So I recently moved to San Rafael (~30 minutes north of San Francisco) and even more recently discovered there’s a bus line (well, stagecoach, technically) all the way up to a little town called Inverness. It’s a little more than halfway up a peninsula sort of deal that has a ton of trails, parks, beaches, etc. I’ll hit those eventually, but frankly this was a lot less walking, and my shoes are not in love with hiking trails.
My day started out when I left the house 5 minutes later than I’d planned and I missed my bus by 2. I watched it sail on by as I cursed out loud in the parking lot of the professional park I was cutting through. The whole trip had been very specifically planned and was based on catching that bus on time, because Sunday schedules are touchy and this would end up putting me back at the transit station only after the last bus to my house had run.
I spent about 10 minutes on my phone doing a lot of schedule-checking and math, only to figure, fuck it, I’m doing it anyway. I was damn excited about this trip and I wasn’t going to let something like getting trapped in a city at night stop me (it’s a nice city, anyway).
I took a later bus down to the transit station (I mentioned the whole disaster to the bus driver, who was perfectly wonderful and spent the whole trip to the station trying to brainstorm a way for me to make it back after the last bus at 8:00; I’m still kicking myself for not finding out his name and writing a letter to Marin Transit about how great he was). It was 2 hours until my stagecoach left (like I said, Sundays are touchy), but I appreciated the delay since it gave me time to realize how damn chilly it was. There was a Goodwill a block away, so I popped over and got a second jacket to go under my hoodie and over my shirt. This may have been the best decision I made that day.
The stagecoach ride was about 90 minutes, and I was frequently either the only one on the bus or one of two or three. We went through some small towns and some tiny towns, but a lot of it was just winding our way through the woods. I could see clearings filled with tents through the trees.
There were cows in fields sometimes, but not like the fields in Pennsylvania that look like mud and trampled hay and some poor guy’s entire life spent milking cows and fixing machines that milk cows. These fields were huge, a square half-mile at least and rolling up over hills, and if I were ever to describe a herd of walking burgers as “ethereal”, it would be the livestock wandering those hills.
Sorry, that was making me really hungry. Okay, I’m back.
After a long ride I quite enjoyed, I got out of the bus to gray skies, four buildings along main street, and the sudden realization that everything was probably closed on Sunday. “Everything” being a general store, a post office, a Czech restaurant, and a seafood place. I took a couple minutes to seriously consider turning right back around and enjoying the long ride back.
My second realization was that Google Maps made this place look more charming and quaint than it was (partially due to the fact that all the pictures had been taken on a sunny day).
My third realization was that I’d been on the bus for quite a while and I really had to pee.
Two places were open: the general store and the Czech place. The store was more of an adapted warehouse with metal racks holding food. And no bathrooms. I had no other priorities at the time, so I left.
So, the Czech place it was (I’d like to note it specifically had a sign that said “restrooms for customers only” or something to that effect). I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures, but this may have been the only available toilet in the town on that day, so I really didn’t want to give them any reason to get pissy with me.
It was dark – the thick red drapes over the two windows were open, but it was so overcast it didn’t matter that much. There was a collection of small dark-wood tables and similar panelling. The brightest lightbulbs were over the bar, and even there they seemed on their way out. I sat close to the window so I could see and also so I could make a break for it if I had to. This place had a weird vibe.
I picked up the menu handed to me by the only waitress/hostess/owner there. They had a selection of lunches for $17 a plate (I’d missed lunch time anyway, and also seriously fuck that) and dinners for $27. I was already considering how fast I could dash into the bathroom and pee before I got kicked out when I noticed their only dessert option, apple strudel for $7. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it left me with bus fare to get back, and an honorable way to use the facilities.
The people in the restaurant were talking about generally normal things, there was an older lady talking about her cell phone bill and the woman running the bar (and everything else) was telling a group of workmen about how she was born here, but her parents were Czech immigrants who had founded the place.
I say this to be clear that there was nothing overtly wrong with the area, it just FELT off. Like when you can feel someone looking at you when you can’t see them. The bartender’s features were just a little strange, her voice just a bit too low or too high for whatever she was saying.
So I ordered and used the bathroom before the food got there. I took all my stuff with me because, again, weird vibe. The walls were covered with notes from people who’d been there in the past (“First date”, initials, generic quotes, etc). I’d seen similar before in little coffeehouses, the sorts of places that wanted to have character and never painted over them.
Maybe it was the general feel of the place, but this seemed less like a guestbook and more like… a trophy room in a serial killer’s basement. I found myself comparing handwriting from one note to the next to make sure they hadn’t just written these themselves after the last time they had to powerwash blood off the walls. I was about 70% sure there was someone watching me the whole time, but listen, at this point I was just grateful it wasn’t the woods.
I’m sorry so much of this story has turned into the epic tale of my bodily functions, but it was the driving motivation of the first hour I spent in this town so I felt like I should cover it.
I came out to the apple strudel on my table, and I knew I wasn’t going to eat again until I got home at 9ish (assuming I didn’t get stuck in the city), so I ate it while I Google Mapped the area.
Every time I stop at a little out-of-the-way place for food, I always have this fantasy that it’ll turn out to be the best food in the world and I’ll have a smug restaurant secret like EVERYONE ELSE seems to have. But usually it sucks. This sucked.
I knew I wanted to see the shipwreck (because it was a SHIPWRECK for god’s sake) and after looking at the map I decided I would head up into the woods and see if I couldn’t get some good 360 locations. Because if I was going to be a white person in a horror movie, I was damn well going to get some good shots before I died. Hopefully someone would be able to use them when they found my blood-smeared camera in a ditch.
