We entered the small town of Auburn where quaint shops populated the streets. Along with so many others, we cheerfully walked with empty stomachs to breakfast at Awful Annie's. I still wonder why any restaurant owner in their right mind would name their business venture "awful," but I was more stupefied by the line of people waiting to get inside the place. I had a bowl of homemade granola, while my cousin had a Focaccia Benedict which was served with asparagus and ham, all covered by a rich hollandaise. It was over-salted, and needed more oil and lemon juice, but I kept my mouth shut as I greedily sipped Chuck's pomegranate mimosa.
After we left the Restaurant-That's-Not-So-Awful Annie's, we stopped in a tiny gold shop. Displayed all over were middle-eastern necklaces and rings, along with beautiful used estate jewelry. Little did I know that this day was made worthy by Stan, the store owner, and his stories.
Stan talked about his time in the Air Force, leading the food service department and loving every minute of his military career. He spoke of the days he spent in Korea, Guam, and Vietnam. And then he entranced us with his story of running away from home at the age of thirteen to join the Barnum & Bailey Circus. As a sideshow hand, Stan saw the way workers were treated, and always saw them being beaten up by his bosses. One of his friends from the circus was killed after a heavy "boom" of metal crushed him, leaving him helpless. And with no one to save him, he died alone in the same dusty rocks I had seen as so majestic earlier.
As this man shared more of his history - raising his eight children, running the shop after his military retirement at the age of 41, and talking of his grandchildren's' lives, I realized how valuable people like this are to the world. Without people like Stan, we wouldn't know where we were. And we must know where we have been to know where we are.
As I continued reflecting on our trip to Auburn, we drove through the nausea-inducing mountains until we came across the town of Coloma. Chuck informed me that this place no larger than a village was home to thousands of people as they passed through for the Gold Rush of 1848. James Marshall, who ran a lumber milling company, first came across gold while cutting the wood with his saw blade. Marshall found it in the tailrace water at the bottom of the mill, where scrap wood fell into the American River. The rocks at Sutter's Mill would catch the gold and gleam bright, begging for the millers to pay attention. And so it began, the craze of Gold Fever.
Before we left, I wanted to treat Chuck to a treat at a cute place called The Argonaut Farm to Fork Café. As the owner, Brigette, ordered my Golden Glow (how fitting) smoothie with mango, banana, agave, and coconut water, she talked about her start in the culinary, and more specifically raw, food industry, and I shared my experiences too. She attended the Living Light Culinary School in Mendocino, CA, and seemed to exhibit all that the school preaches by "making healthy food delicious!" After installing her outdoor pizza oven, she breamed with excitement about a future of hosting chefs for farm dinners, and has invited me to join, either as a dinner guest, or a kitchen hand. I will definitely be staying in touch.
People like Stan and Brigette make me realize how wonderful the world is, and that despite all the hardships we face, there are always people who make life worth living. My conclusion: gold of the heart is far more valuable than any miner's gold.