Rain threatened all weekend and finally fell in light mists late Friday and Saturday, just enough to sweeten the day-time air which, by early morning, became muggy-hot all three days.
The threat of rain didn't seem to knock down attendance as measured by locals. We note how far south from the central Boonville Fairgrounds people have to park and judge attendance accordingly. And cars often lined Champs Elysees-Boonville all the way south to the Brewery, corner of MacDonald's to the Sea, now known prosaically as Highway 128 and the Ukiah Road, now prosaically known as Highway 253.
By the how-far-south-did-people-have-to-park-standard, Fair attendance seemed robust.
But we didn't know it was raining all around us, from the Mendocino Coast to Willits to Potter Valley and Ukiah, and south to the Rose City in Sonoma County — everywhere but the magically exempt Anderson Valley, the County Fair at one end, Eric Burdon and The Animals at the other.
Eric Burdon and The Animals?
Yes, Eric Burdon and The Animals at one end of The Valley and the Mendocino County Fair in Boonville at the other, those two huge events plus some three hundred graduates of Anderson Valley High School, vintage 1975-1995, also assembled at the Navarro Store on Saturday to recollect their halcyon days, living testimony that there's something about this place that never lets go.
A big weekend with rain everywhere but here.
A dismayed caller assessed the first rains this way: "Did you know that the government seeds the clouds this time every year to wreck the pot crop?"
No, we didn't know the government's big bag of tricks included the unleashing of inclement weather on Mendocino County's marijuana fields, but these particular paranoids, the globally threatened ones, tend to monologue, and sure enough this very, very concerned citizen veered off into a multiplicity of menaces, which included contrails, PG&E's smart meters, genetically altered salmon, peanut butter allergies, and secret surveillances everywhere, all of it aimed specifically at him. Just as we were about to recommend the only known prophylactic — a do-it-yourself tinfoil hat — the besieged man got off the line and we got back to genetically altered ballplayers and the Giants game.
Fair manager Jim Brown sounded exhausted Monday morning, as well he might after the frantic annual three days Jim and his crew pull off every year with an efficient aplomb all of us marvel at.
"It'll be down," Jim said of attendance. "But everybody who came and stayed had a good time. It was raining everywhere but here all day. That hurt Sunday for sure. No real rain in Boonville, though. The stands were full for both rodeos and the sheep dog trials. I ask people if they had a good time, and when they say Yes, that to me, is a successful Fair."
We definitely had a good time in and around our booth comfortably wedged between Mendoza's Insurance and those middle of the road extremists, the Mendocino County Democrats whose stand was half rented to Hamburg For 5th District Supervisor.
There were tensions where, in ordinary elections in Mendocino County, there is usually only a kind of quietly resigned despair, that the incumbents will only make everything worse and the challengers are crazy.
The Roberts-Hamburg race for 5th District Supervisor is as bitter and apparently embittering as any we can remember. You'd have to go back to the early 1970s when Norman de Vall took on incumbent Ted Galletti, a very good supervisor and a very nice man. But the hippies viewed Galletti as, well, not a hippie, and certainly not a liberal of the lockstep variety ever since dominant in much of Mendocino County. Galletti planned a huge development on Cameron Road, a straight up fabrication that Galletti never could beat back. de Vall won. And won again, and again.
But de Vall never generated the pure hatred that candidate Hamburg engenders among the County's Ukiah-based rightwing, an entirely irrational hatred impossible to reconcile with the real life Hamburg, a modest, good-natured fellow seemingly devoid of malice. But to hear his opponents tell it Hamburg's a cross between Fidel Castro and some kind of mega-hippie.
Hamburg's opponent, Wendy Roberts of Mendocino, is personally appalled by Hamburg. A bright, tireless, conventional woman of middle-years, Mrs. Roberts has mobilized those sectors of Mendocino County's seething population who view Hamburg as the representative of everything that has gone wrong with the County over the past 40 years.
Friday afternoon, Wendy, a Democrat and a dues-paying member of the National Women's Political Caucus, the first female candidate not to be endorsed by the Mendo branch of the NWPC, said she'd been barred from the Democrat's booth. She cited Val Muchowski as the Democrat's booth-villain.
"Val wouldn't even let me leave my campaign material," Wendy said, "and I'm a Democrat!"
Our booth was next door.
