Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The empire expands

This weekend marked another milestone: my first three-time visitor. Mom has now come down thrice to see me, and Dad has done it again. It's been fun having them, but also encouraging to my psyche. It feels like the first time someone visits, it may be out of obligation. The second time, it may be out of pity. But the third time, it's probably because they enjoy it. So that's nice. I love where I live, and doubt I'll ever tire of showing it off.

Their flight got in Friday night; by now I have airport navigation down pat, and we whisked away to downtown San Jose. Once there we wandered the chilly streets a while before settling on a well-reviewed Vietnamese restaurant called 19 Market. It was a little on the loud side; as we learned later there was a party of 80 people in the back. The food was excellent, though, and our waitress very considerate. I kind of liked the simple decor; I probably won't rush back here, but it'll be worth a repeat visit sometime. From what I've read most local Vietnamese restaurants are very simple holes in the wall, this looks like a good one for entertaining company.

That night we relaxed and decompressed. In the morning we got up and headed east to the Diablo range. Over President's Day weekend I had discovered Joseph Grant park; unlike a lot of the Diablo trails I've done, which are mainly on the Santa Clara Valley-facing slopes, Grant is tucked away in Halls Valley, a really beautiful and secluded spot. It has a good variety of trail lengths and difficulties; we selected one that brought us a good way south in the park, through some meadows and forests and across a couple of streams. The streams are probably dry much of the year, but were wide enough after the recent rain to make fording them slightly challenging. For the first one Dad and I scrambled across on a fallen tree trunk; my mom took the saner route and forded in bare feet. Fortunately it was a sunny and fairly warm day, so we had time to dry off before pushing onward. The whole experience was very pleasant and quiet; we didn't pass anyone on the trail until towards the very end.

It was afternoon by the time we finished so we headed down towards Blossom Hill and stopped at an In 'n Out burger, which was tasty as always. We stocked up on a few necessaries and then headed back north. With a few hours of daylight left, we stopped in downtown Campbell and walked around for a while. One of the first things we ran across was a quite nice used bookstore; everything was in great condition and they showed excellent taste, including what looked like every "Bloom County" book ever written, a plethora of interesting books on California history, signed books by renowned fantasy author George Martin, and more. Recipients of a bibliophile lineage, the three of us spent a fair amount of time there, leaving with the addition of "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence." The remainder of our daylight was spent looking in at various shops, including a few that had been vacated and displayed ominous earthquake warnings. We did a driving tour of some more of Campbell and then returned to Chez Chris for a rousing viewing of "The Mouse That Roared."

Sunday morning we went into San Francisco to attend a church named, appropriately enough, City Church of San Francisco. Jay Thomas, one of my dad's colleagues and a Bay Are native, had recommended it. So, for the first time in my life, I actually drove into the city. By now I've gone close to a dozen times, always by train; on this occasion, though, I reasoned the traffic would probably be light on an early Sunday morning, plus the church offered free validated parking. We made excellent time, making it all the way to the church in about 45 minutes and beating Google Maps' estimate by a good ten minutes.

The church is located in the Western Addition, a little south of Pacific Heights. They currently worship in the Russian Center, a cool-looking cultural edifice that has been around for decades. It had that great urban church vibe that I love so much; as my mom commented, it's very similar to Holy Trinity church in Chicago. We came early enough to catch the musicians at rehearsal, and were seated well in advance. In a strong display of synchronicity, my parents spotted a couple they knew from College Church, who happened to be leading a contingent of Wheaton College students in a San Francisco service project and happened to have chosen this church and this service to attend. That was very fun to see.

The service itself was really good. The music was a mixture of hymns and praise songs, led by a guitar and a nice string quartet. The church is affiliated with PCA and has some nice liturgical touches... a doxology, a creed, other little rituals that appeal to me. They served real wine for communion, a fact I didn't realize until I actually swallowed it. I remembered that the tray had contained little cups with red liquid and others with a white liquid, and thought it was hilarious that a church would offer parishioners their choice of wine for the Eucharist. I later learned that the white liquid was juice, unfortunately.

