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After eight and a half years and 192,000 miles—yes, that’s over 20K miles a year—I’d started looking about for a new car to replace my Acura RSX. As much as I liked it (and the engine still seemed to be in pretty good shape), it needed work: squeaky brakes were a must-fix and tires were due to be replaced within the year, and it had annoying and expensive non-critical problems: a blown air conditioner compressor and an ugly dent in the passenger side door. A median estimate for all that would be around $2500, notably more than the car’s actual value at this point.

I’d made a short list of cars to look at—the Ford Focus or Fusion, the Mazda 3, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Nothing by Honda, Toyota or Nissan particularly grabbed me this time, which surprised me. (Which isn’t to say that I’d turn down a 370Z, but it’s out of my price range.) The Hyundai appealed to me as something similar to the RSX but more powerful, with rear-wheel drive, and just an all-around great driving machine. And even less practical than the RSX. The Mazda 3 surprised me by being as interesting as it was—for what’s basically Mazda’s answer to the Accord, it’s aggressively styled, has some interesting standard electronics and even with an automatic transmission is as responsive as the stick-shift RSX. (And it’s a five-speed auto with a “manual shift” mode, to boot.)

The Ford salesman was pretty cool, managing the neat trick of seeming laid back and attentive simultaneously. He didn’t fail to close the sale—the car did. It may be that nearly nine years with a quasi-sports coupe has changed my perceptions, but the Fusion seemed to take the steering wheel and accelerator as suggestions rather than commands. It’s a distinctive ride style I imagine some people would like, to be sure, but those people are not me.

I hadn’t actually expected to buy a new car now, either way, but Mazda was offering a 0% APR deal expiring on Monday. Gnaw gnaw gnaw. So I took a deep breath, went back, signed all the papers, drove away from the dealer five minutes before they closed, and the car immediately died.

No, seriously. A mile away from the dealer the “check engine” light came on, which isn’t necessarily serious, but so did the “automatic transmission malfunction” light, which is drive to the shop now do not pass go do not collect $200 serious.

As you may guess, this caused a great deal of stress for me, and more than a little consternation at the dealership. Their service department wouldn’t re-open until Monday (yesterday). I got a loaner then—apparently a very ad hoc “don’t strand the customer” choice of cars, as they’d actually just closed when I rolled the ailing car back up—and then swapped it for a somewhat more official “drive this while we figure out what’s going on, please” loaner on Sunday.

To wrap the story up somewhat more quickly, yesterday I checked in with the service manager in the morning, who optimistically said, “It’s probably just a loose connector.” I wasn’t so sanguine, and had been preparing myself to politely but firmly suggest that perhaps they should look into getting me a different car. As it turned out, the return visit in late afternoon made that unnecessary. When I walked in, they greeted me with, “We’re getting you another car and it should be here in a couple hours.” They couldn’t determine what was wrong with the original car (“something’s wrong with the transmission”) and didn’t want the deal to be permeated with lemon scent. I’ll give them points for handling it proactively.

So, bottom line: new car. Payments for five years, but slightly less than the payments on the RSX were, and with no interest. A lot of the gadgetry that’s become standard in the last decade, too—the advancements are remarkable. I may be a nerd and post pictures later.

I’ll take it out for a long drive—well, maybe not for three weeks: this upcoming weekend is booked for Mother’s Day stuff, and the weekend after that I’m keeping open for potential visitors.

After that, though, I drive somewhere stupidly far away.

(Also: props to Menlo Mazda and Jessica, the saleswoman there who helped me out and handled what’s surely on the list of Things You Do Not Want To Go Wrong With Your Sale with grace. And, if you’re in the market for a Ford, Zach at Sunnyvale Ford gets cool points. Hopefully he won’t lose them when I say I’ve bought a Mazda elsewhere.)

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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.)

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I’m back at my hotel in Oxnard for now. As usual, the day didn’t go quite as expected, but also as (mostly) usual that didn’t turn out to be too bad.

I started the day with breakfast at Café Nouveau in Ventura, an excessively quaint restaurant in a converted 1920s home (in a neighborhood of unconverted 1920s homes, from what I can tell). I had their version of a breakfast burrito, with scrambled egg, green chile, cheddar cheese, potatoes and a couple other vegetables (no meat); it was probably the best version of this I’ve had anywhere.

From there, I drove to check out the Channel Islands Visitors Center, which is on the mainland: as it turns out, I didn’t call in time to book a trip to one of the islands. So instead, I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, which seemed like a very “SoCal” thing to do, through Malibu and not quite to Santa Monica. See, just over the Los Angeles County line, Sunset Boulevard meets the PCH, and I thought, “Hey, I know that name!” and turned onto it.

So. After a drive through Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills, I ended up in Hollywood, parking near the corner of Hollywood and Vine, an intersection that’s apparently famous for reasons that escape me. (As I recall, there’s a gift shop at Disney-MGM named “Hollywood and Vine.”) I wandered around a bit, stopped and got a kind of odd (but good) fusion tea drink at a place called “Zen Zoo,” then eventually made my way to an early dinner at “Lucky Devil’s,” an upscale burger bar. I’ve just learned “Lucky” is Lucky Vanous, once famous for being a beefcake model in a 1994 Diet Coke commercial. It was certainly one of the best burgers I’ve had.

