Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alameda: An Introduction

When we were talking with people about possibly living in Alameda, or when we've told people we now live there, these are some of the responses we got (remember, these are from locals):
"I'm not sure I've ever been there. I hear it's nice though."
"Sure Andy, I'll meet you in Alameda. Umm, how do I get there?"
"How long does it take you to get to Oakland?"
"I've been to Alameda for breakfast, but it's a bit out of the way."
Let's put these quotes in a little perspective by looking at a map of the San Francisco Bay:

Oddly, many Oakland residents seem to have only a vague idea where Alameda is and how to get there, despite the 4 bridges and a tunnel connecting Alameda and Oakland, and despite the fact that the distance between Alameda and Oakland is less than an average city block.

Hi San Francisco!

For people that do know Alameda and how to get there, it's mostly known for the monthly antiques fair, multiple classic breakfast joints, the great views of San Francisco, and of course the place where MythBusters does a lot of there large scale experiments. Here's a clip from an Alameda episode:

Alameda is also home to St. George Spirits, makers of Hangar 1 Vodka and in the news recently for reintroducing absinthe into the US.

Beyond the geography comments, we also heard a number of opinions about the general nature of the town:
"It's kind of stuck in the 50s, but at least that means good diners."
"Fogue-town." [as in old fogies]
"It still feels like a military town."
"It's over-policed."
Certainly the breakfast part is true: Ole's Waffle Shop, Jim's, Tillie's, Albert's, Marti's Place, the list goes on. My claim is that Alameda has more breakfast per capita than anywhere else in the Bay Area - difficult to prove perhaps, but I think it's true. In fact, you can watch my ongoing and admittedly foolhardy project to eat at every breakfast place in Alameda here.

The "over-policed" part feels true when you get pulled over for going 28 in a 25 mph zone, but nobody's complaining when they look at the crime rates relative to Oakland. As for the other comments, I can vouch for the fact that Alameda has changed a lot in recent years, and much of the "stuck in the past" feeling has gone, particularly along Park Street where a number of great restaurants and shops have opened in recent years, and the beautiful Art Deco Alameda Theatre has recently been reopened.

The lights are on again at the Alameda Theatre

Alameda is certainly a bit sleepy compared to Oakland (hey, it's "island living" after all), but it's actually quite a quirky place

complete with odd public memorials,

a strange notion of what someone might want for free,

and a unique spectator sport known as "Gooseball".

Because of it's location in the San Francisco Bay, Alameda is a very maritime-focused city, dotted with crowded harbors and boat repair and supply shops. This explains the Alameda City Flag,

the local love for a spirited but rather unsuccessful band of pirates,

and the official Seal of the City of Alameda.

Actually, I hardly had to make a joke about the real official Seal of the City of Alameda, because it almost mocks itself with the rather obvious statement "Seal of the City of Alameda" included on the seal. I should follow this pattern and write "This is a blog" at the beginning of every post from now on, just in case it wasn't clear.

I'm not certain, but I think this might be the Seal of the City of Alameda

Our time in Alameda so far has been great: the community is friendly, there's a wonderful organic market nearby, the fears of living in a stuck-in-the 50s "fogue town" haven't come true at all. So come on over to Alameda for good breakfast, the antiques fair, and, if you get lucky, you might just score a free door.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Flurry of Position Statements

In lieu of a post that has some sort of logical flow or connection to current events, here are three new disconnected DSRB Position Statements that came up over the course of the past week:

1) I know it's trendy, but stop burning my food

Have you noticed this? Nearly every slightly trendy restaurant seems to want to burn your food, but do it artfully so it appears "rustic". Upscale pizza places and tapas bars are the buggest culprits in this crime. Grilled bread anyone? Make sure you add some grill marks that taste like ash. Thin crust pizza? You better make that crust cindery. Hell, why don't you toss a lime on the grill too? There's a fine line here because I love a nicely browned lasagna, a well-seared steak, or a toasty piece of bread — but if I taste nothing but carbon when I bite into something, I'm not happy, nor are most sentient people. There's also this thing called "cleaning your grill" that some restaurants might engage in more frequently. End Rant #1.

You're cutting it mighty close on this one, Dehesa

2) If you don't know how to use truffle oil in moderation, please don't use it at all

My second delivery from the Cheese of the Month Club arrived a few days ago. Last month they neglected to include a goat cheese for the "Trio of Milks" theme, this month they forgot to mention a theme at all. All three cheeses were little-known Italian cheeses (I guess that's the theme right there), one of which was a white truffle cheese. This cheese tasted, well, like truffles and nothing else - in fact it's so truffley that I don't really know what to do with it now. I suppose I could grate it over some pasta or risotto, but then the pasta or risotto would taste like white truffle and nothing else. Suggestions welcome.

On Sunday, Maggie and I had a we're-not-going-out-on-Valentine's-Day-but-the-day-after-sounds-good dinner out at Pappo in Alameda. When we walked through the door, we were greeted by a gust of truffle aroma. When we sat down to the table, the food arrived for the couple sitting next to us, accompanied by an overpowering wave of truffle. I didn't need to order the truffle pasta because I got enough of a taste sitting 3 feet away.

Truffle oil is like perfume: if you can smell it across the room, you've put way too much on; if you can smell it walking by, you've put a bit too much on; if you can smell it when you're just inches away, you've got it just right. Unfortunately, because truffle oil is a symbol of extravagance, and because people attracted by extravagance are often attracted by overkill in general, restraint in the use of truffle oil is a very rare thing indeed.

3) When to buy a vowel: never

Okay, it's true, I was watching Wheel of Fortune the other evening — well what was I supposed to do when Family Feud wasn't on? Anyhow, if you're a game theory expert, feel free to prove me wrong on this, but it seems to me that only morons buy vowels. And they always seem to buy vowels that they already know are there. I've even seen contestants buy a vowel that finishes a puzzle.

As I see it, it never makes sense to buy a vowel unless you are totally stuck and you think the next contestant might be ready to solve the puzzle. Even then, it's probably a better strategy to choose the next most likely consonant. And it's called "buy a vowel" for a reason - they're not free. Grrr. If you know a vowel is there, don't buy it in hopes that it will also show up in another word, keep putting consonants up and assume the blanks will be vowels. So sez me.

I promise the next post will hold together better.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There There, Oakland

The author Italo Calvino spent some time in the Bay Area and wrote that San Francisco is "the only American city to have a 'personality' in the European sense: there is no problem loving San Francisco, everyone can do it." As for Oakland, he was silent.

People find it a lot harder to like Oakland, and outside of hip hop lyrics you can essentially find one famous quote about the city, by author and longtime expat Gertrude Stein who grew up in Oakland:
“What was the use of my having come from Oakland, it was not natural to have come from there, yes, write about it if I like or anything, if I like, but not there, there is no there there."
Unfortunately, the wording of this statement renders its meaning about as clear as that of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution; however, most people have focused on the phrase "there is no there there" and interpreted this as meaning that there's nothing going on in Oakland, or at least nothing worth mentioning. In reality, Stein was returning to California on a book tour and her hopes of visiting her childhood haunts were dashed by the fact that they no longer existed.

Which brings me to an "Only in Oakland" moment relating to things that are no longer there. Near the corner of 4th and Clay sitting in a weedy patch of ground next to the BART tracks with a lovely view of the jail in the background sits this lonely plaque and accompanying boulder:

The boulder appears to have once held a plaque of its own

The plaque behind the boulder

So the plaque is actually a plaque that invites you to a plaque dedication ceremony in 1976, but isn't the actual plaque itself. Presumably the actual plaque comemorating Oakland's first public school was attached to the boulder, but has since been stolen. Not only is there no there there, there is no plaque commemorating there there.

There are many things that could be pointed out here, like how this scene somehow perfectly captures something about the way Oakland works on a very basic level, or how the City of Oakland/Alameda County Historical Society has had, oh, 32+ years to remove the "invitation" plaque and probably a significant amount of time to replace the missing "actual" plaque, or that there is some darkly delicious irony about a plaque commemorating education getting stolen. Feel free to insert your own interpretation.