North Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part I

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The Sandy Creek Bridge off Highway 42This was supposed to be the year I would branch out. So was last year.

No wonder September arrives before I eventually strike out for the North Coast Redwood Writer’s Conference.

The succession of rivers I cross runs from familiar banks where I was born, to more obscure names. Some sound made up. The Willamette. The Umpqua. The McKenzie. The Mighty Pudding River.

South of Eugene, Oregon, I break with I-5 out toward the coast on Highway 42. It is the Coquille River now, the many forks of which I cross on a sawtooth course southwest.

The same pale blue and gold lettered Jesus sign appears roadside every couple of miles. It feels as though a single, proselytizing soul was responsible for each one. My attention diverts. I look for one high enough on a hill to represent the original.

After thirty miles, the road branches onto Highway 42S and they’re gone.

Three classical music stations come in crystal clear in Bandon. I know I’m far from home when the Classical and Christian talk outlets are in a one-to-one ratio. Combined, they outnumber every other option.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Hate Myself For Loving You” comes on as I pull into Tony’s Crab Shack along the half mile stretch of bayside, downtown parking. The line is long. The wait is longer. When my crab and shrimp melt on Texas toast arrives, I cannot complain.

A fog rolls off the coast as I approach Brookings. This is the last Oregon town before the border. Road construction forces traffic to stop over Taylor Creek. Suddenly, the DJ breaks in over Edgar Winter to talk about the local police blotter. He reads a list of petty crimes, so many more than when he started on-air eighteen years ago.

I wonder why. I turn the radio up. I am hopeful he’ll come to a conclusion, which turns out to be his idea that we all just need to say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” when we’re pulled over. As I pull away and change the station, I think, “This is the first fog I’ve seen since spring.”

Past the border, California 101 amounts to a casino followed by Pelican Bay State Penitentiary. A sign reads Crescent City 8 miles as the electrified fence angles back from the road, vanishing into the scrub pine.

On a map, an unvisited city is full of opportunity. As I pull into Crescent City though, a town I have not visited since a midnight romp through years ago, it feels odd. It’s a tired place that yearned to be more than a prison town. Yet, decades later, the deluge of tourists never arrived. All the coast art shacks faded and dusty. Fifty percent off.

Crescent City California is easy to navigate. After a couple of turns from the highway to the main road, I’m standing at a hair salon. It’s Lady Gaga at 4:14 PM.

“Who are you looking for?”

The hairdresser waits as I read the address and tell her a name.

“Oh, Mary?”

The woman in the stylist’s chair knowingly smiles.

“Yeah,” I reply. “She’s my Air B&B host for the night.”

“She don’t live here,” the hairdresser says, returning to work. “She’s next door.”

Erick MertzNorth Coast Redwoods Writers Conference: Part I

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