On any drive north or south on Interstate 5, Williams is an important spot on our personal travel map. It’s 100 miles from Berkeley, give or take a mile or two; so when we get there on the way home, we’re within a couple hours of our front door at most; or, headed the other way, we’re about halfway to Redding (or about one-fifth of the way to Eugene).

The town sits on the western side of the Sacramento Valley, where Highway 20 comes down from the Clear Lake plateau and heads across the river bottoms to Colusa, Yuba City, and Marysville  before it begins climbing through the Sierra foothills to Grass Valley and Nevada City.

Like all the little farm towns up and down the valley, there’s some history there under the surface, which naturally you don’t get at when you’re just passing through. You sort of suspect it when you look at the handsome old brick building a couple of stop signs west of the interstate with its weathered pale green paint, arcade shading the sidewalk and and recently hung fast-food banners.

The only history I know of, though, is what we’ve seen on our short stops through the years: the ghost Dairy Queen (we walked in one day after the place had been shut down, though all the signs and most of the interior fixtures were intact and the front door had been left open); the crummy road meals; the night we stayed in town with our neighbors, the Martinuccis, and drove out to the fields east of town to watch a comet; stopping for gas on the way home from Wilbur Hot Springs in the blaze of October.


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