In my last post I mentioned that I was hanging out in a hip coffee shop in Berkeley. That’s only part of the story of what I did that day. This post is about the rest of the story. It’s not particularly noteworthy, but it was sort of an interesting series of events. So I’m going to tell everyone about it. One of the great things about having a blog is that it allows you to indulge in this kind of narcissism.
My plan on Monday was to go to the grocery store. There are two places I buy groceries: Safeway and Berkeley Bowl. I generally buy produce at Berkeley Bowl and everything else at Safeway. The cost of living in California, and especially the Bay Area, is pretty high, but one place that isn’t true is produce. Produce at Berkeley Bowl is very high quality and cheap as shit. This is because most produce sold in America is grown in California’s Central Valley, which is very close to the Bay Area.
So Berkeley Bowl is a great store, but it’s a bit of a drive from East Oakland, so when I go up there I like to tack on some other activities in addition to grocery shopping. There are two locations. The one I usually go to is on the other side of town from the University of California-Berkeley campus and downtown Berkeley. It’s right off the freeway and close to the Berkeley Marina and César Chávez Park, which is on a peninsula in the Bay and is a beautiful spot. There’s also a fairly large commercial strip near there. So my plan was to go have lunch and a cup of coffee, then go to the park and read, then go to the store and pick up some vegetables. I left at about 1:30.
I already wrote a bit about the Local 123 Cafe on Monday. I ordered a cup of coffee and a sandwich. The sandwich was just a sausage and mustard on a bun and had some kind of goofy name. Of course we’re talking about an artisanal sausage, housemade whole-grain dijon mustard, and a fresh-baked roll from a local bakery. This was a really good food item. But there was a snag in my order. Oh no! There was some kind of computer snafu so my sandwich order didn’t get communicated from the register to the person who makes the sandwiches. By the time I figured out my sandwich wasn’t coming, I was almost finished with my cup of coffee. I wasn’t paying very close attention. I was reading Under the Banner of Heaven, which is about two Mormon polygamist brothers who killed their sister-in-law combined with a breezy history of Mormon fundamentalism. So I was paying more attention to the book than my sausage. When I realized what was going on I went back up to the counter to ask about my sandwich and I got a refill on my coffee. This was probably a bad idea. I don’t drink coffee all that often, and I certainly don’t have any daily caffeine intake regimen. This won’t be relevant until later.
Eventually I got my sandwich and they gave me a free apology cookie for the delay. The cookie was also really good. So a delicious meal. Not a very large meal, though. Just a sausage on a bun and a small cookie. I could have eaten two. But I’m not going to order two $6 sausages. That’s crazy. I’m not made of money.
After I finished, I drove over to the marina. It was now around 3. When I parked, I noticed steam coming out from under my hood. Those of you who are car experts may already know that your car is not supposed to do this. I looked at the dashboard temperature gauge and it was up near the red line. Then I opened the hood and the engine coolant expansion tank was empty. Oops. Luckily for me I am a conscientious driver and I keep a jug of special Volvo brand engine coolant in the trunk. It’s bright neon green and looks like toxic waste of the type that comes in giant barrels in cartoons.
I keep the coolant in the car but that’s not good enough. You’re supposed to add coolant mixed 50/50 with water. I’m not smart enough to keep water in the car. So I was parked out at the marina and I needed to find a way to get some water. Also a receptacle for the water so I could carry it back to the car. I walked around a bit and found a water fountain by the public restroom. Jackpot. Of course there were no cups or anything at the drinking fountain. Lucky for me there is a hotel right by the marina. A Doubletree. Doubletrees are pretty nice hotels. I made my way to the lobby, hoping for complimentary coffee and equally complimentary coffee cups. I walked in and the three employees manning the desk greeted me. I explained my predicament and saw that they had a fancy glass water jug and cups. Hooray! Unfortunately these were tiny plastic cups. Boo. I was hoping for big paper cups.
I grabbed a bunch of cups and took off. These were maybe three-ounce cups. Not ideal. I walked back to the drinking fountain and filled four cups. I carried them back to the car and put in four cups of water and four cups of coolant. The tank was still empty. Shit. Back to the fountain. Four more cups. Still empty. Back to the fountain. Four more cups. The coolant level was now a bit above the minimum line. This was awesome because I was now almost out of coolant. I poured the rest of the coolant in. Problem solved. Except now I have to find a local Volvo dealer so I can buy more special Volvo engine coolant. Sometimes owning a car is horrible.
I grabbed my book and started out to the shoreline. It was now past 4 and there wasn’t much time left before sunset. I figured I still had plenty of time to sit and enjoy myself. It was about this time that I started to feel the negative effects of my lunch. This was some fucking supercharged coffee. Also I was hungry again. That is a bad combination. Being high on caffeine on an empty stomach is not my favorite. Jittery, hyperalert, stomach growling, yuck.
So I was walking down the shore with my book when I saw an old guy sitting on the ground. Or lying. He was sort of reclining and propping himself up on his elbows and maybe trying to roll over or something. I didn’t pay too much attention. There are all kinds of goofballs in parks in Berkeley doing all kinds of crazy shit. As I came near he said, “Young man, can I ask you a favor?” Turns out this old guy was walking in the park and had become dehydrated and lost his balance. He asked if I could help him up and walk him back to his car. I said that would be fine and we set off. He was pretty shaky at first, but he got his wits about him pretty quickly. He was a talkative guy. His name was John. He and his wife had just moved to the Berkeley Hills from Los Angeles. I pretty much got John’s whole life story. He’s from Wisconsin. He went to Marquette. He went to law school. He decided to move to LA to be an actor. He did some TV work in the 60’s. His wife got pregnant. He needed a steady income and became a teacher. He retired. He had a bout of hydrocephalus. He moved to Berkeley. He decided to go for a walk. Pretty nice guy. I didn’t feel great about putting him in his car to drive home, but he was pretty insistent. At this point I also wasn’t too confident about driving my car around without it overheating. I said goodbye and he took off.
Now it was close to 5. Dusk was approaching. There wasn’t really enough light to read by comfortably. Off to the store I went. I was still feeling uncomfortable from the coffee. I made my rounds. I bought a bag of apples, a bag of oranges, three orange bell peppers, a green bell pepper, a bunch of green onions, a bunch of celery, four stalks of broccoli, a bag of mushrooms, and a big can of tomatoes. $14. This is a fantastic bargain compared to every grocery store in the Midwest.
It was now dark. I didn’t want to take the freeway home in case the car overheated and I needed to pull over. We’re now in rush hour, which means substantial traffic anywhere you go. I drove down through Berkeley and Oakland. Driving at night while hopped up on crazily-caffeinated organic fair-trade locally roasted coffee is not fun. Most of my experience doing this kind of driving is on freeways at the tail end of road trips. I remember doing this a couple times on the Penn Turnpike on my way to Philadelphia. What a horrible experience that can be. Never drive on the Penn Turnpike if you can help it. Especially not at night while exhausted. I did this once on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It was practically bumper-to-bumper all the way from Pittsburgh to Philly. That was just about the worst day of my life.
I got home around 6. I wish all my days could be that interesting.