Last weekend’s theme song – if you hadn’t yet guessed by the title of this blog – was “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel. For most of my childhood and adolescence, I thought that Bob Dylan sang that song. He doesn’t. Wanna know what else I thought, that I turned out to be wrong about? “Fresno is an ultra hip, bustling metropolis.” Totally not true… but totally a great surprise of a city!
Fresno? More like FresYES!
Indeed. I spent the weekend in the city of Fresno, California. Why did I think it was a place where cool people – the type who wear “ironic” clothing – live? I blame it on the Beastie Boys, who oh-so-aptly rhyme with the word “Fresno”: Got busy in Frisco. Fooled around in Fresno / Got over on your girl ‘cause you know she never says ‘no’. Doesn’t Fresno sound rad? I want to "get over" on a girl – whatever that means.
Anyway… How does this weekend’s trip fit into this weekend’s theme song? Well, I spent about 8 hours in a car, driving to and from Fresno through the California desert. Essentially, I was “stuck in the middle” of the desert – and California itself – with three enchanting companions. (“Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right”, as the song goes.)
The farther you drive away from Los Angeles, the more you remember what the real world is like. Los Angeles is kind of like a weird land of make-believe for adults. You forget you’re in it until you get out of it. The first sign that we weren’t in Los Angeles county was literally a sign, mounted on top of a large, brand new apartment complex. It read: “Free Rent”.
You won’t see signs like that in or near LA, but I guess it’s harder to get people to move into apartments in the 100 degree heat of the desert. A few miles down the road, I saw another sign worthy of note. It was affixed to a ramshackle house with a fenced-in yard of patchy desert grass. Inside the fence was a shirtless man with cutoff jeans and unkempt hair, who was hosing off a dog for some reason. On the sign, he had done his best to print the words “Dog Problems”, followed by a phone number. If I call this number, will he cause or fix these “dog problems”? I don’t want to know.
The highlight of the drive to Fresno was the “Musical Road” near Lancaster, CA. Perhaps you’ve heard of it by its other name – “Awesome”.
If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “Quit talking about the ride to Fresno and talk about the damn city itself!” Fine. The part of Fresno that we stayed in was slightly run down, but it had a lot of heart. It reminded me of a small town in Minnesota, because of all the positivity and hope it seemed to radiate. Nothing visible, just a kindness and sense of something greater in the hearts of the city’s people.
Sadly, the economy didn’t seem to be treating this part of Fresno very well. It may have been the unrelenting desert heat, but the city was far from bustling on this particular Saturday. And there seemed to be an abundance of abandoned warehouse-type buildings that made me want to buy them and shoot sappy music videos in them. While at a local eatery, Jay, a fellow traveler, noticed that two of the three TVs mounted on the walls weren’t on. He pointed out that they seemed to be symbolic of the businesses in Fresno – plenty of buildings, most of them empty.
One shining beacon of hope in Fresno was Chukchansi Park – the home of the Fresno Grizzlies, a minor league baseball team that was playing the Albuquerque Isotopes on our Saturday evening visit. This game was our reason for going to Fresno since one of our travelers – Amy – has a brother who works for the Isotopes as a Video Coordinator. It was a fun game. Fantastic food and desire-quenching beer. Here are some pictures of me living out the weekend theme song with clowns and jokers …
They call her Mustang Sally
In some ways, “Mustang Sally” could have been the theme song to this weekend. After the game (Isotopes won! Go ‘Topes!), we all met up with Amy’s brother and had some cheap beer at a place called “Hero’s Sports Lounge”. The employees there were my heroes! One was from Minnesota. Maybe she was the one giving off the happy Minnesota vibe that I felt in Fresno.
Anyway, “Mustang Sally” could’ve been a great theme song for this weekend, because the lovely Alexis – another traveler – and I were one of a few couples dancing to that song when a gentlemanly bar band was playing it in the upper level of the bar. It was fun. A middle-aged couple, who seemed to “know a thing or two” about dancing, told us they were the judges and that they judged Alexis and I to be the best dancers. Winners! “Mustang Sally” stayed in my head for the rest of the night and into the following afternoon when we hit the road and headed back towards LA.
As we departed from Fresno, we enjoyed from the road the view of the many and varied agricultural endeavors – grapes, nectarines and who knows what else! A half hour into the journey, Jay pulled over at a place called Bravo Farms Cheese Factory. Having been to only one other cheese factory in my life, I was excited to have a cheese factory affair.
I could spend a whole other blog post writing about the merits of the Bravo Farms Cheese Factory, and maybe someday I will. But, for now, I’ll just write a bunch of phrases that sum up the experiences you can have at this wonderful and magical place…
-Free cheese samples might get you drunk
-"There's a mini toilet in the bathroom!"
-Puppets sing along with satellite radio
-A backyard you never knew existed
-I’m nuts about nuts and carbohydrate snacks!
-Cheese and keychains and magnets and wine and gifts and cheese
-Amy calls them “Aw-renges”
The whole weekend was a darn happy California experience. I may have been “stuck in the middle” of California, but it was a good kind of stuck – the kind of stuck that can only be experienced with three wonderful traveling companions. Thanks guys!
NOTE: If you don’t know what the Weekend Theme Song Challenge is, go here.