People & Places

Writers’ choice

Illustration By Terry Allen

Best visual immune boosters

Wintertime camellias and citrus trees
During Sacramento’s winters, the sky is gray. The streets are gray. The tree trunks, barren of leaves, are gray. The downtown skyscrapers are gray, and if you work inside one, chances are, your cubicle is gray. After a few overcast months, your mood is gray. Luckily, nature compensates for the monochromatic color scheme of an urban winter with bright punctuation marks of color. Pink and fuchsia camellias crowd bushes all over downtown, while citrus trees dangle golden orbs of fruit over the sidewalks. Resting your eyes on these unexpected bursts of vibrancy can lift the spirits and keep you healthy, like a visual dose of Vitamin C.

Best way to lessen your middle-class guilt

Volunteer at Loaves & Fishes
If you live, work or play in the downtown area, you’re faced with this decision several times a day: Do I give money to the homeless person asking me for it, or do I keep walking by? Will money actually help the person, or will it ultimately increase his or her problems? It’s hard to know how to aid those in need by yourself. Helping Loaves & Fishes provide organized “survival services for the homeless” might be a better idea. If you’re pressed for time, you can donate money to the nonprofit organization online. If you’d rather serve your community in person, call and schedule a time to volunteer by preparing and serving a meal once a month. It’s a much-needed gift for the homeless in your community, not to mention your own conscience.
1321 North C Street, (916) 446-0874,

Best place to fall in love with la dolce vita

Italian Cultural Society
If you aspire to watch Roberto Benigni films without subtitles, start here. Cloistered on the second floor of the Sierra 2 Center, the language school is run by Patrizia Cinquini Cerruti, a native of Tuscany with an infectious enthusiasm for the Italian language and culture. Her nine-week course for travelers is a primer on conversation, vocabulary and etiquette. For your $115 investment, you can impress waiters with your correct pronunciation of “gnocchi” (nyok-ee) and save yourself the embarrassment of ordering a cappuccino with lunch (about as taboo as drinking tequila with your Krispy Kreme). If you’re determined to reach that subtitle-free nirvana, comprehensive beginners through advanced courses are available. The center also offers guided trips to Italy (Cerruti’s trip to Tuscany sells out every year), a library, free films, lectures, art exhibits, and classes and summer camps for bambini.
2791 24th Street, Room 13; (916) 482-5900;

Best place to find a best friend

Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Something is clearly off kilter when people will pay hundreds of dollars for a puppy with a lineage more royal than Prince William’s, though thousands of unwanted animals are euthanized each year. You can simultaneously bring order to the world and find your own über-dog (or cat, bunny or reptile) for less than $100 at the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ adoption center. Sure, you’ll encounter the inevitabilities of any animal shelter: barking, sad faces and random odors. But the building is new and spacious, the kennels clean and well-lighted, the animals well-cared-for, and the staff conscientious and knowledgeable. Staff members will talk to you about an animal’s breed and temperament and help you find the best match for your home and lifestyle. You’ll even find them lining up, Kleenex in hand, to say goodbye to a particularly favorite Fido when it’s his turn to go home.
6201 Florin-Perkins Road, (916) 383-7387,

Best argument that you can go home again

Matias Bombal
It’s hard to think of a one-word job description that fits Matias Bombal, though a few possibilities include: promoter, booker, manager, master of ceremonies, disc jockey, historian and showman. Anyway, it’s easy to see that this is a man in love with music, movies and performance. Known best in Sacramento for playing a crucial role in helping restore the Crest Theatre (he later helped do the same for the Guild and the Colonial theaters), Bombal became famous, from 1986 to 1991, for his colorful stage introductions at independent movie theaters and for his seemingly endless appearances as master of ceremonies at local charitable events. Bombal bid farewell to the River City in the mid-1990s en route to the central-Oregon coast to manage the Bijou Theatre in Lincoln City. But now he’s back, and we’re the better for it. Among other things, Bombal has been hosting a KXJZ classic-jazz and swing show on Sundays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Welcome back, Matias!

