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Bolinas? Baloney! 

The effort of one small town to remain untouched by time has bred enmity and disaffection as surely as it has produced anything else

Wednesday, Jul 12 1995
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Page 7 of 7

But Don Deane, who owns the town bar, publishes the town's other newspaper, The Coastal Post, and runs a nontraditional foster home for Bolinas teens, has a different view of what's going on.

I meet with Deane on my second visit to Bolinas. This time, I've driven in down Highway 1, which rides a roller coaster above the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, it's foggy, so I can't see the water as it sucks and hisses like spit through teeth on the rocks far below. Plus, I've taken to driving mighty slowly, out of fear of building up too much centrifugal force and inadvertently flinging myself out into space, an ice cube in the giant blender of life. I am beginning to develop the distinct sensation that Bolinas is a naturally gated community. No wonder people like to brag that they leave their doors unlocked -- burglars making their escape run the risk of carsickness, a deterrent just as effective as any other I can think of.

"There were two elements of the community plan that were never really focused on," Deane is saying, as we sit on the futon couch in his office, which is above Smiley's. A handsome man of 52, Deane is wearing a purple cardigan, a patterned tie, a lemon-grass-colored shirt, black jeans with a pocket knife chained to his waist, and wingtip shoes. He matches, in color choice and in variety of pattern, the Oriental carpet that is underneath our feet.

Those elements? Oh, just the tiny matters of the town's economy and of low-cost housing. In other words, Bolinas might be a pretty place to look at, but it's hard to make a living there, and it's hard to afford to live there unless you're making quite a good living someplace else.

"Young people don't have a chance to buy a lot and build a house, or for that matter old people. I don't think it's right if you grow up in Bolinas as a kid the only jobs that are open to you are apprentice kind of carpentry or restaurant jobs or housecleaning jobs. That's about it. It's real easy to get stuck," Deane says. He pauses to light a cigarette.

"The bottom line is that there are these two areas that could be mitigated to some degree, if there were energy and desire to mitigate them in some way. But would it be fair? I don't know if fair is a measure anywhere. Wherever you have something that there's a greater demand for than a supply, it ain't going to be fair."

Fairness, however, is an element of utopia, not of paradise. Nobody ever said paradise was fair. Ask the folks in Palm Beach, Fla. They live in paradise. They live in mansions with beautiful groomed lawns beneath a sky that hangs just overhead, close enough to touch, the winds soft and supple, the ocean a slow boat rocking them to sleep each night. In Palm Beach, the houses are safe and the streets are blindingly brilliant with sunlight and the moon rises over the water every evening, a low silver disc in the mother-of-pearl sky. In Palm Beach, the police will pull you over if you have out-of-town tags. In Palm Beach, there was talk of putting cameras on the bridges to keep the outsiders on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway, where they belong. Is that fair?

Or ask the folks in Key West, down the Sunshine State a bit from Palm Beach. They have paradise there. They have beaches and margarita bars and a sunset show each night where trained cats jump through flaming hoops, down on a spit of concrete called the Wharf, which looks out across the blue waters of the southern Atlantic toward an island that used to be a prison. In Key West, there are never enough hotel rooms to go around, and the locals live in small apartments with jalousie windows and make a good living tending bar so they can write their novels and dream of the day they can leave the island for good. Is that fair?

Bolinas doesn't think it's Palm Beach, controlling ingress and egress with economics and snobbery, and Bolinas doesn't want to become Key West, where blank-eyed visitors wander up and down Duval in tank tops and flip-flops until they're tired enough or drunk enough to go to sleep. But ultimately, without a viable local economy or a way to control housing costs, Bolinas is going to have to choose between the two -- between gating its roadways or turning them into straightaways. People need to have some way to pay the bills. No matter what the '70s may have told you, revolution is not simply a state of mind.

Which brings us to the Bolinas sign. There used to be a sign, you see, out on Highway 1, a small green-and-white affair that named the town correctly and gave passers-by an idea of its general location. The revolutionary Bolinians hacked the sign down during those heady '70s days when the world, or at least the town, was going to be a better place. Like tea thrown overboard, it became a symbol of revolution and resistance.

The real sign is still not there, out on Highway 1. But all over Bolinas -- on T-shirts and sea walls and driveway fences and store walls -- the sign lives on in various forms: silk-screened, spray-painted, carved into wood. The sign has become an icon, more important in its absence than in its presence, a symbol of victory in a war with the world Bolinas seems not to have won.

About The Author

Ellen McGarrahan

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