Around this time of year, when the days are getting longer and longer and the nights are staying warmer and warmer, I start craving all of my favorite summertime coolers. On Friday, for example, I had my first shandy of the year. It was kind of a surprise to want it because the idea of asking for a glass filled half with lemonade and half with beer had not once occurred to me since last summer, as if I had forgotten it existed. Suddenly, though, finding myself baking under a hot sun, it popped right into my head.
Now that I’ve had that shandy, they’re all coming back to me. White wine spritzers are another big love of mine. I know it’s offensive to some people to pour sparkling water into a nice glass of wine, but, then, the good thing about a spritzer is that a nice wine is not necessarily required. And, really, it’s such a nice lunchtime treat on a hot day when the sun is trying to bog you down.
The new one that I learned last summer in Europe is the Aperol spritz. You all are probably way more worldly than me and, so, may be old friends with this bitter, bubbly beauty, but for those who have yet to make its acquaintance, this is the bitter orange Aperol mixed with a bit of prosecco and a bit of sparkling water to make a light, effervescent cocktail that is the color of sunset and is best enjoyed while watching it.
That’s the list that’ll get me through the summer. What’s on yours?
Here’s something you might want advance warning on if you’re making plans for any Bay Area road tripping: From now on you can no longer pay the toll to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on site. This is not to say that there is no longer a toll to cross the bridge, there’s just not going to be anyone there to take your money anymore. Instead, you have to either open an account that automatically charges your credit card whenever you cross a Bay Area bridge, or go online and make a one-time payment with each crossing. As I write this, it doesn’t seem so bad. Going online to make the payment is easy; I’m already really appreciative whenever I can do it at a parking meter. No one will have to worry about whether they can scrounge enough change to make it through anymore, which was getting increasingly problematic as we have less and less reason to carry any cash at all.
Plus, I had always heard that taking tolls on a bridge is the worst job there is. They say people will use cigarette lighters to heat coins, so that the coins scald the operators’ hands. There’re stories of bills smeared in feces before being handed over. Whether those are true or not, for sure the people working on bridges marinate in exhaust fumes all day and receive money that people are not pleased to be handing over, none of which sounds great.
Still, though, I can’t help but feel a little sad to hear of yet another segment of the working population being replaced by machines. I hate talking to machines on the phone. I hate checking my own self out at the grocery store. Call me a Luddite, but I miss people, and the way their idiosyncrasies can bounce off of mine and make the details of a day a little more interesting. I guess I’ll find it more convenient, but hollowing out life for the sake of convenience is also a little depressing.
Ok fellow travelers, here’s my declaration for the day: My favorite airport is Amsterdam’s Schiphol. Granted, I do not say this as someone who claims to have been to so very many of the world’s airports. I’m sure lots of you have, in fact, been to lots more than I may ever get to in my lifetime. Still, I’ve gotten myself around a bit and I love Schiphol.
Describing the last time I flew through Amsterdam, I think, is as good a way as any to justify my argument. I had flown from San Francisco, so was getting off something like an 11-hour flight. My destination, Berlin, would only take 1 little hour more in the air, but I had to wait 6 hours to get on that next plane. I was that horrible, cramped, painful, time-confused kind of exhausted that can make international travel seem like masochistic lunacy and all I wanted was a corner to crawl into. In most of the airports I’ve been laid over in, I could have found some little space to cram myself into, trying to get enough room to stretch my poor crunched limbs, without being too greedy and inconsiderate of the hordes around me who also needed a place to sit. At Schiphol, however, I took a little stroll and found a long, empty corridor, with no gates, no shops, no busy-ness. At the end of that corridor were a few lounge chairs, all empty, and windows with a view of the runways. I got myself a coffee with a shot of whiskey in it and lay there, alternating between dozing and watching the planes come and go. It was a peculiar blissed out trance that I fell into that day and it’s hard to believe that all the hustle and bustle and commerce of such a major airport could have afforded me that peace.
That’s only my experience, though. What’s your favorite?
The weather this week has been strange. It’s supposed to rain and then it doesn’t, or it does, but only very early in the morning. The clouds hover, mostly staying clear of the overhead space, but still sitting, waiting, on the horizon. And everyday the week’s forecast changes. Will the next days bring a full, cathartic rainstorm, or will it all just pass through and make way for summer? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
What this weird uncertainty does give us, though, is the perfect chance to visit Muir Woods, the redwood park just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. In ordinary circumstances it’s a well-maintained path through a field of old growth redwood trees, so, in other words, a chance to experience secular magic, and it’s for sure highly recommended. To go, though, when it’s raining is to hear a storm around you, and yet be protected by an ancient canopy. I’m not trying to be overdramatic and sappily poetic, but these trees have been alive for hundreds and hundreds of years, some of them even over a thousand, and when they are sheltering my individual little self from the elements, it makes me feel special.