Best state-agency spokesperson

Sigrid Bathen
Often, getting information out of state agencies is a pain in the ass. Some, of course, are better than others, but a lot depends on the person who’s supposed to deal with the press. Thankfully, for every Business, Transportation & Housing Agency (boo!), there’s a Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The FPPC, which functions as the state’s political watchdog, covers some pretty complex and arcane bureaucratic territory, and that’s why it’s rewarding to find it is one of the most press-friendly outposts in state government. Commission spokeswoman Sigrid Bathen returns calls and offers clear explanations on the finer parts of political reform. It’s probably something she appreciates after years of working as a political scribe (including a stint as an editor at the California Journal). Last year, Bathen’s 95 colleagues in the California State Information Officers Council recognized her with a lifetime-achievement award. These days, in addition to her five-year gig at the FPPC, Bathen also teaches aspiring journos at California State University, Sacramento—though it might be better if she’d start teaching her fellow government spokespeople a thing or two, as well.

Best orator

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy
Of all the windbags in Sacramento, Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy is the windiest. Whatever the topic, the Monrovia Republican is all but guaranteed to hold forth with some denunciation or other. Though fellow Republicans may cringe privately when they see their party’s counterpart to the outspoken liberal Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg reach for the microphone, Mountjoy proudly carries the banner for the social conservatives. During the last budget debate, Mountjoy gave a graphic floor speech on the evils of publicly funded abortion before casting a no vote—the same way he’s voted on every budget since taking office three years ago. Two years ago, Mountjoy incensed gay lawmakers when he said in a floor debate that it’s “not OK” to be gay. A Democratic aide responded by making and distributing buttons that said: “Better Gay Than Mountjoy.” He may not like government, but at least he makes it entertaining to watch.

Best loudmouth-ful

The Rush Limbaugh Burger at Bowinkles
Long since Rush Limbaugh ditched the Sacramento AM dial for the nationally syndicated airwaves, the conservative sage has mocked Rio Linda as a backward little town full of slack-jawed yokels. “Or, for those of you in Rio Linda … ” is Limbaugh’s standard transition into dumb speak, which he dusts off whenever something must be translated for the layperson. So, maybe it’s fitting that Bowinkles, a lonely little burger stand in the town Limbaugh derides, offers its own left-handed honor for the man who makes the place sound like a haven for toothless illiterates. The Rush Limbaugh Burger, $6.99, comes on a kaiser roll with bacon, cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and two half-pound ground-beef patties. (For those of you in Rio Linda, that’s one pound of meat.) “You supply the attitude, we’ll supply the pound of beef,” reads the slogan on the drive-through menu.
912 Oak Street in Rio Linda, (916) 991-9996.

Best secret parking spot


Photo By Larry Dalton

1900 block of G Street
Although the good citizens of Midtown Sacramento are blessed with things like tall trees and charming alleyways, they also must live with the curse of moving their cars at least once a week on street-cleaning day—or finding a yellow slip of paper under the windshield wiper. For anyone leaving town for a few days, that complication can be a remedied by having a friend move your car when the time comes or by finding somewhere else to park. But there’s one little stretch of street that didn’t get the move-your-car parking rules when City Hall set up its oppressive regulation regime: the south side of G Street, between 19th and 20th streets. For whatever reason, there’s no two-hour parking restriction and no weekly street cleaning, so it’s a great place to dump the old Buick for a few days. And, hey, there’s no reason it can’t be a great place for Midtown workers to park for free all day.
1900 block of G Street.

Best Capitol reporter

George Skelton
At a Sacramento rally staged by the governor, a couple of cops came up to Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton and told him he had to move away from the area if he wanted to keep interviewing a labor activist who’d come to protest. Skelton, who started covering the Capitol in 1961, told the cops they had no right to push him around—and they left him alone. On the page, the pugnacious Skelton is one of those old-school scribes who don’t take guff from anyone. His twice-weekly column Capitol Journal is tough but fair, lauding one day and prodding the next. Skelton giveth and Skelton taketh away, always in a way that only a guy who came to town long before any sitting state elected official could. And he’s known for being accurate, doing his homework and tooling around town in a ragtop Mustang GT with personalized plates that read “Pundit1.”

Best place to parler français

Café Rolle
Though French-speaking presidential candidate Senator John Kerry will not be making an appearance locally anytime soon, lovers of the Fifth Republic have found sanctuary at this charming East Sacramento eatery. Beginners and native speakers alike are known to polish their French at the amicable Café Rolle, debating issues such as Zizou’s Euro 2004 performance or the finer points of Lance Armstrong’s latest triumph in the Tour de France. Stop by for a salad niçoise and a glass of Sancerre while shooting the breeze with Chef William Rolle and his dapper assistant Michael Harris (that is, unless you are still boycotting French wine, les imbéciles!).
5357 H Street, (916) 455-9140.