Last night I was musing: why Ventura? This is not exactly a top destination for spontaneous vacations, unless you’re making an effort to do whale watching (I’m not) or a surfer (ha!). Yet I’ve thought off and on of coming down here since I’ve been living in California.

I think it’s because Ventura is a road not taken. About fifteen years ago, I was working for Kinko’s in Tampa, and I had the opportunity to pursue a job with Kinko’s corporate doing computer work. That would have necessitated moving out to their HQ, of course: in Ventura. But I didn’t follow through. I realized Ventura wasn’t actually in either the LA or SF areas, which meant it wasn’t near anyone I knew. Both my mother and my roommate—unemployed and living on college loans—evinced clear panic at the prospect of me moving.

But part of me has always wondered, hey, did I chicken out? So I guess that part of me is seeing a little of what life in Ventura might have been like. I can’t say anything about the social life, of course—I’ve never thrown myself into a situation where I have no local friends and would have to start entirely from scratch—but I’ve gotta say, the area, from here to Santa Barbara and even on down into Hollywood, is pretty nice.

Well. It’s 7pm now, and of course I’m not hungry—but I’m not inclined to just stay in the room. That the hotel appears to be hosting a military convention of some sort and there are dozens of loud people in the hallways just outside isn’t encouraging me to stay, either; since I doubt they’d appreciate me walking into one of their rooms and nabbing appetizers, I’ll likely head back to Ventura and explore the downtown area again, maybe seeing if I can check out a place that supposedly has tapas, martinis and live jazz.

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I’m preparing to go on a road trip to Ventura, as I wrote about earlier. This has been made more complex by me taking the car to the dealer on Wednesday and them not getting it back for repair to the drive belt until this morning I hope. I’d really intended to be on the road already, but that (clearly) hasn’t happened.

The dealer found all sorts of other interesting problems, which I am not having them fix; while I generally trust this dealer’s service department, being a dealer service department, they’re very expensive for anything out-of-warranty, which is nearly everything given the car’s six years old and has 150,000 miles on it. (Yes, I drive a lot.) A friend has recommended a mechanic in Los Altos to me; if anyone else local to San Jose has a really good mechanic, do let me know.

More from the road, assuming everything gets underway as planned.

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It’s just a little later this morning than it should be for me to be sitting around starting a journal entry, so this may be a fairly quick one.

Back on the 20th I mentioned that I’d finished a story; the story’s tentatively called “Sunrise,” although I’m looking for a more poetic and ideally somewhat Zen-sounding title, given that it’s basically a samurai story. “Sunrise” is with the writing group for comments I’ll get next Monday, I presume, although I’ll say I’m pretty proud of it in its current form. (Despite the title.)

I’m tentatively making plans to take a weekend, in just a couple weeks (around the 13th), to go down to the Channel Islands and the Ventura area. What’s in Ventura, other than proximity to the Channel Islands? Honestly, hell if I know, but I suppose I’ll find out. If any of you have any suggestions of things that Must Be Done, with the understanding that I’m not going to actually be there that long, let me know. (I plan to leave at some point on Friday and return some point on Sunday.) I have a vague idea that I’ll spend part of this vacation just sitting around the hotel room kickstarting a few projects. In practice, that usually doesn’t happen, but if I get recharged for the rest of the fall, that’ll be good enough.

Before then, I’m less-tentatively making plans to have my car in for service. It’s nearly at 150,000 miles and still runs pretty well, but needs a couple nits picked before making a big road trip. With any luck I can hang onto the car until it approaches 200,000 miles or so. At that point, the trade-in value will be roughly $500. I’ve never gotten more than $500 on a trade-in because darned if I don’t put a lot of miles on my cars.

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I’m in the Fremont Panera—one of two, but the only one I’ve been to, just off I-880 at Auto Mall Parkway. I think this was the first that opened in the SF Bay Area, just a couple years ago.

This has been another day out, even though I hadn’t intended it to be quite as far-ranging as it has been. I just started driving north toward Pleasanton as I was on the phone earlier this morning, and somewhere along the way decided that I’d end up at the Chicago Metropolitan Deli for a Chicago-style hot dog. Like a lot of regional foods—the Philly cheese steak, New York style pizza, and even a Tampa-style Cuban sandwich—this is something whose difficulty in obtaining out of its native habitat seems far out of proportion to the difficulty in recreating it. For this hot dog, we’re talking a Vienna Beef hot dog (or at least something comparable: a bit fat, robustly seasoned, skin with some snap to it), poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, diced tomatoes, diced onions, sport peppers, lengthwise quarters of a dill pickle, Piccalilli relish and celery salt. You boil the hot dog and steam the bun. None of this sounds like it’s real hard to replicate, does it? Apparently, it is. The Chicago Deli comes pretty close, although today they were using sweet pickle relish. (Piccalilli isn’t as sweet—it has other vegetables in it, I believe—and it’s usually an alarming fluorescent green.) It still had the “holy hell somebody’s built a salad on my hot dog are they on crack” vibe going, though, so it gets a pass.

