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The River People


I grew up in Sonoma County near the Santa Rosa Creek that I saw punish people for moving into nice new subdivision homes within its 20-year flood plane. Those who developed these housing tracts on cheap, easy-to-build-on flat land were long gone along with their profits well before the flood waters arrived. Newcomers bought into those neighborhoods during the months and years of non-flooding seeing nothing suspicious in hundreds of homes with nice roads, sidewalks, yards, parks and schools.

Not far downstream that creek joined The Russian River whose floods were much more impressive as well as far more frequent.

In these areas, EVERYBODY KNEW about the annual flooding and moved in with their eyes open. Cute little vacation cottages were built, sold and occupied as summer homes with easy access to recreation along the large, lazy river and lovely cool summers nestled in the giant redwood forest.

Once the flood season was safely past the cabins would get their annual clean-ups, pantries restocked, recreational gear brought back out of storage and summer clothes refilled the closets.

An hour north of San Francisco a completely different world awaited for weekends, family gatherings and summer vacations.

These seasonal homes, absolutely wonderful in summertime, were easily afforded by average city folks with regular jobs, modest homes and apartments in the San Francisco Bay Area.

That beauty and affordability attracted another breed:
The River People.

These might have been known in other contexts as beatniks, hippies, gypsies, nomads or some-such. They made these cabins into year-round homes by having back-up plans for occasional flood weeks. They would move in with friends until the flood waters receded, then muck out their homes and re-occupy.

They seemed to have lots of friends, were a cheerful, carefree lot traveling the road of life with great adaptability and very low income requirements.

I got to know some of them and was actually amazed that they did not require the year-round security of a home well above any potential floods. I could kind-of get it when I saw the easy, happy lifestyle they shared during the summer, but I was, and am far too straight-laced for that one.

It was during this era that the RIO theater thrived. It was affordable enough that the owners found a niche showing campy non-mainstream movies.

It was then and there that a group of us ventured to watch The King Of Hearts. I was also treated to the short animated feature Bambi Meets Godzilla, and every bit as memorable were signs in the lobby and restrooms encouraging graffiti and offering loaned markers to potential artists.

The artistic, linguistic and philosophic qualities thus attracted were completely different from the hasty, crude illicit scrawlings in places graffiti is discouraged.

The one I depict here stuck with me for 50 years so far …
I haven’t been able to shake it. 😉

Then came the DINKS: Dual Income No Kids.

These folks had regular middle-class jobs, but combining two of those without child rearing expenses put them in a higher financial strata than the single income Dad supporting the mother, home and family. As you probably know, the Rockefellers and friends methodically destroyed that model, but in my tale it was still very much alive AND WELL.

At that time, a lot of DINKS were closeted homosexual male “roomates”. They found themselves among friends and soon took over with Guerneville at the heart of the flood zone also becoming well known as a gay men community. That is certainly not to say that all the people owning these homes were DINKS, or gay, but those two factors were more common than the early model of folks who could afford summer homes in addition to nice homes near their upper-class jobs.

It was during this DINK era that the precursor to FEMA decided to alleviate the suffering of these poor folks living in this idyllic summer vacation paradise. They took their flood plane map and our money to raise all of the affected cabins on massive, ugly foundations to a level above the expected floodwaters.

The DINKS win the lottery!

Cheap houses are suddenly elevated in value.

Now with 20-foot-tall foundations, the expensive part of their remodels completed for them, more money flowed into these places.

I have not been anywhere near Guerneville, Monte Rio or Rio Nido in 25 years, but I’m guessing it is very much still in the DINK era today.

The River People just drifted away.


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