This isn’t grandpa’s general store

SAN GREGORIO, CALIF. — They don’t sell penny candy at the San Gregorio General Store, where Highway 84 intersects Stage Road less than a mile east of the Pacific Ocean. But you can buy a kick-ass margarita at the long wooden bar and spend hours reading anything from “The Selected Letters of Fyodor Dostoevsky” to the highbrow graffiti penciled on the men’s room wall (“Time exists so that everything doesn’t happen at once”).

Actually time hasn’t advanced particularly rapidly in these parts, pretty much due West over the mountains from the go-go Silicon Valley. The store isn’t just a throwback to the ’60s. It may never have left them.

I rarely visit the Bay Area without stopping in and staying for an hour or two.  Other than penny candy, you name it and you just might be able to buy it here. You’ll find cast iron skillets, brooms, elbow macaroni, work gloves and a weather center, all for sale. You’ll also find poetry, a small but interesting collection of native American history, books on ecology and a wide array of tie-dye and imprinted T-shirts and buttons as kick-ass as those margaritas.

The store, around since 1889, is a sizable, single-room, one-story structure of yellow stucco. Inside the floors are wood, a wood-burning stove keeps the reading (and drinking) tables warm, and a standup piano (not for sale) awaits the musicians who perform here weekends.  There’s a faint smell of that musty ’60s “hippie perfume,” patchouli, and bluegrass music coming from behind the bar.

Over at a shelf labeled “Important Books,” I thumbed through Jimmy Carter’s “Our Endangered Values,” Howard Zinn’s “the 20th century,” and “Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities.”  But another sign, telling visitors, “this is one of the most important books you can read,” is reserved for our fragile planet and Lester Brown’s ” World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.”

Important and very important books aside, nothing here beats the collection of buttons for sale. These include:

“Thank you for not being perky.”

“Birth, ritalin, prozac, viagra, death.”

“News for dumb Fux.”

“Anyone who claims God is on their side is dangerous as hell.”

and

“Abstinence makes the church grow fondlers.”

The T-shirts, too, have a sort of Easy Rider feel as if Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper might park their Harleys out front any minute now and stride in to snatch one up.

There’s the mandatory “question authority” logo (remember, this is the ’60s). And the one that reads, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” But I prefer the more whimsical one,  with a picture of Gandhi and the words, “Another skinhead for peace.”

The philosophers, too, have found their way from the men’s room stall to the T-shirt mottos.  “What,” reads one shirt, “if the hokey pokey is what it’s all about?”

Hmm. I’ll leave it to you to work that one out.

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About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at www.jerrylanson.com. My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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