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With h. brown

h. "Court Jester" brown
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

Size matters in Fresno

By h. brown

November 29, 2007

"Size matters in Fresno."
(Ania Wierzbowska names the weekend)

We'd just ordered breakfast at the Orbit Café and the drinks had arrived. You know how in San Francisco, restaurants compete to see how small the glasses of orange juice can be? Chocolate milk? Forget it. We'd just gotten the drinks we'd ordered with our breakfast at the Orbit and they served the orange juice in old fashioned and full-sized milk shake glasses. Filled all the way up. Same with chocolate mile, for God's sake. I ordered a Coke (Pepsi only available and I don't want to hear why) and it came on a dolly. We all looked at each other in amazement and Ania came up with the line opening the column and we all laughed because it fit everything about the weekend jaunt that we'd seen already. And, it got better.

h. brown's Fresno posse (Robert Manes, Ania Wierzbowska, Elaine Santore, Daniel Cohen, Becky Cohen, Chris Cummings and Mona Brown) head for some early-morning breakfast action down at the sweet-surburbian Orbit Cafe.

Did you walk your cow today?

Let me note that on the way over from the gated community where we were staying (me coming from a 10x10 SRO room) … from the condo community full of professional athletes and gorgeous women and the pool with the hot tub fit for a dozen, we'd paused to watch a guy visiting a resident of that same complex who was walking his 3 Australian-Shepherd mix dogs and a hound puppy along with a couple of kids and a calf for their morning constitutional in the field adjoining the complex. The animals were bedded down in a big pick-up truck and, apparently, this was the standard morning routine. Kids, I'm not a rookie here. I've managed all kinds of property from the top to the bottom of the line and I thought I'd seen everything. I live across the street from U.N. Plaza and I've seen morning routines that would chill Count Dracula to the bone. But, I'd never seen a guy show up with a 'pet' that was a cow (the puppy slept with the cow in the back of the pick-up at night - all like curled up fetal-like and both of em were just 3 months or so old - you want to see cute?).

Let me put all of the above in context. I'm talking Thanksgiving weekend and the fact that it took a coordinated effort to bring together a dozen or so people who should by rights be living under the same roof (yeah, take a big building but we did it before) … but, aren't because of the continuing gentrification of San Francisco. So, my daughter and her guy offered a gathering point in Fresno and it all came together.

We took the Amtrak to Fresno over the weekend and God, did the trip ever kick ass! No, really. I want to describe it to you as I can best put it together and appreciate the alternative universe that my friends and I live in.

We live like rock stars
(I'm the only one who realizes it)

During the week, most have regular jobs. Luke and I hassle and cover the local SF political community. Elaine Santore gives a relevant social context to the political scene from her perch at Fog City Journal. Robert Manes cares for IHSS patients on every level ('In Home Supportive Services'). Ania makes jewelry. Daniel serves conventioneers at the Hyatt and his wife, Becky supports the student Nursing program at Sonoma State University across the street from their mini-estate in Sonoma county. Their first-born, Eric is up to 25 years old distributed over a 6'2", 235 lb frame that almost perfectly replicates that of his grandpa Paul Schroeder, Becky's pop, the retired school principal from Minnesota. But, when we get together, we rule the world. Isn't that why God made weekends and holidays?

Getting the 14 people who just filled my weekend in Fresno into the same room (or, close) couldn't have been accomplished by anyone other than my daughter and it was worth all of her efforts. I think it was anyway and who cares about anyone else's opinion?

So, I left San Francisco Wednesday afternoon on the #72 direct to Rohnert Park (couldn't get a date for weekend, imagine that). I was doing Thanksgiving day with my best friends, the Cohens of Penn Grove. You can read about them in Fortune magazine.

I was separated from my own children and their mother during the cold war that followed my second divorce in 1973. It took over 20 years before I saw my daughter again. Almost 30 before I saw my son. Now, they both have kids and I'm a grandfather unclear on the concept. And, everyone lives in Fresno. The Cohens are a different story.

