With h. brown
h. "Court Jester" brown
Size matters in Fresno
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
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)
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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?"
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.
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
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'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
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 email@example.com.
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