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.

Reflections on home

I guess my two-plus weeks in North Carolina could best be described as “restful”, which may be just what I needed following my newfound umeloyment. I spent a lot of time with mom and dad, not much time going out, only minimal times shopping and cruising, and I slept a lot. Good things included seeing the family at Christmas, spending time with Jeff and Duncan, and much excellent food. Less good were the fact that I was half sick for my whole visit (not used tp places with heat, I guess…), I didn’t get to visit my friend Dawn in Charlotte, and really heinous airline food.

A few things which come to mind after this visit:

  • The preppy look never goes out of style in North Carolina, especially among gay men. I’ve never seen so many oxford shirts “tastefully” layered over polo shirts all tucked into khakis or acid-washed jeans anywhere else.
  • People on airplanes flying home for the hoildays look as if they’re going to a funeral. Guess the stress level is a bit much, huh? Maybe it’s even more intense on flights out of San Francisco, where it seems everyone is running away from something.
  • There should be a law against going to “retro” nights at clubs in cities where you grew up and no longer live. Major emotional roller coaster.
  • The last call rush is much more intense in North Carolina than in California, maybe because state law in NC gives you a very civilized half hour to finish drinks bought at 2AM.
  • Why is it that in an intense place like San Francisco, speed is the drug of choice, while in a laid back (OK…boring) place like Greensboro, it seems to be all about heroin. You’d think the reverse would be true.
  • Newspaper stories in North Carolina still tell you what to do with an Internet address: “if you have Internet access, take a web browser, such as Netscape, and type in…”
  • Why is it so intensely unpleasant to be in a gay bar alone in the South? Here, it’s pretty standard for me, but everything is so damned clannish and cliquish there, it just seems really uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that absolutely NO ONE would dare appraoch an “outsider”.
  • A few things which will always happen when I visit mom and dad: meals at the K&W cafeteria, a trip to the Virginia line to play the lottery (NC doesn’t have one yet), and a tour of every new suburban development within 30 miles. Fortunately, I enjoy this…
  • In the Charlotte airport, it is cheaper to go to a bar for a Coke than to one of the fastfood places. Plus, you get free refills and can smoke! Of course, in the Greensboro airoprt, you can smoke everywhere, so it’s not even an issue.
  • Southern friendliness and hospitality are often overrated. If you don’t “look right”, you’ll see what I mean.

Home for the Holidays

  

Aah…Christmas morning. This is the first one I’d spent at home since 1991. It wasn’t quite the same as when I was a kid, but it had its certain charms. We had breakfast with my aunt and her family next door, and dinner with my dad’s relatives in Reidsville. I’ve reached the point in life where few of my family members know enough about me to give me anything other than money, which is fine.

It was a foggy Christmas, and the weather for my whole trip was unseasonably warm (until the day I left when the ice came). I had a bit of a hard time getting used to the fact that places are actually heated in North Carolina. This is sadly not the case in San Francisco, where no one admits that it ever gets cold. Of course, Christopher in Minneapolis tells me “you don’t know the meaning of cold.” Jeff had to work Christmas night; he tends bar many nights. Not a good thing for him, but it was very nice for me…

  

Greensboro bars are even more depressing than I remember, with the exception of Babylon, which is really happening despite the overabundent and annoying rave children on certain nights.Suffice to say, I didn’t get laid the whole time I was in NC, and never even felt really inspired to attempt it. There was a cute boy named Brian at the Palms one night (pictured above) but our association never got near the point of sex. Todd (above right) supplied his boyfriend for my “amusement” last visit, but only took pictures of Brian for me this time.

 

Believe it or not, I spent New Year’s Eve at home with mom and dad, despite the festive decorations at the Palms. It seemed the sanest thing to do in a town where (a) cars are the only mode of transport and there are all of three cabs in the whole city, (b) I was stationed in the ‘burbs, and (c) concealed weapons are legal.

  

I made the annual pilgrimage to the trailer park to visit Anthony, Jeff, and Jeff’s new beau Dave and trade Christmas presents and drink beer. Jeff showed me his affection for Dave’s size 17 (?) boots, Dave worked on a model of something I can’t remember, and hideous pictures were taken of me. The we left, ‘cuz the cat was giving me fits.

