Saturday, May 10, 2008

Way off course and right on target

It is well known that the Chengs don't travel in straight lines. We set off merrily and no one knows where we'll end up. It's a historical fact. There is a famous ancestor of ours who led the Chinese navy off to explore the world. He's one of the few Chinese who did much exploration in a culture that encouraged xenophobia. The Chinese acknowledge him for his contribution to society, his surefooted leadership and his keen sense of adventure. I wonder about the quality of navigational ability in the genetic material he passed down to us. Maybe he just kept getting lost.

Thus, when I set off for Fremont today, I was totally encouraged by 1) my armload of driving instructions showing multiple routes to get to my ultimate destination, lunch at the tastiest Afghan restaurant in the Bay Area, 2) my success finding this place (in the dark!) a little less than a year ago, and 3) three helpful navigators in the car. Passing out my plentitude of maps and driving instructions, we figured out the scenic, and yet, toll free route which Google Maps had refused to cough up. Score one for the humans! At that point, I was totally cheered by the sunshine as we adjusted the sun roof. I feel sure this solar overexposure was the critical mistake as I made 2 premature rights before getting onto the correct highway. Crossing the Dumbarton bridge, we noticed the view was scenic but the smell was less than pristine. Gasping, we closed everything and switched to re-circulating the interior air. Unnoticed, the sunroof was closed as well. All went well for a while, we were securely on highway 84.  Not that 84 stays simple. Navigating tricky traffic, I made a lighting switch swiftly and accurately onto 84 towards Fremont after the chorus of helpful navigators caroled out

"No! Go that way!"

"No, no! The other that way!"

"That other driver is just awful!"


Relaxing into the rhythm of freeway driving and realizing the air had cleared up, we opened up the sunroof again. 

How lovely to enjoy the sunshine! 

How great to breathe outdoors air! 

How come we're on highway 237 headed towards Mountain View?

My neurons fired up with great precision and accuracy as I realized 1) I'm on a freeway moving at top speed, 2) I don't have a map of Fremont, just driving instructions, 3) all my helpful navigators are visitors from overseas and 4) one of them just asked me if Fremont is a highway. Thinking furiously, I realize, it's OK. I've been lost here before and the right thing to do is just keep going forward because that will take me back to... our starting point. At this point, I'm starting to feel like I've been spun around. A second later, I realize,  I have been spun around, it was just a circle 15 miles in diameter. I decide to close the sunroof for good.  After reassuring everyone that I know what I'm doing because I've been lost here before, there was some sentiment to just do the trip over again but I just could not face driving in circles anymore. I'm sure the reduction in solar radiation did a lot for this common sensical yet dictatorial veto. Also, I had driving directions to a second restaurant, the tastiest pizza joint in the East Bay, if not the Bay Area. I've been told people drive for hours for this pizza. I hoped I didn't have to. 

Back in good old Mountain View, it was a simple matter to switch to 101 and enjoy some of the most boring highway the Bay Area can offer. Wow, look at that billboard, how scenic! Yikes, it's the old Excite building. Remember Excite. That used to be a company. No one else remembers. Oh, to be that young. Meanwhile, everyone is trying to figure out from the driving directions where 101 meets up with I-80 by reading the names of the bodies of water out loud to me. Suddenly, I experience a flashback (hey, it's been at least a year since I used I-80) and realize, my god, the Bay Bridge, oh no...we're going to San's the busy part of the day, we're doomed, Doomed, DOOMED to a traffic jam. My stomach reacts to this news with great alarm when it realizes lunch has been postponed bigtime

Gurgle, gurgle. 
This pizza better be good. 
Gurgle, growl, growl. 
No wimpy slices. I demand the deep dish. 
Grumble, mumble, mumble. 
Should have stayed home in Mountain View. We have excellent Szechuan.
Gargle, argle.
You just had to have Afghan food, didn't you.

I would like to make it known that my stomach is mostly Chinese. A very grumpy Chinese. The rest of me is Asian-American and wants some pizza.

Crawling through the traffic in San Francisco, we cross the Bay Bridge and find that it's not even a scenic crossing. My passengers are thrilled to see more of the San Francisco skyline. They are so excited, I'm a bit reluctant to inform them that once you cross the Bay Bridge, you're in Berkeley which isn't part of San Francisco. They sound quite disappointed with the news. However, things get much better as we roll into the city of Berkeley with real shops, restaurants, antiques, housing and streets and they figure out Berkeley is a town, not just a University.

