Thursday, August 20, 2009

Road Trip: Bay Area and More - Squid, Squid, Fries About the Other Day

I’m not sure exactly when I woke up yesterday, my alarm was set for nine, but I woke up before it buzzed and it never got to do its job. Some time, close to nine but not quite there yet, Tyler grew bored with lying in bed and made a buzzing sound like a dying tug boat. Nate and I, who were both awake, bolted up with looks of total puzzlement on our faces. Had we not been awake, I doubt the dying tugboat routine would’ve woken either of us, but it was certainly effective in getting us out of our dozing.

The day started with a nice breakfast of bacon, eggs, muffins, orange juice and coffee that was prepared for us by Nate’s grandparents. They were good hosts, and for their part, seemed to thoroughly enjoy having guests to talk with. After breakfast, through a process of near-comedic trial-and-error, we managed to pack all of our stuff back into Tyler’s car, after which we said goodbye to our hosts and made the short drive over to downtown St. Helena. This is the same downtown of the Woodhouse Chocolates and artisan breads mentioned the other day. We enjoyed ourselves walking along Main Street and looking into all the shops. St. Helena’s downtown is very much the image of a small town main street, and city-raised tourists like us eat that kind of thing up.

Our stroll through St. Helena finished, the three of us got into Tyler’s car and drove a little north of St. Helena to Deer Park Road, a street that winds all the way up the valley and gives the driver a vantage point of all of Napa Valley. Nate’s grandmother had recommended that we go up the road, and we’re definitely glad that we took her advice. On the way up, we actually missed the turnout for us to stop and view the valley, but before too long we realized and turned around.

I don't even think a picture could capture it - the sublime width and depth of the scene, the deep awe with which it filled us, and the sense of privilege that being able to view it gave us.

After trekking up Deer Park Road, we made our final Napa Valley stop, driving into Napa proper so that I could show Nate and Tyler the Oxbow market. Since I’ve already described the market for you, I won’t bore you with details, other than to say that they enjoyed it and appreciated the local grocers. After going to the Oxbow, we went to a cute diner down by the Oxbow, called Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. The diner has lots of white, red and chrome and generally has the image of a place like Ruby’s or Jonny Rocket’s (though naturally they serve wine and beer, being Napa). I got a burger, sweet potato fries and a coke and definitely enjoyed my meal. The sweet potato fries were some of the best I’ve ever had. When you first bite into them, there’s taste of salt, after which you taste the sweetness of the potato and finally a burst of spice. Anyway, the food was delicious, but what really made me happy was the ethics of the restaurant – the beef came from range-fed, hormone-free cows, the menus and cups made from recycled material and they had separate garbage cans for recyclables, compost and regular old trash (and encouraged you to notice where you were putting things).

It may seem like I harp on this kind of thing a lot in my blog, but it’s amazingly important to our lives. Caring for the environment matters for everyone, whether you’re conservative or liberal, because it’s not some abstract and distant object, but it’s our environment in which we live. If we destroy our environment, we’re destroying our home. I should also point out, for those of us who our Christians, our original charge was to be Lord’s and stewards of the world, and our charge as Christians is to manifest God’s Kingdom here on Earth until He comes to establish it fully. Part of that Kingdom is a restored Earth. Think about that the next time you throw a water bottle in the trash.

And…. meanwhile, back at the road trip… Nate, Tyler and I finished our meals and got on the road to Sunnyvale to meet my cousins. The drive there was fun, but uneventful, excepting one bizarre occurrence that has already achieved meme-status within our trio. I wanted to tell my friends about something I had learned the other day and said “Oh, you know what I was surprised to learn about the other day?” Only, I said it rather fast and mumbled, and both of them heard me say “Squid, squid, fries about the other day?” A bizarre sentence, and now very much a part of our vocabulary.

Finally, we arrived in Sunnyvale, but quite a bit earlier than I had told my cousins (and that was earlier than what I had originally told them) and so we decided to kill some time rather than bursting in on them too early. At first, we searched for a gas station and had some trouble, but we quickly noticed a Toys’R’Us and so naturally we had to stop. Visiting that store brought back all kinds of childhood memories (including War Planets) and awakened in me a still unfulfilled desire to own some Legos again. Weirdly though, they didn’t have a magnetic travel chess set, a thing we’ve been searching for and consistently failing to find.

Our pilgrimage to the Mecca of toys complete, we filled up on gas and then travelled to a park to kill the last half-hour of time before we were supposed to arrive at my cousins’ house. In the park, we found a nice cement bench and proceeded to play Bananagrams, a bizarre and entertaining spin-off of Scrabble (both games I’m entirely incompetent at).

At last, five o’clock neared and we drove the short distance from the park to my cousin Dave and Lisa’s house. When we arrived, Dave was still at work (he works for HP) and Aunt Jean had not yet arrived, but we got to talk with Lisa and her kids got to show us their video games (much to their delight). The first was the EyeToy, and old PS2 motion capture game and the other a racing game called Test Drive. The point of Test Drive is to do races, gain money, and buy houses on the island of Hawaii. Naturally, the kids turned it into a game of crashing into other cars and running from the police. Eventually, Aunt Jean arrived and I introduced her to my friends, after which we started dinner. During dinner we spoke of various topics, including the life of a half-Greek (Lisa and Nate are both half-Greek).

About half-way through dinner, Dave arrived from work and after he had eaten, I asked him to boot up the play house… Yep, you read that right, boot up the play house. Dave is a tech guy, and when his children were younger, he build a playhouse for them and wrote code for it. Underneath, the playhouse is a cave and up above, well, a house, while inside it has mushroom lights, music and motion sensors. Oh, and it talks.

While showing the playhouse to Nate and Tyler, Dave noticed that Tyler was wearing a Hard Rock Café shirt and asked him if he was a musician. This led to the revelation that both Tyler and Dave were musicians and we gotten taken up to see Dave’s awesome electric drum kit. This led to an impromptu jam session where Tyler played his guitar and Nate and I played the drums (after a while Dave and his kids joined in with various other percussion instruments). We were having a blast, but the time came for us to leave. We finished off the night with some rich and moist chocolate cake (and that’s no lie) and then headed for Santa Rosa to meet my other cousins and stay the night.

It was my turn to drive on the way from Sunnyvale to Santa Rosa, and it was a nice drive, excepting a brief period of oncoming terror. As we drove, we could see in the distance a vast looming bank of fog that looked strikingly like a mountain rage. The great ominous swath of darkness grew closer and closer as we drove towards Santa Rosa and I feared I would have to drive in the infamous San Francisco fog. Thankfully, when we actually hit the bank of fog it was wispy-thin and offered to actual impediment to driving.

After the terror of the oncoming fog, we discovered to our delight that our route took us over Golden Gate Bridge, and we got to view that famous bridge at night. Curiously, the Golden Gate Bridge actually looks a little golden in the dark.

Little more happened on our journey, and we arrived at our destination at almost exactly ten at night. My cousin Christopher met us and helped us get settled in. Tiffany, unfortunately, had already gone to bed but we saw her briefly as she left for class this morning. Today, Chris will be going with Nate, Tyler and I into San Francisco and we’ll be meeting Tiffany tonight for dinner.