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Lately, in this publication, there has been a lot of fur flying regarding Midtown people and suburban people (specifically from Roseville, Rocklin and Granite Bay). Insults have been flung back and forth from both sides of the issue. Terms like “Ed Hardy” and “hipster” have been volleyed around with the vehemence of a food fight in a middle school cafeteria.
Stereotypes are flung from both camps: People who live on the grid are all tattooed, Rivers Cuomo-looking, “Flight of the Conchords” wannabes, and the suburbanites are all roofie-dropping, backward cap-wearing “Jersey Shore” wannabes.
I was once told that I was the type of person who didn’t like my cheese moved, meaning I don’t like change. Well, I am not the only one who doesn’t. There are a lot of people who live on the grid who do not like the changes happening in the core. Midtown is no longer just cute little coffee shops, art galleries, cheap apartments and neighborhood bars. Midtown now has full-fledged nightclubs where you can rent a booth for a night for the same price of a month's rent. Midtown has four-star restaurants and condos that sell for half a million dollars.
I have been part of the Midtown scene since I was a teenager. Like a lot of people of my generation, I did not come to Midtown to be cool. I didn’t even know what PBR was. I came to the grid to escape.
When I was 17 years old, I moved from Portland, Maine, to Sacramento to live with my estranged mother. The reason for the drastic move was so I could attend my last year of high school and then go to college as a California resident. We lived in an apartment complex on Howe Avenue, and I ended up going to a gangbanger high school.
I made some friends from Country Day High School. On the weekends, we would park in the middle of a soccer field and hotbox, then head into Midtown and get cheap munchies at Cafe Cambire, which was open all night. The cafe was the central spot for all the misfits of the grid:
tweakers, gutterpunks, goths and wannabe DJs spinning on acid.
We would sit on the stairs, smoke clove cigarettes and have cheap Peach Schnapps. The Country Day crew and I would wear our khaki shorts, button-up shirts and Birkenstocks. We would sit down and chat with people with names like Warchild, Leaf, Sasha, White Trash Dave,
Star. To paraphrase Eric Draven, we were “a jolly band of pirates, with pirate nicknames.” Some were friendly, others were creepy, others just looked down at us because, in their minds, we were tourists, and we had no right to be in their space. And we were tourists.
At the end of the night, the Country Day kids and I would go back home — them to Arden Park and Curtis Park; and I would head back to my crappy apartment on Howe Avenue to face the wrath of my mother for coming in so late.
The high school I went to was a far cry from my previous one in Maine. My first week there, there was a drive-by in the parking lot. I had a gun pulled on me when I interrupted a crank deal in the back of the school, and that January there was a full-fledged race riot. Midtown was my escape from my day-to-day life. The core was a place where I could dress how I wanted and express ideas that did not seem so kooky.
There was no judgment. I could be anyone I wanted to be and receive no grief.
I was young, and, like most people at my age, I thought I knew everything. I dropped out of high school. My mother and I had been arguing more and more, until it came to a head and she kicked me out of the house.
After a week of couch surfing, my luck had run out and I was forced out into the streets. The only good thing I had was a part-time job at Burger King in the Pavilions. To kill time, I spent a lot of hours at Cafe Cambire. Even though it was the beginning of summer, I was wearing a long black duster because I could not fit it in my bag with the rest of my clothes. I was no longer part of society, as I had known it. I even got myself a jolly pirate nickname. I was now known on the streets as Streak, a name I picked out from a superhero I used to make up as a child to help me
fall asleep — and honestly, I still do, now that I am in my 30s.
At first I did not even go to bed. I would just stay at Cambire’s until 5 in the morning and then head to the Firehouse at New Helvetia.
Before the advent of Red Bull and the infinite number of energy drinks, my stimulant of choice was the Red Eye, which consisted of two espresso shots poured over a large cup of coffee. Fueled with enough stimulants to rival most of the tweakers in the neighborhood, I would head out the light rail to my job at the Burger King.
After three days of this, my body had finally rebelled. I needed to sleep. I picked a tree in Capitol Park, which was fine for a couple of days, but if I wasn’t being harassed by the CHP, I was being
propositioned by older gentlemen, who are referred to as chicken hawks.
Other times, I would be able to catch naps in Old Sacramento when there was a movie projected on the wall. I remember the first time was during the showing of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I kept on having dreams of coconuts.
I would hang out with other street kids, smoking pot in the K Street tunnel until we were scattered by mounted police. I would be so stoned that I would just want to pet the horse, oblivious to the fact that I could have been arrested.
The ultimate low point came when a friend of mine was killed in a drunken driving accident, and I went to her funeral in clothes I had worn for at least three days. I had to sit in the back of the church, crying by myself because I was afraid my BO would offend people.
The owner of Cafe Cambire noticed that I hung out there quite a bit and, sometimes, into the next morning. He offered me a job working the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. shift.
I lost the last of my innocence, working at the cafe, when a woman came in all beat up. I thought she was a damsel in distress. Instead, she was a crank dealer who had sold baby powder to the wrong people.
Working the two jobs, I was able to get a crappy apartment with a common shared bathroom.
I was no longer a tourist. I had made my bones. I had survived all sorts of crazy little adventures, too many to list in this article. I had become a grid kid. Like many other people who survived those surrealistic days, I take pride in that.
It’s that pride that makes me and other grid kids wary of the outsiders who invade our sanctuary every weekend. One reason that some Midtown residents have a subconscious disdain for the people who come in from the ‘burbs is because it reminds them of the pain and the humiliation that they had to endure while growing up in those areas they escaped from. : To us,, it's like an abusive spouse walking around freely in a battered woman’s shelter.
So, the grid has now turned into a high school quad: the bros in one section, the hipsters in another, and the grid kids watching as they both come — and both go.
PBR? No, I will have a Lagunitas instead.