Tuesday, March 22nd
I arrive in San Jose in the evening, and Ashley picks me up at the airport. After dropping off my stuff and saying hello to her dog-like cat Talbot, we drive to downtown Mountain View to have dinner at Steins Beer Garden. The beer I order, an Almanac Peach de Brettaville, is not advertised as a sour. It is a sour. Very sour.
Wednesday, March 23rd
We rise early so that Ashley can take me to breakfast with our corporate overlords. When we arrive at One Infinite Loop, Ashley has to sign me in, and I receive an Apple visitor's badge. I'm only allowed to enter the cafe, dashing my dreams of espionage. But what a cafe it is. The sheer amount of potential breakfasts is overwhelming, yet I eventually settle on a gigantic omelet, cooked fresh in front of me, for only $4. If I were an Apple employee, I'd never buy groceries again.
While she's at work, I have the honor of driving Ashley's car, Velma. I pull out my phone and type in the address of a place I've wanted to visit ever since seeing it on pretty much every crackpot hauntings TV show there is: The Winchester Mystery House. For 38 years, Sarah Winchester consulted with the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles, listened to their architectural preferences, and made those preferences a reality. The house is everything I hoped for and more--stairs that lead to nowhere, doors that open into walls. It has more windows than the Empire State Building, including one in the floor.
Wide unclasp the table of their thoughts / These same thoughts people this little world
I learn that Sarah Winchester was smarter than people give her credit for. She designed special floors in the conservatories that allowed for easier drainage when watering plants. She placed several columns upside down not at the spirits' request, but because she realized that they could hold more weight that way. I am unsurprised by the sexism that leads her to be labeled as crazy.
I Google the best place to get a sandwich in San Jose. The oracle recommends Freshly Baked Eatery. I order a turkey sandwich. It is the size of my head. I do not finish the turkey sandwich.
After lunch, I drive to Palo Alto to visit Stanford. Along with cemetery tourism, campus tourism is one of my favorite vacation activities. College campuses are like parks, but they have better buildings and more to do. Perhaps it's because I'm an architect's daughter, but I'll take architectural feats over nature's wonders any day. Stanford does not disappoint. I wander the wide paths of its main quad. I admire the mosaics on the front of its large church. I take the elevator to the top of the Hoover Tower--it is a clear day, and I can see San Francisco. I tour the library, sneak a picture inside the reading room.
No pictures allowed. I'm such a rebel.
On the harrowing walk back to the car, I am forced to dodge dozens of spindly caterpillars descending from the trees above me. This is why buildings are better than nature.
That evening, Ashley and I visit Palo Alto's wealthy downtown. We abuse the free samples at David's Tea. We eat at Tacolicious. We observe rich people. When we get home, we split a bottle of Bordeaux and watch 500 Days of Summer. Now you can all stop yelling at me for not having seen it.
Thursday, March 24th
Using Ashley's Clipper Card, I experience the wonders of Bay Area public transit. I take the Caltrain to the BART, all the way to Berkeley. Upon exiting the train, I am immediately accosted by several people demanding donations for charitable causes. This is what I expected of Berkeley.
I walk uphill to the campus--much of which resembles a nature reserve, there are so many trees and flowers and ferns. I follow all of Olivia's recommendations--except I am unable to take the elevator to the top of Berkeley's Campanile, as it's closed for Spring Break. I order a small chai at the Free Speech Cafe, and when the cashier learns I'm from Chicago, he gives me a large for no extra charge. I sneak a picture of their library's reading room, too.
Not a jungle. A college campus.
I turn down Telegraph Avenue, and I hear Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze." I have found the stereotypical part of Berkeley. I visit Moe's Books--all four floors of it. I resist the temptation of gourmet ice cream sandwiches.
I hop back on the BART and meet Ashley in San Francisco, at the foot of the Filbert Street steps: nearly 400 stairs that climb Telegraph Hill, through people's flower-choked backyards, up to Coit Tower. I have been on my feet all day. I want to cry. I do not cry. I climb the stairs. The flowers are beautiful. When we finally reach the top, I want to puke. I do not puke. At Coit Tower, the sun has already set. The city lights up all around us.
Hanging flowers on Telegraph Hill.
