The worst part about going to California, for me at least, is that I have to leave it. I am originally from Ohio, and still love the place. I live in Houston, and Texas has its charms, but ever since my first visit, California has had my heart. I love the people, the hustle and bustle of its cities, and the splendor and beauty that is seemingly everywhere. Maybe most of all, I love the food and wine. That is what draws me back over and over, but it is all of the aforementioned things that make me wish that I never had to leave.
As we were leaving Occidental and heading back to San Francisco to board our plane for Texas, the car stereo began to play a live version of the Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia.” I am not what would be considered a big Grateful Dead fan, much less a Deadhead, but as we drove away from Mickey Hart’s hometown and headed through the beauty of the primeval forest on our way to the city where the song we were listening to had been recorded, everything seemed right for the moment.
Deadheads will always accuse those of us who are not as fanatical as they are in their dedication to the band of not “getting it.” I can pretty much guarantee that I will never get it in the same manner that they do, but as we traveled back roads and highways that Jerry and the boys no doubt traversed many times, not to mention all of the other legendary characters to have done so as well, I think I “got” the band as much as I ever will.
It will be a very rare day when I don’t reach for the skip button when one of their excessively long noodle sessions gets underway, but when I hear one of their beautiful, tightly crafted songs, like “Sugar Magnolia” begin to play, I hope that it will transport me back to that gorgeous, wild area on the edge of California’s wine country.
I want to smell the wet earth, see the moisture drip from the leaves of the ancient trees, not yet dried by the sun light beginning to break through in places. I want to feel that catch in my heart and my throat in the same way that it does when rounding a bend provides a stunning vista of almost unimaginable beauty. Jerry Garcia’s almost ethereal guitar playing never sounded as sweet to me as it did in that little rental car as we navigated the twists and turns of the Bohemian Highway.
We were lucky to meet so many wonderful people, see so many fantastically beautiful places, eat delicious food, and drink some of the best wine on the face of the planet, on this trip, that it seemed a shame to be dwelling on the sadness of having to leave instead of reflecting on how great the trip had been, but that is exactly what I found myself doing.
Every stunning landscape, every show of eccentricity, every piece of history, even the signs for the tasting rooms we passed, caused a little sigh to escape my lips. Some even brought a tear to my eye. So it went until we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and it hit me that we were entering my favorite city in the whole world, but were only passing through without stopping as we headed back to Texas.
As I said, my part of Texas definitely has its charms. The music, the food, the Gulf, the people, Austin is a short drive away, the blending of so many cultures, the speed that everything moves, all will welcome me back. Eventually the melancholy of having to leave California will be replaced by those things. My routine will set back in, life will be “normal.” But when I hear a good Dead tune, when I taste some very fresh produce, and when I taste a delicious, fruit forward, juicy, spectacular wine, I will be back in California.
To our friends, new and old, who get to spend every day of their lives there, know that we envy you. A lot. Jeff, Mary, Lisa, Thea, Liza, Patrick, Jim, Valerie (Woof!), Shana, Robbin, Sharon, Judd and anyone else that I might have missed, if you ever need anyone to remind you that you live in paradise, just ask me. No, forget that, send me a plane ticket and I will come and remind you in person.