Photograph by Jeremiah Flynn and Maria Villano
Best Place to Dance, Eat Candy, Pet the Cute Dog & Buy Real Film
Jeremiah's Photo Corner is almost certainly the only local photo shop with a disco that's actually been used for late-night photo shop dance parties, but that's not all that sets it apart. The store itself is something of an anachronism: it sells film, photo paper, instant Polaroid-style cameras and old-school Holgas; it keeps a bowl of candy at the register; it has Ophelia, a Boston terrier who's there during store hours; and perhaps most quaint of all, it offers service from real, knowledgeable humans.
Film is part of what makes Jeremiah's a local gem, but in truth, owner Jeremiah Flynn and his coworker embrace digital photography as well. They can answer questions about the latest Canon 5D Mark II as well as the correct medium-format film for shooting high-speed motion on a cloudy day with a broken light meter. "Photographers are photographers," Flynn says, plainly, "digital or traditional."
Waxing philosophical about the changing industry and changing psyches in a world with more images than ever before, Flynn talks excitedly about the corner store's simpler approach and blurts out a possible slogan to reflect it: "Let's dance; eat some candy; pet the dog!"
Flynn is the kind of guy who can't help but stick out in a crowd. At 6-foot-6, lithe and lively, he's got a mane of frizzy, curly hair that goes past his shoulders. Gesturing toward his only employee, Maria Villano, he says, "She's the manager, even if there's no one else but me to manage."
Jeremiah's is an anchor pulling together the A Street art corridor, a slow-moving gem where real people still make real art. With real dogs. And real film. 441 Sebastopol Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.544.4800.—K.M.
Best Taco Truck with the Club Jams
Since all the local hip-hop stations have gone off the air and reception for 106.1-FM KMEL is spotty in parts of the North Bay, where's one to go for the latest club jams? Taco trucks, that's where. Outside brick-and-mortar eateries like Lola's Taqueria, F. Magiy Mariscos and El Michocano in Santa Rosa, the offerings of gray-area CDs peddled from weathered cardboard boxes fortified by duct tape has meant a steady supply of knock-off Juan Gabriel, Los Bukis and Shakira compilations. But the trucks, like Delecias Elenitas on Sebastopol and West avenues, seem to have the jams. Reggaeton collections, recent hip-hop hits and mix tapes like Phat Jamz Vol. 502 can be picked up for just $10, containing all the new Drake remixes and Gucci Mane bangers one could want. Sometimes the mixes don't gel—Black Eyed Peas followed by Waka Flocka Flame, for starters—but that's part of the charm. With the best selection of oldies, reggaeton and CDs by Akwid, a Latino rap duo, the truck also sells "Movimiento Hyphy" CDs—but be forewarned. "Hyphy" in Mexico means something entirely different than in the Bay—it's not hip-hop at all. But with Phat Jamz Vol. 503 being released at the truck soon, who's complaining? Sebastopol and West avenues, Santa Rosa.—G.M.
Best Old-School Apothecary
Walking into West County Herb Company in downtown Occidental feels like walking into a simpler time, when instead of popping Tylenol, people healed themselves with the elixirs of the land. Inside, herb-wreaths hang above antique bookshelves displaying all manner of medicine-making supplies—beakers, graduated cylinders and droppers. A sign above the entryway quotes Frankenstein's monster: "Friend . . . good," as sunlight brightens the jars upon jars of sumptuous, medicinal herbs, all locally sourced from the Sonoma County Herb Exchange in Sebastopol. "I love everybody whose products I sell," enthuses shopkeeper Lisa Kurtz, who displays an exacting knowledge about her many wares. Everything from black trumpet mushrooms to silk eye pillows can be found here. Need some sheep's milk soap? Hers is one of the few places in the nation that carries it. Want to actually know what's in your makeup? Check out locally made Green Glamour Cosmetics. Beeswax candles, neti pots, seaweed—it's got to come from around here for Kurtz to carry it. She also rents out space next door—with a raised stage and a cozy winged nook, it's perfect for all manner of musical performances, workshops, yoga classes, lectures and movie nights. For those low on funds, there's a vast lending library chock-full of books, a basket of free tinctures and salves, and the visceral pleasure of sipping a cup of tea as one browses, sniffs and marvels through this cozy garden of herbal delights. 3641 Main St., Occidental. 707.874.9567.—J.D.
