A drawback to wine country living is the prospect of wine country driving. I’m not as cavalier as some I’ve witnessed making tactical chunders on winery roadsides, nor am I the type to hire a limo and froth like the garish bachelorette party toppling into the topiary at Gundlach Bundschu last month. (As Oscar Wilde might have said “The only thing good about driving drunk is arriving drunk.”) So on nights out, the Contessa and I walk. It was during a stroll from Café La Haye to the bench outside (where we sat, trying to remember where we lived) that we spied a member of Sonoma’s finest trundling from Rin’s Thai to his squad car. His look was that of utter exasperation. Invoking my newspaperman’s prerogative, I brayed repeatedly “What happened, man?” spurred by the Contessa’s elbow in my ribs.
The officer explained that a thief had pilfered a bag of frozen shrimp from the Thai restaurant’s freezers. All I could think was “Welcome to Slownoma.” Bemused, I pressed the cop for more information and he reiterated: the culprit brazenly strolled into the restaurant’s storage area, nabbed the crustaceans and vamoosed into the night.
“Did you get them?”
“No, she got away.”
I later relayed this true-crime tale to the Sun’s managing editor Tim Omarzu whilst negotiating for this very column (I think I lost some ground by constantly referring to my “burgeoning media empire” and diabolically adjusting my inner-monocle). Presuming an interest in local law enforcement, Omarzu’s eyes brightened like a man about to sell another the Verano Bridge. He promptly offered me the police blotter, a hot potato in any newsroom, akin to penning obituaries, which I prefer, seeing as the dead are generally more forgiving of errata. I respectfully declined the police blotter (with gales of laughter), on account of my early-onset anti-authoritarianism, an affliction I acquired in adolescence when the police began to interfere with my joyriding.
This moment with Omarzu, however, reminded me of a similar pitch I had been given by the editor of the Petaluma Argus-Courier when I first went legit as a newspaperman ten years ago.
Then a cub reporter freshly sprung from San Francisco State University’s creative writing department (where I learned nothing about writing, but enough about financial aid to write a book about it had I actually learned about writing), I was offered one of two positions: “interim lifestyle editor” or the police beat. “Interim,” I later looked up, meant the position was mine until someone cheaper came along. The police beat, however, I knew would be interminably dull seeing as there wasn’t much to report since I had gotten my own car. Thus, I went for the lifestyle gig. Since then, I have tumbled through nearly a dozen affiliations on what we call in the trade the Comp, Pomp and Romp tour. (I can only imagine what delights lay ahead at the Sonoma Valley Film Festival this week – the combination of a press pass and flowing wine can be a heady one.)
In retrospect, had I braved the police beat, I might have acquired a taste for hard news, breaking stories and rooting through the small town dirt like a truffle pig after something like the truth. Ah, the proverbial Pulitzer path. As a lifestyle writer, however, the only prize likely awaiting me is gout. But, hey, it’s about the journey, right?
Originally published in the Sonoma Valley Sun.