That Burning Sensation

We woke up this morning and Debbi said, “I smell something burning.”

Fortunately it wasn’t something around our house; rather, it was smoke blowing in from a fire in the south bay hills over 40 miles away from us:

The Summit fire has consumed about 3,100 acres, but is not spreading as rapidly as feared yesterday. Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Plageman this afternoon said that 20 homes have been destroyed.


Shifting winds this morning blew ash from the fire away from Santa Cruz County and toward the summit and into northwestern Santa Clara County, where residents reported smelling smoke.

Santa Clara County public health authorities advised people who can see or smell smoke to stay inside and keep windows and doors shut.

At work I had to walk to another building for a meeting, and the central courtyard was filled with a light haze, presumably the smoke blown in from the hills. By lunchtime it had cleared out, along with the smell.

Only Hundreds of Miles by Car

Wow, the rest of my Dad’s visit just flew by; I can’t believe I’m back at work already!

I put hundreds of miles on my car this past week, but that’s not really surprising; there’s a lot to do in the Bay Area – even on his third trip, there were still things he hadn’t seen before, and a few I hadn’t seen before – but most of it is widely spread out.

Following the trips to the coast and the Livermore wine country on Friday and Saturday respectively, Sunday we went to the A La Carte and Art festival downtown, which I think Dad enjoyed more than he’d expected. He picked up a few goodies, and reminisced with one of the vendors about making rubber band guns back in the 40s. After that we went to the Computer History Museum. I was sure I’d been there with Dad before, but he says not. But it’s always a terrific visit, and we got to see the Babbage Engine they have on display there (one of two in the world).

In the evening we drove up to San Francisco to have dinner with my cousin K, who coincidentally has the same name as Dad (well, okay, actually it was intentional). My other cousin, L, also lives up there, but was out of town. She recommended a restaurant for us to go to, though, so we went up with Debbi, picked up K, and had a fine dinner. I haven’t seen K in years – probably since I was in college; he’s quieter than I’d remembered. But the family resemblance among him, me and Dad is pretty clear. (Somehow we managed to completely forget to get any photos of the three of us.)

That was the first of three trips we made to the city (and that one was in Debbi’s car!). On Monday Dad and I drove up hoping to go to the Cable Car Museum, but there was absolutely no parking there. We thought about parking elsewhere and taking a (duh!) cable car there, but they were also doing some work on the tracks, so we decided to punt. Instead we drove over to Golden Gate Park.

So I have this amazing talent for forgetting that the museums in SF are closed on Mondays. Gah. Fortunately, there’s always something more to do. We went to the Japanese Tea Garden, and then walked through Strybing Arboretum. I see a little more of the Arboretum each time I go – it’s always fun to visit. This time around I learned that Monday seems to be watering day in the arboretum. Sheesh! After that we stopped at Ocean Beach to see the sea, and then I dragged Dad to Borderlands Books, which is fun to visit during the week since there’s plenty of on-street parking, for a change! I got some cuddle time with Ripley, their hairless cat, too.

Tuesday we went up again, this time to visit the Conservatory of Flowers in the park. I’d never been before, and I highly recommend it; it’s full of orchids and palm trees and other tropical plants, plus it has a room full of butterflies. Very cool. And it’s in a 19th century building, too! After that we went to the Musee Mechanique. Dad wasn’t so impressed with the Musee, and I’ll admit that I think their old location at the Cliff House was better; it presented its contents in a more historical order, whereas the current arrangement seems rather scattershot, even though it has more space for the exhibits. Ah well.

And as I said yesterday we ate plenty of food amidst all of this driving. We were usually pretty wiped out once we’d eaten dinner, so we had some quiet evenings at home, although we did watch the season finales of both Smallville (which I’m kind of glad I don’t watch anymore) and House (which I kind of wonder if I should watch more often).

Wednesday it was up early (well, early for me) to drop Dad off at the airport. On the way out of the airport, my car rolled over to 90,000 miles. I put another 60 or so miles on it in a failed attempt to spend the afternoon on the beach (it was far too windy, and the clincher was that the wind was blowing the sand into my face and hair). That was a bummer, and put me in a melancholy mood for the rest of the day. Or maybe it was the prospect of going back to work today.

Anyway, I had a great visit with Dad. I think I enjoyed our trip to the coast on Friday the most, although the Conservatory of Flowers was really neat, too. And of course it was just good to see him.

