Weekend in Fresno

Fresno. When I lived in southern California, we called Fresno the "armpit of California." I'd visited the city because my dad was giving a lecture and spending time with his sister and her family who used to live in Fresno. All I saw of Fresno back then was my Aunt Eloise's house and a Mormon church. When I had my interview in Fresno, my flight was canceled so I ended up spending less than 24 hours in the town. I didn't see much of Fresno, but I was quite sure that I didn't want to spend my life in small town Texas, that I wanted to be back west, back in California--so I accepted the job, packed up my things and moved to Fresno. I've lived here for 10 years now and, after a year in Norway, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to me to have made my home in Fresno.

Fresno is a city with an inferiority complex. The most common praise for the city is that it takes only 3 hours to drive to the Bay area, Los Angeles, the coast, national parks. Yeah, the best thing about Fresno is leaving it and going somewhere else. But I think Fresno has more to offer that that.

Let me use this weekend as an example. Thursday (I know, not technically the weekend, but I'm starting there), our former colleague Steve Yarbrough who left this year to teach at Emerson College in Boston was in town. He gave a reading on campus, and then many of us went to Connie and John Hales' house for a party. I arrived there at about 10 p.m. and the party was in full swing. I sat in the living room talking with Samina, John, Alex, Tanya, Linnea, Matthew, and others about the reading (which I had missed), about the Young Writers Conference, and about Fresno State's upcoming intersession in London. Living in Fresno has brought writers I hadn't heard of before into my consciousness, including my wonderful colleagues past and present: Steve, Alex Espinoza, David Anthony Durham, Liza Wieland, Connie, John, Steven Church, Tim Skeen, Ruth Schwartz, and Lillian Faderman (to be fair, I had heard of Lillian, a seminal theorist of lesbian history, before I arrived here). Last night, I went to a reading at Palominos with some local poets: Tim Hernandez, Mike Medrano, Marisol Baca, Lance Canales (I may be mis-remembering his name) and Connie. Mike mentioned Juan Felipe Herrera, who spent years here, and all the poets celebrated the local experience. Also last night, I went to Audie's Olympic where a local band, the Suppressors, performed, including a piece about the Marcus Wesson ska (an infamous local who fathered children with his children, many of whom were killed or committed suicide together). So, what's my point here? The Valley is a fertile place for creativity and self-expression. Locals and transplants both find inspiration in this agricultural, sometimes dysfunctional, but always interesting town. So, that's one reason I love Fresno.

Another reason I love Fresno is embedded in the previous paragraph: I have great friends here. Staying in Fresno as long as I have has allowed me to develop friendships over a long period of time. I've always made friends easily (a skill learned from moving around a lot), but the great thing about living somewhere so long is that I've had the chance to really find friends who stick, who I trust and love, who I hope will be in my life forever. These last few years in particular have been quite rich in terms of my friendships--and after a year away, I'm also making new friends and deepening relationships with people who have been in my life for years. I appreciate the openness of people here--it feels easy to socialize with old friends and new. Friday night, John and John invited Tanya and I over for game night and dinner. John, a fantastic cook, made a cheese souffle, sauteed green beans, salad, and roasted potatoes. It was all so good. We also played Scrabble. John B. won, as he always does, and, even though I get rather competitive with games, I still was so happy to lose . . . because it meant I was hanging out with people who are really important to me. . . . oh, and because I love playing Scrabble and I don't get to do it enough. Last night, Kristie and I met in the Tower district: we went to the aforementioned poetry reading at Palominos, ate dinner at Veni, Vidi, Vici's, saw the Suppressors at Audie's, and hung out at Livingstone's until about 1:15 a.m. Kristie and I have known each other for years, but in some ways, she feels like a new friend, new because we're getting to know each other better. We laughed a lot and I had so much fun jumping from one place to the next in the Tower. So, yeah, there are amazing, wonderful people who live in Fresno, and I'm lucky to count so many as my friends. I think Fresno's inferiority complex adds to the sense that people who are interested in the arts want to stick together, to support Fresno's efforts to celebrate the arts, and to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that Fresno offers. I can go to events by myself and encounter people I know, even though Fresno has a population of almost a half million people. Sometimes, Fresno feels like a small town that way.

