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As I start this, I’m riding the BART train into work. This is a way of commuting I’m still not used to. It’s not cheap—$4.75 each way on BART plus $1 a day for parking (unless I buy a monthly parking permit, which is actually more expensive per day at $30 a month). It’s also not fast—the drive from the apartment in Foster City to the Millbrae Transit Station, the southern end of the BART line on the Peninsula, is 15 to 20 minutes and the ride on BART is 35. On the flip side, though, it’s relatively easy: obviously, on BART there’s no driving involved. And parking fees alone at my building would cost more than I’m paying for this trip.

I’ll admit that of the several commuter rail services I’ve tried in the Bay Area, BART is the best only in terms of reach. Caltrain is considerably quieter, considerably more comfortable, and considerably faster—a limited or bullet train would make the trip into San Francisco from Millbrae in under 20 minutes. And it’s no more expensive. Unfortunately, the SF Caltrain station is a mile and a half from the office, more than I’m inclined to walk. Taking MUNI from the station to the office would add another $4 per day in the commute. In theory, I could actually catch Caltrain closer to the apartment at the cost of an extra buck a day in parking, but at that point it’s become a third again as expensive, and Caltrain—as [livejournal.com profile] jakebe frequently has reason to complain—has the Achilles’ heel of railroad crossings, providing high potential for traffic accidents and the occasional suicide. BART is at various points a subway or an elevated track, but roads never cross it.

On the other hand: more comfortable, quieter, and—yes, when not delayed—faster. Hmm.

Anyway, this gives me something to think about: I can make a go of this kind of commuting and be moderately comfortable with it. This opens up the potential for living longer distances away from my work if I choose to, provided that both my home and my workplace are sufficiently close to rail lines. I could move back down the peninsula and take Caltrain in, or go anywhere in the East Bay that’s still on BART—although that would open up the problem I’ve written about before of being farther away than I’d want from friends. Granted, driving an hour or so each way to get somewhere on a weekend is hardly new for me, but I’ve noticed that in practice getting together with friends much past a ten-mile radius of one’s house rarely happens. Maybe one can develop a mindset of frequently pinging friends to see if they’re busy, to even (gasp) plan ahead, but by now it’s a little unlikely I’m going to change my ways, I’m afraid.

But: speaking of that, and of lack of planning ahead, I’d like to see if I can get people together for my birthday—to go out to a group-friendly restaurant, perhaps Buca di Beppo in Palo Alto. (I’m open to other suggestions; my thought is that Palo Alto isn’t too far for people from the South Bay, but isn’t as far as, well, the South Bay for anyone coming from the north or east.) Technically, my birthday is tomorrow, and while I’d normally just suggest bumping things to the next weekend, the next weekend is, well, Halloween. So. I may see if I can get people together for the next next weekend, say, Saturday November 7.

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About halfway through October I went up to Seattle to visit [livejournal.com profile] shaterri and [livejournal.com profile] quarrel for a long weekend, which involved visiting a few Seattle neighborhoods, walking around downtown, and visiting Vancouver and Granville Island. And—unsurprisingly, given that Shaterri is at least as much of a foodie as I am—various restaurants, from Poppy to Spur. I spent some time at Zig Zag Cafe, home of the quasi-famous (and terrific) bartender Murray, and tried Carpica Antica vermouth for the first time, and Victoria Gin, made—I think—up in Vancouver.

Shaterri talks up Seattle so regularly that one wonders if the Visitors’ Bureau is paying him (and if not, why not). But it’s an area that seems eminently worthy of accolades: many walkable neighborhoods, a great culture (by which I personally mean “coffee shops, brewpubs and restaurants”), and very, very green. Yes, it’s rainier and a little cooler than I’d personally prefer, but I suspect if I were offered a job in any major American city of my choice, that’d be the one I’d choose.

