I’m in the Fremont Panera—one of two, but the only one I’ve been to, just off I-880 at Auto Mall Parkway. I think this was the first that opened in the SF Bay Area, just a couple years ago.
This has been another day out, even though I hadn’t intended it to be quite as far-ranging as it has been. I just started driving north toward Pleasanton as I was on the phone earlier this morning, and somewhere along the way decided that I’d end up at the Chicago Metropolitan Deli for a Chicago-style hot dog. Like a lot of regional foods—the Philly cheese steak, New York style pizza, and even a Tampa-style Cuban sandwich—this is something whose difficulty in obtaining out of its native habitat seems far out of proportion to the difficulty in recreating it. For this hot dog, we’re talking a Vienna Beef hot dog (or at least something comparable: a bit fat, robustly seasoned, skin with some snap to it), poppy seed bun, yellow mustard, diced tomatoes, diced onions, sport peppers, lengthwise quarters of a dill pickle, Piccalilli relish and celery salt. You boil the hot dog and steam the bun. None of this sounds like it’s real hard to replicate, does it? Apparently, it is. The Chicago Deli comes pretty close, although today they were using sweet pickle relish. (Piccalilli isn’t as sweet—it has other vegetables in it, I believe—and it’s usually an alarming fluorescent green.) It still had the “holy hell somebody’s built a salad on my hot dog are they on crack” vibe going, though, so it gets a pass.
While I was there, I perused one of the little free “Apartment Guide” type rags they have, and decided—highly irrationally—to check out an apartment in Emeryville. This is irrational because it’s a 42-mile drive from there to work, 50 minutes under ideal driving conditions, which—given that the ideal route goes over the Bay Bridge, notorious for nearly 24/7 congestion—I would not have. Nonetheless, I drove to this apartment, Avenue 64, and determined it was out of my imaginary price range, let alone a price range I’d actually consider. I still had the apartment guide, though, and decided to drive a few more miles further, over to Alameda.
I’ve written about Alameda before; it’s an island just south of Oakland, very close to the mainland, historically known mostly for being a naval air station. I’ve mentioned visiting the home of Hangar One Vodka there (and the Qi tea liqueur that I bought which scares nearly everyone else), and of course, Forbidden Island, an awesome tiki bar.
I’ve realized, though, that it’s one of a few towns in the Bay Area I keep consistently coming back to, and I don’t think it’s just for the tiki bar. The other places I’ve found myself wandering—only on lunch breaks at work, for the most part—are San Carlos and Foster City, both on the Peninsula. Foster City is a man-made island on San Francisco Bay, sort of one big prototype version of a “master planned community”; it’s serene and has some interesting waterfront places, but it’s pretty character-free otherwise. San Carlos has a funky little downtown area, a slightly less pretentious Los Gatos.
I think what’s cool about Alameda to me is that it seems to have both those vibes. It’s got the funky beach-front areas, the 1950s-era waterfront condos and apartments along San Francisco Bay like Foster City, but in Alameda those areas actually have life to them: active parks and jogging trails, kite flying and wind surfing. Foster City wants to be a beach bum, but Alameda really is; it’s the difference between an old school Harley rider and a well-to-do doctor who rides a chopper on the weekend. But Alameda also has several funky business districts scattered around it: good restaurants and bars and shops and grocery stores, most of them home grown.
This presents a so-far theoretical conundrum to me, of course: despite my occasional forays into apartment hunting, I don’t really expect to be moving any time soon. On the other hand, if I were to move some place, Alameda would have a lot going for it: I really like what I’ve seen of the place, it isn’t incredibly inconvenient to the rest of the bay area—it’s much more convenient to the two liveliest metro areas than where I am now—and, at least by area standards, the rents are surprisingly affordable. On the third hand, it’s not much closer to work than Emeryville is; at current gas prices, doubling my commuting distance is… a lot. And frankly, if I did go through all the bother and increased rent of moving, I’d rather be cutting my commute time rather than adding to it. (This does feed back to the dream of telecommuting, too, of course.)
As things played out, I didn’t actually tour any apartments in Alameda today, even though I looked at the outsides of several and found information on them. I did end up at Forbidden Island—naturally—and ordered one of their Zombies, to compare it to my own. Theirs is smoother, which didn’t surprise me, but does make me feel like going back to the drawing board for more recipe tweaking.
For now, though, it’s time to head back home.