I met them at the Kenmore Residence Club somewhere around Christmas in 1980. Maybe the fall before. I forget. But, … but, I'm chasing rabbits as they say and suffice to say that I had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday with Becky and Daniel and Eric and Aimee and Stephen watching 3 football games but this was just an added treat. It was really a one day stopover where we staged and launched the planned 5 hour bus and rail trip from Petaluma to Fresno. Ultimate goal being: to reunite friends and family separated by gentrification.

The trip started with dragging a groggy Stephen Cohen (18 now, great musician and JC student) out of bed to drive us to Petaluma to catch an Amtrak bus to the station an hour and a half away. We really gotta improve our passenger train network since we've long passed peak oil and cars will be useless in 30 years (gas powered ones). But, the bus was nice and it had a toilet and it grew light as we started and I watched the vineyards of Sonoma County as we cruised toward Martinez in the chilly morning. I hadn't been on a real train (I don't count the one that goes from downtown to the Niners games) in decades.

Trains have changed

In the old days when I was an 18 year old sailor … riding from boot camp in Chicago to St. Louis and on to Norfolk, all you needed was a deck of cards and a half pint of whiskey to entertain yourself during a train trip. Modern Amtrak riders bring other features.

Computers were open everywhere on the booth tabletops between the plush seats on the top deck of the L.A. to Emeryville thundering express. A powerful male conductor made a table of guys watching hard core porn to change selections. Two college students watched Michael Moore's 'Sicko' and the rest of us drank heavily while reading newspapers and books and occasionally falling to arguing about God and the good showing of the Fresno State quarterback.

h. brown chats up the conductress on the number 19, who was a honey.
Brown: "Are you married?"
"No," came the conductress's flattered response.
Brown: "Would you like to be?"

There are a half million people in Fresno proper and 1.2 million in the greater Fresno area. It's flat and spread out like L.A. but lots hotter. Housing cost less than half what it cost in San Francisco. But, most importantly...

Most importantly, my daughter and son and my grandchildren live there.

Luke Thomas has a sister there and her two sons (one named after Luke) were visiting. The Fog City publisher lost his older sister a couple of weeks back and it was time to do a family check-in. That's what holidays are about, huh?

Luke and Elijah Shanas growing up fast...

... meet Fresno Falcon's managing partner, Chris Cummings.

"Do you want to know what really happened?"
(Bob Herries)

Reality changes with time and many of us could pass lie detector tests measuring the veracity of what are total lies but which we've de-constructed so thoroughly and reassembled that false has become true. And the other way around too. That's one of the values of getting together with family or old friends whom you haven't seen for a long time. You get old truths at these gatherings. Sometimes.

We sang the national anthem at the hockey game. Really, we did. The person who was supposed to sing it didn't show up and so the M.C. asked the crowd to sing it and we gave it hell. I forgot the words and blushed and so did the entire crowd. I mean, I don't sing anything, but have you ever tried to sing the national anthem? They should make 'Louie, Louie' the national anthem. Afterwards, they bombarded us with 't' shirts delivered by mortar-like tubes powered by compressed air. You getting this?

Minor league promotions. Great stuff. At the football game they had a guy trying to toss a nerf football through the window of a BMW parked 40 yards away. He gets the car if he can just toss it through the window. Throws fall 10 yards short. Move him into 30 yards, 20 yards and 10 yards and he can't even hit the car, let alone get it through the driver's window. They give him a small plastic model of the BMW. Crowd roars with laughter and they mortar some more socks into the stands.

At the hockey game the fans are given silver dollar sized mini-pucks with numbers on them and they try to toss them closest to the bulls eye on the canvas spread in the middle of the ice. I forget the prize but the rain of discs in the hundreds is a real trip.

Size matters in Fresno

Then, these mascots come dancing and prancing through the stands giving out pizzas and hats and more 't' shirts came sailing into the crowds fired from the cannons. I loved it. And, the hometown Fresno teams won both contests (football and hockey) against top contenders. And, we got VIP treatment everywhere we went because my daughter's guy owns the local baseball and hockey and soccer teams. It was like hanging out with Angela Alioto or Matt Gonzalez in San Francisco. Only better because it lasted for days and my best friends and family were there. We were sated.

