One can’t live in or around the town of Sonoma for long without encountering one or two memorable if not always endearing characters from our local basket of irascibles. In one fashion or another, they can seem to be channeling the spirit of Gabby Hayes, that crusty, bearded and frequently confused sidekick who co-starred in 1950’s western movies along with heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
One or more will occasionally appear at City Council meetings, hell-bent to Save Sonoma from yet another assault by Modernity. Because they seldom seem to encounter a new idea or change that doesn’t offend at least one of their sensibilities, Council meetings become their de facto community yoga class, where they can stretch their faces into a variety of outraged expressions. They have also been known to write Letters to the Editor in prose reminiscent of biblical warnings scrawled on cave walls in blood with a stick, prophesying Hellfire and Damnation.
When a new-fangled idea seems to be getting offensively popular (they’d never say ‘trending’), their inability to civilly navigate the back and forth of public dialogue quickly sends them full-spittle to the Final Solution: “If these damned Newcomers want to (Insert the latest perceived outrage against Decency, the Flag and/or the memory of Ig Vella) why don’t they all shut up and go back where they came from?!”
For those unfamiliar with it, ‘Newcomer’ is a time-worn Sonoma epithet hurled at any resident – no matter how long they have lived here — who was not born in the local manger, or who did not: take part in the Bear Flag revolt; graduate from the local high school; remember when folks tethered cows and the occasional Native American to the Jack London Oak; know Ig Vella personally, and/or whose family tree has no kin who personally witnessed any of the foregoing.
Hysterical Preservationists all, our Iracisbles differ from our Historical Preservationists in important ways. For starters, Historical Preservationists want to preserve, honor and study the past, but not actually live in it.
The history of Hysterical Preservationists, on the other hand, is still alive in their minds, and invariably sepia-toned. For instance, they can recall with great clarity the days when streets teemed with horses, but they somehow forget about the horseshit. They remember the ol’ swimmin’ hole, but not the ol’ polio. Without success, they recently tried to reverse a city ordinance that finally banned ear-shattering gas-powered leaf blowers, possibly believing they were first used by General Vallejo.
Some of them may not be completely irredeemable, however. Were they to pause a minute in mid-rant to think (always a risk undertaking, to be sure), they might realize that the tribe of Newcomers shares many of their visions for Sonoma. Indeed, it’s often Newcomers who want most to preserve the quiet quality of life and quirky Sonoma ambiance that attracted them here in the first place, despite having had to spend a small fortune for a house.
Alas, like the fable of blind men who each perceive an elephant differently according to the part of it each of them is touching, it sometimes seems that everyone envisions a different Sonoma.
But surely between the soul-less, leaf-free town of vacation rentals, tasting rooms, big hotels and tour buses, and one nestled in the quiet dishabille of tree-shaded lanes, storybook cottages and impossibly well-behaved children (and the occasional chicken) lies the Sonoma of everyone’s dreams, somewhere back there in the Future.