San Francisco to Medford

A good thing to remember: never, ever leave San Francisco headed north on a Friday afternoon at 3PM and expect to get very far very fast. Once past Fairfield, though, and onto the 505, and everything sailed along nicely at 70MPH (OK, maybe 80…). Things got even better when I hit I-5, which pretty much follows the route of what used to be US 99. I loved the remains of 99 in Sacramento and Fresno, and I was not disappointed with the northern part either.

Didn’t make a lot of stops the first night, although I think I ate something in Redding. A big highlight was my first visit to Weed. I’d been intrigued by the idea of visiting this town with the funky name ever since moving to California, and it was now time. I found lots of good neon, some cool post cards, and not much else, but I was satisfied.

 

It’s hard to overstate how incredibly impressive the sight of Mount Shasta can be, even in the dark. It seems eerily illuminated and dominated the road. The mountains continued through Yreka and into southern Oregon. When I hit Medford, it was time to stop for the night.

 

Medford’s a strange place: one of those completely linear cities found along old US highway routes. Apparently, it’s always been a big stopover place, as can be seen by the many vintage motels and restaurants.

Medford was also the place where I learned, somewhat dramatically, that it’s illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon. The station attendant nearly had a heart attack — and nearly gave me one — when I walked upto the pump, inserted my credit card and proceeded to commit a misdemeanor with no apparent fear.

I drove around some downtown, found no “scene” to speak of, and then slept, vowing to wake up early and continue on.

Sociability

I’ve been meeting a lot of interesting people lately. In a way, I’m finding that I’m more social right now than I’ve been in a long time, despite my recent bouts of cynicism and “I’m bored with fags” attitude.

Friday night I was at the Hole in the Wall. First time I’d spent a really fun night in there in quite a while. It was as if all the tweaker trash had decided to go someplace else for the night, and people I knew and actually liked were lurking around every corner. It was a strange collection of people who — like me at the moment — used to go out a lot but seem to have developed a little perspective and are doing other things more frequently now. It was sort of nice.

It was also a collection of people I’d met in a number of ways, quite a few of them being people I’d met online. Not in chat areas or on IRC; I absolutely detest that whole online chat thing. It’s good for some, but it just doesn’t work for me.

Most of my online friends are people I’ve met as a result of the web site, or related to the occasional Usenet posting about whatever subject. I think it bodes well for the medium that a few people who I knew as text-only before I knew them in person have become some of my closest friends: a recent case in point being Sarah.

Yes, it is very true that I have slept with people I initially met online. That number is probably about 10-12 or so at this point. The really interesting thing, though, is that I’ve kept in touch with most of these people after the fact as well. Much better average than for those I’ve picked up in bars or sex clubs.

Many readers know I haven’t even walked into a sex club in over six months. It’s a little hard to maintain a web presence which promotes them without actually doing the…ummm..legwork, but I’m trying. This is because I still think sex clubs are a good and healthy thing. They’re just not the thing for me right now, for a number of reasons.

It is possible to have dialogues and actually “meet” people (not just their penises) in sex clubs. I met my longest-term “serious” boyfriend ever in one. The first time we had sex, fifteen people were watching and we found nothing particularly odd about that at the time or later. I used to be fairly known for having long conversations in the kitchen at Mike’s Night Gallery. Made a lot of observers really nervous; guess I wasn’t being “anonymous” enough for some. Fortunately, my conversation partners were no more bothered by it than me.

Maybe the fact that this stopped happening to me, even occasionally, is part of the reason I gradually just stopped going to sex clubs. I never consciously stopped; I just sort of realized one day that I wasn’t going anymore. I may start again just as unconsciously. Who knows?

The explanation of why I’m not going out to bars much now that I can go out any night I choose is no doubt more complicated, and I’m still working on it…

Anyway…Sunday night I did something I really haven’t done in a long time. I picked up someone at My Place, made out a bit there and brought him home. What’s odd about this? To start, I’ve had an annoying habit lately of only bringing home people I already know (repeat performances, so to speak). Also, most of my activity at My Place has been confined to the actual bar lately.

This turned out to be a special case, though. If there was even a “match made in heaven” for me, this was probably it. He was 31, casually employed, a smoker and a drinker and meat eater but not a drug freak, he liked fucking to Sonic Youth, his sweat tasted great, and it was REALLY fun sex, with an intensity level I haven’t experienced in a good while. And he was capable of having a conversation afterward. As luck would have it for me, I’ll probably never hear from him again, even though he seemed enthusiastic about the idea as he left.

