She and I landed, picked up the car and headed to Monterey. We’ve been north of San Francisco many times. We’ve been to Los Angeles many times. But the geography between was unknown. So we decided to try Monterey Bay.
Our hotel was on Cannery Row. Across the street from Bubba Gump’s…
Let me take a moment here. Mine is a visceral reaction to massive restaurant chains. My basic guideline is if I can get it at home, I won’t go there when I’m traveling. And if I wouldn’t eat there in my hometown, why on earth would I do so on vacation? I don’t travel to see the same stuff. I don’t travel in order to not experience anything new. I’m certainly not going to go to a Red Robin in WHEREVER and order the Peppercorn Burger, turn to Her and say “It tastes EXACTLY like the one I can get at home. AMAZING!”
I get it, some people eat what’s safe to them. People like what they like. Some people don’t like trying new things. And some people have dietary issues or children that make it difficult to navigate a strange menu. I get that. I’m just lucky to not be in that situation. If around the corner from a Chipotle is a taqueria that serves a great street taco for the same or even nominally more, you and I both know that I won’t be doing the Chipotle Shuffle.
So the presence of Bubba Gump’s (seemingly the busiest restaurant on Cannery Row), flanked on all sides by t-shirt shops, palm readers, candy stores and bars with names like “Sly McFly’s” indicated that we’d landed right in the middle of The Fisherman’s Wharf’s little brother. Although, the jerky place called “Jerkyville” with the mannequin in a ship captain’s uniform and a corn cob pipe was interesting, if not straight out of one of my nightmares.
The next day we wanted to explore the area a little. Monterey lies on a peninsula on California’s central coast. It shares the peninsula with several seaside villages, notably Pebble Beach and Carmel. We took the long way around, the 17 Mile Drive winding along the coast, through Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, and ending in Carmel. It was a great day. The 17 Mile Drive was worth the ten bucks it cost to get through the gate. Beautiful homes, rugged coastline, wildlife and golf courses for miles and miles.
Carmel was really nice. Yep, really nice. If a company that built homes for seniors decided to build a small city for seniors who’d been responsible money managers that city would look like Carmel. I think the bars in Carmel close at 4 pm. By seven the lovely little downtown was a ghost town. But in Carmel, at a restaurant called Cultura, She and I had a meal better than we’ve had in a long time. If you’re in the area and in the mood for great Mexican food, go there. You won’t be disappointed.
On Monday it was back to San Francisco. We took a zig-zagging route back, wanting to see some stuff along the way. We had lunch in Capitola, one of California’s original vacation spots. It was a picturesque little place, full of shops and restaurants, and well worth the stop.
She had a conference call looming, so we decided to try to cut through the hills and head to Palo Alto to see Stanford. Cell reception was sketchy for us (stupid AT&T, I’m looking at you) so we needed to go quickly. Driving like a madman on twisting mountain roads, I get us about two-thirds of the way to the freeway, about 12 miles in, and the road is closed. Construction equipment had removed the road. It was gone. No cheating, no sneaking around. There just wasn’t a road. So we had to turn back. Now I’m driving like a madman off his meds, while She is holding up her phone, willing it to find a signal.
We ended up outside of Santa Cruz, on the shoreline at a place known to surfers as Steamer Lane. While She conducted what I can only assume was very important business loaded with lots of important acronyms, I watched people surf, took pictures of harbor seals, and wandered about watching people. It ended up being one of my favorite parts of the day.
Our next stop was Stanford. My only previous experience with Stanford besides that of academic curiosity was playing a criminally precocious hacker with some missions on campus in the video game “Watchdogs 2” (if you’re a gamer, give it a shot. It was a fun little jaunt). Stanford is a beautiful campus, with a rich and unique attachment to it’s history. I loved it, and imagine I would’ve enjoyed matriculating there. Though with an acceptance rate of around 4%, such a thing was unlikely. Some would say impossible, but I’m going to say unlikely because then I can still say to myself “I coulda gone there.”
Before heading back to SF, She and I decided to stop for a snack and a beer near campus. It was a little tap room called “The Tap Room”. We hoped they served beer, and acknowledged the risk. The beers were good, though the guy who poured them looked genuinely perplexed at his inability to work a nitro tap. He’d pour a glass of foam, look at us with an expression of authentic confusion and consternation, then try again. She had two beers, and each time it took him about 15 minutes to apologetically deliver a two-thirds full glass. He was a nice young guy who didn’t charge us for the second round, and seemed unlikely to learn how to pour a beer. I’ve decided his name is Gordon, though his friends call him “Gordo”. Gordo is probably a third year engineering student in Stanford’s Nanotech Prototyping Laboratory.
We could’ve stayed there all night, drinking Irish Red and mostly-full glasses of a coffee porter on nitro, thanks to Robert and Brian.
Robert and Brian were from Ireland and England, respectively. They were in Palo Alto on business and had sat down on the benches next to She and I, each with a flight of beers to try.
“Excuse me,” said Robert. “Can you answer a question for my friend and I?”
“Of course,” I said.
“So, in baseball,” he started, pointing at the television above the bar. “can the players at the pylons run when the catching player catches the ball at the boundary prior to it touching the field?”
Seriously, that was the question. I translated the best I could.
“When the fielder catches a fly ball, that’s a fair ball hit into the field without touching the ground,” I explained, hoping I understood what he was asking, “the runners can’t advance until after the ball is caught. If they’ve left their base prior to the catch, they must retreat to tag-up.”
And so it went. After talking a little baseball, She and I found ourselves in a highly enjoyable conversation with the two gentlemen from Great Britain in Palo Alto on business from Myanmar, where they currently live. Robert hopes his very bright son, who is in a Master’s program at Georgetown, scraps it all to become a rockstar. Brian seems to think Robert should drink his beer more slowly. We had great fun.