While I was there, I perused one of the little free “Apartment Guide” type rags they have, and decided—highly irrationally—to check out an apartment in Emeryville. This is irrational because it’s a 42-mile drive from there to work, 50 minutes under ideal driving conditions, which—given that the ideal route goes over the Bay Bridge, notorious for nearly 24/7 congestion—I would not have. Nonetheless, I drove to this apartment, Avenue 64, and determined it was out of my imaginary price range, let alone a price range I’d actually consider. I still had the apartment guide, though, and decided to drive a few more miles further, over to Alameda.

I’ve written about Alameda before; it’s an island just south of Oakland, very close to the mainland, historically known mostly for being a naval air station. I’ve mentioned visiting the home of Hangar One Vodka there (and the Qi tea liqueur that I bought which scares nearly everyone else), and of course, Forbidden Island, an awesome tiki bar.

I’ve realized, though, that it’s one of a few towns in the Bay Area I keep consistently coming back to, and I don’t think it’s just for the tiki bar. The other places I’ve found myself wandering—only on lunch breaks at work, for the most part—are San Carlos and Foster City, both on the Peninsula. Foster City is a man-made island on San Francisco Bay, sort of one big prototype version of a “master planned community”; it’s serene and has some interesting waterfront places, but it’s pretty character-free otherwise. San Carlos has a funky little downtown area, a slightly less pretentious Los Gatos.

I think what’s cool about Alameda to me is that it seems to have both those vibes. It’s got the funky beach-front areas, the 1950s-era waterfront condos and apartments along San Francisco Bay like Foster City, but in Alameda those areas actually have life to them: active parks and jogging trails, kite flying and wind surfing. Foster City wants to be a beach bum, but Alameda really is; it’s the difference between an old school Harley rider and a well-to-do doctor who rides a chopper on the weekend. But Alameda also has several funky business districts scattered around it: good restaurants and bars and shops and grocery stores, most of them home grown.

This presents a so-far theoretical conundrum to me, of course: despite my occasional forays into apartment hunting, I don’t really expect to be moving any time soon. On the other hand, if I were to move some place, Alameda would have a lot going for it: I really like what I’ve seen of the place, it isn’t incredibly inconvenient to the rest of the bay area—it’s much more convenient to the two liveliest metro areas than where I am now—and, at least by area standards, the rents are surprisingly affordable. On the third hand, it’s not much closer to work than Emeryville is; at current gas prices, doubling my commuting distance is… a lot. And frankly, if I did go through all the bother and increased rent of moving, I’d rather be cutting my commute time rather than adding to it. (This does feed back to the dream of telecommuting, too, of course.)

As things played out, I didn’t actually tour any apartments in Alameda today, even though I looked at the outsides of several and found information on them. I did end up at Forbidden Island—naturally—and ordered one of their Zombies, to compare it to my own. Theirs is smoother, which didn’t surprise me, but does make me feel like going back to the drawing board for more recipe tweaking.

For now, though, it’s time to head back home.

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Today was spent travelling about with Dave and [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx. First stop, the Cantor Art Center at Stanford, which is a pretty incredible museum for a free one. Currently they’re having an exhibit focused on the Tuareg and how these nomads have adopted to the modern world. (The answer, in short, is fairly well.)

After the museum trip, it was a visit to a restaurant I’ve heard of in the past but never made it to before: O’Reilly’s Holy Grail. It’s an Irish pub in name, but a pretty fine restaurant in practice: there’s a lot of Irish-influenced dishes on the menu, but you’ve definitely got a real chef back there in the kitchen. I had a peat-smoked pork shank, Kim had a steak with whiskey sauce, and Dave had a “Hunter’s Pie,” basically a shepherd’s pie with venison. We split a dessert of a chocolate almond cake with cinnamon ice cream and an orange whiskey sauce. (Whiskey was a theme: my pork was garnished with whiskey-soaked prunes.)

There was also a stop at a book store along the way where, I am afraid, none of us bought Harry Potter and the Unavoidable Spoilers. I did, however, buy a copy of Emma Bull’s first new novel in about a decade, Territory.

All in all, a pretty good day. I’m still feeling relatively energetic even at the late hour, which suggests I should do this sort of thing more often. I need to get both my body and brain in gear on a more regular basis.

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I’m currently preparing for a visit from mom, which happens in… less than 24 hours. Eek. It’ll be something of a mini-vacation, even though we’re staying in the San Jose area: we’re renting a room for a few nights at the Inn at Saratoga, and will be sticking to Bay Area locations rather than going too far afield.

