As I write this, I’m back at the Rubicon Brewing Company in Sacramento. This isn’t where I planned to end up today—not here, nor Sacramento at all, but there you go.
I woke up this morning with the idea that I wanted to go somewhere, provided I could do the one time-critical task: make the reservations for tomorrow’s dinner. I haven’t done my random “notes the road” walks in… well, some time, at the very least, which I can blame a little on continued employment, a little more on the much higher gas prices (remember when you were shocked just a few short years ago by it breaking $2 a gallon?), and although I’m loathe to admit it, probably a little on getting older. I can’t do much about the latter, but I’m unemployed and today I filled up—admittedly at a station so far east it only qualifies as the “Bay Area” on a technicality—for $2.70 a gallon.
I’d considered heading to the North Bay, following the trail a friend took up toward Guerneville on a day trip of his own last month, but decided to head instead to the north side of the East Bay, to a quiet river town named Crockett and a seafood restaurant under the Cardenas Bridge called the Nantucket. I ordered conservatively—a clam chowder and salad, just water to drink—then ruined it by talking myself into getting a creme brulee and coffee for dessert. After wandering around the town just a little, I got back in the car and headed east a little, stopped around two p.m. and called Maggiano’s, getting the reservation for 12 confirmed. Then it occurred to me: hey, I don’t actually have to be back at a reasonable hour now.
So I kept heading east, up CA 160 and the river levee system. I stopped again in the odd town of Walnut Grove, a tiny little place (all the towns there are tiny) with two historic districts labelled “Japanese” and “Chinese.” These are towns that Chinese—and later Japanese—workers lived in when they were working on the California railroads, and their story isn’t much prettier than most stories of American history that start that way.
I kept driving up CA 160 to its end, where it becomes Freeport Boulevard and heads on into Sacramento. By this time it was five p.m., so I thought, “What was the name of that brewpub I went to here a few years back?” and with a bit of thought, I remembered.
I was last here in 2006, again by happenstance; oddly enough, it’s almost two years to the day. I had the pomegranate cider I mentioned last time, and it’s good, although I’m not sure it’s actually as good as the apple cider. I’m still enchanted by the area here, though. I described it then as reminding me a little of some of the areas I saw in Portland, Oregon; I think what I was keying into was the neighborhood feel: older, but neither run down nor pretentious, business and residences mixed together on eminently walkable tree-lined streets. There are areas like this in the SF Bay Area, too, although I’ve come to realize that the ones I truly like—Walnut Creek, Rockridge, Piedmont, Alameda, Emeryville, Danville—are all in the East Bay. I still love living near San Francisco, but I’ve steadily become less interested in actually living in San Francisco.
This pleasant brewpub is next to an upscale French café, and catty-corner from a “New American” style place called “Jack’s Urban Eats,” which is in turn next to a hot dog stand. And I recall there’s a BBQ place somewhere very close by. If there’s a coffee shop within walking distance—and according to Urban Spoon, there is—just move me in now.
Well, not literally, of course. I’m not giving serious thought to moving anywhere. I realize I do have to keep it in the back of my mind, though. According to the tech bubble nerds at TechCrunch, nearly 20,000 workers in my field have been laid off since mid-September, and I’ve anecdotally heard of some extant “Web 2.0” companies seeing a tenfold increase in résumés (not that these companies are hiring). These are not happy-making statistics for me. As the oft-quotable Jason Calcanis observed on This Week in Tech this week, the previous dot-com bust involved companies with unsustainable balance sheets, but this time the problem is individuals with unsustainable balance sheets. Most of the tech companies have, financially speaking, been doing the right things.
There’s a certain way in which being unemployed—at least when you have no mortgage and no family!—is freeing, in that I really can move anywhere for any work, but moving somewhere and just hoping that I’m going to actually make it seems, well, dicey. Yes, I’ve actually made it work once, but at least at this point it’s not something I want to bet on happening again.
I suppose the question is what I do want to bet on now.
Epilogue: It’s now half-past seven and I’m at a Starbucks in Natomas, a new exurban commuter town past the north outskirts of Sacramento. I found a local coffee shop in midtown (Rubicon’s locale), but it was closed; I also found an independent coffee shop here in Natomas, but it was also closed. Apparently people in Sacramento do not drink coffee late. I’ve been to Natomas a few times for a friend who used to have a birthday get-together annually out at another friend’s place in this area; if midtown Sacramento reminds me of Portland, this place reminds me of New Tampa: flat terrain covered by strip malls and tract houses, all designed and landscaped in a way which is pleasantly comfortable but consciously characterless. Not a bad place to live, to be sure, but interesting only by virtue of being near the interesting parts of Sacramento. (N.B.: a somewhat irate-sounding person in the comments informed me that Natomas is north of Sacramento's downtown--which I really should know, but I think because it's the first part of Sacramento I saw coming in from the west a few years back it's fixed incorrectly in my mind. Irate Person also notes Natomas is within Sac's city limits, but you know what? It's a commuter town of a very exurban character. Us Floridians recognize that when we see it. If Irate Person returns to this page, it would be much more helpful if s/he would tell me where the good coffee houses are.)