Monthly Archives: August 2010

Young Man Went West #23-C: California Chronicles, Part III

California Chronicles: Part III—Around the Bay and Beyond

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Glen Ellen (Camp Milagros) ∙ Livermore ∙ San Francisco

Camp officially ended around noon on Sunday, so I still had half that day plus the following three to see as many people in as many places as I could before leaving.  I slept almost the entire drive back home.  The power nap came in handy, as not long after I dropped my duffle of dirty clothes in the laundry room, my parents and I took off for San Francisco.  We were going to meet my sister and her boyfriend Amit at the Bubba Gump’s at Pier 39.  You’d think I’d want to take a break from that place during my time off, but my motive was two-fold: I wanted to see how easy it would be to try out my employee discount at another location, and a family dinner was my mom’s belated birthday gift, so it might as well be a half-priced dinner.  Fifty bucks for dinner for five ain’t bad at all.

After finding a sweet shirt at the market (a black retro tee my coworkers envy), we took our seat at a corner booth near the front.  Sitting in a different Bubba’s is a strange experience; everything is completely brand new yet strangely familiar at the same time.  I was in a parallel universe.

I’d told my family to not let the server know I was an employee because I wanted to see how his service compared to that at my location.  At first, I wasn’t impressed.  He came around half as often as I do, and didn’t start trivia until we asked.  I later found out that he was the bartender as well, so I forgave him.  Also, he had some good trivia questions.  When he realized I wasn’t answering until the questions were too hard for my dad and sister, he figured out that I was an employee.  He gave me the discount without asking for proof, and I gave him twenty percent, base rate for a server-to-server tip.

We parted ways with my sister and Amit after dinner, and my parents and I just strolled around Fisherman’s Wharf for a few hours.  It was great to talk with my parents, to see and smell the City, to wear layers.  It was great to be back.

My sister and me at Bubba Gump's in San Francisco

Monday, August 9, 2010

Berkeley ∙ Livermore

One half day in Berkeley was not enough, so I woke up Monday morning and hopped on BART to the Downtown Berkeley station on Shattuck.  First, I met up with Bianca and had pizza and beer at Jupiter’s.  Wait, I need to emphasize that: I had gourmet, brick oven pizza and locally-brewed beer at one of my favorite ale houses in Berkeley.  I was in heaven, and with good company.  Bianca, a fellow UC Berkeley Film Studies graduate, also works an entry-level job at a museum.  We met up with Nate afterwards, who graduated a year before me and is still on the job hunt.  Every friend I meet makes me feel better about my post-graduate situation, but worse about the trend in general.  At least we’re all in it together!

Two friends in tow, I headed to campus and met up with two more, Felicity and Taylor.  They’re still in school, so they’re all bright-eyed and hopeful about the future.  Just they wait.  We strolled through our lovely Alma Mater and past Memorial Stadium because I wanted to see the construction progress on the soon-to-be Student High Peformance Athletic Center.  Not much progress since I left, as expected.

After a quick bite at Gypsy’s, we dropped Bianca off at BART and explored a bit of North Berkeley.  For those unfamiliar with the area, North Berkeley is nice Berkeley.  It’s a clean, high-brow neighborhood home to more professors and less panhandlers.  In true North Berkeley style, we made our last stop a tea house terrace.  The weather was perfect, the tea was tasty, and we had a fun time pretending to be sophisticated.

I returned to Livermore that night in time for my childhood friend Matt’s 24th birthday party at none other than First Street Ale House.  The room was filled with a few familiar faces—namely Tasha, Casey, Justin, and Anna—but mostly strangers.  This was the social circle Matt developed over the past five years, and while he has these people and I have my college and Hawaii friends, we still came together like high school was yesterday.  He’s still the same old silly, caring, goofy, honest Matt with whom I grew up.  I hope I haven’t changed too much.

Bianca, Taylor, Nate, Felicity, and me around the Pappy Statue at UC Berkeley

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sacramento

I had known before I left Hawaii that I was going to spend significant time in Sacramento, not only because my sister lived there, but also (and mainly) because that’s where my college roommate Jake moved to after we graduated.  Jake, Lawrence, and I shared the same small living spaces for four years, and now we reside in three different time zones.  While I couldn’t take a detour to Chicago to visit Lawrence, I did have the opportunity to see Jake again, and I was definitely going to take it.  Jake joined my family for dinner at a classy beer and pizza place (notice a trend?) and then we attempted to catch an early screening of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  Although he won the tickets from the radio, they oversold the screening and we got there too late.  No worries though, the theater was a short walk from Old Sacramento and Jake’s new place of employment on the Delta King, a hotel-slash-restaurant on a boat.