One of the highlights for me, food nerd that I am, will be dinner Thursday night with mom and [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx at Manresa, a restaurant a mere five miles from the house with an international reputation. I am not sure if our rather late reservation of 8:30 will preclude getting the chef’s tasting menu—I hope not, although I don’t know whether the other two will be up for that level of food insanity. We shall see.

However, the real preparation for this “trip” is, of course: a mad dash to do laundry, and to pack tonight. I’ve actually reserved a rental car at the airport, too, but I don’t know if I’ll really go ahead and get it. My car needs service, most notably the air conditioning; the temperatures here are likely to get to the high-to-mid 70s, so a lack of A/C will be uncomfortable but survivable. If I do get the car, I’ll either have to do some creative juggling on how to get to the airport or have my mom drive one of the cars back to the house with me.

Yet I’m still going into work tomorrow, for half a day. This gives the whole endeavor a bit of a surreal air to it—I’m preparing for a trip that really isn’t one.

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This afternoon I was having a lunch of fish and chips on the outside deck of Quinn’s Lighthouse Pub overlooking the Oakland Marina, on a sunny day with temperatures in the mid-70s, and it occurred to me that any complaints about my life being tough wouldn’t be that credible.

After lunch, I did a little exploration around the Oakland Embarcadero area, which is oddly pretty in an industrial way. The sort of place you’d imagine you’d find a lot of warehouses that had been converted to lofts — and in fact, you’d be right. Most of them are condos rather than rentals, though, and I’m not sure whether I’d wanna pay a half-million for a thousand-square-foot one-bedroom place. I’m not sure I’d want to move to Jack London Square, either, regardless.

The afternoon was spent at the Nomad Café in Berkeley, a coffee shop with free wifi and a very, well, Berkeley vibe: earnestly liberal politics, organic everything (their vegan peanut butter cookies are pretty good, I gotta say), and a charmingly funky residential area around the corner. The coffee was good, although like most coffee shops, they really don’t know how to make a cappuccino. From there I ended up cruising up San Pablo Avenue, eventually stopping for a walk around Point Pinole Regional Park. It ended with a somewhat late dinner at On the Border with [livejournal.com profile] dracomistle.

I haven’t gotten much comment back on the free release of “Why Coyotes Howl,” which mildly surprises me, but there you go. I’m still trying to work on other stories, although I’m still trying to work on time management, too — which is mostly just getting more free time accumulated. I have ideas for that, which in turn mostly revolve around telecommuting a few days a week if I can. I know you’re still doing the same amount of work, but you don’t lose the time involved in, well, actually commuting. I’ve noticed the times I’ve done that, I’m often more productive than when I’m in the office — yet I feel almost like I’m on vacation. That’s a pretty cool combination.

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a real post; I’ve started and stopped a few of them, on various topics, but I think I should probably just spit out a quick life update type of post.

Today is, of course, tax weekend, and I’m facing something I haven’t in a couple years: the fun of 1099 status. For those of you not up on IRS lingo, your employer usually sends you, at the end of the year, a W-2 form showing how much you made and how much has already been sent to the IRS on your behalf. If, however, you’re working as an independent contractor, you are effectively your own employer, so the people paying you are not taking out any money, and they send you a 1099 form. And either you’ve been paying an estimate of what would have been withheld quarterly (the right way) or you pay it all at once (the wrong way). Since I started my 1099 work in August, I didn’t think about the quarterly estimated tax thing, and I am paying it all at once. Actually, I am also paying the quarterly estimated tax for the first quarter of 2007, which is also due April 17th. Last year, I only worked about nine months at varying pay rates, four months on W-2; this year I’m estimating my quarterly taxes based on continuous work at my current pay rate, which makes what I’ll pay every quarter this year about equal to what I owe for last year.

I don’t know that I will work all of this year, which is the fun of contracting—but things seem to be pretty stable at work. Being 1099 theoretically puts me in control of when and where I work; that’s part of the legal/tax distinction between “employee” and “contractor.” I’m not sure how far that can be pushed in practice, though. (“I’m moving to Napa and telecommuting three or four days a week, okay?”) Even so, I like the job and it’s paying pretty nicely.

Actually, over the last month it’s been slowly sinking in that my finances are… good. Assuming no negative change in the next few months, my credit card debt of doom will finally be paid off and I’ll be able to throw a lot of my income into savings and I’ll still have money left over to Do Cool Stuff. This is a position I haven’t been in for years.

I’ve started a little of the Cool Stuff Doing already; not too long ago, I went on a somewhat spontaneous weekend trip to Santa Barbara, which I should probably write up as its own little post. I’m rekindling my attempts to find more interesting slightly upscale restaurants in the local area. A couple weekends ago, I bought an Apple TV. And, I’ve been working on spring cleaning for my room—which may include getting some new furniture, as I try to figure out how to maximize the space I have available. Getting a 10′×11′ space to act as both bedroom and office is a challenge.

There’s also trying to find “personal project space,” which connects back to getting the bedroom into shape. My muse is starting to tug at me about my collection of unfinished projects, both writing and programming. I’m hoping to get some of them shoved forward soon.

