Small town reflections from California’s Point Reyes Station

In the midst of a morning stroll down the main street of Northern California’s Point Reyes Station, a calm, yet concerned brunette woman stopped her vehicle in the center of the road and approached me with a simple question.

“Excuse me, but do you happen to know of the nearest veterinarian’s office?”

Unfortunately, as life would have it, it forever seems that any pedestrian you ask for directions will assuredly be from out of town. On this particular morning on the California coast, I was the one thrust into the role of aloof and wildly unhelpful street walker.

“I’m sorry, I’m not actually from around here”, I apologetically offered.

Though I had already scoured the majority of downtown Point Reyes Station in less time than it takes to finish a cup of coffee, I had unhelpfully only encountered 3 cafes, 1 saloon, and 0 veterinarian’s offices. I would say that she thanked me anyway and sped off, but nothing in this coastal hamlet has anything to do with fast. With a population that barely surpasses 350 people, and less than an hour north of downtown San Francisco, Point Reyes Station is the type of town you come to for curbside conversations.

With the woman having casually moved on, as if to validate my very thoughts, a man in an old Datsun truck stops in the middle of the intersection to chat with a man in the crosswalk. The only phrase I can make out are the words “35 pound halibut”, and from their general demeanor it appears this is the most pressing issue that either are facing at the current moment.

Though slow may be the only speed that Point Reyes Station knows, the town, as I am soon to find out, is anything but one-dimensional. Sipping my coffee in front of Cheda’s garage, on the inside wall I spot a row of mounted deer heads peering out at cars in need of a routine oil change. Directly across the street, in complete juxtaposition to the glorified death hanging on the garage wall, a single row of Tibetan prayer flags strung above Toby’s Feed Station flutter in the light coastal breeze.

Leaning closer towards the decision of purchasing a second cup of coffee, I also decide it’s that very juxtaposition of cultures that gives the town of Point Reyes Station that funky vibe that, until now, I was annoyingly unable to place.

With the morning fog slowly starting to burn off, I opt to head towards the turn off for Point Reyes National Seashore and the oft-photographed Point Reyes Lighthouse. A regional monument that receives thousands of visitors annually, a road sign firmly bolted to a telephone pole reassures motorists they’re still headed down the right road. Beneath it, a torn piece of cardboard clinging to the pole by its last piece of tape informs those same motorists of a local garage sale. It’s a stark contrast to the manicured white letters of the shiny new government issued sign for the lighthouse. Though its arrow points the same way as the popular landmark, you get the feeling that the sale would be lucky to see any visitors at all.

With the lighthouse being well out of reach for someone on foot, I decide it’s time for that second cup of coffee. Sufficiently satisfied with my first cup, I retrace my steps towards the Cowgirl Creamery on the other side of town, which at approximately 1/8th of a mile away is completely justified in being considered the other side of town.

Over that ensuing distance I cannot help but notice more of the intriguing juxtapositions scattered across this unique, one-street town. As I pass the dimly lit saloon with a flickering Budweiser sign in the window, I pause to peruse the local message board hanging on the outside wall. Not surprisingly, right next to each other are advertisements offering horseshoeing services and an upcoming performance by “The Kalahari Experience featuring Zulu Spear”. The pioneering spirit of the west placed directly next to the multi-cultural heritage a nation prides itself upon.

Down on the sidewalk, an abandoned game of hopscotch drawn in pink and blue chalk is scrawled in front of a real estate office advertising foreclosed upon homes. I write it off as a coincidence, but I can’t help but see it as innocence versus innocence lost. Across the street, a banner advertising the “Sustainable West Marin” effort hangs limply on a boarded up red brick building. The vision of sustainability versus the harsh reality of failure.

Arriving at the creamery, I take stock of the building that houses the cafe and artisan cheese the region is growing most famous for. Sure, the biking and kayaking are some of the best in the state, but it’s the cheese that’s getting most of the attention these days.

A ramshackle barn that looks as if it hasn’t been painted since the Carter administration, the festive atmosphere inside the place is a complete contrast to the rustic exterior. After having tasted some of their trademark Mt. Tam cheese that’s produced right there on site, I realize there’s no need to paint the outside of something that’s renowned for what it produces on the inside.

A complete breath of fresh air from the pace of our modern world, it’s refreshing to know that there are still towns out there like Point Reyes Station; towns that can intrigue you, inspire you, relax you, and confuse you, all without having to walk further than one street.

[Photo: Flickr user uzvards]