The Valentine's Day Massacre. Sort Of

The year was 1994, one in which we had decided to refuse to buy into the commercial emptiness of another Hallmark Holiday. No, this Valentine's Day wasn't going to be about pomp, circumstance, candy, cards, and flowers; it would be about love, togetherness, tenderness, and possibly a few cold-filtered beers. At first, we reckoned, the best defense against Valentine's Day would be to lay low: We'd cook dinner at home, get a bottle of slightly less than embarrassing wine, rent a classy video (something foreign?), and maybe marinate some fish. Plan A, however, had to be quickly revamped when we realized that roommates on both ends meant that "quiet" was not an option. Anyway, even if those animals did somehow manage to behave themselves for a few hours so a couple in love could enjoy themselves in the manner in which the card companies has grown them accustomed to, we'd probably feel so bad for those who didn't have that Special Person to bake fish with that it would be hard for us to truly enjoy ourselves. The hell with them -- it was time to go.So, like any self-respecting couple, we hit the road for a good old-fashioned Valentine road-trip. Our bags packed (with camera, condoms and A Confederacy of Dunces), we headed north to a small, romantic town called Booneville. We'd heard many enticing tales of this sleepy little town in the Anderson Valley, a spot 90-minutes north of San Francisco and home of several tall glasses of Anderson Valley beer and several quaint bed and breakfasts. We even heard rumors that the people there spoke their own dialect. The line of cars that snaked up the coast was truly daunting, particularly for a Toyota Corolla hatchback, mighty though she is, that happened to be low on petrol. At one point having taken to chewing up cassettes, the tape player offered little solace to the crowds of motor vehicles, who, little did we know, had similar designs on Booneville. Although the radio worked, as we headed further and further out of urbanity, the stations that spoke languages which we understood were quickly fading, as was the available light on the road and the conversation between us. Half the fun in a trip is the journey, or so they say. But as our vision became increasingly blurred, and the growls in our stomachs increasingly belligerent, that carefree road-trip feeling was fading fast. Still, all our troubles would be solved in Booneville, where a down comforter, an excellent microbrew and risotto with vegetables were certainly just a curvy road away.Snaking through the hills of Anderson Valley -- a ride we would later find to be one of the most beautiful rides in Northern California when it's not pitch black dark and your brakes aren't squeaking -- we finally saw a hopeful sign: Booneville, 13 miles. Thirteen miles to Valentine's Day in the cutest little village in the valley, and it was barely 10 pm. Plenty of time to eat righteously and get back to the hotel to celebrate the day properly.A sudden fork in the road yielded a happy sight as the town opened up before us along Route 128: craft shops, organic sandwich stands, a frosty pink ice cream store, a microbrew restaurant & bar called the Anderson Valley Brewery offering sweet smells of barley, hops and burgers, and finally Happiness Personified: The Booneville Inn, it of the whitewashed facade, elegant porches and key location directly across from the brewery. Life seemed suddenly sweet. Getting out of the car, our biggest concern was whether it would be wiser to grab a bite before unloading our bags, or to check into the hotel first. Not knowing the dangers of this uncharted new area, we decided it best to dump our luggage first: dinner could wait 10 minutes.As it turned out, dinner would wait a lot longer than that. The Booneville Inn, the rather snooty manager told us down the length of her rather imposing nose, had been booked for this night since Thanksgiving. Perhaps we'd like to make reservations for next Valentine's Day? Our eyelids drooping, we inquired about other sleeping establishments in the greater Booneville area, and were told that all such lodging was booked for miles around. But you might try Ukiah, a town about 40 miles as the crow flies from here, she suggested with a vague and distracted gesture out the door as a registered guest (one who had a reserved a spot that past November) shouldered on his way past us to the dry martini waiting for him at the bar. Slumping back into the car and consulting the map, the largest town within reach didn't look so far away, or terrible. To hell with these uppity bores -- Ukiah too, we reasoned, would have its charms.The road to Ukiah may have been paved with good intentions -- or, for that matter, with stunning pastoral views -- but with darkness settled in around us, we saw little beyond our own dashboard. As the Booneville to Ukiah road came to its end, Ukiah emerged like an oasis we really didn't want, with Motel 6's, Mickey D's and Circle K's clunkily unrolling like a bad joke. Expectations plummeted without a word, and we both knew we were mere moments away from a Quality Inn, or one of its close cousins. So much for Booneville's bed & breakfasts and warm croissants in the farmer's wife's kitchen -- hello cable TV and jelly donuts. Sure enough, the only sleeping establishment in Ukiah with a vacancy sign lit up that night was a Travelodge that cost us $65 and didn't even come with the requisite plastic coffeemaker molding in a corner. Still it was home for now, if not the love nest we were sure we would find just a few hours earlier. No Valentine's Day is complete without a proper dinner. At the check-in desk, accordingly, we asked with our last breath of hope for the location of a nearby restaurant where a nice couple could get a nice Valentine's Day bite. The helpful young woman behind the counter recommended a place up the road apiece which was making special preparations for the evening, lamenting the fact that she herself had to pass up the opportunity to go there with her boyfriend in order to work the graveyard shift at the motel that evening. With smiles and a promise to enjoy the meal enough for the three of us combined, we happily settled back in the car and headed toward what was sure to be the best part of the day.Not the best, as it turned out, but certainly the most memorable. The big pink bow tied around the awning of the restaurant was a poor omen, yet we were on a strip with little else to be found but fast food, and, hey, who were we to turn our backs on a little old-fashioned suburban cheese?So there we were, surrounded by the Salisbury steak special on one side, a grumpy waitress on the other and a cover band blasting the lyrics to every bad heavy metal song that ever desecrated the '80s blaring through the adjoining bar. If the mood was sour, then this was surely our mood music.The featured item at this, and many dining establishments in spots on the globe that aren't as enlightened as our vegan friends from many-an-urban jungle, was, naturally, mayonnaise. Having some experience in the fine art of dinner dining, we were smart enough to avoid the likes of tuna melts, chicken salads, deviled eggs, and other mayo-friendly foodstuffs; instead, we ordered a couple of simple salads and did our best to communicate to one another with forced smiles over the crashing noises coming from the glass door leading to the adjacent bar and the band playing a song titled something like "The World's Going To Hell In A Handbasket, Isn't it?" Indeed it was.Twenty minutes later, we were back at the Travelodge, too miserable to laugh, too tired to see the benefits of, at least, not being back in the city with its noise, parking problems and roommates. Soon enough, ice buckets were filled for no apparent reason, the room's surely toxic heater was clanking away at full blast, and David Letterman was yucking it up with his guests in our atmospherically-challenged background. In short -- so as not to reveal the intimate details a couple must keep secret -- we promptly went to sleep. Marissa Ghez and Larry Smith gave Booneville a second chance on "Sweetest Day," the newest of Hallmark Holidays, celebrated on the second Saturday of each October.

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