The high definition TV was 56". There were a couple of smaller ones around the condos where we spent the weekend. We watched LSU lose to Arkansas in 4 overtimes and Missouri take down Kansas. There was a kidney shaped pool in the courtyard upon which each of our doors opened. We drank a couple of cases of good wine and ate huge and rich meals and discussed everything from economic development to alternative energy research and parenthood. I'm telling you, for a guy who lives on one of the worst blocks in SF, I was living large.

Chris (my daughter's guy) drove us all around the Fresno State campus where we looked at everything from their various stadiums and hockey rink/field house … to the experimental agricultural fields. Becky Cohen works at Sonoma State and we talked about the pecking order in the State system of higher education. I mean, both Fresno State and Sonoma State universities have campuses that make USC and Berkeley look ghetto, but they're considered lower level.

I'll tell you one thing. If you put the Fresno State Bulldogs into the PAC 10 now, they could beat any team there on any given Saturday. They only lost 4 games and every team they lost to was ranked in the top 25 teams in the nation. That's out of over 3,000 schools competing on a half dozen or so levels. I just don't understand this thing about mocking Fresno. But, this was primarily a family weekend and there was a new member I needed to meet. His name is Damian Ryder Brown but I'm gonna call him: 'Doc'.

Damian converted St. Francis

That was the first Damian (unless Angela was funning me). Our family's new Damian is 3 months old now and son to my son, Alex and his new bride, Veronica. My daughter introduced them. They were working together at the Peace Corps (Mona and Veronica). Veronica is from a more traditional family. She has 6 brothers and 5 sisters. She required my son to fill out an application to date her. I like that. She's a gem and so is he. 'Doc' is something else again. He's a dream of mine that goes back 40 years.

I always wanted to have a kid and name him 'Doctor' so that he wouldn't have to go to school to earn the title. It was a bad joke and fortunately, my wife was more forceful than Zappa's and it never happened. Then, by a fluke, here's my second grandson with the initials of 'D.R.'. Gotta call him 'Doc', no?

Is San Francisco over?

It struck me that in busing and Amtracking and driving all over a distance that spans some 300 miles from San Francisco that I'm, in fact, visiting members of the decades old and ever continuing Diaspora of the City's artists and musicians and writers and dancers and just plain old peaceful Hippies.

They're all doing well and continuing in their crafts. The question that has to be asked is if there is some kind of cosmic critical mass of potential of the gathering of artists that has been San Francisco since its inception and if the removal of this element will be a significant event in long range events and the subsequent historical evaluations of same. Have we traded the potential confluence of forces sufficient to bring about the harmonic convergence in exchange for a higher return on Gap profits?

You'd hate to read back and think: "If only I'd have … ". And, I don't. Like Don Quixote, I have only purpose and passion and no shame. I fight in every election either as a candidate or soldier for a candidate or proposition. I'm very fortunate in this regard because I'm old and unencumbered and can devote every bit of my time to staying current on the issues and gossip and the gossip about the issues and the issuing of gossip. Got that?

That's enough now. This column took 4 days to write and that's ridiculous. Still, it was because I was trying to capture the kernel and I don't think that I did. I think it has something to do with realizing that gentrification cannot be stopped here and that we should all begin to pack our emotional, if not physical, baggage for leaving. And, that people don't just go away from here and die under a tree. They have full and rewarding lives worthy of their talents which are lost to the City where they'd rather dwell. They just don't have enough money. And, to paraphrase Ania's observation about Fresno:

Size matters in Frisco

Salon tomorrow at La Reina's

John Avalos is getting in fighting shape for the D-11 race

Mark Sanchez has a Campaign Manager for his D-9 run

David Chiu, Peskin's choice in 3 is a Republican operative

Greens rule


h. brown is a 62 year-old keeper of sfbulldog.com, an eclectic site featuring a half dozen City Hall denizens. h is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and a hard-living satirical muckraker. Email h at h@ludd.net.


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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