By Jennifer Molidor
I’ve just moved from the Heartland to Sonoma County. I’ve taught college courses in the Midwest for twelve years, but I was raised in the land of redwoods and fog, happy cows and drunken vineyards.
My Midwestern students have suggested that people in Northern California live in trees, smoke marijuana, voted for Obama and thinks Kansans are a little too familiar with their farm animals.
Well, not quite. Coming home to Sonoma County reminds me a little more of the truth of both worlds. People have been telling me for years that folks are friendlier in the Midwest. I think it’s just that in the Midwest they are more likely to gossip, and this may explain the friendliness. Talking to you in the local Kwikshop? They’re doing research to share with friends later.
Like the prairies surrounding the small towns of the American Heartland, life is fairly wide-open out there. Sunsets are beautiful, life moves a little more slowly, and people know each other from county to county. And yet, one of their favorite past-times is mudding, a hobby even more popular than hanging out at the local gas station and walking around in Walmart.
Living in that world, one which was not familiar to me, I felt like a foreigner. The summer days are well over 100 degrees and the winters are dead with snow and frozen flatness. The landscape is corroded with monster trucks, and Budweiser is king. I tried to go for walks around town but people yelled like I’m making a mistake by walking. Even the sidewalks end suddenly as if rejecting my need to stroll.
As soon as I landed in San Francisco, little signs everywhere reminded me I was home. My Dad picked me up wearing sandals (not a common foot adornment in the Midwest). The car was covered in dog hair, and when we cruised past Peace in Medicine, I asked my dad if that was the local medicinal marijuana shop. Without flinching he said yes and carried on with his story about my brother getting a job in the city, (which everyone knows means San Francisco) and how he is going to commute by ferry. Living in landlocked states for 12 years, the idea of someone commuting by ferry just sounds fancy.
In Santa Rosa, we ate a nice lunch at La Bufa, and when I told the waiter I am vegetarian he did not flinch. We sat next to the mural of the Northern Coast between 4th and 3rd streets alongside the Russian River Brewery, which was packed as always. At home, my Dad reclined in his gravity chair in the backyard, sipping wine from a local vineyard. After dinner, we all sat in flannels and shorts on the porch, while neighbors biked by. I took the dogs for a walk past a neighbor who had nailed poop-bags to the tree in front of his house, for everyone to use, and past an ex-nun neighbor with a sign in her yard that says “How’s the War Economy Treating You?” This is not something you see in Kansas, Toto.
When we went to the local grocery store I was nervous because I forgot my cloth bags and had to ask for plastic. Would the baggers be confused by my lack of bags? I tried not to worry about this as I picked up some tofu and garlic stuffed olives from the olive bar, along with sourdough French bread, and a nice local brewery beer.
Today I began my search for a rental house and ran into a friend I call Boho – she was on her way to pour her heart out at the therapist. After her shrink appointment, she picked me up to get froyo at the
Christian yogurt shop on Mendocino. We had no-carb, diabetes-friendly organic “grasshopper” flavored yogurt in her car, while talking about spirituality and atheism. At her house she went upstairs to “work” (she tele-commutes) and I borrowed her bike to ride around looking at all the beautiful gardens. I passed an animal hospital with a “Pet Parking” sign and then stopped in at the YMCA to get a membership and immediately ran into my cousin’s husband, who works for a wine company and was hitting the gym midday, as you do.
Boho got off work at 4 and went mountain biking “up the hill.” My dad came home at 5, having taken the bus from his job in Rohnert Park – his employer subsidizes his bus route because it is environmentally friendly – and my stepmom picked him up from the bus station downtown after she was done volunteering for the local Democratic Party office. I brought her a zero carb drink and she said “oh cool!”
So we may not live in trees out here in Sonoma County, and Kansas is not just a fly-over state. It is a beautiful prairie full of people with lifestyles more similar to each other than the diverse array of eclecticism present in any neighborhood here. No stranger will scream “how can you eat that stuff?” while in a sushi restaurant, or ask me what an artichoke is in the grocery store, like they did back in the Midwest. But I may get confused looks when I forget to bring my re-usable bags. I can live with that.
This is the life. I’m not in Kansas anymore, but I’m home sweet home.