Friday, May 15, 2015

Fort Bragg Howdy

Before I launch into the next Fort Bragg post, apparently I MUST share my most recent religious proselytizing experience.  I was a bit traumatized at first, but my lovely wife thought the story pretty funny, so here goes...

It was a hot and blustery spring day.  OK, the day was hot and I was blustery.  I had been week whacking, which will make anyone hot and blustery, and sweaty too, even if it's freezing outside.  After a good five hours of brutal physical assault on my body and the errant vegetation, it was time to call it a day.  I was by no means finished with the annual chore, it takes me a good 30-40 hours to whack it all down around here every year.  In stages of course.  This old physical specimen needs to regroup after each battle.  I'm gonna need a goat in a couple more years.  Hell, I'll be an old goat in a couple more years.  I wonder what that all means?

I trudged back up our couple hundred yard long Lombard Street drive and put away the gear for the next time.  Then I noticed, with complete dismay, that I needed to put one more coat of paint on the coffee table I was refurbishing.  Dang!!  Never a dull moment around here.

I was hot, tired and blustery.  And sweaty.  And my feet ached.  So did my body.  I so wanted to just
go inside and take a shower.  Paint later after I'd regrouped.  But it made sense to paint first and then shower.  Save time and water.  I was already dirty.  There's a drought on around these parts.  I sighed.

Then I took off my boots, shirt and pants.  Who cares?  The only living thing to witness my partial nudity would have been a couple squirrels and a hawk.  And maybe the neighbors across the valley if they really had their telescope dialed in.  And had an inordinate amount of time on their hands.  Who the heck (besides my lovely wife) wants to take a peek at a partially naked rapidly aging old geezer?  Talk about kinky.

So there I was, happily putting the final coat of paint on the coffee table.  Tired, blustery, sweaty.  I couldn't wait to finish and then take a shower to lose ten pounds of dirt, grime and salty water covering every pore of my anatomy.  And then I hear what sounds like it could be a car coming up our couple hundred yard long Lombard Street drive.  I thought about bouncing quickly to put on my pants, but they were in the garage, about twenty feet away.  This old tired body was simply not into bouncing anymore that afternoon.

I was expecting a Fed Ex package.  The usual driver is male.  It'll be OK.  He won't care if I'm in my underwear.  He'll think it's funny.

I said to myself.

I watched the top of the drive with pending fascination and horror as I painted.  And then, what to my wondering eyes should appear?  Why, a metallic blue SUV with two females front and rear.

Where the hell was my Fed Ex guy???

So I sat there, paint brush in hand.  Thankfully I wasn't wearing my tie dyed leopard print thong.  Thing.  I was in a pair of basic cotton boxer shorts, my underwear of choice since the third grade.  Nothing fancy, nothing flashy.  Light blue. 

The driver pulled up and hopped out, smiling.  A middle aged proselytizer, aided and abetted by a couple older ones inside.  Her shotgun partner hopped out too, smiling.  Hell, they were all smiling.


I sat there, agape.  Not the agape they would hope to have me attain, but the agape that inhabits the facial features when one is agape in the grip of complete disbelief.

"Hi, it looks like you're working!" the driver said, completely ignoring the fact I was sitting there in my underwear.  Maybe she didn't notice.  Possibly she didn't care.

"We're out here today sharing the good word of the bible.  You've probably been wondering what's going on in the world these days..."

I interrupted.  I was going to bring it to her attention.

"Um, no, not really.  Don't really care.  They're all pretty crazy out there.  What I am really wondering, however, is why you feel compelled to proseltyze me on private property when I am clearly not even dressed." 

"Um, maybe this isn't a good time," she said haltingly, backing away, as if I might bite.  Or suddenly developed leprosy.

Or maybe the realization suddenly came upon her that viewing a partially nude male body conflicted hideously with her bible thumping morality.  I might have suddenly become a sin.  She was possibly going to turn into salt.  The entire event reeked of dire circumstance and circus clowns.

I stood up as shotgun also rapidly backed away and got back in the car, which made a hasty retreat back down our Lombard Street Drive.

