The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

The fish house
The carcass of the Nantucket Restaurant lies at water’s edge on the northwest corner of Crockett.

The Nantucket was a local seafood joint, one of those simple, honest, unpretentious places that offered an easy atmosphere, neighborly service and a good meal at a fair price.  The best thing on the menu was the battered, deep fried captains platter with French fries and the common veggie medley of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.

The platter included prawns, scallops, calamari, clam strips and cod, and plenty of it. The fries were pedestrian but the chef managed to get the veggie medley just right, firm and full of color.

Back in the day, a veggie medley was ladled out of an icky smelling vat. The vegetables had lost their color, unless you consider gray a vegetable color, and the texture was somewhere between mealy and mush. At some point in culinary time cooks learned that vegetables were best cooked to a sort of al dente, that broccoli should be bright green and, like other things in life, cauliflower can be more satisfying when it’s stiff rather than limp.

If deep fried wasn’t your deal there was always grilled fish or steak, or one of a variety of seafood pasta dishes. And don’t forget the chowder with a little packet of oyster crackers on the side.

The Nantucket was unpretentious, the everybody knows the waitresses and bartender place, appointed with the maritime kitsch that’s mandatory for a fish house. The dining room was decorated with paintings of ships and ocean scenes and depictions of old salt, seafarers; wizened ancients wearing watch caps or slickers and invariably sucking on a pipe.

We’d sit on the outdoor deck, at picnic tables painted a bright white, and covered with blue and white checked tablecloths. From here we’d watch the ship traffic, oil tankers mostly. The inbound ships headed east to the refineries on Suisun Bay were empty and rode high in the water. Once laden, the ships would lowride back through the Carquinez Strait, through the San Pablo and San Francisco Bays and finally out to sea.

The bright, fresh air of the outside dining deck was interrupted by the smell of frying fish and filled with the sounds of squawking gulls and the slooshing of fishing boats bobbing at the adjacent pier. The restaurant was located yards from the railroad tracks and the occasional freight would shake the restaurant and disturb the peace. But that was okay, it was part of the ambience.

It’s been years since I’ve been at that waterfront. I guess the last time was when I stopped on the way back home from somewhere east of home, to have a martini and a plate of fried calamari.

“We are sad to inform our loyal customers but the Nantucket Restaurant will be closing permanently Sunday, February 17, 2019,” read the restaurant’s farewell message. “Thank you for your continued patronage.”

The lease was up, the owner was 81 and I guess he’d had enough of the restaurant biz.

The site had been home to a restaurant since 1928, the first one named Dowrelio’s. Ninety-one years later there were no takers. The location was a mixture of good and bad; the good being a spot right on the water’s edge, decorated with piers and fishing boats. The bad was that the place wasn’t easy to find; down a dark winding road, past a graveyard of old shipping containers and into a cratered, dirt and graveled parking lot. For the newcomer it could look downright sketchy.

There’s not much left of that section of waterfront that’s worth anything. Even the bright view has vacated the place. In August of 2020 a fire took out the restaurant and most of the piers. What was left of the restaurant has been covered over with a sarcophagus of blue stucco and plywood, graffiti scarred and forlorn.

The remains of The Nantucket Restaurant. The skull marks the place where the hostess greeted diners.

The umbrella shaded white picnic tables are gone and the once cheery deck is littered with broken glass, coils of rusted out cable and mounds of trash. All that remains of one pier is a stretch of charred tatters. A few lonely pilings are all that remain of the other pier.

A burned pier juts into the Carquinez Strait.

One boat remains, half submerged, and a few feet away a mysterious looking old hulk of something sits bogged in the shallows.

The remains of a fishing boat.

A tanker cruises past the remains of The Nantucket Restaurant

For those of us who enjoyed going for a casual seaside lunch, the scene seems like a desecration.

The town
Crockett is small town, slow paced America, incongruously planted in the busy, plugged-in San Francisco Bay Area. Downtown consists of a few streets, lined with small storefronts that house little ventures powered by big dreams. Folks trying to turn their passions into profits.

Some of the storefronts are empty, littered with the left behind remnants of American Dreams that never came true.

Scattered among empty storefronts are a pet shop, an antique shop, cafes and a sandwich joint. Two taverns have been COVID closed. Toots Tavern, served drinks, snacks and Friday night music. The other, Club Tac, nearly a century old, is your basic small town dive.

The window at Toots peddles tunes and dogs and reflects a brick building across the street.

 

Crockett was built of brick before brick buildings were deemed a no-no in earthquake country.

