Monday, April 28, 2008

Walk Scores

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 4/28/08

For several years I've been wishing to live in a place where I could walk to stores, restaurants, cafes. I love our house. We have amazing views, and it's nice to be able to walk to Edgewood Park. But I've found that I do more walking when the destinations are more practical. For example, there was the day last summer in New York when I walked 6 blocks through a downpour because I wanted a chopped salad for lunch. And I get tired of having to get into the car whenever I want a Starbucks iced latte, which is almost every day.

Thanks to the New York Times Magazine's green issue, I discovered a website that will help us find a walkable place to live, if and when we decide to move to a retirement spot. Given an address, Walk Score calculates a score from 1 to 100 based on the number of nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Our address got a dismal walk score of 12. My brother's address in Manhattan scored an almost-perfect 98. I was surprised it wasn't 100, because I imagine that anything you could possibly want is within walking distance when you live in 10021. For my mother's two addresses, Florida scored 38 and Forest Hills, Queens 86. My cousin Jeffrey's house in Ridgewood, NJ got a 48.

Just for fun (since we're not seriously looking to move right now; we've talked about it a lot over the years but haven't been able to make a decision) I somewhat randomly selected two houses that are currently for sale in each of the 4 California towns that come up most often when we talk about retirement spots, and looked up their Walk Scores:

Pacific Grove: 35 and 52
Half Moon Bay: 60 and 28
Cambria: 9 and 9
Sebastopol: 5 and 2

Apparently we could greatly improve our Walk Score by moving to Pacific Grove or Half Moon Bay. Both of these coastal towns also rate high on the other criteria I use in evaluating possible retirement places:

Yarn and Beads: Both towns have good yarn stores, Monarch Knitting in PG and Fengari in HMB. I don't know about beads in PG, but I know that HMB has at least one gift and jewelry store that also sells some beads.

Coffee: HMB has a Starbucks and recently acquired a Peet's. PG doesn't have chain coffee houses, but it has a very good cafe that custom brews individual cups of drip coffee, and there is a Starbucks in nearby Monterey.

Proximity to a large city (preferably San Francisco): HMB is on the San Mateo coast, and has the advantage that it's only about 15 miles from where we live now. I could easily continue activities such as knitting and beading groups. PG is farther away, but still only an hour and a half drive from where we live now.

I think we could find houses with better Walk Scores in Cambria and Sebastopol, but we would have to look harder. I love Cambria, which is on the coast halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but I've always felt that it was too isolated to live in. Sebastopol, north of here in Sonoma County, is one of my favorite day trip destinations. It's not quite as attractive to me since Sandi Rosner closed her store, the Knitting Workshop. But it still has lots of nice shops, including Buddies, a unique clothing store with a phoning list instead of a mailing list. Every once in a while I get voicemail telling me that they're having a sale and I should come up to Sebastopol. There's also Hard Core, an outdoor coffee shop that advertises "outrageous organic espresso".

After Jim retires in a few months, we'll start to think more seriously about whether or when we should move. And I'll use Walk Scores to help us find a spot that will satisfy my craving for places to walk to.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coffee and Beads in San Francisco

Dateline: San Francisco, 4/15/08

It started with an email from Starbucks. They were planning "something big" in San Francisco. They didn't say exactly what the "something big" was, but it was related to the introduction of their new Pike Place Roast. I doubted that the Starbucks event was worth a trip into San Francisco, but it seemed like a good excuse, because I don't get in to the City as often as I would like. And it would be a different way of accomplishing my (almost) daily walk, which is usually in the hills near our house.

I decided to take CalTrain, which involves less driving than BART. All I have to do is drive the three miles to downtown Redwood City and park in the all-day lot. The downside is that the CalTrain station is far from downtown San Francisco. It's very far south of Market, and those SoMa blocks are long. I thought I would go to General Bead, which is also south of Market, although pretty far from CalTrain. I also remembered Blue Bottle Cafe, recently opened by a local coffee roaster, which features a $20,000 coffee brewing machine.

At General Bead, most of the merchandise is behind the counter, with one sample of each item on the wall. Each item has a number; you make a list of what you want and the staff retrieves it for you. On my first visit, when I really didn't know what I was doing with beading, I didn't like this system. This time I found it an efficient way to shop. I soon had a list of several items, mostly clasps (which I find almost as interesting as the beads themselves). Upstairs there are bargains which are on the shelves for customers to browse. There's also an amazing inventory of glass buttons, which I sometimes use as clasps for bracelets. I could have bought a lot more, but I somehow limited myself to the scrumptious assortment above. (The one on the lower left features a cat.)

