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The Bohemian's Best of the North Bay 2005
Best Place to Watch Fish while Contemplating the Philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer
When you're awash in bad vibes and malaise, dark thoughts and the creepy reality of the Dubya faux presidency, consider, if you will, Arthur Schopenhauer. It was this influential philosopher who said that life is misery and illusion, only occasionally alleviated by a soothing aesthetic experience. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to soothe the soul by sitting in front of a fish tank and listening to it bubble and hum, the fish cruising about amid plastic vegetation while skeletal pirates rhythmically lift rum jugs to bony faces. 49er Pet has got itself a very nice aquarium room to do this in, with a plastic bench all set up. Come on in, take a load off and enjoy the low-light liquid ambiance. It's cheaper than a therapy session. 49er also has a walk-in aviary, a variety of birds, scurrying rodents, reptiles and all kinds of accoutrements for the animal(s) in your life. Bring the kids, they'll love the critters. 49er Pet, 375 Southwest Blvd., Rohnert Park. 707.795.1242.--M.P.
Best Place to Clown Around
"The thing about clowns," explains Second Hand Stew, "Is that people either love 'em or hate 'em." Stew, aka Stewart Munnerlyn, proprietor of Second Hand Land in San Anselmo, ought to know. An entire wall of his thrift shop is dedicated to the often misunderstood genre of clown art. Sad clowns, scary clowns, evil clowns, rendered in a number of different mediums: paintings, plastic toys, blown glass, ceramics, skateboard decks. There are vintage Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra albums featuring the artists made up as clowns on the record sleeves. There's even a rare punk-rock 45 featuring artwork by the most notorious clown of them all, serial killer John Wayne Gacy. However, no Gacy originals can be found on the premises. "I'm not really into bad-karma clowns," Stew admits. His clown fetish began 10 years ago, shortly after he set up shop on San Anselmo Avenue and discovered signs for Toy Circus--the business that occupied the location in the 1960s and 1970s--stored in a backroom. He's been collecting ever since, attracting customers from around the world, including an L.A. art gallery owner who specialized in clown art and was disappointed to discover that most of Stew's clowns aren't for sale. However, there's plenty of vintage clothing, records and furniture to buy, and if you're looking to unload some unwanted clown art, Second Hand Stew will consider trades. "Here, clowns are as good as cash," he says. Second Hand Land, 703 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo. 415.454.5057.--R.V.S.
Photograph by Kristy Hoffman
Best Rock 'n' Roll Insurance Company
When you're discussing boring crap like collision deductibles and damage liability, it's nice to have something interesting to stare off into space at. Such is the case at Sherzer Insurance, whose offices double as a miniature rock 'n' roll museum with autographed photos of Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Jimmy Page, Ray Davies, Aerosmith, David Lee Roth and Jerry Garcia. Also on display are backstage passes, original posters and numerous vintage Rickenbacker guitars. The memorabilia comes from Sherzer owner Herb Geiger's years as a roadie and as a photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. This was after he was on the planning committee for Woodstock, of all things. Even his younger employees have gotten in on the autographed rock memorabilia craze--a copy of Green Day's first 7-inch signed by Billie Joe Armstrong now hangs on the walls. No one's tried to break in, but if they did--you guessed it--it's all insured. Sherzer Insurance, 600 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.573.1010.--G.M.
Photograph by Rory McNamara
Best Reason to Be Glad Your Tax Money Was Used in Such a Wise and Sensible Manner--Or Not
The gorgeous new library on the Rohnert Park Expressway is so cool looking and streamlined and attractive that it makes the average driver turn a head in wonder and joy. It's not fancy, but it's elegant, and gets better when you go inside, where it is light and spacious and everything else a library should be. Of course, location has something to do with. Built along a portion of expressway that is green with lawns and shady with trees, there is a parklike feeling to the building due to its proximity to such carefully manicured greenery. To realize how good the Rohnert Park Library is, compare it to the recent "improvements" made to the Petaluma Library, built along unattractive Washington Avenue, squeezed between a lumpy, patchy scrap of lawn and a vast, eye-offending parking lot used most of the time as a used car lot. But location isn't the problem. The problem is in the way the new wing of the library, shown above, was designed and carried out. What were they thinking? Yes, it's hard not to become angry and resentful that our tax money has been used in such a moronic and style-challenged manner. The astoundingly ugly addition is an exterior travesty. Housing the Helen Putnam Community Room and a fresh bookstore, the new wing resembles a pile of copper scrap metal more than it resembles a haven for book lovers. It looks like a bomb shelter built from the inside out, waiting now for someone to come along and add the exterior paint. In short, it doesn't look finished. The inside is very nice, but the outside--ugly, ugly, ugly!--D.T.