Of course, I’ve just started a job in the closest American city to me, San Francisco. This is the first time since I’ve been out here (seven years, as of next month) that I’ve worked in the city, and at least so far I’m really liking it. My commute is the longest that I’ve had time-wise, but ironically one of the easiest: I drive to the Millbrae Transit Station, which is usually about 20 minutes with traffic, then take BART into the city, about a 35-minute ride. Since Millbrae is the start of the BART line, I always have a seat in the morning; I usually start standing on the way home but get a seat before we’ve left downtown.

The office building I’m in is One Market Plaza; this puts me within a few blocks not only of the bay itself, but an amazing array of lunch choices. There’s a food court in the building itself and another one in Rincon Center, the next block over. And a row of restaurants and cafes along Steuart Street. And the Ferry Building sits right across the Embarcadero, with its array of permanent food stands and cafes, and a farmers’ market on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m used to taking long lunch breaks to go find interesting places to eat—but now I’m surrounded by them. (I see coworkers bringing their microwave lunches to work and I want to shake them and scream, “You are in one of the best food cities in the world and you are having goddamn Stouffer’s?”)

I’ve written before about my feelings of being tugged toward both urban life and—well, less rural than a particular kind of suburban life, the kind of place where you can see a lot of stars at night but you’re not isolated, where there are homes around but it’s not modern tract housing, and where urban life isn’t more than an hour or so away when you want to spend time experiencing it. (Shaterri’s place is actually pretty close to this ideal.) This job is the most exposure to true urban living that I’ve had—even though I go home to a very suburban community every night.

Yet I think I don’t really want to live in a big city. There are urban places that might tempt me: the Fremont area in Seattle, and I’ve mentioned the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland before. But San Francisco? Probably not. There’s not much greenspace in SF except in small pockets (and one huge one), it’s very expensive, and even in “nice” areas there’s litter in the streets. That last one is very striking comparing it to Seattle or Vancouver, but it’s not too hard to see even comparing it to other Bay Area cities.

But for now that’s not much of a concern; I don’t expect to move any time soon (I’m about to sign a lease here for another year). I don’t know if this contract will last the full six months—I’ve grown to assume that plans collapse on short notice—nor if I’ll be able to go permanent, but just going the full six months will help my finances considerably.

I’ve been considering trying to make a more concerted effort to write something in this journal at least weekly because, frankly, I need the mental exercise. This is a recurring promise I recurrently break, so no promises, but I’ll try.

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I opened my last entry, back on June 17, with “it’s been almost a month since I’ve updated my LiveJournal.” Well, now it’s been, uh, more than a month.

I went to [livejournal.com profile] tugrik’s big shop shindig (to borrow [livejournal.com profile] jakebe’s word) on Saturday and had a great time. I’ve driven all over hell the last couple of days, so it seems, between here in Foster City, [livejournal.com profile] jadedfox’s place in Alameda and Tugrik’s shop down in San Jose; while I was tempted to drive somewhere yesterday (when I wrote this) just to find a quiet place to hang out, I was also tempted to, well, just stay in one place. The sedentary impulse won out.

Beyond that... )

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The last few weeks I’ve been reminded that yes, I am working for a Silicon Valley startup. We’ll just say things have been busy, and on weekends I’m usually inclined to be doing something that either doesn’t involve being in front of the computer or at least requires no thought. (Standard plug: one can follow me on Twitter or FriendFeed as “chipotlecoyote.” I’ve seen utilities that let you echo Twitter messages to your LiveJournal, which I hereby solemnly swear to never use.)

There’s many things I like about living in the San Mateo area. I like San Jose, but in terms of “urban cool,” the Peninsula wins. Mountain View, Palo Alto, Burlingame, San Mateo itself—and of course now BART is just about 10 minutes away, which opens up a huge chunk of the rest of the Bay Area. I’ve regularly gone not only into San Francisco but to Berkeley and Walnut Creek via rail.

