The 8th Avenue Boys

by Dante DeAmicis

Hugging the fringe of this 10 square mile war zone is the true center of Clearlake.  One would think that Clearlake’s hub of activity would be either the 2 mile “has-been” resort strip of Lakeshore Drive or the City-Hall-to-Highway 53 escape of Olympic Drive.  But no, the City’s standard of excellence is sales tax revenue from whatever source.  Using this single minded criteria, Clearlake’s “center” is an oasis of cleared brush on the last freeway exit.  We’re too downstream to have a downtown anyway.

A two-time interim Clearlake Administrator reported that only Walmart was increasing the flow of sales tax blood into the City’s anemic coffers.  This last-stop freeway nexus also features 3 fast food joints and a Rays grocery store.

The middle drive of this cash cow boasts the biggest bus transfer site in Lake County – top of the list on Clearlake Chamber of Commerce’s “points of interest.”  Why are 50 buses a day rolling through the middle of a shared parking lot?  Because this daily transit parade route is actually an unmarked right-of-way dividing 2 parking lots.  Once the pavement ends and the howling wilderness begins, this stealth road continues on the map as “8th Avenue.”

This also explains why milling throngs of homeless are routinely rousted from the Safeway parking lot but are only moved out of the bus shelters here.  They are free to get in line with their signs as sort of a low-brow haiku show for lost Napa tourists.  (Have your picture taken with a real homeless person?)

A few years back a developer had to promise to punch this paper road through to get approval for his paper subdivision 3 miles away. For now, its a place to arrive by bus from distant lands, check your e-mail on McDonalds’ wi-fi, discuss investment strategies with the homeless, and steal something from Walmart.

Usually the only reason I hang out here, longer than to take my bike off the bus rack during the day, is to walk through the Jack-In-The-Box lobby doors before Midnight.  Everyone working at night here are required to speak 2 languages or have 3 tattoos. Management has to do both.  Its the only place in Clearlake I can sit down in a lighted room, write awhile, and charge my cell phone after 11 pm.  If I’m not quite finished when they lock the doors I have “Plan B” across the street – the secret 2-plug outlet on the closed McDonald’s flag pole.

There’s a trashy surrealism inside this “Jacks” that works for me.  Cabaret tables stand against the windows, patiently waiting for Margaritas that will never come.  The crowning touch is the stereo mini mirror balls, suggestively gyrating from the ceiling.  Weak rotating colors thrown off create a dance floor effect only bright enough for moths and mosquitoes.  No one else would notice unless they were filling their root beer cup underneath.

I asked the counter person if she really wanted me to disco in front of the fountain drinks.  It won’t be a pretty sight on the security camera.  Unfazed, “Sure, why not?”

Closing time.  I leave the lobby as the last of the homeless are leaving the pavement into the broken promise of a street that never was.  A hundred betrayed GPS navigators wail about the breach of trust with their stranded owners.  The shabby people and their dogs are grateful tonight for that broken promise unlike the many broken promises made to them.

Welcome to 8th Avenue, another poster child for the “State Map Act.”  Clearlake has an orphanage full of them.

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