Photograph by Rory McNamara
Best City-Sanctioned Overstatement
San Francisco has a theater district. In that distinguished city, there are half a dozen blocks lined with fine old architecture, along which one will find a choice of theatrical venues. For its part, Westwood, in Southern California, has a movie theater district, where dozens of single-screen theaters blare their neon signage from every corner. When one hears the term "theater district," one therefore imagines a portion of a city where numerous distinct theaters compete for one's entertainment-seeking attention. So it is laughable to the extreme, and not the least little deceitful, that the developer of the massive, multiblock hunk of retail space and apartments still under construction near downtown Petaluma has dubbed it the "Petaluma Theatre District," a phrase now being used by a number of city officials to woo new businesses to an area of town which will contain exactly--wait for it--one movie theater. That theater, a big, ugly concrete box set to open in late March at the earliest, will technically be a multiplex, housing a bunch of separate screens, so perhaps that's how the namers and wooers can justify calling the surrounding several blocks of planned restaurants and knickknack shops a theater district. But if that's a theater district, then so is the Northgate Mall, right? It would be more accurate and less misleading to call that part of town the Petaluma coffeehouse district, since there are at least six of those up and running, with more to come once the new buildings go up along the boulevard. We hereby call for a moratorium on public use of the name "Petaluma" in conjunction with the phrase "theater district," at least until the builders that be see fit to give us a theater district worthy of the name.--D.T.
Best Evidence of a Possible Ecstasy Contamination in the Water Supply
It all started with the Christina Aguilera cops-and-robbers bondage fantasy kiosk. There she was--or rather, there were two life-sized representations of the infamous pop skankstress--smack dab in the middle of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall. One Christina, dressed casually in street clothes, "assumes the position" on the hood of a car as the other Christina stands coyly off to the side, dressed in black boots and a dark police uniform, twirling a set of handcuffs. Allegedly a Skechers shoe advertisement, the kiosk quietly communicates what is evidently Ms. Aguilera's deepest fantasy: to frisk herself. Such a message was not lost on a pair of totally fine teenage transvestites cruising the mall's upper level in full makeup and Victoria's Secret's finest, sweat glistening off their bare, narrow, undeniably male midriffs. A sight like that would send anybody's temperature rising, and there's no better way to cool off at the mall than to go for the big one, the "Tsunami-sized relief" offered at Surf City Squeeze, where 10 percent of every "Tsunami-sized" slush purchased goes to the victims of the Indonesian disaster. Is this a great country or what? Santa Rosa Plaza Mall, 1071 Santa Rosa Plaza, Santa Rosa.--R.V.S.
Best Place to Cower in Fear from the DVD Revolution
DVDs may be all the rage these days, but don't be fooled. The burgeoning format will be outdated before you can say "incompatible," replacing itself with some new über-DVD that will most likely not work with older players. But VHS--now that's the Old Faithful of home viewing, and no one will be changing those anytime soon. For the VHS enthusiast, dwindling though they may be, the Clove record store in Santa Rosa is the place to go. The Clove buys used VHS for resale, unloading them to customers at the unbelievable cost of four for $10. Two-fifty for a movie? Eat that, Digital Video Disc. Special features and impeccable sound quality are a small price to pay for deals like these. Trade in your old copy of Predator and pick up a slightly worn copy of Back to the Future--it's like living in the '80s all over again! Now if you could just find a place to buy a VCR . . . The Clove, 1222 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.538.6011.--J.L.