What’s not so cool, though, is that it’s been somewhat isolating. Most of the people I know are in the South Bay. While 25 miles isn’t that far to travel, I’m no longer quite a “local.” I don’t get together with folks very often. I don’t think to call people (or IM or SMS or whatever) to ask what’s up when movies open or guests are in town, which means I’m often reading about get-togethers after they happen. While this can lead to a certain sense of paranoia, I’m pretty lousy at initiating contact myself. Some of that’s longstanding social paralysis; most of it is, I fear, that out of sight, out of mind works both ways. “Oh yeah, I should get together with $X” flits through my mind occasionally, but all too often keeps right on flitting.

So as a general thought: hey, if you’re a friend in the local area, I should get together with you more often. (If you’re a friend in a long-distance area, I should probably get together with you more often, too, but that’s trickier.)

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It’s about ten before nine as I start writing this, and I’m not in traffic this morning; instead I’m sitting in the Millbrae Panera, about 10 miles from the house, with a bagel and cream cheese and a cup of coffee. Yes, it’s a holiday, and one that I’d almost forgotten about having off—it was only as I was leaving the office and called “see you Monday” to a coworker that I got back, “Oh, Monday’s a day off. See you Tuesday.”

The power at the apartment went out this morning, just after seven, and as far as I can tell it’s still out. This means that my web sites and the Excursion Society MUCK are down, as well as [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar’s Stardancer. I did learn, at least, that the UPS monitoring daemon in OS X actually works now, as after about five minutes Parmesan (my PowerMac G5) shut down gracefully. Unfortunately, Agii (the web server) didn’t have that enabled, so hopefully it’ll all come back up without undue stress. (In theory, I back up my home directory to Parmesan via rsync every night, and I back up Parmesan to an external drive… somewhat less frequently than I honestly should. Parmesan is actually due for an internal hard drive replacement given its age, but I’m still debating replacing Parmesan itself. That’s another post, though.)

(Note: around 9:20 or so, Agii came back online. I haven’t reconnected to it to check on my own various web services, but I shall before I leave Panera.)

So what do I plan to do with my day off, you ask? In theory, write. I haven’t done anything on “Gift of Fire” since last weekend. I’ve been having trouble dragging myself out of bed early enough to get in writing in the morning, and both of the weekend days were largely committed—Saturday to a somewhat roundabout trip to Santa Cruz, and Sunday to a large block of role-playing on the Excursion Society, kicking off a long-delayed trip and some of the first interaction that hasn’t been characters sitting around hoping something would happen in months.

In practice, I don’t think I want to sit here at Panera the whole day trying to write, though. The atmosphere’s still pleasant enough in its own way but perhaps it’s become a little too sterile, or perhaps I’m anticipating the inevitable lunch rush with dread. (They’ve also taken to shutting off your wifi if you’re on it for more than 30 minutes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., precisely because of said lunch rush—an understandable business decision but not one that fills me with joy, even though if I’m writing I shouldn’t be on the damn network anyway.) I’m contemplating heading up into San Francisco to check out Ritual Coffee Roasters, which I’ve been to once before, many months ago, and see if I can write there. Will it be magically more inspiring? Maybe. Maybe it’ll just be a waste of time, of course.

I’ve also brought my camera with me. I have a Nikon D70; last week I became a bit technolusty after one of the newer Nikons, the D300. (For those not up on the model line, the D70 was replaced by the D70s and then the D80; Nikon’s newest cameras are the Serious Pro Level D3 and its less buff cousin, the D300, which is nonetheless a serious leap up from the D80.) But, I didn’t use it very much at all last year; if I want to re-engage my shutterbug a little, I need to get re-engaged with the tools I have before buying new ones. And, of course, if I bought a new gadget sometime for the D70—a new lens, a tripod, an external flash—it would transfer to any newer camera body. But the point is to retrain myself to get out there and start taking photos again.