 

There were the usual tours of the city, “what’s new”, “looks ‘big city’, doesn’t it?”, the trip to Virginia to buy lottery tickets, a jaunt to Winston Salem, where I found this sign which was of interest to a certain fiendishly cute webmaster. I saw the old schools, all the buildings which had been torn down, the monster malls, etc. And food at all my favorie places. Then it beacme time to rent a car and leave my real home town for my adopted home town, the land of all night diners, the Hornets, the Panthers, NationsBank, First Union, and other world class attractions.

 

In Charlotte, I stayed at the nifty new home of my nifty old friend Duncan. We did lunch at Gus’ Sir Beef, always a damn near religious experience, and sampled other Charlotte food as well. Tours of the thrift stores, aimless driving through the city (always a favorite pastime when Duncan and I convene), and more. Friday night started late, but we still hit a few bars (and Duncan got hit on by an adorable boy, while alas I didn’t). Saturday night, we made the trek to Columbia (and back), always one of my favorite road trips when I lived there.

  

On Sunday, much to the chagrin of bigger sports fans than myself, I got to see the Panthers/Cowboys playoff at the new Erickson Stadium. We tailgated next to the most beautiful redneck boy in the world (or at least in the parking lot). Good game, great stadium, cute boys, no tearoom scene (inside joke). Alas, Green Bay kept the Panthers out of the Super Bowl the following Sunday.

Sunday night took me to Oleen’s and back to Scorpio, and Monday morning took me back to Greensboro for one more day. Now I’m home. While it’s good to visit my family and friends, and while I miss having them nearby, I’m not itching to move back. If only they’d come out here…

Vacation Plans and Drugs

Just by way of an update, I’m almost over the nasty bronchitis thing, thanks to antibiotics, the inhaler, and codeine — the happy drug. I was really amazed at how many people wrote to ask how I was doing. It’s almost tempted me to believe that people are nice, which — given my experience with the public at Kinko’s — is hard for me to admit. Anyway, thanks a lot. It made me feel good to know people actually knew and cared.

So what’s up, you ask? Got a job yet? That answer would be “no”. I am starting to feel a little nervous, given that my current one ends in a couple of weeks. I find myself walking around saying “what the fuck am I thinking?” Of course, I then go back to work, have a couple of days like the last two, and realize that I’m not making a mistake.

Right now the plan calls for a few weeks in scenic North Carolina around Christmas, with side trips to Atlanta and maybe D.C. I suddenly realized the other night that for the first time in my life, there’s no real hurry to come back off a vacation and I can really take just about as much time as I want. kinda cool, actually. Plus mom and dad will feed me for free, and Jeff and Duncan can show me all the newest decadent hot spots in return for their Planet SOMA tours!

Seeing “Beavis and Butthead Do America” while in North Carolina holds a strange thrill for me somehow…Sorry, got sidetracked by a commercial.

May have a visit from Christopher some time this rainy season.

Had a very entertaining evening out and about with Rob (picture soon, I promise) last night. He’s coming along quite nicely, is passing most of the major “tests” (except the music quiz…Pet Shop Boys…bleccchh…) and he looks much younger than his 107 years too. And he has a room with a view…

On my mind in a major way lately: drugs.

I’m really getting tired of going out and seeing that my neighborhood local bars look like (unsuccessful) drug rehab centers. There’s always been a lot of speed South of Market, but it’s seemed a lot worse lately. At Hole in the Wall especially, the scene used to be about smoking pot and drinking to excess. Even though I stopped smoking pot about 1981 and don’t foresee returning to the habit anytime soon, I can understand these drugs. Pot heads may be annoying at times, and may show all the motivation of a coma victim (there are, I admit, exceptions), but at least they’re not doing major damage and killing themselves. Same for your average drinker, although excess in this area has its fatality factor too.

Now it’s all about speed and X (and heroin and even crack, to a lesser degree). A whole fashion culture is developing; it’s not hard to tell who’s dealing or tweaking even from a distance. And it really bugs the shit out of me that this whole scene is overtaking places I like to hang out. One of the main reasons I don’t do the dance club scene is to avoid this crowd (of course the fact that I don’t dance figures into it too…) and now I can’t even escape it in the corner bar.