Oops. I guess they thought I was bringing them to a University cafeteria that served pizza. 

We all decide we like Berkeley except for the part where 25 cents buys you 6 minutes of parking. My gawd, the parking meters take some kind of plastic. Do they take Amex? With 40 minutes showing on the meter we run out of change.

We troop over to Zachary's, the pizza Mecca of the East Bay. Hey, a few empty tables... well, it is 2 PM, we've missed the lunch rush. The menu is classic American pizza, thin vs. thick (chicago) crust. Your choice of toppings. Zachary's choice of sauce. Each pizza made to order which means you'll have to wait 20-30 minutes for the pie to bake. I had to think about that. The only time I've ever had a pizza made to order was when it was homemade. What a contrast to the "most authentic American" pizza place in Singapore. There they thaw your pie to order. Well, I guess that's another kind of authentic home pizza experience.

To amuse myself while the pizza baked, I pick up some more change and feed the parking meter. Then peek at an antique store. Hey, I have that pyrex measuring cup at home. Is this some kind of a garage sale???? Does this mean I'm an antique!!!! Either way I'm outraged.

You know what, my pyrex measuring cup is over 25 years old. Dangerously close to 30.

Dang, I need some food.

Luckily, my root beer has arrived. Ah, the bottomless glass. Gotta love the sugar rush. Better than meditation you know.

When the pizza arrives, it's amazing. The deep dish pizza looks like it's 3 times deeper than the regular pizza. The tomato sauce is so thick, it looks like a tomato stew landed on top of the crust. The toppings have sunk into the sauce, it's so deep. It's a great pizza. All the great flavors from the fresh toppings melded into a juicy tomato and cheese base.  Too bad it's not at all like the deep dish pizza served at Pizzeria Uno in Chicago. Well, I just ended up driving for several hours for Zachary's Pizza, it is not impossible that I accidentally fly for several hours for Pizzeria Uno. 

After lunch it's now closing in on 4 PM and we're off to start the day by shopping at the Northface Outlet nearby. Several weeks ago, we'd all been to the Northface store and loved the products so much that we'd been paralyzed. Good thing too. The first purchase could have started a cascade of shopping that would lifted the entire American economy. Too bad I didn't know about this outlet several years ago. My entire wardrobe would look different. With great restraint, I stop myself from buying a pair of every type of shoe in the store. Sigh, maybe I should start a shoe museum so I'd have a reasonable excuse to do that. And I don't need anymore jackets, shirts, pants, socks, backpacks, sleeping bags, hats, scarves or tents...well, maybe a tent....

After escaping from the outlet store, we drive out of the area cautiously. No one knows what other dangerously discounted products are lurking nearby.

Back on the highway 580, we choose 880 to get back to Mountain View. Now 880 turns out to be an exciting highway.  First, we launch into a furious debate: is it 880 going North-South or East-West? Luckily, it doesn't matter. 580 merges with the head of 880 and we can't possibly choose the wrong direction. Whew. Lack of any navigational sense got us into this and lack of navigational sense just got us out. I have to drive snappily to stay in the just the right lane as multiple opportunities to head off to other parts of California pop up. The signage is amazing. I figured by the time I've read the sign and parsed the meaning, it's too late to make the correct adjustment. The traffic is too dense to allow lane changes that quickly. It's that or the signage was put up back when the speed limit was 55 and they've never bother to correct for the new speed limit. Thank goodness, we could multitask that problem. Then, we get an exciting view of the Oracle building and McAfee Stadium. Ah, yes. You've just figured out we're the bunch that's got laptops welded to our hips at all times. And we're experiencing the deep pangs of pain from being separated from the internet during this trip. 

Luckily, the view from the highway is pretty bad or the marquees from more office buildings would have gotten me right into a driving accident.

Daringly, we change the directions issued by Google Maps and decide to drop off one of the passengers on the fly. It is not too bad, after all I've been lost in that neighborhood before. What a pity it was dark during my previous experience and I can't actually recall how I got out because I couldn't see anything.  

But all goes well. I even resist the temptation to take the correct turnoff to the Afghan restaurant.

Let's not push the envelope.

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