Monday, December 6, 2010

My Town

I’m in love again. I can really feel it. Sometimes you know you’re supposed to feel a certain way, but you just can’t. Your head knows on some level but your heart can’t access it. And if you can’t actually feel it for long enough, is it really there? The feeling. Why must we live so often in a visceral haze? You probably think this is about my relationship. It’s not. I’ve had relationships that I couldn’t always feel. Not now. I can ALWAYS feel my relationship. Sometimes I don’t like how it makes me feel, but I feel something. No, it’s not even about another person. It’s about my town.

Finding my home was pure happenstance - as it often is. We lost our lease in San Francisco and were struggling to find a new place that would take two Dobermans. A friend told us of a vacant place he’d heard about in Mill Valley. I ventured across the bridge to check it out. Arriving in the rustic downtown, I looked around. Charming stores. Coffee house and bookstore. Yes, I was home. That was thirty-one years ago.

I’ve always loved living here, but lately, my connection has felt a bit abstract. Not today. This morning I took a walk downtown. This cold, November morning with frost on the lawns and vibrant, brilliant red and orange leaves fluttering around, I could feel how much I love my town. I could feel it so strongly I wanted to shout from the icy rooftops, “ I love you, Mill Valley.”

The physical beauty of our downtown is incomparable. Because it’s at the base of a mountain, it’s not a drive-through or drive-by. It’s a destination. There is a stand of Redwoods in the center of town. A creek runs through it. A babbling brook with a delightful flower shop over it. We have culture - a film festival, art exhibits and live entertainment. We have location, location and more location - thirty minutes from the beach and San Francisco. Less than four hours from the ski slopes.

There have been numerous changes downtown and I could sit in my rocker moaning about the good old days. We used to have a pharmacy, a place to buy a hammer or shoes for children. We could complain, but we shouldn’t. It’s still such a delightful cross between sophisticated and simple. We’re so fortunate to have the kind of downtown where you can bank, buy books and groceries. There are great restaurants. You can see a first run movie or attend Mass. We also have at least one spa per capita and a fair number of dog grooming establishments. One place even offers chiropractics for dogs. If you want to buy an eight hundred dollar sweater, Mill Valley is your town. Hand knitted, of course. I do miss the funeral home, though. It was so convenient. It’s been replaced by a Montessori pre-school.

It’s not just that I love my town - it’s also that I’ve made a commitment to it. It’s my community. It’s where I’d like to be living when I die. I did cheat on my town once. When I was separated I got an apartment in Tiburon and stayed there part time. It was attractive and had a water view, so you can imagine the temptation, but it wasn’t home. One time I stepped from the apartment to shake out a rug and the door slammed shut. I was locked out in only a man’s dress shirt - with wet hair. Pulling the shirt down over my butt, I scurried to the manager’s office where there was a sign posted saying they were closed for their annual employee picnic. Help. No phone, no friends, no neighbors with a spare key. Just me. Alone. I accosted a couple painters working on an apartment nearby. Despite our enormous language barrier (why didn’t I study harder in Spanish?), I convinced them to let me make a call. I don’t even want to know what they were thinking. The only person I could reach was Eric who was already in San Francisco. When he rescued me forty-five minutes later I was huddled in the fog and the wind on my doormat. It’s an image that gives him great amusement to this day.

I have so much history in Mill Valley - maybe too much. When I first moved here so long ago I didn’t know a single soul. Now Eric’s convinced there’s not a single soul I don’t know. At night I used to look in the windows of the grand old homes, imagining what sort of people might live there. Now I know. Some talented, successful people, some truly wonderful folks and some real jerks. They’ve all been part of my life here. Some of them I’m proud to call friends.

Mill Valley is where Banana Republic began, long before it was sold to the Gap. A small storefront with a jeep in it - they carried safari-type clothing. Smith & Hawken also started at a downtown location. Now we have the first Tyler Florence store. Tyler would like to offer cooking demonstrations there but the City of Mill Valley won’t allow it. Something about a parking problem. Seems shortsighted and provincial. I’ve NEVER been unable to find a parking spot downtown. You’ve got to love small town politics.

We have our famous folks in Mill Valley. Legends in their own minds. I mentioned Blue Pants Man and Babushka Lady in “ Invention is the Mother of Necessity” (April 20l0). We also have the Greeter who stands by the road all day waving to folks going out to the beach. Currently, our most famous street person is Red Sweatshirt Man. When Charlie Deal was alive he used to make guitars out of toilet seats. The man was an icon. Of something. In days gone by we had The Knitter. I miss him sitting cross-legged under the Redwoods. Knitting.

Of course we have plenty of “real” celebrities like Bob Weir and frequent sightings of Carlos Santana, Robin Williams and Sean Penn. Nobody really pays much attention to them, though I did think it was funny when I went to get my blonde highlights and Sammy Hagar was there getting HIS blonde highlights. Working at Sweetwater,I was surrounded by musicians for years. I ignored everyone equally, without regard to their level of fame.

I also think well known people should be left be left alone as they go about their business. Recently we went to a Chamber Mixer at the Tyler Florence store. Tyler was there giving out samples of his potato soup. It got me in the mood to make potato soup which I hadn’t done for a while. I was wondering about his recipe but couldn’t find it any of his cookbooks. I thought I’d just wing it and went down to the market to purchase supplies. Who do you suppose was in the produce department doing a little shopping? Tyler Florence. I could have asked about the recipe, but I didn’t want to bother him. He ended up practically stalking me around the store. I went to the butcher to order my turkey and he went there, too. Later I went back to the butcher counter because I’d forgotten bacon and who do you think came to the butcher asking for four strips of “good” bacon? It never occurred to me to ask for “good” bacon. Now I know how the real chefs of Mill Valley shop.

We have such an intriguing blend of characters in this town. A recent report in the Police Log shows as much. “Caller reported a male subject with a beard and green clown hat walking around the area. Caller said it seemed odd and she thought he’d been smoking weed. Officers located subject in front of the 2AM Club. Subject was sober and just waving at people. Officers field-identified subject and told him he could only be a clown in Mill Valley, not county areas.” Our clowns are legal and our town has it’s own song. Does your town have a song?

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this one, Wendy! My "secret" ingredient to "cream" soups is to add potato puree in place of much of the cream, healthier and almost as good. Of course, good bacon is also a plus. My husband is convinced that there is no vegetarian dish that cannot be improved with bacon!