SF to Fresno


The idea to do twin road trips on the east coast (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) and the west coast (ummm, California) started with the very practical issue of where to put my car while I flew back east for three weeks. I had the brilliant idea of visiting a couple of friends in San Diego, leaving my car with one of them, and then flying east from there. I figured I could have an extra road trip which would basically pay for itself in saved parking fees. Brilliant, yes?

I completed finishing touches on a few projects this morning (notably this one) and finally left the house about 3:00. Rush hour traffic was not bad, until I got to the grade between Castro Valley and San Ramon. The next fifteen miles of my trip took about an hour. I was (even more of) a ball of stress by the time I stopped for food and gas in Tracy.

When I finally arrived in Fresno and checked into the Motel 6, my first order of business was another phone call to my friend Stan in San Diego. As had happened for the past three days, I was unable to leave him a message because his voice mailbox was full. Which seemed a little odd. Stan and I have been friends for almost 20 years, and he knew I was coming this weekend. I’d been promising a visit for about five years.

Anyhow, I called Eugene next, to warn him I might be taking him up on his offer of lodging for me and the car. Then I went to Vons to get a snack, came back to the room, watched a movie, and went to sleep.

Fresno to San Diego

I woke up feeling really calm, as if I were jut dumping all my stress in Fresno. It was great. I had breakfast and hit a few thrift stores (two cool shirts), and then headed south on the highway formerly known as US 99 for Bakersfield, where I had lunch and didn’t do much else.

I wasn’t much in the mood for LA, so I took I-210 almost to Riverside and went south on I-15 through the surprisingly traffic-filled wilderness of the “Inland Empire”. The great thing about LA freeways is that, even when they’re choked with traffic, they very often still move at about 80 MPH.

I really didn’t stop much, as I was in a hurry. But one thing caught my eye. First I saw a sign reading “Champagne Boulevard”. At first, I figured it was a vineyard, but then I realized I was close to the Lawrence Welk Resort. It was just too perverse not to be seen, so I pulled in. I was amazed that (a) it was not as tacky and pink as I expected, (b) there were far more golf carts than actual old people driving them, and (c) the convenience store had Funyuns on sale.


I tried Stan again (no luck) and proceeded to Eugene’s house in San Diego. We had dinner at the Chicken Pie Shop (four courses for about four bucks), toured the wonderfully dowdy El Cajon Boulevard, sneered at the plastic gaydom of Hillcrest, and hit a few bars.

First was Pec’s, a great dive I’d found rather by accident on an earlier San Diego trip while looking for a cab. Turns out Eugene likes the place too; it has a lot less of the terminal preppy and circuit-type idiots so common elsewhere in the city. Then we hit the Hole, near Ocean Beach, with its tropical tiki patio and three customers. I liked it.

After a few minutes of the “Get Smart” marathon on TV Land, I settled in for a semi-insomniac night, the first of many to come.

San Diego to Greensboro

Groggy morning. Breakfast at a diner (whose name I forget) with a cute waitron (not working our table) who teetered between skatefag and ravefag. I probably would’ve done him.

Eugene dropped me at the airport very early so I could get a good seat in accoradance with Southwest Arilines “first come, first served” boarding policy. I was number 13. Ran into some friends from SF in the airport.

The flight was uneventful, and was much less crowded between Austin and Raleigh than it had been between San Diego and Austin. I arrived in scenic Raleigh about 10:00, tired, cranky, and wanting a cigarette. Mom and Dad were waiting, and very accommodatingly drove me to Waffle House on the way back to Greensboro. I slept like a rock and adjusted to the time change almost immediately.

Reidsville and Danville

Visited the relatives on my dad’s side in Reidsville, and also headed to Danville, for shopping and so Mom and Dad could play the lottery a little. There was pollen everywhere and I could feel a disaster coming. It was finally triggered by my uncle’s four cats, and I wouldn’t fully recover until my third day back in California.



I drove around on my own some today, hitting downtown and UNCG. There were pictures to be taken and books to be bought downtown. And there was no cruising to be found on campus. Not that I was looking…

Later in the afternoon, my dad and I drove to Eden, looking for this tombstone from the 1930s which supposedly reads “murdered by the state of North Carolina”. We wandered several boneyards and never found it.

