"Flower Collars and Tin Foil Hats," Kayla G. (2014)
I have lived in Sebastopol my whole life. A place where organic is expected, and crystal shops outnumber hardware stores. A place where the majority vote is for the green party and the welcome sign reads “Welcome to Sebastopol; NUCLEAR FREE ZONE." Even though this town is all I have really known, I know enough about the world to say that Sebastopol has very unique character.
Sebastopol is a town full of contradictions. It is a place where crazy and intelligence go hand in hand, rich hobos flourish, and vegetarians eat their fresh local meat. As defined by Urban Dictionary, Sebastopol is “A hippie town where everyone is stoned, and yet parents say 'what a nice place for my kid to grow up.' ” It’s a town where even the hippiest of hippies get offended by the term “hippie." Instead, they prefer “New Age” or “Spiritual." In a 1967 Sebastopol newspaper article called “Morning Star Leader’s Philosophy: Live, Be Happy,” a member of the Morning Star Commune was asked what they would prefer to be called. The member said, “Flower Children? I don’t know what it means, but I like flowers and I like children, so it can’t be that bad” (Torkelson). Of course, I would not call myself a hippie. However, I’ve listened to my fair share of “Strawberry Fields” by the Beatles, and I will go out of my way to buy environmentally friendly meat, so maybe I am just kidding myself too.
My old middle school friend, Hope, is probably the best example of what growing up in Sebastopol is like. First off, like I just said, her name is Hope. Hope’s best friend is named Green, and his brother is named Heart. Heart is a boy. When Hope and I met in 5th grade, she had already had a good portion of her life living in a bus, making nature crafts with her family, and being naked at new moon ceremonies. Me, the sort of introverted, hit music listener type middle schooler, was completely new to this way of life. I remember going over to her house, and Hope’s mom, Haydie, greeted me by getting upset with Patience about her bowel movements. “Did you eat more kale today? I’m not going to have an unhealthy child. I bet your friend her has healthy bowel movements” Right away, I knew what I was getting myself into. Those years of knowing Hope and her mother were the most entertaining and eye opening years ever.
Haydie is like the iconic symbol of a New Age Sebastopol Hippie. She is one of the Sebastopol locals that is either crazy, or genius, and I can’t decide which. She tells Hope she can’t be outside in the rain because of the radiation in the water. She is the type of person who thinks seat belts are a way for governments to control the public, and flu shots will lead to the end of the world. She is someone who won’t even touch the wrapping of processed food, yet is the biggest advocate for acid. All of these beliefs Haydie has may be funny and obscure, but sitting down with the woman for five minutes could make you see from her perspective, and in turn, question everything about your life.
Hope’s mom grew up in a conservative family in the South with her brother. They both rebelled against the family traditions when they got to the right age. Eric, her brother, is gay and the most flamboyant person I know. As for Haydie, she hitch-hiked her way across the country. She went to moon ceremonies and GMO protests. She ended up in Sebastopol. I think that is the case for many people who live here. I know that as far as the history of this Sonoma County town, people migrated North from the San Francisco area in the 1970’s because of the disappearing hippie culture (Lewis). “Most hippie communes and intentional communities from the counter-cultural heyday vanished altogether, as eco-romantic dreams were seldom matched by rural realities.” says Martin Lewis in his GeoCurrents article, “The Hippie Migration…Cannabis-Based Economy." This mild climate, green landscape, and small population (along with tolerance of Marijuana growing) became very appealing. In turn, a community grew, and these hippies put down their roots in this Northern area of California. This Migration continues in our town. Just like them, Heidi, along with many others, found Sebastopol as an escape. It is an opportunity for you to be the person you want to be, and a way to escape all the drama and social structures that can make you feel claustrophobic. Here, you can go on about the benefits of quinoa, and the danger of plastic water bottles, and people will actually listen. Here, no one thinks your crazy. People just think you belong in Sebastopol.
My boyfriend works at Pacific Market, and he says one of his frequent customers is a lady who wears tin foil on her head. Why? To keep away from the cell phone radiation, of course. Yet, she has an I-phone she holds in her bra, another perfect example of the many contradictions one can find in Sebastopol. The cell phone epidemic is a rather common topic in Sebastopol, however. For example, a couple months ago I was walking down main street talking on the phone. A man interrupted me and said that I should be talking on speaker phone instead of holding the device to my ear. I was at first peeved off. “Fricken hippie” I would think to myself. But thinking about it now, I appreciate what he was trying to do. According to an article by Mike Barrett on infowar.com called "Cell Phone Use Triples Brain Tumor Rates," “decades after heavy use of cell phones, a study shows that brain tumor rates nearly triple after 25 years of cell phone use." The article says that the best way to avoid this is to use speaker phone, and to warn others. Whether this study is correct or not, the man thought he was doing the right thing, and that’s what counts.