Bruce McEwen, an old school gentleman, gallantly made room for Wendy's buttons among our inflammatory t-shirts, books and newspapers while, on the long benches opposite the arrayed booths of the AVA, Hamburg and the Democrats, Wendy and her close friend Barbara Reed, also of Mendocino, kept a close eye on what they seemed to see as a fluidly interchangeable conspiracy against Wendy.
The Hamburgians and the Democrats think that Wendy represents a green light for bad development. They think she will join supervisors Pinches and Brown to form a voting majority for pavement and ten thousand square foot ocean view glass boxes for retired dentists up and down the Mendocino Coast, although given the state of the economy any kind of development anywhere in Mendocino County would seem to be dead, possibly forever.
On her part, Wendy, like many of her supporters, sees Hamburg as an outlaw, a teflon outlaw who is able to hurdle scandals which, in a larger, more active media market, would sink him. Wendy and her supporters say Hamburg's a cult guy and a marijuana criminal. They also remember that as a supervisor Hamburg opposed a ghastly scheme for a tax-supported "convention center" in Ukiah, as if Ukiah would ever attract witting visitors in sufficient numbers to support the giant Smorgy Bob structure the pavement people envisioned. And they remembered that Richard Ricky Henderson, now a Mendocino County superior court judge, was active in an attempt to recall Hamburg when Hamburg served as supervisor for the Ukiah area.
But that was years ago, and far away over the hill, but there are Hamburg haters with very long memories in Ukiah, and their hate remains purer than pure, and they've invested money and time in Wendy whom they see as their best hope in nearly a half-century.
Wendy lately seems more wounded than hating as she's anonymously ripped by the libs in chat rooms and unedited comment lines. She was a member of the Grand Jury that first pointed out that supervisors Colfax and Smith, putative liberals and active Democrats, were chiseling on their travel reimbursements.
(An active Democrat in the Mendo context means one who gets to eat lunch with Wes Chesbro and drink a glass of wine with Mike Thompson.)
Which is where Wendy went crossways with the Democrats, Colfax and Smith being inside members of that dubious fraternity.
By Sunday afternoon of the Boonville Fair, Wendy, as intrepid a campaigner as we've seen around here, was limping around the Fairgrounds with a hand-printed cardboard sign on her back announcing herself as a candidate. She may have gained some ground on Hamburg, but Hamburg could do nude cartwheels up and down Highway 128 and still win in the 5th by the 60-40 majority prevalent since de Vall vs. Galletti. In fact nude cartwheels would probably put Hamburg at 65-35. Lee Edmundson, hyperactive Democrat from Mendocino, bet me five bucks that Hamburg-Roberts would be a lot closer than 60-40. He seemed worried. The active Democrats seem worried that Wendy is gaining on them.
Manning a Fair booth can be harrowing, especially when large, unsmiling men with broken noses approach, as several did over the three days but all of whom turned out to be friendlies.
A perfectly round man scurried up. Pointing at our stack of papers, he asked, "Is this this week's?" Yes, I said. "Is this the one where you insult my wife?" I hope not, I said, but it could be. Who's your wife? "She runs First Five," the basketball-shaped fellow said as he scurried off with a paper.
Hmm. I thought back. Did we insult old Whatsherface this week? I re-read the item for insults. There weren't any, only a few unhappy facts, but people read elastically anymore and believe what they need to believe, and the basketball-shaped fellow never bounced back our way so I assumed he and Mrs. First Five were peacefully shooting hoops somewhere on Ukiah's westside where all the really, really nice people live with their 1.5 children, their vegan dogs and their cats called Mozart.
Visitors to our booth were so engaging I never got further into the Fair than Lee Edmundson and Dan Gjerde at the Democrat booth next door and the thriving negative food value stand a few feet away where lines of happy gourmands walked away with huge combo mounds of fried vegetables sure to reduce their life expectancies by five years.
All day every day we heard that the displays and exhibitions associated with sheep shearing and wool spinning were consistently the most interesting presentations at this year's Fair with, as always, the rodeos and the sheep dog trials also high on the Fair-going crowd's must-see list.
District Attorney Meredith Lintott threw us a few ominous looks, pawing the ground and snorting like she was going to bull rush us. I said to Bruce McEwen, "If she goes off, Bruce, you hit her low and I'll see if I can get the cuffs on.
