Ride with Me: Endless Vineyards, the Joys of Reading, and Goat Alarm Clocks in Santa Rosa, CA

I’d set out to Santa Rosa–a city that Sonoma Magazine described as “the kind of place where natural bounty serves as a muse for utopian dreams, sleepy residential streets hide ambitious farm-to-table kitchens, abandoned buildings are resurrected as art galleries, and the corner coffeeshop turns nightlife hot spot with craft-beers on tap, all to the rhythm of Americana and bluegrass beats”–wanting to explore more of the place that had birthed my favorite beer (Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Elder IPA).

Before leaving I brush up on some history: how Santa Rosa grew during World War II, becoming a convenient location for San Francisco travelers on their way to the Russian River; how the population increased two thirds between 1950 and 1970.

I’d read that Santa Rosa had drinking stations for dogs at various parks. Go Pet Friendly nominated it as one of the best cities for traveling with pets. 

This city of 180,000 turns out to be a peaceful and lovely community, its artistic pulse and cultural bustle tempered by its rusticness and small town tranquility. The stars–especially in the more remote areas– shone resplendently, while the moon beamed unobstructedly in the dark night sky. 

Some of the remote country orchard roads I traversed were so dark I even had to flash my high beams every once in a while to ensure I didn’t drive off into the fields (**which I guessed were beautifully green during the daytime). Life gently flowed, rather than pulsated, through the city’s arteries—making for a vibe that felt less hectic and frenetic than San Francisco’s and other parts of the Bay Area.

This comment from Makai, written eight months before the massive 2017 fire in Santa Rosa struck, read eerily as somewhat of a premonition of the massive blaze that was soon to come: “As a native of Santa Rosa, it is still nice, however, it’s also losing its charm, becoming gentrified, and will soon lose its allure if we don’t either slow down, and or put a stop on expansion.”

After the fires hit in 2017, it was sad to acknowledge that some of the lovely neighborhoods I’d driven through just a few months prior had been reduced to piles of ash. It was heartening as well to think that in a few weeks, a single blaze could turn a living breathing city into a charred husk, eliminating much of the beauty people had spent years cultivating.

The Napa / Sonoma County fires killed upwards of 40 people and destroyed over 5,700 structures. More than 245,000 acres burned statewide, fire officials said. Experts at the time said it was the deadliest fire in state history, in terms of live lost and property destruction.

I’m not sure if any of the passengers I drove that night lived in the homes that burned, or loved someone who did. I really hope they’re okay. Either way, My heart goes out to everyone who lost a pet, home, or loved one (or who endured trauma escaping) and to the fire-fighters working hard to defeat the beastly blaze.

“Santa Rosa will be a different planet. There is so much to rebuild. It will absolutely change the community,” wrote Nina Agrawal.

Consider this entry a tribute to the Santa Rosa of five years ago. The Santa Rosa that once was. The city in its previous incarnation, before it was rebuilt.

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The Big 9-0

“My mom’s turning 90. It’s supposed to be a surprise party, but we’ll have to be careful because at that age any amount of surprise can lead to a heart attack.”

–A woman I pick up after making my way down a quiet street of houses lit by the [unobstructed] shine of fully visible stars. I almost pass by the house I’m supposed to pick her up from. Martha, who is outside on the porch with her friend, wears an aqua-colored shawl that hangs across her neck and flows elegantly down to her hands.

She grabs one end and uses it to wave me down in a playful way before hugging her friend goodbye. Then she makes her way past the two oak trees stretching their branches in the front yard, and opens the backseat door of my car.

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Passengers

Other passengers include two guy friends– one a wine-maker, the other a filmmaker who’d grown up in Zimbabwe but whose first language was Spanish (his mom ran a language school); several jovial drunk ladies with Melissa McCarthy energy and demeanors; and a college-aged girl dressed in a white fur coat, her blond hair swept up into a high bun as she explains that she’s back home in Sonoma County taking some time off after studying art at Humboldt.

Still another group were in town for a funeral. All looked to be in their late 70s, and exuberantly intoxicated. They managed to charm a cop out of giving us a ticket for having too many people in the backseat–and then gave me a 50 dollar tip (you can read the full story here: https://bit.ly/3gaqQmx ).

