A Tale of Two Cities

Kelsey Lester-Perry

When I tell people I just moved to Clovis from San Jose they ask, “How are you liking it so far?” My go-to response is: for $300 more than what I was paying in downtown San Jose for a single room upstairs in an old unmaintained Victorian, I now have my own house!

There are no more maggots in the fridge, no more dealing with irresponsible roommates or a slumlord who refuses to fix the heater, no more homeless rummaging through the garbage, no more sirens, no more crooks.

Living downtown was great, at first. My favorite coffee shop was a 10-minute walk and right across the street from that was my alma mater, San Jose State University and its world-renowned seven-story giant, the Martin Luther King Jr. Library. First Friday art walks were literally around the corner from my house. But also right around the corner was the Convention Center Inn, a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes.

If you live in downtown San Jose long enough, you get used to all of that. But the last straw for me was the power getting shut off. For two months my partner Mason and I (and our furbaby, Natasha) lived in the dark. He and I would read stories to each other by candlelight before bed while Natasha roamed the halls chasing cockroaches.

It was time to get out. But where could we go? In the Bay Area, a one-bedroom apartment can run $3,000 a month – and that’s in a bad part of town with no parking and no utilities paid. That may sound too outrageous to be true – but believe it. Almost everyone I know that isn’t an engineer in the Bay is struggling to make ends meet.

Even now, since I’m still registered to vote in San Jose I am getting phone call after phone call urging me to vote for affordable housing measures. The sheer amount of them on the ballot should give you an idea as to how bad the situation is up there. We have: Measure V, the affordable housing bond; Measure C, city of San Jose’s urban sprawl charter amendment. And as it pertains to building: Measures S and T dealing with contract bidding and infrastructure.

My grandfather was a sheriff in Hanford, my best friend lives in Chowchilla and Mason and I had been to the Native American casinos in the area enough times to know that the Central Valley was an option for us. When we first began the search, it ranged from Madera all the way down to Visalia. But eventually all of the job opportunities narrowed our search to Fresno.

We did some research and talked to friends and family and quickly realized that even though we could afford the rent there, we would be making a lateral move. We didn’t want to move from one crime-ridden big city to another. What were we going to do?

Living in the Bay Area, I worked as an esthetician in a cute little town on the outskirts of San Jose called Campbell. They had a farmers market every Sunday morning, a thriving bunch of small businesses and residents who didn’t cower at the idea of speaking to a stranger.

I wanted something like that. So we did a little bit more research and came across a quaint little town called Clovis.

Farmers market? Check. Cute little downtown filled with antique shops? Double check. Possibly a spa I could work at? Triple, no, quadruple check.

Our first real encounter with the amazing residents of Clovis began when we started our search for a place to live. We came across a property online that was being rented through Real Property Management. It was a quirky one-bedroom located in the heart of Old Town Clovis. It was within our budget, with a backyard three times the size of the house itself, a unique interior design, cats allowed and NO roommates.

RPM and its team worked hard for us to get us into our dream home. I had never felt more taken care of by a group of people I had never even met.

The battle was over and we had won the war. We were to pick up our keys to our brand new home in a few days. The three of us stayed in motels for a few nights while we waited for RPM to finalize the paperwork. Natasha was mortified. He hid under blankets, beds, toilets, whatever he could find. Cats don’t like change – and poor Natasha was already scarred from his time spent at that hellish house in San Jose.

Something miraculous happened to him when we walked through the doors of our new home a few days later though. Natasha didn’t try to hide, I think something inside of him knew he would be safe here in his new forever home. We put him down and unzipped his cat carrier. He sniffed the ground for about five seconds – and then proceeded to run around the entire place like a cat out of hell.

Now I want to tell a story about my first time walking around Old Town as a brand new resident of Clovis. Earlier I mentioned in San Jose my favorite coffee shop was a 10-minute walk? Well guess what, my new favorite coffee shop takes even less. It was our third day in the new house and Mason had already started work so I had an afternoon to myself. Natasha was napping in the windowsill, and I was tired from unpacking so I decided to take a coffee break.

I walked out the back gate and a block to Two Cities Coffee Roasters and ordered an iced hazelnut coffee – this would become my go to drink (ask any barista, they’re always trying to get me to try something new). I got my coffee and sat down outside. I was looking around, just admiring the beautiful day and the fact that people actually talk to one another here, when I was interrupted by a group of four women sitting at the table across from me.

It turns out that one of those women was Yoli Reeves, owner and “smile creator” of Two Cities. The conversation started with all of us agreeing that Old Town is a place where people actually talk to each other. I explained that where I was from, millennials will go out of their way to shut people out. I went on to tell them everything I’ve just told you, when a man who had been sitting across from us the whole time silently working on his laptop, chimed in and said he was originally from … guess where? Campbell! And he agreed with everything I had said about the lack of community and overall interaction with Bay Areans. What a small world, we all exclaimed and that was the start of a beautiful friendship and my first experience with the camaraderie that is Old Town Clovis.

Believe me, the irony isn’t lost – Two Cities being my new favorite coffee shop and San Jose and Clovis being two cities that are absolutely worlds apart.

In San Jose one might feel a connectivity that is purely utilitarian. It is a cold, mechanical city that runs on autopilot. It’s a real life “Fahrenheit 451” where you get the most out of everything, and everything is just the most. The most chic, the most vegan, the most convenient, the most tech and the BEST tech. You are connected only by efficiency – the streamlined public transit in the Bay can take you from San Jose to San Francisco in an hour. You get on the train, put in your earbuds and look straight ahead. You’re not connected to the people, but the city itself.

In Old Town Clovis, I feel a connectivity that is so ambiguous, it’s hard to put into words. Walking from the house to the coffee shop is convenient, yes, because it’s a block away – but that’s not what I find myself thinking about during the walk. I find myself thinking about how connected I feel – to the people, the nature, the buildings, the air. The unexplainable calm allows me to detach from ideas and just feel. And what I feel is an awareness that is intrinsically pleasant. It’s not like a big city awareness where you are constantly looking over your shoulder and waiting for something bad to happen – but the awareness allows me to take a deep breath and appreciate my surroundings.

This is how I feel moving from San Jose to Clovis. I feel as if I can finally breathe.

You can follow Kelsey (@klperry) and her cat Natasha (@shitasha_666) on Instagram

Kelsey Lester-Perry
Kelsey is an award-winning reporter from San Jose who recently moved to Clovis. Her previous work experiences includes the Spartan Daily, La Voz Weekly, and the Gilroy Patch.