Best Place to Feel Part of a Community While Dressing a Salad
The Olive Press has been right there on Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen for eight and a half years, and for most of that time, it has been the gracious host of a beloved event called the Community Press. One need not be an olive baron to participate; in fact, the rule is to bring no more than 300 pounds. Once the trees are bending, as early as October or as late as January, depending on the weather, people from all over Napa and Sonoma counties, and even some interlopers from the Central Valley, arrive lugging containers of all shapes and sizes brimming with a medley of succulent black and green olives. Even a person such as myself who nurtures a lone olive tree can show up with a bucket no bigger then a breadbasket and stand alongside the fellow who arrives with flash in the vintage Cadillac convertible laden with olives. A few hundred locals participate every year and the only rules are to have some green and some black olives represented in your pickings, don't sneak in dicey-looking fruit, and pick your olives within 24 hours of arriving at the press. Then, chatting with fellow olive lovers and eyeballing their contribution to the mix, you offer your harvest to be weighed, go inside and pay accordingly for the bottle and processing fee, and two weeks later are presented a bottle of the golden community oil. My small bucket usually only entitles me to a half bottle of the fruity elixir, while others merit gallons. And if you are curious about how your hard, pitted, bitter olives transformed into this delicious oil you must now age on your shelf for a few weeks for best flavor, knowledgeable workers at the Olive Press are there to answer such questions and offer you tastes of their infused oils or their citrus oils (made from Meyer lemon and blood oranges tossed right into the crush). The impressive, state-of-the-art Italian Pieralisi Hammermill press is on view through the massive glass partition. This press works its magic on 250 tons of olives each year, and every bottle sold in the shop is certified extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Counsel, which apparently doesn't hand out such classifications lightly. And should you want to participate the following year, the Olive Press even sells olive trees. The Olive Press, 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. 707.939.8900. --J.K.
Best 15 Minutes of Noise in an Educational Environment
During the average day at Sonoma State University, the place is the usual blend of pleasant academic noises: students chatting, music playing from the windows of dorm rooms, cars roaring and people shrieking while playing Frisbee and Hacky Sack on the numerous well-manicured lawns. But come finals week, all the pretty noises come to a stop, as the campus is declared noise-free 24 hours a day. That means no loud voices, no radios, no vacuum cleaners in the dormitories--no noise at all. To help students deal with the pressure of all that silence, not to mention the pressure of the final exams themselves, students are allowed 15 minutes of noise per day. Yep, 15 minutes. Deafening vocalizations are, during this short break in the silence, encouraged. Called the Sea Wolf Scream and scheduled from 5pm to 5:15pm every day, the pro-noise window is a short, sweet open invitation to let off a lot of steam, producing whatever sorts of noises one can think of. For those 15 minutes, the entire campus (and especially the residential areas) erupts in a shocking tumult of clang and clamor. Adding to the surrealism of it all, the Sea Wolf Scream is cleverly themed each day (one day participants are invited to bang pots and pans, the next it's nursery rhymes screamed at the top of one's lungs). It's also the one and only time that tidy scholars can vacuum their carpets. For those students who may be unaware, finals week at SSU is May 23-27 this year.--D.T.
Best Place to Ponder Why the Chicken Crosses the Road
Despite the pros and cons of its growth, the North Bay still fortunately retains a rural character. Petaluma and unincorporated Cotati were once major egg and chicken strongholds; decrepit coops fall slowly into oblivion in many areas. Many fowl remain pecking about, including the happy peep at Prairie Sun recording studio on Madrone Avenue in Cotati (some of whom appear in the background on a Tom Waits song from his Mule Variations album). Life is good for these birds--unless, of course, one gets loose from the yard, as occasionally happens, and goes under the wheels of a massive SUV (as I witnessed recently). Such are the dangers of existing. But road kill's not a total bummer; it feeds the vultures. During my commuting years, I once saw a lone chicken standing on the Highway 101 South onramp at West Sierra Avenue, as if it were hitchhiking somewhere. Now that's not something you see everyday or just anyplace. Keep your eyes peeled for a rafter of wild turkeys who call School Street home. If you want to record at Prairie Sun and meet the chickens, go to www.prairiesun.com.--M.P.
