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Marooned In Marin

As the atmospheric river unleashed its fury over the winemaker dinner I hosted with my brand manager Johnny Roldan, trouble thundered its way down. The fifty or so guests were four courses deep at the Marin County bistro, overserved and underfed, and the outdoor patio patrons began passing on the dessert round and hitting the road. Thickly bespectacled Johnny and I had shared an UBER from SF to Marin, with plans to do the same on the backend. I’d known him for a decade, mostly professionally, and he had just relocated to the city by the bay. The night’s event was our first real evening working together, and was so far a success.

With the dinner clearing out, I shook some wet hands out in front as Johnny stood by the kitchen area with his cell phone in hand, having secured an UBER driver to snag us, who’s gamey car icon hadn’t moved much. “Seventeen minutes,” Johnny said to me, showing me his phone. “Salvador is coming.” I took a swig of one of the red wines. The tall, handsome owner of the restaurant, Germain, had told us he had a morning flight to NYC, so he couldn’t linger too late after the event. He was drinking twice as much as us, but was younger, fit, French, and the target of attention from two red faced women who repeatedly came in to hug him good bye and receive the ceremonial Parisian pecks on the cheek. One of the women looked through Johnny and I as if we were apparitions, or just boringly American like her.

“Salvador isn’t moving,” Johnny said.

More guests left. The rain hammered down. Streets turned to springs out front. “No!” Johnny suddenly showed me his phone. He’d been charged for a ride that never came.

“I’ll give it a shot,” I said. I clicked on Lyft and it wouldn’t load. The icon just spun around, the map never coming in from the blur. A few wine club members came to thank us for being there as we stood by a refrigerator full of all-you-can-drink Perrier and other cold goods. Johnny continued the search. After the members left, I asked him how it was looking.

“Not good. I think we’re stranded.” He showed me his phone as it tried to upload HotelTonight. “That’s where I’m at,” he said, shrugging his dress coat shoulders. He hadn’t been outside since it’d started storming, yet his curly hair was slick with anxiety over our failing exit plan.

Germain sauntered over with a full glass of the white dessert wine. “Zee internet is out,” he said to us. “All over.” One of the drunk girls, standing nearby, started ripping her car keys out of her purse. “You should not drive,” Germain said. “Absolutely not. No way.” Her face beamed with the fantasy of a night in his sculpted foreign arms, then she belched an aromatic blend of all five pairings. He got his phone out and had the same problem as Johnny. It was after ten.

“I think you guys are stuck,” Germain said.

“Can we try the hardline?” I asked.

The goateed and man-bunned manager came over and said the POS and the hardline were all down too.

“Is there a hotel within walking distance from here?” Johnny asked him.

“Listen,” Germain said, taking an elegant pull off the viscous white and then pointing across the street, “I live just over there. Come to my place. Seriously, it is your only option. Zee best option.”

“Totally,” Johnny said. “But I don’t want to impose.”

Germain’s restaurants here and in SF were the most important on-premise accounts for the wine import company Johnny worked for. His French boss had stressed that he was to take the upmost care of Germain and even learn some French in his off hours to further the connection.

“It is fine. It is okay.”

“You have kids,” Johnny continued, Woody Allen-esque in gesture and tone. “I mean your wife is there asleep probably. We can try for an Uber over there, at your place, but…” I leaned to Johnny. “What about an old fashioned taxi?” But there were no yellow pages to flip through, nor a hardline to phone one in on. “Or maybe Germain’s internet is working at his house? Who knows.”

The manager drove one of the girls home after the other simply bolted. We followed Germain out back and ran through the rain into his VW SUV. I sat in back, Johnny in the front passenger seat, and Germain fired it up. He conversated and drove, and soon I realized we weren’t going across the street. Not at all. Not “just over there.” We were going west into the wilderness. Johnny’s head, right in front of me, was going into overdrive realizing this himself, but he kept it lively, this important French wine account of his. We were ten minutes west, fifteen, with trees, rain and darkness, hydroplaning through the Marin mountainside.

“Germain,” Johnny said, “seriously we don’t want to impose. I know you have a family. But thank you. We’ll hang for a bit and try to pick up a Lyft or cab at your place." 

“I have to drive to SFO in zee morning. I can take you to the restaurant for a coffee, breakfast, and then drop you off in zee city. No problem. It’s cool.”

“Totally,” Johnny said, nodding his head rather spastically. “Totally.”

“It is no problem. I have a separated space for you. Separated from the main house. There is a bed in there. You guys can share zee bed.”

“Share zee bed?” we both thought simultaneously.

“Totally,” Johnny replied with false gusto. His head nodded then like it’d flop right off at the neck. I even leaned forward, mostly amused but also… “Share zee bed?” We hummed further west into the stormy night. I honestly didn’t even know where we were. Point Reyes? Sonoma Coast? Finally, we pulled left off the highway into a rural community, past a closed down tavern, with no street lights. A small neighborhood appeared.

“Zis is my place,” he said. We pulled down an unpaved alley so potholed and soaked it could’ve been Northern Panama, and approached an electric gate with mossy wood slats posted vertically onto three thick metal bars. He clicked it open and we drove through. It creaked shut behind us as we parked.

Using our phones for vision, we rushed out into the downpour and followed Germain across a flowing band of water toward the guest unit, over a mock little wooden bridge, and up to the sliding glass door of what looked like a 200 square foot office. “Man,” Johnny said, “That was like a creek through your property!”

