I’m in a Panera Bread, which isn’t new for me, but this is one that I haven’t visited before: in Antioch, California, which is east of El Cerrito, which is in turn north of Berkeley but not on the other side of San Francisco Bay.
This would be an awfully long way to drive if my goal had been just to end up at a Panera, but as usual with me, the real goal was to see places I haven’t seen much of before—and the actual destination was El Cerrito, and a locally famous bakery-restaurant there called Fat Apple’s.
If you’re an SF Bay Area type, you’ve probably heard of the Original Pancake House. If you took that place, put it in a more interesting building, lowered the prices, and made it a full restaurant instead of a breakfast joint, and with a great bakery, you’d have Fat Apple’s. It’s hard to say if the food was better, but it was at least the equal. The coffee’s definitely better. And the general competence and politeness of the staff is much better than any visit of mine to the Pancake House. I didn’t get to try the olallieberry pie, which is said to be great. (Just now I looked up what the hell an olallieberry is: “approximately two-thirds blackberry and one-third red raspberry.”)
El Cerrito was an interesting little town, from what I saw of it. Not picturesque, but… the best word might be comfortable. A working-class town. If you live in the million-plus-dollar Berkeley Hills, your Latina housekeeper lives in El Cerrito. I drove around a little bit there, including checking out the one coffee house I learned of in the area with free wi-fi. That coffee house closed at 4pm, though (possibly earlier than I’d leave if I ended up camping out there), so: on to Antioch, and to the Panera I’d also known was there. There’s a Panera in Fremont, too, which was both closer and on the way back home, but I’d never been to Antioch, which made the choice inevitable.
Antioch is about 30 miles to the east; El Cerrito is right off I-80, along the east side of San Francisco Bay, but Antioch is well past I-680, off California Highway 4. The landscape is what I’m coming to think of as classic East Bay—low rolling hills covered with brown grass (although it’ll turn green by mid-winter, and stay green through spring), dotted with oak trees, evergreens and sycamores. This area is fairly industrial, but actually somewhat prettier than El Cerrito is.
This particular area isn’t industrial; it’s brand-new suburbia. It reminds me a bit of some areas just east of Sacramento, around where a friend there lives. This area is a little prettier, I’d say—hillier (although not much), more trees (although it’s still pretty open). It’s the sort of place I drive through and think I could live here, then remind myself that a 60-mile commute each way would be less than desirable. I’m still perversely tempted to look at apartments in this little subdivision area just to see what the prices are like. (My guess is that they’ll be in the $850/month range for one bedrooms, about $200 a month less than comparable apartments San Jose.)
I’d come here in part with the idea of getting some writing/programming work done; I’ve noticed I tend to work better in settings like this. I’d also come here with the idea of helping a couple friends contemplating serious changes in their life brainstorm the least painful ways to manage this; while I’ve been in touch with them on the drive here, by the time I got here, both of them have gone offline, which makes this a bit trickier. So, I may work on other projects here for a bit, and may explore suburbia a bit. If I stay out here a few more hours, I’ll be deciding what to do for dinner in the area, too. I did pass by a brewpub somewhere back there…