Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Retro Russian River

I've spent much of the summer up at Sonoma County's Russian River, which seems to undergo transformations every few years (the latest is an influx of San Francisco-style hipsters, including some fine chefs). But some things never change.

Take Johnson's Beach, where the annual Jazz and Blues festival is happening this weekend. You can still drive down to Johnson's and park for free.You can spend a lazy day on the river's rocky shore. Bring a picnic and nibble all day. Wander over to the snack bar for a beer and a burger, splash in the water and, when the sun gets too hot, rent a big beach umbrella and have one of the young staffers set it up for you.

You also can rent inner tubes, paddle boats, canoes or kayaks and paddle under Guerneville's two side-by-side bridges (the old one from the 1920s is pedestrian-only).
Inner tubes are big at the river and may be the most fun. Kids get a bunch of them, stack them up and plop around for hours.

Hamburgers and hot dogs are only $3 and a big vanilla Frostie soft ice cream cone is $2.

It's still a family-run operation as it has been since 1918. At the snack bar is 92-year old Claire Harris,who cheerily serves up beer and rents the canoes and kayaks. Just like when I was a kid, a while ago.

And, from chatting with others, it's a generational thing: people came here as kids and bring their kids and grandkids to Johnson's today. Maybe it's the old-time atmosphere but even teenagers seem to pick up the vibe: you don't see them glued to their smartphones and electronic gadgets.
Around 6 p.m. Claire gets on the loudspeaker and announces that it's quitting time.
Then he puts on the sweet old tune "It's Only a Paper Moon" which is background music as the crowd, including tired, sunburned kids and slow-moving adults who reluctantly rise from chairs and sleepily from their towels, makes its way up the dusty hill to head back to their cars and to home.

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