Seattle Continued

  

Up fairly early and off to the Denny’s on Mercer Street for a grand slam breakfast. It was a cool Denny’s, which had not yet been renovated into a pastel nightmare. Then off to Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World’s Fair. Site of the Pacific Science Center. Site of the monorail. Site of the Space Needle! I have a strange fascination with tis place and its early 1960’s version of modernism. Not a lot remains, but you can get a feel for what was there. It’s a very contradictory place, promoting high culture and a theme park at the asme time. It’s also strangely seedy, beacuse most of the fair buildings were designed to last six months and they haven’t been maintained particularly well. But I like it. How could I NOT like it?

 

Alas, this was the bulk of our Seattle tourism, given the limited stay. I really wanted to do the Undersground tour. I remeber it from last time, and I figured I’d be even more excited this time. Oh well…there my be plenty of time for me to experience Seattle in the future. But I’m being cryptic again…

  

In Seattle

  

Seattle has changed a bit since the last time I was there, in 1974. But the Space Needle and monorail remain constant. And as chance would have it, the first motel we stopped at happened to be the very same one I’d stayed in as a kid on the first visit.

God, I love Seattle. I haven’t been this excited by anyplace since the first time I visited San Francisco. My childhood memories were right; it’s incredible. A beutiful city in a beautiful setting, with a good mixture of old and new. It looks exactly like I want a city to look.

I could’ve spent days here. Even had a place to stay arranged, courtesy of Patrick and Tad. But when travelling with another person, one makes these certain compromises and sacrificies (translated: Christopher got whiny…) and the trip was limited to one night.

But it was a pretty damned eventful night. After checking into a suitably seedy motel on Aurora Avenue (old US 99), Christopher and I had dinner at an Indian place in the University district (okra massala…yumm…) and met Patrick and Tad for a beer at Cuff’s. Afterward, Christopher stayed home and pouted, so I ventured out on my own.

A few bars I had reactions to: The Cuff was pretty much a standard leather bar. Good bartender, good beer. Not my favorite spot in the city, but not bad either. I’d been warned against R Place, but I liked it. Great beer selection. Tasty bartender downstairs. Good jukebox and darts upsatirs. Not severely cruisy, but there was potential. Seemed friendly.

I loved the Seattle Eagle. Van Halen was playing as I entered. Two levels, dark and cruisy, and (again) a good beer selection. Thanks to the state of Washingtom for making liquor licenses damn near impossible to get and for promoting good beer bars in the process!

I also loved Sit & Spin, a laundromat-cafe-live music venue. I saw Orbit for a $1.00 cover, with a Pike Place beer at my side. Great crowd. There were queers here, actually watching the band. An integrated rock and roll club…imagine that…

Hmmm…I like the city, the bars are fun and serve real beer, rent’s cheaper than in SF,and the sky looks really cool when it rains at night. What could all this mean?

Still in Portland

This was the day Christopher arrived from Minneapolis, but this fact didn’t impact my world much as he pretty much slept all day. Working graveyard, then getting on a plane and flying cross-country, and expecting to be alert and wake when you arrive is not realistic. Period.

I spent part of the afternoon with Laura and Pagan (the wonder dog), watching soap operas. It’s amazing how quickly everything comes back to you, even after fifteen years away from them. Laura and Pagan have noe relocated to Santa Cruz and owe me a visit. If you ever meet them, remember to say “Lassie” and see what happens. We were also visited by the neighbor, Baby Evan.

  

What visit to Portland would be complete without a tribute to Gus Van Sant? In honor of the director of “My Own Private Idaho” and “Drugstore Cowboy”, I felt compelled to visit a few of the locations contained therein:

I saw the first drug store robbed in “Drugstore Cowboy” and the bookstore from “My Own Private Idaho” where all the porn magazines came to life:

 

I also saw Matt Dillon’s (and William Burroughs’) hotel from “Drugstore” and Bob’s hotel from “Idaho”:

 

Drinking with Rae and Micheal finally happened, as did dinner with Rae and Brian, although not at Waddle’s. Leave it to my contacts to know where the best (and cheapest) beer is to be found. Christopher finaly woke up and the final night was topped off by a return to the dismal queer bar scene. He was even less impressed than I was.

