The contrast between then and now, the past and present, is startling. Sitting in the Carson Mansion, overlooking the Humboldt Bay, watching the boats bobbing in the marina, it is easy to picture what life must have been like in the heyday—1884-85—when William Carson built what has become one of the area’s most conspicuous landmarks. Now known as the Ingomar Club, the mansion is only open to members—one of whom was my host.
The conversation started with a comment about the region’s past professions: logging and fishing. “What is the leading industry today?” “Pot, I’m told.”
The answer was easy to believe.
Earlier in the day, I’d toured Arcata, California—home to Humboldt State University (HSU)— which has rightfully earned the moniker of one of the nation’s top “party schools.” Arcata also has an abundance of Victorian homes that I viewed by following a walking tour map. Some were well maintained, but many were in disrepair with peeling paint and overgrown yards. On the self-guided tour, I passed empty store fronts and thrift shops. I saw dozens of VW buses surrounding an open garage with an aged hippie working on the one inside. A dog sniffed at my feet and then moved on, disinterested.
From one street to the next, the air was punctuated with the pungent aroma of pot. Nearing the plaza, I saw a guy holding a sign: “Out of booze and food. Every little bit helps.” A shop window featured handmade bamboo sunglasses.
Local literature describes HSU graduates this way: “Although most who graduate eventually leave the area, those remaining eventually face seeking employment in a community where the average pizza delivery driver has a four-year college degree. and you can find PhD graduates working the grill at the local Carl's Jr.” I could believe it.
The December Issue of the North Coast Journal reported on the sold-out Emerald Cup held in Arcata on December 15. The event, the ninth annual—and biggest so far—is like the county fair of pot growers that boasts 202 entrants with the winner receiving a trip to Jamaica. The tent was filled with smokers browsing the vendors’ wares: “classic bongs, the latest high-tech vaporizers, books on cannabis, organic hydroponic supplies and bioengineered seeds so you can grow your own.” There were also educational forums, music, and displays. The samples of the various cannabis strains are rated on looks, smell, taste, and (reportedly most important) how it makes you feel. Before the awards ceremony, a lawyer received a lifetime achievement award for his work in marijuana law reform.