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Visit to Anderson Valley

With a big day planned for today, of course I was too antsy to sleep well. Woke up at 2:30 in the morning, read zines and edited some of the boring crap from this zine until about 8:00, and then BARTed to Josh's place for the long drive to Boonville.

Boonville, A/K/A Small Town America, is about an hour outside of Ukiah.

Where's Ukiah? An hour from Santa Rosa. 

And where the heck is Santa Rosa? It's vague to me, even with a map, but riding in Josh's car it's about an hour and a half north of San Francisco.

Boonville was worth the drive because it's the home of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a newspaper with attitude, and the last newspaper in America with much real news. No puff-pieces pre-approved by the Chamber of Commerce. Instead the AVA runs genuine coverage, angry rants, and exposés of local swindlers and charlatans. Imagine a 12-page weekly, published by a grumpy old socialist in a backwater berg where, because it's a newspaper with news, most of the townsfolk hate him. That's the AVA: Bruce Anderson, editor-in-chief.

♦ ♦ ♦

After reading about Anderson Valley in the AVA  for years, it was groovy to actually see it. (And yeah, I said groovy.)

There's the Sound Bite, home to half the valley's night life. There's Biscotti Notti. Where's Deputy Squires? Hey, that guy's wearing an Advance Power t-shirt. We'd read about all these places and people — and there's Anderson Valley Books, so Josh parked the car and we went book-shopping, and bought three novels each. Mine are all by B Traven.

The guy behind the counter in the bookstore, one Ron Davis, regaled us with stories of Boonville life, wine wars, and a grape-growing catastrophe wherein some winery sucked all the water out of the creek, leaving Ron with no source for H2O. Rural hospitality, eh?

Our plan was, we'd pop in at the newspaper, spend an hour or so hanging around with Bruce, Josh would interview him for his radio show, and then Josh and I would poke around in Philo, the local metropolis. So Josh asked Ron, "What's good in Philo?"

"There's nothing good in Philo," Ron explained.

We laughed and bid a fond adieu to Ron and the bookstore, and continued across the last few miles of town, past the cemetery, and on to the grounds on the AVA, or as Bruce calls it, "Fort Despair."

Bruce burst out of the door quick enough to shotgun we trespassers, but he only wanted to give us an enthusiastic hello.

Once we'd taken a look around the rather spartan editorial offices — a phone, a fax, a desk, a few layout tables, and hundreds of ads and spot art clipped to the wall for easy insertion on Tuesday afternoons — Josh clicked his tape recorder on, and started asking questions.

Unexpectedly, I became a participant in this, so the three of us sorta got to know each other with a microphone aimed at each man as he spoke.

When Bruce talks about the people he's figuratively battled, you'd expect him to have fire in his eyes, and he does. He enjoys walking through the valley of the shadow of stupid — that's what he calls Anderson Valley — and he fears no evil, seems to savor the job of pissing off the local loonies, and does it well. 

Among those the AVA regularly infuriates, my current favorite is Anna Taylor, local loco talk show host and well-known fruitcake. She sued the AVA for libel, and won, after the paper described her with some unflattering but clearly deserved adjectives. Bruce is appealing the verdict, and meanwhile Ms Taylor is suing him again, over the AVA's coverage of the previous lawsuit. She's nuts, and maybe she'll sue me for saying so.

Of course, the creeps, crooks, and crackpots of Anderson Valley are very much like the denizens of any other town or city. Only difference is, Boonville has Bruce and the AVA's small staff to write about them. Everywhere else, the creeps, crooks, and crackpots own the newspapers.

As we chatted, the Major arrived at the compound, and introduced himself. He's Mark Scaramella, US Navy, ret'd, listed on the masthead as "major contributor." He's been a byline I've read many times, covering news I knew nothing about, and leaving me well-informed. He can make Community Service District meetings interesting, even funny.

Attending political functions, the Major said, he takes notes on who said what, and then writes twenty or so paragraphs reporting what happened. That's what reporters do, right? Well, no. At these meetings he sits next to reporters from "big city" newspapers like the Ukiah Daikly News and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, and he says their  reporters don't even take notes. Instead they get "the gist" of it, and then hobnob with the politicians and leaders afterwards, and write six paragraphs that vaguely approximate what happened, sometimes and sort of.

As the now four-way conversation continued, Mark Heimann stepped inside and joined us. He's the AVA's cub reporter, whose story in last week's paper was about an old lady who'd been swindled by her caretaker, and the authorities' lack of response. With his thick beard, balding pate, and remembrances of running away at age 14, I liked him too. 

Usually I'm nervous around strangers, but I was at ease with this bunch, all afternoon and into the night. Those three guys, Bruce and the two Marks, are the entire news staff at the AVA, and they all seemed to get along, like, maybe even respect each other. That's weird. At every job I've had, at least one worker is supposed to be the designated asshole, but these three are friends.

When Josh ran out of questions, Bruce invited all of us out for drinks, but then the phone rang. The Major answered, and took the preliminary details of a fast-breaking news story. And then the story waited. It's a weekly newspaper, so nothing's fast-breaking, and we had some drinking to do.

Our destination was downtown Boonville, but when we parked and got out, Bruce looked at the restaurant and finally shook his head no. "The guy who runs it is a bastard," he said. "He's thrown me out three times."

So instead we walked into the bar at the Anderson Valley Hotel, where the friendly wait-staff knew Bruce and the two Marks by name. We shared a few rounds and a lot of laughs and some surprisingly deep political talk, all of which was off the record — not because anyone asked for confidentiality, but because I can't hold my liquor, my head got foggy, and anyway, I wasn't taking notes.

When we left the bar, it was too late for Josh and me to see the bright lights of Philo as we'd planned, but no great loss. A reliable source told us this morning that there's nothing good in Philo anyway.

As the famous Anderson Valley shrank in the rear-view mirror, Josh wondered aloud whether we should've chipped in on the tab. We'd offered, but Bruce had said no, and we'd yielded and let him pay. Well, we did say thanks, and Bruce reads my zine so he knows I'm poor. I'm not going to let it bother my conscience.

The drive up and back, by the way, was a sight to be seen, for me. It was the first time I'd been outside the big cities of the Bay Area since 1991. Golly, look at all the trees.

And it was a great time. Heck, I spent the day with five people — Josh, Ron at the bookstore, and Bruce, the Major, and Mark from the AVA — who each have that rare commodity, a brain. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Guess I owe Bruce a plug, in exchange for the beers: 

Take a look at the newspaper in your home town, if you can stomach it. The news that matters isn't in there, and the news that's reported comes slanted toward business, not people.

If you'd like to read a real newspaper instead, send a few dollars for a sample copy of the Anderson Valley Advertiser, PO Box 459, Boonville CA 95415. You've never seen anything like it.

From Pathetic Life #17
Friday, October 13, 1995

Addendum, 2022: Bruce is still there, and so's the AVA, and I still subscribe, and my recommendation still stands.


This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called
Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

2 comments:

  1. Good one Doug...maybe some day...PM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry I didn't know you at the time. You could've bought me a beer too!

      Delete

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