My old friend gave me a tour of the boat and of Old Sac.  It’s an interesting little town, but not as interesting as the conversations we had, about anything and everything, as usual.  Jake and I operate on the same brainwaves, no pretenses, no social walls, no awkward silences.  It was refreshing.  Too bad Lawrence couldn’t be there.

I got to see the apartment he lives in with his longtime girlfriend, Jessi.  It was definitely cleaner than our digs in Berkeley, and was furnished with a giant TV and two awesome cats.  After joining my sister and her friends for a couple drinks downtown, he took me to a bar across the street from his place and we split a pitcher of beer over foosball and pool.  A simple good time with a simply great friend.

Jake, Jessi, and their two cats--Lucius Vorenus and Niobe--in their Sacramento apartment

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sacramento ∙ Lotus ∙ San Francisco

I spent the night on Jake and Jessi’s couch, falling asleep to TMNT.  We finished the Ninja Turtles movie the next morning and then went out for breakfast.  There are never sad goodbyes with Jake and I, just see-you-laters.  And I will.  Hell, he’s half-serious about moving to Seattle when I do.

I had plans to see some friends in San Francisco, but seeing as I was so close to Lotus, my dad suggested I first stop by there to see my grandma.  Lotus is about an hour northeast of Sac, but two hours back to Livermore.  Still, I went.

When I got there, it was only grandma, Uncle Junior, and Auntie Tessy.  I saw “only” because I’m used to that house filled with ten to eighty people.  It was like visiting an amusement park during the offseason.  My auntie and uncle were glad to see me and asked me tons of questions while forcing me to eat.  I declined food four or five times before giving in.  It’s hard to say no when your relative is already making you a plate.

The house is in a constant state of renovation, and besides a well-tended garden, the newest additions to the Lotus house were a poolside bamboo nipa hut and matching tiki bar.  Our family parties are going to amazing!

The Nipa Hut and Tiki Bar at our house in Lotus

After about an hour of eating unnecessarily and watching Filipino game shows, I headed back to Livermore, took a shower, and drove to the BART station to catch a train to the Mission District.  When I got there, my friend Juliana was finishing up work and Nate was still on his way over, so I had some time to just wander around the Mission solo for a bit.  I’d never really explored this area beyond the taquerias, but got excited as I imagined myself living there in five to ten years.  It’s an interesting neighborhood filled with impressive street art, small bars, and an abundance of Mexican restaurants.  I put it on my “to move to” list

I finally met up with my friends at Juliana’s super nice, very San Francisco-y house, and by that I mean a house that looks tall and small in the front, but extends quite far back.  We had some Mission Mexican food while I ranted about Hawaii’s problems (namely, how it lacks a rail system, recycling programs, and available girls).  I love the island, but not as much as complaining about it in front of people who so desperately want to go.  My ranting quieted a bit when my torta al pastor came out.  It wasn’t as good as what I scarfed down daily in Mexico, but it was far better than anything I could find in Hawaii (another thing it’s lacking).

Nate and I hit a bar for a bit to give Juliana some time to study as she’s one of my few friends that actually does school work.  She still hasn’t learned the art of studying just enough to BS your way through a class.  She must have graduated from Berkeley the hard way.  By the time we got back to her house, Juliana was ready for a break, so we played Clue.  Board games are such simple pleasures; I don’t know why people don’t play as often.  A few hours and YouTube videos later, Juliana was ready for more reading so Nate and I headed back to our respective homes.  We said our goodbyes and took off into the night.

Juliana shows off her awesome apron in her San Francisco house

***

Revisiting California was a refreshing break from monotony.  I soaked in my ability to recycle, to wear jackets, to drive 80+ miles per hour.  As I left those things behind, I took with me the knowledge that no matter how far I move or for how long, I will always have friends and family in Califoria ready to welcome me back home, hopefully over some pizza and beer.

FIN

Sigh, I guess it was time to leave California and come back to this. . .

