Yes, arguments can be made that Mendocino is an over-priced tourist destination/trap, but having lived here for three and a half years now, I would like to give you eight good reasons why I think Mendocino is every bit as great as Fort Bragg.
1. Does the post office in your town play (loudly) the San Francisco Giants’ day games on the radio for all the world to hear? Do the postal employees in your town’s post office frequently stop mid-transaction to wait and see what happens on the next key pitch of the Giants’ game? The Mendocino post office does and her employees do.
So I’m mailing a couple packages and Sheila types in a zip code and says, “I read your rant in the AVA about the Giants before the Dodgers swept us, and after they swept us I had to admit we’re a minor league team yet again.” Then we launched into simultaneous commentaries on Bochy suffering from Dusty Bakeritis (a malady characterized by leaving a pitcher in the game long after he has proven himself incapable of getting anyone out) when he left Howrie in after he’d been severely shellacked by the Dodgers. And all the while the line of postal customers is growing longer and longer, but we don’t care because we have to finish hammering home this crucial point about the Giants. Is that a great post office, or what?
2. I go from the post office to Corners and pay for my ultra-fresh organic purchases (and a brilliantly fresh Boontberry cookie) with exact change, for which the clerk rewards me by striking a tiny gong hanging above the cash register (a custom of the collective) and the old former church reverberates with the sweet sound of perfection, however fleetingly. What a great store!
3. The big winds of late have brought down hundreds of eucalyptus branches in the vacant lot across the street from the Mendocino Café. I park our old pickup next to the lot and gather a few weeks worth of perfectly-seasoned kindling, which makes starting the morning and evening fires a snap. What a great vacant lot!
4. Speaking of the Mendocino Café. Talk about good food and friendly people. They even have entrees one might call quasi-reasonable in price. We recently met a friend there for her birthday. She had her five-year old granddaughter in tow. No problem. The Mendocino Café has a kids’ menu that offers, among other things, grilled cheese sandwiches. What a great café!
5. I stop at Big River Beach to take my afternoon constitutional on the vast sand flat exposed at low tides. As I’m zipping up my parka to protect myself from the chill air powered by a fierce offshore breeze, a shiny black Mercedes pulls up beside my eucalyptus-laden pickup. A young woman hops out. Gracefully. She would probably win any Angelina Jolie look-alike contest she entered, and I do a double take to make sure she is not actually Angelina. She’s wearing black short shorts, a black belly shirt, a skimpy silver windbreaker, and a black baseball cap (not the Giants, alas.) She brings forth a fluffy white poodle, winks at me (truly), and then saunters down onto the sand with her dog following.
I, Nanook of Mendocino, stride into the wind wondering why Angelina’s twin isn’t freezing to death. When I’m way out on the flats singing to the waves (the perfect place to practice without scaring or offending anyone) I turn to look back upriver, and way in the distance I espy the beautiful young woman striding toward the swollen river. She is now wearing only a diminutive bikini. Without hesitation, she dives into the icy torrent, her poodle barking enthusiastically, and swims out about thirty feet, swims back to shore, gets out and runs away in the direction of her car.
A half-hour later, wind-whipped and cold, I return to my truck. The young woman, now fully clothed, is sitting in her Mercedes reading a book and, drum roll, smoking a cigar. Talk about a great town beach.
6. The next day I’m in the hardware section of Harvest Market, formerly known as Mendoza’s, trying to solve a problem with a defective part I got with the car top box I bought from Sears. The guy helping me spends at least twenty minutes trying all sort of things to help me, consults with two other guys, and in the end we come up with a workable solution that costs me all of thirty-five cents. I celebrate by buying a very reasonably priced organic wine (for cooking) and an organic 73% dark chocolate candy bar. What a great hardware grocery store.
7. I pick up my mail and walk across the street to the Mendocino Market (deli) to buy a Rosie chicken. (You probably think all I do is shop and eat and walk on the beach, but you can ask my wife and she’ll tell you I’m always working on something.) I am invariably greeted by name when I enter the market, and if they are not terribly busy, the quality of my day is inquired about. This alone would make the place great, but the sandwiches here are not just good, they are really good, and reasonably priced. The soup de jour is always excellent, the fish is fresh and locally caught, and they feature an excellent selection of wonderful wines, most of which I cannot in good conscience afford except on extra special occasions. But it is the clientele and the particular sort of milling around that goes on in the Mendocino Market that makes the place stellar. I have had some really good political, philosophical, and meteorological discussions whilst awaiting my ham on rye or waiting to point out which of the pieces of snapper I crave for the evening meal. And when the high school kids come down the hill on their lunch break, and the market fills up with teens in search of nourishment, the conversations to be heard are, like, oh my God, so awesome.
So I’m waiting to order some chicken parts, and while I wait, an apology is made to me for having to wait (can you believe it?) and I reply, “Oh, I’m in no hurry.”
The woman ahead of me (waiting for her soup) laughs self-consciously and says, “I’m always in a hurry. This is my second day of vacation and I still can’t stop hurrying, though I have nothing to hurry about.”
“It can take years to stop hurrying,” I said, thinking of my ongoing transition from city life to life in the country. “But it’s so good for us to slow down.” And then I sighed, having reminded myself to slow down, because I, too, had nothing to be hurrying about.
The woman sighed, too, reflexively mirroring me, and her shoulders dropped about three inches, and she said, “You are so right. I just…wow…forgot how not to hurry. I’ve gotta make some big changes in my life. I really do.”
Is that a great little market or what?
8. I put my Rosie chicken parts (we’re dark meat people) in my cooler, leave my truck unlocked because I’ve decided to wait until someone steals something from my truck before I succumb to my old city habits of locking everything and living in fear of being robbed, and I walk down to the Presbyterian parking lot and from there down the trail to the edge of the cliff overlooking the mouth of Big River, and as gulls and osprey and ravens and vultures circle in the blue above me, I put in two good hours on my novel, write a couple long letters, and draw a pleasing picture of a naturally bonsai pine tree that appears to be growing out of solid stone. And not another person appears in my view shed for the entire two hours. Is that a great town park or what?
Todd’s newest novel is Under the Table Books, and his web site is Underthetablebooks.com.