Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small Town Ambiance

It doesn't matter what the insanity level or festivity is-and we have a lot of  looney and festivities in these here hills-it's the locals that make the place thrive and create a lovely, down home, small town country atmosphere.  From your basic conservative, retired, dope smoking golfer with a 401K to your pierced and tatted long haired dope smoking radical without a bank account, from Ma and Pa to your countrified urban professional, we got it going on.  And somehow, amazingly, everyone for the most part gets along.

Most folks that live around here want to be here.  It's not like they're living in the shade of a freeway.   Or in Kansas.  They're here for the same reasons we moved here in the late 1970's.  Small town.  Country living.  Fresh air.  Furry animals.  Fabulous outdoor recreation everywhere.  World class skiing and entertainment nearby.  So is a big city for any of that big city stuff.  Rural, but not off the grid.  Although you certainly can be off the grid in this county, and many are. 

Speaking of long haired radicals and retired golfers who smoke pot, since moving back here in 2009 we have discovered Western Nevada County has apparently become the Humboldt of the Sierra Nevada foothills.  A lot of folks around here apparently got to ailing as soon as the medical marijuana law was passed.  And, apparently, the climate hereabouts is quite conducive to its production.

We've even got a new brand of seasonal workers who flock to the area in October of each year.  They come in VW Buses, just like the days of old.  These days though they aren't called vagabond wastrel gypsies or hippies, they're called "trimmigrants".  You know, emigrants for hire that "trim" the county's bounty.  

Besides production, pot consumers loom relatively large in this area.  My lovely wife and I were at a Summer Nights street fair in Nevada City a couple years ago with some friends.  He dresses somewhat conservatively as do I and we've both been known to spark up a doobie from time to time.  As I gazed upon the packed streets-and they can get shoulder to shoulder sometimes at these events-I began to wonder how many of the folks in the crowd smoked weed.  Looking at my friend and I in our semi conservative wear, and then at crowd which included a large dose of long haired, nappily attired, free floating spirits in tie dye with beads and fringe, I figured at least 50 % of the crowd, probably more, got high from time to time. 

A lot of the crowd is a pretty easy tell.  You know, a bong in an over the shoulder saddle bag is one.  The aroma from a lit joint is another.  Another easy tell was the guy in the plaid skirt I saw last year at Summer Nights.  He also had a real big, bushy beard and long dread locks.  And bright red toenails.  What the hell?    He'd have to be have been high to choose that color.  Red???  A mauve or taupe would have gone much better with the hues of his dress.  Er, skirt.  OK, kilt. 

My lovely wife and I were listening to Lorraine Gervais, a local singer who puts on a number of high quality, local vocal shows throughout the year.  Our niece sings back-up with her from time to time so we always try to catch her when she's playing.  Especially when she's jamming at a street fair for free!

Anyway, we were all rollicking and rolling on a warm summer's eve when our Scottish Rastafarian boogaloo'd on in with a crowd that included some of those retired golfers, younger, free spirits, AARP hippies and an amazing human melange of all and everything in between.  There was so much rhythm and commotion going on I don't think anyone else noticed the fashion faux pas.  What's wrong with me? 

These two, small foothill communities do put on an amazing number of festival type feats throughout the year.  The fairgrounds, of course, hosts the annual county fair.  They also host the 4th of July festivities and a bounty of renowned music festivals, including the annual Father's Day Bluegrass Festival, the annual California Worldfest, the Strawberry Music Festival, Music in the Mountains as well as numerous other smaller events and venues.  

Most of these events draw tourists as do the towns themselves.  Both towns offer a rich history from the California gold rush and they both offer a quaint, charming, old town small town ambiance.  As a matter of fact, Nevada City has been ranked fairly high in a couple recent "Best Small Towns of America" articles.  Here's a quote from Bay Area travel writer Carole Terwilliger Meyers; 

“Nevada City is reputed to be the best privately preserved and restored small city in the state, this picturesque mining town is also said to contain residential and commercial buildings representative of all the major 19th-century architectural styles.  Scenically situated on seven hills, the town boasts a particularly fine assortment of lovely gingerbread-style Victorian homes, and the entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, it is home to more artists per capita than any other California county, and these talented people attract and present themselves in high quality theater and music. Events at the fairgrounds are doubly worth attending, because it is considered the most beautiful fairgrounds in California."

Both Nevada City's and Grass Valley's old town downtown's offers a number of cool, kitschy shops, art galleries, saloons, wine tasting stores and many great eateries.  From sandwich shops to fine restaurants to sweets, you can find it on the downtown streets.  One can easily spend a few hours and more exploring each town's offerings.  There's also a number of old mines and museums scattered throughout the area that offer insights into the historic mining industry of the area. 

