Sunday, 21 June 1998:

A Bright Spinning Top of a Vacation

Yep, I'm back from my vacation, and boy was it ever a terrific one!

I don't know whether I'll have the stamina to write about the whole thing tonight (I just got back about two hours ago), but if not then I'll finish it up tomorrow. Incidentally, the explanation for the title above is given toward the end of the whole story...


I may have mentioned before that my tickets to San Francisco were on Northwest, and that Northwest has been having labor troubles lately (a fact which I did not know when I bought the tickets). So Saturday I show up at the airport an hour early for a 9:30 flight, and learn that it's been cancelled. Much standing in line ensues as I first wait to get new tickets on another airline, and then go to American to get boarding passes. Yawn!

My friend John, whom I was going to visit, says he thinks Northwest is pretty much the crummiest airline around and he avoids them whenever possible. I'd never had trouble with them before (as opposed to the many, many problems I've had with American), but I may think twice in the future.

Once on the plane, however, the trip goes smoothly. I call John from Chicago to tell him I'll be arriving about four hours later than planned, and otherwise I pretty much spend the whole time reading. I finish Jack McDevitt's The Hercules Text, which I do not particularly recommend (I'd read Sagan's Contact instead; in fact, I already have!), and Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide, which was okay, although the overt and seemingly irrelevant sex scenes got pretty stupefying after a while. Not really a winner. I still think Swanwick's best work is In The Drift.

I got to SF and met John. John and I were friends back when he lived in Madison and I was in grad school here. He later moved to Chicago, and eventually out to California where he worked for NeXT, and now Apple. He seems to be quite happy out there. It was terrific to see him again; I've really missed him.

My bag was pretty much the first one on the carousel, so we booked back to his place (in Redwood City, a suburb on the SF peninsula, although "suburb" is misleading since the whole thing is basically urban sprawl-land) and had tacos for dinner. That evening John had been invited to a party so I tagged along. A woman he's been dating was there, so I scored major karma points by just hanging around while he mainly hung out with her. (To his credit, that was pretty much the only time during the week that he basically ditched me for someone else - other than the two days he had to work - so I didn't mind.)

We got back to his place and talked for a while, and then went to bed since we had morning plans.


We woke up moderately early (not too hard for me since the two-hour time zone shift was in my favor) and drove to Half Moon Bay to see the Pacific tide pools there. We had to drive over the mountains to get there, which was pretty impressive. We switchbacked up one side and down the other, and I was pretty much impressed with the hills that basically surrounded us everywhere. It's a very different landscape from Madison.

The tide pools were nearly fully exposed, which made for some great sight-seeing. John had warned me to bring some waterproof boots, so I did. We saw sea anemones, sea urchins, a few crabs, several different types of starfish, some seals, and the crowning moment, a small beached octopus, sitting there blinking waiting for the ocean to roll back in. It seemed alive, if not too happy, so we left it there. It was neat, though!

On the way back we bought some pistachios - of which I ate far too many over the next few days (I'd never been much for pistachios before, but these were yummy) - and drove along Skyline Drive, which basically runs along the mountains for a few miles, through some redwood forests and with a few nice views. Not many views of the ocean, though, since it was largely obscured by fog. I've never seen so much fog before!

In the afternoon a number of John's friends came over to play Bridge. John has really gotten into the gaming thing since he moved out there, and he started playing Bridge about a year ago, and has played in a number of tournaments, earning a few masters points. I've always been interested in playing, but have never found many people who play. I'd been studying up before I flew out, and I ended up acquitting myself fairly well. I'm definitely going to have to scare up some people around here to play. (I'd prefer to find people closer to my own age to play with than joining a random Bridge club.)

Incidentally, the book John recommended to me, and which I learned from mainly, was William Root's Commonsense Bidding, which is quite good.

Apparently the Bay Area weather had been chilly and rainy for much of the previous month, but I bought the nice weather with me. In fact, on Sunday it was quite hot (80s or 90s, reportedly high for that area) and unusually humid. This made the gaming a little uncomfortable (in fact, it ended up giving John a migraine), but things cooled off later in the week. Overall, the week's weather was fantastic.


This was another nature day. We drove down to Monterey and went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which was fairly impressive, especially the jellyfish and the giant sunfish. It was, however, a little smaller than I'd expected, or maybe it was better than I'd expected and just went by faster. Oh, yeah, on the way down we stopped at a beach on the ocean to see some elephant seals (or were they sea lions? Dang, I forget!) which was pretty cool - except for the mile-long walk to get to the beach from the parking lot, which was pretty hot!