I’ll put up a few more pictures from his visit over the next few days, but for now I’ll end with this one:

Me and Dad

South Peninsula Neighborhoods

This is pretty neat: Palo Alto Online has historical notes on many neighborhoods on the southern SF peninsula. For example, Castro City in Mountain View, or Loyola Corners in Los Altos, or Fair Oaks in Menlo Park.

Of course, my own house isn’t in a historical neighborhood. We’re newfangled sorts around hereabouts, I guess.

It’s strange that the former town of Mayfield hardly rates a mention. Mayfield used lie between Mountain View and Palo Alto, and it eventually was absorbed by the two other cities when it was outgrown by them. The southern half of Palo Alto was mostly Mayfield, and I believe California Avenue was Mayfield’s downtown, which is why Palo Alto effectively has two downtown districts. The now-defunct Mayfield Mall at the north end of Mountain View was named for it, and is the only location I know of which still bears the Mayfield name (though there may be others I just don’t know about).

Through the Tunnel

This morning we got up and were joined by Mark and Yvette for a bike ride. We headed into Shoreline Park and had lunch there, and then headed down the Stevens Creek Trail to check out the new reach that opened yesterday, including a tunnel under El Camino Real!

For those not familiar with the area, El Camino Real is a major artery down the San Francisco peninsula and through Silicon Valley. In Mountain View, it’s a 6-lane road with plenty of traffic. I have to cross it somehow whenever I bike to work, and I usually cross at a traffic light at one of three intersections. But this underpass will help make it easy to avoid all that, especially once they build the next reach (hopefully by the end of the year) which could make my bike commute a lot easier. They built the underpass with surprisingly light impact on the road and it looks great, nice and clean and wide and with a skylight at the median of the street to let some natural light into the tunnel.

A few shots of the tunnel and trail’s end:

Entrance to the El Camino underpass

Interior of the El Camino underpass

The end of the trail (for now)

Additionally, we’re in the middle of a heat wave here, with highs in the mid-80s. Zoinks! It was breezy and it wasn’t too bad in the shade, but a lot of our ride was in the sun. At least it was dry out, too, so it was still fun. After three days of heat, it sounds like it will be back to normal tomorrow (highs in the high 60s). And now that frisbee is winding down I should consider starting to bike to work regularly.

For dinner I made my recently-mentioned “ex-girlfriend tacos” and we watched the Red Sox/Yankees game on ESPN, and the god damned games between these two teams go on forever, this one running about 4 hours. Fricking Yankees. Fortunately, the good guys won.

I Knew Know Knew Books…

Last weekend we dropped into Know Knew Books, one of the notable used bookstores in the area. Last fall they’d been having a “Going out FOR business” sale, which confused the heck out of everyone, but the bottom line was that they were selling a bunch of their inventory to clear space to do some remodeling and then bring in some new stock. Or, at least, that’s what they told me, and apparently that was the plan as of last summer.

Well, they didn’t do any remodeling that I can tell. Maybe they replaced a bunch of the bookcases, but whatever they did it wasn’t evident to me. What they did do was repurpose a bunch of the shelf space to display…

…toys and action figures.

I’ve never seen so many Star Trek action figures before. And superhero action figures. And various other action figures.

The selection of books seemed to be basically the same. When I first moved here, Know Knew Books seemed to have a really good selection of collectible books and hard-to-find paperbacks, especially in the science fiction and mystery sections. In recent years their stock has made the (perhaps inevitable) slide towards a collection of random and fairly uninteresting (and presumably hard-to-sell) paperbacks, as I found fewer and fewer gems there. And they had basically the same stock, only less of it.

After Debbi and I stepped out of the store we looked at each other and said, “That was really weird.”

I’m not sure what happened. Did a new owner buy them and decide to take them in a different direction? Did they decide they needed media tie-ins in order to bring in more sales and browsers? I have no idea, but it sets a completely different tone for the bookstore – that it’s not truly a bookstore anymore – and its makes me less enthusiastic about making my periodic pass through the store in the future, since I have no interest in such toys.

(For what it’s worth, I find that Recycle Book Store in San Jose is much like what Know Knew Books was when I first moved here.)

Why We Live Here

(Second in an occasional series.)

The leaves didn’t finish falling from the trees until late this month. (A few trees still haven’t finished, but the ones around my yard have.)

Yesterday afternoon I sucked them up with my leaf blower.

(That would be yesterday, the day after Christmas.)

It took me a little over an hour, but then, I have a small yard. All I was really waiting for was for the leaves to dry off from the last rainfall so that most of them wouldn’t be sticking to the ground.

Snow? What’s that?

It has been a little chilly, though – highs in the low 50s. We’ve built a few fires this week. But it’s supposed to hit 60 over the weekend.

