Journey To The East Bay: Chapter Two

In April of 2017, my partner and I drove from Salt Lake City, UT to Walnut Creek, CA to live. I drove the moving truck and took along my digital recording device. Here is part two of my ramblings in which I get even loopier.

Bay, sighed

I live in Salt Lake City, UT. I do my best to avoid complaining about the city and the state because they are full of some wonderful people and good food. However, my spirit rarely soars in such a place.

Enter, California. More specifically, the Bay Area.

My partner is out here for a board meeting and I decided to join her for the trip. I am rethinking the round trip ticket.

Waiting for the BART to take us from the Oakland Airport to Berkeley, we meet a woman from Cairo who is doing summer semester at Berkeley in computer science. She studies computer engineering back home. She has not NOT seen the sun in 24 hours. We ride the train with her to Berkeley. I help her carry her heavy suitcase up the BART stop stairs.

We take an Uber to the Hotel Durant. The driver is from Tibet and he tells us the temperature sometimes reaches minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit in his home country. He gives us a thumbs up as he takes our suitcases from the trunk in front of our hotel.

The hotel lobby is striking. One can sit and relax there. The two men at the front desk are young and bond with us. One asks us if we are here for the Ed Sheeran concert. We are not. He loves Ed Sheeran.

Our room is a muted yellow with blue accents. A poster of The Graduate and a canvass painting of science-y artifacts adorn the walls. I will never want for anything more again.

We take Uber to the Downtown Berkeley BART station (fastest Uber ride yet) and take the train to the Powell Street stop in San Francisco. We join one other person. A man who smells of alcohol offers to give us directions to the Italian restaurant we seek. He has lived in the city 52 years and “should know [his] way around.” We tell him our destination and he says we should probably just walk up the street and turn left. He gives us “Veteran’s honor” that this is the way to go. We walk away and he follows, asking for money.

We take another Uber from the Powell Street trolley car turnaround to Washington Square Park. The driver is young and laughs in a deep voice at our jokes. See example:

K – What’s the name of that place downtown? They have stuff there. Um. It’s tall and white and iconic.

Me – Bill Nye?

Uber Driver laughs heartily.

We walk through Little Italy to a place one of us suggests. It is her family’s favorite place. The restaurant is boarded and has a warning on the door to clean up the graffiti.

We wander around Little Italy looking for the right place to eat dinner. Nothing strikes our fancy until we find one that is (a) within eyesight, (b) relatively cheap with a good menu and (c) open without a line. The place is Sodini’s and it is perfect.

The man who greets us is pure Italian stereotype. His hair is slicked back, his black shirt is open to reveal a gold necklace on a pillow of chest hair. He tells us we can eat at the bar and he shakes my hand as we walk to our seats. He tells us to enjoy ourselves.

Sodini’s is dimly lit. It has dark wood and the feel of a family restaurant. The bartender seems comfortable serving drinks to any member of the Rat Pack. He tells my partner they don’t have any mixes when she asks for a Mojito. I drink a perfectly-poured Guinness.

The server calls us all darling and my dear and tells us to literally yell if we need anything. We each order a different linguini dish (linguini with marinara, linguini with clams and linguini with seafood). The food is unimaginably delicious and the portions are generous.

A man and a woman sit at the bar next to us, each with a glass of red wine. The man begins speaking with us. He is Bruce. She is Ann(e). They have four kids between them. I am pretty sure he has triplets, one of whom is getting ready to go to Fort Benning, GA. She has a son who just graduated from college in Bozeman, MT. Bruce and Ann have been together six years, though they have known each other for eight. The conversation was light, fun and familiar. I want to bump into them again and buy them each a drink.

We get pastries and coffee and take another Uber back to the Powell Street station. The Uber driver is not familiar with the city yet, but does well. His left arm is in a bandage cast. I intend to ask about it, but choose not to do so.

We take the BART back to Downtown Berkeley. An Asian couple, the woman rubbing the head of the man in a gentle, loving way. A blond woman, already tall, imposing in high heels. A short, blond woman smartly dressed. A man with dreadlocks under his camouflage cap, he eats potato chips. A lesbian couple in matching San Francisco Giants attire. The city is alive. The city is magic. I will never go home.

We take our final Uber of the night from the Downtown Berkeley station back to our hotel. The driver is an Asian man who seems so young we ask if he is a student. He is not, but he gets asked that quite a bit. Once, he was in Reno. His friend was gambling and our driver was just standing there holding a beer. The dealer asked to see our driver’s ID. Our driver could not believe it. Our driver does not sleep much. Usually four or five hours a night, often falling asleep and waking at different times on different days.

The city is alive. It is full of people with families, lives, opinions and sleep patterns. I may never leave.

-JPR

*written at a desk in the Hotel Durant while looking out over Berkeley

That’s not my dad, that’s Morrissey.