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On the Joys of the Underrated Hobby of Reading

A few days before exploring Santa Rosa, I’d arrived at my car to find the glass on the left rear window shattered. The fact that only one corner of the glass was broken led me to wonder: Did a huge bird lose control of its wings and crash into it? Is my aging car getting arthritis? Or was the Universe trying to get a message to me?

I looked inside; nothing had been taken. The thief wasn’t interested in my corgi socks or my copy of Psychology Today. All that were missing were a few disposable coffee cups from the floor of the backseat. I thanked the thief for helping me to clean my car.

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The fact that only one corner of the glass was broken led me to wonder: Did a huge bird lose control of its wings and crash into it?

But really though. Car break-ins are a problem. I once seriously debated leaving behind a hard boiled egg in the car out of fear that someone might break in for it (haven’t you heard? Hard-boiled eggs go for a lot on the black market today 😉 

Yet when three library books were sitting on my back seat, I felt more confident that I could leave them there without running the risk of my foot crunching against broken glass upon returning to my car.

This is such a a shame to me because, as author Susan Griffin put it, “Reading enables your capacity to know things, and enables your trust in your own perception, and enables you to see reality better.”

Passenger Jessie* and I get to talking about this. She says she’s always liked handwritten letters for her birthday as opposed to texts, and that as cool as emojis are, she’d just rather have the real thing. “I don’t want a labrador emoji, I want a real labrador. Bring me one of those.”

I’m with you there, Jessie.

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Bigger Passenger Story: WOOFing it / Young Woman Talks Living off the Land

Andrea* still remembers, with wistful fondness, the surprising wake-up call she received from a fuzzy alarm clock one morning when working on an organic farm a few years back.

 “I was staying in one of the green sheds, and I guess I’d left the door open partially. Someone else had left the goat’s pen open, or Milky Way got out on his own,” Andrea explains.

“Anyways he trotted into my room and nudged me awake with his hooves, not too heavy or anything. It kind of felt like a puppy.”

I’d picked Andrea up in a residential neighborhood of northern Santa Rosa. Dressed in a red visor and loose, light-blue jeans ripped in various parts, she came in with a large red duffle bag and told me she was headed to an organic farm just outside of Healdsburg, where she’d be volunteering for the next couple of weeks. 

Her recounting of Milky Way’s wake-up services was among the fond recollections she had from past WOOFing experiences.

“My farm was in the mountains of Colorado but you can work anywhere in the country. Friends of mine have even WOOFed in other countries. Usually they require two weeks because they need time to train you.”

After waking up at six, volunteers then would spend the day planting, digging, and teaching kids about sustainable eating. 

“We saw the food go from the Earth onto our plates,” she recollects. “We ran around with the chickens who gave us our eggs. We knew that everything we were eating came from the ground. We helped grow it, then prepared it ourselves. I’d always liked cooking back home but I’d never been the one to grow the food I cook. It changes how you feel about it.”

 Working for the farm has reaffirmed her vehement stance against the U.S. factory farming industry.

“Inevitably when you’re out there in the fields, those issues get brought up. It opened my eyes to all kinds of things, not just animal welfare but food policy, enivornmental sustianability. My awareness of it really wasn’t anything more than theoretical before coming face to face with it at the farm.”

Beyond learning that goats can be great alarm clocks, Andrea also discovered that she is “so much more productive, and interesting, and at peace when not attached to her cell phone” (*volunteers weren’t allowed to have their phones with them on the farms).

Andrea said she didn’t want to go back to the world at the end of those two weeks, and that the experience made her think more seriously about carving out a career in that realm.

“It just opens your eyes to how many different types of work there are out there. Nine to five office jobs aren’t the only option anymore. I’m not saying alternatives are plentiful or that they’re easy to find. But they are there–and you can find them if you put in the time and the research and kind of take that leap of faith to make it happen. This experience really gave me hope for that.”

*Thanks for reading! Check back soon for more Lyft stories, and follow our IG @lyft_tales

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Photo credits

Santa Rosa— https://www.starhr.com/locations/santa-rosa/.

Sunflowers– https://www.classygirlswearpearls.com/2021/07/blueberry-picking.html

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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