My wife later reported that he had cut the line at the gas station counter to demand his coupon for a free car wash, and that he further endeared himself to those who respected the queue by asking the harried cashier a series of questions about the size of his vehicle and the dimensions of the car wash's enclosure. When I ran my eyes over him he was sitting in his big-assed, late-model American truck with a vaguely lefty and/or spiritual bumper sticker. Late 20s or early 30s, short and thin, trim beard, groomed locks. Rightly or wrongly, I put him down as the self-satisfied and self-entitled sort of person we used to call a "trustafarian." Except that these days, of course, trust funds are beside the point.
He entered his code and pulled into the car wash, past the hard-to-miss "7 foot maximum" sign. We watched as the rollers descended to meet the oversized rack attached to his truck bed, and listened as sheet metal folded and crinkled and clattered to the ground all around him. The rollers jerked back and forth three or four times, quickly and violently, before giving up the struggle. As the attendant was walking out to the car wash to discuss matters, we continued pleasantly on our way.
We were headed to our own particular quarter of the backwoods to pay respects to a fallen member of the tribe from our parents' generation. We drove down the highway to the county road, from the county road to another county road, down the dirt and gravel along the Eel River, and finally down the long, rutted driveway. A few hours later we made it down to the wake.
The man we were eulogizing was an original ’60s back-to-the-lander, a movement and worldview to which he stayed true. I only met him a few times, but I knew he was an odd and wandering sort of person. He had roamed around North America for years with insufficient funds, just to see what he could see, and sometimes to write about it. Later he made a second home for himself in the Philippines. He was poor his whole life -- even during the weed boom years -- because for him and most of his clan, the money had always been a means to an end. As they said back then, he was on a different trip.
His neighbors used to get together and celebrate every week or so. Nowadays, they only congregate for wakes. There were a bunch of them there last weekend -- the creaky old codgers, each grown even more stubbornly idiosyncratic over the years -- and sometimes their kids and grandkids. They spent a few hours eating and drinking and catching up before the memorial began. This one just got out of prison; that one is going back in. At least a couple were in poor health. It was mentioned that the weed -- their type of weed -- had fallen to as low as $2,100 per pound in recent years. That was the wholesale price of generic, organic, sun-grown outdoor, the variety that made the county's reputation. Nowadays, all buyers wanted to hear about was souped-up hydroponic indoor that carried some kind of brand name -- "bubblegum" or "kush" or whatever nonsense. The industry had been commodified, had become American.
People got up and shared all the decades-old stories about their old comrade. Then we walked down to the bridge, where we spilled lilies and rose petals into the Eel, and then his ashes. He had given his soul to the place long ago; now the watershed is absorbing his mortal remains. It would be curious to chart his progress down through the Mateel toward the mouth, and to gather and report his observations along the way. He and his cohort had so much hope for the world, especially this corner of it. How has it held up? Does he forgive?
North Coast Journal readers! Exciting news!
We're resurrecting the Journal's annual "Best of Humboldt" issue, which we haven't done in God knows how many years. This is going to be a funny, eclectic guide to Humboldt County's best of the best, with an emphasis on the funky and offbeat -- the things that make Humboldt Humboldt. It'll be out on the streets on Sept. 10., and it'll be the kind of thing you'll want to keep around and read cover-to-cover and debate your friends about.
What we need you to do is make your views known in our Best Of Humboldt 2009 Readers' Poll, which you can find elsewhere in this issue or (preferably) online at northcoastjournal.com. Please note that we're not asking you to choose your favorite dry cleaner or dentist or the like -- we're keeping this sucker short, simple and broad. It'll only take a few minutes, and it'll be fun. Vote now!