.

Modesto at sunset, seen from K Street. That’s 9th on the right side of the photo, and 10th to the left of the theater.

On our way to Arizona we stopped off in Modesto.  We waited at our hotel until twilight and then walked the block over to 10th Street, down toward G Street and back up 11th.  Resemblance to the film cannot be seen — it’s more subtle than that.  This is one way that Modesto is unlike Salzburg — it is the setting, but not the stage, for its movie.

Filming took place a decade after its fictional events, and by that time the town had changed.  Just as Vancouver, B.C. often stands in for the idea of Seattle, a different location had to be found to portray 1962 Modesto.  After San Rafael resisted, production moved to Petaluma.  Other parts of California also provided backdrops — Mel’s Diner appears courtesy of San Francisco, for instance. But once a story has passed into the realm of narrative, what’s the difference between memory and imagination, history and fiction, art and — well, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Modesto is proud to claim its role in movie history nonetheless, and works hard to nourish the memory of the inspiration that took shape elsewhere.  A stretch of 10th Street has been turned into a Walk of Fame commemorating the stars and others involved in the movie.  Kiosks around town provide information about history and about the car culture and the music that are the background of the film.  A Sturgis-like gathering of hot-rods is encouraged every summer.

The magic of movies is all about illusion on one level or another. The actual, legendary Wolfman Jack pretends to be The Wolfman, pretending not to be The Wolfman.  Terry the Toad does practically nothing but pretend. Most of the young people, on their last night of summer, are trying to fit into an established order overseen by adults or by their peers.  Ten years later, the old order will have weakened: the very idea of conforming will be under attack. A president will have been assassinated; the Beatles will have come and gone; people will be driving Volkswagens, and the quandaries of 1962 will seem quaint.

Back in our hotel room, Alex was surprised to hear the rumble of a passing freight train, and worried that it would keep her awake (it didn’t).  But there’s no reason for surprise — it’s the noise of that train that provides cover for Curt Henderson as he attaches the cable to the rear axle of the idling police car during his unexpected street-gang initiation. The passing train isn’t an echo of a scene from the film: six decades later, it’s the real-life original.

Of course there are plenty of places in the world to look for the landscape of fiction. In Dublin you can still find the favorite haunts of Leopold Bloom or Stephen Dedalus, a century after the publication of Ulysses.  And on our trip home, driving by Los Angeles on the freeway, we hoped to have a peek at West Covina, the setting of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend;” but a traffic advisory resulted in a detour.

We did, however, drive through Petaluma.