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[Neal] listened with enthusiasm to my father's stories of the local folkways, crops, and animals, and throughout our stay remained remarkably serene and agreeable, as pleased as the little girls with the horses, cattle, pigs, and lambs and the sight of tobacco growing. A cowboy he wasn't, and I couldn't get him on a horse, much to my surprise, but we took walks and played in the creek. I taught him to churn butter, and we toured the historic battlefields and ghost-filled mansions of the Old South as well as my former Nashville haunts.

--from 'Off the Road' by Carolyn Cassady



Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Way to Catch a Whiff

Bohemian readers have voted Rosemary's Garden best herbal apothecary in Sonoma County, and it's easy to smell why. Owner Lena Shaboon's old-fashioned term herbal apothecary conjures up all kinds of delicious aromas and healthful home remedies, and that's just what this fragrant little store in Sebastopol has been offering since 1972. Many of the herbal products are grown in Sonoma County--and there's a lot of choice, from essential massage oils to herbal teas to aromatherapy bath products. Popular products include teapots, aromatherapy diffusers, essential-oil gift packs, eye pillows, candles, and hydrosol mists. Visit their website or pay an in-person visit and let your trusty nose be the judge.

132 N. Main St., Sebastopol. 707/829-2539. --P.H.


Best Place to Find an '83 Datsun Side Mirror

You can look up Pick 'n' Pull in the yellow pages, but you won't find a phone number. This poor man's auto-parts emporium, located just west of Hwy. 101 in Windsor, gets so much business from word of mouth that it doesn't need to advertise. For a few bucks, you can walk through the gate onto a vast field of junked cars, parked in neat rows by the hundreds and separated by make. Amid the smashed windshields, twisted fenders, and soggy upholstery are struts, drums, belts, and mirrors that work as good as new, for a fraction of the price. This is one graveyard where it's OK to disturb the deceased. Bring cash money and a tool kit, and don't forget to wear your dirty clothes--you'll need them.

Pick-N-Pull (www.pick-n-pull.com), 10475 Old Redwood Hwy., Windsor. --Y.B.


Best Country Smell from the Freeway

Bucolic cows notwithstanding, the stretch of 101 between Novato and Petaluma is bleak and mean. It's the Novato Narrows, the bottleneck in the road that seems designed for maximum irritation. But, hey, since you've already slowed down, you might as well smell the roses, or whatever else the breeze brings. Next time you're heading north on a warm day, take a good whiff right as you pass the Atherton exit. I swear it smells like nutritional yeast on buttered popcorn. Turns out I'm not crazy. A ranger with the Marin County Open Space District reveals the source of the aroma: a sewage treatment pond that uses yeast to accelerate the decomposition process. The ranger says he does the same thing for his home septic tank and throws brewer's yeast in from time to time, on the advice of his septic company. And it beats cowpie any day of the week. --M.W.


Best Reason to Get a Parking Ticket in Santa Rosa

Ouch! You've just spent two minutes too long in the downtown post office and returned to your car to discover an ominous blue envelope tucked under the windshield wiper. There goes that $20 you were going to spend on the new O-Town CD! But then, despite the financial pain, a little grin flits across your lips. Rolling smoothly and quietly away from the scene of the crime is the Santa Rosa parking enforcement officer who nailed you--driving a silver-colored, futuristic vehicle that seems like something straight out of Blade Runner. The city is leasing these nifty little electric vehicles (the eco-friendly Hyper Mini EV) through a Nissan pilot program to cut down on air and noise pollution. But maybe, just maybe, there's also a PR motive at work. After all, how can you stay mad at someone driving such a cool little car? --P.S.


Best Place to Drag-Race the Cops

Do you have a teenager with a lead foot who's racked up more speeding tickets than your insurance company cares to deal with? If so, Sears Point Raceway may have the solution to your problem. In an event called Top the Cop, the raceway's quarter-mile drag strip is opened up every Wednesday night from April through November for a unique form of racing. For the fifth consecutive year, Sears Point offers teenagers a safe and legal place to race. But the main allure of this event is the competition the kids face. They go head to head with local cops in their patrol cars. The evening gives the police an opportunity to meet with teenagers and develop a positive relationship, while instructing them on safe driving. But nothing beats the thrill of gunning your Camaro and then blasting down the track with a cop in uniform trying to shut you down. According to the National Hot Rod Association, there are more than 70 law enforcement race-a-cop programs across the United States and Canada, but Sears Point offers the only one where the kids race uniformed officers in their squad cars. Top the Cop costs $17 for participants and $10 for spectators.

