AN OLD GUY’S SUMMER UNIFORM — Or, Never Wear Cargo Shorts After Labor Day

One morning my son dismissively looked at me — as many of the adult children of old guys do — and said, “You have your Old Guy summer uniform on.”

“Old Guy summer uniform?”

“Yea, you know, cargo shorts, flowered shirts, Birkenstocks.” He thought I was wearing Birkenstocks.

I was wearing Costco-stocks. I didn’t know what Birkenstocks were, so I snuck off. (Before you criticize, I have never decided if “snuck” is a real word. Sneaked sounds pretentious. But you probably understood what I meant when I wrote “I snuck off.” Therefore, in some sense it is a word. But now I have fantasies of legions of petty English teachers and persnickety copy editors plotting to forbid me to ever write in English again. But, of course, I digress.) Off I went to locate a pair of Birkenstocks.

I discovered two places where Birkenstocks can be found in Fresno. One was at a shopping center in a store catering to 14 year-old girls. The other was a Birkenstocks store in North East Fresno.

Between the ‘60s and now, a lot of hippies must have made a few bucks, because I ended up paying over $100 for a pair of sandals. In case you didn’t see that, I will break one of my cardinal rules and use all upper case letters: OVER A HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A PAIR OF SANDALS. I won’t tell you how far over. But it is further over than the price of any sandals I have ever bought before. I once spent $20 on a pair at Costco and had a knot in my stomach for years. Things have changed.

Now, I also have bought a hat that makes me look like an anthropologist searching for the fossil beginnings of humans. It was around $100, but people told me a Tilley hat was an Old Guy requirement. And the Tilley people also say their hats float, so I needn’t fear losing my investment if I ever go on a boat.

The Old Guy who took this had his summer uniform on -- flowered shirt, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks, and Tilley hat.

The Old Guy who took this (me) had his summer uniform on — flowered shirt, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks, and Tilley hat.

Jimmy Buffet is probably the role model for Old Guy uniforms. He looks and acts like an Old Guy who has spent too much time on the beach drinking beer and (in his case successfully, I’m told) wooing younger women. But, is it possible to drink too much beer on a beach? I think not.

He’s rich. He sails, flies airplanes, used to smoke a lot of pot, can play a slightly better than mediocre guitar, and has written more than a few good songs. And he is on the road a lot. What a life.

Some people claim Mick Jagger is a good Old Guy uniform role model. I disagree because he seems to care too much about what he wears and how he looks. He is probably the guy Carly Simon was thinking of when she wrote, “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” I admit I am a little jealous of him because he can jump around on a stage for hours while singing “Satisfaction” for maybe the googolplex time, and I can neither sing nor jump around on a stage.

But his body just doesn’t match his face. According to his face, he has done a lot of heavy-duty living, but his body seems to be that of a 13 year-old boy. Plus, I can’t imagine him in a flowered shirt.

Keith Richards, though, makes the cut. Just the fact he is still alive marks him as a special human being, although he looks like he’s been dead for a decade or two. His special ability, besides playing a great guitar, is that he just doesn’t seem to care about how he looks or acts. It isn’t that he is apathetic, it just seems that seconds last hours for him and he enjoys each one just for the hell of it. I don’t think he knows the Sixties are over.

Bruce Springsteen is such a great Old Guy that it is hard to believe he is just a month or two my junior. He’s 66 this September. I can imagine him in a flowered shirt and sandals, but all his clothes are probably bespoke and specially designed to look casual. However, the Boss deserves to be on the list because he is…well…The Boss, even if he is from New Jersey.

And, of course, one can never forget the great Jeff Bridges, a.k.a. “The Dude”. He is almost the archetypical Old Guy. He looks good dressed poorly and great dressed well. But he has been on the cover of AARP Magazine and ergo automatically is an Old Guy. He also has been on the Cover of Rolling Stone, which is like playing in both the World Series and the Superbowl. In the same lifetime.

My wife says because he has a long-term marriage he should be on the list. I won’t say if I agree with her. Some thoughts are better left unsaid.

He does, however, know how to tie the room together with a rug. That has to count for something.

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(Text and photos by Mike Bowler

Fresno should post signs on all roads entering its county limits stating, “WARNING: LIVING IN OR JUST TRAVELING THROUGH FRESNO POSES SERIOUS HEALTH RISKS. Fresno air is chock-full of particulate matter from trucks, cars, fireplaces, farms being tilled, pesticides, herbicides, and other agriculture chemicals, including heavy metals, and can pose serious health risks including cancer, asthma, valley fever, emphysema, and other lung and heart problems. Enter at your own risk. Pregnant women are advised to stay out.”