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I’m just finishing a glass of hard cider at the Rubicon Brewing Company here in Sacramento, and taking advantage of their free wifi network. What brings me to Sacramento, you may ask? My car! Ha! Yes, I had a beer before this. Ahem.

Seriously, while I’ve been to the metro area here a few times, I haven’t actually explored much of the place—I’ve been around the western suburbs where Theodous lives, and once I made it to Arden Fair to visit a sushi place (“Taro’s by Mikuni,” the showcase kitchen of a local chain that [livejournal.com profile] playswithfood recommended), but it occurred to me that I’ve never been downtown.

So, I ended up parking at the Downtown Plaza—which is, as it turns out, an outdoor Westfield Shopping Center (they are inescapable)—and wandered around that area, and a bit more of the city, and part of Old Town Sacramento. “Old Sac” (I swear, that’s what it seems the locals call it) is a district that’s several blocks long along the waterfront. It is preserved as a historic area, so it has a very “Old West” feel, and is full of authentic old west souvenir stands and tee-shirt shops and bars.

Even though I poke fun at it, there’s a lot of stuff here in Sacramento, and it’s a fairly pretty area. Unlike the western subdivisions, there are a lot of trees here, particularly evergreens and firs; the neighborhood I’m in now, creatively dubbed “Midtown,” reminds me—just a little—of some of the areas I saw in Portland, particularly the area where Stumptown Coffee Roasters is.

I had a moderately light dinner of a mixed green salad and hot wings. They were some of the oddest hot wings I’ve had—the sauce had more of an Oriental kick to it, with a definite ginger taste to it and a bit of chunkiness I also associate with Oriental chili sauces. But it was still really good, and some of the hottest I’ve had (at least that’s still edible). With it I had an amber ale—good, if not remarkable—and now I’m finishing a hard apple cider, which is quite good. They have a hard pomegranate cider, too, which I was curious about but decided against.

As it is, though, it’s about quarter to eight and I’ve decided to go hunt for dessert on my way out of town.

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So I’m sitting in Ritual Roasters in San Francisco’s Mission District currently. It’s packed—I was lucky to find a seat. The one I found is a table between two history majors (judging by what’s on their table) having literate conversations about friends and film, and another guy working on a Mac—writing Ruby on Rails code in TextMate.

Every time I wander up to San Francisco, I’m reminded of why I like the city.

This particular coffee shop is said by some to be the best in San Francisco, or possibly the Bay Area. Not having been to many shops up here I can’t say that for sure—while I’ve had coffee from their most often-named competitor, Blue Bottle of Oakland, I haven’t had it from Blue Bottle yet. I’m not sure this place’s cappuccino beats my favorite South Bay locale, Barefoot Coffee Roasters, but it’s the equal (and that’s saying something). Ironically, Ritual gets their coffee from another shop that I’ve been to: Stumptown Coffee in Portland, Oregon.

(As an aside, a way to tell a really good coffee shop is if their cappuccinos and lattés have “foam art” on them: the espresso and foam mixed to be somewhat abstract representations of leaves or apples or what have you. This may sound like it’s just aesthetics, but you can’t do foam art unless you’ve learned how to steam milk the right way. If your cappuccino has a separate layer of sudsy milk froth the barista spooned out, they fail.)

So why am I here? Basically, just to get to the Mission District. I’ve never gotten up here before. This is, I gather, where most of the artists migrated to after they were priced out of SOMA. Or maybe the other way ’round. At any rate, they’re priced out of both now, effectively, so I have no idea where most of them are going. Oakland or South SF, maybe, although one of my coworkers griped about how all the artists and musicians were moving to Seattle.

I need to find something to work on while I’m here other than reading of the Rails guy’s shoulder. I have a couple other posts to think on, but mostly have writing I should be, well, writing on. I don’t know whether this is really a good environment to do that in, but it is inspirational in its own way.

chipotle: (Default)

So I’m off in Fort Bragg for an afternoon—

“Wait,” you may say. “Why would you do such a thing?”

Well, I don’t have a really good reason. I set out to go to Ukiah, but somehow ended up here instead. Are we clear? No? Never mind. We can say it just seemed like a good idea at the time, and it still does.

I’ve driven through Fort Bragg a couple of times before but I’ve never actually stopped before. The name makes one think, not unreasonably, of military barracks, but actually it’s a coastal village full of Victorian buildings—many of them real, not reconstructions—and funky little shops. Right now I’m at a coffe shop with free wireless, looking out the street window, and every building I see is Victorian in style, and the stores include a hair studio, two art galleries, a couple funky clothing stores and something called “ER Energy,” which might be a solar energy store or might be a New Age store. I can’t tell from here. The people I see wandering around seem to be a random mix of people who look like loggers (and might be), old hippies who’ve actually gone back to nature instead of just talking about it, and college age eco-tourist types with rainbow hair and black Birkenstocks.

