Sunday, September 30, 2007
Arcata has got to be the crunchiest town anywhere, except for maybe the Haight-Ashbury, S.F., which is of course hippie ground zero. At 16,000 people including the homeless population and those who just want to look homeless, Arcata is the most distilled expression of northern coastal California. All of the main sub-sub-cultures of hippiedom are represented -- Apollonian intellectual in Victorian garret, funky dreadlocked neo-hippie and the closely related dreadlocked homeless person, to name a few. There is one palm tree in town, maybe the most northern one in California, so that is an indication that if you are homeless, this may be a good place for you.
I don't grudge them a moment of it, it's just funny to view California after living a very straight life in quasi-Calvinist northern Europe for so many years and then being exposed to Oregon's more misty, subdued charm. Add to that the awareness that for the most part Arcata is what a lot of places would term culturally irrelevant -- there is plenty of art and beauty but it lives only for the present like a third-world village.
In keeping with the hippie theme park, just about every store sign is hand-lettered, there is a total absence of chains, except for the motels clustered by the interstate exit, which were booked for a bellydancing festival. You walk into the local supermarket and the people who pass you look perfectly normal except probably they perceived the walk from one aisle to the next as taking about 15 minutes rather than 15 seconds and rather than you hearing "Should we get some baking soda" or something, you hear, and I quote, "Oh my god, which waay? (I am so baked.)"
Occasionally you see serious people around town -- a slightly frazzled woman with eyeglasses studying for her GMAT in a cafe at 8am on a Sunday. Or you see an earnest looking bookish professor, who doesn't look like the Donald Sutherland Animal House model, walking around town. And you wonder what quirk of fate or skeleton in the closet led him to end up tenured at Humboldt State, which as far as I know is pretty much wrote the book on basket weaving as a major. Though I think it does have a good environmental sciences programme.
The odd thing is, I have not smelled pot smoke, but unless it is some local species of plant that also smells of pine and citrus (and it could well be - I hadn't heard of myrtlewood until three days ago), major quantities of something are being cultivated in some of the Victorians.
Posted by Kristopher at 9:45 AM