I stood stupefied in front of a craggily, handwritten note that read, "Luggage lost! (Out of car)! If found, please call ..." The note was taped to a pole, near the Incurable Collector antique shop.
A few days later, and two episodes into watching the Gilmore Girls, I realized: I live in the idiosyncratic and idyllic Stars Hollow, or at least the Bay Area version. Perched on rail and sea, on the west side of Richmond, it's called Point Richmond.
Like Stars Hollow, the fictional home of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, the Point's tree-lined streets epitomize sleepy, small town charm. There are rickety Victorians, a nearly doll-sized history association building, a railroad room that's a bank, and a town triangle (think Lorelai and Rory's much-walked-across square).
While not as shiny as Stars Hollow, the town is soul sister in the quirkiness department: the local lawyer who wears a sandwich board to advertise the vintage playhouse; the gravitationally-challenged mailboxes; the artist Daud who blings out the town's trash cans, turning them into glowing mosaics of red poppies and yellow peace signs.
Here are some of Point Richmond's traditions, tics and moments of tender-heartedness:
No espresso at the will-not-be-named breakfast place. Stars Hollow has Al's Pancake World, which doesn't serve pancakes. The Point has the welcoming breakfast place, which doesn't serve espresso. (The pancakes, though, are terrific.) Until recently, the espresso machine had pride of place, but when I'd ask for a shot, the waitress would say, "I'm so sorry, but it's broken." Over the years, a pattern emerged: I'd look at the machine. My caffeine-craving heart would hope. The waitress would tell me the machine didn't work. Darkness would descend. A few months ago, we were walking up to the café when we spied, on the ground next to the doorway, left out like a bag of trash, the espresso machine. Someone had crowned it with an overgrown fern.
Thanksgiving morning starts with potent liquor and poetry. Stars Hollow has its annual knit-a-thon. Point Richmond has its annual turkey shoot. Per tradition, a bevy of locals, along with their new babies, accordions and dogs, gathers near the triangle on Thanksgiving morning. The mayor brings goats. Several little ones don handmade felt hats. To the sound of random instruments and assorted animals, this ragtag group parades down the short street to the bar. An ongoing poem is read aloud. A stanza is added each year. "Point people do not drink champagne brut, or even vodka, like the fancy Absolute, for real men and women, Wild Turkey we do shoot!" After, everyone does a shot of Wild Turkey (or apple cider) and shouts, "Gobble, gobble, gobble." One year, Monroe read the poem alongside a live turkey. He then escorted the turkey into the bar, like a gentleman.
A 6-year old runs, in part, the place where everybody knows your name. The owner of the Up & Under pub can be Luke-style grumpy, known to shoot a, "Quit your bitching," to Bruce. The same Bruce he marched down the street for new glasses. But his chocolate-eyed girl (Hi, Tyler!) will charmingly seat you. The regulars, however, will carry on like they're at a house party. Oh, and the house is theirs. This explains why they will unapologetically walk behind the bar to charge their phones with the same swagger as when Lorelai pours her own coffee at the diner. It also explains why several years back, a random group of locals appeared at the owners' home around 5 a.m. to rouse them about a burst water main; it might flood the pub. New in town, the owners didn't think so many people knew where they lived. Or that so many would be concerned enough to seek them out.
The greater the word count, the cheaper the coffee. And there's dancing! Kaleidoscope is the new coffee joint and writer-friendly town hub. If you bang out 10,000 words, Cassie will throw you a discount. Later on, there might be a Hot Rod Jukebox dance contest; the Point's less starry version of a Stars Hollow dance marathon. What would Luke say?!
The pastor moonlights at the Hotel Mac. Pastor Dan preaches on Sunday mornings. On Monday nights, he rolls three blocks down the hill to play "Someone's Rockin' My Dreamboat" on the piano at the Mac. He has a following with the under 10s, who are giddy to see him at his other gig. The Point's version of the Dragonfly Inn, the Hotel Mac is a red brick, old-school establishment that's heavy on Lorelai's favored Tiffany lamps, textiles and fries. No artisanal anything. And if you ruffle through the coat rack in the corner, you might overhear some hot, Miss Patty-worthy gossip. Inadvertently, of course.
Beloved and bed-ridden neighbors aren't unseen. Hot chocolate and marshmallows were left at Caitlin's door. Local friends organized her mounting medications. A lady in her 70s, who lived just over the hill, carried up wood to Caitlin's fireplace. Young Cecilia raced across the street to share her artwork. The brawny next door neighbor hoisted Caitlin up threatening stairs. The gentle, retired nurse sat with her, took her hand. Struggling through chemo as an artist in her 50s, Caitlin was surrounded. A few streets of people became a galaxy of vigilance.
After all, a place isn't magical for its quaint streets or turn-of-the-century architecture. Just like Stars Hollow, Point Richmond is magical for its people.