Crockett’s relative affordability, has turned the town into something of an artists community, attracting sculptors, woodworkers, oil painters, ceramicists, photographers, jewelers, writers and poets.

Galleries dot downtown.

Crockett is built on hills. The homes are an eclectic architectural jumble, perched on the slopes that rise up from the Carquinez Strait. The streets are narrow, and they rise, fall and curve, sometimes sharply, through the hills like a concrete roller coaster. There’s no tract housing here. Ornate Victorians sit next to split levels down the block from simple boxes. It’s the clear lack of a clear plan that gives the hillside neighborhood its charm.

Farther up in the heights that were grassland when the town was new are the tract homes. From here the residents enjoy spectacular views of the waterways, the bridges and the old town. Looking down from these heights is like looking down into the past.

Crockett can appear gritty and rough, but a walk through the streets reveals a place that’s easy, modest and unassuming. Residents don’t offer any apologies for the empty storefronts and the lack of many of what we consider essential services. For those you have to go up the interstate to the next towns and that seems perfectly fine for them. For me part of the appeal is the friendly, small, Midwest town feel without the stricture of conservatism. It’s one of those rare places where you can enjoy a slow pace yet be able to take a short drive to the vibrant city when the mood strikes.

 

13 thoughts on “Monthly Monochrome: Sugar City II

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    You are an artist with the written word and with your camera, Paulie

    1. Paulie says:

      Thank you so much Jane. Much appreciated.

      Paul

  2. M.B. Henry says:

    Amazing. I loved the burned pier with the bridge behind it. And black and white set such a great tone for these photos

    1. Paulie says:

      Hi M.B. Thank you for visiting. Yes, black and white just lends itself to certain subjects; small towns, industry, old and worn.
      BTW, congrats on the book.
      Paul

      1. M.B. Henry says:

        Thanks so much! 🙂 🙂

  3. Wonderful words and images, Paulie. Just like being there, walking the streets, smelling the salt air. Hope I can visit sometime.

    1. Paulie says:

      Hello Martin, Thanks for kind words. It’s one of those rare gems.
      Paul

  4. johnlmalone says:

    a place much like ‘Cheers’ then? I enjoyed your homely homage, well written and well photographed; thanks 🙂

    1. Paulie says:

      Almost certainly the little bars are much like Cheers. I love those sorts of places, rarely found in cities.
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting John.
      Paul

  5. Not unlike some of the small towns deep in the hills of Appalachia – the ocean view, housing density and artist residents not withstanding. You have captured “the feel” of this place so well. Stewart

    1. Paulie says:

      Hello Stewart, Thank you for the kind words. I love small towns. We’re going to be embarking on a road trip soon and I’m going to avoid the cities and hunt for the small towns. Although COVID is part of the reason for that I just enjoy the character and the photo opportunities that small towns offer. I’m looking forward to returning to small town New England. Maybe 2022.
      Thank you for visiting Stewart.
      Stay well.
      Paul

  6. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,

    So I learned something in the small print of your post – California doesn’t build brick structures due to earthquakes. Makes sense, though I never thought of it until now. In our climate, we normally only see brick.

    It’s incredible timing the restaurant closed down a year before Covid. Hopefully the owners were able to sell it for a profit. Based on your description of it, I doubt they could’ve survived the pandemic.

    Great line > ” …a sarcophagus of blue stucco and plywood, graffiti scarred and forlorn.”

    When do I read the word ‘sarcophagus’? Hardly ever, but last week, I watched a French video about a newly, trendy vacation spot -> Chernobyl. It seems to have become en vogue since the HBO series. The reporter referred to the massive structure covering the nuclear reactor as the sarcophagus.

    Could this convergence mean something? I don’t think Chernobyl is on your itinerary. 😆

    Your black and white pix are a throwback to simpler times, and that seems to be the charm of Crockett.

    Thanks for sharing,
    eden

    1. Paulie says:

      Hi Eden,
      You can still see brick in the Bay Area. They are either BC, before code, or they are simply non weight bearing facades.

      I was working in SF during the time of the Loma Prieta quake in ‘89, although when the quake struck I was near my home across the bay. Just up the block from my office a brick building had collapsed onto a Mustang. The car was crushed yet still partly visible under the pile of bricks. I took a photo of it a few days later when I could get back into The City.

      Chernobyl would never, ever be on my itinerary, even if it had warm waters, sandy beaches and umbrella drinks. I wouldn’t give Putin a thin dime of my tourist money. Come to think of it, maybe Chernobyl does have warm waters – only not in a good way.

      I’m starting to really like black and white. There will be quite a few ghost towns on our itinerary that should be great subjects for black and white.

      A good evening
      Paul

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