Best place to find musicians with a day job

If you count past and present employees, dozens of local musicians have made a living at StateNet, a legislative and regulatory tracking and information service with headquarters in Midtown. Representatives of local bands Daycare, the Trouble Makers, Th’ Losin Streaks, the Shruggs, Black Dahlias, No Kill I, Alkali Flats, Rock the Light, Sunshine Smile, Filibuster, Hotel Pistol, Scatter the Mud, Knock Knock, the Feeling, Sonic Love Affair, Urban Jazz Session and the Secretions all have put in time at StateNet, as have a number of solo artists, like Anton Barbeau. Blame it on word of mouth in Sacto’s increasingly incestuous music community and the fact that talent doesn’t always equal rent money.
2101 K Street, (800) 726-4566,

Best place to disprove your body image

Typically when a woman wants to feel better about herself, the last thing she’ll do is try on clothes. But the communal dressing room at Loehmann’s can be a body-image-boosting experience. Nowhere else can you get such a close-up look at other women’s flaws. See the buxom blonde deflate without her push-up bra. Exhale in relief when the size-four 30-something exposes her upper-thigh cellulite. Of course, if you come here for enough voyeuristic subterfuge, you’ll inevitably encounter someone who looks as good without clothes as she does in them (guaranteed, she’ll be wearing a thong and have shampoo-ad caliber hair, too). But take comfort in your surroundings—at least you’re in a convenient place to do some consolation shopping.
Loehmann’s Plaza, 2555 Fair Oaks Boulevard; (916) 483-3274;

Best lesbian literary icon

Ann Bannon
The greater Sacramento area has no shortage of literary lions, but Ann Bannon—a pen name—has had the distinction of seeing her work go from being dismissed as trashy pulp fiction when it first appeared to seeing it become the subject of academic study. Odd Girl Out, a story of forbidden lesbian love in a sorority house, was a best-selling paperback of 1957—and Bannon, then a young Philadelphia housewife and mother, was as different from her characters as one could get while still living on the same planet. The five books that make up the Beebo Brinker chronicles have been reprinted in the 1970s by Arno Press, in the 1980s by Naiad Press, in the 1990s as a special edition by the Quality Paperback Book Club and in recent editions by Cleis Press that include nostalgic pulp art. Meanwhile, Bannon has had a successful academic career at California State University, Sacramento.

Best exercise in optimism for downtown apartment dwellers

Creative cockroach visualization
If you’ve lived in one of downtown Sacramento’s older apartment buildings, chances are you’ve had this experience at least once: You’re about to draw a bath when you see one of Sacramento’s hefty cockroaches waving up at you from the bottom of the tub. Bath temporarily on hold, you now have two choices. You can run around screaming and spraying the intruder with hairspray, perfume, deodorant or whichever aerosol can you grab first. Or, you can pause to consider the fact that, while most cities’ apartments are plagued by tiny German cockroaches, Sacramento plays host to large, brown roach-beasts similar to those found in tropical paradises like Hawaii and Mexico. Seen from that perspective, the roach at the bottom of your tub is actually rather exotic—like a mai tai or a hibiscus flower. So, open the windows, smell the gardenias on the breeze, wave back at the roach and enjoy your tropical setting.

Best edifying stroll to take on a random Saturday morning

Through Capitol Park and then the state Capitol
Pick a weekend morning when you have a little time to burn, and head to Capitol Park between L and N streets just east of the Capitol building. Get out of the car and start walking. You’ll find more statues, monuments and display gardens than you thought possibly could fit in one park. Each has something to offer—especially the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a still-emotionally-charged tribute that features the names of the more than 5,000 California service members who died or went missing in action in that war. After you’ve taken all that in, head straight into the building itself, the one that’s said to make locals feel like strangers in their own town. After a quick security check at the L Street entrance (no worse than entering a courthouse), stroll the long hallways at your leisure, consider the county-by-county showcases, the golden dome, the historic governor’s office and, yes, the new office of Arnold. Head up the winding walnut staircase and check out the gubernatorial portraits (no Arnold yet, but find a wonderful mug of former Governor Jerry Brown). Don’t forget to spy on Capitol staffers working the weekend. And don’t forget: These people work for you.
10th and L streets, (916) 324-0333,

Best place to eavesdrop on K.J.

