As an aficionado of random facts and figures, I was delighted to learn that our expansive five-county region in the upper Sacramento Valley holds only 1.4% of California’s population. (Human population, that is - I would expect the same five counties to represent maybe 45% of California’s livestock.) The cultural obscurity pleases me greatly. I recently blogged about a visit to the local feed store, in which the proprietor’s very young son came out from the back room, with a proud grin on his face, to show me the Daisy BB-gun his father had given him. It occurred to me on the way home that this utterly normal bit of small-town life would horrify nanny-state busybodies everywhere and, alas, was probably somehow illegal. Which pleased me all the more, of course.
Likewise, having lived for 20 years in Sacramento, I still marvel at the fact that Mel at the saw shop loans me his trailer whenever our riding mower needs service. I picked up the machine kind of late this afternoon. Mel told me to take the trailer home and come back at a convenient time after closing, locking it up behind the shop. It’s not like he knows me – he still has to ask my name every time I come in. The trailer is there for the convenience of his customers, free of charge. He’s well into his 70s and comes across as grouchy and gruff, but the man is as straight as an arrow. He doesn’t propose any more work than is really needed and charges much too little. Mel still doesn’t take credit or debit cards, either. Once a few years ago I had overpaid him by three or four dollars, and he called me and asked me what to do. He saved the change at the service desk until I came in a few days later.
I could go on and on. The drive-through coffee stands in town don’t take your money until they have given you what you ordered … and you might easily drive off without paying. The nursery leaves dozens of bags of compost outside by the sidewalk over night without any fear of theft. Other retailers leave their sandwich boards (you know, those A-shaped signs) outside over night without any fear of vandalism. I’ve had mechanics and technicians out to the ranch for some service work and they forget to send the bill. I rented our modular home to a man who, upon shaking hands when we came to terms, placed $400 in my hand and walked away without a lease. While having lunch at the coffee shop on Monday I greeted six people by name. The local printer stamps “In God We Trust” on its outgoing mail. Etc. We have our problems in this town – they’re not small - and sometimes I do feel like escaping back to civilization, but in truth we have a little slice of Mayberry that is worth holding on to.
Sometimes we get noticed in the big cities. San Francisco is two and a half hours to the south and, it seems, a whole world away. But on June 14, 2008, we actually made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle: "A Town Where It's Hard To Say 'Gay'". The woman in the photo pouring the coffee – Fran – is typical of many people around here. She doesn’t like the big city, and once told me that she never goes any further south than Dunnigan.