Maybe I’m just more sensitive now that a few close friends have allowed their own addictions to render them homeless and essentially useless. Maybe I’ve just brought home one too many boys who couldn’t muster an erection if their lives depended on it and just want to sit around watching porn and calling the sex line at 4AM. Who knows?

I’ve always tried to let people do their own thing in peace as long as they (a) go outside to smoke pot, (b) shut up about it after the first time I say “no, I don’t want to join you” and (c) don’t allow their drug drama — including endless conversations about how good it is, how much it cost, and how much trouble it was to obtain — to impact my life in any way. But I’m now declaring Planet SOMA, the “little apartment that could” and all areas within a five-foot radius of my person a “tweaker free zone”. What this essentially means is that if you’re on the amphetamine train, stay away. Period. If you manage to get into my house, you’ll be asked to leave as soon as I clue in. I do not trust you. Actually, I may trust you, but I don’t trust your chemicals.

End drug rant.

On Minnesota

Lotsa queers go on vacation looking for anonymous sex, exotic foods, and the exitement of the big “urban gay mecca”. So what do you do when you live in San Francisco, where these things are a matter of course? I went to the midwest, where I had sex with only one person (whose name I knew…), ate at White Castle as often as possible, and saw the leaves change color. It waa a pretty interesting perspective and a great trip thanks to my hosts Christopher and Bil.

 

There was rock and roll, allergic reactions, bright lights, big cities, cheap Wisconsin cheese stands, the Mall of America, and lots of driving through frighteningly green areas. There were no woodchippers. Good trip, all in all…

So Long

It was a good trip and a good substitute for my annual trek to New York. This was the trip I needed right now: No intense urban bar and sex club scene, spending time with and getting to know people I actually like, good musical experiences, and sex in three states. Oh, and having a car was nice too, given the last month of my life and my great loss.

I will not miss music stores for a while.

I kinda miss him more than I expected.

I actually took a lot of time to ponder and be reflective in general too. There may be big changes coming soon, but that’s a subject for a later discussion. If you got this far into the trip, you are to be commended. Let me know what you thought. Until next time…

Duluth

Something about severely depressed port-industrial towns on the Great Lakes that I just love. Two people told Duluth would remind me of San Francisco. It didn’t, really, but there were hills and it was kinda pretty in a seedy sort of way. I’d never seen Lake Superior before, and Christopher’s private “beach” on the sandbar was avery good thing. This is his hometown, so he knew his way around pretty well and networking was efficiently accomplished. Interesting coffee house (the Orpheum Cafe), scary bars (the Main Club and JT’s in Superior because “someone has to die before a new bar can open in Duluth”), and a Perkins’ on the waterfront. And besides, anything would be exciting after an even larger dose of Wisconsin…

Interesting memories of Duluth:

  • The beach, mentioned above, at night. The lake was really calm and I can see why the Chippewa believed it to be sacred and I understand the effect it has on those who grew up near it.
  • The “Beavis and Butthead” marathon on TV in the Budget Motel, which smelled bad but had good cable.
  • The unbelievably huge loft rented by one of Christopher’s friends for like $350 a month.
  • One of the strangest drawbridges I’ve ever seen.

Chicago

I wanted Chicago to be much more than it was. Maybe I didn’t spend enough quality time there and maybe it’s because we didn’t do sufficient planning, but Christopher and I were two fags in search of a scene and there just didn’t seem to be one. Driving and parking were a nightmare (yes…worse than in San Francisco) and it was 27 degrees one day, which is outside my California-moderated temperate zone. All the same, there were moments. And anything would seem exciting after driving across Wisconsin!

  

How could I not stay at this place? It was almost as much a symbol of good karma as the White Castle I encountered on the way into Minneapolis. And it was cheap! When we checked in, having OK’ed the two people/one bed arrangement, I offered ID. The nice lady at the deask responded “I’d ask other people for it, but I won’t ask you…if you know what I mean…” (Insert wink and nudge.) My theory was it was related to our inherent whiteness. Christopher’s guess was that she thought he was my whore and the fags would treat the room gently. Who knows? Big old console TV in the room which displayed “The Simpsons” in colors I didn’t know existed. I was appalled to find a station which plays not one, but TWO reruns of “Home Improvement” daily.