The Gay Press: What I’m Not Reading This Week

The Advocate has been redesigned. Color me unimpressed. This magazine, which has been totally irrelevant to me since about 1983, now comes in a glossier, more graphically pleasing format. More in tune with the upscale professional lifestyle we urban gay men lead. The “heterosexual of the month” covers will have more shelf appeal. The marketing people have won. Note this announcement about news content from a recent editorial:

The Advocate has always been the leading source of in-depth analysis and original investigative reporting–the kind of forward-thinking news organization our discriminating readers demand. And now, beginning with this issue, in order to add new vibrancy to the way we do this, we’re pleased to debut a striking redesign…

The arts and media section has been expanded and integrated into the news section. Since gay arts and media stories can be significant political and social events, the new design does not draw conventional lines between news and entertainment. The most visible example of this philosophy is that The Buzz — where we report the inside scoop on the spiciest gay entertainment news — has been moved to the front of the magazine.

Isn’t that fabulous? At the Advocate, they know what’s really important. When we get tired of reading hard news, we can simply skip to the Madonna item on the next paragraph. Wow!! She’s REAL news. So is the White Party. And the latest dish on Ellen…

Not, of course, that this trend has been limited to the Advocate. Checked out your local news lately? Or better still, “Hard Copy”? OK…maybe O.J. Simpson really was the single most important news story of the past two years, but somehow I doubt it.

Lest I sound like I’m against the idea of a gay entertainment publication, I’m not. I more or less write one. What bugs me is that the Advocate has the audacity to call itself a NEWS magazine for the gay “community”, when essentially it has metamorphosized into a queer version of People or Entertainment Weekly, targeted at a very specific audience.

Which is all fine and dandy; that’s what today’s media marketing frenzy is all about. That’s the reason that instead of “rock” stations, “pop” stations, “country” stations, and “R&B” stations, we now have “alternative adult contemporary hits” stations (which translates to mellow “new wave” for those in their late 20’s and early 30’s) and “classic hits of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s with no be-bop or hard rock” stations. To question this would be to question all of advertising and demographic research.

But I digress. I was talking about news.

When I was a young fag, reading the Advocate was so much better than reading the local gay rags. The Advocate was real news, while the local papers were full of drag show reviews, bar openings, and tons of wire copy. The few local news stories were so biased and boosterish that they wouldn’t have passed muster in my junior high journalism class. A lot of the local gay press still is victim to this phenomenon — especially the “if it’s gay it has to be good no matter how bad it is” mentality.

The Advocate stood up for the “community” too. But it was different. It took more than 15 minutes to read a full issue. It said something.

No more, I guess.

One Year of Planet SOMA

Damn! A whole year online. Actually a little more, since the experimental Planet SOMA went up in early February 1996. I never thought that (a) I’d still be doing this so obsessively a year later or (b) that I’d be approaching my 100,000th visitor by now. All I can say is a very big “thanks” to everyone who has stopped by, written words of support, offered suggestions, wished me well when I was sick and when my car became charcoal, or even told me I was dead wrong about something. Special thanks to all those who have linked me to your own sites or otherwise pointed people in my direction. It’s been tons of fun.

(NOTE: The actual start date of Planet SOMA was 13 January 1996. 2 March was celebrated as the anniversary for the first few years because of some milestone I’ve since forgotten, maybe the addition of the hot counter.)

(Auto)mobile Again

I have a car again. Color me happy! I have returned to the ranks of car owners. I am once again part of the problem, not part of the solution. I can go to Safeway in the middle of the night when I run out of Cocoa Pebbles. I can stop hitchhiking on those damned road trips. The address printed on my driver’s license, my registration, my insurance, and my checks all match. I can once again experience the joy of parking in San Francisco…

Freaky Fresno

 

The first time I visited Fresno was sometime in early 1994. I left my house one afternoon — ostensibly to do laundry — and just kept on driving. After going almost 200 miles, and realizing that I probably would be washing no clothes that day, I decided to bed down in Fresno. I was dazzled by the array of cheap motels from the 50’s. Later, I was less thrilled by the bars. However, I did end up going home with the only two boys I was attracted to as well as a bartender. Eventually, drama ensued, I felt uncomfortable, and I left to roam the streets of Fresno. I liked it, somehow.

Three years pass. I have a rental car all week so I can look for replacements for my “fire bomb”. So why not make the trek back to Fresno, right? It is, after all, one of the strangest places I’ve ever spent time in, and it’s a nice perspective break from the intensity which is Planet SOMA. Plus they have great thrift stores there. So off I headed on Saturday morning, this time carrying clean laundry. I’d really planned on making it an extended road trip, which would ultimately include Bakersfield on Sunday. This was not to be, as we’ll discuss later. I arrived about 3, and found my particular motel of choice, after realizing that most of the coolest ones looked as if most of their residents were in fact actual residents, as in long term. I began to re-familiarize myself with the environs.