I found myself humming that stupid “I Like Calling North Carolina Home” song from the 1970s all day. It was a little disconcerting…

Gay Skate

Tonight was “gay skate” night at Skateland USA. Most of you might think that this sounds like my own personal idea of hell, but it wasn’t bad, really. I went because a friend (Ed from the now-departed Babylon) was the organizer and DJ. Plus I was meeting my old friend Jeff there. I stayed about an hour; there’s only so much you can do when you don’t roller skate and also don’t take well to having strangers ask you WHY you’re not skating.

For those of you who care, Skateland USA still looks (and smells) exactly the same as it did when I was last there in 1978. I think the same lady works the snack bar too…

Windows on the Family

My mom’s side of the family came over for dinner tonight, a total of about 22 guests. There were cousins and aunts and uncles and very much food. It was nice, actually, although I would liked to have talked about computers a little less. Seems I’m the family expert now, even on Windoze (which I don’t use, never will use, and apparently still know more about than many of its hapless victims).

A Night Out

No one mentioned it, but it strikes me as I type that this would have been my grandmother’s 93rd birthday…

Standard Sunday with minimal activity. I think we may have gone to Wal-Mart. I’m almost sure we ate at one of the cafeterias. My parents eat at cafeterias a lot, as do many people in the south, young and old, black and white. It’s such a strange scene: hundreds of people lining up for cheap food, often with rugrats in tow. It’s much more integrated than you expect the south to be, you always see friends there, and the tea refills are always free (if DIY).


I picked up Jeff at the Metropolitan Rock and Roll Trailer tonight, looked at his new computer, and bonded with Pepper. Then we headed for karaoke night at the Palms. Jeff promised me there would be a dyke there who did AC/DC songs, but she never materialized.

What materialized was Ranger. I was standing at the bar and said to Jeff: “Look, there’s a guy with a purple Mohawk”. This is a pretty uncommon sight in Greensboring.

Jeff replied “Oh, that’s Ranger.”

Ranger, a San Francisco acquaintance of mine who I hadn’t seen in about three years. Probably because he’s been living and going to school in Greensboro for about three years.

Nightlife in Greensboro is undeniably tedious, but I’d forgotten how it can produce strange and wonderful surprises on occasion. This turned out to be one of the best nights out I’ve had in a long time. And with only two beers in my belly, yet.

Jeff, Ranger, and I, along with this other guy we acquired along the way (TJ, a cute but annoying hybrid of slacker and geek) hung out there until the karaoke became overpowering and then went to the Skybar (formerly known as Babylon).

A fun, mildly flirtatious evening. I’m not sure if it was going anywhere less subtle, but even if it was, it wouldn’t have gotten there until about 5AM. I was tired. I went home to sleep and have a nice wank thinking about boys with purple Mohawks and Unix geeks from Massachusetts.

Birthdays and RAM


Aunt Lucille’s 84th birthday luncheon, at which I was surrounded by many familiar people I’m related to (but I’m not sure how) and one really well-behaved and laid-back dog which I wanted for my very own.

Yes, there was sweet tea.

Mom’s new RAM arrived today too. I installed it in her iMac. This is not something I ever want to do again. I hate using that much profanity around my mom. She also got a scanner, which provided significantly fewer headaches.

Random Thoughts from Vacation

Random thoughts from a vacation still in progress:

  • It seems like less of one if you’re doing a significant chunk of work in the middle if it.
  • I will never again attempt to add memory to an iMac. Not pleasant. Enough said.
  • Mmmmm. Liver pudding.
  • Nice diversion: boy with purple mohawk stuffing the majority of his tongue down my throat.
  • Why does it cost less to rent a larger car rather than a smaller one?

More later: critical analysis, disturbing discoveries, unpleasant vagueries, and just plain fun. Thanks to everyone for holding off on all that email. Your cooperation is divine…

The Regal

My rental car turned out to be an enormous 2001 Buick Regal. I chose it over the Intrepid just because my dad has a Regal, so I knew where all the buttons were.

Or so I thought.

Annoying things about Buick Regals:

  • The headlights don’t turn off until a good while after the ignition is off and the doors are shut.
  • The radio doesn’t turn off until you open the door, which was a very disturbing realization for me as I parked at the Burger King in Winston-Salem.
  • The ashtray was obviously designed by either a sadist or an anti-smoking activist.
  • The “low tire” light needs to go away.

