Settle in people. You’re got 4,150 words to go.
Make mine a double
I love writing in the aluminum stogie, but when the inconsiderate gentleman in front of me decided my “seat pitch” (the distance from a point on one seat to the same point on the seat in the next row) was going to be 26 inches instead of the generous 31 I was crammed into, my laptop stayed stowed. Ugh… Six hours and no way to express my delight at having a gorgeous woman seated in 22E next to me… She was so cool and only interrupted my iPod listening a few times, but once was to give me a bite of her turkey wrap! How cool is that? Anyway, it was a fatiguing six hour flight, but by touchdown I had convinced her to spend the weekend with me in San Francisco. A great call on my part and I found out just how great an hour later… Yep. She’s great with a map.
“PICK ANY CAR? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!” I really wanted to use that line on the National (Alamo) attendant, but I was sure he’d heard it before and we were beat, so instead shuffled off to pick our “premium” car courtesy of Billy Shatner at priceline.com. I thought it was a little early for my new friend to be cracking “old man car” jokes, but she snapped off a couple before we even got in. A wave of panic rushed me and I briefly wondered if the weekend would now be an excruciatingly long one. Then, shortly after rolling, I discovered my mom’s GPS (we’ll call her Gina…) apparently suffered some altitude sickness because she just wouldn’t find a satellite, so um, we’ll call her “Joyce,” cracked a couple “technology fail” lines and whipped out the old analog paper GPS. Thanks to Map-girl, just a few minutes later she directed me to an illegal left turn from the “Bus/Taxi Only” lane of Market Street and we arrived at Parc 55 near Union Square.
“You have a Smoking King, Sir?” Now there might have been a funny line in response to that, but “No” was the best I could do. “Oh, I’m sorry Sir; all we have are two doubles in non-smoking.” When Billy Shatner did the whole karate chop thing on our room rate, he didn’t tell me it would smell, so I accepted my double double fate and we headed up. A short time later we stepped a couple blocks to a store for water and fruit. Over only two blocks we noticed many homeless including a young woman with a dog. “Shit Happens” was her cardboard go to market messaging. Yes, it does, and for a moment we both flashed thoughts of how lucky we are that shit hadn’t happened to us. Following the trail of unfortunates back, we strode silently beneath the din of the 2 or 3 local clubs that we’d hear well into the night. I’m sure the night brought a quiet to the city, but it ended early with the sound of bottles clinking and crashing their way into the city recycling truck. Day 1 was in the book, er, post.
Grapes, Giants and Gulls
Map-girl is one of those multi-talented types, and one of her alter egos, Coffee-girl happily and efficiently brewed two singles and served a banana split for breakfast. Yeah, we split a banana. At this point, I have no recollection what time we departed the city for wine country, but “an early start” was nowhere on Sleeping Beauty’s itinerary. After successfully negotiating a real estate upgrade, we were out for a very full Friday.
Gina GPS was still woozy from her cross-country trip, but suddenly snapped awake just as Map-girl had directed us to the 101 for the trip through the Golden Gates toward sun fed, rolling vineyards. A quick side trip to Sausalito included a couple touristy pics of the city across the bay and a rest stop. A little shaken after nearly having my fingers blown off by a high-tech 600MPH hand dryer, I shuddered to see Joyce wildly directing an orchestra like Arthur Fiedler from the passenger side. Was she losing it this early? Not so as I learned. Turns out she’s Italian and was just talking on the phone with her mom…
Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma is a “series of walk-through gardens showcasing innovative designs by various landscape architects.” It’s a favorite place of mine in the valley area and a peaceful place for any amount of time you wish to spend. My new friend looked beautiful in a clingy organic cotton dress and soft white sweater that she absolutely loved (more on that later…). We spent only about an hour, but tacked on another half to experience the best combination of bacon, lettuce and tomato ever. Yes, ever. The combo complemented with toasted sourdough and fresh avocado was that good. Day 2 was off to a good start.
