People and Places

Writers’ Choice

Illustration By Chris Sickels

Best Place To Enter The Early Part Of The 20th Century
Sacramento Rail Depot
More like a cathedral than a train station, the rail depot at 5th and I streets suffers from neglect in a city always self-consciously looking forward. The station, built in 1927, gives off a distinctive old-world feel made only more pronounced by the lack of care the city and its owner, Union Pacific, have shown it over the years. From the amazing mural dramatizing the joining of the transcontinental railroad to the opulent chandeliers that hang overhead, the depot is a reminder to all that public space doesn’t have to be so cold. Whether the depot goes the way of old Edmonds Field or the Alhambra Theater is an open question. In May, the City Council endorsed a plan to make the depot into a gateway to a new transit hub where buses, trains and light rail would all meet. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. 401 I St.

Best Place To Watch The Nocturnal Activities Of Rats
The McKinley Park duck pond
By day, the pond in McKinley Park is a magnet for budding romances, people hopelessly lost in thought, and fascinated duck-watching kiddies. When the sun goes down, however, the pond belongs to the rats—big ones. On just a casual stroll around the pond’s perimeter, one can find countless vermin scampering around the concrete edge where land meets water. Sometimes they stop and dip into the pool, sometimes they venture a little toward the sidewalk that circles the water, but the rats are there, having a ball. It’s not just the prevalence of rats that initially throws you when you notice them, but also the sheer size. Some measure at least 8 inches long. Ick. The corner of Alhambra and H Street.

Best George Burns Roses
McKinley Park Rose Garden
You know you’ve made it when someone names a rose after you. Stroll through the flowered arches of the McKinley Park Rose Garden and see how much celebrity flora you can spot in this fragrant sanctuary. The periodic shady benches are perfect for lunches, romantic trysts or contemplating how a celebrity rose reflects its namesake. Be forewarned, however, that if you’re hoping to spot the Judy Garland rose—she’s somewhere over the rainbow in the Capitol Rose Garden. Alhambra and H Street.

Best Reason To Visit The New Cal-EPA Building
Collection of Serlin Quilts
The new EPA building’s outdoor installation of gigantic stone slabs is pretty awesome, but inside is a more impressive collection, shy and retiring in comparison. Merle Axelrad Serlin’s eight hanging quilts can be found on eight different floors of the 25-floor building. They have almost nothing in common with traditional quilts. With her architect’s eye for design, Serlin used textured fabrics and unusual stitching to create almost three-dimensional scenes from rural Northern California: the varied barks of redwood trees, an aerial view of farmland, a distant view of Mount Shasta, river rocks and shoreline. Her quilts are so carefully planned and executed that they resemble paintings—paintings with depth. And she’s usually cool enough to let you step into her studio on the second floor of The Building on R Street to examine how she works, what her original drawings look like, and how all eight pieces look together as prints—though this doesn’t excuse you from a half dozen rides up and down the EPA elevators to see the originals. California Environmental Protection Agency Building, 1001 I St., (916) 445-3846.

Best Creatively Restored Victorian

Photo by Larry Dalton

Best Place To Spy On Wild Turkeys
Effie Yeaw Nature Center
Sometimes the best part of getting outdoors is sneaking up on various wild things: resting deer, foraging rabbits, big goofy flightless birds poking around in the grass. In Carmichael’s Ancil Hoffman Park a few miles along the American River, these species and more entertain human visitors padding down crisscrossing trails to spy on them. The Nature Center also houses rescued animals like Virginia, the great horned owl. The center’s indoor exhibits and the outdoor replica of a Native American village are geared toward teaching kids about preservation, so bring a few wild things of your own, or borrow the neighbors’ kids. Ancil Hoffman Park, Carmichael, (916) 489-4918.

Best Creatively Restored Victorian
2413 Capitol Ave.
The home of commercial photographer John Swain, this predominantly white 3,000-square-foot Victorian is punctuated with gold-painted columns, bright-red trim and gold-flecked, red-and-blue-swirled stained glass. The red front door displays a heavy iron hand poised for knocking. Step inside, and it’s an eclectic mixture of red velvet, ornate gold trim and brightly-colored patterns from India. The artwork ranges from black-and-white family photos by Swain to the dream-like paintings of Chagall. A statue of Ganesh, the Hindu Elephant God, greets guests in the foyer, and Fro, the Swain’s Conure parrot that is named after Frodo from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, has her own room in the house.

