When I moved back to California at the very end of the 90s, I first lived in Bolinas for a couple of months. I'd almost moved to Marin County after college, but got married, veered inland for Colorado, and forgot about the little town with great birds, ocean views and hippie ideals, for years. After I split up, I asked myself, "Where did I leave off?" That is, what had I been thinking, on my own, before I was deep in the throes of a relationship? Through another artist, I found a sublet in the unincorporated beach town, a small cottage up on the mesa with tiled counters, hand-thrown pottery mugs, and a shelf full of self-help books. The owners, taking cues from the birds, wintered in Mexico. With good reason: I think it rained nonstop during my two-month stay. I don't remember much about Bolinas during that time save for soggy eucalyptus trees, trying to write short stories while looking for work and reading the cottage-owner's books by a wood fire. Occasionally, I took an 'easy' yoga class in the annex of the pre-school; between cloudbursts, I took walks along the mesa and down to the beach.
Within a short amount of time, though, I was working for Marin County's local weekly, The Pacific Sun, curating the entertainment calendar and writing an occasional story. I drove over the hill each day to Mill Valley, the quintessentially Marin town to which I'd previously paid little heed and to which I'd soon move. Small, filled with 60's/70s rock & rollers, steep and breathtaking hiking trails, natural food stores, and film festivals, Mill Valley was a beautiful place and a real town. One of those places that has a definitive town square and familiar faces at the cafes and watering holes. I did a lot of yoga, had access to many of the latest dance and theater shows through my work at the Sun, started writing songs and periodically showed up at an occasional open mic at the towns coolest music saloon, The Sweetwater. Over time, work at the Sun came and went, I moved to Santa Cruz and then back to Mill Valley before finally leaving around 7 years ago. All the while I've stayed in touch with one of The Sun's writers, Matt, who shares a mutual love of pie and has a talent for keeping in contact with the people who've come through his life like few other people I've met.
Flash-forward 12 years, and Matt sends an email out saying he's been writing for the Sun for 25 years! "Who will buy me a drink?"
After many emails, a gathering was organized at the newly re-opened Sweetwater. Following many travails of ownership, the venue now lives adjacent with the building that used to house the Sun.
Last night, I drove to Mill Valley for the celebration. Mill Valley is really only 50 minutes away from where I live but feels like several lifetimes. As I drove in, I saw few things had changed: there's a second huge Whole Foods next to the post office, The Yoga Studio is now YogaWorks, but otherwise most everything else seemed the same.
It's still a beautiful town. The old movie theater was in action (screening "The Artist"), a cluster of writerly types mulled printed pages at The Book Depot Cafe, and a few kids were running around the plaza. Even Vinyl, the funk band that was tearing it up 10 years ago would be playing the Sweetwater later that night (I was 'warned' we'd have to move from the bar for the 7:30 sound check for their sold-out show).
I was early enough to walk around and stop into a beauty shop to get my eyebrows done. As I discussed her East Asia-derived and India with my aesthetician, it was revealed that she was the daughter of Bhagavan Das . Only in Marin, I thought. Properly groomed, I headed to the party.
Matt had assembled a wide cross section of Sun employees for the evening and it turned into quite a reunion. It was fun to compare stints at the paper, which as since moved to San Rafael, with the writers, artists and editors who came before and after my time there as well as reconnect with former cubicle mates. Some folks, like Matt, are still contributing to the paper, which remains the second-oldest alternative newsweekly in the country (after The Village Voice). The former publisher gave us a tour of the former offices, which now house other tenants as well as a part-time green room for touring bands. And the new Sweetwater is quite a lovely little club with a comfortable bar overlooking an ample floor and well-appointed stage. More than one very familiar looking local was seated at the bar as members of Vinyl started loading in gear. As forewarned, we were booted before sound check so I didn't get to catch up on their act or the clubs true audio quality...which means, darn, I have to look forward to returning to Mill Valley in a nearer future.