Prior to our trip, I solicited and received suggestions of things to do in the beautiful Bay area, but this one was my favorite: “Go to St Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Yountville and get married. I did.” Good old pal, Dave. He’s such a kidder. I thought Joyce may have had a Heimlich-ready bacon bit in her throat, but maybe she just didn’t get Dave’s humor… The church was peaceful and quaint. Joyce grabbed an offering envelope for Dave. She wondered if family were with them. I wondered where in this beautiful place they had a reception… If it were Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, that had to be one cool wedding. I’d been turned on to the place by this comment left on my blog by one Valerie Owens. We didn’t meet Valerie, but this gallery featuring tastings of small-batch boutique wines was Über-cool. A former bordello dating back to 1904, it’s a gorgeous stone two-story filled with art and cozy rooms for enjoying the tastings of your choice. We sat in the warm, sunny yard and sipped and munched and sipped and laughed. Well, Joyce had a good laugh. My boy called and I described for him where we were. I didn’t find “it’s where they grow wine” that funny…
We went through the motions at V. Sattui. I’ve always liked the place since an old boss took me there years ago. Since then though, and after several visits, it’s lost some allure, but their Madeira is always a treat. Now pressed a bit for time to get to AT&T Park for the Giants-Colorado tilt. It was pretty slow going until we got to the Bay Bridge. After nearly an hour of mostly stop and little go, we got through and arrived back at the hotel around 6:45. The game started at 7…
Our tardiness was no problem for Joyce’s niece Jakki who texted us that she was patiently watering, um, waiting at the 21st Amendment Brewery adjacent to [a giant corporation] Park. After hugs and introductions, we had a quick one and arrived at our 11th row infield seats, just behind the visitor’s dugout! The seats belong to the family of Jakki’s boyfriend, Steve, and they came with a waiter! Now granted, it’s the first time I’ve spent $70 on hot dogs and drinks, but it was worth it. Steve knows his sports and sports a San Jose Sharks playoff beard, so we had a good chat while the family females caught up. One thing about the Giants park is that when the game ends, the bowl fills with hungry seagulls who deposit the same as they consume. When one errant gull goo splashed down a couple seats ahead of us, we all had poop joke smile and headed for the exits. After a nightcap at the trendy soul food farmerbrown, the kids dropped us at Parc 55, where we refused to let the night end, so instead walked a bit more on the streets of San Francisco.
We were still walking while waiting for Jakki and Steve and a Dim Sum lunch. Union Square is a shopper’s Shangri La and the galleries are amazing. At the Weinstein Gallery, we were mesmerized by the gorgeous portraits of Chinese artist, Lu Jian Jun. As we stared, his work moved me to think of the explosion of art that will come out of China over the next few decades…
As the next Dim Sum cart rolled away, I couldn’t wait to tell Kyle about what I was, uh, about to eat: Shark! Shark fin to be exact… I felt a little guilty really, knowing how my boy loves “Jaws.” Not to worry though, “Jaws Revenge” would catch up to me later that night. How ‘bout we just leave it at that?
A shunner of Seafood, Joyce scarfed (daintily, but why do I have a sense of déj? vu?) sticky rice, chicken and pork dumplings. I struggled with two stick utensils, but managed to successfully grip most of the slippery entrees. Suddenly, everything went super-slo-mo like when they spend big bucks for those special cameras for the World Series or Super Bowl. Oh yeah. I was looking at one of those beautiful splashes photographers document in art prints. I gazed childlike as a perfect circle formed around a crashed pork dumpling, and a round ring of twenty fingers ending with tiny balls of shimmery brown soy sauce rose from the white china. The flower blossom of soy droplets were a stark contrast against Joyce’s favorite white sweater and the look on her face was one of profound sadness. It was as if I didn’t let her eat the last dark chocolate pretzel granola bar, but I digress… We sat in somber silence as Joyce rose to attempt repairs in the ladies room. After a few minutes, a very happy girl returned with a clean white sweater. For whatever reason, the soy sat and didn’t stain. It didn’t absorb into the cotton at all. That’s clean living, folks. We did the Dim Sum walk-off of lunch through a small park in Chinatown where a band played and many older residents gambled in various forms. We really loved the city walking and having that hand to hold… Well, I don’t have a description for that.
