Culture clash

It’s cold, but not bone-chillingly so, on a recent Saturday night as we wait outside Luigi’s Slice & Fun Garden before the next band starts. In this in-between hour, the sidewalks buzz with activity while we relax, perched on a bench, watching people make their way through this small stretch of 20th Street between K and J streets.

There’s a couple, clutching each other desperately and reeking of boozy fumes, stumbling on their way back from Lounge on 20. Another couple, also perfumed with the scent of $10 cocktails, staggers by in the opposite direction. They pause, momentarily, on the ramp that leads up to the elevated boardwalk in front of the pizzeria and start to make out. Passersby must execute a nimble two-step in order to navigate around this morass of limbs and sloppy kisses.

Nearby, a gaggle of adolescent boys suck down sodas from paper cups, laughing noisily at hormone-fueled inside jokes while a small pack of 20-something ladies cross the street, high heels clicking in determination as they pass a man in ragtag clothes asking for change.

It’s just another typical weekend night in Midtown—a mash up of hookup culture and restless youth, the upwardly mobile and the downtrodden—and as city’s grid culture continues to expand, build and rebuild, this small city block feels like the Times Square of Sacramento, always bustling as shoppers, diners, nightlife seekers and other stragglers cross paths between Faces and the Depot, the MARRS building and nearby restaurants.

One of the teenage boys, he’s maybe 19 at the oldest, breaks away from the group and approaches. He wants to know if we have an apple. He’ll pay us handsomely, he tells us, willing to trade a pinch of bud for a fistful of fruit. His eyes are sleepy, but during the entire conversation, his feet shuffle about, as though he can’t wait to break away from this endeavor.

He snaps to attention, however, as Downtown James Brown makes a sudden, if not entirely unexpected, cameo. We all watch him, waiting.

“Do a dance,” someone calls out, but the street performer never stops, never looks back.

He’s iconic, a legend around these parts, but his talents are, it seems, not on demand. Still, this is what happens when we push together seemingly disparate forces: outsider culture and the edgy elite, gentrification and the aftermath of redevelopment.

And it’s ever changing with talks of revamping a stretch of 16th Street between S Street and Fremont Park. And, in the immediate future, downtown blocks of K Street near the Crest Theatre—previously pedestrian-only—are set to open to auto traffic. The goal: Drive in new businesses, new money spenders and new life.

Meanwhile, that kid still wants his apple. He’s entertaining us with a detailed explanation of the hippie mantra he’d chant if someone would just hand over a Granny Smith already.

He demonstrates, still fidgety as he draws his voice out into a Bill & Ted-worthy slow bro drawl.

We’re sorry to disappoint.

“Really, I’d give you an apple if I had it,” someone says.

“I had an apple—but I ate it,” says another.

And finally, this:

“What do you need an apple for?”

The kid stops shuffling and stares. A woman, presumably making her way to cocktails, hurries by in stilettos and a barely there skirt. She refuses eye contact, refuses to acknowledge this scene.

“C’mon man,” the kid says, his voice annoyed yet also amused and no longer displaying even a hint of that peaceful, hippie-bro quality. “You know what it’s for.”

We do.

But with all this growth and polishing, how will this scene eventually change? How long can this culture clash last?