Bruce Patterson's got a camera so we'll have proof who started it."
But before Mendocino County's lead law enforcement official could fully convert herself to human projectile mode, a constituent approached and she had to switch on a smile.
The one obtuse visitor we had stood staring at the slogan on the back of one of our t-shirts — 'Fanning the flames of discontent — finally demanding in a truculent voice, "Which discontent?" I was so startled at the question my daughter had to translate. "He wants to know, I think, which discontent to fan," she said. Well, golly, anything from athlete's foot to global warning. It's up to you, bub. We're running a newspaper here, not a dictatorship.
Earlier, Bruce McEwen, booth manager, had sold a t-shirt to Terry Ryder. Terry was buying the shirt for her boy friend, Oyster Bob. Staring at the shirt from bright sunshine into the shade of the booth where the shirts hung, Terry asked, "What's that say?"
"It says," McEwen confidently offered, "Flaming the fans of disconnect."
To a woman who'd asked what time the rodeo started, McEwen replied, "About seven. Look for me on the big bulls."
Across the way sat a Who's Who of Valley matriarchs — Carolyn Short, June Lemons, Velma Brink, Joy Frazer, Berna Walker, and Joy Daniels. I would have mortgaged my house if I still had a house to mortgage to hear their comments on passersby, a variety of people presenting an array of shapes and looks surpassing any random selection of passersby in deepest Frisco. The Boonville matriarchs reminded me of the one time I brought my mother to the Fair, an elderly woman still in her early eighties and certainly much less verbally restrained than the above mentioned. Only very small children passed muster. I had to keep reminding her to keep her voice down. "Some of these people are friends of mine," I would plead. And, "Please, Mom, I've got to live here." The only two local adults I ever knew her to fully approve of were Dave Severn and Ken Hurst.
Larry Carr Sr., the mayor of Yorkville, stopped by the booth to say his family claimed he was senile. I consoled Larry with the information that I'd had to fight off the same accusations. "Larry, my friend of these many years, as soon as you nod off at the dinner table they start nudging each other and saying stuff like, 'Well, he's always had selective hearing but now he's deaf and won't get a hearing aide. He'll be in diapers soon.'
I told Larry we can be roommates at Valley View over in Ukiah if Karen Ottoboni won't let us in at the Boonville Elder Home.
"I'll see you there," Larry said.
Sunday's parade was interesting for who didn't appear, namely the Board of Supervisors. We assumed it was because they couldn't find an armored vehicle big enough to contain all five of them, but most years at least three or four show up. This year, none.
Sheriff Allman led off the parade behind a trio of fire trucks. The Sheriff was on top of a Fort Bragg VFW rig inscribed, "Fort Bragg VFW Supports Our Troops," which always annoys me because it implies that sympathy for fighting men and women is lacking in all but the Fox News Gang and their millions of dupes. Anyone who tries to tell you that Vietnam veterans were spat on when they came back is a liar. And anyone who tells you that there's only Limbaugh-like sympathies for today's soldiers is also lying. The spitting on vets never happened, and everyone left, right and center feels for the kids overseas today.
A Hamburg For Supervisor float, on which rode the candidate and his handsome family, passed by. Candidate Wendy Roberts won ecological points when she walked the length of the parade route. There were lots of horses, a muy cool low rider vehicle, Bill Holcomb's beautifully restored Merc, hippies on a dune buggy, a jeep that said "Eyster4DA" with no Eyster in it. Eyster soon appeared curbside handing out candy to children young and old. A memorial float in honor of the late Sergeant Chase Stanley who died in combat in Afghanistan made us wish that our wounded veterans from the endless conflict in Iraq, the Mendoza kid who lost both his legs to an IED and Jesse Slotte who almost lost his life to a similar device, had been recognized for their sacrifices. There was Meredith Lintott For DA moseying along in a convertible, more hippies on a smaller dune buggy, and a harem girl on a black stallion.
Deputies Squires and Walker said the Fair, from the law enforcement perspective was, as deputy Walker put it, "uneventful." Deputy Squires remembers when Fair weekend was eventful indeed, but those days of mass drunkenness and fistfights in the middle of 128 are long over.
By sundown Sunday Boonville seemed almost deserted, and by Monday morning Boonville was deserted.
The Boonville Fair is still the best fair in America.
Dick & Jane had a wonderful time.