While winding my way down the Pacific coast a few weeks ago, dreaming of purple chasms and sky-plunging dolphins I lost track of how much gas was in my car. In Stinson Beach, I finally took the situation seriously as the little gas pump icon blazed with irritation, scolding, “You should know better.”
Not too concerned, I pulled over at the surf shop to ask about the nearest gas station.
“11 miles that way.” indicated Surf Shop Older Dude with his thumb.
I clarified that I was looking for the NEAREST gas station.
“11 miles.” He pointed again.
How about in the other direction?
“It’s 11 miles that way too.”
This is when I began to panic a bit.
I could see my abandoned Subaru on a twisty, mountainous Hwy 1, shrugging its hazard lights as if to say, “Hey, he’s the one who assumed there’d be gas somewhere around here.”
And there I would be 200 yards away, bravely trudging the remaining 7 ““ no, 8 – miles. Around one of those dangerous curves I would become a two-dimensional splat on the grill of a Dodge Caravan, whose driver glanced ‘for just a second’ at the mesmerizing oceanic seascape. Their entire family would remember the Vacation When Dad Killed a Hitchhiker With Our Rental Car.
While I was living out these final moments in my head, Surf Shop Older Dude must have overcome his mild aversion to floundering tourists, because he softened his eyes and looked intently at me.
“There IS another gas station that’s closer,” he said. “But it’s hard to find.”
I insisted that it was my best option ““ my only option.
His directions were odd: “Drive to the end of the lagoon. Then take your first left. Then another left. Then another left. Go a few miles. That should take you to the gas station.”
I asked for the names of the roads, but he insisted they were no road signs.
“How can there be no road signs?” I asked.
“There just aren’t.” he said.
“What’s the name of the place where I’m headed?”
“Bolinas.” replied Surf Shop Older Dude. “But there won’t be any signs for the town.”
I honestly thought he was working some sort of scam. Maybe a buddy of his would trail me and then politely offer to charge me $100 for a ride to the nearest gas station. The strangest part of the story wasn’t even the missing road signs.
“A lagoon?” l said.
“Yes, a lagoon.”
“But like”¦a lagoon? With you know, water?”
“Yes. A lagoon.”
“Next to the ocean ““ there’s a lagoon.”
“Right around the curve up there.”
I almost said one more time, “˜Seriously, a lagoon?’ but I could tell he was getting tired of this exchange and I wasn’t quite ready to call him a liar.
I did casually mention one more time that if I got lost out there”¦I was sunk.
Surf Shop Older Dude assured me that if I kept taking the left turns after the lagoon, I’d be fine.
About a half mile south of the Surf Shop was a marshy swamp with cat tails, half-submerged piles of mud. It was expansive. Deep in some parts. I guess you’d call it a lagoon. Huh. Whaddaya know.
Then came an intersection with unmarked roads.
I decided what was needed was a bit of faith. I had already driven 4 miles. Optimistically, my little blue car may have had about 4 more miles in it, with that last half-mile coasting on fumes.
Bolinas would be there. Gas would be there.
I turned left on the unnamed road.
The fact that the landscape seemed rural and rugged ““ scrub trees on brown hills and dilapidated farm houses”¦well, it was making me wish I had rented The Hills Have Eyes so at least I’d recognize the signs when they attacked. I had no idea California could get so rural so instantly. Four miles (and one lagoon) away you could shop at Spiritual Books and Gifts, Jerry’s Gelato, and a sprinkling of exclusive shops catering to driftwood souvineers.
I drove further. Then further.
Another left turn.
I passed a pumpkin patch and vowed that if I made it to this mythical Bolinas, I’d come back here and celebrate by purchasing my Halloween pumpkin. Seeing a pumpkin patch was enormously cheerful, actually. Reminding me that even if I ran out of gas, everything would be fine.
Everything. Is. Fine.
The town jumped out from behind a small hill of protective trees gleefully crying, “Surprise!”
After my faithful Subaru guzzled his fill, I quietly explored this 12-building town with no names and no roads. A sign for jewelry, pottery, and painting seemed to draw a number of ambulatory tourists in the early Sunday evening.
“CRAFTSTMAN TOWN MEETING” yelled a crude sign in front of the small square that must have been the town hall. A corkboard affixed to the exterior of the Bolinas general store was covered with a smattering of announcements including a magician looking for work, an elderly resident who requested that people drive slower through town, and a kid’s scrawled plea for “the return of my skateboard, no questions asked.”
I returned to the pumpkin patch and picked out my guy. A smallish, cheerful pumpkin, still snoozing nestled amidst its vines, dreaming pumpkin dreams. I was confused by the payment system ““ there was nobody official-looking nearby to take my cash.
An older woman with her grandchildren explained, “It’s the honor system.”
I left my money in a giant metal box bolted to the wagon proclaiming, “˜PUMPKINS HERE,’ as if the field of bright orange wasn’t quite clear. I scuttled back to Pacific Highway 1, back to San Francisco, back to my tree house.
I keep trying to attach a moral to my adventure ““ something about unsought adventures, mystery towns with no street signs, or how small town trust. But I don’t really have a moral to this story.
Just a kick-ass pumpkin.