And just like that, my train of thought is lost, for the most humorous and ironic reason. As I am writing, I am in Village Bakery, the best bakery in Sebastopol. Taking a quick break from the computer screen, I look up to see in front of me a small billboard of events and businesses in Sebastopol. I see an ad for “Sacred Pregnancy Retreats” and next to that is a flyer for “Parent and Child Yoga” put on by the organization “Smiling Tree." But wait . . . it gets better. In front of me, right now, is a flyer called “Cuddle Party." Experience the healing power of non-sexual, nurturing touch! Only in Sebastopol would there be a party where strangers meet up to cuddle with each other. Sebastopol has such strange character and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it. . . okay, back to writing.
A paper can not accurately be written about Sebastopol without talking about Roben. Most people in Sebastopol think of him as “the flower man” because of his homemade flower hat. He has a long beard, purple velvet pants, and colorful shirts. He has his dog, that is short and chubby, with no neck, who also has a flower collar Roben made for him. They both cruise around Sebastopol with his decorative floral cart and visit with other locals. I often think of Roben as the Mascot of Sebastopol. If there were any one person that accurately expressed the vibe of Sebastopol, it would be Roben. The most ironic thing about it all is, Roben is not homeless. It is not like this is his only lifestyle choice so he just learns to deal with it, no. Roben actually has a home and has money, he just chooses to live the simple life and not care. In fact, he often eats in front of Whole Foods eating meals that can make your wallet scream. “Sebastopol is the only place where rich liberal white people dress like unbathed Rastafarians” ("Sebastopol"). The only place where you will see someone appearing homeless and un-showered just for the hell of it, and then at the end of the day, hop into their Prius and drive home. A few weeks ago, Roben exceptionally moved me, and made me truly fall in love with him, as well as the whole town’s character. In Sebastopol, there is a really great coffee shop called “Hardcore Espresso”. The shack-like building that the business once occupied, gradually started to fell apart. After many years of wear and tear, the ceiling began to cave in and the wooden walls started to collapse. The old building was abandoned, and the business started back up in a new place just across the street.
A few weeks after this change, I noticed that Roben’s cart was outside of the old building. I figured he and his dog were living there once in a while. Another week would pass, and I would see colorful scarves and fabrics wrapped around the telephone pole (this was sort of his way to leave his tracks, as there are a few posts throughout the town with this colorful touch). But what I saw about 6 weeks later simply blew my mind, and it was so noteworthy, I made an entry in my Journal that day:
Oct. 15, 2014 The hardcore espresso building has completely transformed. Roben, the flower man, has used pastel, chalk, or something, to make this building his canvas. There are beautiful colorful drawings all over the walls. He has a large sun setting over the hills,. a forrest with colorful trees, fields of flowers. Of course my writing will never do it justice, but I think what was so beautiful about it to me was that he was able to take a piece of broken down & abandoned building and turn it into something not-so- forgettable. And that is his life. He isn’t some big headed painter that wants to make an immersion and get more attention. That art is his life. It is what he loves. And he does it for himself. You can see that through the drawings. I remember be little and waiting in line with my mom, waiting for her to get her espresso. I was sad to see a building with these memories become vacant. But Roben has made it mean something even more to special me. It’s an expression of my home town.
This is how I like to think of Sebastopol. A place where people can forget the many problems of the world and just feel free to express themselves in any way they want. It’s an amazing place. A crazily genius, hippie but not hippie, beautifully strange place.
”Sebastopol." Urban Dictionary. N.p., 21 Mar. 2008. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
Lewis, Martin W. "The Hippie Migration to Mendocino and the Establishment of a Cannabis- Based Economy." GeoCurrents. N.p., 2 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Barrett, Mike. "Study: Cellphone Use 'Triples Brain Tumor Rates'" Infowars. N.p., 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Torkelson, Dick. "“Morning Star Leader’s Philosophy: Live, Be Happy,” " Press Democrat, 21 June 1967. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
Wieseler, Wayne. "History of Sebastopol." Western Sonoma County Historical Society. Two Spirit Group, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.