Thinking about computers and camera gear also, not unsurprisingly, makes me think about finances. That too could be another post, but the short form is that on Friday, I got my first direct deposit paycheck. Regular pay means I can put into effect a regular transfer into savings, something I haven’t done since… well, I’m not sure I’ve done it this decade. Last year on contract, I did put money into savings irregularly, but most “savings” actually went to debt payment. At the end of 2006 I paid off my car, leaving just a credit card debt that was, if I recall right, about $10K. I paid that off by the end of 2007. Given the bleak economic outlook for 2008, this is probably an excellent time to not have debt. I now might have the stability to start (gasp) buying stocks and bonds—which at first glance seems odd to think about given that just-mentioned economic outlook, but over the long-term, it’s nearly always a good bet. I’m still doing my research on that.

At any rate, even if I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, it’s definitely time to do something. Upward and onward.

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When I first moved out to California, I made tongue-in-cheek references to my “VDAP,” a vaguely-defined action plan. It went something like this:

  1. Take up [livejournal.com profile] tugrik on his offer of crash space.
  2. Get a great job that would shower with me money.
  3. Find a place to live like where I’d been back in Tampa.

Wouldn’t you know it, though, step two turned out to be non-trivial. And as it turns out, step three isn’t so easy, either; my old apartment out there now rents for about $800 a month, about half what a comparable apartment most places in the SF Bay area would run. (Before locals object: 800 square foot one-bedroom place with A/C, walk-in closets, full-sized washer and dryer, dishwasher, kitchen with pantry and breakfast bar, in a complex with a good fitness center and swimming pool, built within the last 10-15 years. Sure you can get one comparable for under $1500?)

So the upshot is that I’ve stayed put.

And this isn’t a bad thing. My housemates (in addition to [livejournal.com profile] tugrik, they include [livejournal.com profile] revar, [livejournal.com profile] bigtig, [livejournal.com profile] susandeer, and five cats) have pretty much been great, it’s a nice enough house that’s just filled with cool stuff thanks to Tugrik’s gadget fetishes, and the shared rent is phenomenally low — far below market rate for the area. So I’ve liked where I’m living, and I couldn’t have afforded to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area if I’d been most anywhere else.

But you know, it’s been five years.

My current job, despite being “independent contracting,” is about as permanent as a normal position would be. My debt is, as of a week ago, completely gone. My credit isn’t excellent but it’s good. And since I don’t think the tumble that’s started in the housing market is going to get better soon, rent is likely to climb even faster as people get squeezed out of homes or decide not to run the mortgage gauntlet just yet. And, I’ve recently learned that the principals of the little company I’m at would like to move the office to San Mateo next year. My commute is already a little grating; it would get, well, more grating at that point.

I’ve looked around at all sorts of crazy places; apartment hunting has been an idle hobby more than an actual plan. I’d somewhat settled on the idea that if I did move, I’d likely end up either in the East Bay or possibly in Belmont for cost reasons: Belmont’s a town on the peninsula filled with older apartment complexes, and the East Bay is, well, cheaper. Some places in the East Bay are a lot nicer than friends in the South Bay seem to imagine; Alameda is a cool area, as is the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland (yes, really), and some of the places on the “680 corridor” are really pretty. Pretty enough and cheap enough to justify an 80-minute commute between Mountain View or San Mateo and San Ramon or Alameda, though? Hmm.

So the upshot is that I’ve still stayed put. I don’t like the idea of moving, really; it’s a hassle and a half, and I’ll have to buy furniture, and blah blah blah. You can fill in all the potential complaints yourself. It’s sort of comfortable to have this as a hobby. I can collect lots of apartment complex brochures without doing anything more than frustrating leasing agents.

