Not pining for the past
When they were younger, the members of the Marvelous Marin Breakfast Club met periodically in a San Rafael coffee shop, swapping tall tales and trading friendly barbs over breakfast before departing for their high-powered workaday world.
They were tax collectors, assessors, wealthy architects and musicians with a geographic kinship and a friendship forged by years of allegiance to an exclusive men’s club that served no particular purpose.
For many of them, it’s four decades later, and they’re now former county employees and semi-retired architects, swapping taller tales and rustier barbs over pancakes and eggs. They’ve brought their exclusive men’s club three hours east, continuing a tradition that served then, as now, no particular purpose except friendship.
“We’re dinosaurs,” intones club president Harold Graves, a Mill Valley real-estate broker for decades before moving to Nevada County a few years ago. “The main thing about this group is, we don’t do anything.”
These men, most with graying hair around the temples, have taken many years and many divergent paths from Marin County to Nevada County, where they meet monthly over breakfast at Paulette’s Country Kitchen in Grass Valley.
But it’s the camaraderie, not the geography, that keeps them together.
“I found this guy shopping at Kmart,” said Jim Dal Bon, a former Marin County assessor, pointing to his buddy Wells Rasmussen, busy wolfing down pancakes and sausage.
“Nah,” Rasmussen retorts, shuddering at the thought of a longtime Marin County resident even darkening the doors of the discount retailer. “It was Nordstrom.”
Dal Bon, 67, lived for nearly his entire life in the Marin County hamlets of Kentfield, San Rafael and Novato. He moved to Rough and Ready nearly 10 years ago, which probably still qualifies him as a flatlander.
Dal Bon and fellow breakfast mate Warren Luce, 81, a former Marin
County appraiser, have known each other for 40 years. Luce moved here from Novato seven years ago, having worked with Dal Bon in the assessor’s office for many years.
No one seems to be pining for the days of working at the Marin County Government Center, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building perched on a hill overlooking U.S. 101 in San Rafael.
“We’re what you would call former movers and shakers,” Dal Bon said.
It’s a moniker that suits these men just fine. They’ve given up the rat race, traded their wing-tips for Birkenstocks, the Golden Gate for Highway 49’s Bear River bridge.
Many of the men say they only pine for the Marin County of their youth, not the congested bottleneck of freeways and overburdened country roads they see on trips to their old haunts.
Luce, who played drums in quartets and served as a member of the house band at the old Trader Vic’s on the San Francisco Peninsula, misses the music scene the most.
“Probably the biggest disappointment is the traffic and the congestion,” Graves said, reflecting on Marin’s changing landscape.
“That, and the Democrats,” cracked Stan Fontez, a former Marin County treasurer/tax collector/public administrator. “And I’m not ashamed to say that,” he added, jabbing subtly at Marin County’s most visible politician of the moment ” left-leaning U.S. senator Barbara Boxer.
Fontez also worked with Marin County’s most notorious residents as a counselor at San Quentin State Prison, teaching classes to prisoners grouped by their IQs.
Fontez, who moved to Alta Sierra in 1978, said he never worried about uprisings while working inside the prison’s cinder walls.
“It was fun,” he admitted. “Besides, that was damn near 100 years ago.”
Of all the men in this group, only a couple make regular trips to the San Francisco area. Architect Al Schafer, 60, grew up in Novato and San Rafael. As one of the youngest bucks in the bunch with a regular job, he makes periodic trips between Nevada County and the Bay Area, commuting to his office on Union Street in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow district in his Porsche in just over two hours.
For these men who no longer live there, the memory of an idyllic Marin County remains.
“We don’t tell other Marin County men about this place,” Graves joked. “We don’t want it to get too crowded.”
There’s probably room for a few more, Graves said. Just show up at Paulette’s on Aug. 24 at 8 a.m.
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