You’re Not in California Anymore, Dorothy

Between named winter storms who trampled through the Puget Sound area like a stampede, leaving heaps of wet white stuff all over everything, I managed to get out of Seatac and land in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California. Did I mention I am a second generation Californian? No? Well, I am, my papa having been born in Los Angeles.

I love California. Just love it. The place names, when I hear them, stimulate my happy place. Griffith Park. Redondo Beach. San Lorenzo. Jack London Square. Street names in Los Angeles and San Francisco feel almost tasty: Sepulveda. Mulholland. Portola. Telegraph. So I landed in Sonoma County, which really was no more than a county I passed through on the way to visit my parents, driving from San Francisco to Lake County and Arcata. In those days it was a relief to get north of Santa Rosa, break free from congested Marin County and climb Mount Helena to Middletown, and on then Lower Lake. Or zoom through Ukiah to Cloverdale to Garberville and points north.

Because of snow delays, I didn’t get to Santa Rosa until roughly 6pm. In the rain. And in no way a good time to take Highway 28 over the coastal mountains to Mendocino, my final destination. I had a seat to myself on the flight down, because many people had canceled. I scored an Infinity rental because they were running low on cars. My choices were, the nice young lady told me, the Infinity, a Cadillac and a Dodge Caravan. My choice was obvious. I’m sure she was betting on the Cadillac, as she eyed my white hair and industrially wrinkled and befreckled hands. That Infinity was a very fun drive.

Google led me to an old fashioned motel on the edge of Healdsburg, a chi-chi upscale village with many Infinities, Beamers, Audis and Teslas diagonally parked in front of $$$$ restaurants serving locally grown kale salad. The L & M is a sweet little place – just about in a normal price range but clean, cute, tidy rooms and the best breakfast I’ve had since South Africa: warm blueberry scones, a thoughtful bowl of hard boiled eggs for my protein, fresh juice and not bad coffee. Wendy the host got me settled in my room, laughingly saying I was the last expected guest and now she could close the office. The tinest Yorkie in the universe inspected my shoes as I registered.

Then it was my turn to test out my fancy car on the hairpin turns of Highway 28. After an hour hike at a preserve overlooking the Russian River, I took the mountain road, having been reassured by my sister that CalTrans always sanded it during the winter. Ice, you see.

When I get behind the wheel, I like to drive. Meaning: go fast. I wondered if I still had the chops to take the curves and sure enough, caught up to more cautious drivers who politely pulled aside to let me pass. No one in Washington State does that. I got out of the way of one yoyo in a little low car who had some kind of important goal to make and zoomed past. I don’t like people on my butt.

I guess that all sounds like I’m an asshole behind the wheel but I’m much better than I used to be. Let’s just leave it there.

Mendocino was just as beautiful as ever. If I were rich and had a private plane, I would buy a house there. But I wouldn’t want to live there. Coastal fog is a bit of a plague and would depress the hell out of me. My sister’s home is in a community called The Woods, lovely acres of spiffy manufactured homes in a Redwood forest, bought, built and operated by Presbyterians. Cool.

We visited the Mendocino Art Center, viewing the work of local artists. That Art Center has been there since the 1960’s at least, because it was there when our family started vacationing in a nearby state park. It was established in 1959. We viewed the fabulous woodcuts of Emmy Lou Packard, who was buds with Frida Kahlo. I decided that in order to keep the great feeling Mendo generates in my heart, that I should wear handmade jewelry more often.

Mendocino is stopped in time. The city has strictly managed development, preserving the original wooden buildings of the logging town it once was. The rest of California, whose bones still rise and fall in the same places, is not there anymore. That is, not the California of my Dorothy. I haven’t been back to San Francisco for years, mostly bypassing it with my other sister and her husband, who live in Corte Made. From the Golden Gate Bridge I can see the sky line alter from decade to decade. But the hills are still there, and the Bay.

I can think about what is gone, but even Dorothy got to go home again. Too bad she didn’t get to keep those shoes.

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About Jill Zeller

The author of numerous short stories and novels, Jill Zeller lives near Seattle, Washington, with her patient and adoring husband, two English mastiffs, and one self-centered tuxedo cat. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination were as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Maybe it is because she was raised as a Christian Scientist. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

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