26 March 2013

The Hippo/Falcon and I returned home yesterday from our trip to Phoenix. I spent a little time exploring Phoenix. Once the board meeting was complete, we drove to Vegas for a night before heading back to Salt Lake City.

Let’s start with Phoenix.

Walking Phoenix – I sit around the hotel room and watch something called “March Madness” in which a group of sports teams play basketball in order to win some sort of championship. Most, if not all, fans of this event complete what are called “brackets,” which do not refer to punctuation, but instead refer to a game of prognostication to predict the winner of the madness. I clap at one point when a human male makes a “sweet three-pointer.” I decide to leave the hotel.

I know where to find a Starbucks coffee shop, but I want to find something local where all the college kids hang out (Arizona State University is right down the street for fuck’s sake). I walk to the front desk at the hotel and ask if there are good coffee shops around.

“Not really,” says the front desk clerk as she shakes her head to indicate the negative.

“Are there any good bars around,” I inquire. She consults her comrades and notes The Canyons is a good bar. I had been to The Canyons the night before and didn’t want to limit the scope of my travels to the same place right away. I thank her for the information and leave the lobby.

I walk into the warm and breezy Phoenix day. This is Saturday. I expect the sidewalks to be crowded with students and regular humans enjoying a warm day. What I see is space and emptiness. I feel the openness and lack of cluster that is Phoenix in the area surrounding Van Buren and 5th Street. The city is open and warm and I can probably walk with my eyes closed and not bump into another person. I meander by the public transportation rail line. The cars look like old, silver railroad cars. I want to ride, but decide to keep walking. I walk to the park. Three men are practicing something that I call Tai chi. If it is not, then it is similar. A gigantic creation that is a series of nets in the shape of a descending tornado is secured by giant cables. I assume this is the centerpiece of the park. (It is.) I walk on past, well, nothing really. I see a courthouse and several areas where one can catch sporting events or a play. I see hotels. Most of what I see is colored yellow and brown and white and made to look like adobe buildings. On occasion, I believe I am in Florida as the colors jump into aquamarines and sea foam greens and purples.

I find an establishment called Chloe’s Corner. Like the rest of the area I see, the place is open. I see a salad bar, a bar resembling a diner (complete with barstools and food service), a separate wine bar, a patio and a huge dining room. A quick scan of the menu board assures me I can order coffee in this place. I walk to the counter and order a 16 oz cappuccino.

“Is that your dad,” asks the man taking my order. I am puzzled for a moment before looking down and seeing the button I am wearing. The Hippo/Falcon’s brother, Adamantium, made a button for me. This button simply has Morrissey’s face, looking casually glum.

“No. That’s Morrissey, former lead singer of The Smiths.” I always have to include the defining information, much to my chagrin. How can everyone in the world not love Morrissey in the same way I do? (To be fair, I did not discover the music of Morrissey until I was in graduate school. I started with You Are The Quarry and have never looked back.) The person behind the counter laughs and apologizes. He gives me a card with a number on it and I find a place to sit. Someone different brings my cappuccino to me. I assume she finds me because the number I have (20) must correspond with my order. Fascinating and efficient.

I sip the warm beverage and take in the beauty and calm of the day. I begin proofreading the novel I wrote last November as part of National Novel Writing Month. I make notations. I look outside at the people walking around. They wear shorts. They hold hands. They smoke cigarettes. I finish my cappuccino, go to use the restroom and leave, back out into the warm day. I walk around and feel the pleasure of sweating in the heat, happy to be out of the depressing winter chill of Salt Lake City.

Deciding I have walked enough to earn lunch and a beer, I choose comfort and walk to the outdoor shopping mall for lunch at The Canyons (the place we went for dinner the previous night). I order a local beer (Epicenter) and a Caesar salad done Southwestern style (the dressing is slightly spicy and tortilla chip pieces are piled on top of the lettuce). I sit and read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and enjoy the pleasure of sitting outside. I am anonymous and at ease.

Later, I plan to meet The Hippo/Falcon and her colleagues at a bar/restaurant in a downtown hotel. I arrive early and go to the bar. I order a dark draft beer. I pay the bartender and begin sipping the beer. The March Madness is on television. I go for another sip of beer. The glass catches on the napkin. In my panic, I slosh a cup full of beer onto the bar, my khaki pants and my chair. The bartender gives me napkins. I wipe up. The stains slowly disappear into my pants. Magic. I look up and the bartender has refilled the beer to the top. “Hey, from one guy who spills stuff to another.” I give him another dollar as a tip.

The group arrives and we all eat dinner. We drink and laugh and tell stories.

We walk back to the hotel in the coolness of the desert evening. We fall asleep.

The next day, I watch the March Madness on television before packing up the car, driving to a parking garage and going to Starbucks for coffee while I wait for the board meeting to conclude. I eat lunch at a sushi restaurant/noodle house. I order shrimp ramen and a salmon roll. I continue reading.

The Hippo/Falcon finishes her duties. We walk to the car and decide to drive to Las Vegas for the night.

But that’s a story for next time.