Fort Bragg Rolls Out the Red Carpet (with me in it)

I thought you might be interested in my experience visiting Fort Bragg, Monday March 26th. It was a day trip for me but I was on my own for three hours while a friend fulfilled a contract.

My first stop was Headlands Coffee where I ate cookies and drank coffee while flipping through a book catalogue. There was time after to window shop. The bookstore had a used copy of Season of the Witch in their window. I considered buying a second one to lend out. Maybe after lunch.

Since it had been awhile since I was in Fort Bragg I thought I’d check out the mini mall in the old Union Lumber Company building. Final destination here was the Mendocino Cookie Company but first, a tour of the shops, slowing down to glance at the historical photos plastering the walls.

As I turned the last corner before the Cookie Company, someone vacuuming the carpet quickly turned off the machine and says to me “Let me ask you something” and proceeded to make accusations about me hanging out and not being there to buy anything. The phrase “You can’t hang out here” was repeated several times. My only response was “I’m heading to Mendocino Cookie Company. I’m a tourist.” He didn’t believe me. “Just remember, you can’t hang out here.”

I ate enough cookies earlier so I bought a Cappuccino to drink while making some notes in my catalog. I still had some time to cruise Main before lunch. On the way out I stop at the shared rest room. Someone was using it. So I’m waiting in the hall when the homeless patrol guy walks up to me and says sarcastically, “Still being a tourist?” I needed to find out what the problem was.

I go into serious conversation mode. “Look, what is the problem? Tell me what it is I’m doing and I won’t do it.” I hold up my cappuccino cup. “Look, I’m a customer.” Hallway police: “You can’t hang out here.” “What is hanging out?” “You can’t be here for over an hour hanging out.” Finally, a piece of information. “When you stopped me on the way to the Cookie Company I hadn’t been here for more than a half hour looking at the pictures on the wall so I was well within this range. Aren’t we supposed to look at the pictures?”

He acted like he never heard me but he didn’t ask me to leave either, which I was planning to do after the pit stop. Struggling to make sense of his behavior I do an analysis of my appearance – clean shave, clean clothes, no stuff except an Air Mac computer on my shoulder and a convention tote bag for a few papers. My best guess is, it must be the army raincoat. I grab the lapel of my coat in a final desperate attempt to break through to this guy. “Its been raining. I’m from Clearlake so I had no idea what the weather was going to be like here. THAT’s why I’m wearing THIS (pointing to the coat) which makes me look like a homeless person.”

I feel satisfied that I’ve solved the mystery but he just shakes his head and stalks off. During the whole encounter someone who was obviously the building’s manager passed by twice showing a new employee what had to be done to shut down the building at the end of the day. Nothing I described seemed out of the ordinary to him. I pop in and out of the rest room and leave – probably forever.

I meet my lunch date at the pizza pub across the street. I talk about the new Fort Bragg hospitality. I say “Fort Bragg” because there had to be significant public involvement to bring in all the historical artifacts to the mini mall. During my brief stay I spent $53.35. Obviously chump change for a classy place like Fort Bragg. I forget all about going back for the book on the way out of town.

I feel I should help your businesses keep lowlifes like me out of town by publicizing my recent visit. So who am I? I am 64, educated, and retired, currently on a mere $14,229 per year but I own my own place. I travel a lot on a budget within 150 miles of home. Someone still working would have to gross another thousand to clear this amount. Add another thousand to beat the hanging out threshold and we get a minimum gross income of $16,229 to keep Fort Bragg from jerking the welcome mat out from under you. I still don’t know what nuance I projected to throw retail personnel into homeless alert mode so probably no one else would either.

Feel free to use my picture of exactly what I was wearing and carrying for a poster captioned: “If you look like this, keep moving.” I’ll send it to you. I want to help.

The 8th Avenue Boys

by Dante DeAmicis

Hugging the fringe of this 10 square mile war zone is the true center of Clearlake.  One would think that Clearlake’s hub of activity would be either the 2 mile “has-been” resort strip of Lakeshore Drive or the City-Hall-to-Highway 53 escape of Olympic Drive.  But no, the City’s standard of excellence is sales tax revenue from whatever source.  Using this single minded criteria, Clearlake’s “center” is an oasis of cleared brush on the last freeway exit.  We’re too downstream to have a downtown anyway.

A two-time interim Clearlake Administrator reported that only Walmart was increasing the flow of sales tax blood into the City’s anemic coffers.  This last-stop freeway nexus also features 3 fast food joints and a Rays grocery store.

The middle drive of this cash cow boasts the biggest bus transfer site in Lake County – top of the list on Clearlake Chamber of Commerce’s “points of interest.”  Why are 50 buses a day rolling through the middle of a shared parking lot?  Because this daily transit parade route is actually an unmarked right-of-way dividing 2 parking lots.  Once the pavement ends and the howling wilderness begins, this stealth road continues on the map as “8th Avenue.”

This also explains why milling throngs of homeless are routinely rousted from the Safeway parking lot but are only moved out of the bus shelters here.  They are free to get in line with their signs as sort of a low-brow haiku show for lost Napa tourists.  (Have your picture taken with a real homeless person?)

A few years back a developer had to promise to punch this paper road through to get approval for his paper subdivision 3 miles away. For now, its a place to arrive by bus from distant lands, check your e-mail on McDonalds’ wi-fi, discuss investment strategies with the homeless, and steal something from Walmart.

Usually the only reason I hang out here, longer than to take my bike off the bus rack during the day, is to walk through the Jack-In-The-Box lobby doors before Midnight.  Everyone working at night here are required to speak 2 languages or have 3 tattoos. Management has to do both.  Its the only place in Clearlake I can sit down in a lighted room, write awhile, and charge my cell phone after 11 pm.  If I’m not quite finished when they lock the doors I have “Plan B” across the street – the secret 2-plug outlet on the closed McDonald’s flag pole.

There’s a trashy surrealism inside this “Jacks” that works for me.  Cabaret tables stand against the windows, patiently waiting for Margaritas that will never come.  The crowning touch is the stereo mini mirror balls, suggestively gyrating from the ceiling.  Weak rotating colors thrown off create a dance floor effect only bright enough for moths and mosquitoes.  No one else would notice unless they were filling their root beer cup underneath.

I asked the counter person if she really wanted me to disco in front of the fountain drinks.  It won’t be a pretty sight on the security camera.  Unfazed, “Sure, why not?”

Closing time.  I leave the lobby as the last of the homeless are leaving the pavement into the broken promise of a street that never was.  A hundred betrayed GPS navigators wail about the breach of trust with their stranded owners.  The shabby people and their dogs are grateful tonight for that broken promise unlike the many broken promises made to them.

Welcome to 8th Avenue, another poster child for the “State Map Act.”  Clearlake has an orphanage full of them.