Viva Los Banos!

Back on Halloween, the PrissyBitch and I sat down to plan out a California roadtrip. By “plan” I mean, we looked at a map, decided whereabouts we wanted to go, then booked our rental car, and a hotel for one of the three nights we were there. We found a few towns on the map between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park that we thought we might want to visit — judging simply by how funny the names sounded, and that was that. Hilarity ensued.

We landed in San Francisco at 10:30 a.m. on Friday morning, and headed toward the rental car counter. We were informed that they could offer a complimentary upgrade from an economy car to a mid-size car. “What would the car be?” we asked. “A PT Cruiser,” the guy said. “We’d prefer a Hyundai or a Ford Focus,” we said. But, alas, we ended up with an under-powered red hearse to drive around, mostly because there weren’t actually any Economy cars left. I suppose that’s what we get for going with FOX rental car, which is basically unheard of on the East coast.

We headed south toward Santa Cruz in the Cruiser. We had lunch in San Carlos at Pudley’s, then moved on to the Pez Memorabilia Museum in Burlingame, and finally on to the Mystery Spot–where they basically charge you $5 to look at crooked trees, watch billiard balls roll up a plank, and people lean…a lot. This may not sound like much, but we’d actually recommend it. For five bucks, you can’t really go wrong.

The Big Foot Museum was not quite so exciting, but was free…and right down the street from Monty’s Log Cabin. Monty’s is basically the closest thing I’ve ever seen to The Brick from “Northern Exposure.” There were lots of dead deer, crazy locals, and…EROTIC PHOTO HUNT! That got us some unwanted attention from a toothless guy who was very interested in the “Babes” version of the game…so we quickly switched to the “Hunks.”

After we left Monty’s we headed in the general direction of Yosemite in search of a place to lay our heads for the night and a little place we now think of as a home away from home. You see, one of those towns we found back on Halloween was Los Banos. At the time we thought it was funny because high school Spanish taught us that “los banos” means the bathrooms. With that in mind we headed straight for it, through terrifying, winding roads, and past garlic farms, pleasantly enough. We had trouble merging onto some of the long stretches of open road in the stupid PT Cruiser but eventually we rolled into Los Banos. We passed a few hotels and some basic strip malls before seeing a sign that pointed us toward downtown.

We drove down some of the quiet streets, and found Los Banos’ nightlife–by which we mean a couple of dive-looking bars. PrissyBitch–despite her penchant for pearls–loves a good dive bar. So we headed back toward the main strip, checked in at the Economy Inn for a whopping $55 and then headed back to Azul, one of the bars we’d seen earlier.

We walked in, wearing our signature sweaters, and looking like something out of a Martha Stewart advertisement, and people seemed quite confused. Not only were we not even remotely Mexican, but the knit wear gave us away as “outsiders.” We got a couple of beers and took up residence by the jukebox, and I tried to ingratiate us by playing some Johnny Cash — though the local penchant for Hall & Oates, and 20-year-old Whitney Houston songs makes me think that was a bad move.

We sat in the corner feeling a little like zoo animals until we needed more beer. We headed to the bar where we then met the unofficial Welcome Wagon of Los Banos: Anthony and Everett.

“So, you guys saw that we were shy and knew we weren’t going to come over to you, and so you came over to us, huh?” Everett said. We laughed. It didn’t take them long to figure out that we weren’t locals.

“Where you from?” Anthony asked.

“Connecticut.”

*Looks of shock*

“What are you doing here?” they asked.

“We were driving through and saw this place and decided we wanted to come in.”

“What???? I don’t even come in here except on Fridays and Sundays…and only before 10,” Anthony told us.

“Wait…” Everett said. “Are you guys Kennedys?”

PrissyBitch obviously wanted to run with that one…but I started laughing so hard we couldn’t possibly try and pull it off. Also, as we all know, PB hates the state of Mass and wouldn’t pretend to be from there, even if it did mean she could claim to be American royalty.

Anthony, PrissyBitch, and his bell.

We learned all about Anthony’s bell (which is really a windchime but we didn’t want to break it to him), that he rings to announce his presence. I discovered that Everrett has trouble spelling “squirrel” and therefore we would not make a good couple–and I scored the phone number of a 6’5″, 110 lb creep with hair down to his hips. (He also had a good 25 years on me.) We were introduced to Raul, and Mike the chicken guy. Most importantly, we managed to score a personal invite to Rachelle the bartender’s birthday BBQ the next night. This conversation happened about a dozen times:

Anthony:”You should definitely come back for the BBQ tomorrow. There’ll be chicken, and my wife is making chilli beans. They’re…” *kisses his fingers*

Us: “We’ll definitely try.”

Anthony:”Really, you should come back…”

Us:”We’ll  give it our best shot.”

Also, as it turns out, Los Banos is named for the baths that the padres used to bathe in when they came down from the mountains and not, contrary to [our] popular opinion, toilets.

Shortly after the crowd started changing from cowboys and good ol’ boys to probable meth addicts and hoodrats, we headed back to the Economy Inn. We hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we ran screaming across the street to Mountain Mike’s pizza where we got an unexpectedly delicious garlic chicken pizza…and moustaches.

