Notes from the Road

For a while about a decade ago, I was doing tech blogging; I never rose to “A-list blogger” level, but I probably hit B-list for a couple years, based on who was linking to me and the “yeah, I think I’ve heard of Coyote Tracks” comments from bigger names. I used to joke that while you weren’t reading me, people you were reading were reading me. I never figured out how to monetize those eyeballs, as they say, I suspect because I worried I wasn’t big enough to go after any real ad networks. The blog did lead to my tech writing job at RethinkDB and a middle-age shift into that career path, though, so it paid off well enough.

But I’d been “blogging” since 1998, even though nobody had that term back then. My first try was for some kind of online column, as I recall, just personal essays; I doubt anyone read it, and I didn’t keep up with it. For a decade or so after that, though, I kept a journal called Coyote Cartography, the name I resurrected for this blog.

That started up while I still lived in Florida, where I’d taken to driving long distances for no reason other than to do it. I used to joke about practicing “driving zen” instead of walking zen, but it wasn’t entirely a joke. I did a lot of thinking when I drove, and once I got out of traffic and found myself on relatively rural roads, it brought a measure of peace.

I kept doing that occasionally after I moved to California, at least for a while. Occasionally, I’d write up wherever I’d ended up and post it in the journal with the title “Notes from the Road.”

Geography makes it harder than I’d expected to drive out of the San Francisco Bay area and get somewhere new and interesting than it is to drive out of the Tampa Bay area and get somewhere new and interesting. Also, I’m old enough now that driving ten hours for no particular reason can be more tiring than relaxing. Over the last few years, it’s been rare for me to go much farther than Sacramento, even as I’ve had the resources to take “staycations” as a way of recharging. (Those staycations tend to be in the Sacramento area, as I’ve come to love it despite its brutal dry heat summers—and also, I confess, because the hotels there are so much cheaper than anywhere near San Francisco.)

But a couple weeks ago, I’d started to feel unaccountably melancholy and maudlin, a kind of free-floating mild depression I’d become familiar with off and on. In the past, I’ve self-medicated with St. Johns Wort, which I suspect may be as much placebo as anything else; while I’ve grown to like beer, wine and spirits more now than I did when I lived in Florida two decades ago, that’s a dangerous road to go down. So I decided to take to the literal road, heading back to Big Sur for the first time in years. Last weekend, I ended up in Modesto after a slightly too late start, so I didn’t see much of Modesto. (I don’t know if there’s anything to see there, but sometimes overlooked towns can surprise you.)

And, as I type this, I’m in Ukiah, at Black Oak Coffee Roasters.

Ukiah is the largest city in Mendocino County, which is still only about 17,000 people. Like a lot of Mendocino, there’s a mix of old school agriculture and hipster counterculture around the town. This is a coffee shop you’re going to go into and find great local-roasted coffee and people working on laptops; it’s not going to be abuzz with conversations about social media startups. It feels kinda Bay Area in a good way, but also feels fully of its place.

San Francisco insists it’s “northern California,” but a glance at the map tells you it’s clearly in the middle. This is northern California, and it’s a noticably different pace. You start feeling it at the northern edge of the Bay Area, in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, although those are still close enough to San Francisco to make everything just a little more fraught in both good and bad ways. Going north of Healdsburg requires effort. It rewards you, as long as you like the kind of place Ukiah is. I do, which I’d almost forgotten. It all came back instantly when I turned down its main street. (There is a Main Street, but the real main street is State Street, one block over.) It’s the sort of town I’d love to live in, if only I could install a teleporter. For one, my job isn’t keen on full-time remote employees. For another, as solitary as I can be, I’m not antisocial—I’m bad at being social, but that’s not the same thing. I wouldn’t want literally all of my friends to be a day trip away.

The last time I was in Ukiah, at least a decade ago, I was at this coffee shop, too. But back then it was called the Coffee Critic. Apparently they went under back in 2010 or 2011, and two locals—one of whom had been a head roaster for both Ritual Coffee and Counter Culture Coffee, two pretty big names in the snooty coffee world—bought the shop. They’re doing light roasts in that “third wave” style, but also doing dark roasts, blends, crazy flavors for lattes and mochas, all to fit in to the local market.

Frankly, this is too far from home to be out this far on a Sunday at a quarter to five; it’s a three-hour haul back. But because of that time, now that I’m here I’m going to find some place for dinner. Ideally I’ll have enough time to walk around, too, and won’t get back deathly late.

I’d planned to get out and do some writing today; I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Other than, of course, this. But maybe that’s okay.

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