Not long ago I stood in line at Steves Hardware, not paying much attention to what was going on around me. I was more worried about the gopher traps I was holding and if buying them was a waste of money. My guess is that the ratio of dollars spent to gophers caught is about 100 to 1. The guy in front of me turned around and we chatted about our mutual inability to catch gophers. I recognized him immediately as a former major league pitcher who is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although I suspect he knew I recognized him, we never discussed baseball and parted company happy in our mutual gopher misery.
Another time, I spotted and chatted with one of the major early investors in Facebook who was in town on a Sunday buying the latest edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. His wealth would probably allow him to buy the company that publishes the newspaper. He was shuffling around looking in the windows like any tourist. He has a place in town.
We all know that Oprah hangs around the Model Bakery munching on English muffins contemplating political life. And speaking of big time politicians, they are here too. It is easy to tell when certain leaders who own a place in wine country are in town. When the black four-door sedans pull up and people in sunglasses jump out while talking into the little microphones on their wrists, you know that somebody important is hanging out.
The list of the famous and almost famous that move around the Napa Valley is a long one. These are the people who could live anywhere in the world that they want. They are here and there are reasons for that. They live here because we leave them alone. They live here because they like the magic of the wine and food. They live here because they can chat with wine workers and regular people who don’t treat them like gods. Wine country can be a great equalizer.
The beauty of the equalizer factor was never more evident than during “The Fires.” Corporate moguls and landscapers battled embers side by side. Super Bowl MVPs helped deputy sheriffs direct traffic. People who lost $10 million dollar homes or a mobile home all commiserated on the best way to deal with insurance companies. Everyone helped each other.
At a holiday party at a home right out of “lifestyles of the rich and famous,” the guests were gathered around a storyteller. The listeners were lawyers and moguls and celebrities as well as vineyard workers and shopkeepers. The storyteller who commanded so much attention was a tractor driver describing the animals running ahead of the fire. It was a scene out of a movie.
Tragedies like fires and earthquakes always highlight the community spirit but we can all do without these events. I would prefer gatherings where we share special wine and food and gossip instead of horrific stories of survival. I would rather have gatherings where the focus is sharing recipes for a new wine blend instead of ideas on how to find a lost cat. Those gatherings should have the same mix of people that include celebrities and the woman who raises the sunflowers down the street.
On any given day, people press their noses against the windows downtown looking at real estate listings and show shock at the prices. What is not evident from the listings is that a house may be next door to an Academy Award winner or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the butcher at Sunshine Foods. That diversity here is something and I hope wine country never loses it.