Let's not kid ourselves: driving down Highway 101 in the North Bay can be stressful, or worse, with a daily parade of cutter-offers, non-signaling lane changers, crap-flying-off-the-back-of-the-rig truckers, tailgating terrorists and lane-swerving dippies yammering into their detestable devices. Leaving the Bohemian office, the 20-odd minutes that it takes to get from Santa Rosa to the Washington Avenue Petaluma exit off of 101 presents daily opportunities to commune with your inner peace-person, but it ain't easy. Sometimes there just aren't enough Louis Armstrong tunes on the CD player to ease the hate-grip on the steering wheel.
So we are always happy to pull up to the traffic light at Lakeville and East Washington Avenue to see the legendary Super Sonic Smog Man dancing on the corner with his big sign. Yes, legendary. He's been at it for years. This middle-aged African-American man has flat-out got the moves, the gestures and the perfect smiling antidote for glum-faced or surly drivers having a bad day, or a bad life, as they pass through Petaluma to points elsewhere.
He wears headphones as he twirls the big turquoise Super Sonic sign and busts out the dance moves as he points in the direction of the nearby smog station, and we always give this guy a happy honk of the horn and a wave as we make our way through town. Next time we need a smog check, Super Sonic's got our business. But only if there's a dance-class option with the Smog Man. 322 Lakeville St., Petaluma. 707.762.2700.—T.G.
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Best Reason to Listen to the Radio
Radio is mostly bad music and too many commercials. One exception is 'The Drive' with Steve Jaxon on KSRO, 1350-AM and 103.5-FM. Tune in from 3 to 6pm on a typical weekday and you'll get an interview with a local newsmaker, some laughs from one of Jaxon's comedian friends, a chat with a winemaker or chef and choice words from elected officials. Jaxon, with more than a little help from producer/rainmaker Mike DeWald, creates a distinctly Sonoma County talk show that's essential North Bay listening—and not just because he features me and my fellow Bohemian editors on the "Boho Buzz" on Wednesdays at 4pm.—S.H.
Best Hardware Store That's More Than a Hardware Store
Maybe it's a guy thing, but I love hardware stores. I'm not particularly handy, but I like to know that if I really wanted to build a deck or fix my leaking sink I could find the right tools and supplies for the job at my neighborhood hardware store, Sebastopol Hardware Center. While the Ace-affiliated shop is a national brand, the store is locally owned and feels much homier than a Home Depot. The friendly cashiers call me "Hon," and on weekends there's free popcorn. The really cool thing is that it's more than a hardware store; it's really a general store. The recently expanded paint and pet shop adjacent to the main store now sells sporting goods—GoPro cameras, fishing poles, pocketknives, bicycle inner tubes and baseballs. They even sell an electric dirt bike. And the main store has a great lineup of kitchen supplies and housewares. Best of all is Super Saturday. On the first Saturday of the month, everything is 20 percent off. Prices can be higher than the big-box stores, but for odds and ends needed for weekend jobs, I'm OK supporting a local business. Twenty percent off for bigger purchases makes the store that much better. 680 Gravenstein Ave. N., Sebastopol. 707.823.7688.—S.H.
Best Gas Station Peanuts
Well, this might seem a little bit of a boutique selection, but on any given midweek afternoon at the Bohemian, the staff may find itself a little on the peckish end of things, growling hatred and irritation at the world, and that's when someone will raise his head and declare, "It's time for some gas station peanuts!" At which point someone else will collect a few bucks and trundle down the street to Arco, which is one of the most stress-inducing and overcrowded gas stations we've ever encountered, but which always has a choice selection of Planters-in-the-sleeve. They got your dry-roasted, your honey-roasted, your plain ol' salted. If we're feeling super-indulgent, we'll spring for some cashews, too, and head back to the office feeling like one satisfied squirrel. We're nuts for gas station peanuts! 1010 Fourth St., Santa Rosa.—T.G.
Best Place to Get Something for the Hipster in Your Life
They say the best gifts are things you don't really need but most definitely want, desired embellishments and delightful luxury items. When in need of an ideal gift, head to Guerneville's Commerce Fine Goods. The tiny store, which shares the town's historic bank building with an ice cream parlor and a pie shop, manages to concentrate an impressive amount of beautiful objects in a compact space, and all of them are perfectly giftable. Options include mudcloth pillows and enamel coffee mugs with clever quips, chic candles and artisan flower pots, soft pajama pants and handmade wall art, or in other words—hipster must-haves. Throw in the latest issue of Kinfolk Magazine, and your sophisticated, life-curating friends will be forever grateful. 16290 Main St., Guerneville. 707.510.0051.—F.T.
