Friday 9th Jan
Busy day today, our host Connie and her new bf Richard took us for a day out to visit a preserved gold mining town called Columbia. Whilst still within Modesto city limits we spotted a sign advertising an estate sale and a quick turn in the road delivered us to have a good snout round the place. The house on first impression appeared quite opulent, lots of glass, mirrored walls, nice swimming pool and manicured gardens. Closer examination however, revealed weaknesses in the design, this house was on the cusp of being something special, but was badly let down by that old devil, detail!
The entire contents of the house were laid out and priced, everything from ladies shoes to serving spoons, the almost breathtaking amount of stuff for sale was only topped by the fully breathtaking tackiness of it all, further confirmation if it was needed, that class is priceless and so often beyond the reach of even the wealthiest people. Sadly in this case, the house and its contents were being sold as the lady owner is now in a care home suffering dementia, a condition I would wish on no one and despite my criticism of the set up I suspect that in her prime, this was one feisty lady who would soon put me in my place.
Next we went to Knights Landing a small town now off the beaten track that quietly retains some of the history of the importance it once had. In summer its bustling with visitors, campers, bikers, boaters etc. Today it was its sleepy self, our little party probably doubled the visitors numbers. The town was a key river crossing point and still has a covered wooden bridge (a la Bridges of Madison County) and following construction of a watermill (now derelict) was the main corn grinding facility for the area.
But what for me made this visiting place special was meeting an old boy down on the river bank panning for gold! Yes, a bushy bearded, wide brimmed hatted plucked from the boys own annual prospector called Jeremiah, well no, actually it was Dave ID (zoom in on shirt in his picture). He was retired and had been doing this for a couple of years, he showed me a small vial containing his entire accumulated haul, I’m pretty certain that it will be some years before he can gain control of the gold market at this rate. Truth be told he did it because he just loved sitting out by the river, listening to his vintage wireless and it saved him having to do jobs at home.
The other special thing about this little town was the General Store, a proper old fashioned, all redwood time capsule with a huge pot bellied stove making the more recently installed fridges work hard to keep the beer cold but the real gem was a saloon bar at back. It was early, the owner was just about to open the bar and dam it we were just about to leave when we spotted it. What can I say, I loved the place, it reeked of the craic, this was proper bar Americano. Every thing about it, from the ceiling festooned with baseball caps, the long wooden bar, the “proper jukebox” filled with CD’s, half of which by bands that had actually played there, put all together it said “howdy, pull up a stool and drink some beer”. Along one wall was a bar game I’d not seen before, looking like a cross between giant’s shove h’penny and table top curling. The playing area a solid piece of timber about 16′ long by 18″, planed perfectly flat and waxed. To play, two people took turns to slide small but heavy discs the length of the table. The winner was the one nearest the end and you could knock your opponents out of play. I assure you, it’s much more fun than I can descibe.
Seldom in life do we stumble on something that really resonates, this bar certainly did with me, I left wanting to come back and spend a Saturday night on the lash, but probably never will and were I too, the reality may not match my expectation but I’m sure I’d still have a bloody good night!
Our next stop was Columbia, a nicely preserved former gold mining town that looked pretty much original and was only slightly twee. I liked how they had maintained the authenticity of the place and was impressed yet more after walking into the towns sawdust covered floor saloon bar (that turned out was the local habit to discard peanut shells on to the floor) and finding it bustling with local folk who were friendly, sociable and very proud of their little town. Two top bars in one day, could things get any better? Well yes, because just down from the saloon was a shop selling leather goods and in the back room was an emporium of “experienced” cowboy boots. Readers, I now own a pair of dark red hand tooled leather beauties (booties!) that will probably be as hot as Hades to wear in Asia, but I’ll be feeling pretty dam cool 🙂
Last stop as we were heading back was a “casino” called the Chicken Ranch. This is on a native American reserve, poor land given over for only poor use and a more duller, depressing place you’d be hard pushed to find. It was not all bad news however, Connie won $100 so she was pleased and my two bucks had lasted a good ten minutes despite me not having a clue how the machine worked and it had been a memorable day,