My trips to America are all about the people I see, not the places I visit. That truth is never more evident to me than when I am in Fresno. A seemly soulless place in central valley California that presumably hides it soul in the same place as Saddam Hussain’s weapons of mass destruction. The only difference being that no one is concerning themselves with looking for Fresno’s soul.

It’s true, Fresno has no art and culture, or at least on first impressions it doesn’t. Ironically, if you visit the cities own visitors bureau website and click on either the ‘arts and culture’ or the ‘attractions’ options under the ‘What to do’ tab, you’ll be presented with a ‘404 not found’ error.

When I tell people I’m going to Fresno they usually furrow their brow, draw in their chin and say “Fresno?” in that ‘you have to be joking’ kind of way. But while I understand that the generally hot and featureless Fresno is no tourist trap, it is home to some of my friends whom I can honestly say, as if this wasn’t already apparent, that I’d travel anywhere to visit.

This part of my trip involves children. Anthony & Paula’s kids seem to enjoy having me around, though they take little notice of me when I tell them not to do something. This year Anthony got an iPod while I was around and the kids all begged for iPod time. The youngest, Joel, is three (I think) and he could identify iPod ads on TV even before Anthony had one. I asked him what an iPod was and he explained it was something that worked with your eyes and had something to do with the dancing man.

Rick and Karen’s children, Grace and Toby, are always full of seemingly inexhaustible energy when I see them. They spend their time telling me stories, showing me their stuff, then running off with my camera to take strange blurry pictures which often involve a shot looking right up one of their noses.

As always I met up with my old friends Josh and Kevin. We usually try and plan some kind of ‘guys trip’ some place, even if it’s only out to the desert or something.

This year we went to the ‘beach house’ which would more accurately be described as a beach trailer, but such details were unimportant. Located near Pismo beach we used the ‘beach house’ as home base for our three day visit to the coast.

We went to the farmers market in San Luis Obispo which is well worth a visit if you’re ever around that area on a Thursday evening. The shops all stay open and Higuera Street is closed to traffic to allow the stall owners to set up and sell whatever to the many people who flock there.

One of the stranger and frankly kinda gross things that you kind of have to see if you visit San Luis Obispo is ‘Bubble Gum Alley (pictured below).’ This is basically a small alley way where the two walls on either side are completely covered in used gum. At first it looks like colorful pebble-dash cladding, but then you soon realise that it is in fact gum. Apparently gum began appearing on the walls in 1960 and since then it has grown into somewhat of an attraction.

The next day the weather was glorious so we headed to the beach at Montana de Oro State Park. To get to the beach we had to walk through a eucalyptus tree forest which was quite simply amazing.

It’s difficult to sum up the beach trip. We were just three old friends hanging out and enjoying the kind of banter three friends have after 15 years. This year though I think we broke a record. None of us are really smokers, but between us we managed to polish off 2 packs of Marlboro lights and 2 packs of Phillies cigars! That’s a whole lot of tobacco consumption in a three day period!

On returning to Fresno Anthony and I headed out to see a U2 tribute band called Zoo Station play in downtown. Ordinarily you would expect a tribute band to be okay, but not great, but these guys were excellent. The lead singer had Bono’s moves down! He strutted his stuff upon the little stage and left me feeling like even this little tribute band were too big to play places like Fresno.

Everyone was rocking out and singing along as I swept a glance over the gathered crowd, it then hit me. “Oh no,” I though “Surely this isn’t my crowd?” A sea of faces no younger than 30 were more lost in music than sister sledge, who they all would probably remember too. Fresno baby sitters were probably cleaning up as the cities Moms and Dads were out casting their inhibitions and what little street cred they had to the wind as they danced and sung to songs from their youth like “Gloria” and “I will follow” and here I was among them, taping my feet and nodding my head in acceptance that, tonight at least, this was indeed my crowd.

And so after nearly two weeks of mainly just kicking back and chillin out with my Californian friends, I was packing up my stuff and getting ready to head to Houston, Texas.

At Fresno airport a TSA staffer asked to see my ID for security screening. I produced my British passport to which he exclaimed “An Englishman in Fresno of all places!” Then proceeded to inquire, “So what brought you to Fresno then?” I briefly explain about the number of friends I have who all once lived in Fresno, then left, then returned for reasons that I still struggle to understand. “Uh ha.” He said nodding and inspecting my ticket for my onward journey. “So you’re next stop is…” “Houston” I interrupted. And with the same expression that people give me when I tell them I a visiting Fresno he looks up at me and says with a furrowed brown “Houston?” I nod. “Uh ha. Fresno to Houston. Well heck, you sure are packing in the beautiful places now aren’t you.”

Next stop, Texas.

visitors bureau website
Anthony’s (new) blog < -- Check it out! Josh’s ‘my first blog’
San Luis Obispo Farmers Market
San Luis Obispo Bubble Gum Alley
Montana de Oro State Park
U2 tribute band – Zoo Station
TSA – Transportation Security Administration (or Tosser Security Agent)