Sunday brunch on the Tower Cafe patio
Locals don’t really need an excuse to join friends for a scrumptious weekend brunch on the Tower Cafe’s outdoor patio. But if the stuffed French toast isn’t reason enough, now there’s this, too: Former NBA all-star Kevin Johnson has been known to frequent the place in the morning hours. Raised in Sacramento’s Oak Park, the infamous Phoenix Suns point guard has received accolades for his work on and off the basketball court. A world-class businessman, community activist and philanthropist, K.J. set up the St. Hope Corp. to revitalize the long-blighted community where he grew up. (A related organization, St. Hope Public Schools, runs Sacramento High School.) Getting things accomplished as quickly as he planned has been tough going—as Johnson freely admits—but his dream of an invigorated Oak Park remains. Yes, and so does his love of a leisurely brunch.
1518 Broadway, (916) 441-0222.

Best sister city

Liestal, Switzerland
In 1989, the city of Sacramento issued a resolution declaring Liestal, Switzerland, an official sister city. There is a historical basis for this decree, moreover: John Sutter, hailing from the Swiss region of Basel (where Liestal is located), landed his flotilla in Sacramento at the corner of what is now A and 29th streets, naming his newfound keep New Helvetia. Unfortunately, it took nine more years for him to strike it rich in Coloma. Liestal, however, is a goldmine! A mere 20 miles from the lovely Schwarzwald (a.k.a. Black Forest, the infamous backdrop setting in Hansel and Gretel), Liestal is Sacramento’s only sister city in Europe—certainly reason enough to slap on that backpack and polish up your German. Liestal is just five miles from the German border and 15 from the French.

Ann Bannon

Best place to pick up a Watchtower magazine

K Street Mall in the early morning
In the 1930s and 1940s, Jehovah’s Witnesses did their street preaching with speaker trucks and sandwich boards that proclaimed, “Religion is a snare and a racket!” The end may (still) be near, but the rhetoric’s been toned down a bit. Early on most weekday mornings, impeccably dressed and quietly polite evangelists stand in pairs and small groups on the K Street Mall, offering recent issues of the Watchtower. Unlike the early-bird panhandlers, who occasionally rant about impending doom while requesting spare change, at least these folks want to give you something before the world goes up in flames. Either way, the mall’s sunrise crowd is sure that Armageddon’s coming, probably, real soon, any time now.
K Street Mall.

Best imported icon

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sure, he did just about everything but don a hazmat suit in order to characterize Sacramento as some crooked backwater that needed to be cleaned up right quick. And yes, now that he and Maria have given up on their search for local digs, everyone’s likelihood of having a movie-star neighbor living next-door has been substantially decreased. But still, there’s no question that Arnold Schwarzenegger has put Sacramento, Caleeforneeya, on the international pop-culture map. From Boston to Borneo, Arnold has pretty much guaranteed that no matter where you go, if you say you’re from Sacramento, people will inquire about what it’s like to have an action figure as a leader. But hey, let them laugh. After all, they’re next.

Best TV reporter

Dan Adams
Ask local broadcast-television connoisseurs to identify the single best TV news reporter in Sacramento, and the first name out of their mouths these days tends to be KXTV’s Dan Adams. After more than two decades on the job at Channel 10 (including an early stint for that station as its reporter in Stockton), Adams brings experience, know-how and intensity to the job, as with his recent report that instructed viewers in how to avoid local intersections that have those Big Brother red-light traffic cameras. He’s won plenty of awards, including four Northern California Emmys, a “Best of the West Award” for investigative reporting and an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism. The guy knows the Sacramento Valley like the back of his hand, but he doesn’t seem to tire of pointing out the countless stories—good, bad and ugly—that deserve our attention.
KXTV News10,

Best advocate for social justice

Carl Pinkston
Carl Pinkston spends his busy days turning high-flying ideals into an improved quality of life for Sacramento’s underprivileged residents. Tired of the “missionary” approach to activism, Pinkston and his partners don’t swoop into a neighborhood and try to solve all its problems. Instead, they work organically. Pinkston seeds intergenerational teams so that people with real needs, such as safe streets and available health care, begin to provide these things for themselves. Teaching kids to be early organizers for social change could raise a new generation of energized adults committed to democratic participation and self-reliance; at the very least, the Freedom Bound Center, the organization founded by Pinkston and partner Eric Vega, is teaching youngsters what it means to be part of the solution.
Freedom Bound Center, 4104 44th Street, (916) 736-9843.

