I Spent 12 hours in Old Sac and All I Got Was This Stupid Article

Posted on May 19, 2011 – 3:42 AM | by Admin
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By Becky Grunewald  Photos by Scott Duncan

When I told people about my story idea for our Old Sac issue – to spend 12 hours in Old Sac – they laughed or rolled their eyes and said, “Good luck!” As the slated day approached, I began to dread it, and hedged my bets by downgrading it to ten hours, or even eight hours. I had no idea what I would do for all that time, but I decided that I couldn’t bring anything with me besides the clothes on my back. Whatever I needed, sustenance, reading material, etc., Old Sac would have to provide.

As the lovely spring Sunday unfolded, I had to forgo my customary cup of strong-as-shit Chemex-brewed coffee and head to Old Sac on my bike.  The ride was made all the more painful by a slight hangover and my dehydrated brain cried out for caffeine as I rode by the Weatherstone without stopping.  I cursed the assignment, and myself, again.

I jolted over the cobblestones and alighted at Steamers Coffee Shop, which was doing a brisk business. My bleary eyes must have made me stand out, because my effusive red-headed barista inquired if I worked in Old Sac. I said no, but asked her what it’s like. She replied, “It’s interesting.  You never know what you’re going to get.  A lot of Germans, a lot of Japanese.”

Steamers serves a full breakfast menu, and even has Pranqster, a strong, Belgian-style ale, on draft; I opted for scrambled eggs on a biscuit.  The biscuit was exceedingly buttery and rich.  The coffee was, well, it was not strong but it did contain caffeine and refills are free.  I settled in with the Sunday Bee and people-watched, which is always amusing in tourist areas.  I saw a tourist leaf through MidMo in 30 seconds flat without reading a single word and then fold it in half and use it as a shim for the wobbly table; I saw another tourist leave his wallet and iphone on his table, by the door, while he went up to get a mimosa refill.  Must have been German.

Adequately caffeinated, I glimpsed the first of many, many photo shoots I would see in Old Sac throughout the day.  I counted nine in all.

A bent-over tween complained “I have splinters in my ass!”  I guess that’s one of the hazards of seating made out of railroad ties.

I flagged down cute-as-a-button Staci, who has wearing a placard that says “ask me about underground tours” and instead asked her what it was like working in Old Sac, which she’s done for a year.  She said, “It’s a town within a town.  We all know each other’s business.  It’s never boring, there’s always something going on.”

Raccoon, the stage name of Kevin Powers, the coyote-fur-clad clown who has been a licensed street performer for 17 years, echoed Staci’s sentiment about the appeal of the area.  I had always thought Raccoon was a little creepy, but turns out he’s not at all, and that he wears the furs as a proud reflection of his Arapahoe heritage.

On Bill Burg’s advice, and spurred by the seductive sound of the old-timey whistle, I decided to take a ride on the steam train.  This ride, a leisurely cruise along the river to the site of the old public baths, lasts 40 minutes and only costs ten bucks.  It’s entirely staffed by adorable elderly volunteers.  We got to witness a dramatic steam release called a “blow down” – the kids loved it.

Time for lunch: Indo Café.  I asked for the “secret” menu, which contains additional Indonesian dishes deemed too controversial for the typical, teriyaki-loving tourist.  The laksa is a comforting coconut milk soup laced with turmeric and swimming with hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts, noodles, chicken, and cabbage.  My only complaint is that I would much prefer dark and light meat chicken on the bone rather than wan, dried-out strips of breast meat. Even better was the dish of sticky rice flavored with ginger, lemongrass, and turmeric, flanked by tender, fat-rimmed hunks of beef stew meat, sweet and spicy peanuts, cucumber slices, and deep-fried tempeh.  Old Sac is an odd location for the only Indonesian restaurant in the greater Sacramento area, but it’s not “good for Old Sac”- it’s just plain good.

Shopping in Old Sac can be a surreal experience.   It’s a weird mishmash of Thomas Kinkade “art,” souvenir crap, and t-shirts emblazoned with Charlie Sheen.  Old Sac is the last bastion of deadstock.  At Brooks Novelty I scored a Brewer and Shipley poster that had been waiting there for me (and only me) since 1970.  At another tucked-away spot I bought a grab bag for 99 cents.  When was the last time you saw a grab bag?  I shopped in a store that is primarily dedicated to items for red hat ladies, much of it emblazoned with slogans such as “red hat diva” and “friends are the hats in the wardrobe of life.”  Does that make them something you shove in the back of your closet and that make you look ridiculous?

But the retail item that is most associated with Old Sac is candy.  Saltwater taffy, to be precise.  People smirk about this, but like most of Old Sac what is easily mocked is also irresistibly fun.  Candy Heaven is the best of the three candy stores.  I was totally sucked in by the retro packaging and evocative names of the candy: coconut long boys, walnettos, squirrel nut zippers.  Before I knew it I was 7 dollars poorer and high on sugar.  And now I’m hooked on their very salty, extremely strong black licorice caramels.

After browsing for a good long while, it was time to head for the Delta King bar.   I walked in on a very boozy scene – part of being on vacation is never having to say “I’m sorry…that it’s early afternoon and I’m hammered.”  I took my eight dollar drink out onto the deck and watched a tourist enact Titanic’s “king of the world” scene on the prow, eliciting groans from her companions.  There were smiles and happy faces all around me.  That’s part of the fun of being in Old Sac – everyone is psyched to be there and it rubs off.

I walked through yet another photo shoot, this one featuring a surgically enhanced blonde, on my way to the Backdoor Lounge. Inside, a typically raucous scene greeted me.  I could not nurse my beer in peace without fielding queries of “you writin’ this shit down?  Is that for a class?  Drunk people in a bar class?”  These folks, including the silver fox bartender with the Boston accent, are friendly.  My beer and a shot were paid for by a gentleman who said, “welcome to the Backdoor, our little oasis from reality.”

I extricated myself from the Backdoor and sought out the visual headache that is Fanny Ann’s for a cheap dinner.  A veggie burger topped with pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and green chilies soaked up a modicum of the alcohol so that I could bike home.  As I headed out into the night, the sounds of a live mariachi band blasted down from the La Terazza balcony and I weaved my bike through the still-thronged streets.  It was actually a snap to spend (almost) 12 hours in Old Sac. In fact, I never wanted to leave.

Thanks to Sacramento City Dry Goods for the ‘authentic’ miner’s outfit!

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