People always seem to be dreaming of escaping to idyllic small towns to live simpler lives closer to the earth—even uber-urbanites like my boss and the characters in Rent. I’m still working on sloughing off the suburbs, so usually such dreams elude me, but for much of this weekend, I understood what everyone was talking about.
AK and I headed to Julian, a mountain town east of San Diego that my family visited a lot when I was a kid. We used to stay at Cuyamaca, the nearby state park, in our motor home and drive into Julian for the pie and gift stores, its main attractions. But AK and I stayed at the Julian Hotel, which felt luxurious not only because it was warm and roofed and right in town instead of nine miles away, but because it was everything you want a bed and breakfast to be: cozy, floral and staffed by kind older ladies who feel really awful about asking you to leave the parlor because it closes at 10 p.m.
I was a little nervous that AK would be bored, since she’s a city girl who likes to stay out late and see bands I’ve never heard of. But she’s a flexible one, plus she went to school in a small town, and is equally at home playing Boggle in the parlor as she is sipping martinis at hipster clubs.
So we played lots of Boggle and ate apple and rhubarb-strawberry pie at a place called Mom’s. We actually saw the owner outside, calling to her co-worker, “Hurry back—I have to pick up the kids at three.”
“This place is more authentic than I thought it would be,” AK said.
We read and sketched and got excited when it started to snow. We followed two small, equally excited dogs around and took pictures of them. We got up early to eat homemade granola and eggs Florentine, and napped in the afternoons.
The only real activity we did was on the way out of town Saturday, when we stopped at a local winery. The owner was talking to a friend of hers who’d stopped by, a woman in an ankle-length fur coat carrying a fluffy white dog in a fluffy pink sweater.
“I fired my employee this morning,” the owner complained to her friend and sort of to us. “She kept getting sick. You just can’t do that. Mike was upset—he said, ‘Now you’ll be there all the time.’ I’m already here all the time. I have to be because she does such a bad job.”
Now she spoke to us directly: “That’s the worst part of having a business. Employees. We lost 800 homes in the fires a few years back, and most of them belonged to renters, who are the least likely to rebuild. So now you can’t find anyone to work the $10-an-hour jobs.”
AK and I left without buying any of the wine, which wasn’t that good anyway.
“I hate good-help-is-hard-to-find conversations,” I said.
“I liked the ladies at our hotel better,” AK agreed.
I decided that the winery owner was probably one of those city people who’d escaped to live an artisan dream. But she didn’t seem to be having much fun, although probably more than the woman who had the misfortune of working for her. Country life is hard, and best left to those who are good at it.