The sermon was good as well. The topic was sin - the preacher opened up with a story whose punchline was, "It's about sin - I'm against it!" The actual text was from... Jeremiah, I think, and he did a nice job of walking around the verses and digging into them. Preaching is always the litmus test when I'm evaluating a church, and he certainly passed it. Of course, since it's so far away it won't become my home church, but I'd very likely visit again if I was in the area on another Sunday.

The service got done around 10:30 and we headed out. The forecast had predicted rain, but so far we were doing fine, with dry skies and a decent amount of warmth. I love walking in cities, and Mom and Dad at least tolerate it, so we decided to take a leisurely stroll down to the water. This first took us through Pacific Heights, supposedly the most exclusive neighborhood in San Francisco. I don't think we were in the golden section that houses people like Nicholas Cage, Danielle Steel, Diane Feinstein, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Larry Ellison and more; but we still saw some really nice houses, including some beautifully maintained Victorians. Along the way we strolled through Alta Plaza park, which includes some good elevation and on this day featured well over two dozen dogs, off their leashes, frolicking around with owners and other dogs. The view was incredible - both in the park, and later as we descended the street, we had commanding views of the Bay, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and much of the city on the other side.

From Pacific Heights we descended into Cow Hollow, then on to the Marina district. As we went the buildings became less attractive, but still certainly fine-looking. It was cool to go from such a great view of the water, to not being able to see it at all, to being right on top of it again. Once we reached the Bay we started a really nice, long stroll from the Marina district to the edge of Fisherman's Wharf. Along the way we caught several parks, plenty of strollers, runners, and dogs, and a plethora of other attractive diversions.

My dad's keen eye spotted the sign for Ghirardelli, whose original factory lies close to Fisherman's Wharf. We swung over there to pick up some free chocolate, and then pay for even more chocolate. Then, back on track, we continued to the wharf. We found a really pleasant and classy restaurant right off the dock whose name I forget but which served a tempting array of seafood at very reasonable prices. We headed in and indulged - white clam chowder for Mom, red clam chowder in a sourdough bowl for Dad, and some snapper for me. We relaxed and enjoyed the leisurely lunch, then went back outside shortly after it began to rain. We survived the few blocks back to Ghirardelli's
and had an incredibly delicious desert of huge, tasty ice cream creations.

I had done some planning the night before and found a good way for us to return to our vehicle without walking uphill all the way back to Pacific Heights. Armed with my newfound confidence at navigating the Muni bus system, we caught the 30 (which I have ridden twice as much as all other lines combined) and took that our to the Marina, then transferred to a 22 back down to Sutter street. A few more blocks returned us to our vehicle and off we went.

I tend to hate driving in cities, but it would be a lot more tolerable if I usually had someone to navigate. The directions for getting out of the city included five or six turns and streets changing names, all of which I would ordinarily have needed to memorize, but with my dad's guidance the regress was a breeze. We were running a little late to fulfill our original goal of getting to Santa Cruz in time for their "Jazz on the Wharf" program, but with the rain it would probably have been a sorry affair anyways. However, we did decide to keep the scenic drive in, and so I had another first as I drove on Highway One from San Francisco down the coast to Santa Cruz.

Unlike city driving, I love highway driving. This route was particularly fun because of the terrain; it included lots of twists as it ascended and descended hills, some stretches through forests, a few narrow bridges, scenic towns, and usually a great view of the ocean. It rained most of the time, not enough to obscure visibility but enough to make the choppy waters look impressive. Most of the time Highway One is a two-lane road, which some may find frustrating, but if you aren't in a rush to get somewhere it's far more interesting than a standard interstate highway.

We rounded into Santa Cruz and then headed directly north into the mountains. Highway 17 is a pretty decent road, you can keep up a good pace while maintaining a challenging grade, and truck traffic is generally light. We returned home, enjoyed some home-cooked chicken breasts, and then watched "Winchester 73", a Jimmy Stewart Western I had given my mom earlier. It was really good... I've hardly seen any Westerns at all so it's hard for me to compare it to other works, but it combined an exciting story with a bit of mystery and a powerful feeling of fatalism. Oh, and the performances were excellent, with many of the most colorful characters (Wyatt Earp, Waco, the Indian trader) given only slices of screen time that they used to excellent effect.

