Welcome to the Promised Land
We arrived in California in the afternoon after a long coastal drive from Coos Bay, Oregon and were greeted with slightly warmer weather, just enough so that we opened all of the windows in the Airstream to let all the accumulated condensation dry out. The RV Park where we were staying was directly behind Highway 101 so we knew we would be playing the mind game "surf waves or cars" during our stay.
The next morning, we went over to a small Chinese and American cafe called Amy's Delight wanting a classic breakfast. The sign read, "Small Place, Big Taste". As cheesy as the need to put a byline on what seemed to be an obvious family joint, the tiny restaurant with aqua colored walls was exactly what we were looking for, and we were happy to see a few people in there. We sat quietly and unnoticed at the bar as the guy running the front was definitely "in the weeds". He eventually gave us a quick nod and passed over a small plate of orange slices calling them "Vitamin C". He acknowledged that they were just recovering from a slight rush and he would be with us shortly. He also handed us a newspaper, and we watched a tall woman, who we assumed to be Amy, working the kitchen with a wide array of strange cooking techniques using a combination of the grill and microwave. We sat for a while observing the theater of the place, and looked around at the boxes of supplies they had picked up from Costco, which, if in high volume, the extra work required to pick up supplies is often a good indicator of stark entrepreneurial spirit.
The menu at Amy's has many of the elements of the classic breakfast: biscuits and gravy, large slices of ham, and of course hot cakes as an option in lieu of toast, but there is also a fried rice omelette, an obvious choice for John, who considers himself a master of making fried rice.
Amy is a tall 70 year old Chinese woman who purportedly works 12 hours every day keeping her young, vibrant and slim. But the real story is her husband who works the front of the house, and loves everything about her, tossing her complements about table number 3 or table number 4 and how they enjoyed the meal. He is like a live version of Yelp, and with every review, she would respond with a small crack of a smile, never shifting her focus off of her work. When my pancakes arrived after the rest of my meal was served, he explains that it is common in Asian culture to eat pancakes for dessert. He goes on to explain that they also eat their salad after their dinner, and of course they should know since they've been on the planet a bit longer than us. It's clear Amy and her husband have has a long and wonderful marriage, and despite the fact that the Chinese were kicked out of Eureka 100 years prior, it's nice to see a strong woman paired with such a supportive man. Every relationship is different, and they seem to have settled into a beautiful groove with each other, and their balance of give and take so important in life was inspiring to watch.
The scene was wonderfully homey, with an equally aged prep cook/dishwasher/and kitchen helper who wore his hair back in a short and neat grey braid. Everyone wore Wranglers. For a primarily breakfast place, they start their day a bit later, "Eureka style", because they say their customers don't wake up that early because they're busy "tending their plants" which I took at first as a euphemism for smoking marijuana, but he clarified that they actually were tending their plants in the many grow-ops in the area, where many people make much needed additional income since the economy in the area is not strong after much of the lumber sales shifted to Canada and the Southern United States.
However, Eureka remains a largely logging inspired town, and much of this can be seen in nearby Arcata, where Humboldt State University is located, at a small but popular oddly named brewery "The Redwood Curtain." With a sea of flannel shirts sitting at the bar, and a couple of Bigfoot magnets on the walk-in, we felt right at home.
It was at the Redwood Curtain where we met Dennis, with a mop of stringy curly hair and face was leathered by the sun. We knew instantly he was a surfer. Dennis was playing table shuffleboard with an older gentleman, and they took a short break at the bar with us and we talked about life. The older man was wallowing in sorrow about Trump on his last of several beers. Dennis had the dichotomy of exhaustion and excitement, and we welcomed his warm and open energy for conversation. We were on our second beer after a lengthy hike so in the perfect mood to listen.
We asked which was cooler, Arcata or Eureka? The bartender Chris chimed in that Arcata was definitely the better of the two seaside towns, except for the college kids. But in the summer, they get the place to themselves. Arcata reminded us of Bellingham, Washington, except on a much smaller scale. Both towns have a great selection of multiple natural foods stores, and the vibe is so relaxed and warming, it's easy to forget the economic struggle, or the fact that it rains more in that region than it does in Seattle.
Dennis was excited to share that most people in the area grow weed to supplement their income, and if things are gong well, they can earn upwards of 4-10k monthly. However, the recent legalization of marijuana (which still is not in full effect) has brought a big change to the industry, with investors from China and Ukraine buying up large plots of land. At this point, it is effectively a struggle for dollars, and the locals are powerless to the strength of the incoming profiteers. I have tremendous respect for those that want to make a buck, but this story sounds a lot like Plymouth Rock. Dennis also added that often around harvest time, there's a tiny economic boom, but then all those seasonal workers leave the area when the money dries up. Logging only works in economic boom times, and despite the fact that cities are flourishing since everybody moved there, the small country towns are extremely fragile communities that rely on alternative (sometimes illegal) practices in order to get by.
It's not just his sun tipped hair that makes you fall in love with Dennis, it's that you can clearly see that he has tremendous passion for the families in the area and mothers trying to give their kids a good start in life, so that they might grow up to be strong enough to not have to sell their souls in order to make a living. There is hope, Dennis adds before leaving for a date to watch videos at home with a girl, if they can gain momentum on Marijuana seed production, which makes perfect poetic sense as his love for community is like a seed for life.