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YMWW #23-B: California Chronicles, Part II

Part II: Camp Counselin’

The main reason I flew back to California was to return to Camp Milagros in Sonoma County for my third year as a counselor.  In 2008, a college friend involved with the Arthritis Foundation asked me to be a counselor, and I loved it so much I thought it worth flying back to this year.  Camp Milagros is a wonderful, week-long summer camp for 8- to 13-year-old children with juvenile arthritis.  Though these kids have special needs–and the program does a fantastic job catering to those needs–the camp’s greatest attribute is that it is so completely normal.  That’s what I love about it.  The campers run around, play sports, swim, do arts and crafts, and goof around like at any other summer camp, and because everybody deals with arthritis or other related conditions, nobody is singled-out.  Everyone is just normal.  What’s more, Camp Milagros also has a low camper-to-volunteer/staff ratio, about 2:1, so these children are able to receive a lot of individual attention.  If you want to learn more, visit the Arthritis Foundation’s page about juvenile arthritis activities, and/or watch this video.  Maybe you can be a counselor with me next year!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I was pumped to be back at camp.  To be honest, my first year was fun, but being a newbie, I was a bit self-conscious.  Would the campers like me and respect my authority at the same time?  Did the other counselors think I was doing a good enough job?  What did the girl counselors think of me. . . ?  The second year was better since I was returning with confidence.  I knew I could do the job well, so I didn’t worry about everything as much.  This year, though, all I could think about was having fun with the kids I knew and who already knew me.  There were a few new people, both campers and counselors alike, but the majority of the people were Milagros veterans.

Out of the eight boys (yes, out of 29 campers, only eight were boys), two of them were first-timers.  The first newbie had arrived at camp before everybody else, even me.  Standing under four feet tall because of the medication he takes and requiring the use of a wheelchair for long distances, this boy was understandably nervous about his first time at camp.  He sat silently next to his foster mother while the other counselors and I took turns asking him questions, receiving nothing but one-word answers and no eye contact.  This will be a tough nut to crack, I thought.  The two bus-loads of kids pulled up some time later, and I tried my best to introduce him to the other guys.

The second new boy came right as everyone was shuffling into the dining hall for lunch.  He seemed like the camping type as he was dressed in a fleece jacket and a giant bucket hat.  He gave his dad a long, sentimental hug goodbye, and the dad reassured his son that he loved him and everything will be alright.  It wasn’t long before I realized his bucket hat was pulled down low to cover the tears in his eyes.  Alright, I thought, here’s tough nut number two.

During lunch, the first new boy slowly started to open up to the other boy campers, talking about video games and whatnot.  Halfway through the meal, after realizing the other kids wouldn’t treat him differently because of his size, he was dominating the conversation, cracking jokes and asking a billion questions.  Though small in stature, he easily had one of the biggest personalities in that room, and that’s saying something.  Everybody gravitated to this new superstar.

Bucket Hat, however, just kept crying to himself.  He didn’t even get a plate to eat because he claimed he ate before he got there, which may have been true, but I also think he was too shy to get in the buffet line.

(Sidenote: the food at camp is all-you-can-eat amazingness.  One of the reasons I go back.)

By the end of the day, the boys were fighting over who got to push Superstar in his wheelchair, while Bucket Hat was telling me he wanted to call his dad so he can go home early.  I pushed back his request with the promise of awesome activities to come.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Every year, we spend a day with Challenge Sonoma Adventure Ropes Course, conveniently a short hike and shuttle ride away from Camp Milagros.  The campers learn to trust each other and their selves while scaling giant redwood trees.  It’s a ton of fun and, in addition to the camp food, another reason I return to this counseling gig.

Superstar was physically unable to participate, but he was content watching his new friends climb the courses while he did watercolors (his paintings, by the way, were quite impressive).  Bucket Hat, on the other hand, wasn’t even down to harness up.  I think it was a combination of nerves and. . . what’s the opposite of being out-going?  In-coming?  Yeah, that.  He instead did lanyards with one of the doctors who was also too nervous to do the ropes course.  We did see a spark of hope, though, when he taught another camper a card game.  This other camper was a second-timer who, last year, was very shy.  He didn’t open up until the second-to-last day when I bonded with him over comic books.  Since then, he wore a giant, ear-to-ear grin.  He came back to camp smiling, ready to play with everybody else.  He even put on a harness this year before backing down halfway up the ladder.  Still, he tried, which was more than I could say for him last year, or for Bucket Hat this year.  If anybody could turn this Bucket Hat, it’d be Smiles.

