Jake had a frown to match the Roadmaster's grille when he rolled into Petaluma, only not so shiny. He lost sight of the girls' bus after they pulled into town. After cursing himself, he found a phone booth to check in with Pemberton, hoping for another lead but not wanting to tell him Molly had given him the slip.
Since the surf shack, Molly had been careful. Paying cash, leaving no trail. Until she used daddy's plastic at Empire Automotive. The transaction had just popped up on Pemberton's account. Jake told him he was making progress and headed to the garage.
"Sweet ride." A mechanic ambled out of the garage, wiping a greasy wrench with a rag. "What's the horsepower, 144?"
"One sixty-five," Jake said. "Nineteen forty-two. Last one off the line."
"So, what's ailing her?"
"She's fine. It's a couple of broads in a yellow krautwagon I'm worried about. Do you know when they're coming back?"
The mechanic paused and smiled—like an ant just bit his nose. "Oh, you know those nice young ladies in that Vee Dub? Sorry, sir, but I really can't—"
"Listen here, mac. Reynolds Pemberton is the guy I'm working for and the guy that's paying your bill, too. So give me the skinny, beanstalk, if you don't want trouble."
The mechanic folded like an old metal chair and told Jake that the girls were headed up to Santa Rosa, and that they then planned to get some kind of cedar enzyme spa treatment. Whatever that was, Jake thought.
It was getting late, so Jake looked for the hotel with the best neon sign and checked in at the Flamingo. My kind of place, he thought.
As he walked up, a silver Tesla zipped in and parked right in front of the door. The license plate read, "TECBUKS." . . .
Best Place to Go Really, Really Fast in a Really, Really Small Car
The smell of gasoline and rubber rises from the world-class raceway overlooking the San Pablo Bay. I've been invited to join friends in a day of go-karting, that's all I know. Visions of the small, child-friendly tracks that accompany mini-golf courses dance in my head. Yet climbing the hill that overlooks Sonoma Raceway's two-and-a-half-mile road course and quarter-mile drag strip, it becomes obvious this is not child's play. One look at the immense go-kart track and the speeding roadsters hugging the curves tells me this is going to be a serious afternoon of speed.
Simraceway Performance Karting Center boasts not only the largest go-kart track in California, it also features the fastest karts. For novices like me, there are Grand Prix go-karts available to rent for the day, at 25 bucks a pop. These karts, which are little more than four tires, a steering wheel and power-packed engine, will get you going at a teeth-clenching 45 mph.
But if you're a serious competitor—and, yes, the world of go-karts has career competitors outfitted with jumpsuits and towing equipment trailers—there are introductory and advanced karting programs where you can learn to race at 60 or 70 mph. And while the wind won't be whipping your hair (helmets are a must, of course), the speed you can achieve at the raceway is a serious rush. 29359 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 707.939.7600.—Charlie Swanson
Best Ancient Apples
Fort Ross, the iconic stockade founded by the Russian-American Company in 1812, was already described as "dilapidated" by visitors in the 1840s. As rough-hewn and rustic as the buildings appear today, apart from elements of the Rotchev house, these are modern reconstructions. But there are a few more relics, less often visited, that are not only authentic—they're alive. A 10-minute walk behind the fort, a historic orchard still stands that was first planted in 1817. Since then, it has been expanded, abandoned, grazed by livestock and ruptured by the 1906 quake—the San Andreas Fault runs right through the hapless little orchard. Still, three cherry trees and one apple tree from the Russian era survive amid the park-like mishmash of fruit trees. One late October afternoon, after the annual Fort Ross Harvest Festival, a Russian-speaking couple was furtively gathering apples and pears that hadn't already been picked for the cultural event earlier in the day. Incredulous at the waste of perfectly good—and perfectly historic—apples on the ground, the wife said, "And they just left them here!" 19005 Coast Hwy., Jenner.—James Knight
Best Dose of Caffeine That'll Keep You Quaking All Day
Whether it's an early-morning jolt, midday pick-me-up or afternoon treat of the coffee variety, look no further—the Acre Dream is your answer. This coffee beverage is Acre Coffee's take on New Orleans–style coffee, which is traditionally brewed with roasted chicory. The cold-brewed elixir is then sweetened with cane sugar, served iced and cut with the milk of your choice. The result is a life-saving, happy-making, ridiculously strong cup of joe that makes you wish you never had it so you could have it again for the first time. Another popular Acre favorite is the mocha and hot chocolate, made with chunks of Guittard chocolate melted in the bottom of every fresh cup. Insider tip: pair your beverage with a savory snack like Acre's house-made toasted English muffin with butter or various gluten-free offerings, and hang out in the beautiful sun-drenched Santa Rosa store or centrally located Petaluma cafe. 21 Fourth St., Petaluma. 707.772.5117; 2365 Midway Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.595.5984.—Jessie Janssen
Best Place to Register Your Car If You Can't Deal with the DMV