After Steve vaulted his Volvo up, down and around the steep hills of the city guiding our tour, we ended up in “the Haight” and at the Kezar Pub. Over some cold ones, perfect timing allowed us in the pub’s blind selection pool for the Kentucky Derby. We all donated $5 for a pony each and then watched another one transverse the 2 minute course first. Our #3 horse placed, or was the “first loser,” according to some…
Just around the corner from Kezar Pub is the legendary Amoeba Records on Haight Street. It’s a cavernous hall filled with more DVD’s and vinyl since the last time I visited. Digital downloads have sucked the CD’s out of the Amoeba air. Browsing the collection of Fillmore show posters, I found one from a Son Volt show I attended in 1997. It was pleasing to learn my net worth is $50 more than I thought… amoeba.com After a short squat and photo-op at the Kan Zaman Cafe & hookah bar, we browsed some second hand shops and then waited for 10 minutes (OK, maybe it wasn’t 10…) so Joyce could send a picture of a hardware store sign to her girlfriend. As the two kids and I watched analog-map-girl struggle in the digital domain, I said to Steve, “See, this is what you have to look forward to…” His sudden opaqueness screamed fear, and it wasn’t long before the kids dropped us back at the hotel. Regardless of potential family trait devolvement in her future, Jakki’s a great kid with an architecture career ahead of her, possibly in DC. It’s an issue she and Steve have been volleying lately, and during a quiet moment I encouraged Steve to consider a move there from the SF home and family he adores. Time will render their courses and corrections. For the prior generation, it was just very cool to be able to hang out with those two great kids.
Other than the artery clogged Bay Bridge delay, we never felt rushed as we moved from one vibrant experience to another, but we did have an 8:00 dinner reservation, just a mile and a half walk across town to San Francisco’s “Italian section,” North Beach. Having looked forward to a weekend like this for, well, for a while, I wasn’t about to screw it up, so painstaking research (thanks Yelp and Opentable) delivered us to Vicoletto. So, two words: Mozzarella Burrata… However, BB (Before Burrata), we danced on and around the bar and tables. Actually, we were seated right at 8, right next to a table of 8 well oiled ladies who were pushing even my iPod tolerating decibel limits. “We’ll sit at the bar,” I said to the 30-ish bartender. He was so cool. When another table opened up minutes later, we were seated behind the hostess stand and next to a couple whose experience I’d describe as her bitching about the food and him trying to eat it. In some ways, the young woman’s voice challenged the 8 behind us. I glanced back at our corner bar position. It was still empty and from our few minutes there, we knew we could talk and I wouldn’t have to be a whole table away from her. “Let’s go back to the bar.” At this point, I think Joyce wondered whether she should have knocked back a shark fin dumpling or two at lunch. The bartender looked a little concerned as we darkened his corner again. We assured him everything was OK, and I shared the same with the waiter we bailed on. Just too loud… From there, Francesco the barkeep went all out to ensure our satisfaction. First he opened and poured some complimentary Spumanti and in short turn arrived with a gratis appetizer the chef made for us. We were feeling pretty pampered when Francesco delivered a second app freebie! This one was thin strips of delicately fried zucchini with a drizzled balsamic reduction. Seriously, we could have been off for our Belmont Stakes return home, but felt we must order to reward the generous and creative service. Joyce opted for an ad hoc veggie risotto after nothing grabbed her from the menu, while Veal Piccata with roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach hit my spot. Accompaniments were white and red respectively, and of Italian vintage. It was a nice meal, yet somewhat of a comedown after Francesco’s freebies. His stylish service and the memorable experience it provided will bring me back again.