The next morning we set out for Yosemite National Park after a very, very hearty breakfast at the Sixth Street Diner. (Sidenote: while I loved the good people of Los Banos, they were most perplexed by my breakfast request for hot tea.) We saw some hella big trees in the Mariposa Grove, El Capitan, a bunch of deer, and some elk. This may not sound like much, but when you come from Connecticut, you can’t really even begin to imagine the scale of Yosemite’s trees and mountains. There is just nothing like it…and, though we always see warnings about falling boulders along roads in New England, in California we actually saw a road covered by a landslide of rocks. Insanity.

El Capitan

By dark, we were heading back to Los Banos and our new friends. (I should mention that we’d planned on driving in a big circle and heading back toward San Francisco that night…until we got offered a free BBQ.) When we got back to Azul, we were pretty much part of local legend. Anthony was there as usual, with our buddy Raul, (whose voice was so hilarious I cannot even begin to describe it accurately) but Everett was nowhere to be found. Luckily, though, we already had new friends waiting for us…including Luis, the mastermind behind the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had; Luis’ brother Gonzo who served us the bangin’ chilli beans; and Stinky Larry, who raises goats. Over the course of the night we became known as “The Girls from Connecticut.” People kept walking up to us and saying, things like, “So, you’re the girls from Connecticut?” or “Connecticut Girls, what’s your story? How’d you end up here?”

Then the PrissyBitch hustled the pool table for awhile (when she lays off the Vodka she’s a woman of many talents). She won 2 out of 3 games and earned the respect of the local hustlers (one of which went on to win about $100 before the night was over). Meanwhile a bunch of Jersey-looking dudes wandered in and the PrissyBitch and I considered having them ejected. If I wanted to see guys in stonewashed jeans, button-down striped shirts, with huge cubic zirconia in their ears I’d go to Newark. Instead, PB stuck her foot up one of their asses, and I pointed out a hickey on another’s neck. That fine gentleman told me there was room for another to which I, quite wittily replied if I do say so, “That’s the mark of an amateur my friend.”

Then…they told us about Jessie’s.

Anthony, his lovely wife Laura, and Raul warned us against going there…right before taking us. Basically, it was a Mexican bar–filled with guys with cowboy hats and girls in really, really, skimpy clothing. (This was around the same time Raul started lecturing us on how we shouldn’t be hiding under sweaters –even though it was 50 degrees out.) Upon our entrance, Raul informed us “You no pay for nothing!” And we didn’t…which included the cover and our drinks (though we hadn’t paid for more than a round or two since showing up at Los Banos thanks to the wonderful people we’d met). A live band started, and people started dancing (most aptly described by saying they stood very close, moved their feet so fast it was almost imperceptible, and grinded their genitals together). It was A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.

Hugs for hungover Everett.

Still, we quickly decided that when Anthony and Laura left, so would we. As a result, we only hung around Jessie’s long enough for two drinks before calling it a night. We left Raul and headed back toward the PT Cruiser, and decided to stop into Azul to use the bathroom…and then we found Everett again!

Having found our old buddy we just couldn’t leave, so we stayed for another round and were happy to see Raul pop up behind the bar. It was well past 10 o’clock by this point, and so the crowd was changing. Once Everett started leaving, so did we. Laying in bed back at the Economy Inn, we were sad to think we’d have to leave our new friends. Luckily, we got Anthony and Laura’s address. We fully intend on sending Christmas gifts to the folks at Azul.

After breakfast at Eddie’s we hauled ass back to San Francisco…where we were mightily disappointed. We headed down to the piers where we missed the last boat to Alcatraz, looked at some sea lions, made ourselves sick on a Merry-Go-Round, and then got lost looking to make friends with some gays in the Castro. The PrissyBitch’s Marriott points got us a free room across the bridge in Oakland so we headed over there hoping we could make some friends in a local bar.

We didn’t even come close.

Instead, we tried to check into the wrong hotel — because they have Marriotts literally across the street from each other — and then had a crazy man bang on  the window we were eating near, spit on it when we chose not to acknowledge him, and then storm into our restaurant to demand a napkin from the waitress to wash his lougie off the window. We armed ourselves with butterknives, and then had to wonder how we both survived living and working in New York City for years without ever having had this happen, only to be accosted a few hours after arriving in Oakland.

We stopped in at a bar that claimed to specialize in Belgian beers on our way back to the hotel, but mostly got confused. The shades were pulled, and inside there was what looked a private party, but they invited us in. The guy we thought was the bartender apparently wasn’t but left the room and got us drinks–somewhere–anyway. After one awful tasting beer we left and decided to go sit in the hotel bar and wallow in our misery, and reminisce about the good old days back in Los Banos.

The next morning PrissyBitch got on a plane bound for the east coast, and I hopped a train to San Jose. We’ve decided we’re going to winter in Los Banos from now on, mostly because we don’t think anyone will believe how great that place is if they don’t see if for themselves.

We’ll be back, guys!

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