Best Place To Get High And Walk Around At Night
Fabulous 40s
Ever just miss the sensation of visiting the parents during the holiday season, sneaking off with a sibling and firing up a doobie while checking out your old neighborhood and seeing it with a different set of eyes? If you do, just head on down to this prototypical stuffy, Beaver Cleaver perfect enclave in East Sac. You may not be from a ‘hood as well-heeled as this one, but if yours is a long way away, this will have to do. Just strolling by the manicured lawns and picture-perfect porches can inspire in you just the smidgen of anarchy needed to fire up a “J” and head for Ronnie and Nancy’s old crib on 45th Street. What you do when you get there, dude, is really up to you.

Best Place To Go After You Storm Out Of The House
River Road
You fought, you slammed the door on the way out, you slammed the door when you got in the car. Now what? Get on Highway 160 and head south toward the Delta. There’s 50 miles of winding river road before you get to Rio Vista—plenty of time to think things over and cool off with the Delta breeze. With the river on one side and acres of orchards on the other, and at least a half-dozen bucolic little Delta towns along the way, a long drive on River Road is certain to take a bit of the edge off even the worst of days. If not, it’s easy enough just to drive your car off the levy. But hey, it’s never as bad as it seems.

Best Place To Take Your Dog
Partner Park
The off-leash dog park located behind Belle Cooledge Community Center near Land Park is one of the few locations in the Sacramento area where you can legally let your dog run free without a leash. It’s fun to watch their tails wag and ears flap in the breeze. The hilly 2.5-acre park is open from 5 in the morning till 10 at night. The park is fenced, and is well-lit in the evenings. The prime time to take Fido is about 6 p.m., after many of the nine-to-fivers get off work and come home to a restless hound. At that time, countless dogs of all sizes and ages can be seen frolicking, playing and fetching while friendly, proud parents sit back and chat with one another about the one thing they have in common—their dogs. Just remember to bring a “doggy bag” to clean up after your pup—because they always seem to relieve themselves in front of an audience. 5699 South Land Park Drive, (916) 264-5200 (Parks and Recreation general info).

Best Place (Not) To Get Your Photo Taken
The intersection of Fair Oaks Boulevard and Howe Avenue
If you’re tooling along in your car and happen to enter the intersection when the trigger-happy camera goes click and flash, smile!—but you’re not on Candid Camera. You’ve just been caught by the techno police and, if it looks the least bit like you may have transgressed, will receive your punishment in the mail. The quality of the photos? So-so, but apparently good enough to be constitutional even though such policing should have Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell turning in their graves. The cost? $270.

Best Time Machine Back To The ‘80s
The Rage
Like Doc Brown’s Delorean in Back to the Future, The Rage nightclub during their Saturday night “Way Bitchin’ ‘80s” night has the power to take visitors back in time, back to the days of Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. Even the crowd gets into the act, clad in those bygone ‘80s styles. It’s kind of creepy, really, unless you’re an ‘80s aficionado, in which case it’s party time, Go-Go’s-style. You can move your body to the sounds of early REM or The Cure while watching video screens playing Footloose, Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club while sipping one of the 80-cent drink specials. Sure, it’s all dance club shtick, but it’s a fun place to get a deep dose of ‘80s nostalgia. 1890 Arden
Way, (916) 929-0232.

Best Historic Building — the Capitol.

Photo by Larry Dalton

Best Historic Building
Capitol Building
Of course it has to be the Capitol. Grandeur, historical significance, Roman Corinthian excess … it has it all. Spotlighted in the middle of Capitol Park, it’s a living museum of stately chambers, marble mosaic and paintings of past governors leading up to the elaborately painted rotunda, which has been compared by Citysearch Sacramento to the inside of a Fabergé egg. Some of the Capitol’s chambers, restored to turn-of-the-century elegance, are so impressive that they inspire an almost obscene combination of awe and patriotism for past legends of state government. 10th and L streets, (916) 324-0333.

Best Women’s Bathroom For Privacy
Macy’s downtown
Be prepared for a shocker as you enter the women’s restroom at the third floor/back corner of the downtown Macy’s near the movie theaters. After passing through a huge lounge (which sometimes doubles as a storage area for random Macy’s overstock), you find one of the most amazing public restroom outposts in Sacramento. Girls, we’re talking individual cubicle stalls, each with its own sink, gold faucets and mirror, sliding doors and floor-to-ceiling walls separating each hutch from the next. Privacy city, ladies. Just like at home.

Best Proof That Politics Is Like Sausage
California Legislature, last day of session
You’ve heard the expression, right? Those who like sausage and appreciate politics shouldn’t watch either one being made. Well, in Sacramento, the best time to see the political process in all its grinding glory is on the last night of the legislative session, which this year came last week, on September 14. That’s the night when legislators burn the midnight oil, clearing away all the business they back-burnered while spending the summer playing politics. It’s when bills fire through the Assembly and Senate in such rapid succession that you truly get a sense that these guys and gals have no idea what they’re voting for or against. And then that blur gets occasionally punctuated by real issues, about which legislators have their last chance to make speeches before leaving town, as the backers of certain bills try to fight through the fatigue of their colleagues, hoping for last-minute victory. Pretty it ain’t, but it is interesting. State Capitol, 10th and L streets, (916) 445-1412.