Anyhow, once I had the car, I toured Winston-Salem for a while, looking for old supermarkets and urban grit, while completely forgetting to seek out the seashell-shaped gas station.


Later this afternoon, my dad and I, armed with new information, went looking for that tombstone again. This time we found it. It didn’t photograph as well as the rest of Eden. We also drove by the house my dad grew up in.

Actually, I drove. It was a little odd; I’m not used to driving my dad around. He rarely lets anyone drive him anywhere. But we wanted to take the spiffy new Regal, so…

Cool thing I learned today: my grandafther (who died long before I was born) was fired from a textile mill in the 1930s for being a union organizer…

To Raleigh

The last time I spent a night in Raleigh was on my 29th birthday in 1993. It was my first visit back to NC after moving to California, and a friend (who shall remain nameless) and I went down for the evening. To make a long story short, he got a DUI and I found myself walking around downtown Raleigh at 4AM with all his credit cards trying to withdraw enough money to bail him out.

I haven’t even CONSIDERED driving drunk since that night.

This trip was a little less adventurous, but satisfying all the same. I left about noon, stopped in Gibsonville for gas (“You lucked out. It’s going up 11 cents a gallon in about an hour.”) and headed for Chapel Hill to meet Becky, which was a quite wonderful thing. It was rather like meeting someone I already knew. We talked for about three hours and made tentative plans for dinner, and then I braved I-40 at rush hour en route to Duncan’s new house.


We had dinner at a pizza parlor (which I could almost swear I got drunk in many years ago) and then drove around quite aimlessly, as Duncan and I are known to do. With info from the phone book, we headed for Zebulon, in search of a Piggly Wiggly. It was closed (permanently) but we were rewarded with a beautiful 1940s-era Red & White store (still in operation) which I vowed to photograph the next day for Bottles.

When we got back to the house, I realized that I’ve spent significant time in houses belonging to Duncan before there was any furniture in them. Come to think of it, I actually lived in one of his apartments for a week before he moved into it once.

In the Triangle


No, you can’t get fox urine at the Piggly Wiggly. Or at least I don’t think you can…

I drove a really big circle today, covering Raleigh, Zebulon, Rocky Mount, and Wilson today. I saw abandoned storefronts, abandoned strip malls, abandoned motels, and many Piggly Wigglys (Wigglies?). Frankly, I was a little surprised; I’d thought this area was close enough into Raleigh’s orbit to be fairly prosperous, but it didn’t look that way. This appealed to my sense of aesthetics, of course, but it can’t be a laugh a minute for the residents.


Dinner with Duncan and Becky at Spanky’s on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, where the scenery is even better than the food. This was a thing that worked out wrong, but turned out right a day late. My pictures were crappy and you can see better ones here. Then Duncan and I took off to spend the night at Mom and Dad’s house in Greensboro, so I could leave for Atlanta and drop Duncan in Charlotte (to move the last of his stuff) on the way.

Upon having another insomniac evening, I found myself in a mildly foul mood. Starting with Stan’s disappearance, every element of this trip had been just a little off. I was hot and sweaty, I always had work hanging over me, I wasn’t sleeping well, and the pollen was making me crazy. I was stressed about who I would or wouldn’t see (apologies to Rick, Matthew, and Billy, among others), whether I was spending enough time with Mom and Dad, and anything else I could come up with.

Fortunately, I eventually sneezed and snorted myself to sleep.

Charlotte and Atlanta

After a big breakfast, Duncan and I set off for Charlotte. I’ve made this drive hundreds of times, and it holds very little mystery for me. And the radio stations haven’t gotten any better. Remember when some radio stations actually played music during morning drive? Wow…

I dropped Duncan at his and Rick‘s soon-to-be former home, stopped by the former A&P on Central Avenue to get a Coke and headed south. Directly into the most ungodly rainstorm I’ve seen in nine years. It was pretty normal for North Carolina in April, but we don’t get that kind of rain in California and I’d forgotten just how blinding it is. I was across the Catawba River and into Gaston County before even realizing I’d been on a bridge.

I wanted to get to Atlanta before rush hour, so I made very few stops. A mistake, I later learned, at least on Good Friday, when the traffic is considerably worse at 3:00 than it is at 5:00.

