Some stray thoughts on Fresno

Amtrak’s city code for Fresno is quite appropriately FNO. Nothing for blocks around the depot communicates FYES, after all. Going north on Blackstone, it’s miles before the neighborhood emerges from soulcrushing trashiness into something better than an aesthetic and existential horror show. This blessed change comes much sooner on Palm, which is probably why the bus I took back down Palm from the Fig Garden Center was fast, uncrowded, and free of facepalmable white trash of whatever race you’d like to see living in that condition.

The City of Fresno doesn’t do street trees on Blackstone, while the tree cover along Palm is quite nice. It’s probably a class thing proximally manifesting itself as a telling the mayor to plant some damn trees on this street yesterday thing. Environments affect people’s moods, moods affect people’s comportment, and the built environment on North Blackstone is something close to hellish. I’m hesitant to say outright that it’s on the wrong side of the threshold of hell, but I won’t quibble with anyone who goes there. Look at it this way: the Kardashian family compounds are not a cluster of tenement units in the Roaring Forties or a tent collection on a vacant lot in San Pedro, surrounded by the shitpiles of all the other open defecators in the neighborhood. Beautiful day, Mr. Rogers; beautiful fucking day. The affluent and the wealthy see to it that they do not live on seedy streets. If they aren’t living on a street that is already beautified, they force the local government to beautify whatever cheaper hood they’ve colonized. They have reasons for doing these things. Street trees are expensive, but they are not frivolous. Walk from the near west side of Eugene to the far west side and you’ll see why. I don’t recommend this, especially if you’re headed west. It may not break your heart, but it’ll probably turn you pretty ornery. Maybe the locals in these neighborhoods wouldn’t be so worn down, cross, and generally trashy if their surroundings weren’t. We don’t generally give them this chance because it would be expensive and they don’t own professional sports teams.

On my return trip to Fresno on Monday to pick up my glasses, I missed the horde of cringe-inducing white trash that had been with me on the bus up to the Manchester transit center on Friday. I don’t know what happened over the weekend to disperse these losers. Maybe it was just that I ended up not getting to Fresno until mid-afternoon because Union Pacific had shit Amtrak’s bed, causing me to miss my scheduled connection in Martinez by two or three minutes (I got to watch the California Clipper cruise by, admire that bitchin’ ride from two tracks over, and then waste another 97 Guest Rewards points renegotiating my ticket; thanks, guys). Maybe the losers wander home, if they have one, as the day wears on. I would have thought the opposite, but the heat may make early birds of them.

Even so, there were several appalling specimens traveling with me. I don’t remember the details of their godforsakenness, but I do remember their general ambiance. The one thing I did manage to consciously process was that an exceptionally large number of FAX’s passengers took inordinately long to pay their fares. FAX doesn’t help them by charging $1.25 a ride (an odd amount, literally and figuratively) and not offering day passes, but many of these passengers made their own contributions to fuck things up for themselves and for the rest of us. Several times I watched passengers pay their fares with what were obviously ridiculous combinations of small coins, like ten dimes and five nickels. Most of the ones pulling this shit had arthritis, piss-poor hand-eye coordination, or hamfisted motor skills that made it impossible for them to feed coins into the farebox at the pace I’d normally expect of a competent, ablebodied adult. These fuckers had to laboriously pick each coin out of one hand using the other and feed it individually into the slot. It was as if they could think of no other way. This might not be too bad with five quarters, but they weren’t that organized. A number of them boarded the bus without fare in hand, forcing them to fish through their pockets for whatever jumble of change, excluding pennies, they could make add up to $1.25. At least one woman, definitely poor and likely intermittently homeless, boarded the bus without full fare readily on hand. After watching her fish through her pocket for twenty or thirty seconds and keep coming up short, the driver waved her onto the bus and pushed the button to indicate whatever the hell needed to be indicated to the farebox for administrative purposes. “Homegirl ain’t gots fiddy cent for da bus” may not be close enough according to the regulations, but it should be. FAX is slow and congested enough without waiting for the disorganized indigent to do their pocket accounting. It’s much better for them to join us on our journey than for us to join them on theirs. The drivers seem to understand this on some level. Leveling everyone down to meet these losers ruins things for everyone; giving them a break on the fare because derpledy derpy derp keeps the dream of on-time bus service alive.

Why the fuck FAX maintains newspaper vending machines for the Fresno Bee inside its buses in the passenger seating areas immediately behind the drivers’ seats is beyond me. It’s probably some sort of mild public corruption gussied up as high civics. Smacking some poor bastard in the head with your Literacy (TM): Pass It On (TM), because it, too, is Values (TM).

On my way back to the Amtrak depot I walked around downtown Fresno for maybe half an hour. Yikes. Maybe it isn’t so far east of Eden during the weekday. By the time I got there, at 6:45ish, it was a deserted, forlorn Twilight Zone pastiche of rundown old office towers, mostly from late in the Gilded Age, and slightly better maintained Soviet Bauhaus-looking gems of urban renewal (sic), a sort of Olmsted-meets-Brezhnev architectural exchange as interpreted by Serling. Very few people in the neighborhood looked like they had wandered in from the middle class, defined in the broadest way possible. Maybe if there were more civilian eyes on the street there wouldn’t have to be so many bars and grills on the storefronts. Maybe the neighborhood would be nicer if the stores weren’t so shitty. Maybe a lot of things, none of them anywhere in sight.

I saw a white cop interrogating a black woman on Tulare Street, catty-corner to the courthouse square, over what I figured to be suspicion of prostitution. Maybe there was a real crime under consideration, but I wouldn’t count on it. The cop looked far more hostile and aggressive than a cop should be with anyone who isn’t itching for a fight. Watching this, it hit me that prostitution is one of the surest, most effective ways for money to be transferred from wealthy neighborhoods to poor ones in a city that desperately needs every cent the rich neighborhoods can spare to be transferred in this fashion. Go over to Parkway and have some fun, kid. No, seriously. In a city so socioeconomically segregated, these might as well be foreign exchange earnings. For once we’re talking about something that white boys value enough to pay brown and black people for it, and to pay them damn well.

With the number of uniformed cops it deploys to flood random zones for no discernible reason, the Fresno Police Department should be able to afford some Emada Tingirides-level jacked undercovers to walk Parkway for the purpose of deterring Holtzclaw wannabes from procuring nonconsensual suck white dick, and also to flush out any Picktonian minority looking for trouble on some poor girls’ behalf, but it’s probably too corrupt and heavyhanded to do anything so equitable and public-spirited. If the FPD is as dysfunctional as FAX or as callous towards its constituents as the Fresno city government in general is in its maintenance of barrio infrastructure, God help Fresno’s poor.

Maybe Victor Davis Hansen is correct that everyone who has his shit together and access to residential lending markets has bodily run for the hills. For the love of God, just look at what the Johnny-come-lately highlanders have left behind. Or don’t. I can’t promise that you’ll be able to unsee it.

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