Hwys. 37 and 121, Sonoma. 800/870-RACE. --B.E.



Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place for an Elvis Sighting

Aah, star power! Village Music is a veritable treasure trove for music fans of all stripes, but especially those lovers of roots music, including jazz, blues, gospel, soul, R&B, Cajun/zydeco, and early rock and roll. Proprietor John Goddard has been packing his world-renowned CD/record store to the rafters for more than 30 years. And, indeed, it's not uncommon to bump into Elvis Costello (who used to frequent the nearby Sweetwater Saloon), Tracy Chapman, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, or any one of a hundred other music celebs who cherish the sheer volume of material and the incredible depth of Goddard's inventory. For a while, it looked as if Goddard may have had to dust the cobwebs off those ultra-rare Jimi Hendrix picture discs, since it appeared he'd be losing his lease during a byzantine business negotiation. (And wouldn't that be one helluva sale!) But the good news is Goddard signed a new lease in February and plans to be around for a while, so there's still time for that Elvis sighting.

9 E. Blithedale Ave., Mill Valley. 415/388-7400. --G.C.


Best Place to Cut a CD within Earshot of a Great Music Store

Want to cut that 20-minute version of "Angel Baby" you've been working on in the shower? Then check out Zone Recording in the back of Zone Music in Cotati. According to owner/engineer Blair Hardman, his recording studio is the only one in the world where you can literally choose from hundreds of guitars, amps, keyboards, and microphones before you start your session. Blair acts as producer and spiritual musical adviser. "A solo act can come in here and I'll help them with all aspects of their arrangements. For a few hundred bucks you can have your song on a CD with a nice label." Hardman recommends making advance reservations ("It's great to dream‚ but make an appointment"). He also offers a free consultation before the actual session, which he encourages in order to save you time, money, and grief. "Recording at Zone means never having to say you're sorry," Hardman claims. Everything is digitally recorded on a computer. And if that's not enough, all the salespeople at Zone Music are skilled studio musicians and can make for a killer backup band. Remember that Elvis was driving a truck when he wandered into Sun Records.

884 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 707/664-1221. --B.E.


Best Place to Buy a Betty Page Picture Disc while Clearing the Cobwebs out of Your Addled Brain

A lot of folks think of Petaluma as a sleepy cow town in which the denizens mope around all year long just dying for a chance to watch corn-fed farm boys working up a sweat at the annual World Wrist Wrestling Championships. But River City has its pockets of cosmopolitan living--you just have to know where to look. For example, Red Devil Records. This 3-year-old CD store has an eclectic inventory and some great collectors' vinyl. It's also a mecca for local fans of Betty Page, the '50s pinup version of the girl next door with a whip who was immortalized a couple of years ago in a popular tune by country rockers BR-549. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), baby boomers with a fetish for lingerie and a hankering for a little (not-too-painful) discipline are prone to collect Betty Page cigarette lighters, playing cards, and the like. Red Devil Records lives up to its name by carrying a number of items devoted to Betty worship--a nifty little picture disc being one of my personal favorites. "You can never have enough Betty Page material," says owner Barry Lazarus, who cut his teeth as a record-store clerk at the infamous Leopold's Records in Berkeley. Browse at your leisure as Lazarus keeps the in-store play filled with surprises while alternating between '50s and '60s jazz favorites and contemporary (and often local) punk music. A very good place to clear the cobwebs out of your addled brain while waiting for next year's wrist wresting championships.

