• Ryan O'Connell

This Land is Your Land…and Theirs, Too

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

Today’s the Fourth of July, and there’s plenty to celebrate:

  • It’s our nation’s birthday, and we still have a great country

  • It’s my birthday

  • I launched The Wall Street Democrat two years ago

In June, my wife and I traveled to California. Our son was graduating from Stanford Law School, so we built a one-week trip around that. We spent a day in San Francisco and went to a local greasy spoon that advertised “the best breakfast in SF”. This turned out to be true, and the diner was packed with other tourists.

One of the waitresses was a tall, good-looking blonde who spoke with a slight accent. She was also the fastest-moving, most efficient server I’ve ever seen. Our waitress was a short, somewhat plump but very perky gal in her 20’s. When I asked her where her colleague came from, she answered, “Russia”. When I asked her where she was from, our waitress said, “Los Angeles. But my parents emigrated from Greece. “

When I said “ευχαριστώ” (thank you) to her, at the end of our meal, she smiled and unleashed a torrent of Greek. She was all-American, all right, and she grew up speaking Greek at home.

Swedes in Mendocino

We drove from San Francisco up north, to Mendocino County. We passed through lovely hill country and visited some superb vineyards, which seem to thrive selling Pinot Noir at $50-$85 a bottle.

In Mendocino town, which is charming but tiny, we dined at the Beaujolais Café. We struck up a conversation with our server, a middle-aged woman, who also spoke with a very slight accent. We learned that Margarethe was Swedish. Not your typical server, Margarethe drove her son to Marin County on Saturdays for Swedish class.

We figured that was at least a two-and-a-half-hour drive…each way. Well, It seemed to pay off; her son majored in Scandinavian languages and literature at Harvard. (We also suspected that Margarethe was a co-owner of the Café).

A strikingly handsome young man assisted her. He also had a slight accent, so I popped the question again. His parents emigrated from Germany and, for some odd reason, settled in Boonville, California, which is tiny but not charming. (That is one town you can skip if you travel around Mendocino.) He plans to return to New York City to resume a modeling career after saving up some cash during the summer.

We left Mendocino and headed toward Napa Valley, to conduct more in-depth oenological research. First, though, we stopped at Toulouse Vineyards, another Mendocino winery, to check our initial impression of its Pinot Noir (outstanding!), which we had drunk at the Beaujolais Café on Margarethe’s advice. The saleswoman was a very attractive, vivacious woman, blonde and blue-eyed with a somewhat exotic nose. Italian-American, I thought. She was also an excellent sales rep, rather generous with the pours, and we ordered a case.

She asked if she could delay shipping our wine until the fall, because of the hot summer temperatures. She gave us her business card so we could stay in touch about the shipment. Her card read:

Meghan Grijalva Smith

Scottish-American father, Mexican mother. Another all-American gal.

Germans Can Make Good Wine?

Our next stop was the Volker Eisele vineyard in Napa. The owner’s wife gave us a tour and told us the history of the place. A German woman and her daughter left Germany in 1941, shortly before the U.S. and Germany went to war, and they settled in Berkeley. The woman was not Jewish, just appalled by the Nazis (and we guessed that her husband had died in the war).

Her daughter met Volker Eisele, a German student pursuing a Ph.D. at Berkeley. They married and eventually bought a vineyard from another German, up in the hills above Napa Valley. Another stereotype exploded: these Germans learned how to make an extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignon. Her son, the present owner of the vineyard, is proud of his heritage and speaks German to his young sons.

Then on to Stanford Law School, for our son’s graduation. We listened to two keynote speakers. An Italian woman, speaking flawless, colloquial English, represented the large contingent of international students at the school. José Martínez delivered the main speech, and he was brilliant. Think of Barack Obama with a Latino twist.

We asked our son Kevin if Martinez was considering a career in politics, and he said, “I think so”. So keep an eye out for this particular Latino, folks. Governor Martinez? Senator Martinez?

By the way, Martinez stands at least six feet five inches tall (our son’s height), and he has a booming voice.

We are a nation of immigrants. Let’s keep it that way.

Happy Fourth of July!

The Wall Street Democrat

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