"Might have been different if I had been expecting you.  I might have put my pants on," I hollered after them.

When am I going to get that driveway gate up?

Most tourists that arrive in Fort Bragg are there to see the ocean.  Or be in the ocean.  Many take Hwy 1 north from the Bay Area, doing the Northern California Coastal Route Scenic Highway thing.  Similar to what we did.  Only we went south. 

Fort Bragg is kinda at the northern end of the line for Hwy 1.  The highway does continue north another forty miles or so until it merges with Highway 101.  Gets a little sketchy as it approaches 101 too.  Very narrow and curvy as it winds through the redwoods.  It also passes through the teeny weeny little towns of Cleone, Westport and Rockport, eventually merging with 101 at Leggett.

The drive north from Leggett on 101 is spectacular as it courses through the redwoods, eventually hitting the Pacific Coast again just south of Eureka.  There are a number of charming small towns and magnificent redwood wonders on the incredibly scenic hundred or so mile drive.  Hwy 101 then hugs the coast another hundred miles and continues on past the Oregon border.  

If you're road tripping north on Hwy 1 and hit Fort Bragg near the end of the day, I would recommend staying in Fort Bragg.  Unless you want to sleep in a tent.  Or your car.  The next nearest accommodations would be Leggett, an easy hour or more up the road.  And that last part of the road requires a lot of attention.

The last time we were on that last part of the road was when we were coming down from Portland, Oregon.  Hitting that slice of road at 11:00 PM after being on the road for six hours was a real treat.  Plus it's beautiful, which you can't see at night.  Take it slow in the morning and enjoy the ride.  

Fort Bragg is by far the biggest town on Highway 1 north of San Francisco, boasting a population of around 7,250.  Fort Bragg also boasts three grocery stores, a Harvest Market, a Safeway and a throwback Purity Market, for those of you who grew up in the sixties.  They've got the same sign and everything.  If you're looking for a grocery store, these are the only three you're going to find on the coast north of San Francisco.  Yeah, there's little markets in every town, with little market big prices.  Just so ya know if you're traveling on a budget.  Cookies can get real expensive when there's only a couple bags on the shelf. 

There are a number of motels in Fort Bragg, from two to four star.  Take your pick.  A lot of travelers also stay at MacKerricher State Park, which has a fabulous campground right on the coast.  It's a few miles north of town.  We've never really known the touristy side of Fort Bragg, we've always known someone who lived there.  I think we stayed in a motel once about thirty years ago when we were over for a wedding. 

The first someone we knew in Fort Bragg was a cousin who moved up there in the mid seventies.  He started making redwood burl clocks and tables in San Jose back in the redwood burl hey day and soon took his talents to the source, opening a burl shop right on Hwy 1.  And that's how my Bud ended up there.  We went up to visit my cousin and my Bud almost never left.

Fort Bragg did have two large industries at one time.  The Union Lumber Co was launched in 1891 and was in business (finally as Georgia Pacific) until 2002.  It was a major employer for over a century and the 400 acres it sat upon is right on the coast and within the city limits.  All the old buildings have since been demolished and there is currently a scenic trail that drifts along the property from some place over to another.  It's nice I'm told.

Commercial fishing has also played an important role in the economic base of the community. Once a major commercial fishing port, Fort Bragg was well known for producing quality fish products that were distributed to major metropolitan markets.  There are a number of commercial vessels that still venture out of the Noyo Harbor in search of crab, salmon, albacore, and rock cod.  Sport enthusiasts also dive for abalone and urchins, when in season.  Nicely dressed children when out of season.

Tourists can also catch a sport fishing or whale watching boat down at the harbor.  Or, if you'd rather not set sail to the sea, you can just enjoy some great eats.  There's a few good restaurants down at the Noyo, which is one of the West Coast’s most scenic working harbors.  It is tucked into the forested hills at the south end of town, the high bridge on the highway shoots right over it.  To get there you have to wind down off Hwy 1, there are signs if you don't have a local in the car directing you. 

We dined Sunday night at Silver's at the Wharf, engaging a sumptuous fried fish platter.  Silver's has a 4 star rating on Trip Advisor, we'll give it a 5 because the location is great.  We also give it a 5 because another old Fort Bragg friend's daughter-in-law was our server. 

Another major dining attraction at the harbor is Carine's Italian Fish Grotto, which only received a 3 star rating on Trip Advisor.  A lot of the negatives though pertained to their seafood entrees.  Lemme get one thing straight, if you want seafood, go to Silver's.  If you want a burger, go to Carine's.

I have been to Carine's a few times.  The first thing you see when you get in the lobby are the autographed glossy 8x10's of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn et al when they were filming the movie Overboard in the area in 1987.  Apparently they enjoyed the casual ambiance and good food.

The only thing I've ever ordered at Carine's is their burger.  Which comes with fries.  Enough fries to fill a station wagon by the way.  You need about 3,000 of those little ketchup packets to cover the amount of fries you get.  Or, you know, maybe you could just use a half a bottle of ketchup, which would probably be easier than opening 3000 foil packets.  Now that I think about it. 

And the burger?  You know the four sided one pound rectangular brick of ground beef you buy in the grocery store?  Well, that's what you get, cooked to order and on a bun.  Sort of on a bun.  The meat has a tendency to stick out a bit beyond the bun circumference.  My wonderful daughter's eyes almost popped out of her head when she first saw a Carine burger.

Carine's was closed the night were there.  My Bud sez that Mama Carine, the matriarch of the restaurant clan, is in failing health.  This could mean the era is ending.  If you are a burger enthusiast, this is one you don't wanna miss. Git over there soon!

Another fun sighting for my lovely wife, who is also a cat whisperer, was the number of Wharf Cats we saw after we left Silver's.  It was dusk, prime feline time.  Feral friggin cats were everywhere.  The old cartoon Top Cat theme reverberated in my cranium.  We saw twenty and figured there were at least a hundred more running around down there.  I doubt there's many rodents around the harbor, or errant fish, but if some sort of birth control intervention isn't made soon the cats at Noyo Harbor will someday outnumber the amount of fish left in the sea.  Which would be ironic, wouldn't it?

Fort Bragg is also the retail hub for the Mendocino County coast line.  Besides three grocery stores there's a couple hardware stores, a few pharmacies and a car wash.  The old part of downtown also has a number of fabulous kitschy touristy gift shops, for which we are always good for a visit.  Drop a dime or two for the local economy.

After a block or two of fine views, including an overpriced antique shop, we ventured across the highway to the museum.  It's in an old Victorian right on Hwy 1, in the middle of town.  Can't miss it.

The main exhibits at the museum primarily pertain to the lumber and fishing industries, offering a fascinating look at what men did before the invention of power tools.  And comfortable socks.  I mean, some of those guys, and probably not the sanest guys, made railroad ties in the middle of the damn forest with just axes and hand saws.  BIG hand saws, but uncomfortable socks.  Who wants to deal with that? 

On one visit we made many moons ago the museum featured a lamp with a shade I would love to see again. I believe at the time it was on loan from a local aristocrat.  Back in 1966 the local ranch owner/aristocrat hosted a dinner for the cast and crew of "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming", the hilarious movie in which Alan Arkin won an Oscar for best actor.

As a way of thanking their host for dinner the entire cast and crew autographed the lamp shade.  Alan Arkin, Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Paul Ford, Jonathan Winters, and Theodore Bikel among others.
That movie is one of my all time favorites. 

My other two all time favorites, in case you were wondering, are "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" and "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?"   They both happen to be comedies as well.  Imagine that.

After the museum we ventured a few miles down the road to the lovely hamlet of Mendocino, a  quintessential California coastal town.  It is lovely, lively, and quite picturesque.  It is also very touristy, but a MUST see and do if you're ever in the area.  Lots of gift shops, eateries and small town coastal ambiance.

The wild Fort Bragg weekend wound down to a close after our Sunday dinner and catathon, and Monday morning our Bud was off to reality.  And we were off on vacation.  We packed and said good bye to our coastal home away from home.  Hopefully it won't be another three to four years until we return.

Next up: It's So Fun To Say Gualala