After Monterey we drove down the seashore, which was very pretty, especially the rock formations cut into the coast. We also went along the "17 Mile Drive", which is a bit of a tourist trap as you pay to drive along a stretch of seashore which isn't quite as scenic as the free part, and which is mainly populated by rich people and their seasonal homes. I'd say skip it, if you go.


John had to work on Tuesday and Wednesday, which wasn't all bad. I was able to use some quiet downtime on my own, plus, I got to go into work with him on this day. I joined them for their regular Bridge session at lunch, and found that the Apple cafeteria's food is pretty yummy. I also got to see where John works, and get something of a tour. There isn't a formal tour, but John showed me around a bit, and then passed me off to Mike Trent, a former cow-orker of mine from Epic who is now at Apple. Mike showed me the main facility and some of the neater things to see, such as the hardware stress-testing room (which was set at about 96 degrees and 85% humidity), and Macintosh serial number 1. (I also put Mike and John in contact, since both are musicians. John's forming an after-hours jazz band and Mike plays bass, which they apparently need.)

I also bought some stuff at the Apple Store, including a T-shirt and some objects I can keep around my office at work (which is mainly a Microsoft shop). I'd wanted to get some "Think Different" posters, but I didn't care for the selection they had at the time.

Apple really seems to be on the rebound lately; that's good.

Afterwards I explored some of the area (John loaned me his car, a sporty 1997 Honda Civic hatchback nicknamed "The Spacepod"), and spent some time at the apartment reading. I then went to pick up John, and we joined his friend Ben for dinner and a session of pool. I'm not very good at pool, but I got lucky and won 3 of the 6 games of cutthroat we played.


Another work day for John. Ben gave him a lift, so I got to sleep in. When I woke up I sort of lay around the apartment reading for a while, and listening to John's CDs. John's a big jazz buff, and has even played local gigs in both Madison and SF. I pretty much decided I need to buy some stuff by the Brecker Brothers. We'll see what I can find here in Madison.

Afterwards I went up to Skyline Drive by myself, taking my camera and spending a more leisurely time checking thing out. I also drove along Canada Drive (pronounced "can-YA-da", I believe) which runs along some reservoirs, and I believe it right on the San Andreas Fault. (I joked that the only major component of the Bay Area experience I missed was an earthquake.)

That evening was the regular gaming night for John and his friends. We went over and played Robo Rally, in which John's friend Subrata kicked our asses, as predicted by John ahead of time (to be fair, he drew some pretty incredible options to start the game: The Big Jet and the Converter, and later drew the RoboCopter). We played The Settlers of Catan, which was also fun. I think I'm going to need to pick up the Seafarers expansion for it.


We headed into San Francisco proper on this day. Actually we drove through SF to the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, where I took some photos, and then we went to the Muir Woods National Monument, which is a good-sized redwood forest on the side of Mt. Tamalpais. After hiking around the base of the mountain for a while, I pushed us to head up the side of the mountain, which is maybe a thousand (?) feet high. John is in good shape and walks a lot, but hadn't dressed for this, so we both ended up pretty hot and sweaty by the time we reached the top. The view was quite nice, though, and I snapped many terrific photos. I was also rather proud of myself for making the journey.

We sure were tired when we reached the bottom, though!

We drove into the city itself and had Italian food for dinner, and hiked around the city for a bit, including through Chinatown. Boy, the hills in that city are pure death! We ended up at Ghirardelli Square, where we ate ice cream-type stuff, and bought chocolate to take home afterwards.

You may be able to tell that we ate a lot on my vacation. Yes, we ate a lot. We pretty much blew away this year's calorie budget and started in on next year's.


Friday we headed to Berkeley and did a bunch more walking, ate Ethiopian food for lunch (pretty tasty), and also hit many comic book stores and used book stores. I was a little disappointed with both; the comics shops I saw were not as good as my own, local Capital City Comics, mainly due to their weak back issue selection. And the used book stores were okay, but nothing special, even The Other Change of Hobbit, an SF book store. But used book stores are by nature erratic things, so maybe I hit them at the bad time. Admittedly I'm also at a point where there aren't many books I'm looking for, too.

I did, however, recommend quite a few books to John and he bought many of them.

That evening John and I met C. J. Silverio and her significant other, David Zink, for dinner. (I even have a photo to prove it! But it'll have to wait until I can develop and scan it.) Ceej is a very nice lady, and I would say that (unusually for the net) her on-line persona is fairly representative of who she is (intelligent, witty, and possessing the hackish nature). I didn't have a strong visualization of David ahead of time, but he's a pleasant, funny and intelligent individual.