Best Public Pun
The problem with folklore, if there is one, is that after too many years the truth gets inextricably mixed with legend. Such is the case with the greatest public pun. The truth is there's a little bridge between Glen Ellen and Eldridge with an enigmatic plaque on it that reads 'The Buck Stops Here.' It's undetectable from the road, and even some locals don't know it's there. According to lore, the weatherworn little plaque on the side of the bridge marks the spot of a daily ritual that's more than a decade old. It refers to a gentleman named Buck, who literally stops there on the bridge most every day to toss rocks and watch them hit the water below. It's been there long enough that no one can remember when it appeared or who put it there. Officials at Eldridge say that the sign has been there for 10 or 15 years, but they don't know who Buck is, and even if they knew, they aren't at liberty to talk about it. Locals say Buck still goes to the bridge, and he stops right there by the plaque. Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen.—K.M.
Best Back-Door Free Hangers
After spring-cleaning closets and accumulating a bounty of gently used clothing and accessories, I head over to Pine Grove Consignment Store in Sebastopol to trade for something "new" and unique to revitalize my wardrobe. Celebrating its 25th year as the longest running consignment store in Sonoma County, Pine Grove recently was remodeled and refreshed by owner Autumn Morrison and manager Emily Chavez. As a bonus, a container of nice hangers—not the wire Mommy Dearest kind—are by the back door, free to customers to be used for new purchases. "We do keep a couple of wire hangers on hand," Chavez smiles. "They're great for retrieving locked keys." 149 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 707.829.1138.—S.D.
Best Feral Forager of Hidden Gems
Kevin Feinstein's feral nature serves him well when he plunges fearlessly into forests, fields and meadows on the trail of edible mushrooms, nuts, fruits and grasses. Hey, it's free for the picking. Sometimes, Feinstein goes solo into the great outdoors, but he also leads groups all over the Bay Area, showing civilized folk how to live off the land. Eyes peeled, he looks for a whole host of wild stuff: scarlet pimpernel, blue dicks, witches butter and yampah, a forager's wet dream. "Bay Area chefs want sexy stuff like yampah seeds," he says. "They don't care about ordinary miner's lettuce anymore." Recently, in Sonoma, across territory novelist Jack London roamed, he showed followers how to tell poisonous plants from the medicinal and delectable. Starting with oaks and acorns, he moved to vetch, soap root and thistle—which, he swears, makes excellent pesto. Euell Gibbons, the author of Stalking the Wild Asparagus, the forager's bible, would have been impressed by Feinstein's lore, most of which is self-taught. After a decade of foraging in California, he's a feral master with several educational videos on YouTube. His new book, Bay Area Forager, is out later this year. "I love foraging in the hills," he says, smiling. "I eat what I find right in the open or cook it at home. I harvested enough untended olives recently to made olive oil to last a year." In and around the hills of Sonoma, 510.717.2293.—J.R.
