Aside from an overnight stop with Erik on the way back from Las Vegas in 1998, it had been more than two years since I had a Fresno experience. Heck, it had been eight months since I’d even spent a night outside San Francisco. It was time.
I got out of town early on Saturday morning, assuming I’d have lunch in Merced and make it to Fresno before the thrift stores closed. By the time I crossed Altamont Pass, I already had the air conditioner on. I feared the heat of the Central Valley. I was right to fear it.
After finding a great bluegrass station just out of Stockton, I was speeding down Highway 99 and all excited about visiting my favorite escape. After eating lunch and driving around downtown Merced (and finding a great book my ex-roomie needed to own) I made way to Fresno.
The thrift stores proved antclimactic, and I left with one pair of 97¢ pants. Particularly disturbing was the Christian heavy metal station playing in one of the stores. I was sweating, dehydrated, and tired as the temperature had already hit 98. It was time for an air-conditioned motel. I checked in, took a crap, fixed the non-functioning TV and set the thermostat on “sub-arctic”.
Then I explored Fresno. I hit the Tower District and one of my favorite used bookstores. I drove the length of the North Blackstone strip. I visited a Von’s and an Albertson’s on my continuing quest for Count Chocula. I was unsuccessful. I was also a little pissed to see how much cheaper things are at Von’s than Safeway, despite their common ownership.
I checked out a few more used bookstores, both of which seemed to have this creepy Christian aspect to them (but no Christian heavy metal on the radio at least). One of them even had a Christian massage center in the backroom. Strange chants permeated the whole store.
About this time, I decided that hearing Lenny Kravitz sing “American Woman” one more time might drive me over the edge, so I switched to a Tejano station. I continued into a strip mall on Gettysburg Avenue, desperate to read the sign, which said exactly what I thought it said:
How can you not love a city with a strip mall named “The Gettysburg Address”?
Back at the motel (which now had the beginnings of icicles forming on the curtain rod), I contemplated going out. I really wanted to pick up another couple, as is my habit in Fresno. But I was also worn out from the heat and fearful of drinking and driving.
My gonads won. I hit the Red Lantern first, and was surprised that this empty, seedy little bar was now holding “salsa night” on Saturdays. There was an actual crowd. It was a fun crowd, but really cliquish and not at all cruisy. I was happy to see that the Red Lantern was quite gleefully ignoring California’s ban on smoking in bars. I picked up the fag rag and saw that tonight was “hardcore and alternative night” at the Cave, two blocks west.
This bar has a strange definition of “hardcore and alternative”, which includes Bon Jovi, Alanis Morrissette and a really bad disco version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I exited to the patio, which is also a backroom area, I’m told. All I saw were several bears talking about AOL buddy lists and chat rooms.
Conversation snippet: “I wish there was some action happening. Everyone knows about this place, but no one wants to break the ice.” An ice breaker from way back, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the problem was the lack of any interesting ice to break. I was home by 12:30, comfortably breaking up my own personal set of ice crystals which were now forming on every surface in the room.
Biggest nightlife revelation of the evening: the new freeway by Belmont Avenue makes bar-hopping much more convenient. And no, I didn’t drive drunk, thank you.