Best Place to Find Exiting Employees
The financial-services company CrossCheck in Rohnert Park produces an inviting advertisement in the local daily's employment section nearly every Sunday offering a fantastic career with a casual work environment, great pay and a sunny future. What the ad does not mention is that CrossCheck has one of the highest employee turnover rates of any company in Sonoma County, causing one EDD official to recently state that applicants should be careful when considering a job with the firm. Former employees recall "whack 'em Wednesdays," the randomly occurring midweek day where workers who are deemed not to be performing well mysteriously vanish. One supervisory level employee, who had left work early on a Friday for an appointment, was surprised to find his final paycheck in the mail the following day. The plan had been to terminate him before the weekend but had gone awry when he left ahead of schedule. Avoid like the plague: CrossCheck Inc., 6119 State Farm Drive, Rohnert Park. 707.586.0551.--A.H.
Best Place to Learn Everything Important in the Dark
There's a simple equation for choosing a video store: the bigger the chain, the dumber the movies. And then there's Video Droid. The Droid has a whole section for movies that have been given "the Criterion treatment." Criterion Collection DVDs are films from all around the world, both classic and contemporary. The company's mission is to gather the world's best movies and offer them with excellent sound quality and award-winning original features. For the uninitiated, a good place to start is Terry Gilliam's 1985 classic Brazil. The bonus features include a fascinating documentary about Gilliam's fight to get the film released without studio tampering as well as showcasing the laughably bad studio cut that entirely changed the film's tone. The Criterion section at Video Droid may not be much bigger than a shelf, but that's still enough for hours upon hours of geek movie pleasure. Video Droid, 1901 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.526.3313; 590 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati, 707.794.9797; 957 Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park, 707.585.3151.--J.L.
Best Place to Go Imelda
Not for nothing do my friends call me Imelda. While I don't have nearly as many pairs of stiletto mules as the infamous Philippine despot, I have been known to go without food in favor of a new pair of designer kicks. I know that during those crunch times when one paycheck barely stretches to meet the next, I dare not even walk on the same side of the street as Rainsong Shoes. I know what will happen. I'll just want to take a little look inside, which leads to just a quick perusal of their eclectic mix of well-crafted wonders--currently, pastels and straps for the ladies; strange, pointed-toe, seamed rustic leather wonders for the men. This quick browse always leads woefully (for my pocketbook) straight back to the sale wall. It's all good back there, with gorgeous discontinued Danskos in sage green jostling against last fall's tall, tall red leather boots--which are now marked down to $170 from $300. And there's that wall of cashmere socks! And the handbags! And the staff! So helpful! So friendly! Uh-oh, hold me back! Rainsong Shoes, 117 Plaza St., Healdsburg. 707.433.8058.--E.L.
Best place to get money-saving tips
The atmosphere at Peet's Coffee and Tea in downtown Mill Valley is akin to waiting to get on an upscale amusement park ride. Hordes of yuppies snake into and out of the building in a line often 60 strong, patiently waiting their turn. Coffee etiquette is practiced most weekday mornings and no one gets too testy as fellow Marinites ask for special variations to their favorite drink. Since nobody in Mill Valley seems to have a job (is everyone a "consultant"?), people linger about for hours after the line fades expounding upon life and offering financial advice. During a recent midmorning linger, one finely coiffed gentlemen revealed to another his plans on saving money while waiting for the economy to upturn: "If I get my hair cut every other month, and eventually start cutting it myself, that's $80 right there." Peet's, 88 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. 415.381.8227.--A.H.
Best Place to Buy what You Don't Need but Must Have
For lack of a better descriptor, Mr. Moon's in Healdsburg could be called a "gift shop." But where a gift shop might stock porcelain figurines of gingham-clad piggies smooching each others' snouts, Mr. Moon's is so much better. I like the collection of ethnic jewelry, which is entirely unique and not outrageously expensive. Perhaps I can best describe Mr. Moon's by describing what was in my shopping basket during a recent visit: a Where the Wild Things Are retro-looking T-shirt; carved black bone earrings; an African Odyssey Putumayo CD; a pink leather wallet (embroidered with straw flowers); and a pale blue-and-white mother-of-pearl necklace that looks like a large domino on a leather cord. Healdsburg girls out on the town eyeballing each other's accessories commonly return the invariable compliment "Cute [insert item of clothing, jewelry or miscellaneous tchotchke here]!" with the invariable smile and response: "Mr. Moon's." It all awaits at 316 Center St., Healdsburg. 707.433.6666.--E.L.
