Friday, September 09, 2005

Houses of the Holy

As I'm sure you're all aware, I'm still trying to figure out what the purpose of this blog will be. Honestly, so far I'm not that impressed. All the good blogs I've read (admittedly a small sample) have two things in common. First, they are focused on a particular topic, whether that is movies, the software industry, or the author's daily life. Secondly, they are interesting to read and speak with a unique voice. So far I'm failing on both counts. I think I'll continue this experiment a while longer, say a month, and then re-evaluate and see whether it's time to get a master plan or pull the plug.
My old web site actually had a good amount of focus. While I originally intended wide-ranging updates, everything that eventually got posted was a story of the form "Here's what Chris did last weekend and what he thought about it." I haven't been doing that much on here, frankly because the amount of interesting stuff I'm doing here is far greater than that in Kansas City, and it would be both repetitive and time-consuming. At the same time, though, I'm finding my original rationale still holds: I get asked about some of these events repeatedly, and it's more convenient to point people to one place.
So, I'll cover two such events: What I Did Over Labor Day and My Dinner With Aaron (aka Chris's Adventures in Public Transit.) Feel free to skip if you're not in the "Gee, I wonder what Chris was doing last week?" camp.
As I've mentioned before, one of the greatest things about living here is that I'm anticipating more visitors, and will be able to serve as a better host. People rarely came though KC except explicitly to see me, and there was a dearth of interesting activities to pursue. What was available was further curtailed by the season and timing of the visit. Out here... well, there are plenty of valid reasons not to live here, but I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want to visit. Great weather, lots of culture, vast choices of sporting events, interesting cities, beautiful parks, terrain features, the list goes on. I've been encouraging people to take advantage of my new situation, and was delighted when my mom asked if she could visit over Labor Day weekend.
Again, the great thing about hosting here is simple variety. I whipped together a quickie list of 20 possible activities, including things like "Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco," "Earthquakes soccer game," "Pacific Ocean," etc. I'm in a great situation, because I'll eventually be able to do all these things, so I can let my guest's interests drive the trip. We made arrangements and she arrived early Saturday afternoon.
That weekend was the San Jose Tapestry Arts festival. Those of you who've been to the Taste of Chicago probably have an idea what this was like, although in this case the main attractions were local artisans selling their wares. The whole event covered... probably ten blocks, it was definitely large. We had fun strolling through the open shops and looking at what was available. The offerings covered every conceivable option, including photography, leatherworking, tie-dyed shirts, animal portraits, glassware, pottery, modern sculpture made from car parts, and more.
The shops anchored the festival, but there was much more going on. More commercial vendors, such as Bank of America and Verizon Wireless, were allowed booths on the fringe. A whole row was dedicated to social and political groups. The only booth with no visitors was staffed by a very sad-looking representative from Young Republicans of Santa Clara. Everywhere else, people were laughing, chatting, handing out antiwar flyers, registering to vote, and more. The Libertarian and Green booths were right next to each other, and the booth boys actually seemed to be getting along well. Man, I love the political climate here. Right across from the political row was one of many collections of food stands. I bought an excellent Kielbasa sausage and Mom got stuck with a tepid bratwurst. We repaired to an open memorial field, eating and chatting under the flapping flags.
After finishing I got a better look at it. I'm still not sure what it's called, but this is a square in downtown San Jose near the Guadeloupe River, I think off San Carlos street and a few blocks west of Market. It's a memorial to soldiers, and featured a really great plaque adorned with quotations from soldiers from ALL of America's major wars, from the revolutionary up through the first Persian Gulf war. It was really touching to read the soldiers' own words. Some were funny, others were touching. Mainly it made me sad. Even in the "good wars," people die who should have lived. You can argue that war is sometimes a necessity, but it's never the best-case scenario. (Example: America was right to fight World War II, but it would have been better if Hitler had never come to power in Germany and tens of millions of lives were saved.) I long for an age when war and the threat of war no longer occupy our thoughts.