The closest thing to a scene we found and the reason our road trip was scheduled as it was. Picture a 50-year-old bowling alley which has never been remodeled. Add an all-ages show, put on by Homocore Chicago featuring the Third Sex (again) and Kaia. Great scene, great place. But they need to serve food (or maybe it was just that I hadn’t had my White Castle fix for the day…)

  

 

Christopher did the Art Institute. I took pictures of buildings.

Friday was good, although the “driving aimlessly” thing got a tad tedious, especially due to the fact that driving in Chicago is truly an obnoxious thing. Downtown Chicago rules, but we were never quite able to find the “cool neighborhood” (or at least not until it was too late.) Made it home in time for most of “The Simpsons”.

I’ve always heard bad things about the Chicago bar scene, but I didn’t dare believe them. Until this week. Five bars visited: the Manhole, Cell Block, Big Chicks, Berlin, and Cocktails. The first two seemed OK, if a bit mired in the 70’s leather/disco scene (in a non-endearing sort of way.) The Cell Block actually has a dress code for its back patio, a practice I thought (hoped?) had gone out of vogue about fifteen years ago. I also question their definition of “rock and roll”. Big Chicks seemed to have potential and reminded me a little of the Tunnel Bar (not the club) in NYC, but was pretty slow, perhaps due to location. Cocktails was too deplorable and preppy to consider except as a place to sit down and be warm. Berlin may have been the best of the bunch, but it was tremendously clubby and crowded and had no place to escape. I actively solicit suggestions for my next visit.

I hate to sound like I’m running down Chicago. Maybe we just needed the right “native guide”. I just sensed a really strange energy there (and I rarely use that term) and never quite felt comfortable anywhere. Next time?

Musings on Minneapolis

Ahh, the Minneapolis nightlife. I experienced it for the first time on Monday night and found it to be not as unpleasant as you might have imagined, except for the 1AM last call. Only hit two places:

The Saloon
830 Hennepin Avenue

I liked this one best. It’s fairly large and offers a club environment and a bar section. The music was maybe a little better than your average suburban queer bar, sort of on the techno side. There’s a terminal for “net” access which seems only to connect to a small BBS. Decent beer selection. I only got hit on once, but did get a few furtive glances. “New meat in town syndrome”, I guess. Polite and friendly staff.

The Gay 90’s
408 Hennepin Avenue

The home of DJ Lon. It is almost impossible to describe how huge this place is. Nine bars inside, all of them bigger than any single bar in San Francicso. I have to say I really didn’t like the place much, but they do mix a drink which is damn near lethal. Beer selection is non-existant; I had to settle for a Bud (blecch…) The place really gave me the creeps on Monday night but was better the following Sunday. Staff was a bit rude, as a rule, except for a really friendly and kinda cute bartender at the back bar on Sunday. DJLon was pretty upset to hear about my rude treatment; perhaps I’ve misjudged based on too few visits. Apparently, the Gay 90’s is becoming a bit of a heterosexual slumming joint as well.

 

A few more musings on Minneapolis:

  • A couple of good radio stations: 770 Radio K is college radio and is great, but needs to go FM. Rev 105 is the commercial “modern rock” station, but it’s one of the best I’ve heard; they actually mix in older music where appropriate. What a novel idea; Led Zeppelin actually mixed in with music inspired by Led Zeppelin!
  • Hennepin Avenue and the former Gateway District are possibly the best arguments going against urban renewal. What once must have been a really intense urban landscape now looks like it’s been in a fight and had most of its teeth knocked out, and the few which were replaced didn’t match really well.
  • Hooray for restaurants with smoking sections. Actually, I ate at places other than White Castle and was particularly impressed with the Seward Cafe and Ruby’s.
  • Found a really good used bookstore in the Uptown District. Wish I remembered the name. Also recommended: Dream Haven on Lake Street.