However, now there’s an opportunity contingent on someone else’s opportunity; a friend may end up getting a job around the Redwood City area, and if I am willing to move into a “just one housemate” situation, the possibility of a 2BR/2BA place on the peninsula opens up. A nice place. Nice enough that, frankly, my rent and utilities would still double — even by San Mateo area standards, some of these apartments aren’t cheap — but near (or even in) downtown and with top-notch amenities. Throw in the usual caveats about apartments showing better than they are in practice, I know. But even so.

The thing is, now I’m actively nervous. If the stars line up just so (as of yet, they have not), I’d have to make a decision about moving soon. Before the end of the month. (Just in time for the holidays because you know that’s always when you want major life upheaval.) Do I really want to move? I’ve been assuming if I did move, I’d move into a place of my own (as much as an apartment can be “yours”); do I want to change that assumption?

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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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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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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.

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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.

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It’s about 8:40 as I start this, and I’m sitting at the Ohlone/Chynoweth light rail station waiting for the next train. This is actually the one after the one I should have caught, so I’ll be later than planned into work. Fortunately they seem to be okay with “flexible hours”; this just means I’ll end up staying late, or working through (part of) lunch.

I’ve ridden light rail into work every so often since I’ve been working at Cisco; they pay for the rail costs, so it’s mostly a matter of getting up early enough to take it in (that old bugaboo of waking up on time haunts me once again). It doesn’t go right by the house, but it makes the driving part of my commute just about three miles to the park-and-ride lot rather than 18 miles. With gas prices what they are, I might be saving even if Cisco didn’t pay; as it is, this should be a no-brainer. (The fact that I’m still driving in a lot of the time says something unflattering about me, I suspect.)

Common wisdom holds that public transit only works in dense, highly-populated metro areas—San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, New York. Other areas always try it, but you have to live within a convenient distance of the nearest transit route and work within walking distance, and most places can’t manage that—so their ridership is low, which means they don’t have the resources to run more routes with more frequent stops. Which makes it all that much more inconvenient. This perfectly describes Hillsborough County, where Tampa is, which has a couple dozen bus routes that run hourly at best and almost guarantee that, if you’re actually working, they’ll be slow, distant from your start and destination, and poorly-timed. Which, in turn, guarantees that you won’t take public transit unless you’re forced. The only times I rode Hillsborough’s transit by choice were times I was working downtown, when they had a free “downtown only” bus that ran every fifteen minutes at during business hours.

San Jose is a much bigger metro area than Hillsborough County, of course, and not only has moderately more convenient bus lines but has several light rail lines. These lines are even more subject to the only useful if you live near them Catch-22, but the routes are better-chosen than I’d given them credit for—most of the more populated parts of Santa Clara County are within quick driving distance of a park-and-ride lot (although some areas are waiting on a spur line that’ll open this summer).

Over this fairly short time, just five months, I’ve been able to watch ridership increase and the demographics of the riders shift. When I first started doing this, the park and ride lot was getting light use and the riders seemed to mostly be elderly and low-income people, following the expected stereotype. There’d be moderate use from where I boarded north to downtown, then almost nobody else on the train north to Cisco Way. (Yes, that’s the name of a light rail stop, literally in front of my office building.) This morning, the parking lot was nearly full when I got there, and ridership has been approaching standing-room-only. I see a lot of university students taking rail in rather than driving. And past the downtown area, the train is still pretty packed, with a lot of riders who are clearly other professionals.

The moral of the story is that it’s not just population density that makes public transportation really attractive. Gas for $2.59 a gallon makes people a lot more interested, too.


I’ve been somewhat neglecting this journal; I’m going to try to do better about updating it, because I think it helps keep me focused. I’m self-conscious about the length of my posts sometimes—when I’m “into” journaling, I have a tendency to write what amounts to columns, like the one above. Hopefully those of you who aren’t used to that from me will forgive the excess. (Longer-time readers have surely gotten used to this, and either enjoy it or roll their eyes and skip over these without telling me.) To me, 600-800 words on a post isn’t that big a deal, but if you think I should be putting these behind cut tags, let me know.

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