This might be a long post....so you might want to go grab a beer or a glass of wine. We've been busy doing almost nothing. That's not totally true...we are looking at houses and land, talking to realtors, researching Nevada County's building codes (they're awful) and trying to figure out if this is where we really want to live....or is there another area lurking "out there" that might be even better? This is a huge decision, even for nomads like us. Oregon? Washington? Arizona? Baja? Panama? France? So much to see....so little time. Stay tuned.
A long time ago....maybe 40 years, give or take a few....my Dad was training me to work in the furniture business, and more specifically how to work with his existing clients. Some of these folks were in big cities (and I was comfortable in that setting), but more than a few were located deep in the small towns of Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. And these were the ones that required special attention, particularly since I was a new college graduate and thought I knew pretty much everything about everything. I was about to learn how much I didn't know.
We've all grown up hearing the phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover"...but until I worked in the mountains, I never really understood the true meaning. On one of my first trips down into the Appalachian mountain towns, we pulled into an old general store to meet Curtis Mills, the owner. We were in Arjay, Kentucky. Yep, you read it right. Arjay was a town with about 10 buildings, one stop light, a suspension bridge over the creek to the school (I wrote about that in a previous post) and the police station was located in the back of the Western Auto store. You can't make this stuff up. Mr. Mills was dressed in overalls and looked every inch a "mountain man". His office was an old desk next to an ancient wood-burning stove with a couple rickety chairs nearby. We sat and my Dad talked to Curtis for maybe 30 minutes about nothing in particular, during which time I was looking around and thinking "what the hell am I doing here"? After what seemed like an eternity, my Dad got around to discussing some of the furniture Mr. Mills needed, a large order was placed and we got back in the car and drove away. Dad asked me what I thought about Mr. Mills, his old store, etc. I think I mumbled some dumb comment about him being a nice guy. It turns out that Curtis Mills was the richest man in the county...several counties in fact. He owned coal mines, an excavating business, a mobile home business, an appliance business, a tractor business, a loan business, a well-drilling business and he owned hundreds if not thousands of acres of prime timber...oak, cherry, walnut, poplar and maple. He was a multi-millionaire, back when a million was a lot of money. I learned a valuable lesson that day, one I've never forgotten. Well...almost never. Read on.
All of this leads me to my latest lesson in not judging a person by their looks. A couple weeks ago, Claudia and I took the old Volvo to the local DMV to see about getting the registration changed over to California. She followed me in case I had car trouble ( I didn't....the old Volvo runs like a champ). While I was sitting in the Ram truck filling out some paperwork, we noticed an old guy wandering in the parking lot. Really long gray/white hair, wearing a backpack, and the strangest mix of clothes I'd seen in a while....camo pants with Army issue desert boots, a paisley shirt, a black silk vest and a sort of LL Bean khaki jacket. He just looked "odd", but at the DMV you see a lot of really strange people (been to a DMV lately?). Well, the next thing you know, he pulls a camera out of his camo pants and starts taking pictures of the Volvo. Claudia and I watched while he took maybe five or six photos, calmly put away his camera and started to walk off. Since he seemed harmless enough, I asked Claudia to go ask him if he had any questions about the car while I completed the paperwork. Soon...they were talking and laughing. Wazzup? I walked over and they were speaking French. Of course they were. Every old guy with shoulder length hair and an outfit from Goodwill speaks French. Claudia introduces me to "Jean Pierre". Oh how wrong we had been. In very good English, he explains to us that he's from Switzerland and that he's a free lance photographer who works for a lot of magazines. He travels all over the world and had only arrived in our area the week before from Sonoma County, where he had been staying with friends in Guerneville. Before that he was in South America and he then spends ten minutes explaining which South American countries we should visit and which ones are too rough, have too many drugs, etc. He had traveled literally everywhere and only occasionally went back to Switzerland to see his relatives. He had one son, who lives in Australia (yes, he knew all about Adelaide where Katie had studied). He also knew all the areas in France we loved and way more about our national parks than we did (we have a long list to visit). After twenty minutes or so, we wished him well and off he walked. As he disappeared from sight, I thought about how very wrong we had been about this man and how we had judged him strictly on his appearance. All my old lessons from my Dad came flooding back. I promise to do better Dad....it seems I still have a lot to learn.
For those of you reading this who don't know about our little BMW Isetta, read on. A couple years ago, while walking Tuck every morning in Gilchrist Park, I got to know a very sweet lady who walked there every day as well....except she got there at 6:00....way before me. Every morning we talked for a couple minutes. One morning, I tell her about the BMW motorcycle that I'm restoring and she smiles and says very proudly...."I've got a BMW too". Long story short...she owned a 1958 BMW Isetta 300, one of the first micro cars to ever be produced. I told her if she was ever interested in selling it, to please let me know (these cars are super rare). A year later, she tells me she's going to sell it to me..."because she wants it to have a good home and she knows I'll take good care of it". How can you not love this lady? We've had the Isetta since and we hauled it 3,200 miles out here in a custom trailer.
This area is vintage car crazy and there are small car shows every Saturday morning and big ones about once a month. So on a whim, we decided to take our little Isetta to the big show in Grass Valley last weekend just for a laugh. Check out the pictures and you'll get it. Everyone who sees this car smiles and laughs. It's so small, it doesn't really seem like a car...it's more like a giant red and white toaster that you can ride in. A carnival ride comes to mind. Four strong guys can pick it up and move it. It has a single cylinder motorcycle engine, has 15 horsepower, weights 720 pounds and can only go 50 mph. Downhill. This little sucker is SMALL.
I decide that loading the Isetta into the trailer, driving into town and then unloading it was a huge hassle. Let's just drive it there I say. It's only about 5 miles. Piece of cake I reason. So off we go last Saturday morning. Me in the Isetta and Claudia following in the truck just in case (is there a pattern here?). Keep in mind this is only the second time I have driven it. Also keep in mind that the tiny stick shift is on the left side, the 4-speed pattern is reversed from the American version, the brakes barely work, the suspension is questionable and the steering wheel moves four or five inches before the wheels actually turn. Other than that, she's ready for the Indy 500. I quickly realize that our little baby will only get up to 30 mph going downhill with a tailwind. Going uphill was awful....one glance out the rear view mirror and I notice a very long line of cars behind me. My cell phone rings, I see it's Claudia but it's so loud I can't hear anything she's saying...but I did catch..."pull over". Nah. If I stopped it would take another 10 minutes to get back up to 30 mph. Pedal to the metal and into town we went. When I arrived at the check in area, two workers walk up....and start laughing. Neither had ever seen or heard of an Isetta. When I parked the car, opened up the front door (there's only one door) and stood up in the car (that's how you get out without falling) all eyes were on the little red toaster. I was ushered to a spot nearby and parked beside a beautiful 1952 MG-TC and a 356 Porsche. Claudia and I spent the rest of the day walking around the town and enjoying looking at some of the finest street rods in California. There's a lot of money up here.
As were about to leave, a young couple walk up with their two kids, who wanted to look at the Isetta (I'm sure it reminded them of a Disney ride). You'll have to check out the pictures, because they made our day. Their daughter was wearing a hot pink poodle skirt and their son was wearing.....one of her old poodle skirts. To say they were precious is an understatement. The parents explain that their son absolutely loves his big sister's poodle skirts and had been planning all week to wear one to the car show. I love it! Only in California will you see a little guy wearing a poodle skirt at a car show....and proud parents nearby beaming at their young son. There's a state of mind out here that's hard to explain, but that example sums it up pretty well.
Thanks for reading....Cheers!