We grab well-deserved slices of pizza at Tony's. Back at home, we split a bottle of Italian wine and watch Save the Last Dance. We reminisce over K-Ci and JoJo.
I wake up only to discover that Ashley's had a family emergency. We both get on our computers and find her a flight that afternoon out of Oakland. We spend most of the day packing her things, readying her apartment for a brief absence. We drive to the Oakland airport--and just like that, Ashley's back in the Midwest, and I have an apartment, a car, and a cat to myself in Sunnyvale. Though I would have preferred Ashley's company to any of that, of course. Please send positive thoughts her way.
After the airport, I stay in Oakland and do some work at Modern Coffee. When my friend Jane meets me there, she informs me that it's her favorite coffee spot in town, and I'm glad I chose well. First we grab some iced tea at Sweet Bar Bakery and catch up. We discuss the importance of fan letters. Later her husband Jez meets us Mua, a trendy restaurant in a rehabbed loft space. So trendy. I feel like I'm on a TV show. Girls or something. I have the blackened catfish. It is delicious.
I drop Jane and Jez back at their place, and then, after a comedy of errors trying to find the right highway, I make it back to Ashley's. I watch Gone Girl. It's suspenseful, and I'm glad I have Talbot to cuddle with.
Saturday, March 26th
It is, sadly, the last day of my vacation. I take the Caltrain into San Francisco for a day of bookstore tourism, which is quite possibly better than campus tourism, and even cemetery tourism. It may seem redundant--how many books can you look at in one day? But by visiting several different bookstores, you're forced to visit several different neighborhoods. You can see a whole city that way.
First I must nourish myself. I stop in Chinatown and order some eggplant at Brandy Ho's. It is exactly what I wanted. I also wanted jian bing, but we can't have everything we wish for.
The historic City Lights Bookstore is located right next to Chinatown, and it is where I head next. Opened in 1953, City Lights was home to the beat poets--Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, and the like. I browse from room to room, climb the stairs to the poetry room. There a man starts talking to me. People always start talking to me. I have one of those faces. He claims he's a poet. He claims he met Ginsberg. When I mention that I'm a fiction student at UNLV, he claims he knows Don Revell, my poetry professor. I suspect there's a little truth sprinkled in his claims. I also suspect the man's somewhat addled--but no harm there. He decides to call me Mrs. Robinson. Of course he does.
I tell myself am not allowed to buy any books. I purchase Tracy K. Smith's Life on Mars.
Me and literary history.
I catch the bus up to Haight Ashbury. It smells like weed--the Haight, not the bus. I am immediately asked on a date by a man on a bicycle. Like I said, people talk to me. I have one of those faces.
I pop into The Booksmith, which is charming. I especially love how the store is painted so many bright colors. I am obsessed with bright colors. I am in need of stationery, so I buy a box of notecards with pictures of succulents on them.
I meander along Haight Street. I visit a vintage clothing store that is well out of my price range. I find an eerie store called Loved to Death, which is basically the Obscura of San Francisco. I consider purchasing a small animal skull, but I decide against it. I walk for a while in Golden Gate Park. The weather is beautiful, but I find the drum circles irritating, so I find the nearest bus stop and head north to Green Apple Books.
Green Apple is magnificent. It has new books, used books, comic books, magazines, literary journals, nicknacks, tote bags, records. It has so much stuff that it had to open a second location only two storefronts down to squeeze everything in. The design of the main location reminds me of Myopic Books in Chicago--several floors of books, shelves and tables pressed tight together. I resist the books--but I do buy a birthday present for Leta.
It's getting late, and I need to get back to the Caltrain. I get on another bus. A man boards the bus with a six-pack of beer. He seems a little out there. He stands and pulls a large knife from his pocket. I think to myself, this is not how I want to die. He laughs and puts the knife back in his pocket.
I make one last stop before catching the train: Chronicle Books' downtown retail location. A San Francisco-based company, they make lovely blank journals. The journal in which I'm taking these notes is, in fact, from Chronicle Books. Miraculously, I resist the books again--but I do buy a thank-you present for Ashley.
Sunday, March 27th
I take a Lyft to the San Jose airport, and I fly back to sunny Las Vegas, a wonderful Spring Break gone by too quickly.
In other news, this happened today:
Baby's first thesis!
Oh yes, it happened. All 235 pages of it.