Then came the dinner and night life. I ate at Bob’s Big Boy, just because I could. I was not impressed, although the staff was really nice and they had lots of Big Boy merchandise for sale. Then the nightlife: I made my way to the Red Lantern bar, where I’d met the two boys last time. And exactly like last time, there were very few patrons who set the ‘nads racing, although I was impressed with one long-haired boy at the end of the bar. I made a side trip to the Express, hated it (again, just like last time), and came back to the Red Lantern, where I somehow made many friends in a very short period of time. (“New meat in town” syndrome?) Long hair was still there along with another fiendishly cute boy. As things would go, they turned out to be a couple (five years) and yes (again) I went home with the only two boys in town I was attracted to. Gotta love Fresno.

Afterhours at the bar, combined with extremely fun sex until 7AM, followed by some uncomfortable moments (I was, it seems, their first three-way) took its toll on me. Bakersfield was canceled and I kept the room for one more day, mainly to get some sleep. Of course,the thought of hooking up with the two boys again crossed my mind, but they didn’t answer the phone all day. How can fags not have answering machines or voice mail? Also, I was determined not to have a complete repeat of my last visit and I wanted to see more of Fresno while not hungover or comatose.

Which I did. Fun town, nice Sierra backdrop on the east side, excellent thrift stores. Took many pictures.

It must be the lack of Interstate Highways or the abundance of cheap land for expansion. If not, then strange quirks of the economy have kept so much of inner Fresno trapped in time. It’s a good thing.

  

Motel Drive in Fresno is truly a sight to behold, by day or night. This stretch is a piece of what was Highway 99 before the freeway bypass was built. Actually, you can see a pretty good bit of this automotive history on any of the old strips of the cities along Highway 99, including Sacramento, Stockton, and Bakersfield.

 

Most of the places on Motel Drive have pretty much become low-income housing of a sort and have started to resemble concentration camps. On my last visit, a fire at the Town House had also damaged and adjacent motel, leaving at least one person homeless. The Sands, once one of the more lush and luxurious of the bunch, sits vacant behing a fence. I fear it may be gone soon.

 

On the south side of Fresno, the old part of Highway 99 is known as Golden State Blvd. It’s even seedier than Motel Drive to the north, but there are sites to be seen all the same.

  

 

More things to see in Fresno:

Tower District (Olive Avenue near Broadway)

Centered around the deco Tower Theatre, this area is home to many restaurants, bars, and coffee houses, and is the closest thing Fresno boasts to a “bohemian” atmosphere. During my 1997 visit, people were pretty upset that Strabuck’s was trying to enter the area. I don’t blame them. Of course, by 1999, the Starbuck’s had landed on Olive. Score one for the generic corporate masses. The Tower is officially becoming “cutesy”.

 

In the Tower District, you can still find a couple of great live music venues, at least one amazing used record store (and I mean actual vinyl here), and an interesting, if disturbingly Christian, used bookstore. There’s also a really nice residential area of bungalows and 1920s apartment buildings surrounding the Tower District.

And then there’s the Chicken Pie Shop. It looks to be an absolutely amazing diner. I wouldn’t know for sure, though, as I seem to have a knack for arriving right at closing time.

North Blackstone Avenue

“The Strip”. Lots of neon and 50’s architecture if you look closely enough. Also one of the last remaining Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in captivity. Best by night.

Thrift Stores

Fresno is a major mecca for thrift stores. Downtown, in the 700 blocks of both Broadway and Van Ness are the places to be, near Inyo Street. There are about eight stores in this area, most of them worth at least a look. My absloute favorite was the AmVets store on Inyo at Broadway. Also worth checking out is the Thrift Center at 820 East Shields, a few miles north.

Downtown

  

Fresno’s downtown is located to the southeast, rather than in the center of town. It’s pretty much a dead zone, with little retail or street life, and most buildings vacant. There aren’t even many (occupied) office buildings. But those empty buildings are definitely worth a look.

See renovated theatres like Warner’s (or not-renovated ones like the Crest), empty department stores, and the ghostly Fulton Street pedestrian mall, a veritable relic of misguided 1960s attempts to “revitalize” downtown.

East Belmont, East Tulare, and Kings Canyon

The major commercial strips of the inner-city east side are wonders to behold, from the old chain-store prototypes (which now house Mexican supermarkets, tacquerias, and more) to the amazing food. I could drive them for hours.