Best participant in democracy

Bill Grant
Anybody who even occasionally observes the Sacramento City Council—in person or at home on Metro Cable—likely will recognize Bill Grant. He’s the white-haired, wisecracking fellow who shows up at just about every single council meeting to let city leaders (and the rest of us in the audience) know what’s going on in his neck of the woods—especially the goings-on at the Hart Senior Center in East Sacramento. What’s amazing is that Grant insists on sitting through every evening meeting, no matter what mind-numbingly dull topic is on the agenda. And he always speaks last, after everyone else has had their say—even though it guarantees he won’t be home until the wee hours of the morning, and even though the bleary-eyed councilmembers often seem to be half-listening, or milling around the dais, as he speaks. In an age when most people can’t be bothered to vote, we admire Grant’s gusto for participatory democracy.

Best creek rememberer

George Waegell
Creeks used to have names. They used to be real places important to the critters that lived in them and the people who lived around them. That changed in the auto age, when local creeks and streams became little more than anonymous ditches and storm sewers barely glimpsed from the highway at 65 mph. But if you’ve been out in the eastern part of Sacramento County, particularly along the Jackson Highway, you may have come across some big, bold, green-and-white signs proudly proclaiming names like Morrison Creek, Gerber Creek and Skunk Creek. The signs are the work of rancher and environmentalist George Waegell, who figures that a nameless creek is doomed whenever some developer or mining company wants to come in and tear it up. That’s why he spends hours researching the names and histories of local creeks and then hand-paints the signs and posts them wherever motorists will see and, hopefully, remember them.

Best collection of Sacramento- related Web sites

Sacramento Top 25
From the Web address, it’s hard to tell that this scrappy little site is a portal for all other sites highlighting the growing coolness of Sacramento. But inside, you’ll find neighborhood blogs, fun Sacramento facts, favorite Sacramento spaces and sites for everything creative Sacramentans have gone cuckoo over: local comedy troupes, French film festivals, the governor, sports teams and sustainable development.

Best political drama

The ongoing debate over a new arena for the Kings
This one has all the makings of a John Sayles film. There’s the embattled mayor (starring Heather Fargo), making a series of increasingly bold and desperate moves to salvage her political career. There’s her foil, a councilmember (played by Dave Jones), marshaling his own forces to frustrate the leading woman. There’s the royal family (billionaire team owners the Maloofs) feeling betrayed and storming off the movie set. And even the local sheriff (Big Lou Blanas) makes a late cameo appearance, though his lines are a bit tough to follow. But it was the extras, the hundreds of regular Sacramentans that packed City Hall and cried, “Show us the money!” who stole this show. We can’t wait for the sequel.

Best local scandal

Sacramento Fire Department
As with most shameful occurrences that cause disgrace, this one started with an act of aggressive stupidity. Three firefighting vehicles—one of them a fire engine—pulled up to the Radisson’s Porn Star Costume Ball last July, disgorging seven lecherous firefighters. The lads proceeded to have their pictures taken with scantily clad revelers, and one porn-party attendee later complained she was sexually assaulted in the fire truck while another firefighter looked on. Following this imbroglio, city officials were told some smokeaters also were drinking on duty and using fire trucks as babe magnets, cruising downtown nightclubs, suburban malls and theme parks for women with a penchant for men in uniform. So far, two firefighters have been fired, and one resigned. In one of his few public statements on the matter, Fire Chief Julius “Joe” Cherry provided this year’s best mixed metaphor: “As soon as someone said this is a porn party, they should have run so fast it would make their heads swim.”

Best local journalist

Andy Furillo, The Sacramento Bee
His stories occasionally get the play they deserve, but a lot of the time, you have to hunt through the B section to find them. Andy Furillo, 50, doesn’t write about glamorous topics. His prose isn’t flashy, and his stories don’t make us feel good about ourselves. But he’s one of the few scribes in town committing serious journalism on a daily basis. The 13-year Bee veteran is currently covering prisons, bringing much-needed light to that sordid and hidden corner of our world. Previously, Furillo covered poverty and produced a blistering series of stories about slums and slumlords. Read him and weep.

Best reason to toss out term limits

Darrell Steinberg
The impact of term limits in state government has not been all negative, but it makes us cringe when term limits force out a public servant like Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg. During his six years in the state Assembly, Steinberg pushed an ambitious legislative agenda that has championed underdog issues: mental health, foster care and affordable housing. He was rewarded with the chairs of the Assembly’s most powerful budget and fiscal committees, having the say over which spending bills lived and died. Steinberg also played a leadership role in resolving many of the major policy and budget issues that came before the Legislature, showing great skills as a mediator. Yet, remarkably, the power never went to his head. Steinberg is still the decent, friendly, considerate and humble person he has always been, and we look forward to his election to the state Senate in two years.