  

All in all, though, I really liked Portland. It’s a very comfortable city, and a very manageable one. The weather was great during my time there; although it was “supposed” to rain, it never did. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded the rain anyway. Potential? Maybe…

Portland Some More

Aaah Portland…biggest city in the land of no sales tax, no self service gas, and beautiful scruffy boys. A few mentionables:

  

Fred Meyer: A Portland tradition, combining Target, Safeway, and various other stores in one. It’s esay to trace Portland’s development through the location of these stores. Early innovations included rooftop parking and suburban shopping.

Plaid Pantry: Portland’s entry into the “strange names for conveience stores” sweepstakes. This one really seems to fit its market, however.

Waddle’s: Early 60’s coffee shop mecca. This place inspired me, and was every restaurant I used to eat at on the road with mom and dad. Do not try to have dinner there on Monday or Tuesday nights, however.

 

Portland

  

OK…the queer bar scene in Portland SUCKS. The string of bars on Stark Street have been overrun by heterosexuals. I am not a separatist, and I have no problem with straight people in gay bars, buth the invaders in Portland don’t seem interested in co-existing; they appear to intent on taking over.

That said, however, there is some interesting nightlife in Portland all the same. The beer is good (even in the gay bars, which is a rarity) and there are non-bar options as well. Portland is home to perhaps the most thriving independent film scene in America, possibly due to the weather, the “Gus” factor, or the fact that there are more second-run and repertory cinemas here than anywhere else in the country. Coffee achievement is also big here.

I was also pleaantly surprised that I was able to pick up (get picked up by?) a very cute guy right on the street in a not tremendously gay area. He was fun, but we were unable to reconnect. We’ll see how the email aspect works out.

So about that nightlife: The Eagle PDX was the only queer bar in the city I sort of liked. Dark and moderately cruisy. Music was OK, when it didn’t veer into techo-crap. Two levels, porn videos, good beer, and EXTREMELY surly bartenders.

Medford to Portland

Early wake-up call at the Motel 6 and I was on my way, through the wilds of southern Oregon. I’d forgotten how much I both like and dislike mountain driving. But it was a most beautiful day, despite the prediction that rain might enter my world. Never happened.

First photo opportunity was Roseburg, a cute mountain town with what appeared to be a very homogenous population (that’s a polite way of saying “white rednecks”). Nice motel strip, cute downtown. Fifteen minutes covered it.

 

Onward through scenic Salem and Eugene, which were both very nice places and were vaguely reminiscent of North Carolina. Eugene screamed “major college town” and the downtown pedestrian mall had a fair share of offbeat characters (and tempting skate rats). I was pleased to see that Wells Fargo Bank was established all over the place , which meant no service charge at the ATM. This makes me forget about the major corporate greed aspect and the usurpation of Oregon culture by California. I’ve learned to cope.

Finally, I hit Portland, the “city of Roses”. I saw very few roses, but I liked it there instantly. The plan was for me to stay with my friends Michael and Brad and their roommate Laura — all expatriate North Carolinians. I was also here to visit Rae and Michael, my expatriate San Franciscan friends. Of course, I was also scoping Portland as a possible relocation site for Planet SOMA (oops…that’s a secret…)

 

Michael and Brad have a house and yard. I want a house and yard. Almost no one in San Francisco has a house or yard. They also have a guest room. Absolutely no one in San Francisco has a guest room. I want a guest room.

  

Rae and I had a hard time connecting for the first couple of days, as it seems yet another expatriate San Franciscan, my former boss Brian, was also on the scene. Actually, I did very little the first night in Portland, save for driving around and getting a “feel”.

The big discovery was Powell’s Books (1005 West Burside). It’s supposedly the largest bookstore in America. It’s independently owned, the new and used books are sold side by side, and it’s HUGE. I could move to Portland just for this bookstore. Used book prices are a trifle high, but I guess you pay for selection. Open till 11 most nights.

A great breakfast discovery: Shaker’s. I forget the address, but I had a killer black bean and avacado omelette here. Sort of like a burrito wrapped in an egg. Good call, Micheal.

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.

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.