A few strides into the open air brought blues guitar into the nights mix and it pulled us like the death star. A steep cover charge reversed the pull and we time warped into the beat era City Lights Book Store. “Skip would love this place,” said Joyce, referencing her English professor bro. He actually taught a class on beat literature and she was soon on the phone to her nocturnal sibling taking a book order. Postcard inspired by pal Dave, I picked him one up featuring the monochrome image of music icons Jim Carroll and David Johansen posing in a shot with William Burroughs on the occasion of the latter’s 70th birthday. While she was on the road, Joyce picked a postcard of Jack Kerouac for Skip.
We walked the mile and a half back toward Parc55 in relative silence. While our hands spoke softly with each other, we were free to focus on the twinkling beauty of the city lights.
“This could be our Hitching Post.”
Still not quite herself Sunday morning, Gina directed us South to Carmel by sending us Northwest toward the dreaded Bay Bridge. Joyce scrambled for the map while imploring me to “shut her down!” I flashed back to Dave and Frank in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and their fatal plan to pull the plug on HAL9000. I remembered how HAL read their lips as they conceived the task. Just like HAL’s red evil eye, Gina glowed silently as Joyce ranted to short her circuits. I shuddered at Frank’s fate and just know Gina was thinking, “If I could throw that bitch out of the car, I would.” Wanting to keep Joyce in the car, I disabled Gina’s voice chip, but left her conscious, hoping she’d come to her senses and reconsider her errant ways. We pulled a U-ie on a Bay Bridge island and headed back toward the city and 101 South. Soon we saw the sign for 1 and were on our way… to Half Moon Bay. It wasn’t long before breathtaking ocean views were flying at us and Joyce scrambled to take pictures of trees, telephone poles and guard rails. She actually got some good ones, especially while hanging out the window at 60MPH, but the scenery I framed was much better.
After failing to find eggs and salsa in a tortilla wrap in Half Moon Bay, the now hungry travelers continued South. About ten clicks later we slowly rolled up to a construction site allowing only one lane of traffic. A sign pointing East read “Pescadero.” It was out of our way, away from the beautiful beach scene and we’d never heard of it. I rotated the wheel and headed East. “This could be our Hitching Post,” suggested my co-pilot, a reference to my serendipitous find of the restaurant from “Sideways” while with Kyle on our summer vacation. I thought about the irony of the comparison, but not for long. Pescadero, California was coming into view.
Just off the intersection of Pescadero Creek Road and Stage Road is Duartes Tavern, lined with Harleys like the Patriots offensive line protecting Tom Brady. Across the street we ducked into a Mexican joint that looked good, but the next few hundred feet of Stage Road pulled us and sauntering we went. The dusty old road is loosely lined with local woodworking shops, galleries, a couple general stores and the occasional B&B. We walked into the bustling Arcangeli Grocery and cased the joint until we had our kitty of fresh sourdough, local goat cheese and peppered salami to go with a nice cool Chardonnay. A sunny park bench turned Pescadero into our own little private sidewalk café. Well, private with exception of a little leashed dog who was excited by either the salami or Joyce’s smooth calf. I kinda liked both of them myself. Using a wine opener with the dexterity of a Swiss woman with a multipurpose army knife, Joyce cut, carved, tore and smeared a delicious lunch, all while scoping the shopping across the way. All I did was eat and pour into highbrow paper cups.
Other than standing after sipping in the sun, I’m not sure what else fed the laughing fit Joyce had for herself the next minute or so. I think she really liked Pescadero. We walked across to a gallery, finally settling on some cards, a special few for Joyce’s good friend Suzanne. “I don’t have my purse” said Joyce calmly. As she left to check the park bench, the storekeeper simply stated, “Oh, someone probably found it and turned it in at the store.” Looking out the window, I could see the still pristine white sweater moving toward the store, and I momentarily considered a lost passport, license and credit cards. I walked out toward the store, and was quickly relieved to see the light green purse snugly pressed against white cotton. Pescadero is a cool place alright.
Bvlgari told me we had reached Carmel by the Sea. The place once had a mayor named Clint Eastwood, so crime is low. It’s basically a high-end strip mall leading to one of the most gorgeous coastlines in the world and surrounded by multimillion dollar homes and Bentley’s. Oh, and I got a good iced Caramel (by the Sea) Latte there too.
