Where the heck do I begin? What an uber burst of excitement to have met both AVA stalwarts in The Bunker, so to speak, and on a perfectly illuminated almost Tuscan Sunday afternoon, us wedged in the ant-stream hordes of wine gawkers and tasters coursing up and down Sonoma, Napa and Anderson Valleys. Boonville was towards the end of our 2500 mile auto tour of the Pacific Northwest and the California North Coast. We had 101’d our way down from Crescent City, after finding the Pacific at the other end of the Drive-thru redwood tree, eagerly unshodding ourselves and racing into the frosty martini of the Northern Pacific, oblivious to the wetsuits all around us and the beachniks layered in blankets and bedspreads. Nothing reminded us of anything we've ever seen from the superheated Gulf of Mexico where we came from, I can assure you. Given a choice between tarballs and blue balls, the tarballs seemed almost alluring!
Limping into Fort Bragg the night before, on fumes, we arrived just at dusk at the Best Western, across the street from where the Noyo River is summer-strangled to a streamlet as it presses vainly onward to the Pacific. In the morning we stepped across its emasculated mouth not failing to notice the fullness of the gorge of its youth.
The weaving, looping coastal ribbons, 15 mph hairpin turns and local vistas kept us in thrall as we wandered through grove after grove of redwoods. Each time we stopped and settled into an impenetrable cathedral of immensity we reminded ourselves that no man-made church ever granted more serenity, more proof of the miracle of life, then the grove before us or the ones we had left behind. I assert to my several outed religionless friends that all you really need to see of God is there in the morning mist, silently smothering all the cant and oafish self possession which so-often stains the world around us and pulls us down.
Things were getting downright peevish however as I compared my map’s require left-hand turn to Highway 128 with the unyielding immensity of the coastal range to my left, but Highway 1 broke right, across a bridge, while 128 kept straight and we approached the one and only Anderson Valley, geography laid bare in the Advertiser over the past 15 years and began a reconciliation of my imaginings with what actually opened up before us.
At its headlands, it appeared a small place indeed, cleaved narrowly and draped in greens and tans, homesteads poking their wooden prows out into clearings, from time to time. Gradually it widened, allowing glimpses of Navarro, impromptu clusters of houses and scattered piles of discarded paraphernalia husbanded nearby. Philo scarcely remains as a collection of images as the grapevines began appearing on both sides of the road.
We stopped at Gowan’s fruit stand to savor ripe peaches and golden plums, the juice running between our steamy mits leaving ineradicable stains on the rental car upholstery. Unsolicited, I volunteered we were off to view the location and perhaps even steal a glance at the offices of the mighty AVA, the response to which was a puzzled and wrinkled brow and very little encouragement. Lisa thought this an ill omen! I reminded her that “newspapers should have no friends” and the AVA has been a long, long time holding steadfastly to their creed!
By this time the Valley had opened up wide with vineyards of dozens of acres on either side. We could see what remained of the fruit trees, the open, scabby summer scorched hillsides and border ribbons of roses fronting the vineyards flourishing in the midday heat. Eventually the scattered and irregular yards of Boonville began to appear and the traffic, once sparse, became an unbroken beaded chain of people, much like ourselves, who had chosen to thread their lives into a fabric of tasting rooms, unhurried countryside and the occasional clutch of seriously spotless Harley-Davidsons! It was a parade and we were in it! And it threaded through what we had to assume was downtown Boonville! Zounds! We made it! After 15 years of fantasizing, the reality was upon us.
Scrubbed and bright eyed souls, streaming up and down the way, staring into shop windows, fingering the macramé and candles, a veritable hoard of what had to be out-of-towners sat, strolled and shopped, just like every upscaled small town in California. Nobody tweaking, smoking or drunk, at least in public. We were a little unnerved by the normalcy. We had steeled ourselves for semi-disheveled revelry and all we could see around us was the flash of credit cards and jewelry.
