Directions to my houseboat:
1. Drive to Marin County, California, which has one of the highest incomes per capita in the United States but forget about that, you won’t need your wallet where you’re going. Huddled between the highway and the bay, overlooked by mansions, you’ll find one of the last things on earth that isn’t for sale.
2. Take the Sausalito/Marin City exit off Highway 101 and head toward the water. Do you see that dirt parking lot which might look more like a giant mud puddle if it’s high tide? Pull in there.
3. Wipe off your lipstick and/or untuck your shirt. If you’re wearing fancy shoes, kiss them goodbye. Or you could go barefoot. It’s your choice, but if you’re worried about getting something dirty, you should leave it in the car. I suppose if that worry extends to your person, it’s not too late to change your mind.
4. You’ll see some rough-looking folks in the parking lot. Some live in those vans so in a way you’re on their property. Think of them as the gatekeepers. Nod politely and walk toward the community garden. If you see totem poles, busted chairs, bits of metal bent into shapes, clots of succulents, flowers, vegetables, and weeds, and a giant half-buried paddlewheel jutting from the dirt, you’re headed in the right direction.
5. On the right, you’ll notice a tidy shack with a sign that says “Gates Co-Operative.” That’s the office. This co-op began when the rich Hill People started trying to evict those who lived on this poor, non-compliant and therefore illegal dock, people who banded together to protect their homes. No, you don’t need to check in at the office, this isn’t a hotel or something. If you see a bearded sailor-type it might be Klaus, so say hello.
6. The raised dirt pathway will take you to the entrance to the dock. At the shoreline, you’ll see a tall pole completely engulfed by a giant snarl of electric wires. Peeking through the wires are signs that remind you this is private property and warn you to enter at your own risk. If you choose to enter, you will have to reconsider your definitions of the words “private,” “property,” “illegal,” and “risk.”
7. Stop for a moment to take it in. Observe how the thick vines of bundled electric lines festoon the maze of decrepit, soggy planks that connect those hand-made floating houses. Smell the heavy scent of marine mud mixed with incense, weed, and fresh paint, hear the sounds of hammers hammering, guitars strumming, and gulls screaming overhead.
8. I don’t have to tell you to be careful since you can see for yourself that some of the walkways are damaged, waterlogged, and/or a bit tippy. As you’re walking, take a moment to appreciate each home you pass. Think of these houses as personal evolutions which, upon hefting themselves up from the primordial ooze, performed unique mutations. Some made elegant transitions from boat to house while others endured several transplants and have the scars of many weldings and graftings to show for it. Some are newly painted and tidily swept, with homemade curtains and geraniums in window pots, while others list like drunken pirates with graffiti tattoos and busted eyes. The cats you see sunning themselves will expect you to stop to pet them, since that is the neighborly thing to do.
9. To get to my houseboat, follow this pattern at each intersection: right, left, right, left, then you’ll find my boat on the right, third from the end. It’s an old 40 foot tugboat painted emerald green, set on a rectangular cement basin and topped with a mildewed canvas tarp. I’m renting from a family who outgrew the space. It’s just the right size for me and my front door is usually open, so just lean in and call my name to let me know you’re here.
(I was there from 1992-1994 and it was one of the best places I’ve ever lived. Things have changed a lot since then. Last I visited, my houseboat was gone, replaced by a very fancy one. So maybe it was for sale, after all. Where have you lived and what happened to those places?)
That’s a nice road map back, thanks!
6A. While you are walking down that dirt path, smiling from the contact high of slow roasting, fine purple-haired Bobo bud, glance at the muddy shore under the dock. See that decrepit, half rotten, yellow dingy chained to the piling? That’s Todd’s rowboat that he uses to get to his leaky anchor out, ye ole Blind Optimist. Well, after 30 years maybe only the chain is still there under the mud somewhere. I found a book on the houseboats in the MV book depot last trip and almost got it for you. Then I remembered that you worked in a book store and had probably dog-eared a copy already. Living on a green tugboat in the San Francisco bay… idyllic! Can’t really top that one. Until I was 10, we lived in a very beautiful woods by a small creek in Ohio. The summers were so green, the Springs full of wild flowers. We collected box turtles, gave them names and let them go. We always met them again a season or two later while exploring the woods. I looked up our old house on Zillow. It’s a mid-century modern my parents designed when they were in their early 20’s and the zeitgeist of a brave new world filled their minds. Now its in foreclosure and listed for $80,000. The Ronald Reagan Expressway, built after we left for California, now covers the creek and an off-ramp has washed away my best friend’s house. But the woods are still there and I bet Old Red is still there too enjoying the first tasty Pop-Dragons of Spring.
Even if you had a spare 80 thousand, you can’t buy the place you described back. Jeeze, Todd, I’m starting to sound like an old folk. Those were the good ol days….
How did you know it was Old Red? Is there a turtle lurching around with your name on it?
And ooo. Want to see that book!
Well that’s it. My dang Alzheimers must be acting up again. I just remembered he was Big Red, not Old Red… jeeze! Unlike your boring crows, turtles are distinctive! Of course we could tell Big Red from ummmm… errrrr… ahhhh… the other turtles. Sheeesh!
That sounds like a wonderful adventure in living on the water.
The last time I was in Madison, Wisconsin, I drove to one of my old flats. The house looks the same! Ilived there in the late 70’s. It brought back a lot of memories of parties, old boyfriends and bats.
Lucky you, to have the tangible memory still intact.
I’d have knocked on that door and wheedled myself back in.
Bats? I want to hear about the bats.
That was a great house. Next time, I’ll take a picture and blog about it…
I love this, Anna. It’s really delightful writing. I felt like I was right there.
Lisa! You made it without falling in!
Who told you I wear lipstick!
Ha. Well maybe you can leave it on, John, but you gotta untuck that shirt.
lovely. i’m coming.
I tend to live at the same place for long distances of time, so my list of homes would not be very long. When I was tiny, I think I lived at my grandparents’ for a while – or perhaps my memories of the place are particularly strong. The front yard was a gentle hill and my brother and I loved to roll down it. Also, the window of my grandmother’s room was partially covered with bushes and vines – I would peek through it and pretend I was in the jungle. The house looks just the same, but there have been many owners since my grandparents passed away. So it will never be the same.
Reblogged this on Batok kelapa.
There used to be a few places like this holding out, on the wrong side of Melbourne’s river…the saltwater river. Sadly, they couldn’t win out against the Port Authority. All swept clean and now just a another locked up stretch of riverbank spoiling all the fun.
Wow, that image is amazing, as I’m sure, the experience of living as an expat in your own country was, also.
I can’t look at places I have lived. I find it unbearably depressing. The last house I visited after moving had lost its flowerbeds to concrete, and all my roses were gone. I could have cried.
Some place never leave us, all the while they keep writing their story.
Loved this, Anna. The year after my mother died, I drove around town to all of the places we’d lived (there were many) and took photos. No house or apartment or duplex looked like I remembered it, but that’s not what mattered. What mattered was that I finally had a collection of all the places that had once sheltered us before they disappeared.
Pingback: Five Posts to Write Right Now | The Daily Post
What a vivid recollection of a place you knew so long ago! I could definitely “see” and “feel” this place and the people who inhabited it.
Pingback: Experiment with Formats | The Daily Post