Too cheesy for you? There are two other reasons to go to Muir Woods when it’s raining. First, the rain will be a deterrent to some people and so will alleviate the one problem with this popular tourist destination, namely, too many other people having the same idea as you on the same day and cramping up your walking space. The second is that if you were already looking for an outdoor adventure for this weekend but the things you were considering become too dangerous when they get wet, Muir Woods stays safe both because of the protective cover and because it’s actually a completely flat path so you will never, ever, ever slip on a wet rock and fall off a cliff.
Convinced? Maybe I’ll see you there.
I recently caught myself in yet another iteration of using technology to tear apart the moral fabric of society. It took me a couple of times, because each individual time seemed just fun and innocent, to realize how evil this new practice of mine really is. I’m going to tell you about it, even though I’m a little ashamed, just because I think that maybe it’s not just me who’s using their smart phone in this way and I think that we should all just agree to knock it off.
The first time I was with my stepmother. Her daughter had passed a handbag along to her that she, my stepmother, didn’t want. She wanted to know if I wanted it, but she also wanted to let me know that she felt a little crazy about just handing it off because her daughter, who had received it as a gift, had told her that the thing was worth $1,500. We both just sat there, then, looking at the thing in awe, neither of us having ever owned a bag that cost $1,500. But then I got suspicious. How could such a costly bag be getting handed around like this? Granted, my stepmother’s daughter runs in an excess-cash kind of a crowd, but still it seemed like too big an item to just be handed around. Plus, the thing was just really ugly. So, I did a simple, easy little thing. I looked at the tag and googled it. A few seconds later, we knew it had cost $250.
That time didn’t feel so bad, and maybe still doesn’t. Yeah, a little of the magic got stolen away, but at least we stopped treating an ugly zebra striped purse with undue reverence. This second time that I’m going to tell you about, this is the one where I realized that I was crossing a line I would do well to stay clear of. I was, again, with my stepmother and she had gotten a fancy box of chocolates from a neighbor. She was really excited and flattered to have a gift that, to her, was so exotic and decadent, and a part of that excitement was speculating on how much the neighbor had spent on the box. And it was so easy. Again I typed in the brand and looked for the quantity and a moment later we knew that it was a $45 box of candy. Sucking away that magic was a little sadder. We both just sat there, feeling like the thing was a little less special, not because it hadn’t cost enough, but because it had suddenly become so known and so attainable.
I’m not googling the cost anything I get from anyone, no matter what, ever again.
Today I have some news that’s almost exciting, but then kind of fails. Prince, the real live elfin genius, is coming to play at a little tiny club in San Francisco. It’s called the DNA Lounge and, as any of you who’ve ever been there can attest to, it’s possible that 400 people can fit in the place. Maybe. But it’s also possible that it’s not even that big. He’s doing 4 shows, though, so a fair number of people are going to be able to be a part of this. I like Prince, but I’m not the kind of fan who’s going to pay $250 to go see him, which is what the tickets cost. I immediately thought of my mother, though, who got really excited and tried to jump on it. It was 3pm when I found out and told her. Tickets had gone on sale at 1pm. All four shows were sold out. Which is, I suppose, the way it should have gone. This is a big opportunity, seeing him play such a small venue, and the only people who’re going to get to be there are the ones who’re tapped in enough to Prince’s comings and goings that they knew they needed to be on the phone, or online, or wherever, at 1pm today. The truest of the true die hard fans, in other words.
But then I thought I might mention it here. Maybe one or another of you is a crazy Prince superfan. And we all know that there’s a big difference between a show selling out and not being able to find tickets to it. Just to let you know, then, if any of your ears are pricked up, the shows are at the end of April. Who knows what StubHub or craigslist might turn up over the next few weeks? Happy hunting.
For years there was movie house in Oakland called the Parkway Theater that everyone always talked about. It was small, apparently, with screens probably just a little bigger than what some people have got in their living rooms these days. And, actually, it seems it was meant to feel like a living room. There were couches instead of traditional movie theater seats and they sold beer and wine at the concession stand. I think there was pizza too. People loved it and I never went once in all the years I heard my friends raving about it and then it closed. I go by it every now and then, and there it still sits, its marquee calling out, “We love you Oakland,” though Oakland seems to have failed to love it back.
Suddenly now, though, there’s this place downtown Oakland called the New Parkway and it seems to be everything its predecessor ever was, with maybe a slightly cooler, and so hopefully more sustainable, location. It’s both a movie house and a café, and everything from the café can be taken with you into the movie. The selection of movies is pleasantly eccentric. Tonight, for example, you could go see Lincoln, that new zombie movie called Warm Bodies, or one of two documentaries. Oh, and I guess the café is where they’re counting on their money coming from because all movies are $6, except for the one of the documentaries that’s free.
I guess it’s obvious that I’m recommending that you go to someplace I’ve never myself been, but, if it helps at all I feel very foolish for never having gone to the Parkway Theater’s first incarnation and I will very, very shortly be heading out to this new version. I think you should too.