Go see the affable and conscientious Jim Parrot in San Rafael next time you need to register your car but have a panic attack at the thought of those nasty people and long lines. Yeah, you can make an appointment at the California Department of Motor Vehicles to smooth your way, but to heck with that. Parrot runs California Auto Registration Services in San Rafael and is one of about 2,000 people around the state who'll do the heavy lift at the DMV office for you—if it comes to that—for a modest fee and with a great sense of humor about it all. Mostly, he can register your car and issue plates to you right out of his office in a small strip-mall, all while telling you stories about the hedonic Marin County of the 1970s and taking trips to the DMV for tricky titles and such, so you don't have to. . . . Wait, did somebody just say that you could have some laughs while dealing with the pain-in-the-neck process of registering an out-of-state vehicle in a state with a notoriously remorseless DMV that doesn't exactly love these middlemen? Indeed. Go see Jim. C.A.R.S., 73 Grand Ave., San Rafael. 415.482.9900.—Tom Gogola
Best Shoe Repairman with an Old-World Feel & Proximity to Cupcakes
Shoes just aren't made to last these days, so next time, instead of buying a new pair, it will be worth the effort to visit Tate's Shoe Repair in Santa Rosa. The man himself will let you know if your shoes are fixable and, if so, how much it might cost you (which is often significantly less than a new pair). He is jovial and helpful, and his rates are reasonable to boot. Keep in mind that shoes will take at least a week to go through the repair process and the store is cash-only. In the meantime, it's an excellent excuse to visit Sift Cupcakes, just a few doors down. Happy cobbling! 402 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.545.3859.—Jessie Janssen
Best Shop Full of Odd Stuff You Never Thought You Needed
Wondering where you can get cat hair, a penis candle or a hoodoo doll? Try Lucky Mojo Curio Company, a secret haven of weirdness and greatness hidden out of sight in Forestville. Functioning as a brick-and-mortar store and an online business with nationwide shipping, this store is part museum, part cabinet of curiosities, and is full of wow moments. A whole shelf might be dedicated to erotic knick-knacks, another to scents and magic potions, a third to charms and trinkets. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and although the place is supposed to be a hideaway for insiders, the store's design and beautiful surroundings welcomes newcomers. 6632 Covey Road, Forestville. 707.887.1521. luckymojo.com.—Flora Tsapovsky
Best Place to Spend an Afternoon in a State of Whitmanian Bliss, While Staying Indoors
The caveat to this Best Of is, of course, the part where you have to stay indoors to win it. The entire North Bay would otherwise be a contender, this land of vast vistas and natural splendor, and a coastline that poet Walt Whitman would've died for. For indoor encounters with the Whitmanian spirit, head to the newly opened Western Gate Revolutionary Teahouse and Book Commons in the lush forest nook of Lagunitas, over yonder at the fringe of West Marin. Here you can lounge with jasmine tea and chat with co-proprietor Scott Traffas, or whoever is present, about the unique and poetically charged blessing of West Marin, "a potent medicine spot," in Traffas' recent words to the Bohemian. The gathering place, a kind of Zen salon fashioned as a Japanese teahouse, opened in late 2014 with an aim to give the various phreaks and mystics and permaculture yurt-dwellers of the area a space within which to sip and speak, to read and reflect, to do their thang, basically. 7282 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Lagunitas. www.cultureofpermaculture.org.—Tom Gogola
Best Obsolete Technology
My love affair with Laserdisc movies began in Santa Rosa. It was in a thrift shop, Sacks on the Square, in the heart of the downtown's Railroad Square. I saw a dozen or so records sitting together. Or so I thought. As I pulled the first title from the shelf, I mistook it for the motion picture soundtrack to Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Yet when I pulled the "record" out of its sleeve, a shining silver disc greeted me. "What the . . . ?" I began to stammer, before the words "Laserdisc" met my eyes, and I realized I was holding the actual movie itself, presented in an outdated, oversized and thoroughly obsolete technology. I was hooked. In fact, there were over 20 Laserdisc films in that lot, with such vital classics as David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Sly Stallone's arm-wrestling masterpiece Over the Top in rank. As it happened, the Laserdisc movie player, a Pioneer CLD-D406, was sitting on the other side of the store and in perfect working condition. I walked out of there with both for less than $20. I now have over 400 Laserdisc movies in my collection. I love the throwback look and feel of them, as well as the thrill of finding a true treasure of a film in a bin somewhere. And to that extent, I've driven to every distant corner of the Bay Area to relieve them from Craigslist sellers, scrolled countless Ebay listings and scoured miscellaneous racks at every vintage store in San Francisco with abandon. In the North Bay, there is one place I can always count on. Second's Best is a hidden gem of a store, itself located in the heart of Santa Rosa's Roseland neighborhood and coincidentally less than two miles from where my obsession began. Feel free to check it out, but hands off the Laserdiscs; I got dibs. (P.S. Any readers wishing to unload their own laserdisc collections can message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) 1290 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. 707.578.6916.—Charlie Swanson
