Now let's get one thing straight: There's nothing wrong with Oakland. Sometimes it's nice when things are a little rough around the edges. Sometimes it's nice to go to a show at the Stork Club and stand outside smoking a cigarette and getting accosted by the local women of the night. It's nice to hang out in warehouses with no heat, afraid the cops are gonna come and shut the whole thing down. Hell, it's nice just walking down the street here, through the sirens and the noise and the fights and the drug deals. It's nice having crackheads for neighbors. It's nice when your days are soundtracked by the BUD-DUBPHPHP of overclocked subwoofers, when gunshots lull you to sleep at night, when the police helicopter, or "ghetto bird," shines its spotlight through your window while you're reading.
But there's more to the East Bay than that, right? Right?
What about Fremont and Newark? What about Dublin and Livermore? What about Danville, California, huh? Does anything happen there? Is it just some yuppie ghost town where rich people wear sweaters and talk about hedge funds? Do they listen to music in Danville, or do they just have a speaker system wired up in the downtown area that plays New Age pianist Jim Brickman all day? Perhaps it was time to find out. There must be more to the East Bay music scene than freezing warehouses and the Stork Club. And hell, for those of us who're single and proud, let's do this on Valentine's Day -- a field trip to Danville on Valentine's Day to seek out that city's thriving underground music scene. This is gonna be fun; maybe I'll even meet my future wife there, perhaps fall into something new and exciting and ...
Nah. Fuck that. This was gonna suck.The 24 freeway was built many decades ago to provide wealthy San Francisco workers with an expressway that would cozily shoot them to their houses in the hills without having to drive through Oakland's ghettos. Today it still serves the same function.
A quiet burg of just over 40,000 people, Danville combines all the sheen of an affluent suburb with buttloads of that quaint, small-town charm that George W. really wants us to fear the loss of. On Main Street, a store called "Swings & Things" lies just down the way from another called "This and That." As the sun dipped over the nearby hills, the smell of fresh-baked bread gently wafted through the downtown streets (no shit) as husbands holding flowers and balloons scuttled home in time to give their wives a happy Valentine's before the kids returned from soccer practice.
But we weren't here to buy Valentine gifts. We were here to find out where the kids hang out, and luckily Ross Grant was available for some pointers. Surely you know him as the guitarist and vocalist for Interscope recording artists Pseudopod, and he was born and raised in Danville.
"It was actually kind of cool when I was growing up there," he said, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "They used to put on shows at the Veterans Hall. Every Friday you'd pay like $4 and they'd have a couple of punk bands playing and I remember thinking that was like the coolest thing when I was thirteen, because it was close and you could walk there and it was all ages. I think now they have them at this other place called the Grange Hall."
As it happened, there was a show at the Grange Hall that night. But what about some other places to check out?
"There weren't very many places other than that," Grant said. "There was Taco Bell -- I remember people hung out there a lot. And there were like big open fields where people would have keggers out in the middle of nowhere. There was a lot of hanging out in parks or random parking lots. Like Oak Hill Park or Sycamore Park. I remember when I was in high school, people would congregate there and try to figure out where a party was. We'd just hang out in our cars and smoke cigarettes and be cool."
Hmmmm. This is starting to sound awfully familiar. Punk bands at the local community center, trolling for keggers on a Friday night, hanging out at godforsaken places like Taco Bell because there's simply nothing else to do -- wait a second, this was my childhood! This was everyone's childhood! Who wants to relive that? That shit sucked. I was skinny and awkward. I wore glasses and had zits. I was an indie-rockin', ska-loving, mom'scar-driving dork. I'm not gonna ...
But wait a second, I thought. I'm an older guy now. Yeah. The "mysterious outsider," like James Dean or something. Maybe I can hang with the younger kids now and, you know, teach 'em a thing or two, about life: "Wear protection, kids." Ha! This was gonna be so cool. This will not be the loneliest Valentine's Day ever. No sir; quite the contrary. Making new friends, being the cool guy, the city boy, the urban type. Been around the block, I have. So much to tell them. Gather round, kids, this is gonna be good.
But first, a drink.
Make that four drinks. Four pints from a brightly lit and very crowded family-friendly eatery in downtown Danville. Glug, glug. Happy Valentine's Day! And happy Valentine's Day to all these people enjoying themselves all around: Here's to you, my chubby tie-wearing friend, with your half-hearted chuckle and your stories about shipping and receiving; and to you, Normal Family, with the kid eating chicken tenders and the mom wearing a perfectly adorable pink, red, and white checkered angora; and to you, cute waitress, with your football-playing boyfriend who begged you to get tonight off. Here's to all us normal people enjoying ourselves in Danville, where the closest thing you get to a drive-by is the job description for paper boy; where, according to the city's Web site, they get three hundred days of sunshine a year.
"Would you like something else?" says the waitress, in a friendly, casual tone that implies that she may actually be thinking something other than: "What a loser. Alone on Valentine's Day and already three sheets to the wind."
A short ways down the road from Main Street, situated amid miles of tract housing and a very dark sky, is the Grange Hall. At just before eight o'clock, the place is buzzing with kids wandering in and out of the building. No one looks older than sixteen. Awesome.
Inside the hall the fluorescent lights bathe everything in ugly, bland whiteness. The opening band has just finished its set and now the kids are scurrying back and forth from one clique to another, screaming punch lines peppered with "dudes" and "hellas." They are wearing band T-shirts: Dashboard Confessional, Nine Inch Nails, Lookout Records, the Aquabats, Andrew WK, Anti-Flag, Weezer, Bob Marley, Less than Jake, Green Day, Bouncing Souls. And, of course, they are all drinking bottled water.
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