“Zare are two of zem,” Germain said, unlocking the slider and opening up the door to reveal a small simple space, with no bathroom or chairs and just a desk on the right. Johnny was trying to compliment him on the space, which had files in milk crates on the floor, some of his handwritten sommelier exam pages taped to the wall above an old computer monitor. Germain crouched over and rolled out a full sized floor mattress, which consumed every centimeter of floor space.

“Zare you are. See you guys in zee morning,” Germain said.

“Thanks Germain,” I said.

“Totally,” Johnny added.

“In zee morning, I take you to SF. Okay, good night.”

He closed the sliding glass door behind him, then Johnny let it out. “I can’t do this. Seriously I’m fat, I snore now, it smells like old man shoes in here.” He opened up the door and called out to Germain, who returned more irritated this time. “Let me get your wifi password. And your address, just in case you know, we get a cab or an Uber out here.”

“Out here? A cab? No way.” He gave him the info anyhow and left.

I sat awkwardly at the foot of the mattress, next to a massive pair of Adidas running shoes. I looked at the wine maps on the wall, and Germain’s hand written “Good vintages” list of Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux, going back to 1996 and stalling out at 2007. Johnny laid down tentatively on the mattress and couldn’t even look at me. He clicked on his phone.

“I’m trying man. I’m still tryin’.”

“How are these size fourteen Adidas?” I said. “My head can go down here and you can be up there. It’s no problem.”

“No. Not happening.” Then into his cell phone, he spoke. “Johnny Roldan, call me back, ride to SF, tonight. Thank you.”

“What was that?”

“Marin county taxi service.”

“Really? Think it’ll work?”

“At this point I’ll try anything.”

He continued to type away. “I can’t do the morning thing either,” he said. “Breakfast? Same clothes? With morning breath?”

I wasn’t that excited about the prospect either. I’m 45 years old, father of two small kids, while Johnny was a couple years younger and single. But we were stuck, and now even more so.

After a few quiet minutes, he almost stood and leaped up off the bed. “Ali is coming! Dude. Twenty five minutes.”


“That’s what it says.” He held up his phone to show me.


“Twenty-two minutes!”

“Think he’s really coming? All the way out here? Is the car moving?”

Johnny’s face looked insane. “A little.”

“If we bail on Germain, we’ll be losing some placements.”


In the wholesale wine sales world, and going into the busy holiday season where imbibing ramps up a notch, it was a valid point to bring up.

“You know,” I said, “in Euro culture, this is no problem. Two travelling guys having to share a bed? In Australia even. Youth hostels. Germain will be confused why we didn’t just crash out and share the bed. He seemed excited about the breakfast part.”

“Darren, there’s a cultural divide.”

“He’ll be bummed. We could lose some placements.”

“Seventeen minutes.”

“No way.”

He held up his phone again.

The storm was at peak strength outside. Johnny went out and peed into the rainfall off the little porch. Maybe a small bathroom, or even a chair in here would’ve broadened the space out, and helped it seem more doable. But It was all bed. He came back in and laid down in his spot, eyes to his phone. I looked at the ceiling.

“Ali’s here!” he suddenly announced, on his feet and tearing open the sliding glass door and just bolting.

I got up, turned off the light, tidied the mattress up, and closed the door shut behind me. I activated my phone light and ventured out into the rain. I saw the light of Johnny’s phone going side to side by the electric gate. The creek was a small river now. I couldn’t hear or see an UBER. We were fully blocked in by the gate. “I can’t find a button!” he shouted.

“I’m sure there’s a passenger gate,” which sounded normal to say. “Or a people gate.”

The dozen or so wooden slats affixed vertically to the electric gate were soaked, weathered by Marin weather, with moss growing all the way up to their sharp, arrowed tips. You couldn’t just climb up over it. There was a small, three foot high metal pole near it, but no button to be found. Aside from the gate, industrial wire fencing enclosed the perimeter along with bushes and trees ten feet high. I left him to scan the northern corner when I heard him say, “Fuck it,” and with his one good hand, hoist himself onto the pole, then crest the top of the gate. He was up there, goofy footed, miraculous in the face of storm, and the whole thing wobbled like he was going down the face of a backwashed eight footer and was drunk, half of which was true. “Johnny!” I yelled, rushing over with my phone light on him. That was when his foot broke through three of the slats and he went crotch down on the gate. I grabbed his phone out of his hand. As he fell completely over the side with a few more slats of wood, I grasped the back of his jeans to lessen his bodyweight blow into the Marin County mud. He’d fled the compound, down there on the earth with his glasses and clothing streaked with terroir.

Still on the inside, I squatted down and shined my light upon the gaping opening, that any stranger, child, dogs or pack of boars could simply walk right through. Johnny suddenly grabbed his phone out of my hand and shined it on the open damage too, before he said, “Now we’re losing some placements.” He tore off down the dark alley, fending for himself. No carpenter by any means, I did what I could to match the rusted nails on a few of the slats to their place on the gate, but most of the pieces were smashed. I pictured Germain leaving for the airport in the morning, taking a sip of coffee perhaps, hitting the gate open and half of the wood just shaking right off.

Down the dark alley and around the corner, I finally saw headlights and a Lincoln Town Car. I ran up and opened the door. Johnny was in back, masklessly rambling a river of gratitude to the masked up driver. I looked at him like he was a mental patient.

“Was that necessary?” I asked.

“My ankle is twisted but totally worth it,” he said, nodding his head. “Totally.”

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