California or bust

Neal forwarded this KQED episode about three good eats in the Bay Area, just in time to whet my appetite for our trip west next week. We'll start off in the Sacramento area, where we'll take advantage of proximity to west coast chains we don't have here in New England (In 'n' Out, Rubio's, Chevy's, maybe the buffet at Thunder Valley Casino...) but we'll finish off our trip in our adopted hometown of Oakland. There's too much good food there to enjoy in one short weekend. If we had more time, we'd try to hit all of the places on our long list of local faves, including but not limited to: Cactus Taqueria (but just about any Mexican joint will do), Barney's (I like the Sunshine Turkey), Zachary's (mmmm, spinach & mushroom stuffed crust pizza), Arizmendi (scones every morning), Katrina Rozelle (where we got our wedding cake), and Holy Land for possibly the best hummus and falafel I've ever had. This last spot is the first restaurant discussed in the clip by the social worker from Oakland and the visuals of the food served there interspersed with her commentary are pure food porn. Each of the three guests has a restaurant to review but they all go to eat at each of the three so that they all have something to say about each one during its turn. About four and a half minutes into the episode, the guy in the middle seems to have had an equally delightful experience but keeps going on about how he had to travel "overseas" from San Francisco to Oakland to get there. Gag me! No offense, because I think I might have a San Franciscan or two who read this blog, but I've never understood the SF snobbery and the difficulty so many folks who live there seem to encounter upon leaving the city. Do they inject you with something when you become a resident? Is there an invisible fence halfway across the Bay Bridge? I mean, seriously, San Francisco's the size of a peanut and the rest of the world is a mere 12 miles away. And the bay is not a sea. Anyway, I suppose you could argue that my reverse snobbery toward Oakland is just as bad but, whatever, it's my blog and I can always delete your comments!

Seriously, though, it's always a tricky thing returning to the place you've left and have since completely glorified in your mind. Comments like that guy's remind me of the little things that added up to a smugness that in part inspired me to look east for grad school. This article, which appeared on Salon several years before we moved east, sums up my feelings pretty accurately, although I'm not sure my mixed feelings about the place can all be blamed on the dot com bust and boom since I began to feel ambivalent about Berkeley and San Francisco (before moving to Oakland) very soon after moving to the area in 1997. Eight years later I finally got about 3000 miles of perspective on the place, but I've been dying to get back ever since. Well, back west more generally, although I have to admit the bullseye of that large target is definitely Oakland. When we returned to the area for the first time last year I was apprehensive, but pleasantly surprised with how much I still enjoyed everything (plus, the area where we lived in Oakland - Lake Merritt - was just about to build a Trader Joe's within walking distance from our old apartment). I didn't move to Boston for the overrated change in seasons, despite having previously written about how magical the first snow can be (27 inches of snow in one week, it turns out, is not so magical). The accent that was initially charming is still sometimes annoyingly difficult to understand. And while I technically live in the city of Boston, in a neighborhood diverse with Vietnamese restaurants and Irish pubs, I'll never feel like a local because I can't claim that my family has lived here for at least three or four generations (how your family could stick around that long is beyond me). And yet I still have these reservations about California. Ultimately, I think the reason people settle in a particular area has more to do with family. That would explain why people stay in New England for generation after generation, or why native New Englanders who've experienced life elsewhere return to this place winter after long, snowy winter. So, I don't know, maybe I'll never feel completely at home, here or back west. But what fun would it be to live in a place you can't complain about? Especially so long as the weather is mild (there is a change in seasons: foggy in the summer, Indian summer in the fall, rain in the winter, and pleasant in the spring!) and the food is tasty.

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