Now Joyce and I are surely feeling young at heart these days, and sure, she still looks 28, but damn, our minds are going just like HAL’s when Dave finally dismantled his brain:
Me: “Hey, what was the name of that town we were in an hour ago?”
Her: (after a considerable pause…) “Oh, no.”
Me: “Wasn’t it Tuscaloosa?”
Her: “We’ll have to look at the pamphlet.”
Fortunately we quickly forgot our fiftyish forgetfulness while browsing Anthropologie, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s. A very nice, non-snobby woman helped us at Tiffany’s and we learned a pair of gold hammered earrings that were $450 in Massachusetts in December were now $550 in Carmel. I wondered if gold prices had risen or if there’s a “Carmel Premium.” I still neither know nor care.
Glistening like Tiffany’s famous rocks, the sunlit ocean was bright and bubbly for all of the 17 Mile Drive. We stopped a couple times, but only one of them stopped me. The Lone Cypress is so simple and beautiful that I’ll just use 1,000 words to describe it. I looked at her looking at it. I had a little moment to myself. It filled my heart with the fresh sea air and a bright horizon of endless possibility. I stayed right there in that moment and it was sweet.
Once the sun began its retreat, our commute became a race to get past the hairpin mountain turns north of Pacifica and get home. We almost made it, but it was a cool drive thanks to “Botts Dots” (thanks Phil) lining our way home with golden reflection. With our last night upon us, there was only one way to mark it: Burger Bar. We just made it when a homeless man opened the door for us and told us the Burger Bar was on the sixth floor. At the elevator I bolted back outside to give the guys a couple bucks. He looked at me puzzled, but understood when I said, “You helped us find Burger Bar!” Chased by a Cosmo, Joyce claims hers was “the best ever.” I couldn’t say the same, and hoped that in spite of its review, Joyce was not going to house the whole thing along with her rings and some of my fries. Hey, we still had walking to do.
“Why didn’t you push me?” “What,” I responded to the sudden sidewalk query. “Why didn’t you push me to steal that poster at Kezar Pub?” What suddenly Bonnie Parker was talking about was a cool World Cup flyer her son would have loved. Our efforts to find another were fruitless, but still, “What? Why didn’t I push you into a life of crime?” “Yes!” Wow, I know moms will go to extraordinary lengths for offspring, but this was maternal madness! After casing a few Irish pubs and a nearby sports bar, Nick’s mom conceded and went to bed worried about a San Francisco souvenir.
Bob Geldof didn’t like Monday’s and I wasn’t too crazy about this one. I didn’t have to be at my conference until 1:00, but I had to visit San Francisco International on the way. At this point, anyone reading this would not possibly think the weekend went fast. Actually, they’re right. It didn’t. It was nearly perfect, but still, I didn’t want it to end. So… We had one more morning walk in us and headed on a mission to Niketown. Surely they’d have some cool World Cup gear a futbol player would love, right? “Oh, we have a bunch of stuff coming in next week.” Great. The soccer section was small, but they did have some US World Cup gear and some from South Korea, if that happens to be your team… After pacing around debating what Nick would find cool, a hot yellow Brasil shirt passed the test and found its way into a neat Nike shopping bag. Mission accomplished! Now, after breakfasts of banana splits and granola bars, we wanted eggs. Specifically, we wanted eggs with green chile salsa and cheese wrapped in a warm tortilla. The clock was ticking like just before a commercial on “24” as we went store to store looking for the right combo. A Mexican joint held promise, but while I looked for an ATM some woman said, “No, no, no” to Joyce on the wrap idea and they lost a sale. We finally got eggs and sausage on a bagel and croissant, but speaking only for myself, it sucked.
Maybe that’s because I didn’t choke mine down until after choking back my feelings at the airport. I couldn’t say goodbye, but not because I was sad she was leaving, it was because I was so happy she was there. It’s like a famous line from that retired Mayor of Carmel, but I just can’t remember it right now.