Best Little City Built for Two
Grapes, wild turkeys, luscious springs, cresting hills, privacy—northern Sonoma County is a vast playground of spontaneous romantic adventures. The next time the urge strikes to get away with a loved one, fill up the tank and head for Alexander Mountain. Up in the hills east of Healdsburg, tributaries meander below old bridges and the vineyards give way to shrubby grasslands that smell of captured sunlight. Seismic activity hums just under the surface, causing the nearby geysers to hiss their steam. Just three weeks before our wedding, my husband and I spiraled up the mountain to find ourselves in Mercuryville, possibly the smallest town in America. With a population of two, this "1/2 Mile High City" is a lovely, mysterious, gated, flower-laden manifestation of what a union can produce. It's the perfect opportunity to pull over, stretch the drive out of your legs and marvel at how relationships, like tectonic plates, are powerful, ever-shifting entities. Head back down the mountain and into Geyserville, where shiny new wineries and restaurants rub elbows with antique stores and paint-peeling porches. And in the spirit of death giving way to life, a sunset walk along the decrepit railroad tracks yields a stunning wildflower bouquet. Geysers Road, Geyserville. No phone.—J.D.
Best Place to Get Something Other Than a Garden Gnome to Decorate Your Backyard
Operated by the same family for over a hundred years, West End Nursery has staked its place in history. A respite from big-box nurseries with bright neon lights, this San Rafael mainstay offers everything for both green and black thumbs—including decorative supplies like gazing balls, birdhouses and mushrooms with stems to be plowed into the dirt. Truly, a home gardener's dream come true—with or without the garden gnomes. 1938 Fifth St., San Rafael. 415.454.4175.—L.C.
Best Way to See Gals Goin' Round the Outside
Going to a roller derby bout is much like stepping into a foreign country: strange names and costumes abound as mysterious odors invade the nostrils like an imperial army. But once you've found your seat (preferably one right on the rink!), the shoe-sweat smell is a small price to pay to witness the cool choreography and thrilling rambunctiousness of the game, where two teams, skating in packs and with names like Ms. Kitty MaulHer and Pain Galaura, fight to release their offensive "jammer," who must lap the opposing team in order to score points. Due to a recent split in the Sonoma County Roller Derby team, locals now have twice as many opportunities to witness live action whip-its. The SCRD remains a nationally competitive team who are officially part of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association and who, according to Erica Hart (aka Honey D. Linkwent), "want to be number one!" Echoing the DIY spirit of the popular sport, SCRD will play on a mobile "sport court" that can be set up on any flat surface—like the Sonoma County Fairground pavilion, where they'll play their first bout of the season against the Mission City Brawlin' Betties on April 16. Out of the ashes of the split—the result of two different visions skating in different directions—also rises the Resurrection Roller Derby league. They'll continue skating at Rohnert Park's Cal Skate as a less competitive recreational league committed to nurturing confidence, community service and, above all, fun. April 23 sees them squaring off against the Monterey Beasts of Eden. Both SCRD and Resurrection RD are skater-owned and operated, and both are eager to recruit new players—so if you've got a hankering to dust off your old skates and reawaken your inner riot girl, who knows? You might just be the next Rosie Road Rash or Foxy Balboa. www.sonomacountyrollerderby.com and www.calskate.com.—J.D.
Best Man on the Street
In November last year, a man in a fedora with a microphone stood in downtown Santa Rosa, interviewing passersby on Fourth Street. "I'm talking about validation," he'd say, angling the microphone toward his subjects. "Do you have any thoughts on being validated by others? Have you thought about that much?" A "Man on the Street" is a rare sight these days—especially one using an over-the-shoulder analog cassette player. But even more out of the ordinary were his questions. "Do you think you could be validated by an inanimate object, like this flower pot?" he asked. Upon closer inspection, the man's name on the microphone explained all: Mal Sharpe. Of course: the surreal wit, the post-beatnik banter, the zany humor. Mal Sharpe, the definitive Man on the Street. Mal Sharpe, who with Jim Coyle revolutionized the art with a series of albums on Warner Bros. records in the early 1960s. What in the world was Mal Sharpe doing in Santa Rosa? "City hired me," he said. Some of Sharpe's albums with Coyle are still in print, and Sharpe himself is huge into Dixieland these days, playing every Sunday at the No Name Bar in Sausalito. As for being interviewed by the legendary figure? You'll just have to get lucky. It's a validating feeling, I tell you. 757 Bridgeway, Sausalito. 415.332.1392.—G.M.
