Reflections is the name I’ve given to a series of photographs I’m taking of shop windows in downtown San Rafael, my current California home. Here is an example:
I love San Rafael. I’ve had a lot of “hometowns,” but San Rafael is one of the best.
This city is old. It has authentically interesting architecture. Its downtown and neighborhood streets are lined with trees. It nestles in the surrounding green hills of Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco and a few miles up Highway 101. And if you’re standing in the right spot, you can see the peak of iconic Mount Tamalpais.
This town is not upscale, thank God. It’s not a tourist destination, like Sausalito or Tiburon. And it is more diverse than most Marin County towns, which I appreciate.
Fourth Street is San Rafael’s mile-long main drag. It’s a “walker’s paradise,” according to walkscore.com, which gives it a walkability score of 96 percent, based on the ease of walking to such everyday destinations as banks, post office, markets.
The downtown area draws pedestrians year-round to do business and shop in its stores, many of which are family run. Like shops in Europe, they tend to specialize. On Fourth Street, you can find a shop for everything from fresh-made sourdough bread to sports cards, from comic books to lacrosse gear, from classic billiards to classic cars.
It’s a good place to walk your dog. Most of the shops have doggy water bowls in front. “Guide Dogs for the Blind” has its headquarters on Fourth Street, and trainers, clickers, and future service dogs are everywhere.
Coffee? Food? There’s a Starbucks, of course. But on Fourth Street, independent coffee shops are alive and well. So are an amazing variety of places to eat: Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Japanese, French, Korean, Thai, Burmese, Middle Eastern, Californian, down-home American. And such local favorites as House of Bagels, Johnny Donuts, Double Rainbow Ice Cream, and Pizza Orgasmica: “The Original Sin.” Not a fast-food franchise in sight.
People actually come downtown at night, meeting friends, having dinner. Every Thursday evening, all summer long, several blocks of Fourth Street are closed to traffic and taken over by the San Rafael Farmers Market. Locally grown fruits and veggies are the big draw, along with stalls selling roast corn, fresh oysters, fried-chicken-and-waffles-on-a-stick, homemade tamales, Himalayan sandwiches and Polish “dawgs.” Live music for the adults, pony rides and giant inflatable slides for the kids.
Of course, San Rafael has its problems. Including the homeless, more numerous here than elsewhere in Marin. Balancing their needs with those of the town’s citizenry is not easy, and the search for answers is ongoing. My little church is involved in the effort, along with other churches and organizations.
As for the Reflections series, I have certain rules: First, the window display must be interesting. Second, the reflection must show layers of neighboring buildings and the passing scene. I’ll post more of these photographs in the future.
The Reflections image at the top of this post was taken at D’Lynne’s Dancewear, which sells costumes as well as tutus and tap shoes. Reflected in D’Lynne’s window, behind Uncle Sam and the Statue of Liberty, is the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Theater, a restored Art Deco movie theater that focuses on foreign, art, classic, and documentary films. It is run by the nonprofit California Film Institute (of which I am a member).
And here’s a favorite place on Fourth Street: