We—the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie and self—drove north to Red Bluff on Sunday to visit an old friend who recently relocated there from environs farther north, and the trip was like an excursion into a different season in a different land.
In Chico it was a warm, sunny, early pre-autumn morning when we headed out, but by the time we were passing the First Amendment Club the sky in front of us was packed with deep blue-gray clouds, and somewhere on the other side of Los Molinos the windshield of our Echo was being spattered by raindrops for the first time in months. A bank sign on the way into town told us the temperature was 54 degrees in Red Bluff.
Collecting our friend from an apartment perched on the banks of the Sacramento River, we decided to find a place for brunch and then explore the town a bit. Brunch was at a cheery blue converted Victorian on Main Street called, sort of oddly given its antiquated and ornate architecture, the Snack Box. I can personally vouch for the excellence of the service, the club sandwich and the french fries, and my companions will do likewise for the bacon and eggs and hash browns. The place is an obvious local favorite and was packed with cheery tables full of garrulous diners.
Then we did a short tour of the town that included a viewing of our friend’s former ancestral acreage—now occupied by a Wal-Mart—and a stop at the deserted riverfront park where, after crossing a vast stretch of drying, crawdad-smelling river bottom, Culture Vulture reverted to rural type and spent a half-hour or so obsessively seeking out flat round stones and skipping them across the gliding green surface of the Sacramento as the sun burned away the last of the morning’s rain clouds.
Old Red Bluff is a testimony to economic entropy and flux, dotted with decaying Victorian mansions and brick business buildings in various states of decrepitude and renovation. One gets a sense that the 21st century is an interloper there and that the 19th century would be welcomed back with open arms.
Driving back to Chico, we chose a route through the sleepy little towns of Proberta, Gerber and Tehama, tiny municipalities with populations of several hundred citizens each, where, as Daphne pointed out, “You never see anybody on the streets, just a lone dog once in a while.” The abandoned storefronts, the faded roadside taverns with dim little signs, such as the Pasatiempo Tavern with a couple of dusty pickup trucks parked out front, and the quiet deserted streets all add up to a sort of rural-American de Chirico motif that makes the pedestrian-dotted, bicycle peppered streets of downtown Chico seem like a maelstrom of metropolitan activity by comparison.
Home, sweet home, in other words.
Best things about Chico autumn
1. Fresh-picked Fuji apples at Saturday Farmers’ Market
2. Turning off the air conditioner
3. Garage band practice without sweating
4. Anticipation of pomegranate season