Alas, after we got back from the ropes course, he closed up again.  He once again asked to call his dad.  “Why don’t we wait just a little bit?”  I suggested, “Tomorrow, we get to write letters home!”  That didn’t do much to convince him.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday was a bit less hectic than the previous day.  There was a lot of free time to goof around, play sports, and prepare for the second No-Talent Show happening that night.  The No-Talent Shows are like regular talent shows, but because of the name, encourage the kids to get up and do whatever they wanted without feeling a need to be “talented.”  Even still, there was definitely a lot of talent to go around, with kids running up to sing and dance and perform skits they made up.  Superstar proved to be quite the entertainer during Wednesday’s No-Talent Show, winning the audience over with his dance moves and great comedic timing.  He spent a lot of time Friday preparing more skits and performances with the other campers.

I wanted Bucket Hat to do more than just make lanyards (even though I made quite a few myself) so, after finding out he was pretty much a soccer superstar, grabbed a soccer ball and played a little one-on-one with him.  He was fast and skilled and totally in his comfort zone.  The entire time we were playing, he was laughing and smiling.  I eventually got a bunch of kids to play a big game, and he impressed everybody with his skills.

Still, though, after the game was over, he didn’t do much to connect with the other kids.  They weren’t ignoring him at all; it was he who didn’t open up to their interactions.  He admitted to me that his only friends were the counselors and I thought to myself, Well, no duh! He still wanted to call his dad and Emma, the camp director, finally allowed him to do so.  Bucket Hat’s dad agreed to pick him up the following evening.  We did what we could.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Knowing he was going home later that day, Bucket Hat subconsciously allowed himself to have fun.  We organized a huge game of Capture the Flag and, just like in soccer, he rocked at that.  When a couple of the other kids were mattress sliding (a camp tradition where they stack up the vinyl mattress and slide across the hardwood floor while counselors nervously watch), Bucket Hat joined in.  Sometime after lunch, I was playing ping pong doubles with him and two other boys when he turns to me and said, “This is kind of hard; I think I want to stay now.”  I immediately threw down my paddle and yelled, “We’re telling Emma!”  I ran up the porch with Bucket Hat trailing and interrupted Emma’s conversation with, “Emma!  Emma!  He wants to stay!”  She immediately left the group, got on her phone, and called Bucket Hat’s dad.  She was able to get a hold of him before he left and Bucket Hat got to stay until the end of camp, which, a bit anticlimactically was at noon on the following day.  Still, victory!

The night ended with a surprise b0y-girl dance party, a first ever in Milagros history.  While some of the younger boys retreated to their cabin, Superstar, Smiles, and the other older boys relished in the opportunity to dance with the girls.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

As part of Camp Milagros tradition, our last (half) day consisted of breakfast followed by a giant shaving cream war.  Named the Prank War, they developed this morning-long battle of shaving cream, silly string, and water balloons in an attempt dissuade campers from pulling pranks on each other during camp.  If you didn’t do any pranks all camp long, you were rewarded with a shaving cream can and a chance to cover your counselors in white foam from head to toe.  Good trade off, yeah?  Bucket Hat definitely had a good time running around throwing shaving cream on everybody.  Even Superstar, being pushed around by another counselor, participated in the fight.  Despite the fact that the morning fog hadn’t lifted by battle’s end and we had to hose off with ice-cold water, it was still, as always, a messy good end to the camp activities.

I had a great time seeing all the returning campers, all of them funny, smart, cute individuals whom I didn’t get a chance to mention in this post, but my best memories were of the great time the two new boys had at camp.  This year, sadly, would be Superstar’s only year at Camp Milagros seeing as he’s 13-years-old.  No worries, though, he’ll be able to turn his charm on the ladies at the Juvenile Arthritis Teen Retreat in San Francisco next October.  9-year-old Bucket Hat, on the other hand, despite having a rough time getting into the grove of things, reassured us that’ll he’ll be coming back next year.  I hope I’ll be around to see his triumphant return.

***

I’d have felt weird ending this post with photos of Roxy models, so here are a couple photos of the kids I mentioned.