The Cheshire Bridge Inn (cheap rooms close in with full cable) was full, so I landed at a garden variety Red Roof Inn. True to the commercials, there was no mint on my pillow. I coped, since there were a Waffle House, a Krystal, and a Picadilly Cafeteria within a block. Not bad…

PJ came over about 6:30, we had a quick dinner at a surprisingly good burrito joint, he had to work afterward, and I had an entire Friday night to schedule.

I didn’t schedule much. I was tired and cranky and my rotten mood was back. So I drove around Atlanta, reacquainting myself with it and getting annoyed when I landed in Buckhead by accident, stopped by Kroger to get Funyuns and juice, watched a little TV, and went to sleep.

I figured I’d start “really” being in Atlanta on Saturday…

Reflectively Atlanta


Atlanta and I have a long, often troublesome relationship. I loved visiting there as a kid, when my mom was working for the IRS. I remember loving the Fox Theatre, the still-open downtown department stores, and the strange little mid-block A&P stores as early as seven or eight years of age.

My first college road trip in 1982 was also to Atlanta, to see Talking Heads at the Fox with my friends Carroll, Byron, Laird, and Juliette. This was just before Midtown was essentially bulldozed and gentrified beyond recognition. I was 18, and I was excited by what I perceived to be real urbanism and actual fags walking down the street.

It was a strange trip, with our rather rumpled group sharing one room at the very corporate Colony Square Hotel. We pushed the beds together so there would be no discussions of who slept with who (not that there really would have been anyway), and Carroll and I claimed an end together since we were both suffering from major sniffly, sneezy bouts.

Nineteen years later, my allergies were still acting up in Atlanta.

I woke up, had a breakfast which would clog the healthiest of arteries at Waffle House, and started scouring the phone book for thrift stores and potential old supermarkets. I found more of the latter than the former.

I also looked up an old obsession I knew lived in Atlanta. He was, of course, the one person just about everyone has in their life, the one from which they never quite recover completely. He was listed. I opted against calling. We’d spoken probably tiwce in fifteen years, once when I was down with Duncan (via Columbia SC, which is a whole other story) and once when I was there with Jeff. I had to be pushed both times; I didn’t hate the guy, but it was a little painful and I found myself with very little to say.

I thought of another Atlanta road trip in 1984. It was the first one he and I took together. We were thrilled beyond belief to discover Weekends, the first alternative queer bar we’d even seen. We drank like crazy, since 19-year-olds could buy liquor in Georgia. I assumed we’d fall madly in love while staying together at the Atlanta Cabana. We didn’t. I was miserable for the whole trip. Many months of misery followed.

Feeling less miserable as a jaded 36-year-old, I toured Atlanta on Saturday. I must have driven 200 miles, and Atlanta is not a city in which it’s easy to drive. It’s a fun city to drive in; there’s lots of ground to cover. But the street network is not really adequate to handle the amount of traffic in a city where transit is, at best, an afterthought.

Atlanta is kind of a mess, with large sections of 1950s suburbia gone horribly wrong. Like eastern North Carolina, it was aesthetically-pleasing to me, but still disturbing. It;s a great place and all, but this was the first visit where I never seriously pondered living there.


I hit a few suburbs too, just to look for some slightly more viable, but still dowdy, areas. I was disappointed. But that damned animated chicken in Marietta made the whole drive worthwhile. Almost…

Dinner at the cafeteria. I’ve been accused of eating like an old black woman, and, true to form, I ordered exactly the same thing as the older African American lady in line ahead of me: catfish, turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, and sweet tea.

After dinner, I somehow managed to convince myself to go out. I’ve had the same tumultuous relationship with Atlanta nightlife as I have with the city itself. I often find it a little tedious and annoying, but there are sometimes surprises.

I went to the Eagle. Not because I particularly like it, but because I knew where it was, it was easy to get to, and it’s usually a little less preppy-uptight than other Atlanta bars. And easier to cruise.

The crowd was miserable and evocative of San Francisco’s Powerhouse on a Saturday night: clones galore, with a small circuit contingent, and way too many people whose sole identity revolves around being a gay bear. There was one person in the whole lousy crowd of 300 or so who caught my eye. Fortunately, I caught his too. Love when that happens…

He smoked, liked supermarkets, made websites, and wanted to move to San Francisco. I smoke, like supermarkets, make websites, and want to leave San Francisco. Conversation ensued.

