(MURPHYS, CA) -- I tend to hang out in tourist haunts. I did it even before I was paid to. I like the tourist trade. While it comes with incumbent hassles (more traffic, lots of people) typically it protects a very exceptional environment.
Each tourist area has it owns unique local color and personality. In some places, the locals are very convivial; striking up conversations, taking their time helping, sightseeing you as much as you are sightseeing them. Other places are on auto pilot, the locals are waiting for all the tourists to leave so that they can have back their corner of God's green earth. My youthful experiences on Catalina Island were like that. Sometimes the paid help would "helpfully" guide people to the bridge to the mainland - that didn't exist.
My recent trip to Murphys, deep in California Gold Country, was not like that. The uniqueness of the town and its offerings certainly stands on it own. I would have been fine dallying by myself amongst the wine tasting rooms, cafes, and other amusements. I don't expect to be entertained or even engaged in a serious manner.
But everywhere I went, people offered conversation, interruption, and instructions without my asking first. As I was petting the town donkey in her corral, a women in a car who was driving by stopped and shouted out her name. "That's Clarissa."
Ironstone was having a big concert that night and retail clerks and café service staff all wanted to know if I was attending. Each had their own recommendation, and each was also attending. If you get general admission tickets, the local advice is to arrive at 4:30 pm to get just the right piece of grass to enjoy the entertainment (that night Heart).
By far the funniest, was dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Open less than four days, the brisk dinner business was easily as much local as it was tourist. I introduced myself to one of the owners who was also the town's undertaker and County Coroner. In one ear he was telling me the history of the restaurant - his partner was from Italy and recently divorced from his wife, who kept as part of the divorce settlement their restaurant and its name - which was coincidentally the name of the partner.
In my other ear, when the coroner walked out of earshot, I heard the dirt on the divorce, scandalous claims, and got the giggles about the ex-husband opening his new restaurant almost exactly across the street from the ex-wife's. I was also regaled with stories about dead men and missing crosses.
It is rare to walk into a town that folds you in so completely. A place that is as happy to see you, as you are to see it. I am sure that as the pressures of growth become more difficult to balance, that maybe some of that small town congeniality will be lost.
But for now, if you want to feel like a part of a different place and a different time make sure you visit Murphys and give yourself time to get to know the locals.
If you would like to read more about Murphys, read the following stories:
An overview of the area.
The historic town.
A look at Ironstone Vineyards.
Their big October event, the Grape Stomp.