Monday morning saw the fulfillment of a long-deferred dream as I took my parents to Southern Kitchen. This wonderful little restaurant/diner is the site of our weekly Eggs Benedict run, and I had a feeling they would appreciate its charm and excellent food. We arrived there around 7:30 and found it much lighter than I usually see it at 8:45, with just a few tables occupied. I felt real warm and fuzzy when our waitress recognized me and remembered that I took a small glass of orange juice. We perused the menus before making a decision; my mom got the "light breakfast" (as she commented to our waitress, "it really doesn't seem very light," to which she responded, "yes, I know, it comes with one less sausage"), I went for the Belgian Waffle, and my dad continued the tradition with Eggs Benedict. It was very good; if it wasn't for the pull of peer pressure, I'd be tempted to switch over to the waffle, or at least work it into a rotation.

They dropped me off at work and then headed out. I had a good but busy day; a few hours into it, I got a call from my dad, who was checking in from Carmel-by-the-Sea. Once again they had predicted a rainy day, but once again we were treated to almost nonstop sun instead. As I learned after work, they had gone right on to Highway 1 and picked up where we left up the day before, continuing on down the road which, in my dad's words, becomes a lot more interesting the further south you go. (Evidently, at one point my mom grabbed the dash when my dad took a tight turn, to which he said, "You know, you can sit in the back if you want.") Carmel-by-the-Sea sounds like a nice town, with a great big public beach that allowed them to, once again, witness a plethora of dogs frolicking. After a brief stay there they headed down to Monterey, then onward to Big Sur, which Dad had thought would needed to wait for his next visit. They enjoyed a leisurely lunch and another beach outing before ambling back to San Jose.

I had to stay later than I'd originally planned, but managed to leave shortly after six. At home my folks regaled me with tales of their adventures, then we headed out for our last meal of a calorie-intensive vacation. When Pat had visited me last year we stumbled on an excellent, casual, small Mexican restaurant called Muchos; with our stated goal of making Pat as jealous as possible, we'd resolved to wrap up their vacation with a stop at Pat's favored San Jose eating spot. Like my previous visit it was quiet inside; I'm guessing it gets a lot more traffic on weekday lunches than other times. We did our standard strategy of ordering and sharing a variety of foods: my dad grabbed the Chile Verde burrito, my mom went for the chicken enchiladas, and I got the Super Quesadilla. We loaded up with a variety of red and green hot sauces, then soon rushed to avail ourselves of the free water dispenser. It was amazingly good food, just like I remembered it. Dad remarked that Pat has an incredible nose for restaurants.

Safely home, Mom commented on my Guitar Hero controller, which prompted me to show off the game to them. I was delighted when Dad agreed to give it a try. The first few tries through "I Love Rock & Roll" he was booed off the stage. Then I remembered to tell him about the tutorial, which I had strongly relied on when starting out on the game. He played through it, then on his very next try cleared the song with four stars, then immediately followed that up with "I Wanna Be Sedated" with three stars. Mom wouldn't play.

And that was more or less that. The next morning we had a much saner breakfast then left for the airport. Once again the weather had fun with us; it was raining most of the way there, at times fiercely, but there was still visible blue sky almost the whole time. Obviously, we still would have had fun even if it had rained every day as they originally predicted, but this felt like yet another wonderful case of exceeded expectations, and we certainly appreciated the extra sunshine we were allocated. In the future I probably won't RECOMMEND early March as an ideal time for a visit, but even at its worst it's still more pleasant than most places I've lived before.



    We am go there next time I arrive. Make it so!

  2. Um, I don't remember seeing any Boondocks books, but I may have just been dazzled by the bright array of classic Bloom County books. And yeah, we can definitely hit it up the next time you come. Prices aren't as tempting as Bloomsday Books, but the selection is good.

  3. What makes you think your father is not absolutely NUTS about city walking? I understand that is his favorite way to navigate a city; that public trans is just a convenience for the sake of time, and that taxis are for the spoiled and rich.


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  5. Haha, sorry to have given offense. I probably inherited my love of city walking FROM my father; I don't think my mother actually dislikes it, but since she's such a noncomplainer it's sometimes hard to judge for sure.

  6. Why don't you stop making fun of me for being illiterate? It am not a joke.