In mid-November, before the latest twist in the pandemic, I traveled to northern California for a friend’s wedding. (The title of this post is a reference to my actually rather frequent trips to San Francisco. This was my second trip to the Bay Area since I graduated from UCLA in 2019; by comparison, I have not yet been back to Los Angeles, except for transferring at LAX on my way to Honolulu.) After teaching on Friday morning, I drove up to the Twin Cities and caught a flight to San Francisco. I arrived late in the evening and caught a shuttle to a nearby hotel. The next morning, I picked up the first car I’d ever rented by myself and headed south. (I would like to brag that I managed to drive everywhere I wanted to go the whole weekend without GPS and without getting lost!)
My destination was Aptos, a little seaside town near Santa Cruz. I visited UC Santa Cruz as a prospective grad student years ago, and the road through the wooded mountains seemed familiar. When I arrived in Aptos, I left my rental car at the hotel and set out in search of lunch. After cutting through the parking lot, labyrinth, and cemetery of the adjacent Catholic church, I discovered, in the nearby strip mall, Companion Bakeshop. I could tell by sight that their viennoiseries were good, so I went in and bought a goat cheese-arugula-pickled onion on baguette sandwich. It was excellent. I resolved to return the next day for breakfast pastries. If you ever find yourself in Aptos (or Santa Cruz), I absolutely recommend this bakery.
Happily, I was able to check into my room early and put on my wedding-appropriate clothes (my backup plan was to change outfits in the hotel’s public restrooms). The wedding was at Sand Rock Farm, a venue tucked up in the woods. We guests arrived by shuttle. It was the wedding of a high school friend of mine: Dustin and I both went to grad school in the LA area, and we also used to meet up around the holidays in Minnesota. I was 99% sure I would be the only person from high school in attendance, and I knew the odds were low I would know anyone else at the wedding besides Dustin’s mother. This turned out to be true, but I still had a good time. During the pre-ceremony mingling, I met some of Dustin’s grad school friends. While we were standing around chatting with glasses of lemonade or iced tea, one grad school friend opposite me said, “Dog,” and I looked down to see a wolfhound pressed against my red dress. His name was Pirate.
The ceremony was unique and lovely, and the rest of the evening was enjoyable. I met Dustin’s now-wife, Jiejing, for the first time. Some of the speeches over dinner made me realize just how poor my Mandarin comprehension has become. Dustin and Jiejing were very gracious hosts. I hadn’t expected to have much time to talk to Dustin, seeing as it was his wedding day and he had all sorts of family and friends in attendance, but we actually did get to talk. I enjoyed meeting some of the other guests too (did everyone work in machine learning except the veterinarian specializing in exotics?).
The next morning, I returned to Companion Bakeshop for an almond croissant, a ham and cheese croissant, and a kouign amann. Then I walked down to Seacliff State Beach. Jiejing had recommended it, though I probably would have gone anyway. I walked out onto the pier, the end of which was closed off by a chicken-wire fence, presumably to keep humans away from the flocks of roosting cormorants and pelicans. I left the pier and walked across the sand toward the water. I watched the waves for a while; I was especially amused by the train of waterfowl swimming parallel to shore that would go bobbing over the incoming breakers like so many rubber duckies. Before leaving the beach, I ate my almond croissant for breakfast; it was scrumptious.
I left Aptos and drove back up to San Francisco, where I ditched my rental car and took BART to Chinatown. In St. Mary’s Square, I ate my ham and cheese croissant for lunch. It was also scrumptious. I checked out the memorial plaque to Chinese American soldiers who died in the World Wars, the Korean comfort women memorial, and the huge statue of Sun Yat-Sen.
I walked up Grant Avenue, keeping an eye out for Chinese bakeries where I fully intended to buy egg tarts. After a little bit of reconnaissance, I went on to City Lights Booksellers and skulked around the basement between the children’s/YA and SFF sections until I finally settled on P. Djèlí Clark’s novella The Black God’s Drums.
After buying my book, I turned the corner back into Chinatown, ready for egg tarts. I also checked out a number of holes in the wall selling dim sum items out of huge steamers, but some of them had lines out the door, and I also didn’t want dumplings right then, and I wasn’t sure hot food would keep till my next hotel. So I just went back to Eastern Bakery for egg tarts.
The bakery wasn’t open to the public; there was a man taking orders behind a plastic table set up on the sidewalk, blocking the entrance to the shop. I was a little worried when I got in line because something I heard made me think there might not be any egg tarts left, but that wasn’t the case. I asked for three, and the man told me it was four for $9, so without thinking very hard I said sure. Then he asked whether I could wait ten minutes or so for them, and I said yes. I also ordered a baked pork bun. The man told me I could sit on a nearby bench to wait for the egg tarts, so I did. While I waited, a Chinatown tour led by a white man came by; he told his group that Eastern Bakery made the best mooncakes in the world. Eventually, my egg tarts were ready; I took the paper bag with the fresh tarts hot out of the oven and went back to the bench to eat one right away. Before I was finished, the man approached me from behind and asked me if it was good. I was so startled I said something incoherent and ungrammatical. I meant to say it was good.
I left Chinatown for Glen Park, to meet up with my friend Katherine and her toddler son Walter. We went on a walk around the neighborhood in search of interesting vehicles and then returned to their backyard to ferry pinecones from bench to flowerbed. Walter warmed up to me and even said my name, which was very cute. I had bought several egg tarts thinking I’d offer a couple to them, knowing that they might not like or want them (pandemic times being what they are). Indeed, Katherine turned them down, which meant I still had three egg tarts all for me. This was not really a problem.
After sundown, I headed further north, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to Rohnert Park, where I’d booked my last hotel. I ate the pork bun for dinner. The next morning, I ate my last pastry from Aptos, the kouign amann, which I think had gotten a bit stale. Then I went to Dhammadharini Monastery in nearby Penngrove to visit my friend Kaccāyana, who as of this fall is a fully ordained bhikkhunī. We walked over to the campus of Sonoma State University and wandered back into the woods, where we sat on a fallen tree across a dry streambed and talked.
When it was getting toward lunchtime for the monastics, we returned to the monastery, and I left to go back to San Francisco. After returning my rental car, I went to investigate whether there was a food truck outside the terminal, and indeed there was! It had an extremely generic, non-descript name, but it turned out to serve Filipino and Mexican food. The cook seemed to be Filipino, and the more Filipino-oriented dishes sounded appealing, so I ordered the teriyaki chicken plate with garlic rice and lumpia. I ate it on the sidewalk; it was delicious.
All in all, it was a very successful trip. I got to see one high school friend, one college friend, and one grad school friend (in order!). I feel lucky to have made it out there to see all those people. Now I expect to hunker down for the winter, and I hope that as the year comes to a close you are also safe, healthy, and warm.