Superstar (left) and Smiles at the dinner table.

Bucket Hat picking and eating blackberries from a bush.

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YMWW #23-A: California Chronicles, Part I

Part I: Back in Town

Monday, August 2, 2010

After an uneventful, five-hour flight, I was finally back in the Bay Area.  (Edit: I say “uneventful” like a bad thing, but it occurs to me that “eventful” flights usually mean catastrophe.  This flight was perfect.)  My parents picked me up at SFO, but seeing as it was past nine o’clock and near their bedtime, we skipped the restaurants and went straight home to Livermore.  After a meal of leftover ribs and rice, I gravitated towards the digital cable and 60-inch HD TV and got caught up on Entourage.  One hour into my vacation and I was already playing couch potato.

‘Round about one in the morning, my good friend Ian came by to pick me up.  Everything was closed by this hour, like any decent suburb, so we drove around just to drive around.  He pointed out a few new additions to Downtown Livermore—such as the newly-expanded First Street Ale House, the type of pub-slash-restaurant prevelent in Berkeley but lacking in Honolulu—but for the most part, the city entire was just as I’d left it.  Still, we drove.

We drove and we didn’t stop talking.  The conversation was continuous and seemlessly slipped from one topic to the next.  We discussed everything from girl problems to the possible city infrastructure of San Jose.  Before we knew it, it was three o’clock in the morning by the time he took me back to my place.  The car stopped in my driveway, but the conversation did not.  It was not until an hour and a half later did I finally head upstairs to go to sleep.

I took that first night of shooting the breeze in a car with my friend as a good omen, a foreshadowing of the fun, easy time we will have during our roadtrip around the country.  I will go into detail of this later, but basically, Ian and I plan to drive around the continental United States for an entire summer next year, starting in the Bay Area, going up through the Pacific Northwest and then across the northern states, working our way down all the essential cities of the East Coast into Florida, and then back through the South.  The theme of the trip (besides avoiding Middle America) is frugality; we will couchsurf, crash in the car, or camp before considering a hostel, our last resort.  Seeing as three hours flew by during our tour of Livermore, I truly believe our roadtrip will go off without a hitch.  Well, without many hitches.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ian picked me up the next morning for more car-wandering.  This time it wasn’t as aimless; our plan was to drive up the Peninsula for the sake of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.  Before heading out, Ian and I stopped at Safeway to buy ingredients for a pack lunch.  We spent about half an hour deciding between this sandwich and that before realizing we were both already hungry.  We ditched Safeway for hot food and beer at First Street Ale House.  I love that kind of spontaneous decision-making.  I live that kind of spontaneous decision-making.

Bellies full, the two of us continued on our trip up the Peninsula.  It was a comfort to once again see familiar golden hills, wide open spaces, and highways that made sense.  When we reached the Bridge, I whipped out my camera and started snapping away like a tourist.  It was narrower than I remember, but than again, I don’t really remember the one other time I crossed the Bridge.  I guess it was narrower than I expected.  Shorter, too.  I’ve found monuments are usually smaller in real life than in pictures and expectations.  Still, the familiar orange towers shrouded by grey fog forced a giant smile upon my face.  We pulled around to Vista Point on the other end so I could take an unnecessary amount of same-angle pictures of the Frisco icon.  Dressed in shorts, slippers (read: “flip flops” in CA), and a zipped-up hoodie, I fully indulged my Hawaiian tourist persona.

Fifty pictures later, Ian dropped me off in Berkeley so I could meet up with my friend Olivia, who just happened to have the day off.  I hadn’t seen Olivia in a year, but we quickly got caught up on what we’ve been doing since graduating.  Basically, nothing.  We were both too proud about it, too.

Olivia and I made all the necessary Berkeley stops: Upper Playground, Rasputin, Brazil Cafe, Beckett’s, spending money we didn’t have on things we shouldn’t have bought.  Along the way, we met up with my friend Ben who also—surprise, surprise—was working entry-level jobs solely to pay rent.  There the three of us sat: Berkeley graduates.  Minimum-wage warriors.  Twenty-somethings with uncertain futures but no worries about them.  We should be the poster-children on the post-recession University of California brochures.  Go Bears!

Another beautiful double-exposure photo from my friend Daeja Fallas (www.daejafallas.com) feature the one and only Golden Gate Bridge

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