At one of the shops, I again invoked the name of the paper and discreetly mentioned the name of the editor. “Go next door,” she urged me, “down the hallway and up the back stairs!” Although it was a stunningly beautiful Sunday afternoon with open doors and windows, we proceeded with the greatest sort of caution, conditioned by the memories of 15 years of fire and brimstone, endless tirades and almost thunderous grumbling. Maybe the guy really did have a loaded shotgun in there. Maybe years of combat had rendered both the editor and his collaborator(s) locked in, freaked out and tending towards the halfmasted.
The outer door yielded with a nudge leading to a short walk to the AVA portal on the right. No way to turn back now, I figured. Knuckles tickle the door, a footstep sounded and a large steady man with a longsleeved work shirt greeted me curiously as I peeked inside. Having been outed, so to speak, I summoned up my courage and asked for the editor. “Bruce,” he said, “isn't here right now, but I'm Mark. Bruce might be in somewhat later!” “As in Scaramella?” I asked and he nodded, appearing, like a good journalist, curious to learn if I was friend or foe.
Well, it is pretty hard to read a newspaper for 15 years that’s 2000 miles away from your home, fly to San Francisco, drive 2500 miles around the Northwest and wind up in a pleasant but very odd little town and just sort of casually walk away from its most influential contributor. Lisa was looking kind of cute and we invited him downstairs for a coffee while we grabbed a sandwich.
The truth is, you can't get a sandwich almost anywhere anymore, leastways in sunny, tony California, so we ordered Panini and Mark drank his coffee and I tried very hard to think of any possible thing that might amuse or interest this man who obviously had very little interest in me because he wasn't easily amused by much of anything, really, and reserved his intelligence for laserlike examinations of local politicians’ expense statements, endless mindnumbing public meetings and miscellaneous subterranean intrigues. All I could easily muster was an exhortation to give us “the rest of the story” of the recently busted 62-year-old grandma! That seemed like safe ground.
A newspaper you can close, fold up and put away for a later read. Mark Scaramella was not that easy. The man had gravity. Lots of it. I would not, definitely not, want to be on the other end of the thread he had picked up and wanted to follow, especially if it was attached to anything unflattering. The man looked like he could wait outside the door of someone he wanted to see practically forever.
It was after lunch and he had been kind enough to spend time with us and we were supposed to make it to Lisa's cousin’s house about 30 miles past Sacramento so we scraped chair legs and thanked Mark and headed for the door. Somewhat short of halfway there he averred that since I really wanted to meet the Editor there was a pretty good possibility that during our visit, Bruce had strolled by, padded up the stairs and might in fact be resident in the Fort!
Now in my mind, over the years, I had etched in a kind of angry, exhausted R. Crumb like image of the Editor into my brain and frankly, I figured I didn't need to press my luck. But Lisa wanted to pay the retail geegaws in the store downstairs and that aspect of Boonville had no interest to me and we had driven a very long way and for crying out loud, the guy couldn't dismiss me too rudely after what we've seen of the Major, so I followed him down the hallway and up the stairs and deep in the misty murk of the stacks of papers and computers and piles of books between the sedimentary layers of 20 or 30 years of newspaper effluvia, blotting out the light in the windows, nearly towering in a Dutchman's straw hat, Hemingway bearded, I was introduced to Bruce Anderson. And for crying out loud, he was smiling! Geez Louise!
The Editor was as gracious as he was composed. Lunchtime began leaking into the afternoon and before I knew it I had to go. Bruce encouraged us to to tour the Hotel so across the way we went and found an airy, relaxed and inviting interior and exterior which looked every bit as pleasant as it could possibly be!
Next time we will pass a few days there. I have to return soon anyway! We never got to meet Deputy Squires, hoist a few brews at the soon to be reconstituted Brewery and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I still have to try to look up Emil Rossi! What fun that promises to be! Thank you one and all and a raucous Howdy from Houston Texas.
By the way gentlemen, thanks for the Mendocino Papers both Blank and Noir! Flat-out spellbinding!