In Fresno, spring isn’t the cruelest season. It is just the only tolerable season. During summer it is too hot to breathe and too dusty to want to. The only escape from the misery is to travel west until one runs into the Pacific Ocean where one can smell the salt water, feel the gentle sea breeze, and swim in the cool Pacific waters. The coastal escape is about two and half hours away, and coastal housing is expensive.

Where to be during a Fresno summer. Where to be during a Fresno summer.

Also, eventually one must return, and the return can be painful, perhaps more painful than having spent the time in Fresno. If one doesn’t know of a pleasure, one doesn’t miss the pleasure when it is gone. Only junkies miss heroin when it is gone. People who have never experienced it will never miss it. If you are trying to escape a Fresno summer, remember it could lead to an addiction and the inevitable withdrawal when returning from an apparent paradise to the purgatory named Fresno.

Where else to be during a Fresno summer. Where else to be during a Fresno summer.

Fall in Fresno is similar to summer but cooler. However, there is a danger in fall. Because of the coolness, the air is easier to breathe but just as dangerous. It is just a tastier poison and there are fewer escape destinations. Some travel to Yosemite or the nearby foothills and view the color change of tree leaves but soon realize Fresno fall colors can’t compete with New Hampshire or Canada. The Canadian fall is prettier and the people are nicer. Spending the money traveling to the North East may very well be worth the extra cash. If you are desperate, buy a book with nice pictures and save several thousands dollars.

Fall near Fresno but with cleaner air. Fall near Fresno but with cleaner air.

Winter isn’t particularly nice in Fresno. It is cold, and the Tule Fog frequently sneaks in to provide drivers with zero visibility. This isn’t San Francisco fog that makes things romantic and artistic looking. No, it’s more like a blinding cold steam rising from the ground. Every year cars run into each other because drivers refuse to admit they can’t see past their hood ornaments and drive 70 miles per hour down the freeway. Also, the fog holds pollution in a similar way a sponge holds water. It is often painful to take a breath.

Of course, there are winter places nearby which are enjoyable. Again, they are two or three hours away and require some cost. And again, returning to Fresno is painful. Many escape the Fresno winter by trekking to either nearby mountains, which usually are blanketed in snow, or a desert such as Death Valley or the Mohave. The starkness of deserts is fascinating and beautiful so long as it isn’t summer when the heat will kill you. Literally, heat stroke can be a killer. The snow-covered mountains are a more popular escape. Sierra Summit attracts snowboarders and skiers, and nearby snow parks are great for tobogganers and budding bobsledders.

Mojave in winter. Mojave in winter.
Winter near Fresno. Snow near Fresno.

However, I have been to the snow and feel obligated to warn you, the white stuff called snow is wet, cold, and generally not pleasant. And since I don’t like stuff that is cold, wet, and generally uncomfortable I usually venture to the desert. If God had wanted us to frolic in the white, cold, and wet, he would have made us furrier than we are. This would make us all appear to be walking Chia Pets and probably be too warm for most summers. It would also save on clothing costs, but would be hard on the fashion industry. Also, it would solve the abominable snowman question.

But as an Old Guy, I digress. Turning 65 gave me the right to digress. It is actually a requirement of Old Guys.

Even without added digressions, we have one season left: spring, Fresno’s only survivable season. It is the only season not requiring going someplace else to enjoy yourself. It could be that compared to all other Fresno seasons spring seems better, or it could be in the spring Fresno is better. I don’t know which is true, but everything Fresno is better in the spring.

Close up on the spring Blossom Trail. Close up on the spring Blossom Trail.
That white stuff is blossoms, not snow. That white stuff is blossoms, not snow.

The nut trees explode in pink, white, and lavender flowers. The nearby rivers and lakes begin to fill with water, and the weather moderates. Gone are the winds, cold, and fog of winter. The sauna-like heat of summer is still in the future.

This is a grape bud. This is a grape bud.
There are only grapes in this field. There are only grapes in this field.

In spring the grape fields begin to bloom, and the marijuana fields planted between the lines of grapes begin to be hidden by the growing grapes and are no longer visible. I am told by those in the know even Fresno pot is better in the spring.