After living here for nearly a year an a half, I’ve finally found something about my neighbour metropolis of Sacramento that I like. I know I’ve never really given that sprawling urban splat much of a chance, the way it just squats in the distance across a vast flat swamp, thick with suffocating Valley air and the sound of gunfire on every news broadcast, utterly lacking the grand charm of New York or the dramatic slopes and vistas of San Francisco. Getting the bus through West Sacramento is hardly inspiring, miles of rotten industrial grounds, trailer parks and the sort of motels you only ever see in films with a high death count. I warmed to grubby old Charleroi, years ago, but I think you’d have to be pretty cold to find anything to warm to here.
But recently I’ve been going up to Midtown, where the leafy boulevards are lined with charming old wooden houses, and there are shops and cafes and people walking because they want to, and yet because it’s still Sacramento there’s still some grit, and none of the urban snobbery you find in the more affluent areas. I guess that’s why it’s called Midtown, because it’s between downtown and Uptown, I’d not really thought of it like that. But that’s not what brings me there. There’s this really cool record shop called The Beat, and it’s my new favourite place. My wife first took me up there in January, after I got my new record player, so I could buy my first vinyl LP in many years and add to the ones I’d just lugged back from London (you know, vinyl’s a lot heavier than you think, isn’t it). I was so impressed – the place was so well-stocked, but still airy and spacious, not crazy like Amoeba Records, and they had a phenomenal collection of Beatles stuff, both British and American versions, most of which I have, some of which I salivated over but couldn’t really justify spending on. I spent most of my time in the Who section, trawling through rare European imports, but finally settling on the old compilation favorite Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, because it was the first Who record I ever heard back at my uncle Billy’s years ago, and because if you are going to listen to the old stuff, you can’t do it on CD, it has to be vinyl. I went home, put the needle in the groove, and rocked out; it was like being thirteen again.
I’ve gone back up there a few times to trawl through their CDs, new and used, and have been generally impressed with the large stock, particularly as I seem to find a lot of British stuff you’d never expect to see in a shop deep in Sacramento. No David Devant, however, but you can’t have it all. Nearby though there is a British pub called the Streets of London, which I’d known about since we moved here but have always resisted going to for the following reasons: it’s in Sacramento, it has a name which indicates it’s probably nothing like a London pub, and because we met a slightly weird couple once that said they go out there and I had no inclination of bumping into them. Well I finally decided to pop in and check it out (and to find a table to add some paints to the sketches I’d made around town), after all they might be showing Spurs on the TV. They weren’t, but I bought a pint of London Pride and had an utterly new sensation. It was actually cold, and tasted really good. I like Pride, I used to drink it a lot, but back at the Haverstock in Belsize Park it would always be edging room temperature. Here it was damn cold, and damn good. I didn’t want to get ahead of myself, so I left, passing by The Beat on the way back to the bus-stop. Or I would have passed by if I’d not heard them playing ‘Boredom’ by the Buzzcocks, one of my all-time favourite tracks (and one I never hear blaring from a shop doorway). I popped back in and sure enough they had the Spiral Scratch EP. I’d never even seen it before! But I resisted, for now, giving myself an excuse to come back down, and I will too. I don’t yet like Sacramento, and I’m not about to move there or anything, but after all this time I’ve found I don’t hate crossing the Causeway quite as much.