North Fresno

All stucco and chrome and generic. It’s Anywhere USA, despite the obvious planning which went into the Riverpark development at Blackstone and CA-41.

Clovis

A suburb of Fresno with a nifty old downtown, a large collection of strip malls, and a great view of the Sierra. Popular pastimes include visiting the many antique stores and driving really slow.

Went back to the Red Lantern for beer bust Sunday night, received a note from a nice man who wanted to “help me out of my boots”, declined, went home and slept. Woke up early, ate at McDonald’s, talked about sports with a farmer (that was intersting…), and experienced downtown Fresno and many more sites on the way home.

San Francisco: Insulated from Reality

E-mail last week:

I’d think a hip cat like you’d be more into their version of things than some tired academics who are just jumping on the caboose of a rapidly leaving bandwagon.

Oh. Woops. You’re in San Francisco.

That explains everything.

Seems to be a common bit of knowledge that San Francisco is pretty well insulated from the realities of the world.The population here tends to be — how should I say it — a tad left of center. Diversity and eccentricity are the norm here. The intelligence, literacy, and education levels are higher here than in most of the country. Queers and other minorities have “nothing to worry about here”.

Of course, anyone who lives here knows that last statement is anything but true, although — at least for some minorities — life is somewhat easier here. Particularly noteworthy is the phenomenon known as the Castro. I’ve written a lot about the Castro. Most of it has not been complimentary. As a matter of fact I’ve often described it as sort of a “reality-free zone”, where the troubles of queers in the hinterland, people on the wrong end of the socio-economic scale, and unfashionable people are no longer a concern.

Could this is true of the whole city?

Well, of course it is. I’d venture to say that a fairly large percentage of the San Francisco transplants moved here to escape the “reality” of the places they came from, be it suburban North Carolina, rural North Dakota, or even the Phillipines or Central America. This collection of backgrounds has produced a wide variety of knowledge and awareness within the city. Unfortunately, it also may have produced a strange sort of insulated cultural vacuum wherein all these individuals fleeing from their own realities have lost touch with large parts of them as well.

I would not disagree with the statement that San Francisco as a whole strongly overestimates its own importance in the world. The things that we believe and hold dear are not the same as those which are important to the rest of the world. Our influence on society is waning, if not close to nonexistent. New York, Los Angeles, even Houston and Atlanta are much more important on a national scale. Contrary to what we may tell ourselves, the world doesn’t generally follow our example, nor does it even particularly care what we think or do.

San Francisco is the capital of muliti-cultural thought, tolerance, and “PC’ (God, I hate that overused term…) Every issue, no matter how inane or trivial is perceived by someone as indicative of society’s oppressive nature. If I get my order ahead of someone else at McDonald’s, it must be because I’m a white male, not because the other order was for a “Big Mac, no salt, light sauce, well done, on a cruelty-free bun”. If I refuse to break the law and reproduce copyrighted material en masse for a customer, it must be because I don’t agree with his politics, not because I fear for my job. Everyone here seems to have an “oppression complex”: gay, straight, male, female, WASP, Latino, Asian, whatever… It gets a bit silly. And people laugh at us, even though many “oppression complexes” may be based in past truths.

The “single issue” politics in San Francisco are astounding and disturbing. Particularly in the “gay community”. This may be our biggest means of forgetting that there is, in fact, a world outside our little peninsula. Most of the world is far more concerned about keeping (or getting) a job which will allow three meals a day and shelter than about whether a school in the Castro is named for Harvey Milk or whether a Lesbian couple is featured in the Valentine’s Day story in the local paper.

We’re creating a city that fewer and fewer people can enjoy. Gentrification has destroyed neighborhoods worldwide, but in San Francisco, we seems to be doing it on a city-wide level. The upper middle class is taking over, raising rents, and pushing out the diversity (musicians, artists, ethnic communities) which attracted them in the first place. Our small mom and pop family restaurants and hardware stores are being replaced with wall-to-wall bistros, Gaps, Starbucks, and Z-Galleries. How livable is a city where it’s easier to buy a $125 framed print or a piece of FiestaWare than it is to find a $4 meal?

