“4 Gay Women, 8 Jews and the Pope Walk into a Midlife Crisis…” Zachary Dominitz spent Thanksgiving with his mother who came out and her exes, and his dad who suffered a stroke
The road immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge winds through a long mountain tunnel, and it’s easy to imagine the passage as a magical gateway. Ninety minutes later, the transformation fully takes place, and the road tracks through rolling hills, mountain ranges, twisting rivers, rock slides and oak trees with balls of mistletoe in the otherwise-bare early winter branches. And then, of course, there are the redwoods.
No tree can make you feel as insignificant, as lost in awe. Driving through Avenue of the Giants they are towering, endless, the tops too high to even see. What light that gets through is that of a fairytale, splintered into shards of translucent milky blue-white, beacons of mysterious adventure, of imagination. It’s easy to get lost in thought, in memory.
Humboldt County announces itself clearly as Highway 101 snakes North. The roadside stands selling burls and carvings are fewer now, the old diners and truck stops I remembered so well as a kid now shuttered and empty. I was young then — 5,6 — riding the Greyhound (the ‘Big Dog,’ the adults called it) alone, back and forth between parents. Now, stores advertise trimming tools and grow lights, irrigation pumps and ventilation systems. Behind those stands of redwoods, tobacco companies are buying up huge tracts in anticipation of legalization, the same property that welcomed back-to-the-land enthusiasts, poets and musicians and Vietnam vets escaping North, merging — at times uneasily — with the loggers and fishermen of rural small-town America.
East coast folks consider San Francisco Northern California, but there’s a good seven hours of driving left before Oregon, and six of those before you get to Trinidad, the smallest city in the state. It was a fishing village when I lived there, 412 of us, Captain Beefheart and Thomas Pynchon included. Now it’s mostly empty, save for summertime vacation rentals and a few old timers, my father included.
It had been a few years since I’d made the drive North, and as the miles slipped by and the angle of the sun dropped beneath a high valley fog, the soft light horizon of late November and the easy blues of KMUD pulled me back. I remember driving this road once in 2001 with my girlfriend, taking her to meet my father. She was European, blonde, and so beautiful that her mere presence changed the energy in a room. She was wrapped in a scarf and sunglasses, seat way back, staring at the trees, and I was so smitten I pulled over and stood on the hood with my camera, taking pictures through the windshield of this amazing woman. A black mustang zoomed past, a young girl driving, and for some reason I noticed.