Best Overheard Conversation That Was Funny, But Now Not So Much
We were at Lawson's Landing in Dillon Beach last July to see what was going on behind the scenes at the beachside camping resort. It was working to adhere to some rules from the California Coastal Commission about the legacy trailers that give the blue-collar seaside resort its character. At one point, we sat on a bench to take in the sights and sounds, and two women began to engage in a conversation that struck us as really funny at the time—but not now. After one of the women made some generally disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants, to no one in particular, another woman, who was wandering by, tuned her ear into the comment and the two started to yell about the good old days of immigration. Which happened to be when their families arrived at Ellis Island. They went on and on about it for a few minutes before one of them exclaimed, "Trump was absolutely right!" The other hollered in agreement, "They want Sharia law in Sacramento, there's going to be a problem!" Well, OK then. See you in Chicago, ladies.—T.G.
Best Comparatively Low-Tech Bike Route Directions—We Said Comparatively—for the App-Averse
No, it's not the "road signs" to popular road-bike routes that are painted on the wall at Echelon Cycle & Multisport in Santa Rosa. Although that certainly is a place to start. But if you've got a dumb phone, or feel you're just too dumb for your phone, or even if you're smart enough to realize that halfway into most of the best rides in the North Bay you'll be well out of range of most wireless service, rendering that hot ride-mapping app you downloaded about as useful as a spare inner tube with no pump, you'll want to bring a piece of paper called a map. If you can find your way around a desktop computer, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club provides a great introduction to such classic rides as Cavedale-Mt. Veeder and King Ridge on its website, including turn-by-turn instructions with commentary, and printable PDFs. The routes and optional "out and backs" are helpfully outlined in color—if you can get that darned inkjet working right, that is. srcc.memberlodge.com.—J.K.
Best Place to Dispose of Unwanted Junk and Contemplate How Wasteful We Really Are
I've always had a strange fascination for the dump. Back when I was kid in San Jose, everything got dumped in one place, and it was OK to wander around picking up odd and ends and occasional dirty treasures. These days it's all about sorting refuse into useful categories: wood, metal, plastic, garden waste. And no scavenging allowed. Petaluma's Central Landfill and Transfer Station is a living cultural-archeology exhibit that reveals how much we buy and then throw away. Look there at all those kids' bikes. See over there all that broken-down outdoor furniture. Is that a VCR? Too bad the dump's great compost site is no more, that was my favorite. It smelled the best and dumping old wood and green waste didn't feel so wasteful because you knew it was going to be turned into compost or wood chips. 500 Mecham Road, Petaluma. 707.795.1693.—S.H.
You know those quaint, quirky coffee shops featured in shows like HBO's Girls? They usually employ impossibly good-looking people who are trendier and younger than you'll ever be. In Sonoma County, such coffee shops are hard to come by, but Taylor Maid in Sebastopol, the coffee parlor/unofficial co-working space for the area's best freelance talent, has what it takes. The baristas and cashiers there are aware of all the right beard and hair color trends, have a bunch of tattoos, dress whimsically, have great bone structure and generally make for a very attractive bunch. The excellent lattes are just a bonus. 6790 McKinley St., Sebastopol. 707.634.7129.—F.T.
Best Place to Get Lubricated in More Ways Than One
Ernie's Tin Bar on Lakeville Highway began life as an auto repair shop. Half of it still is, but the other half is a craft-beer mecca in the middle of the hinterlands of Petaluma. There are nearly two dozen great beers on tap, free peanuts and absolutely no wine. And Ernie's takes its "no cell phone" policy seriously: use your phone and you gotta buy a round for everybody present. This place is for drinking good beer and making good conversation, not updating your
status on Facebook. Act nicely, and
Ernie will perform a card trick for you.
5100 Lakeville Hwy., Petaluma. 707.762.2075.—S.H.
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Best Place to Save Some Green Buying Something Green
The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center's plant sale comes three times a year: spring, summer and fall. It seems like my yard is never in shape to give their lovingly grown organic seedlings a proper home when the sales go down, but this time I'll be ready. The spring sale is coming up soon: April 2–3 and 9–10. The list of annual and perennial plants for sale is extensive. There will be more tomato (red, yellow, white, green and purple) and chile pepper varieties than you can imagine. I like checking out the obscure Andean plants, like yacón, a sunflower relative that grows five feet tall and produces crunchy, sweet, jicama-like tubers. Welcome, spring. 15290 Coleman Valley Road, Occidental. 707.874.9591. oaec.org/events/plant-sale.—S.H.