Motown Highlife

My wife and I went to the movies a few weeks ago and, while watching the previews before the previews, caught wind of a new ABC series called American Crime. It was about thirty seconds in when I spotted the famous "Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health" sign and looked at my wife in horror. "ABC is making a fucking network television show about Modesto?!!" I whispered firmly to her, my eyes as wide as saucers. Having lived in Modesto from the time of my birth in 1979 until leaving for college in 1997 (and then back for a year later on), I can tell you this came as quite a shock. What didn't surprise me, however, was that the show's morbid and tragic premise would exploit the negative side of the Central Valley locale without actually shooting an episode there. Besides a few choice frames of stock footage, most of the show is filmed around Austin, Texas.

However, last night when we finally caught up to this past week's episode of Looking (the fantastic HBO drama about three gay men in San Francisco), my wife and I about spit our drinks out. Two of the main characters in the show, Dom and Doris, are from Modesto and must return home for a funeral after Doris's father dies. "Here we go," I said to my wife. "They're going to show the archway and a few choice streets, but the rest of it will be filmed somewhere outside the city." That wasn't the case, however. My wife (who also lived in Modesto for much of her life) and I sat there, staring at the television, stupified, while the Volvo rolled into downtown for a half-hour of high school flashbacks. We thought that would be the extent of it, until the unthinkable happened:

The three travellers are sitting in the Clarion Motel just off Highway 99.

Doris: I want to go out. I just spent the whole day at a funeral.

Dom: I know a place nearby.

Patrick: Here? In Modesto?

My wife and I turned to each other, both knowing exactly where this was headed, but still in disbelief. "If they go to the Brave Bull," I said to her, "I'm going to cry."

But that's exactly where they went: the renowned 9th Street tavern, where both my wife and I spent many a night during our early 20s. The Bull is pretty much the only gay bar in town (making it the most fun bar in town), so it was an easy guess. Still, to see HBO cameras walk inside, pull up to the bar for a few Bud Lights, then boogie the night away on the dance floor was something I'll never forget.

It was nice to finally see Modesto get celebrated for an iconic drinking establishment. Usually it's not something nearly so positive that brings my hometown into the limelight. While I shot it down as a poor idea years ago, this newfound popularity does have me reconsidering my "K&L Drinks Around Modesto Bus Tour".

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll