2020 has been a terrible year. I wrote a few posts in the beginning of the year wondering if “anything else could go wrong,” and I really shouldn’t have said that. Things can always get worse and they certainly have, so much so, I’m afraid to say that phrase anymore.
Yesterday was a first in my life in that the sun was completely blotted out by smoke and fog. There is always sun here in California unless there is fog but even then it is still bright out. I remember terrible thunderstorms in Ohio and not seeing the sun for quite some time but those are natural events. Yesterday was unnatural in that it was day, yet very dark with nothing but an eerie, ominous orange glow.
The picture doesn’t do it justice. The camera automatically tries to brighten the image and even if I manually reduce the brightness it still doesn’t show how dark it really was. As I write this at 6:55 AM on September 10th, I can see the fog and smoke but the day still slowly brightens unlike yesterday. The air quality has shifted from yellow to orange and back to the yellow zone again and I’m hoping that an onshore wind will kick up.
It is very odd to experience the weather here in Pacifica these past few weeks. This is normally a cold, decently windy place. Yet recently, it has been hot, there is little wind and thus the smoke fills the air and doesn’t move. It is as though we’re experiencing some divine retribution because at minimum we would have a slight breeze if not a full on wind. Not these days, the wind is absent.
As for COVID those first few months were like a novelty. Everyone went on walks, we got projects done and caught up with long lost friends through Zoom meetings. As we enter the 7th month of the pandemic it is no longer a novelty. There is more activity in getting out of the house, no more complete lockdown, but it remains low except on hot days. On the hot days Highway 1 becomes jammed as it usually does with everyone seeking relief from the heat on the beaches. Pacifica closed the beaches this past Labor Day but Half Moon Bay did not so everyone went there clogging our portion of Highway 1. Due to that the COVID cases will now spike.
So here I am, sitting in my living room on September 10th, 2020. Our inner circle of friends continues to shrink, the pandemic persists, and now we’re surrounded by fire and smoke. My mood is melancholy and I need to make a mental effort to get out of the slump. It will be another weekend at home where I may not even be able to workout due to the air quality. I do have a computer project but sometimes the air quality gets so bad that we all need to retreat to the family room and stay by the air filter. If the Pacifica onshore wind would just return then we would be fine but again, there is no wind. Weekends in 2020 are nothing to look forward to.
I forgot to mention that through all of this PG&E has threatened power outages from the grid being overtaxed due to everyone using their air conditioners as well as major wind events blowing over power lines. I’m waiting for this wind event and hopefully it blows the right way. But God forbid a pandemic, heatwave, poor air and then a power outage? We cannot go outside, cannot open our windows and then just sit inside and roast? Luckily we are in Pacifica so it is not as hot as in other parts of the Bay.
I should mention that I’ve learned something with my air purifier and air quality sensor. Closing windows to avoid dirty outdoor air does absolutely nothing. The dirty air will still sleep in. The only thing closing windows does is give the person inside a false peace of mind. The air quality sensor shows it makes no difference as indoor air will be as polluted as outdoor air regardless if windows are closed or not.
Secondly those $200 air purifier models everyone buys do work but are only good for cleaning one medium sized room. Furthermore the windows and doors must be shut for it to make progress. We use it in our family room and there is a big entry way with no door coming from the living room. In order for the air purifier to actually purify the air I need to put up a sheet to cover that big entryway gap. If I do not, even though I run the air purifier at full speed it will only reduce the pollution but does not have enough power to clean the air completely. That is to say pollution levels will be better than outdoors but never reach the healthy, “green zone” levels. We will get slightly cleaner air but also a huge electricity bill.
We went to my youngest child’s first San Francisco Giants game on Tuesday, May 15th and vs. The Cincinnati Reds. The Giants won 5-3 and it really was a night to remember!
I am not much of a sports fan but am able to get tickets since the Giants are my customer. The thought about getting my youngest to his first baseball game came when I took a customer to a Giants game last month. Looking up at the board I saw Japanese Heritage Night was on the 15th and that it might be a great opportunity. I am also switching jobs soon where the Giants might no longer be my customer so we should take the opportunity while we have it. Furthermore, they were playing they were playing the Cincinnati Reds which of course are from my home state of Ohio. So needless to say it was a perfect game for his first. What I didn’t know is how fantastic it would be.
I secured the tickets no problem but then was speaking with my second contact at the Giants and he mentioned getting out to a game. I told him, “Well, actually we’ll be there on Tuesday!” He was thrilled and said “Why don’t you come a little earlier and I can get you on the field for batting practice. Say 4:15?” This sounded like a great opportunity so I quickly agreed. Again, there was something I didn’t know and that is how amazing it would actually be!
We parked at Daly City and took the BART to the Embarcadero station then switched to the Muni which we took to Second Street. My contact met us near the stadium souvenir store and we got our passes for the field.
The first person we met is one of their scouts/assistant coaches Will Clark! Will Clark is someone I remember growing up with and I swear I have his baseball card but will have to double check. I learned that it is good to have two young kids with you because many of the guys will give you practice balls and take pictures. Will Clark obliged but I didn’t think at the time that we should ask for a signature so we just got the picture.
Next, we walked to the other side of home plate and watched practice for a while.
My contact then asked if we had a pen so we could try to get signatures. This isn’t the easiest thing to do because you’re kept to the track and cannot bother the players who are warming up. But if they approach you then you’re free to talk to them. We were lucky to have my contact with us because he could easily strike up a conversation with them since they know him. He saw that the biggest star of the Giants, Madison Bumgarner, was near the rope and went over to speak with him and introduced us. Madison was kind enough to take a picture with us but not only that, he signed TWO baseballs for my boys!!
We returned to the other side of home plate where Gorkys Hernandez came over and gave my boys high fives. I thought it might be rude to ask pictures and autographs from everyone that came over so we just did the high five with him. I was also too timid to strike up a conversation in Spanish and couldn’t think of anything to say anyway.
The next person my contact was kind enough to strike up a conversation with and introduce us to was Mac Williamson. We had some light chit-chat and he was kind enough to take a picture with us and also signed two baseballs for my boys! Really nice guy.
The next stop was to the press box where reporters broadcast the game in real time and report to newspapers and other news outlets all over the world. Here is a view from the press box.
We then went over to the Japanese Heritage Night party which was held just outside the stadium. They were giving away SF Giants – Japan cherry blossom themed backpacks and so we got two for the boys. To be honest I wanted one as well (I’m just a big kid) but thought it might be rude to take too many so was left without.
It was an incredible night and what a story to tell should my boys become baseball fans. I doubt my youngest will remember it but to help, I wrote about it in the family blog so he can have a refresher when he is older.
It is 8:20 PM on Wednesday May 16th. I’m very tired and have been all day due to an amazing experience yesterday.
In my line of work I deal with decision makers in corporations and one of my customers is the San Francisco Giants. I work with them pretty much weekly but not being much of a sports fan only attended two games in my six years with my current company even though I could get tickets pretty much whenever I wanted.
Well, a customer of mine wanted to go a few weeks ago and at the game I noticed that Japanese Heritage night was scheduled for yesterday. I thought this would be a perfect first game to take my youngest to because it was not only Japanese Heritage night but they were also playing the Cincinnati Reds from my home state of Ohio.
So I got the tickets but was in for a treat. As usual I was speaking with my contacts and mentioned I’d be at the game. My contact asked if I’d like to come early and get on the field for batting practice which I thought would be very cool. What I realize is that the players are right there and we got to meet some of them.
The first person we met was Will Clark who I remember growing up and even have his baseball card. He is on the staff and gave my boys some practice balls and took a picture with us. The next player we met was none other than Madison Bumgarner who not only took a picture with us but also signed two baseballs for my boys! The third player we met was Mac Williamson who also took a picture with us and also signed baseballs for my boys! Gorkys Hernandez also came over and gave my boys a high five but I didn’t realize at that time that we could ask them for autographs.
We watched batting practice for a while then went inside to say hello to my other Giants contact. After that we visited the press room and then went to where they were holding the Japanese Heritage night party. My boys got two cool backpacks with the SF Giants logo, a cherry blossom design and the kanji ‘Kojin’ which means “Giants” in Japanese.
The game lasted a while and the Giants one. I made sure to go to fan services to get a certificate of “My First SF Giants Game” for my youngest and we bought plenty of baseball stadium food.
We didn’t get home until very late and I didn’t sleep well so that is why I’m so tired today.
All in all it was an amazing experience and one I did not expect we would have.
Last weekend was a three day holiday due to President’s Day so we decided to take a trip south. We left on Saturday morning arriving in Monterey around 10: 30 AM to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is good to get there early before the crowds of tourists who usually show up around noon.
My boys had an excellent time, especially the younger who really likes sharks and fish. He ran around the place pointing and exclaiming ‘shark,’ and ‘fish.’ It was very cute and made for a wonderful memory. My favorites are the jellyfish and sardines. The jellyfish really is their most beautiful attraction and serves as the aquariums main photo for advertising. The sardines have two or three displays: one of them is them swimming in a silver circle above your head as you enter the “Open Oceans” exhibit. The second is in the ceiling high, enormous tank which is to mimic an open ocean. In this display they swim around in a gigantic ball of fish that moves and flows like a glinting silver cloud. It changes shape avoiding passing sea creatures returning to a ball or stretched out stream.
We had lunch at Loui Linguini’s on Cannery Row. Like the aquarium, we were also very early for lunch and were the first ones there. This meant we could have a table right by the window overlooking Monterey Bay. The food was also pretty decent and much better than expected for a tourist spot. To pay for the meal I used Samsung Pay which has surprised almost every vendor where I’ve used it. Loui Linguini’s staff was most surprised first telling me “sorry, we don’t have a scanner.” I told them I didn’t need a special scanner.
The terminal on the restaurant floor was broken so the one just around the corner in the kitchen had to be used. Our Mexican waiter went into the kitchen to ask the manager and came back out telling me it wouldn’t work. I told him it would and he disappeared back into the kitchen to ask the manager again. Finally, I was allowed to try, put my phone up to the normal credit card swipe on the terminal and lo and behold it worked like I said it would. The manager was dumbfounded and said “That makes no sense to me.” It was quite obvious he didn’t like being proved wrong in front of his staff but I really wanted to use my Samsung Pay as I get points for every purchase!
Samsung Pay is great especially for the fact that it amazes most vendors. With Apple / Android Pay the vendors need to have a special scanner but not so with Samsung. Samsung is the only phone maker with a special chip inside where you simply need to set it next to the card reader. You activate payment with a fingerprint or pin and then a magnetic field is created for 10 seconds only on the phone. It really is pretty neat how it works. The only places I’ve found it doesn’t work well are at gas station terminals and vendors that need to punch in the CVV code which of course is used to prove you have the actual card at time of purchase.
We left Monterey around 2:00 PM heading for Paso Robles arriving around 3:30 PM. Whenever I go to Paso Robles the only place I’ll stay is the historic Paso Robles Inn. In fact, I won’t go to Paso Robles until the reservation is secured because this hotel is half the reason we go there at all; the other half is wine tasting. In fact, we go there so often that I’m actually the Duke of the Paso Robles Inn on Yelp! I like to check-in as soon as possible just to always confirm that we have a bottom level room, overlooking the garden with an extra bed (cot) set up inside. I’ve already confirmed that there is a jacuzzi, all of which come with the natural heated spring water that Paso Robles is famous for.
The check-in was quick and we were then off to Tooth and Nail winery. I love this place for a couple of reasons: the first is it is a castle complete with a moat; the second is the wine bottle labels are absolutely beautiful – have won awards – many with a Don Quixote theme which is one of my favorite novels; and finally the wine is delicious and has gotten better as new ownership gets their bearings.
Upon entering we learned that they had created a members only area in a small room straight ahead as one first walks into the castle. We were the only members there so had the small, but comfortable room to ourselves. They also go straight to the reserve tastings which of course is free. The boys put out their toys and had some fun playing while I spoke with Teri who has a son trying to get work in Japan and also had adopted from Vietnam. I happen to know these two countries very well so the chat was both interesting and long.
I then thought it would be nice to pop into the main tasting area as the ambiance was a bit better with a nice fireplace, smaller crowd and a little less claustrophobic. We did the regular tasting there by the fireplace while my youngest son made friends with a ‘glam dog’ owned by one of the three trendy ladies sitting on the couch next to us.
Next it was back to the forever sedate downtown Paso Robles for dinner. We were not very hungry so I looked for a Spanish tapas place and found La Cosecha right next to the park which also happens to be right in front of the Paso Robles Inn. Unfortunately there was an hour wait although many tables were empty. That is the thing with Paso Robles, it always looks half deserted yet you’ll always need to make reservations well in advance for the hotel and restaurants. The wineries on the other hand still maintain their countryside charm where the people are friendly, the tastings *mostly* free, and gaggles of bridesmaids parties have not yet overrun the place. Actually, there was an event at Tooth and Nail but I wasn’t sure if it was a bridesmaids party or after event of a wedding. Either way there were a number of single ladies in attendance and on the hunt in their semi-intoxicated state. One gave me the eyes as I passed by and although I’d at least like to have acknowledged with a glance back so as not to be rude, I had to maintain indifference as I’m not available and she would have thought me a creep anyway once she realized I’m chasing kids around.
Back to dinner, we weren’t going to wait for an hour which would have been easily doable by passing time in the park except that there was the extremely rare instance of actual rain along with restless children. So we went for a little stroll looking for another restaurant and found Odyssey World Cafe. It is an unremarkable restaurant with less than mediocre ambiance at best but they did have a decent menu for both kids and adults alike. It was acceptable and we were not entirely displeased. They also had Trivial Pursuit decks at the table and my six year old was actually beating my wife by two questions at one point! One question he got was which letter of the alphabet has the least amount of words beginning with it. Of course the answer was X and he got it faster than my wife. But neither of them could answer very many and so I eventually just made up questions about Pokémon all of which my son answered correctly.
Speaking of Pokémon we hadn’t played Pokémon Go in a while because it became boring. However, just a little while ago they released a whole bunch of new characters and so my son and I really enjoyed catching the new ones around Paso Robles.
After dinner it was back to the hotel to soak in a naturally heated mineral spring water bath on the patio. That was nice especially with the weather being crisp, cool and rainy.
The next morning I woke up very early and drew another bath on the porch. It was extremely peaceful sitting in the heated waters in the silence of the morning whilst listening to a very gentle rain during the beginnings of dawn. I tried clearing my mind to really soak in all the peacefulness I could get of this beautiful moment but random thoughts kept popping up and I’d soon realize, ‘hey, I don’t want to think about this or that, I want to think about nothing!’ To think about nothing is extremely difficult to do given this age of infinite distraction and information.
My oldest son was the first to wake up and joined me for the peaceful scene outside. Pokémon was on his mind however and so after a while we went for another stroll looking for those elusive rare characters all whilst holding an umbrella for the rain which delivered on its continual threats more than a few times.
My wife and youngest are always the last to wake up and once I received a text it was off to the hotel breakfast. I really like the restaurant at the Paso Robles Inn for breakfast. There is a fireplace, it overlooks the garden and their menu rivals any iHop or Denny’s even though it is much more pared down.
After breakfast we went to Sextant Winery which had been recommended to my wife by one of her friends. My wife prefers Zinfandel and was told the Zinfandels of Sextant were outstanding. We were the first to arrive, sometime after 10:00 AM and had the place to ourselves as it was not only very early but also raining. We had a very nice discussion with two lovely young ladies, one of which kept my youngest entertained; my youngest decided to pull out all of his toys and place them on the wine bar in order to show the young lady who seemed to really enjoy the interaction.
The wines were indeed outstanding and we there was flash of an instant where my wife actually considered joining their wine club. Sextant also has a fantastic members only area (fireplace!) but unfortunately no children are allowed which is pretty much a deal killer for us.
After Sextant we went to Peachy Canyon for a brief tasting and to pick up some of their fabulous port. Unfortunately their port is indeed fabulous; they were sold out and like the grapes from which it is made, I was crushed! (that was terrible but I’m leaving it in. 🙂 ) We had a nice tasting anyway and then it was time to head back home which turned out to be an adventure of its own.
Usually it only takes three hours to get back but there were torrential rains and when it rains as much as it has in California things break. In fact, an entire bridge broke on Highway 1 closing a very large section of it down. For us however there was a flooded section of Highway 101 which was causing massive delay. I had my Waze app running and it rerouted me off the 101 just in time which I thought was a brilliant move.
I was wrong.
We got off on Stagecoach road near Salinas and it should have been just a quick bypass of the 101 congestion. The bad news – which Waze hadn’t computed yet – was that detour roads it had wanted me to take were also closed. So we found ourselves getting farther and farther out into the countryside not being able to take two of the roads Waze had wanted. There were floods everywhere and it was lucky we were in an SUV so we could pass the flooded sections without much trouble. Pacific Gas and Electric were also out there taking care of snapped utility poles and downed trees affecting electric wires.
After we were unable to take the next detour suggestion I did start to become worried as we only had 60 miles of gas left. It would have been a disaster if, after spending 40 or so minutes driving into the country, it turned out that roads ahead of us were closed and perhaps even roads behind us recently closed. We could have been stuck in the absolute middle of nowhere without gas! We were on San Juan Grade road (near San Juan Bautista) which was as country of a road as one could get leading us high up into the hills that with the rainy weather could be easily mistaken for the Scottish Highlands.
There was one point that had absolutely terrific scenery and a motorcyclist had actually stopped to take a picture. We would have done the same had there been room for a car, there wasn’t a caravan of cars – many had been rerouted – and if I wasn’t anxious about getting stuck in the country. There was also no cell phone reception which also added to my worries.
This was one time our built in car navigation came in handy as it relies on satellite connections and so is always reliable even if the GUI is from 1992. It let us know that a Valero was upcoming and our gas worries would soon be over.
We eventually made it out of the countryside but one of these days, when the weather isn’t as treacherous, I’d like to go back that way and get my scenic picture I missed.
These past two weekends have been busy. My friend from college Ryan – who I also studied with in France – came to visit. It just so happened that a french friend of his – Sylvain – would be in town at the same time and the first weekend we all went to Napa.
I had to put more thought into the Napa trip than usual because I’ve cancelled my memberships there in favor of Paso Robles, a much more laid back town with fabulous fruity reds. Since they had not been to wine country before I wanted to ensure they saw Napa since it is the most famous. Since we are had a connection or are french I thought Chateau Montelena would be a good choice since its famous chardonnay put Napa on the map by winning the ‘Judgement of Paris’ back in the ’70s. As expected there were tour busses which made me cringe but as it turned out most of them were not there for the tasting. I didn’t know it but this winery was owned by Chinese before the Judgement of Paris and so had a lot of Chinese influence which those bus loads of Chinese tourists were there to see. So we didn’t have to wait long for a tasting. The wine was decent but I did like the Zinfandel and bought two bottles.
Next was Sterling Vineyards which is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. With my memberships and the fact that I have to drive back, I never wanted to go too far north. Since we were staying the night up in Calistoga I wanted to visit these northern wineries as I probably won’t be back in the area for a while. Sterling was pretty and I enjoyed being up on the mountain and the patio outside where we shared a bottle.
It was then time for lunch which was had at Sam’s Social Club. When I go wine tasting in Napa I like to go early to avoid the crowds and give my guests a good, hassle-free experience. That is the reason we hit two wineries before lunch. I then asked them if they wanted to continue visiting wineries but when it was discovered our hotel – Roman Spa Hot Springs Resort – had a pool they decided we should just stay there and drink beer; and that is exactly what we did.
We were in that pool for hours and speaking french so no topic was off limits. I noticed however that one lady was watching us and paying attention to what we were saying. I introduced myself and learned she speaks french! So we all had a good laugh because she understood everything, and like I said no topic was off limits in our conversation! So we ended up talking to her and her friend until it was time for dinner which was at Solage – the only restaurant in Calistoga with a Michelin star. Sylvain ended up having a very long conversation with the sommelier while Ryan and I played bocce ball with a few people we had met.
The next day we were all feeling a bit rough which is what happens when you drink wine and beer pretty much all day in the sun. We had a very nice breakfast and then took a leisurely drive down the Silverado Trail stopping only at Clos du Val for a quick tasting and then a bottle out on the lawn. Clos du Val holds a special place in my heart because this is the first winery I became acquainted with when I moved to San Francisco. The reason is because I worked at Japan Airlines and Japan Airlines served this wine in their first class cabin. Also, the JAL flight training facility was in Napa and thus employees plus big bosses would always go to Clos du Val due to the special relationship. Unfortunately the flight training center is now closed and the relationship over; sometimes I wish things would just stay the same, I get tired of all the massive change we’ve had over the past decade.
That concluded our travels and we then drove back to San Francisco where we said goodbye to Sylvain who was returning to France in a few days. Ryan was hanging out with me for one more weekend.
That next Friday I met Ryan in San Francisco and we then met up with my other friend from college Ana. She has decided to move to Florida and was having a gathering to say goodbye to everyone. We first met at Schroeder’s since they had the best beer on tap. It was then off to the Americano and then Ryan and I took a short leave to go to the Giants game which was just down the street. Then it was back to the Americano and I ended up catching the Bart back home.
Since we had been out a lot I decided to make Saturday a relaxing one. Ryan came over early in the morning and we went down to Santa Ramen in San Mateo. There was a Japanese festival going on and we spent an hour or two there then it was back up home. The weather was spectacular so we opened a bottle of wine and sat out on the patio talking about life, the past, the future, all the while being amazed that we hadn’t seen each other for seven years and it has been sixteen years since our studies in Lyon, France.
Life really is short and it is great to catch up with long term friends, especially those select few that fit into the best friend category. These are those who you can pick up with just as though no time has passed at all even though it may have been many years and life has changed dramatically.
The time now is 6:40 AM and I’m back in my routine after two crazy weekends with Ryan. We promised not to let another seven years pass before meeting up but one never knows what life will bring. It is best to make the most of it when meeting up with old friends and from the two weekends we just had I do not believe anyone could accuse us of doing otherwise.