And, needless to say, both of them are extremely well-read!

After dinner we went to Borders and perused the science fiction section, pushing various SF books at each other. Ceej and I have both read Connie Willis' Bellwether, and both enjoyed it. John picked it up, and Ceej described it as "a bright, spinning top of a book", which is a phrase I wouldn't have come up with myself, but which describes the book pretty much perfectly. John bought it, and Ceej's comment motivated him to read it first of all the stuff I'd pushed at him. He liked it a lot, and said he'd probably read it again fairly soon.

The phrase "bright spinning top" became a catch-phrase for John and I for the next couple of days (we perhaps over-used it in the presence of Ceej, although she seemed a little more embarrassed than annoyed), and as you can see I decided that it's a pretty good description of my whole vacation. (Sorry, Ceej!)


I had plans on this day to see a Giants game with Keith Woolner, who runs the Boston Red Sox Mailing List and the Stathead Consulting baseball site. Keith turned out to also be a nice fellow, although a little more soft-spoken than I'd expected. Originally John was going to join us for the game, but he decided that he wanted a little downtime, so Ceej came along in his place, and she was surprisingly pumped up about the game. We had a fine time, as the Giants beat their division rivals, the Padres, 5-2. I've now been to four Major League ballparks (Fenway, Wrigley and Milwaukee County Stadium being the others in addition to Candle3COMstick).

When we got back, we hooked up with John's friend Ben after Keith left, Ceej went to retrieve David, and we played some games. We played Settlers while the Silverio/Zink show was powering up (Ben reamed us in the first game, and John and I tied in an abortive, resource-scarce second game), and then played a large game of Robo Rally, in which David (a relative novice) managed to kill Ben at least four times (as well as John and Ceej at least once each). It was a wonderfully chaotic game full of cries of alarm from every quarter. We didn't get a final winner, since we closed up shop at 1 am to go grab tacos, but it seemed like either John, myself or David would win, if we could get past Ben and his arsenal of doom.

It was a pretty terrific time, and it sounds like there might be some more Ceej/Zink/John/others gaming potential in there in the future. If nothing else, I seem to have shoved many of my friends in the Bay Area together in potentially constructive manners during this trip.


Sunday was my return day, and it pretty much went off without a hitch. Although my plane left SF half an hour late, I made my connection and got to Madison on time, which was quite pleasing. I hooked up with some folks from work who were returning from a business trip they'd stretched into a weekend vacation in Arizona and got a lift home. The cats were pleased to see me, things seemed to be pretty calm, and a really big spider has woven a really big web on my porch. I'll have to see what I can do about that.

I've unpacked, I've done laundry, on the trip home I read Michael Swanwick's collection A Geography of Unknown Lands (which has a couple of really good stories), part of Steven Pinker's book The Language Instinct, and started Tim Powers' novel The Anubis Gates (pretty neat so far). So I should consider going to bed soon, since tomorrow is the start of a new work week.

Some Other Thoughts:

John and I really get along fabulously, and he and a few others started applying some pressure to make me move to the Bay Area. And I must admit that I'm thinking about it. Although I have some friends here, you can probably tell from my entries in this journal that I feel somehow unsatisfied in general about my life here. It seems like there are more folks of a similar mindset to mine out in California. Heck, it's nearly worth it to move out there just to see John more often. (John says I should just give my notice this week, and move out there and start looking for a job. This is a bit premature, given that I still have things on the burners out here. But as I said, I think I am going to consider it.)

The two main obstacles to my doing that (other than the fact that there are quite a few things I like about living in Madison) are the terrifying cost of living out there (apartments seem to be $1000/month and up), and an insecurity as to whether I'd be able to cut it as a programmer out there. But I may try tackling Mac programming again in the near future, and even see if I can scare up a copy of Rhapsody to play with. Wouldn't it be cool if I could actually get a job at Apple? That would certainly give me reason to consider moving out west...

I also started picking up a lot of Bay Area hackish slang, such as replacing the word "basically" in my vocabulary with the phrase "pretty much", using the construction "the whole X thing", and a couple other tics that don't come to mind offhand. I pick up other peoples' mannerisms and vocal patterns really easily (not that I specifically try, it just happens), and this was pretty much a lot of fun.

I was not really ready to come home today. But on the other hand, I was pretty happy to see my cats, who have been rubbing all over me as much as they can. Friendly guys. Home is where the cat is.

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