Besides weed, a number of wineries have also sprouted up around here in the last decade or so.  Apparently our climate is also conducive for a variety of grapes.  Variety, as in more than one since many local wineries have won awards for both reds and whites. 

Unlike weed growers, grape growers kinda tend to want to be known.  Here's a link to Nevada County's finest wine.   There is no link to Nevada County's finest weed.  Sorry.  But I might know someone who is acquainted with someone else that may have a cousin who knows someone that may have a friend who might have an idea.  About what I don't know.  What were we talking about, anyway?

Folks can stay overnight at a few regular type motels or at one of the many Victorian B&B's in either town.  They can also stay at the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, which has boasted Bret Harte, Mark Twain, four US Presidents and me as guests.  Or, as many do at a music festival, folks can camp at the fairgrounds.  There's hot showers and looking at the trees is free.  That place fills up fast at the music festivals.  

I understand the biggest parties aren't in front of the stage, they're mostly in the camping area after the show.  I've been told the air rising through the trees is fog thick with an amazing psychoactive haze.  The kind of haze that would take a novice to the moon.  I also understand the fairgrounds boasts the happiest (and hungriest) squirrels in California.   

Both towns do their fair share of puttin' on the dawg throughout the year.  In December they both shut down their main streets one night a week for a street fair, Victorian Christmas in Nevada City and Cornish Christmas in Grass Valley.  Then they do a similar gig in summer.  But they call it something different.  And people are usually wearing shorts and sandals instead of wool coats and gloves.  Food, art, live music, and an incredibly diverse blend of relatively happy, mellow human beings.

The street fairs are pretty much confined to locals, but the county fair always draws tourists.  And why not?  Situated on the finest fairgrounds in the State, it's small town country fair magic all the way.  There's a Ferris wheel in the pines and everything.  While there are a number of commercial vendors scattered about, many of the buildings offer the blue ribbon for a number of wondrous creations.  From cakes and quilts to chickens and mares, it's all happening at the county fair.  Oh yeah, there's beer, rides and caramel corn too. 

The fair usually runs in August from a Wednesday through Sunday every year.  Weekends always draws the tourists, so most locals will be out Wednesday and Thursday.  You'll find us looking at quilts and flowers and enjoying a corn dog on Treat Street.  That's when I have an opportunity to catch up with multiple folks I haven't seen since the last corn dog.

These low tech, simple, community acts of celebration are a joy and wonder to behold and partake in.  It does not matter who you are, from our golfer to our hippie, from main stream conservative to main street liberal, these events all speak to the yearning for a simpler, small town life.  It's a real good Norman Rockwell feel.  Even better than waffles.

At the fair last year I noticed an old dude, even older than me.  I'd peg him at about 85.  He was wearing a white polo shirt, bright marine blue shorts and bright white tennis shoes.  With dark, navy blue socks up to his knees.  

He didn't care.  He probably thought it was OK.  A lot of old dudes do.  But to me, wearing long socks up to the knees defeats the purpose of wearing shorts.  So does wearing shorts that go beyond your knees.  Isn't that what pants do?   

Old dude was casually yet crisply dressed.  He was strolling slowly, sunshine beaming from a gleaming smile as he sipped an ice cold beer.  Yeah, he was getting his fair on and he was feeling right.  Just about as right as any four year old with a cotton candy ice cream cone would feel.  He was feeling that good.

It doesn't matter who you are or how old you happen to be.  It doesn't take much to get your fair on, just let it go.  It's really easy to do here in the hills. There's a pretty easy and accepting cast of characters up here.  Yeah, there's some rednecks.  There's some hillbillies.  There's some cluckers.  There's probably some redneck hillbilly cluckers too.  It's Broken Bad everywhere.  But all that aside, for the most part, this area is loaded with folks that live and let live and just want a little privacy.  They want to drink their wine and smoke their weed in relative peace and quiet.  And they want to be able to pee outside whenever they want without fear of getting busted for indecent exposure. 

OK, not everyone is out of their mind, like me, nor are they abhorrently prepossessed and obsessed with creating a functional homestead.  Or peeing outside.  I mean, some folks actually live in town.  One thing is certain, whether they live in town or in the country, most folks would prefer not to hear freeway traffic twenty four hours a day.  Or be anywhere near it.

Many enjoy sunshine, nature, and Captain Crunch cereal.  Some golf, some hike, some rolf, some bike.  Some hunt, some swim, some bowl, some drink gin.  I think there's even some Lutherans.  And Republicans.  All differences aside, the ultimate overwhelming common denominator of the local population is the desire to live in, share, experience and create that small town that's in all of us.   Living the dream for more than a weekend.  

It doesn't get much better than that.