Actually, this seems to be eco-tourist weekend. I stopped in Hopland on the way here, a little town not too far south of Ukiah, and it was full of folks attending “Solfest,” which is theoretically a solar living festival—although it had bluegrass and folk/alt-country concerts and a few avowedly political speakers like Jim Hightower. Me being me, I was there for lunch, and the Bluebird Cafe was serving with no wait.

So what’s there in Fort Bragg besides hippies and cool architecture? Well, there’s fog. And cold weather. In San Jose today I suspect it was around the mid-80s; in Hopland and Ukiah, it was ten degrees warmer, but in Fort Bragg, it’s more than twenty degrees colder. Yes, it’s a mid-August day and it’s barely breaking 60. This is a bit below the average here—although only a bit: the average high in August is only 67. Of course, the average high in winter is 56, so I suppose it’s fair to describe the place as cool but mild. It’s overcast here from the coastal fog, which I suspect is the area’s natural condition. Could I deal with sunless days being the rule rather than the exception? That’s a back-of-the-mind concern for me, since I still have a notion of looking for work in the Seattle or Portland areas down the road. At any rate, a byproduct of this is a new lightweight jacket for me. I’d intended to bring my old windbreaker (a 15-year-old one that [livejournal.com profile] brahma_minotaur has made a few “My God, do they still make those?” comments about at cons), but managed to leave at home. I suppose this is finally an excuse to retire it; the new windbreaker seems more effective. (Possibly because it’s not fifteen years old.)

Well, that’s not all there is in Fort Bragg. There’s also the North Coast Brewing Company, which happens to have a restaurant and tap room here in addition to their brewery. So I know where I’m likely to end up for dinner tonight.

Of course, I’m still about five hours away from home. I did make a cursory hotel search an hour ago online and everything seems to be booked, so I’ll probably just end up getting in very… very… late. Such is the risk of aimless wandering!

chipotle: (Default)

I’ve more or less taken care of what I needed to have before work; I have some things I should probably be reviewing, though, so I’ve come to a Panera to do some of that review.

In Stockton.

Why in Stockton? I’d say because it’s just such a cool city, but that’s not true—not that it’s a bad city from what I’ve seen, mind you. Definitely a different vibe from the Bay Area, though. Honestly, though, I’m here because I want to be out today. I won’t have the opportunity to go out during weekdays again for a while, I suspect.

Actually, I’m not sure how vacations are going to work with this contract. There are no benefits so obviously it’s unpaid, but the payment is scheduled as a flat biweekly rate. I suppose I’ll ask if it’s prorated by day (which would make sense). In theory, the definition of “independent contractor” means I have latitude in setting my hours and working conditions. That’s a prime part of the legal litmus test: if the person paying you controls the way the work is carried out, that person is hiring you as an employee, not a contractor. In practice, that’s something one can’t push too much, but I may see if I can take advantage of it within reason—experimenting with commuting hours and inquiring about telecommuting options.

But at this point, it is time to start investigating what else is in Stockton. I’m not hungry enough to eat yet—which is perhaps just as well, budget considered—but I can explore the town a little more. I may be hungry enough for a milkshake at the Sonic Drive-In in Tracy on the way back, the closest Sonic to the SF Bay Area. (I have explored Tracy a bit, and as unkind as it may sound, I suspect Sonic is one of the better food options there anyway.)

chipotle: (Default)

So I decided I wanted a good burger for lunch today.

A random search of Chowhound suggested a few alternatives, but I was in a seaside mood (perhaps because the Excursion Society is, however slowly, inching off the ground). So I ended up at Quinn’s Lighthouse in Oakland, just off the Embarcadero.

And you know, it was a pretty damn good burger. Medium Niman Ranch beef, nicely seasoned, served on a garlic sourdough bun. (Think of a good garlic bread—toasted with fresh garlic and a bit of butter.) Two beers, looking out from the lighthouse’s second floor over a little secluded marina.

After that, I followed the Embarcadero over to Alameda, all but by accident, and came across the Alameda Marketplace. It’s a natural foods store, bakery, and coffee shop. I’m sitting here finishing an iced Vietnamese coffee and using their free wifi to check e-mail and not get writing done.

Most of the folks I know in the local area are in the South Bay or Peninsula, and there’s a tendency to cap on the East Bay a lot, but the more I explore, the more impressed with the area I am. From about Fremont—and the San Jose Mission district—on up all the way through Martinez, there’s just a lot of cool little nooks and crannies to explore. Yeah, there are stretches which are just industrial and decaying downtown, but even Oakland has a lot more there here than I think it seems from the other side of the Bay.

If I wanted to live in a real honest-to-God metro area, San Francisco proper would still be The Place locally, but if I had reason to move up to the Rockridge area in Oakland—or if there was an apartment within a few blocks of this marketplace and a job not too far away—I definitely wouldn’t turn it down.

chipotle: (Default)

Wandering yesterday took me up all the way to Santa Rosa, for no reason other than to see Santa Rosa. I’ve driven past it a few times but never stopped there. It seems pleasant enough, but it’s one of those downtowns where every parking space is metered, which doesn’t encourage a casual wandering-around for an afternoon. I am tempted to try to get all the way up to Healdsburg sometime soon—like, maybe this week—to see if I can get to the Tierra Vegetables farm stand I’ve been meaning to visit but never think about when I’m actually in that area. Why? Chipotles. Really. They’re said to have the best chipotles and chipotle powder available. I’m not a gourmet cook, but I can pretend to be one on occasion.