Best Remote-Control Creekside Drama
On certain weekends at the Prince Memorial Greenway path along Santa Rosa Creek, passersby just might be lucky enough to stumble upon the best half-hour of free entertainment the creek can offer. A group of remote-control-car enthusiasts called the North Bay R/C Crawlers meet in the creek bed every so often to race not speedily on flat ground but delicately on jagged terrain. Usually, it's two or so dozen of them, usually staring down at an RC 4-by-4 truck stuck in some precarious position between a rock and a pylon cone. The drama of it all is surprisingly tense. "It's technical, driving-wise, because you have to get these vehicles placed just correctly," says Jake Rosen, owner of Jake's Performance Hobbies, which provides organizational help and a de facto meeting spot for the Crawlers. "You have to be able to read the rocks for the available grip and best lines to take." Navigating through 10 sets of cones, the trucks must get through the rocky course with the fewest number of tumbles or roll-overs to win. Sometimes the trucks, making the slightest errant turn, tumble all the way down to the water below—to the wild hysterics and groans of the other Crawlers.
Opened 21 years ago, Jake's shop is the go-to spot for all things R/C: helicopters, planes, boats, cars and more. It's also one of those places, like gaming shops or comic book stores, with its own surrounding culture and community. In addition to finding axles, transmissions, steer knuckles and tires, the club swaps ideas about their chosen sport and plans upcoming events.
Is running a remote control car in Santa Rosa Creek legal? "Oh, it's perfectly legal," says Rosen. "Councilmembers come by, cops come by. The Water Agency guys in particular are ecstatic that it's being used by somebody besides transients, bums and junkies." 6650 Commerce Blvd. #21, Rohnert Park. 707.586.3375.—G.M.
Best Repair of Your Sole or Trenchant, Digressive Discussion of Why Not
Everyone has a favorite, well-traveled pair of shoes that sooner or later wears out, rips or separates from the sole, begging to be made whole again. But cobblers are as rare as alchemists these days—and as idiosyncratic. For instance, you wouldn't want to say that former Soviet Union citizen Victor Vladimir Besedin, who practices the lost arts in Santa Rosa at South A Leather & Shoe Repair, is someone who goes with the flow. Go with the flow, says Besedin, has a very unsavory translation in Russian.
The front of the shop, larger than a postage stamp by a factor or two, contains an old Authorized Birkenstock Repair display, sturdy-looking shoes and boots for sale, and a map of the world under the countertop glass, among other curios. People come with silver dollar-sized holes in the soles of their expensive shoes—and they'll say so. People bring shoes that were bought on the cheap—they say so also. The problem is, too many shoes are simply not meant to be repaired in the first place. "Look at this," Besedin points out the broken pseudo-welt on a $150 boot made in Italy for J.Crew. "They cheated. What can I do?"
The unwitting customer is flustered. But Victor doesn't blame them. "It's like you have to be a professor of everything here, just to get by. It's crazy!" The way Victor remembers it, U.S. products used to be considered the best in the world, but we've thrown away craftsmanship in exchange for a few lousy bucks. Now, we buy stuff looks nice, but is made to be thrown away. "Plastic crap, made in Schmackistan," he complains. "The whole world is now like a junk yard. But nice-looking junk."
Besedin came to the United States on a visa in 1989. Nothing political, he says; just looking for a change of scene. In fact, nobody wanted to talk to him after they learned he had nothing particularly bad to say about the U.S.S.R. Now, even though leather repair shops have dwindled to a handful, business is as slow as ever. "It's a $29.99 society," Besedin laments. The worst part about it, he says, is that nobody protests the way things are, instead keeping their head down and following the herd. "In U.S.S.R., they dream of this for 70 years," he marvels. "It's crazy!" 308 S. A St., Santa Rosa. 707.526.6560.—J.K.
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