It’s a little late to be passing on this information, I know, but I just right now learned that Downtown Campbell has an art walk. Do you all know about this phenomenon? They’ve been happening for the last few years in San Francisco and Oakland. Once a month, a neighborhood will open its doors for local artists to show their work and for the community to walk through and see what their neighbors are up to. It’s a giant street party, it’s a chance for artists looking for an audience to have their work seen, and it’s a way for a community to coalesce. I don’t know, maybe this has been happening in Campbell for as long as anywhere else and I only just got invited to it today, but to me it’s exciting to see the South Bay, which tends more to suburban isolation, get into some community action.
The thing is, it’s on the third Friday of every month, which means that it’s starting in just a couple of hours. I’m pretty sure that this is not enough notice for most of you. It’s not enough notice for me, in fact. Still, it seemed like a good idea to plant the thought in your minds now, because it happens on the third Friday of every month and because the days, from now on, are just going to get longer and warmer and prettier and some third Friday, maybe, you’ll be here in town and you’ll remember about this street party you heard about and there it will be, this lovely little treat waiting for you.
My favorite thing that ever happened to me while traveling happened in Berlin. It’s strange, in a way, to tell it as a travel story, because it could just has well have happened in San Francisco, but it didn’t and so it’s a story about Berlin.
I was in this great pizza place near the canal in Kreutzberg, run by Italians who deal with the linguistic conflict in Berlin between German and English by running their business in Italian. But the beer they serve is German sized and after a couple of huge steins I found myself in need of the ladies room. I followed some signs and was led through a door into a heavily graffitied hallway. It was hard to pick through the chaos of the walls to understand if this was, in fact, where I was going to find the bathroom, so I poked timidly along. At the end, though, I found a door that said “herren”. The mens room! I turned around and saw that just next to the door I had come in was another door labeled “damen”. Mystery solved! I headed toward it, but just as I got there, the first door was pushed open and I had to jump to avoid being hit. I had been so engrossed in the solitude of my bathroom puzzle that another person coming in shocked me. I screamed and I looked at this man who had just accidentally scared me so badly, and he looked at me and we both started laughing. And then he went into the mens room and I went into the ladies room.
I took my time. There was a ton of graffiti in there too and I was trying to sift through all the languages, seeing what I could understand, what I could at least identify. I held my hands under the warm water for a bit longer than necessary, I remember. And when I came out, that same guy jumped out and screamed at me. I was shocked, again, and I screamed, again and then we both cracked up laughing, again! That man waited for me to come out of the bathroom so that he could scare me. He didn’t know me at all. We didn’t even speak the same language. I could have gotten angry, or just not thought that that was funny. There could have been another woman in there, some third person, and she could have come out first and gotten pounced on. It was a bold action and I love so much that he took that risk and gave me that bizarre little anecdote.
Choosing a hotel can be a tricky endeavor, as I’m sure all of you know. Your business with them is so intimate, you want someplace to take your clothes off and sleep and shower, and yet there’s no real way of knowing what you’re going to find until you arrive. There have been a few times, now, where I’ve flown into a place, gotten into a taxi, given the driver the address and had him turn around and say to me, “Are you sure you want to go there?” But at that point, what’s the option? So I’ve only ever said yes and just nervously moved forward with the plan I made online.
My favorite of those times was in Podgorica, Montenegro. I found a place online, somehow. Whoever was responding to my emails was kind and welcoming, their website was pleasant and, knowing nothing about Podgorica, I arrived by train and found a taxi to take me to this hotel. “Are you sure?” the driver asked. Which was unusually unnerving because it was my first time in the Balkans and all I really understood about where I was, was that it was different from any other place I had ever been before. “Umm, yes,” I said. And so he drove, and he kept driving, and then he drove some more.
I soon realized that his hesitation was, at least partly, because the place I had found was way outside of the city. We arrived, finally, midway up a craggy little hill, at a small, modern-ish building, with no sign, right on top of a gorge. I wondered if there had been some miscommunication, if this really was even a hotel at all, and the driver was already nervous about bringing me there, so we agreed that he would wait while I went in. But I found very friendly, warm people who had been expecting me, so I took a deep breath and sent my driver away.
And so it was that I accidentally spent a night in the Montenegrin countryside. Meals were served under a tarp, overlooking the river. The only other guests were a group of Turkish day laborers who showed up sometime between lunch and dinner. I had hiked down to the river and was sitting, quietly admiring the place and how I had gotten to it, when around 15 of them showed up and started diving in, yelling and splashing and throwing a ball around. They talked to me, showed me their little bits of English and their sketchy diving tricks and I felt so far away from anything I had known before, and so lucky.
And the next day I got back in a taxi and went to someplace full of people I knew and things that had been chosen for me and I was more comfortable and so grateful for my accidental vacation from that comfort.