Best Role Model For Waiters
Angelo Tsakopoulos
Attention wait people of Sacramento! You too may have a future as a pre-eminent philanthropist and big bucks developer! It is fact that mega-millionaire Angelo Tsakopoulos—founder and chairman of AKT Development Corp., one of the region’s most dominant builders of suburban tracts—started out his working days in Sacramento as none other than a waiter. After emigrating from his native Greece in the early ‘50s, Tsakopoulos bid his time waiting tables, we assume, to improve his people skills and make friends and influence real estate developers who, apparently, passed along a few good tips. Message to local politicos: Don’t knock the wait staff!

Best Activist
Lynell Clancy
Clancy knew she was taking a risk. Working with the Sacramento Area Needle Exchange (SANE), she delivered new syringes in exchange for used ones, decreasing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and functioning right beneath the radar of law enforcement. But Clancy got caught, and prosecuted, and is now on the conscience of the County Board of Supervisors, who could, with a vote, make it legal for Clancy and other volunteers to continue their work. While on probation, Clancy continues to provide counsel by phone and assists in evaluating the effects of needle exchange programs. She also does street outreach, helping drug users create action plans for either finding treatment or avoiding risk. For putting her freedom on the line to stem the spread of disease, huzzah! Sacramento Area Needle Exchange, 8015 Freeport Blvd., (916) 665-1332.

Best Hangout For Politicos
Simon’s has been the undisputed king of Capitol watering holes for a long time. When you walk in you understand why. Besides the obvious benefit to being so close to the Capitol building, there’s the wonderful U-shaped bar which enhances the bar’s openness. You can either slide up to a bar stool and take your place amid the odd compliment of local ordinary Joes plus aides, lobbyists and elected officials or you can find a place near the back and simply observe who’s talking to whom. Don’t forget to check out the wall near the back—you’ll see photos of folks that make up a who’s who of California government bigwigs, including the Assembly’s bear-hugging speaker, Big Bob Hertzberg. 1415 16th St., (916) 442-9537.

Best Woman Warrior Against Sprawl
Mary Brill
Is Sacramento destined to become another Los Angeles with its dirty air, congested freeways, wall-to-wall traffic jams? Not if Sierra Club activist Mary Brill has anything to do with it. Brill is campaign coordinator for the club’s new anti-sprawl focus and will be organizing a grassroots lobbying effort to encourage “smart growth” infrastructure decisions in the Sacramento region. As we all know, smart growth translates into better communities. Brill’s message: We can make a difference in the shape of our region if we only try. Yep, there’s something about Mary. The Sierra Club, 1414 K St., (916) 557-1100.

Best Place To Mail A Letter When It Absolutely Must Get There Quick

Photo by Larry Dalton

Best Martian
Kim Stanley Robinson
One of the region’s most prolific authors, Davis resident Kim Stanley Robinson is most famous for his Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars) which follows a cast of memorable scientists and anarchists as they colonize and terraform the Red Planet. A winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, Robinson also published The Martians, a collection of stories, alternate histories and poems based on the Mars trilogy. “I like mountains above the tree line, desolate coastlines, deserts and wilderness generally,” says the author. “Mars gives you a lot of that.” Robinson has also written a dozen or so books, including a futuristic trio of novels set in California.

Best Actor To Play Gray Davis In A TV Movie
Warren Beatty? Nah, too charismatic. How about Tim Allen? Nope, still too charismatic. Maybe Davis could just play himself? No, he doesn’t even do a very convincing job playing the governor in real life. Then it hit us: Ken. You know, the Ken doll, Barbie’s beau. We could to a stop-action film, and hire Pixar to jazz it up with cool computerized effects, like making Davis’ lips move while the rest of his expression remains unchanged, just like in real life. Think about it. Ken. He’s perfect for the role: plastic, easily posable by his handlers, always with perfectly lacquered hair and pasted on smile, rigid and unchanging no matter what the circumstances. We really could be onto something here.

Best Cab Driver
Lou Solitske
You’d expect a Sacramento cabbie with 14 years experience to know the quickest route from the Capitol to the airport, but would you expect him to recite poetry on the way? You would if you called Lou Solitske. This lease driver with Yellow Cab has his own hotline number and a repertoire of original verse about life in the driver’s seat. “All night long, I roam these streets / picking up drunks, sweethearts and freaks,” begins “Taxi Tales,” the title poem in both Solitske’s spoken word CD and his self-published book. Life on the road isn’t all rhymes and meter, however. During his career, Solitske has experienced six attempted robberies. (Criminals beware: four of the would-be muggers wound up in the hospital.) Nonetheless, he considers himself to be “very, very lucky” in life. “Being in this business allows me to give back—whether it’s rushing a sick child to the hospital or rescuing a battered woman. Besides,” he adds, “it beats working for a living.” (916) 203-2222.