170 Kentucky St., Petaluma. 707/769-8999. --G.C.


Best Reason to Flush Local Politicians Down the Proverbial Toilet

Let's see, which of the plagues is going to get us first, the persistent power shortage or the impending drought? All I can say is that Santa Rosa has its share of turds on the City Council. Coincidentally (or not), as the largest city in the North Bay, Santa Rosa produces the most wastewater. That's the stinking truth. And, coincidentally (or not), it produces quite a bit of stinky public policy. And let's just say that the city's wastewater policies over the years haven't exactly smelled like a bed of roses. The 1999 decision to pipe all that wastewater--a couple of billion gallons a year--along a 41-mile route to the Geysers geothermal electrical-generating plant now may seem unusually foresighted (don't forget, that the city dragged its collective heels on this issue for 20 years while flushing wastewater into the Russian River) in the face of the power crisis and the cry for alternative power sources (and, yes, Calpine is milking that situation for every kilowatt it can coax out of this public relations coup). But that doesn't change the fact that plans by the feds to stem the flow of Eel River water diverted into the Russian River makes that wastewater all the more valuable for Sonoma and Marin county farmers who could have used it to irrigate crops (oh, sure, big corporate grape growers got their share). In short, flush the turds who backed the pipeline at your next visit to the ballot box. While Saint Rose of Lima, the city's namesake, was a pious mystic known for her self-imposed penances, don't hold your breath waiting for any apologies over this multimillion-dollar disaster in the wings. --G.C.



Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Way to Savor the Past, Present, and Future

Some end tables look as though they couldn't support more than a half-empty wine glass. But a structure from Urban Rubble appears as if it could hold up an entire cocktail party. Rich Anderson uses new rock and recycled rusty girders (begged from construction sites) to make functional art that might understatedly be called "sturdy" tables of all sizes. Prize for missing the point: People who ask him to make stuff out of wood. "We don't need to be cutting down trees," Anderson says. "We can make our furniture from what's already here." Custom-designed Urban Rubble tables cost $300 and up, not counting any retrofitting of your floor. Before you drop in at his workshop, he'd appreciate a call.

Anderson's Workshop, 9482 Lazy Creek Drive, Windsor. 707/837-9025. --M.W.


Best Place to Rent Obscure Cult Picks

One of my favorite movies as a preteen was The Forbidden Zone, Oingo Boingo's strange and wonderful musical. The black-and-white cult flick is not available at Blockbuster (not surprising), and I was beginning to think that the movie was just a figment of my ragingly hormonal, 12-year-old fantasy. Until, that is, I went into the Video Droid in Santa Rosa a few weeks ago. Already a regular customer, this night I felt like really getting into the titles in their cult section. (Another personal favorite is Killer Klowns from Outer Space, which has a great rock music video at the end. Very Daniel Pinkwater.) I saw a copy of the long-sought Forbidden Zone and realized that Video Droid is, in fact, the Elysian Fields. Other favorite Droidian features are the indie film section, divided up by directors (John Sayles, blank, blank, blank); the British Humor section; and the actor/actress-of-the-month section (some past featured artists have been Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, and Cher). Video Droid's prices are about half as cheap as those of any other video store in the county, and its staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and hip.

1240 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa (707/536-3313); 590 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati (707/794-9797); Third Street and Lincoln Avenue, San Rafael (415/456-3146). --E.L.


Best Ridiculously Cheap Airfare

Last winter, I went through a starving-artist phase. I lived with my French musician sweetheart in a rundown one-bedroom apartment. One night, we decided to go to Paris and be starving artists there for a few weeks. Our plight, naturally, was that we didn't have any money. Looking in the phone book for a travel agency, I came across Dirt Cheap Travel. Good, I figured, if they live up to their name, maybe we can afford it. After already having called 12 travel agencies that day, I rang Dirt Cheap. They managed to beat the other 12 travel agencies' prices by at least half. We went to Paris, roundtrip, for $450, including tax. This year, not a starving artist anymore, but still not rich, I called them up again, wanting to visit family in Germany over the holidays. I gave them one week's notice and got a roundtrip ticket for $550. And the service is excellent. The staff of three runs the business out of a two-bedroom house refurbished into an office. It has printers in the pantry.