The jobs and culture are nice and all, but I maintain that the climate is the fundamental reason people live in the Bay Area in the first place.

Earthquake Time

Tonight we had a magnitude 5.6 earthquake in east San Jose. It was felt throughout the valley, although not by me, since I was running around on a frisbee field at the time.

Debbi says it spooked the cats quite a bit, and herself a little too. Subrata‘s wife Susan says a few things fell off at their house.

Fortunately there seems to have been only minor damage from the strongest Bay Area quake since 1989. Cell phone voice service was out for us for a while, but data still worked, so I sent Debbi and Susan text messages that we were fine. I bet some hidden damage will be found over the next few days, but it looks like we got away with one this time.

Anyway, if you were wondering, we’re okay here.

Ye Olde Town Faire

Many weeks Debbi and I go to the Mountain View Farmer’s Market for fruit and cinnamon bread and flowers (it might surprise you to learn that I enjoy arranging flowers at home; we even have two hang-on-the-wall vases to keep them away from our flower-eating cats).

We learned recently about Thursday Night Live, a new weeknight fair they’re doing in downtown Mountain View four times this summer, so last night we walked down to check it out.

Although my impression is that advertising for the event has been poor (having not heard about it until earlier this week), apparently everyone else knows about it, because traffic and parking downtown were both pretty well slammed. (No wonder they keep wanting to build new parking garages!) I happened to notice an on-street spot as we were in the queue to get into a garage, and I moved quickly and grabbed it.

The fair itself was pretty small: Four or five performers, a small slice of the farmer’s market, a few craft vendors, and several events for children. On the other hand, the performers were all good, and they closed way more of Castro Street than they had to, so there was plenty of space for all the people to walk around. And the restaurants and local businesses were staying open and apparently doing great business. In other circumstances I would have judged this to be an event having a hard time getting off the ground, but the attendance suggests otherwise.

The performers who stood out most for me were a band called Circumsax, who when we arrived had just started playing a Herbie Hancock song, “Chameleon” I think it was, which works really well for a large sax group. (They ought to consider some of the tracks from J.J. Johnson’s J.J. Inc., too; I think “Mohawk” or “Fatback” would work well with their style.)

So we had dinner, looked around, stopped into BookBuyers (where I found a hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), and enjoyed the lovely evening. Can’t beat that. We’ll probably go back next time – assuming we can find parking!

Summer Shower

The common wisdom is that it doesn’t rain in the Bay Area from April to November. Not so: Since I moved here in 1999 we’ve gotten a summer shower around the beginning of August most years. We got one this morning, for about 15 minutes, a couple weeks early. Not enough to alleviate worries of a drought, but still pretty nice.

Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get another one next month.

Holy Traffic, Batman!

Saturday Debbi and I drove down to Santa Cruz, more-or-less on a whim. I thought it would be fun to go to the Beach Boardwalk to play mini golf on their indoor course (which we’d never played before).

Unfortunately, everyone else decided to go to Santa Cruz on the beautiful sunny day, too.

For the most part this wasn’t a problem: We hit a little traffic heading out of Silicon Valley, and some more when we reached Route 1 in Santa Cruz, but it was entirely bearable. Then we bludgeoned our way through the city to the waterfront.

And stopped completely a mere two blocks from the parking lot.

Now it’s not that the parking lot was full, in fact when we finally got there there were several spaces available, and we got a good one. No, the problem is that it too twenty-five minutes to drive those last two blocks, from one end of the lot to the entrance at the other end. I think it was the cross-traffic driving along the edge of the beach that was slowing things down, not letting people in from our direction. It was nuts. I was able to force my way around the last corner and then we finally got to the lot and parked, thank goodness.

Sheesh, next time we’ll leave in the morning, rather than after lunch. Or better yet, wait for an overcast day.

Once there, we had a good time. We did play mini golf: It’s a fun course, with three holes indoors with glow-in-the-dark decor. The course had more twists and turns than the other courses I’ve played around here, reminding me more of the courses I played with my Dad around the Boston area. I liked it.

We bought soft serve ice cream, then walked along the boardwalk and gawked. We didn’t feel like going on any rides, but we enjoyed the sun and also bought a funnel cake (a.k.a. “fried dough” as I always think of it) and some shaved ice (one of the few things I miss from my days in New Orleans, and yet another motivation to want to return to Hawaii). Somehow we completely forgot to play video games in the arcasde. On the other hand, I don’t really need further evidence of how far my Robotron skills have fallen.

A nice jaunt, all in all, but man, that traffic!