Best Sacramentan To Make It Big
Dusty Baker
Not only is San Francisco Giant manager (and former Sacramentan) Dusty Baker arguably the most loved Giant since Willie McCovey, but he’s also a damn fine manager too, having won the National League manager of the year award three times. As a youth, Baker (or “Bakes” as he’s commonly known around the Giant clubhouse) graduated from Del Campo High in Carmichael and attended American River College. And he still visits Sacramento from time to time—mostly to hunt and fish. Aside from being a much loved figure in the Bay Area and beyond, what makes Bakes stand out is his sense of cool. See his endearing habit of calling everyone “dude,” and his inclination toward fashionable eyewear.

Best Psychic
Nancy Matz
Joining the words “best” and “psychic” in a sentence is a risky proposition; contrary to the “one size fits all” idea put across by the media, getting a psychic reading is a deeply subjective affair. Add in the paradox that although everyone is somewhat psychic, most of us would rather call on outside practitioners—many of whom are, ahem, less than trustworthy. Nancy Matz, the Sacramento (well, Fair Oaks) psychic, was your typical suburban mom (married, kids, job at the phone company) until a bout with cancer opened her up to a different world. She later wrote a book, Two Worlds: Developing Your Psychic Skills, about her experiences. Matz has been a fixture on the local scene for the past decade, giving readings, and doing tours at the Old City Cemetery. At least to this observer, she seems to be the genuine article; a few things she predicted in 1994 came true over the course of the years that followed. However, as with anything less tangible than nuts and bolts, caveat emptor. or (916) 728-1299.

Best Place To Mail A Letter When It Absolutely Must Get There Quick
Sacramento Post Office
It doesn’t matter if yours is a passionate love entreaty, a “Dear John” letter, or a stack of direct mail advertising on cheap auto parts. The Sacramento post office headquarters on Royal Oaks Drive (off Highway 160) will get your message there on time and, indeed, has hourly pickups until midnight every day. Even on weekends! This place is as close to the Internet as snail mail is gonna get. 2000 Royal Oaks Drive.

Best Riverboat
Delta King
OK, OK, we know it’s not really a boat anymore. Moored on the banks of the Sacramento River, the Delta King was turned into a hotel in 1984 after years of neglect. But in its glory days, from 1927 to 1940, the riverboat traveled the river, the Delta and then the Bay to San Francisco, carrying with it hundreds of drunken, dancing revelers. In its current state, the Delta King is more a reminder that life in California was once experienced at a slower, more regal, pace. It doesn’t just have to be a memory though. In the evenings, you can still have a drink in the Delta Lounge, gaze at the Tower Bridge and imagine how much fun it would have been to have been there then. 1000 Front St., Old Sacramento.

Best Abandoned Structure
The City Incinerator
Tucked behind the old Richards Railyard, the City Incinerator is one of the few remaining emblems of what industrial America used to look like. The two-story, square structure is riddled with broken windows and sits behind an iron gate and then behind a row of cyclone fence topped by concertina wire. On the east side of the building, the old truck ramp, now overgrown with weeds and trees, appears as though it might buckle and collapse at any moment.

But the most distinctive feature is the smokestack, which rises about five stories on the north side of the building. One can only imagine what sort of toxic plume that stack once belched out over the city, a concrete reminder of what it was like in the bad old days. The City Incinerator. Somewhere on North B Street. You can’t miss it.

Best Educational Activity West Of The Causeway For Kids
Explorit Science Center
Are you worried that your kids are becoming lazy, plopping themselves in front of the TV, staring at the computer screen and bending their heads over Gameboys when the sun is shining brightly outside? Well, pique their interest in the world around them and take them to the Explorit Science Center in Davis. The small center offers a wealth of programs, exhibitions and hands-on activities for the little curious ones, including reptiles, oil painting, musical instruments, all things science, and mega microscopes and telescopes. They can learn all about geology, physics, anatomy, animals, dinosaurs and much more. The center runs classes, astronomy clubs, school visits, and is open to the public on weekends and weekday afternoons. Best of all, they’ll take care of that 5th birthday party you were dreading and host one on the premises for you. It’s a great place for the kids to run around and explore, and you might even end up sitting on the floor yourself, embarking on some wonderful educational nostalgia trip. 3141 Fifth St., Davis (530) 756-1227.