Best Place to Just Sort of Hang Around Thinking About Seafaring Adventures
Of course, for sheer volume and diversity, the Sausalito area and dockages provide a field day of wandering and biking and looking at the pretty sailboats and the kooky live-aboards and everything between in the various bays and marinas in southeast Marin County. Yet there's a lot of gates and locks all over the place. You can't always just wander down a dock anymore, checking out the boats with an aimless mien as you think of seafaring adventures and the complexities of capital, fish, people and beauty. That boatyard in Marshall with all the old hulls and welding sounds—very righteous turf for a quickie sea-head wander. But for a sustained recreational drift, head to the docks around Spud Point Crab Company on Bodega Bay Harbor on an afternoon where you need to clear your head and smell the fish and see the bustle of industry. There's a long public walkway along a breakwater that encircles the fleet, which is a fine enough vantage point to check out the boats as you lean against a rail and think about lunch. Or chat up a fisherman and get a tour of the docks, get past the gates and up close to the boats themselves—the salmon trawlers and the pilot boat, the sport boats and the cruisers, crab pots lining the road at the processor. Now go get yourself some crabs across the street at the restaurant. 1910 Westshore Road, Bodega Bay. 707.875.9472.—Tom Gogola
Best Happy Dog Dedication
I often read the names of people who had a park bench dedicated to them. You know, the kind of plaque that reads, so-and-so is fondly remembered and so on. Did that person also enjoy this walk or this view? Am I honoring their memory by doing the same, or do I resent them for needling me from the grave with a reminder of my own mortality? And if I sit on the bench, am I really just taking advantage of the fact that they passed on? But none of that chokes me up until I come upon a picnic table dedicated to 'Zoe the Happy Dog.' It's been piled with flowers and festooned with dog swag like chewtoys and biscuits, and here's a photo of a quite sanguine-looking pooch indeed, who is said to be faithfully "waiting at the rainbow bridge" for her masters. And how do you like your brown-eyed dog, Mister Death? 13630 Sonoma Hwy., Glen Ellen.—James Knight
Best Jukebox Caught in a Time Warp
The Forestville Club is a strange beast. A huge parlor on a quiet main street, it's sometimes packed with visitors who marvel at the old-school vibe; other times, it holds just a few locals. It's also the last place you'd expect to find a brand-new jukebox—something about the peeling carpet, the ancient pool tables and the odd mix of patrons. And yet there it is in the corner, facing the pool tables: a shiny digital jukebox, probably the latest model. With the club's kitschy décor as a backdrop, the machine looks especially out of place—an alien of progress in a time capsule. But once you overcome the suspicion, things get groovy—the jukebox has an endless number of tracks, plus an online search option, which results in some of the weirdest playlists ever assembled in a small town. From Aliyah to Fleetwood Mac, picking the perfect soundtrack for a game of pool is an experience like no other—or let the regulars pick, and watch hippie ladies getting down with the White Stripes. 6250 Front St., Forestville. 707.887.2594.—Flora Tsapovsky
Best New Taproom Kid on the Block
Everyone knows you can get excellent brew at Lagunitas, Russian River and Bear Republic. But when you don't want to wait or battle the crowds, there is an alternative. Fogbelt Brewing Company is making a name for itself on the craft-beer scene. Established a little over a year ago, the brewery and taproom is helmed by a knowledgeable duo of beer experts, Paul Hawley and Remy Martin. These two take inspiration from Northern California and the largest trees in the world that grow along its fog belt. The result: exceptional beers available by pint or taster served in a great location. Their flagship varieties include a rich stout, citrusy red ale, a classic IPA and a cilantro-lime Belgian wheat. Picture that beer paired with the awesome ambiance of artwork, fireplace and central bar with plenty of seats. Located in what could be described as a mini Barlow complete with a pizza joint, juice bar and winetasting room, Fogbelt is in good company. And free parking for all. 1305 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa. 707.978.3400.—Jessie Janssen.
Best Place to Freeze While Watching a Romantic Comedy
A year ago, the humble Rio Theater in Monte Rio became famous thanks to a fundraising effort to bring it into the digital age. Everyone from the local fire department to actor Zach Braff pitched in, and the theater, an iconic local landmark, got a second lease on life. Additionally, a new young crew of co-owners meant a new slick website, a current and at times boldly indie movie selection, and a renewed positive buzz. What no one told the people is just how cold the famed theater is—and that's part of the fun. Built in an airplane hangar, the theater lacks any heating and gets quite chilly during the winter and spring, which is why fuzzy blankets are given at the entrance with your ticket. The cold oddly bonds the audience, and no matter the movie, you emerge from the theater a changed person. Bring pajamas and your own blanket for extra comfort—no one will blink. 20396 Bohemian Hwy., Monte Rio. 707.865.0913. riotheater.com.—Flora TsapovskyEveryday: Readers List|Back to Intro Page