After spending some more time in the festival we swung back towards the library, where we had parked. I love the Martin Luther King Jr. Library and wanted to show it off... it's new, well-designed, and has an insane amount of resources. It is a cooperative venture between the City of San Jose and San Jose State University, which means it combines the variety of resources you would find in a public library with the stacks you'd expect of a university library. It also boasts modern accessories such as a cafe, used bookstore, rooftop access and more.
From there we checked out SJSU itself. I really like the campus. It's located right in the heart of San Jose's downtown, but it feels closer to Washington University than, say, UIUC. There's a great quad and plenty of greenspace throughout.
The next day was our beach day. This was my first chance in a long while to see the ocean, and I wanted it to be "just right." Thanks to the Internet, I acquired a list of promising beaches in the area, then winnowed down the options to a few. In the end Manresa State Beach, on Monterey Bay, won for its advertisement of visible sealife and good views from the bluffs. So we packed up, ventured over the mountain range and headed south.
It was very pleasant at the beach. The water is very cold this far north in the Pacific so we didn't even bother to bring swimsuits, but several people in wetsuits were able to frolic in the water. Several were beginning surfers, others used bodyboards. When we first arrived, around 10AM the sky was very overcast. I was very confident that the sun would come out, and was proved correct: by noon the clouds had completely receded. We enjoyed walking along the beach and sitting in the sun. I put on suntan but a little too late; even now my forehead is still peeling. We brought supplies for a picnic and passed the time in good spirits.
I don't know about you, but being at the beach can really knock me out. The combination of the warm sun, lack of movement and rhythmic waves is practically trance-inducing; I rarely feel so calm as when I leave a beach. Even if I know I've gotten a burn.
That night we checked out a nearby Thai place. This was the first time I'd been to a "real" restaurant in San Jose outside of work. I enjoy eating out and especially trying new foods and places, but it feels weird to do it on my own, so it's nice to have an excuse to drag someone along. Fortunately, it paid off well. They had the deepest menu of any Thai place I'd been to before and I tried a new dish, a pork creation that was extremely tasty. Mom stuck with the always-safe-and-delicious Pad Thai.
On Labor Day proper we chilled in the apartment for the morning. Mom always enjoys contributing to my place, and in this case she picked up some liners and tricked out my drawers and cabinets with them. One of many touches that I wouldn't have considered on my own, but looks quite nice once done.
In the afternoon we headed out to the San Francisco Bay. Getting to the shoreline can be tricky because the bay is surrounded by a system of sloughs, swamps and salt ponds. However, a park near the southern tip took us on a scenic route past an open landfill to a really charming view of the bay. We could see over to the eastern side and, closer in, see some windsurfers experimenting in the waters. It was surprisingly chilly there, even though the sun was out.
My cousin Jennifer generously invited us over for dinner Labor Day. Jenny and her husband Jose will always have a special place in my heart; it was during a visit to see them and other acquaintances in Northern California that I first fell in love with the area and decided I wanted to live here. Although it was many years ago I can still vividly remember loving the weather, and admiring Jose's collection of wine (I was too young) and baseball cards (never too old). Jose had even taken me on a nerd tour of the valley, pointing out the office tours where Oracle, Sun and more were located. Their warmth and generosity as hosts ended up making a profound impact on my life.
Jenny and Jose have moved since then, into a beautiful house on a lake in Redwood Shores. They also have a wonderful daughter, Isadora. That night we were joined by Fran, Jenny's mother and my favorite aunt, who currently serves in a Unitarian church north of the bay area. Dinner was excellent, a delectable and relaxed affair out on the back porch, overlooking the lake. I'm never much of a talker in these situations but I love listening to everyone's stories. They're a fun family and I hope to see more of them now that we're so much closer.
One problem I always have: I never know how to end these reports. I really want to put together a concluding paragraph, but it can be hard to express right. Well, anyways, that was my Labor Day: as a combination of exploring, experiences, companionship and conversation, I don't think I could have asked for anything nicer.

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