After that, I took a meandering path between Santa Rosa and Saint Helena, stopping at a local market for a Gravenstein apple—a type that I believe originated in Sebastopol, although I think it’s grown in a few other places around the northwest now. I’d never had one before and given that we’re close to Sebastopol’s Apple Festival, I knew they were in season. (I think of apples as a fall crop, but I guess it’s late enough.) They’re like pink lady apples, if you’ve seen those; tart, but with a little more sweetness than Granny Smiths. Then it was up—and down—Spring Mountain Road, which is a beautiful drive, ranging from twisty mountain roads on the west side to rolling hills topped with Tuscany-style villas and vineyards on the east as you head into Napa.

The path back was along the I-680 corridor, but I did take a short detour to Fairfield to Chick-Fil-A for dinner. Oh, don’t look at me that way, I like them and that’s the closest one to the SF Bay Area. The last time I was in Fairfield, I took a chance and went to Adalberto’s for a “California burrito,” a San Diego specialty; it was fine enough, but I missed the chicken sandwich.

So, news on the job front: interesting. I posted new ads on Craigslist yesterday which were written in an offbeat fashion—not a resume, but a FAQ, essentially, and this time promoting myself as a LAMP developer. I posted it both on the SF board and the Seattle board, and I’ve already gotten contacts from both—it seems people either read it and are interested in it, or don’t read it at all. (Several recruiters have sent me the same job twice, clearly looking at both the Craigslist boards without paying attention to the fact that the postings are written by the same person.) However, after I posted that, I received a contact from the place I was interviewing at last week. More about that later.

chipotle: (beer)
And you may say, "Why are you are at a brewpub when you are unemployed?" to which I will say, "Beer."

And if you say, "Beer is not an answer," I will say, "Beer is always an answer."

(And, hey, it's a brewpub with free wifi. You can't beat that with a stick.)
chipotle: (Default)

I’ve met people who navigate by way of pop culture landmarks: they know where every Starbucks is, or every McDonald’s, or every Kinko’s. I think I’m starting to navigate by way of Panera Bread.

They’re great for digital nomads: for a chain restaurant, the food’s good and reasonably priced; they’re usually pleasantly decorated, clean, and have unobtrusive music (neither attention-demanding rock nor intelligence-draining Muzak); and they have free wifi with respectable bandwidth. Lately, of course, the $1.39 oatmeal cookie seems like a splurge—I’m going to have to look up good oatmeal cookie recipes.

On the job front, I know I’m being more lackadaisical than the situation warrants—I’m not pursuing “gigs” from Craigslist that I potentially could be, nor am I putting together the PHP web portfolio that I probably should be. I don’t have any outside URLs I can point to anymore; the last visible web site I did for a client that’s still my work is broken, and it didn’t do anything very spiffy anyway. I’m plodding through my Ruby on Rails book but know I should really be sitting down with a notepad (of the physical kind, not the computer analogue) and doodling out ideas.

This doesn’t mean I’ve been a complete café bum today, however—I did send out writing samples to a recruiter who’s trying to get me into a contract position with a Big Name Company™ at a more-than-respectable pay rate. As I previously wrote, a high wage contract would be a swell thing on many levels, so I really shouldn’t let ones that get dangled in front of me go by without investigation.

I’m just about finished with a glass of my most recent mai-tai tweak, which is pretty good—two ounces of aged rum, and a half-ounce each of orange curacao, orgeat syrup, fresh lime juice, and lemon-infused sugar syrup. Dinner? Either simple pasta and jarred sauce or a frozen entree; I’m not feeling very ambitious, not even enough to make my own pasta sauce, given both the hour and the pretty good store-bought marinara I already have.

The rest of the evening will probably consist of goofing around/talking online and reading more of the Rails book. Life may currently be income-free, but it’s not all bad, definitely.

chipotle: (Default)

I’m at the Panera in Gilroy again. My vague plan is to work on… well, I’m not entirely sure. A story idea I’ve had kicking around for a while, at the very least. Maybe some of the ideas for online things, too. I’m still in the state where I have so much I’m trying to juggle in my mind that I’m not focusing enough to get any of them done. I’m going through job listings, but my heart—or perhaps just my head—isn’t in the right place for this right now.