And our hypocrisies and inconsistencies are showing:

  • We revel in our love of ethic cultures and foods provided and prepared by people who can no longer afford to live here. (San Francisco is the only city of its size and stature in the country where the African American population is actually DECLINING, and with the current rental market, things will get worse.)
  • The gay movement was built largely on a platform of freedom of speech and association, but try posting a flyer on a lamppost in the Castro.
  • Discount stores like Target or Home Depot face immense opposition from city residents who would prefer to drive to the suburbs and shop there, free of the hassles of anyone who might walk or take transit to them.
  • Marin County contains one of the most “liberal” suburban voting blocks in the country. Funny that any form of affordable housing there is consistently voted down, as was the BART rapid transit system many years ago. Shopping centers are OK though, as long as they “look OK” and they’re located in the one predominantly black area of the county. It’s a special bonus if they displace an unsightly flea market or craft fair where “outsiders” can make money in a non-landscaped environment.
  • A reviewer fro the Examiner applauds a show which glorifies urban street sensibilities while decrying the real street life — she refers to it as “human garbage” — which surrounds the theater outside.

It all comes down, I guess, to whether we want to live in a real city or a Disneyland-style sanitized version of one. Is it preferable to take the bus to the Western Addition or the fake cable car tour to Fisherman’s Wharf? Is Mission Street or Castro Street what San Francisco is really all about? I must confess to a bias toward the former in all three cases.

And I’ll skip a lengthy discussion of our own version of the costumed “greeters” here in “UrbanLand”: the stockbrokers who dress like gas station attendants on weekends, the trust fund hippies on Haight Street, the artists posing as gangbangers, antuque shop owners posing as longshoremen. However, I must congratulate them for producing an intersting — if not entirely accurate — version of urbanism in safe neighborhoods. Perhaps in a “city of freaks” it is necessary to punctuate one’s identity with an exclamation point.

I must add that I do not claim to be free or above some of the inconsistencies I’ve discussed here. I am also probably no less insulated from reality than anyone else here. The South of Market Area is not really all that high on the “reality index” either (especially given all the drugs down here). Who knows…maybe I’m more insulated than anyone…

All in all, I still love San Francisco and the Bay Area. At least there is an attempt at justice here. In most neighborhoods, it is not necessary to duck immediately after kissing your boyfriend goodnight on the street corner. People here at least feel guilty when they make bigoted comments. Hate-spewing Jesus freaks are regularly challenged when they preach on the streets. And as shallow as it sounds, it’s just pretty here!

Fun with Unemployment

OK…I’ve rearranged all my books and grouped them by subject (while stopping short of using the Library of Congress system), all the dishes are clean, and the floors are swept, I’ve rearranged and fixed almost every page on the web site, answered all my email, cleaned up the hard drive…what do I do next?

Unemployment is hard to get used to. I’ve never done it before. So frighteningly much free time. No structure to my life or my days. It’s really odd. I never really noticed it until this week; for the first few weeks, I was in North Carolina, so it seemed like a natural vacation. Now I’m home and I’m a little perplexed by the whole scene.

A few good things: I’ve been able to do things in the daytime, like the MacWorld Expo Friday, lunch with Mark today, “I Love Lucy” at 2PM on Channel 20 every day… Tomorrow I get to wait for the repair person from PG&E to come fix the heat. Great timing…the coldest it’s been in San Francisco in the 4 1/2 years I’ve lived here and I have no heat. And just when I’m spending all day at home too…

I’ve decided that this month would be a really convenient time for me to have a heavy romantic involvement, if anyone’s interested. I have time now, and I don’t have to worry about getting out of bed to go to work. I can linger by the phone all day waiting for “him to call”, without worry about having to be somewhere else at a given time. Plus, someone else in the sack would help with the heating situation immensely…

Anybody wanna go see a bargain matinee?

I Love San Francisco

It is good to be back in San Francisco. I missed my neighborhood, my friends, my computer…

It continues to be freezing cold here. Granted, freezing cold in San Francisco means the temperature dips into the 30’s occasionally. But we’re all major weather wimps here, so if it’s below 45 or above 75, everyone sort of freaks out.

I love San Francisco. It’s as if the cream of the crop from around the country — the deviants, the psychos, the geeks, the skaters, the punks, the sluts, the artists, the musicians — all converged here in order to pay ridiculous rents to live in old buildings with less than adequate heat but to have stunning views (and viewpoints) thrust on them constantly.

Got picked up on the subway yesterday by a way cute boy who has not as yet called back. Neither of us had time to do anything right then and there (pity…), but we did manage to play the game and moved really fast into the conversation stage,etc. This doesn’t happen so easily other places. In most other cities, you have to go through the “is he queer or just trying to sell me drugs” phase, which wastes precious time. Depending on your tastes, there’s also often the “does he just want to rob me” stage. Here, you can be pretty certain that (a) he’s queer and (b) even if he wants to rob you or sell you drugs, he’ll probably have sex with you first.

I love San Francisco.