stories from  the road
stories from the road
stories from the road
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talk to me...I'm WIRED!
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photos along the way
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Elaine, the Road Sage

Coastal Access

(Filed from Ferndale, California at 3:55 p.m. on July 6, 1999)

Fen and I are hitting the road for the month of July.  We set about packing the car, which is an adventure in itself.  Fen wants to bring everything -- we are the minimalist (me) and the maximalist (he) of packing.  I see that he has epinephrine in the trunk ("I could get an allergic reaction!" he tells me), plus pliers and flares.  He also has three frisbees, although there are only two of us.  Most puzzling to me, however, is the saw.

"Hey, twice that saw has saved the day," Fen says.

I accept the fact that I'm traveling with a latter-day Paul Bunyan and let it go.  I do, however, insist that we remove the large kite in order to make room for our stuff.

Our first stop will be Gualala, where we'll be attending a Fourth of July picnic/potluck/party on the eighty-acre spread of some good friends.  Our hosts, whom I lovingly refer to as the Queen Zen Mother and the King of Rock 'n Roll, host fifty or so people every Fourth, a slew of parents, kids and DINKs from the Bay Area and beyond who are all eager to get a taste of fresh air and humbling seaside views.  Most of the revelers will camp out on the grounds of Chez Gualala, in places dubbed Joplin Meadow and Garcia Grove by the King himself.

The plan for the weekend is to eat, drink and be merry while listening to great music and watching sparklers light up the nighttime sky.  If we can manage to do it all at once, we'll know we're getting it right.

We leave our San Francisco home and cross the Golden Gate Bridge on our way north.  A mere three miles from home we already find ourselves awestruck by a view we've (luckily) seen a thousand times.  Gazing upon this fabled rust-colored bridge from its westerly side, I realize this is a view that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.

Our route to Gualala will be via Highway One, the coastal road.  First stop along the way is Lucas Wharf, where we pick up two troll-caught King salmon.  We thank the fish gods for our bounty, well aware that this will soon be an endangered species.  Just up the road from the salmon stop is The Crab Pot, a low-slung, popsicle-orange building which specializes in smoked fish.  The tiny parking lot out front is "for crustaceans only" but we slide in anyway.  Inside The Crab Pot we do see crabs but decide to focus our attention on the smoked fish -- sturgeon and sea bass, salmon and swordfish, all of it smoky and divine (we get samples).  The kippered salmon is the real winner, and although we don't know what kippered means, this nibble is like buttah.  We buy some fish and head out.

Back at the car, Fen pulls out a frisbee from the trunk.  I proceed to use it as a plate while I prepare smoked fish canapes as we meander along Highway One.

Arriving in Gualala, we quickly check in at our hosts', only to find that everyone has decamped for nearby Point Arena.  The Point Arena waterfront is the site of the area's Fourth of July fireworks, a spectacle which is big on small-town charm and offers dazzling pyrotechnics to boot.  Our merry band of Gualala revelers has temporarily set  up camp at the Wharf Master's Inn, a small lodging with balconies overlooking the festivities.  Everywhere we look it's Americana in full bloom, swirls of red, white and blue and more stars and stripes than you can shake a stick at.  We love every minute of it.

Back at Joplin Meadow later in the evening, Fen sets up our tent in the dark.  Turns out we've chosen a slight downslope on which to place our bed, so I keep sliding downhill while Fen is twisting and turning his way to comfort.  Fen gets up out of bed to open our tent windows just a wee bit more.  He doesn't get it quite right, so he starts out of bed again.

"If you get up one more time, I'll kill you," I say in a slightly sleepy voice.

It works.  We fall asleep.

*     *     *     *     *

Awakening on Saturday morning, we enjoy the view of the trees and sky from our excellent bed.  I notice a hangnail and ask Fen for his pocket knife, which has a nifty pair of scissors.  Fen delights in showing me the little saw that is part of his knife.

After a bountiful breakfast prepared en masse (there are about thirty guests in residence at Chez Gualala at this point), a small group heads through Joplin Meadow and along Morrison Creek on its way to the beach.  Many coastal area residents in these parts have deeded access to private spits of sand on and around their property.  Such is the case with our gracious hosts so they proceed to escort us through a tall wooden gate and down a trail to a beautiful cove with soft sand and slowly-lapping waves.  We lay out our towels and marvel at the various shades of blue, surf and sky which are too blue to be true.  True blue?  Yes, it's a Kodak moment for the ages.  Kids frolic and parents read, while Fen and I are happy to just be.

Returning back to home base later in the day, we grill our salmon and feed fifty.  After dinner, a gaggle of men both big and small set off sparklers on the dry front lawn.  A particularly large explosive named Quake delights the kids.  Another guest plays the accordion throughout the show, even offering up a snappy rendition of "Tequila."  Our host is surprisingly laissez faire about the goings-on, although I do notice he has one hand on the water spigot and the other on his hose.

*     *     *     *     *

Our mission on Sunday is to check out the Mendocino Fourth of July Parade and Ice Cream Social.  I've never been to an ice cream social but I know it's my kind of event.  Since Mendocino is one of those adorable seaside towns that was made to be photographed, we have our camera in tow.

The parade starts right on time and begins with a few old-timers representing the VFW and carrying the American flag.  The boy scouts follow, then a brownie troupe and a succession of old and new fire trucks.  We stand next to a pick-up truck with plates that read "X INKPR."  The owner is, in fact, an ex-innkeeper -- he used to own the Joshua Grindle Inn, an adorable bed and breakfast.  He offers us beer, wine and snacks from the back of his truck.

"But you have to serve yourself," he tells us.  No problem.

The parade continues with the Women Who Run with Poodles, glam gals who look much better running with dogs than with wolves.  A white pick-up truck rumbles by with a couple in the back, on a bed.  They're still in their pj's and a breakfast tray is at their feet.  It's an advertisement for the local bed and breakfast industry, one of Mendocino's latter-day claims to fame.  A calypso band on a flatbed truck is next, followed by a Green contingent imploring us to save the redwoods and ignore The Gap.  Fire eaters and more bands follow and we even see a goth float.  It seems clear that Mendocino is a multi-cultural experience.  Once the parade winds up we take a stroll along Main Street, popping into Mendocino Jams and Preserves (we have some sweets shipped home) and the Gallery Bookshop.  Back at the Kelly House Museum, the Ice Cream Social is winding up but we arrive just in time for our two scoops.  A Dixieland band plays while we admire the ocean view just across the street.

Back at the King and Queen's house later in the day, we are treated to a visit by Lucky the Wonder Dog.  Lucky, we're told by his owner, is the sweetest, smartest and most considerate dog in the world.  He may also be the luckiest, since he survived a recent encounter with a mountain lion.  My new best friend licks my nose and grins from ear to ear.  Out on the deck, several guests are engaged in an impromptu jam session while others listen in.  The kitchen and dining room are bustling with activity, pies and fresh fruit and grilled burgers perfuming the air.  "You Only Live Twice" plays on the living room TV.  Everyone is eating, drinking and being merry, which is exactly how it was supposed to be.  The King and Queen, bless their hearts, have pulled it off again.

For pointers on where to stay, eat and play in the Gualala and Mendocino area, read the accompanying 5 minute city.

© 1999 Elaine Sosa
San Francisco, California

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