I’d mentioned to a few people yesterday about my desire to go down to the Mojave or Death Valley, but the weather even there—at least in Barstow, one of the closest towns—isn’t that good today. And, I realize that even under the best of circumstances, between gas, food and motel, an overnight there is likely to run $250–300. (I might try sleeping in my car, but that’s not something it accommodates gracefully.) Even so, April’s probably the month to do this in if I’m going to do it, and I’ve been thinking I should since I’ve been out here. In theory, this is the time the deserts bloom; I don’t know what the rains this year are likely to do to that. There may be a terrific display, or all the seeds may have been washed away. But even without a wildflower show, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the deserts. [livejournal.com profile] jadedfox asked if this was a coyote pilgrimage. Maybe. I’ve grown more attracted to the Pacific Northwest since the week I spent in New Mexico; it’d be good to get a new, more recent image of the southwest again. Which would really suggest I should drive on into Arizona, of course, and make this a trip more like the one I took to Portland shortly before I got the last big contract job.

I’d like to think that means that if I take another several-day-long vacation, great things will happen shortly after, but I suspect you can’t force karma that way. You have to take the vacation for its own sake, on its own terms.

Anyway, I suspect it’s time to refill my coffee (don’t look at me that way, it’ll only be the second cup and they’re small mugs) and to pull out the notes I’ve been working on, maybe alternate between them and some web and ESM stuff I have in mind. I’m trying to get my muse back in the habit of working; waiting around for inspiration is always a perilous notion, and I have very little excuse not to be trying to write several hours a day for the time being.

Oh. As a related side note: My apparently annual realization that being online all the time is not conducive to concentration is upon me. I just ask that when I am on IM, you respect whatever I’ve set the status message to. If it’s set to Busy but checking in, IMing me with “*poke*” when I don’t respond quickly is not helpful!

chipotle: (Default)

That really wasn’t what I intended to happen yesterday.

The morning had a quick not-really-interview with a recruiter, about a position that I don’t think either of us believes I’m actually qualified for (the client wants a few pretty specific skills that I don’t have), then another stop at the doctor’s office to drop things off. The office is in a little “medical district” very close to the Highway 17/85 intersection, and I figured I’d take Highway 17 over the mountains down to the Ugly Mug in Soquel.

Route to Soquel

Now, I’ll be the first to admit there are, in fact, coffee shops closer than the 26-mile journey that represents. In fact, my favorite coffee house in terms of the actual coffee is Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara, and they’re much closer! But I discovered the Ugly Mug over a year ago, though (during my last work-free stretch), and somehow fell in love with it. It’s everything a stereotypical college coffee house should be: dark wood, nooks and crannies, fairly lively conversation with regulars—and unlike Barefoot, enough space to spread out a little and get work done. And as is proper for a college coffee hangout in this day and age, free wi-fi and power outlets available.

But, somehow, this isn’t quite what happened.

See, I decided that, well, since I was already over “the hill”—that is, to the Santa Cruz side of Highway 17, and onto Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway—I’d go down just a few more miles to look at the ocean.

And I did that, stopping at one of the state beach overlooks just south of Soquel, walking around the beach a little.

Then I figured, well, maybe I’ll keep going just a little farther.

But “little” is such a relative measure, isn’t it? I ended up going around Monterey Bay, and at that point, I wasn’t that far away from the Big Sur coast…

So. Yeah. I never actually made it to the Ugly Mug. I just kept going down the PCH.

I stopped along the coast a few times. I got a brownie and a Cafe Americano at the Big Sur Bakery, a fantastic restaurant I’ve written about before. I stopped briefly at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. I got stuck waiting for CalTrans to clear a mudslide somewhere around Limekiln State Park—but that was okay. It was a beautiful day at that point. There was a line of cars and nobody really seemed to mind being stuck there.

As things worked out, I pulled into Morro Bay around dinnertime, and went to the forebodingly named “Taco Temple” on the recommendation of Chowhound.com members. Despite the name, the food was pretty terrific, reminding me oddly of some of the family restaurants in the Florida Keys—a bright, clean but no-frills look.

What this trip did for me—besides cost me more than I should have spent in fuel—was recenter me. The Big Sur coast may be the most beautiful area I’ve ever been to, honestly. Being there makes me feel brighter, calmer. It reminds me of just what it is I like about this state. I like many things I found in Florida; I’d like to go back to the Southwest and explore much more of it; but if I won the lottery, if I could live anywhere, I might just end up along Big Sur somewhere.

I also had time to do some thinking about where I want to be, what I want to do. I haven’t come to any definite conclusions—that’s a lot of insight to ask of a day trip—but I’ve come to at least one conclusion that’s rather shocked me: I may want to aim for contract work, not permanent work.

Every interviewer comes up with a question that’s a variant on, Where do you see yourself in five years? As standard as the question may be, in the 21st century tech market, a three-year anniversary is relatively rare. What I’m expected to say—what I usually do say—is that I expect to be with that company, on a career track. But right now, I don’t feel like there’s a company out there I could honestly say that to. (There’s a non-profit or two I could honestly say that to, and I’ve applied to one and may apply to more.)

I suppose I am, basically, in the frame of mind where one joins—or starts—a startup. I even have an idea or two, although I haven’t fleshed them out well enough to decide whether any are (a) worth pursuing and (b) commercial.

But maybe where I see myself in five years is working for myself. In a cabin, not too far from the Pacific Coast.

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