There are places that we travel to that we never forget. They embed themselves in our minds because of their beauty, majesty, symbolism, romantic history, or exotic splendor. These are the places that, when we are old and infirm, we will remember with a smile, and perhaps an embellished story or three to our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
There are also places that we never forget for reasons not quite so awe-inspiring. Garberville, California is one such place. Last year, while in the middle of a rather agonizing bout of back pain, I decided that I simply had to go up to Crater Lake, Oregon. My long-suffering husband Dave did little to talk me out of this notion, 27 years of marriage having convinced him that when travel was concerned I would only be put off for so long. So there we were, driving our aging Nissan Maxima up the 101 freeway past San Francisco and north toward Oregon. After a drive of many hours, shortly after nightfall, we decided to gas up and eat dinner in a pleasant little hamlet of pine trees and rolling hills just off the freeway. As it was a Sunday evening, we feared that not many places would be open, but we were in luck! A little café was not only lit up, but it saw a steady stream of fellow travelers and locals.
The whiteboard above the counter listed numerous healthful and popular eating choices such as are often found in Northern California — alfalfa sprouts, tofu, and so forth. Dave was pleased to note the establishment’s beer selection, as he always is. The cafe was decorated with the flowing hippie-like artwork of what I presume to be a local artist or two, and various other hallmarks of small town life – a stand for the local newspaper, some posters about the softball league and announcements about garage sales and women’s club gatherings. We noted, with pleasure, the older gentleman with a long flowing gray and white beard who stumped up the stairs to the second level of the restaurant while carrying an old, well- used fiddle.
Music! How delightful.
Soon after he began playing, however, the hideous scratchings, howlings, and shriekings emitting from the instrument caused our opinions to change somewhat. No one else seemed bothered by the awful commotion, but we found it far from relaxing. I should note here that neither one of us are music snobs. Back in the misty years of our youth, David learned to strum a bit on the guitar, but hasn’t picked it up since, and my last musical endeavor occurred in the sixth grade when I learned — and promptly forgot — a recorder.
Dave usually takes quite a while figuring out what he wants to eat and even longer choosing a beer, so after ordering I fled to the porch, away from the “music.” Seating myself on a well-used plastic chair, I observed the surprising number of local inhabitants out for an evening stroll. I say surprising number because the town was quite small, barely much more than a few shops, now shuttered for the evening. I noticed that the two dozen or so people wandering around streets at this hour seemed to include a larger than usual assortment of dogs. Being a dog lover, they caught my eye.
“Look, dogs!” I told Dave when he came out to join me, beer in hand.
“I don’t like the looks of these people,” he said. “Keep an eye on the car.”
“But they like dogs!” I exclaimed. How could such people be untrustworthy in any way?
Dave gave me an unimpressed look. He is a great lover of dogs, as long as they don’t eat, poop, bark, destroy anything, or look at him. So, basically, the stuffed kind. Or the kind that populate that painting with all the dogs smoking and playing poker.
I looked closer at the dogs. Usually they lacked leashes, or their leashes were made of ratty pieces of rope that the dogs’ owners must have found on the road somewhere. The dogs looked perfectly content to stay in their little pack, however. Perhaps this was because the human members of such a pack rather more closely resembled homeless dogs. None of the humans seemed to be wearing shoes, man and woman alike, nor did they seem to have availed themselves of a bathing facility any time in the recent past. Several of the men wore long dreadlocks, and several of the women may have run a comb through their hair in the previous week, although it was kind of hard to tell. The expressions on these people’s faces were usually rather serene and included a happy grin or two. There was loud talking and some skipping, too, as I recall.
One and one began to add up to the expected total of two. Here we were in Northern California — Humboldt county — surrounded by people who look like they dwelled under the bridge.
It was about that time that the proprietor of the establishment came out and informed us that drinking beer on the porch was specifically forbid by law and that we needed to go back in and endure Grandpa’s horrible scratchings upon the formerly noble instrument known as a violin just like everybody else.
Well, all right, maybe they left that last part out.
Dave seems to recall that the food wasn’t half bad, although I have no such memory. Suffice it to say that we ate our meal rather speedily and continued on our way, happily unscathed by the experience.
While in the course of writing this little blog post, I asked David if he remembered our visit in Garberville. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s when we stopped in the pot capital of California. There were a bunch of bums and dogs.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rather concise summation of this little tale.