I’m on my way up to Eureka, a town of 27,000 in northern California’s Humboldt County.
Just outside Garberville off Highway 101 N, a gargantuan tree lays toppled on the side of the road. I stop the car to explore it; a closer look shows me that it has been carved out and converted into a mini museum.
Once inside, the wooden floor creaks beneath my shoes as I walk past wooden tables and forest-green comforters tucked into twin beds. Books with names like “Mind Siege” and “Building Better English” line the shelves. Through the walls I can hear cars zoom by on the adjacent highway. Flies buzz; I wonder if they wonder what all these human artefacts are doing in their natural habitat.
After my brief jaunt through the tree, I’m on my way again, weaving through coiling roads past towering redwoods until I reach my end point of Eureka.
Mix woodsy with bucolic, then sprinkle in just a small dash of New England seaside vibes and you get Eureka. Particularly illustrative of this vibe-blending is the long, slightly curved strip of smooth black road that connects Eureka to neighboring Arcata. Paralleling the water, it’s dotted with trees of epic height.
Inside Old Town Coffee, colorful indigenous masks hang from the brick walls. A pale-skinned man with brown hair, his chin kept snug by a thick beard like many of the other men’s I’ve seen here, recommends Duo Lingo to his blue-eyed co-worker, who wears hipster glasses beneath her brunette bangs. Outside, a white horse stands in front of a parked carriage (mixed feelings about this).
This subdued little pocket of the state has some interesting history. The Samoa Log-house for instance, once a place where loggers used to fill up during their lunch breaks, still churns out chili, cornbread and, hearty home-cooked food, served all-you-can eat style. Logger history permeates the place, with giant photographs from that era hanging from the walls and relics lining the shelves.
Rides take me as far south as Ferndale (where a sign inside one cafe reads “Boat-building class in progress. Enjoy watching, but please do not distract,”) and as far north as Trinidad, a quaint seaside village where sailboats sprinkle the crystal-clear blue water next to a red and white lighthouse. Above all I appreciate the area for its greenery, fresh air, serene walks on the beach, and lack of traffic.
Passengers include two girls dressed as skeletons, headed to a costume party (Halloween-themed in the month of June); a boy who moved up to Eureka from LA for love; and a passenger who got in eating an ice cream flavor called Grandpa’s Breakfast (cornflakes and brandy).
“I don’t mind the cold. I sleep so well when it’s cold out. I can get all bundled up. It’s like the blankets are hugging me throughout the night. I’m newly single, so I need that hug,” says a drunk male passenger.
“There’s a chihuahuahua coming to the party tomorrow, right?” another (girl) passenger asks her friend. Her friend asserts that he’s not a chihuahua, but a mix— “bigger and more regal than a chihuahua.”
“When my daughter went into labor she was wearing a dress just like that in black!” exclaims a woman selling blackberries, pointing to the customer’s red and white polka dot dress.
A 20-something man wearing black sandals, his bleached blond hair tied back in a ponytail, kicks a soccer ball across the grass.
Two little girls ride next to bushels of lettuce in the wagon their mom is pulling.
Chard spills from the reusable bag of a young couple wearing band shirts. A blues band performs “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” while hoola hoopers sway and the sun flickers on and off above the Arcata plaza.
I’m at the farmers’ market in Arcata, Eureka’s neighboring town of 18,000 that’s home to Humboldt University. Before going, Yelp told me to “imagine a little Berkeley, focusing on Telegraph Avenue, and replace 99% of the rest of the Bay Area’s cities and towns with redwood trees.”
“There are several places on campus where a wrong turn can put you directly into the redwood forest,” a commenter wrote of the Humboldt State campus.
Stepping inside the Finnish Hot Tubs Cafe– where all the walls, tables, and floor are made of wood– feels like entering the inside of a spacious tree. Wooden train tracks circle the ceilings above your head. A ukulele hangs from the ceiling. Out back, a garden blooms and jacuzzis bubble, steam rising into the air from inside the little wooden cabins each of them are contained to.
One couple, who’d planned to travel in Argentina but got pregnant instead, talk with me about the differences between Colombian and Venezuelan arepas; two old people who have never taken Lyft before and are still figuring out the app show an endearing mix of earnestness and befuddlement; and a young man wearing glasses and a panda beanie gets in, followed by his girlfriend bundled up in similarly winter-esque attire.
“I hope the cats behaved themselves,” she says. “I left the food on the counter by accident. Watch there be a meatball just laying in the middle of the floor when we get home…”
“Or maybe we won’t see it at all. Just paw prints and fur in spilled tomato sauce. Meatball down the cat gullet,” says the guy.
After I drop them off, the wind flaps the male passenger’s lengthy panda paws through the air as he walks to the front door.
Did they open that door to find intact meatballs in a tupperware on the counter? Or a guilty cat face with sauce on the chops? are questions whose answers I’ll always be left to wonder.
Bigger Passenger Story: The Girl Who Raved / A Bookworm Turned Raver
When Mollie* used to close her eyes and see her future self, she never pictured “raver” as part of her identity.
Seated in the backseat of my car with her hands burrowed inside the pockets of long furry paws–which extend down from both sides of the wolf beanie that blankets her head (*a common staple of rave attire)–she describes herself as having been a quiet teenager who listened to classical music while she studied and had never gravitated toward the type of music people would classify as ‘rave”.
“I didn’t party, so I was basically always listening to classical music. Because studying was my life.”
This changed when she got to college, where a friend introduced her to the rave scene. Even though at first Mollie stood at the sidelines (in her words “just not having it”), the second time she went, she opened herself more to the experience.
“I gave myself permission to be a part of it. And after that I was just 300 percent sold.”
Though she doesn’t provide many concrete details about the “rave experience” itself (“It’s hard to explain what makes it so special,” she says), she does comment on the “rave philosophy” in a more abstract, general sense.
“It’s both an escape, from social judgments, and a coming together–with other people who are completely down to subvert convention and redraw boundaries of how to talk and what to wear and who to be every day.”
Mollie acknowledges the occasional frustrations of being a woman in the rave scene, pointing out the unique hurdles that they face. Certain men–not all, but some– can at times poison that very mood she described so glowingly above.
“When men bring a predatory attitude into the rave room, it changes the energies. For both guys and girls, it adds a threatening vibe. Other guys don’t feel as safe to be themselves, and girls don’t either. When there’s that threat of sexual harassment everyone can feel it.”
I can relate to this, having experienced a comparable sensation in my early 20s when straight guys (knowingly or unknowingly) showed up at lesbian events, bringing with them “wolf in the henhouse” energy.
“Wolves just need to go. I mean except for these ones,” Mollie says when I share this with her, sparking movement of her wolf head by tugging at the flaps of her beanie.
Before my ride with Mollie, I’d heard people talk about the rave experience. They’d said similar things about camaraderie and breaking down of social conventions. One guy friend of mine seemed to have really found his niche within them.
Hearing a girl’s perspective on it though adds a new layer to it. I particularly like how Mollie describes it as “just this massive, communal discarding of all the stuff that oppresses us every day.” When she leaves I thank her for her insight into this world I probably won’t ever experience firsthand, then watch as she heads off to her friend’s mini rave.
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Wolf in henhouse– https://twitter.com/michiganlcv/status/951864713557790720