I headed out to the shipwreck, which was indeed a wrecked ship, but a very small one – it looked like a Coast Guard patrol boat that had run aground years ago and just been left to chill there for some reason. Possibly because the Coast Guard knew better than to cross town lines into Inverness, and gave the ship up for lost the second it wandered too far up into the bay.
It was falling apart a little. A lot. There was graffiti in the cockpit (do boats have cockpits?) and the half closest to the beach was turning into a pile of scorched planks.
My photographing was cut a little short by a couple there for the same reason, and by “the same reason”, I mean not at all because I’m actually pretty sure he was about to propose to her. They both gave me awkward sideways glances until I packed up my shit, because I either wanted to take obnoxious pictures the whole way through or get the hell out and I was leaning strongly toward the latter. As I walked off, I heard the cadence of his voice move into “rehearsed speech” territory and after quickening my pace I turned around and saw her with her arms around his neck like they were in a goddamn Nicolas Sparks movie. He wasn’t kneeling, but the whole area was damp sand, so I’ll never be sure.
I swear to god, when they tell the story they better include the weird kid in a hoodie with the camera and Dexter hat.
At this point I want to say this whole day was so bizarre, I did not make up a single detail of this story, because I just didn’t HAVE to. The things I was thinking were weird (this place lent itself to mental hyperbole) but I promise they were my actual thoughts at the time.
Beach down, I started walking up to the woods. I had directions to where a road called “Vision” branched off from the main road, and later turned into “Mt. Vision”, so I figured there might be some sweet forest areas for picture-taking and general atmosphere.
I walked about a half mile up the road. There were cars every once in a while, people out for a Sunday drive, cyclists too (because it’s SF and there are ALWAYS goddamn cyclists). I felt like it was a nice enough area and maybe I was just paranoid because it was so gray out and my boredom was writing stories for me.
I turned down Vision Rd, the opening to which had a little tennis court occupied by two middle-aged guys who seemed to be more practicing than competing. They didn’t notice me, which was nice because I was breathing way too hard for a half-mile at a normal walking pace on a flat road. I don’t want to talk about it. The years have been cruel.
Vision Road clearly turned up a hill (oh joy) and I had my headphones off, since there was nowhere next to the road to walk and I didn’t want to get bipped by a rich asshole going exploring at 60 mph.
The houses seemed nice:
If you didn’t look too closely at the spots with homemade stick-fences:
Or the weird grids cut into stumps:
Or fences that looked like barricades in Skyrim:
But I had another two hours to kill in this place and I’d be damned if I was going to sit in a burnt-out boat and browse Tumblr, so I kept going. About halfway up the hill I got to a meandering sort of crossroads, and despite my fervent prayers, confirmed that the continuation of the road I was on looked like this…
That’s four separate warnings to get the fuck out. One standard hardware-store “POSTED No Trespassing” I’m usually happy to ignore (I’ve never met a trespass I couldn’t talk my way out of with an octave-higher, slightly ditzy voice and apologies for “not noticing the signs! oh my god! I am SO sorry! it just looked so pretty! etc”), a more official-looking road sign saying “private road”, the bottom half of which bears a hand-written sign that just says “NO EXIT” (it covers up whatever other words were on the sign, which I couldn’t make out even after getting way closer than I wanted to), and a… what the hell does that say?
I took a closer look, despite feeling like breaking the threshold to this road would leave me irrevocably cursed.
It’s a handpainted sign, nailed to the tree and almost completely washed clean, with the words (I don’t know how clear it is from the photo) “NO MT VISION”.
Now I swear to god, if that sign had said “*NOT* Mt Vision”, like to say “this road is mislabelled on your fancy computation dee-vice and don’t lead to that there mountain y’all are lookin’ for” (sorry, I lived in Western PA my whole life and every sign in a country area automatically has that voice), I may have continued. Because hey, even if it’s not Mt. Vision, it still looks interesting.
But damn, there was something about the phrasing “No Mt Vision”. Like it was saying Mt Vision didn’t exist, and whoever told me otherwise was wrong, and I needed to turn back now.
I opened Google Maps too see why it had so callously betrayed me in directing me to Deliverance Avenue, only to get this:
Which, I swear to GOD, was a perfectly normal connected line when I’d looked at it before.
I may be a white person in a horror movie, but I’m not THAT bad. I turned right back around and headed to the main road.
The main road was… closer to normal. I headed north for another half mile or so to try to find a more beachy location, but anything accessible was either kinda crappy or already had people there.
I was really, really eager not to miss the bus, so I turned back to the Inverness stop with plenty of time. The general store was right next to it, so I wandered into there with more of an eye for looking around and less desperation than earlier.
Now, at first glance, it might look like this is a picture of bottles in a refrigerated case with the reflection of stuffed toy animals on shelves on the other side of the aisle, because that’s a relatively sane assumption to make.
It is, in fact, a reflection of bottles on shelves, and the toys are the ones in the case, like some sort of Toy Story asylum, if Toy Story had been way more like Silence of the Lambs.
I left the store.
This was what was waiting for me outside.
Luckily for me and my impassioned desire not to wait for the next bus an hour later, this was apparently just a stagecoach that had… stopped? Broken down? Honestly, I’m not sure, since I’m fairly certain it hadn’t been there three hours ago and there wasn’t another bus due within that time. But another one showed up, on time, I got in as soon as humanly possible, got back to the station, Ubered up to my house, and went to bed.
What, did you expect me to get murdered? I’m writing this. Murdered would make a better story, but… that was really just that. I don’t plan on going up there again without a car and possibly a large dog, but it’s been four days and no sign of any persistent curse. You’ll be the first to know if that changes, I promise.
Oh, and I went back on Google Maps when I got into town:
I guess it was just a connectivity issue. Or something. You know how it is.