Best Place to Look for Shangri-la
Shangri-la, the fictional land of peace and perpetual youth that was the setting for James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon, was first established on earth by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942. President Dwight Eisenhower later renamed the retreat Camp David, and since then, Shangri-la's location has remained a mystery. However, an artifact found in your friendly neighborhood smoke shop may offer a vital clue to this mythical land's current whereabouts. It's called the Proto Pipe Deluxe, it's been around for decades and, according to the pamphlet that comes with each machined brass pipe, it's made in Willits, straddling the freakin' edge of the North Bay and the Emerald Triangle. "Proto Pipe is intended for contemporary tobacco consumption," instructs the pamphlet. "Being a tobacco pipe, it is not for sale to minors." The pipe itself is a work of art, the ultimate merging of form and function. The bowl is machined from solid brass. Tired of clogging the screen? The Proto Pipe doesn't have one. Instead, it has holes drilled through the bottom of the bowl with a removable resin trap beneath the holes. A built-in poker fits into a slot on the bowl; it can be used to clean the holes and to push the resin trap out for easy scraping. A cylindrical brass stash chamber that holds up to five pipe-loads also screws into the bowl. The entire device weighs a few ounces, fits easily into the palm of your hand and lasts forever. All for just $24.95. In short, everything the "contemporary tobacco smoker" needs is here in one nice tidy affordable package, made right here in the North Bay, in Willits. I wanted to thank the geniuses behind this device, but--alas!--the only contact information contained in the pamphlet is a P.O. Box number, and no one as of yet has written back. The only other solid lead I've encountered comes from GrassCity.com (http://shop.grasscity.com), which states that the Proto Pipe is still being made "at an old hippie colony in the United States." I see a man in Buddhist garb kneeling before a lathe, shards of brass sheering off like golden fleece, an entire community supported by this tiny, perfect contraption. Could this be the new Shangri-la? The world may never know. The Proto Pipe is available at most North Bay smoke shops.--R.V.S.
Best Place to Feign a Southern AccenT
In Sonoma, when we think of General Vallejo's house, it is more for the field in front of it, where the best fireworks display in the Bay Area occurs every Independence Day, or for the great multiuse pathway that runs across what must have once been the general's grounds. But his daughter's house, just one field over--now that's another story. Built in 1864, this romantic yellow Victorian began a new life as a restaurant in 1994, aptly enough called the General's Daughter. There is something timeless and graceful about this place; maybe it's the circular drive dotted with lemon trees or the massive clusters of wisteria dripping from overhead trellises and perfuming the air. But most likely, it's the wraparound porch and full bar inside that work as a team to assure that as you sit outdoors on a balmy eve, a margarita, mojito or martini can be right by your side. There are heat lamps in case it's one of the rare chilly evenings in the summer. And out there on the porch, with the mountains in the background and the frogs and crickets singing, you sigh into your libation, scan the horizon and say that movie line you've always wanted to offer grandly to a loved one: "Someday, this will all be yours." And for that warm evening, anyway, it already is. The General's Daughter, 400 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 707.938.4004.--J.K.
Best Place to Stick It to the Man
Oh, the rampaging dichotomies of being in your mid-20s: hip enough to keep up with the latest music and movie releases, but still idealistic enough to hate the big corporate system. What is a socially conscious hipster to do? Go to Best Buy without a wallet, that's what. The superstore chain, ugly as the black hearts of its corporate CEOs, goes to great pains to keep up its stock with the latest in DVDs and CDs. On any given day, many young, scruffy individuals can be seen meticulously picking through the horror DVDs or underground hip-hop section. But for some reason, they never leave the store with that yellow plastic bag in their hands. Hey, you're not supporting the system if you just look! So take a trip to Best Buy, make some notes, and then head somewhere to buy it used from someone who isn't wearing a stupid blue uniform. Best Buy, 1950 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707.545.1078; 180 Donahue St., Marin City, 415.331.1657. --J.L.
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From the March 23-29, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.