Barstow Barista Boys

Watching them grab the steam spigot with their fist then milk it clean is a special moment.
Watching them grab the steam spigot with their fist then milk it clean is a special moment.

Since December I’ve made numerous trips between Palm Springs and San Francisco. It’s a grueling, 7 to 8 hour drive. With repetition though it has gotten easier.

To make it palatable some of my diversions have included: hitting the repeat button and listening to Phil Spector’s glorious “Christmas Baby Please Come Home” 15-20 times in a row; throwing tantrums when trapped in the left lane because traffic ahead was only doing 85; and, on my last trip, enjoying the staccato, neurotic, 8 hour yipping of Ozzie the spoiled Pomeranian.

The shortest route is to take the 5 to the congested 210. I only go that way in the middle of the night or daytime Sundays when there’s no traffic. The alternative is to cut over through Bakersfield to Barstow and catch the 15. It can take an hour longer but you move and avoid the stop-start, hyper-tense driving of the Valley.

As last year’s U-Haul odyssey taught me, when traversing the hinterlands one of the few sports is to find a Starbucks. There aren’t any on the stretch of 5 except at the end near the Grapevine. And I won’t get off the 210 to deal with local LA traffic just for coffee. If I take the high desert route there are a few franchises that are easily accessible.

One pops up immediately in Bakersfield on Merle Haggard Drive. A little later there’s another by the outlets in Barstow, followed by one on Roy Rogers Drive in Apple Valley (which is just this side of the Dale Evans Parkway. Sadly, nothing named for Trigger, Buttermilk or Bullet.)

A friend who accompanied me in February lectured me on the area’s significance in Joe Gage’s filmography. Gage is the master of the working class, grease monkey, cowhand, gay porn genre. His titles include Back to Barstow and Men’s Room – Bakersfield Station. Barstow in particular provides a perfect setting for his gritty plots. With so many desert prisons in close proximity, the large population of sex-starved male inmates looms as a constant threat. Just imagine if one were to escape.

Gage’s actors are such manly men they defy their very being when, caught unaware, they end up having wild, passionate sex with another man. In real life their uber-masculine facades never crack. Except if the topic is Britney or Madonna, at which point they dissolve into eighth graders on the bus to Cheerleader Camp.

Extra whip, please
Extra whip, please

Before learning about the porn connection I had felt a high sexual temperature traveling through the region. It was more innocent than the “fuck yea!” attitudes of Titanmen Studios. It came from the hot, young men working at Starbucks.

They are so fresh-faced, bright-eyed, and friendly. They smile and make direct eye contact when asking how they may help. My forty jaded years in San Francisco led me to believe this meant one thing. I’ve recently had to reevaluate that belief.

Over the last decade I’ve taken many long vacations to see my family in Indiana. Like the baristas, the cute Hoosier boys are always solicitous and upbeat. When I was their age guys there were guarded, hostility abounded. The locals had never heard the word gay and didn’t have a clue what it meant. My Dad’s hill-country second wife told me she didn’t like a store clerk because “he talked kind of sissy-fied.”

Today it is so much easier to come out, there’s an openness that these kids benefit from. But I couldn’t figure out why Fort Wayne would have such a disproportionate number of homos. Finally it dawned on me: they’re not gay, they’re Christians. They’re taught to be polite and cheerful with everyone and especially to be respectful of their elders. It puts a positive spin on the brand.

The Barista Boys may be Christians too, but it doesn’t matter. They provide delightful entertainment to certain road weary customers.

The Barstow-Bakersfield back-door passage has given me a new appreciation for the lower Central Valley. I do think they need to recognize the contributions of a favorite son and put Joe Gage’s name on something. Boulevard, drive or avenue don’t really capture the spirit of his oeuvre. Maybe there’s an on ramp, service road or loading zone that would.



The Last Temptation of Me

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