Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ten Reasons to Love This Town

I'd been to Arcata several times in my last incarnation (figurative, not literal.) Coming from Big Bad Tokyo, it seemed like the cutest, quaintest, teeniest town I ever visited. Now that I am spending so much of the year at The Ranch, where the nearest town is even smaller (but not nearly as cute or quaint) this place is bustling!

Aside from the fact that we have actual internet connectivity at a 21st century level, there are many reasons why I still love this place.

* It will always be Hippie Central
While some of the original flower children have "grown up" ("And a few have become thorns! Ha ha ha!" cackles Big Dog with glee) there is always an influx of newer, younger bohemians looking for that Utopia, keeping Arcata the most left-wing town in the U.S. (as far as I know.)

* Big Business (note capital letters) is not welcome here
"That's why the area remains depressed," bitch the old-timers who may have once been happy to panhandle for food money. "It's too anti-business here!" Yes, they burned down every McDonald's that tried to open shop in town until Mickey D finally got it. "You don't deserve a McDonald's!" they said in a huff on their way out. There IS a McDonald's out on the edge of town, but if you want burgers, you can get great ones at V&N's or Stars, so who needs terrible fast food? There are no Starbucks, no Barnes & Nobles, no Bed, Bath & Beyond, no Sears, no WalMart... I think the only franchise/chain outfits are Safeway, Longs, and a gas station or two.

* Everyone is Community Minded
Actually, the town is very supportive of its businesses. Everyone makes an effort to buy local. So if you have a unique product or service (or even a not-so-unique product or service) this is a great place to start. On our first night back, we met a young man in a local bar who told us about his upcoming mead business. "Mead? You mean like the beverage?" I asked. Sure, I read about it in old novels, but... He told us about how he's already gotten his honey sourced and his label designed. "It's going to be a honeycomb between two redwoods with a bee on top!" Sweet!

* Creativity Abounds
And they never put on that "I'm an artiste..." attitude. The first time I came here, I met a big group of artists. They were awesomely good, but many had day jobs as car stereo installers, sales clerks, etc. "I can't believe this!" I told Big Dog back then. "If these people lived in Tokyo, they would be the biggest sensation! They'd actually be rich, I think." Every small town has its group of artists, but the people here are really, really good. It must be the long, dark winters. Central California is just too nice most of the year to be sitting inside making art (as I am finding out very quickly!)

* Economically it's depressed, or is it?
"Any big business that set up shop here would be able to employ thousands!" bitch the pro-business minority. True. The small mom-and-pop businesses just can't compete that way. (Nor would they be able to compete in any way if some big box store came this way and actually made it, though that is highly unlikely.) There aren't a whole lot of jobs. No wonder so many people get involved in growing/selling pot. It's relatively easy to start up such a business, you will have lots of experienced people to help you, there's a very good market for the product, and, best of all, until it is decriminalized, the 420 business is tax-free! So, on the record, the median income here is pretty low, but in actuality, who knows. Students pay their way through college, couples buy nice homes with plenty of cash, etc. all without having to sell your soul. And most of them probably have prescriptions that allow them to grow their own anyway, so until they sell to non-prescription holders, it's all legal. ...Right?

* Materialism is the scourge
You won't know that there are any wealthy people here because no one wants to be perceived as materialistic. There are tons of junker cars, junker bikes, thrift stores. Everyone looks like they are wearing 30 year old clothing. (In my case, I really am!) Here, Big Dog and I are not the eccentric weirdos we are elsewhere.

In every way. From the Green Party (Arcata elected the first-ever Green party city council majority in 1996 and was the first city in the nation to pass a law nullifying the USA PATRIOT Act) to its eco-consciousness to the land around, everything is green, green, green. It has the most amazing wastewater treatment system in the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, was the first municipality to ban the growth of any type of Genetically Modified Organism within city limits (with exceptions for research and education,) and has more hydroponic supply stores per capita than anywhere else (needs fact checking.) And there's been an on-going campaign to preserve the Headwaters Forest from logging for years.

* It's Young
More than 30% of the population are between 18 and 24, and the median age is around 26 years. The City Council, and at times even the mayor, is sometimes composed in part by college students. (There's a college student in the Council right now.) But more than actual chronological age, it's a youthful town. Or maybe I should say, ageless. My mother who came to visit a few years ago couldn't stop giggling over all the grey-haired "youngsters" skateboarding around town. We all think we're 18 here.

* It's got a Heart
And I don't mean compassion for the homeless, but a geographical heart. Most American towns no longer have a center. Arcata still has its Plaza and what an active plaza it is! From the weekly Farmer's Markets to the start of the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race to the Oyster Festival to the weekly protests to all the "freegans" just hanging out or sleeping, it is a plaza much like the zocalos of Mexico.

* The Local Baseball Team is named after one of my favorite foods
Arcata is home to the Humboldt Crabs, the nation's longest continuously operated semi-pro baseball team that's played every season since 1945! And they serve soy dogs at the ball park.

Okay. Now, here is one reason why I may not love this town as much in the years to come:
I see more and more people here who seem to have come only because of Arcata's cannabis reputation. They have no social or ecological awareness. They are disrespectful of others. They come here, live in the shrubbery by the freeway or in the Community Forest and leave behind tons of trash. Plastic bottles, plastic bags, grungy blankets. Their use-and-discard mentality has no place here. Somehow they think they belong because they don't work and don't own property. They should have stayed in Idaho...or Utah...or wherever.

The other reason why not to love this town? It's that four letter word that starts with R......

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