Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Schultzes in Cali - Part Two

Mt. Diablo State Park was on the agenda for Wednesday.  Mount Diablo is one of the highest peaks in the Bay Area at 3,864 feet.  The state park is huge.  I’d never been there before, so it was an adventure.  We entered the park from the South.  There are lots of little camping and picnic areas throughout the park as well as signage and history about the various Indian tribes who lived there.  We didn’t really have an agenda other than getting to the summit, so went in whatever direction the signage interested us. 

When we saw the sign for Wind Caves, we obviously followed them.  The caves were less cave and more “rocky formation eroded over time by wind with some small areas dug out”, but that isn’t catchy and doesn’t fit on a sign. 

We got a map, so I checked out where the Visitor Center was, which was at the summit.  I was mostly curious about finding that because Conery and I started collecting patches for the State Parks we visited.  I was also getting a little concerned about my gas gauge and wanted to ask the Ranger the shortest route to a gas station.  I kind of underestimated the amount of driving we’d be doing in the park, and my “x miles to empty counter” was not reading reliably with all the steep, uphill driving.  Nothing like the fear of running out of gas at 3k feet with your parents in the car to add an element of excitement! 

On our way to the summit, we passed countless people riding their bikes.  These were serious bikers who were “sucking wind” as my Dad said on the way to the top.  We even saw two women walking.  There weren’t many other cars in sight, so I can only imagine that they walked the 7.2 miles from the ranger’s station to the summit.  It was a pretty hot day for that kind of activity.

At the Visitor Center, I acquired the two things I sought: a Mt. Diablo patch for my backpack and information on the closest gas station.  

The Ranger told me that there were probably more gas station options if we exited via the North gate, and I wouldn’t use any gas going down as I could just put it in neutral.  Brilliant!  The day was saved!

View from the Summit of Mt. Diablo

The summit tower

The visitor center and summit tower
were built on the summit of the mountain.
You can stand on the actual summit.

The car was in neutral almost the entire way out of the park.  We made it to a gas station, filled up, and turned the AC back on!  There were actually a few days that week when we had the AC unit in the apartment going.  As I’m writing this, it is 66 degrees at 10:30am, and the temps aren’t forecasted to exceed 70 degrees this week.  I guess people were right about September being the warmest month.

Aside from seeing us, Laverne, and going to the A’s game, my Mom wanted to go to Chinatown.  She and my Dad made it to Chinatown during one of their trips, but it was at the end of a long day, and they really didn’t have time to enjoy it.  We decided that we’d end the next day (Thursday) in Chinatown where we’d meet Conery for dinner. 

We eased into Thursday and headed into San Francisco around noon.  My parents hadn’t been to Coit Tower before, and I didn’t check their gift shop the last time I was there for a patch, so we started out our day there.  There is a small parking circle at the base of Coit Tower, and during the week, you can find a place to park fairly easily.  The views from the base of the tower are pretty awesome, and the day was super clear, so you could actually see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and Alcatraz.  Mom and Dad decided that they’d like to go up in the tower.  I think the City is amazing, and the views are ever changing because of weather, so I was happy to go up again.  After going up in the tower, we ended up in the gift shop, and I found a patch with Coit Tower on it.  SCORE! 

Next on our list…Japantown.  When Conery’s Mom and Sister were here, they went to Japantown when I was working, so this was another new experience for me.  San Francisco’s Japantown and Chinatown are the largest enclaves of their respective ethnicities in the United States.  Other than some statues and the pagoda, the attraction of Japantown is mostly shops and restaurants.  

Japantown pagoda in Peace Plaza

I found some really unique origami paper, which was cut into smaller squares like I like.

After Dad used his Find My Car app, we headed to Chinatown.  Conery made reservations for us at a place called the R&G Lounge.  After we parked, we had an hour or two to meander through Chinatown before dinner.  Chinatown is centered along two main streets: Grant and Stockton.  Grant is the more touristy of the two with lots of shops and restaurants.  Stockton is where the locals do their shopping, get haircuts and massages, and eat. 

On the other side of Grant, there is a street called Kearny.  Between Grant and Kearny is a park; there were a handful of huddled groups littering the park.  There were a few women, but for the most part, they were all men over 40.  Some of the older men looked positively ancient.  I think they were playing chess or checkers, but I wasn’t curious enough to push my way through the crowd to see what was going on.

We headed toward the gate to Chinatown checking out the shops along the way.  The shops run the gamut from tiny trinkets to large bronze statuary.  A guy was trying to talk my Dad into buying two bronze lions.  I’m thinking that might have exceeded the weight restrictions for checked baggage.  We stopped in the store called Chinatown Kites to buy a kite for my Mom.  When I told her that I bought a kite there a few months ago, she expressed interest in flying kites when they visited.  I bought her a baby penguin kite with googly eyes.  You’ll be hearing more about that later.

On the way to meet Conery for dinner, we passed a street musician playing some stringed instrument.  In another block or so, there was large group of musicians.  It’s pretty cool to hear traditional music being played in that setting.  It sort of cheapens the experience for me when a car passes by bumping some hiphop or blaring some poptart songstress.

I am not the biggest fan of Chinese food – a recent revelation.  Conery did some research and found a place with good ratings, which was on Kearny near the park.  The place is called the R&G Lounge.  It’s not much to look at from the outside.  The inside lobby is fairly shallow and is mostly taken up with the bar.  Seating is upstairs and downstairs from the lobby.  When we got there, the place was half full.  (Yes, I am an optimist.)  We all ordered some drinks, appetizers, and everyone else ordered the double boiled chicken soup.  The chicken soup came and the waiter removed the lids.  Our collective lids were raised when we saw a pale looking bone-in chicken part in the bowl.  This is what we should have expected, but we were all thinking the Western interpretation of chicken soup.  My Dad quickly pawned off his soup on me.  I tasted it, more to prove to my Dad that it was ok than being hungry for it.  It was mega-tasty.  The color of the chicken made sense as it was boiled not fried/baked. 

Our dishes arrived and are placed in the middle to be served up family style.  Conery got Peking Duck which was served with these pillowy, muppet-mouth-looking dough pieces meant to be used as the bread in the Peking Duck sandwich.  The skin was crunchy, the meat mouth-watering, and the hoisin sauce a sweet complement.  But my dish knocked it out of the park.  Did I mentioned that I’m not the biggest fan of Chinese food?  Apparently, I like Cantonese Chinese, which is the focus of the R&G Lounge and a few other Chinese restaurants I like.  My dish was one of their signature dishes (so sayeth the menu).  It was Beef in Special Sauce.  Catchy eh?  The details mention that the sauce is not only special but it is a secret.  Mysteeeerioussss.  Whatever went into that dish was brilliant.  My Mom and Dad went a little more traditional, which they enjoyed.  The beef overshadowed everything else in my pallet’s memory.  Yay, R&G!

Check back for part three in the three part, Schultzes in Cali series...

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