Sonoma - A Mayberry for Everyone
Mark Vogler on his trip to Antarctica, where his appreciation for the warm summers of Sonoma blossomed
As the morning of July 4th began, my partner announced that he'd like to go to Sonoma's 4th of July
parade. I sat there a minute, silently pondering this. The night before, Andy Griffith had passed away and with him went a vision of America that was safe, where kids could leave their bikes unattended on the sidewalk, the scent of fresh baked pies permeated the air, a place where you knew everyone by name and the town sheriff was your dad. So in a moment of slightly mourning the loss of Mayberry R.F.D. I agreed to venture the 6 blocks to the town square for the celebrations.
I've never been a big fan of small town parades. I joke that ADD makes it impossible for me to sit thru even a few minutes of little kids on little tractors, big cowboys on big horses, and the blare of the horn of the town fire truck blasting as it rounds the corner to the town square. I've always been conflicted about Mayberry. On one hand I sometimes long for the comforting embrace of Andy Griffith's America, but I also know from first hand experience how suffocating that embrace can be. My hometown WAS a Mayberry, a place where everyone knows everything about you and doesn't mind sharing it with everyone else. With my father having been first a sheriff and then police officer, I longed for anonymity. I wanted to get out of Mayberry! I didn't want to know the town sheriff by name, or the librarian, or the owner of the auto shop on Main Street. As a youth I daydreamed of far away places and adventure. I wanted to escape the confining familiarity of Mayberry and see the world. I always felt more like George Bailey than Opie Taylor, so after high school I moved to the big city of Los Angeles for college and stayed for another decade.
Twelve years later, I received a job offer that brought me back to the place of my youth. Aside from falling in love with a small-town boy I went to high school with, I was reluctant to return to Mayberry for I knew it too well. In Mayberry, if you weren't exactly like everyone else you where met with cluck-clucks and raised eyebrows. I loathed the small town gossip of past due library books, what so-and-so said and who was sleeping with whom. I liked wheat beer and sushi, not Coors Light and casserole.
So, after 14 years of living in Sonoma Valley, as I made the pilgrimage to the town square for my first 4th of July parade here, I flashed back to the parades of my youth, comprising of look-a-like kids on look-a-like tractors, FFA teen clones marching down the street, the prettiest girl in town smiling from the back of a corvette, all smiles and wipe-wipe/wave-waving to everyone she already knows and the high school marching band and boys scouts, literally, on parade. However, to my surprise, the Sonoma town square was filled not with the look-a-likes of Andy Griffith's Mayberry, but with an amazing diversity of people - old and young, hispanic, white, black, asian, german, professionals, farmers, winemakers, firemen, married, singles, families, straight, gay, married gays with families, veterans, burners and bikers.
As I walked around the plaza looking for a place to view the parade I ran into people I knew by name, who stopped to say hello and chat about the night before or the day's weather. I did know the town mayor and my partner's uncle had been a sheriff in town. I know the manager of the local hotel - and have even been on vacation with he and his partner. I know the owners of several restaurants and the town blacksmiths. I have friends on the city council and on the board of the tourism bureau. I know doctors at the town hospital and the managers of the grocery store. I know the owner of the radio station - and even been invited on air several times. I'm friends with the town cheese monger and even a few farmers and winemakers.
So life sometimes leads us down unexpected paths. I never in a million years would have imagined living in the small town of Sonoma, yet Sonoma is probably the MOST DIVERSE place I've ever been. There are good people in this town from all races and walks of life, that look out for each other. I feel safe here. I can sleep at night with the doors unlocked and the windows open. Mayberry didn't die with Andy Griffith. It's right here in Sonoma - a Mayberry for Everyone.
A Sonoma County native, Mark attended UCLA Film School and worked Creative Advertising at Sony Pictures in Los Angeles before becoming an internet executive at Fortune 100 Telecommunications giant NTT, where he traveled Asia extensively. After 10 years in International Business, Mark returned to Wine Country to develop digital marketing programs for Fosters Wine Estates before founding Out In The Vineyard, an experiential Wine Tour & Event company offering exclusive itineraries to the discerning gay and lesbian traveler. Follow along at markvogler.blogspot.com.