307 S. Main St., Sebastopol. 707/824-2550. --E.L.



Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place to Find Puppy Love

Singles scene got you down? Tired of lame-ass pick-up lines, nightclub meat-markets, and blind dates that make you wish you were deaf? Well, perk up, little friend: if you're looking for love, humans aren't the only option. Dogs and cats offer companionship, loyalty, and affection--and they don't leave the toilet seat up or demand to go to tear-jerking chick flicks. Of course, picking an animal for a companion is no easy matter. After all, once you commit to living with a lovable animal, you'd look like a real cad, jerk, and bounder if you went back on the deal. So get to know your prospective best buddy first by checking him or her out at the Marin Humane Society. Thousands of homeless animals find shelter every year at the MHS, which uses a sophisticated adoption process to find the right permanent home for each one. Human visitors get to review temperament and health profiles, visit with an adoption counselor, and have a hands-on visit with the perfect pawed pal. It's a bit like a first date, but without the awkwardness over the check. For more info (including photos of available animals), check out www.marin-humane.org.

Marin Humane Society, 171 Bel Marin Keys Blvd., Novato. 415/883-4621. --P.S.


Best Place to While Away an Hour in Black and White

I live very close to downtown Santa Rosa, and sometimes on a weekend afternoon I'll take a stroll. After walking up and down Fourth Street once or twice, peering at the windows of the touristy shops, my final destination is always Sawyer's News, across the street from the public library. If it's still late morning or early afternoon, I'll buy a wonderful, pricey cappuccino from the Centro Espresso cart and head over to the card racks. Sawyer's has a great collection of black-and-white greeting cards. A few of my favorites: ex-Philippine iron lady Imelda Marcos, posing in her closet (surrounded by hundreds of pairs of shoes that all look eerily similar); a man in a three-piece suit, being towed on blocks of ice by a model-T Ford around the Champs Elysées; and three German men drinking beer at a sidewalk cafe out of glasses twice the size of large fishbowls (one of the men wiping his forehead, apparently overwhelmed by the amount of beer he must consume before it goes flat). Not only does Sawyer's have great greeting cards; it also features just about every magazine known to humankind, plus a candy rack with blast-from-the-past candy like Necco Wafers and Blackjack Gum.

733 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707/542-1311. --E.L.


Best Way to Have Flowers Secretly Delivered to Your Sweetheart

About this time last year, I thought I had a stalker. I'd come home to find mysterious and beautiful bouquets on my front porch; my car was entirely covered with flowers, and roses were secretly delivered to my work. It turned out to be not a stalker (whew!) but a wonderfully romantic man who had a penchant for sending me flowers (wow!). During the course of our relationship, I'd continue to receive flowers when and where I least expected it. One day we went on a special outing. "I want to take you to meet my florist," he said. So we hopped on his motorcycle and zoomed over to the Town and Country Center, home of La Belle Fleur. We walked in, and he announced "This is her!" The staff of the flower shop all turned around and stared at the woman who'd been receiving ridiculous amounts of flowers for months, and I was introduced to the owners, a sweet husband-and-wife team who I couldn't imagine doing anything else besides owning a flower shop. While I can't guarantee you can find a man as wonderful as the one who sent me flowers for a year, I can guarantee that La Belle Fleur's bouquets and arrangements will make that special someone's eyes light up.

1425 Town and Country Drive, Santa Rosa, 707/542-6729. --E.L.


Best Place to Pick Up Homeopathic Remedies and a Bottle of Wild Turkey

Think all health food stores have an unnatural fixation on health? For evidence to the contrary, stop by Organic Groceries in Santa Rosa, where you'll find a wide array of vitamins, homeopathic remedies, organic foods--and a well-stocked display of hard liquor behind the front counter. If you're the kind of person who washes down her B-12 pills with a bottle of Absolut, this place can hook you up. If you like to follow your vegan muffin with a Wild Turkey chaser, these fine folks have you covered on both counts. The store even stocks something called Hot Damn 100--which, frankly, doesn't look very organic.

Organic Groceries, 2481 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa. 707/528-3663. --P.S.


Best Excuse for Walking Around in Dirty Clothes

Everybody knew there'd be plenty of hurtin' to go around when prices for gas and electricity started to rise. But who knew the power shortage would hit us in the dirty clothes hamper? Yet that's exactly what's happened at laundromats around the North Bay, where rising power costs have forced dramatic increases in the cost of the weekly wash. At the laundromat at the corner of Third and Dutton in Santa Rosa, for instance, the price of using a washing machine almost doubled last month, going from $1.25 to $2. Ouch! Time to start employing the famous sniff test. --P.S.

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From the March 22-28, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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