As I found myself driving to a Midtown condo at 1:30 AM, I thought back to the one other time I’d gone home with someone in Atlanta. That was a strange trip too; it was my first road trip with someone I’d been dating but wasn’t really dating anymore. We got to Atlanta and realized (at the ATM) that our paychecks hadn’t cleared, so we were left with about $50 in cash. We survived for a day on Frito’s and Cokes I bought with my gas credit card. It was also the first time we’d watched each other pick up other people. He got the DJ at Club Velvet. I got a cute rich boy.

This time around, I got back to the Red Roof Inn about 5:00, which allowed me all of six hours sleep before checking out and starting the intentionally long trip home on Highway 29. Another sleep-deficit night…

Atlanta to Charlotte

Of course, it rained as I was leaving town on Ponce de Leon Avenue, and continued raining through Decatur, where I got my final Krystal and decided not to have any more of those annoying flashbacks.

I’ve always wanted to drive from Atlanta to Greensboro using only old US Highway 29, and that’s what I was going to do, by God, no matter how tedious it might be and how long it might take. Plus I was too sleepy and irritable to drive on the freeway.

Highway 29 from Atlanta to Greensboro was about the longest 330 miles I’ve ever driven. It was fun and all, but I think I saw just every podunk town in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. That was the point, I guess…

The first big stop was Athens. My last visit was in about 1991, when I was thinking about going to grad school there and opted against upon seeing the town. It was just too much of an annoyingly cute college town. It seemed less so this time, with the rain and the lack of students, and I enjoyed walking around a little, but I’m still glad I didn’t move there ten years ago.

I realized in Athens that traveling on Easter Sunday might be a little odd. All the stores were closed. Funny, but I don’t remember it being like that when I was a kid (and neither did my mom when I asked her). When did Easter become such a universally-observed holiday? The first open place I found to take a crap was a K-mart, where some old man kept tapping his foot in the next stall.

Fortunately, I found a nice open used bookstore downtown.


The it was onward to Hartwell, and Anderson (which was more interesting than I remembered), and into Greenville (which wasn’t).


Spartanburg, though, was great. Lots of old buildings downtown (where the speed limit was an inexplicable 15 1/2 MPH), and even more just north of downtown in what was, I guess, the first suburban area built.


After Spartanburg, everything got pretty rural to the North Carolina state line. It was getting dark and I started getting a little tired. I stopped at a Piggly Wiggly in Blacksburg, and a cheap cigarette store in Gastonia, and decided to bed down in Charlotte.


Everything was closed in Charlotte too, even the Hardee’s (which didn’t have the cool sign with the old logo like the one above). I finally found miserable food at an Arby’s and checked into the cheap Travelodge which used to be a cheap Knight’s Inn and where I’d stayed once before with some cheap drag queen.

Once settled, I went out for a late-night drive through Charlotte. It was the first time I’d really driven around there on my own in years, since I’ve usually stayed with Duncan (without my own car) on recent visits. I hit downtown and the old neighborhood, etc. It felt disturbingly like home, which is something I never thought I’d say about Charlotte again after living there for three years.

It felt even more like home when I went back to the room, watched cartoons, and went to sleep.

Charlotte to Greensboro

Morning in Charlotte brought the inevitable thrift store runs and a few old supermarket drive-bys. I didn’t take many pictures in Charlotte. I had this strange feeling I’d be back before too long.

I kept to my pure US 29 roots by taking North Tryon Street all the way out through Concord and Kannapolis, which for you trivia freaks was, until a few years back, one of the largest unincorporated urban areas in America, having been built as a mill village for Cannon Mills. There are lots of mill towns around Charlotte (and Greensboro, which is something of an oversized mill town itself). I find them a little fascinating.


I kept going through Salisbury and Lexington. This part of the trip was much more familiar to me. I was forced to get on the freeway for a few miles just outside Salisbury, as it had been built right on top of the old road.

Next came Thomasville (the Chair City) and High Point (where I found an amazingly preseved 1950s A&P still operating as an independent supermarket). I was almost home, and my last photo of the trip was of an old overpass between Greensboro and High Point which was legendary in my childhood. This is the one we told ghost stories about (this is a modified version of one).

Once back at Mom and Dad’s, I helped with some cleaning, we ate dinner, I ignored some email and did some work, and I spent a little more time bonding before my impending departure.