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Flipped a Coin, Moved 3,000 Miles

So I semi-temporarily left Ukiah for a town even more dismal, and live on a street with traffic worse than North Dora. 

Historically I have done my important planning, as in finding a new home, using the following strategies: A) Research poorly if at all; B) When in doubt follow a vague hunch, and C) Leap before you look, regrets to be determined.

People ask how it was I came to live in Ukiah; my stock answer: “One mistake after another.” Now, unable to learn from (my own) history, I’ve apparently repeated it. 

I’m now where there’s one (1) bar in town and it doesn’t even meet the definition of the word “bar.” There’s not a pizza joint or fast food franchise for miles. At least the carwash is better.

Here you can wash your car with eight quarters; in Ukiah eight quarters gives you time to reach back into your pocket for more quarters. You know the carwash I’m taking about.

 A forever sore spot for Ukiah is her downtown. Actually the entire State Street stretch, glamorous bulbouts notwithstanding, is a six-mile panorama of small town planning gone hopelessly wrong. Back here, the buildings are old, classic brick babies with fancy glass, turrets here and there, with a 19th century brick courthouse boasting a shining gold dome five stories in the air.

Trouble is, the town is deserted. It’s several blocks, dozens of buildings, most of them dark and empty. Windows are cobwebbed and clouded with dirt. Old faded hand-lettered signs say “Coming Soon! Pepino’s Pizza Palace!” and “Ginger Twins Bake Shop Opening Summer 2014.” And so on. Ukiah, despite never having transformed itself into the long-promised “vibrant” downtown, still manages to score higher on the “lively” index.

About that so-called “bar.” If you’ve been waiting for the next big thing in taverns, saloons and such wait no longer. Here it is. At the corner of my street stands The Courthouse, which is a big beer & wine vending machine. It has two stainless steel walls with dozens of spigots and you stroll around with a pint glass and pull your own.

It’s like the old New York Automats, where nickels and quarters got dropped in slots and you opened small glass doors for a glass of milk or tuna sandwich. If the future of bars is a wall of spigots, may they go the way of Automats. 

Town traffic is a longstanding problem in Ukiah, and I should know because I lived on North Dora Street 20-plus years. It gets busy. But the narrow strip (in the Historic District, yet) where I live today makes Dora look like a country lane out the other side of Burke Hill Road.

This mini-highway is a potholed ribbon of two narrow north-south lanes; you’d think it was a 101 on-ramp in LA. When fire trucks roar one direction and 18-wheelers come the other down a road barely wider than your dining room, it’s quite thrilling. If you’re keeping score, Ukiah wins the roads competition.

There isn’t a Starbucks in the county as far as I can tell. If you’re hoping to find the nearest shop selling Chanel cosmetics or a nice cashmere men’s sport coat make sure your gas tank is full.

I don’t consider a shortage of Mercedes dealerships or Kate Spade outlets a drawback. My interest in hanging out at trendy coffee shops has dwindled to zero. I might visit a neighborhood bar for a World Series game and not return until next October. I feel comfortable heading into the fall fashion season without consulting Tommy Hilfiger for advice on socks and t-shirts.

What’s nice but a shade peculiar about the southern part of the good ol’ USA is how doggone polite and pleasant everyone is. I get lots of smiles and “Why g’mornin, hon!” greetings on daily walks. They ask about my house and my health and my family. I suspect there once was a really fine fellow who looked a lot like me who lived here but moved away. The neighbors have us confused and think he’s back. 

The guy across the street, with no warning, bought us two tickets to the symphony orchestra. Dotty lives next door and has us over for Sunday dinners at 2 p.m. when she gets back from services. 

At least once a week Trophy gets invited to garden club events. Around the corner, an elderly Black gent who spends his days polishing up a trio of vintage (mid-‘90s) Ford Crown Victorias asked if I’d like to accompany him to church.

In Ukiah, gardening classes means cannabis, and the last person to invite strangers to church was Jim Jones. But at least the bars have bartenders, and you can order a shot.

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