So what was compelling enough to dislodge me from bucolic Marin County and take a drive 75 miles into the middle of the state?
Would you believe the Tracy Dry Bean Festival? OK, how about the Tracy Dry Bean Festival and Car Show? Never heard of that, right? Well, it's not widely publicized. Even though this is the festival's 19th year, it's nowhere near as famous as the Gilroy Garlic Festival (which I attended in its debut year of 1979). In fact, it's such a dinky affair, admission is free. The whole thing takes place on a couple of intersecting city streets, one of which is filled with tricked-out cars with "Do Not Touch" signs in the windows.
I only know about it because I used to handle food event listings for a newspaper somewhat within hailing distance of Tracy. On a whim, I Googled it last week, and learned it was to take place the coming weekend.
Beans! How cool is that? As we left our house Sunday morning, we told a neighbor where we were headed, and (this is *so* Marin), she said, "That must be why the Rancho Gordo guy wasn't at the market this morning. If you see Steve, tell him he was missed."
Well, apologies to Steve for straying from his fine Napa crop (and no, he wasn't there). But it wasn't easy straying. At the Tracy Dry Bean Festival, there were exactly two booths featuring California dry beans (not counting the Cost Plus World Market alien beans, horrors — though they weren't selling well). All the rest of the booths were hawking time-shares, cell phones, real estate, airbrush tattoos, sparkly clothing, and non-bean food: funnel cakes, roasted corn, Thai food, BBQ sandwiches... There was a bungee-trapeze ride for kids, and a couple of sound stages for bands. Oh, and of course, a guess-how-many-beans contest.
When we finally found Shirley and Dave Mendonca manning an actual bean booth, we got all weepy. Shirley and I clicked right away. She told me her priority at the fair was to talk about beans, and she had found a willing patron.
Amid all the varieties, though, I'm a little embarrassed to say I selected fairly simple ones. A bag of Pinks, and a bag of white Great Northerns. As we were saying goodbye, I noticed a jar of stunning yellow beans that were new to me, so we grabbed that too. Called Mayacoba, it turns out this ancient variety is at the center of a peculiar legal battle over patent ownership. Too weird for words, but you can read about it here.
The trip to Tracy — an all-American, flag-waving, Marine-recruiting kind of town — was like visiting a whole new world, but one filled with great beans, and great human beings.