This morning, I slept in late, skipped my morning walk (which is another thing I love about Fresno, walking around the Fresno High/Fig Garden area), mowed my lawn, trimmed some trees/bushes, and picked up fallen fruit in my backyard. I love my house--it's comfortable, pretty (at least I think it is), and homey. It was built in about 1945 and is in an established neighborhood with quiet, tree-lined streets, friendly neighbors, and beautiful yards. I'm grateful that my job has given me financial security, allowing me to be a home owner in such a charming neighborhood. I don't know if I would have ever been able to afford a home if I'd stayed in Huntington Beach.

Recently, a friend posted a great Facebook update: "John Jordan loves Fresno--maybe for no good reason, but he does." Many of us agreed--and some posted good reasons why. I guess this blog entry illustrates some of the reasons that I love Fresno.


11 thoughts on “Weekend in Fresno

  1. Kristie

    As I contemplate why I stay in Fresno, I have to agree with all that you have written here. I want to be in NYC or SF cause I love the energy of a City. I love crowded streets and late night wandering. But the friend I have here are irreplaceable (unlike Beyonce's ex-boyfriend). For them alone I want to stay. Although the first line in a conversation with a new acquaintance in this town is often, " How'd you end up here?" , there is alot of "there" here. I think I will stop asking that question...

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  2. dkzody

    I too think your house is pretty...you live in a wonderful neighborhood that is conducive to walking and chatting with neighbors. I think your location, both in where you reside and where you work, has lots to do with your contentment with Fresno. In chatting with my neurologist last week, leaving Fresno was on both of our agendas, and we both said that our friendships would be the one thing we would miss most.

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  3. John Beynon

    Thanks so much for hanging out Thursday and Friday. Friends like you make Fresno a wonderful place to live. And I still contend that my winning streak in Scrabble is a fluke. More games nights!

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  4. Diana Harriger

    I love Fresno too. Being born here and growing up here for the most part has made me love Fresno, not hate it. It really bothers me when people compare it to big cities, because the most wonderful thing about Fresno is it isn't huge, and yet is so incredibly diverse, with cultures that span the world. The literary and music scene is totally expanding, and there's always something to do. The people here are friendly and open minded (for the most part!). I wish people would have more pride in our home and how amazing it is!

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  5. Donna

    A lovely tribute to Fresno, Kathee. I agree with you; the very best thing about living here is the friends with whom I share my life. People can make up their minds to see the negative or see the positive wherever it is they hang their hats. I find it a much more fruitful endeavor to celebrate the things I love about where I live.

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  6. Ann

    What a great post, Kathee. My family moved to Clovis/Fresno when I was in the 6th grade from the Monterey Bay area (Salinas). When my father passed away, my mom's friends from Salinas thought that she would move back (and thought I would follow), but Fresno is my home and I have roots here as well. I do, however, think about going east for a variety of reasons, but I have a great job, great friends, and it is nice to only be 3 hours away from many of the beautiful things of California. I am not quite as adventurous as some (Kristie), but it works for me. Thanks for being so eloquent about it. 🙂

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  7. Lori

    I love this post, Kathee! Flying in from Houston on Sunday another passenger was telling me how he felt as if Fresno is identified as the 'armpit of America', not just CA. We talked about all of the reasons we dislike Fresno (air quality, economy, distance from extended family) but we also created a similar list to yours as we listed the things we love about Fresno: friends & communities that we create within the our daily activities. Houston seems like a great city, not that I explored much, but I was reminded of how much I hate traffic & crowds & time wasted in a commute.

    Like you, I LOVE our neighborhood & the people that choose to live here. I'm especially grateful that you have become such a special friend to Josie & me. Looking forward to our next Sunday dinner & Zingo game!

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  8. Stacy Brand

    Well Fresno has certainly been one of the most healing places I've ever lived or perhaps it was the timing. I'd like to tap into some of that "fertile place for creativity" though! I really liked your comment about Fresno having an inferiority complex. So true! But every place I live people say the same things: this place sucks you in or once you leave, you always come back or I'd rather be elsewhere--anywhere but here, right? Perhaps these comments reflect something else entirely that is not geographical! Arkansas: not bad, three hours to st. louis, five from dallas, two from memphis. Tallahassee, FL: not bad, two hours to the beach; near Atlanta, etc. So what is it really that we mean to say?

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  9. Kristen Johnson

    I agree Fresno has had an inferiority complex for ages, and it took me a while but I like living here. Sometimes it seems like Fresno gives you too much to do and you have to pick and choose events to go to. The main complaint I hear among peeps is that places aren't open long enough, but we are not a big city like SF or LA so why should it matter? The great thing about Fresno is you never know what will happen next in terms of restaurants, the arts, etc.. it is full of surprises.

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