When I left General Bead I was ready for lunch. I looked at the map and found that I was within walking distance of Blue Bottle. The decor was modern and minimalist, with stools and counters instead of chairs and tables. The Machine looked like a chemistry lab, with beakers of water and coffee. I was in luck; they sold sandwiches. A lot of good cafes sell only pastries, which is not good if you want to have lunch. (Jim and I are always on the lookout for breakfast places that have both good coffee and more than just pastries. Usually places that have good breakfast food, like eggs and pancakes, have lousy coffee. Our favorite exception is Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, which has excellent coffee, food, and pastries. That's why we go there for breakfast almost every Saturday. But I digress.) I felt like having a cold drink, but I also wanted to try Machine coffee, so I asked and was assured that the iced coffee came from The Machine. The iced coffee was nice and strong, and the egg salad sandwich was good, and small enough to justify having a snack later.

I was starting to wonder whether I wouldn't get to the Starbucks event at all, which would be ironic. But I left Blue Bottle a little after 1, and the event was scheduled until 2:30. Since I was now close to Powell and Market, I decided to walk the rest of the way to Justin Herman Plaza. There I saw a Starbucks tent which contained Starbucks furniture, including several of the purple easy chairs they often have in their stores. They were giving away cups of Pike Place Roast and also small bags of Pike Place beans. I sat in a purple chair to rest and to drink my coffee, which was not hot enough. The Pike Place coffee is, of course, not strong enough for me, but I do find it smoother than other Starbucks coffee and it doesn't have that burnt taste.

After my coffee break, I took the short walk to the Ferry Building, first browsing at the craft tables across the street. A lot of nice jewelry, which I'm no longer very interested in buying now that I can make my own. At the Ferry Building I had my snack, a cup of Ciao Bella gelato.

The walk from the Ferry Building back to CalTrain was a lot longer than it looked on the map. Somehow streets I had never heard of kept appearing between streets with more familiar names. I walked up and down a hill on Harrison St., not very steep by San Francisco standards but it felt steep to me because I had been walking all day. As I walked I revised my train plans from taking the 3:07 to the 3:37. I started to regret my decision not to take a bus. I arrived at the station 5 minutes late for the 3:07. But there was good news: A special baseball train (for people going home from the Giants game) was scheduled to depart before the 3:37, and to go express to San Carlos, the stop right before Redwood City. This cut the train trip, which normally takes close to an hour, in half.

To sum up the day: A very nice day in the City, a lot of walking, good beads and coffee, and the Starbucks event was the least of it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Home Again!

Dateline: Emerald Hills, 4/2/08

I'm sure that, like Jocelyn, all of you are wondering if I made it home, or whether I'm lost somewhere between here and the Oregon border. I got home at 9:30 last night after driving all the way from Crescent City, about 350 miles. I decided that I just didn't want to spend another night at a motel. Jim had been hinting on the phone that he wanted me to come home, and any such expression from him is rare and needs to be listened to.

Monday was a bumbling day. After leaving Florence in the morning, I stopped in Coos Bay, OR and spent about a half hour trying to find a yarn store. Turned out that I had the wrong address, South Broadway instead of North Broadway. The GPS told me that the South Broadway address didn't exist. I tried to go there anyway, but South Broadway was very industrial; not a store of any kind in sight. Finally I used the iPhone, my omnipresent internet access, to find the right address, and then the GPS had trouble getting me there. She seemed to find Oregon and way northern California confusing. Often she would tell me, when I put in an address, that there were "unknown roads" and she couldn't give me turn-by-turn guidance. In other words, I was on my own. I stopped in a quilt store and asked about the yarn store. When I finally got there, it was closed Mondays. I continued south.

I had decided to stop for the night in Crescent City, the northernmost city on the California coast. It was good to be back in Cali (as the young man who checked me into the motel in Florence called it). The first thing I saw in Crescent City was a sign that said "YARN", so I made an unscheduled stop at a small but friendly yarn store. The owner, when she heard I was from Redwood City, knew where it was (most people think it's way north, where the redwoods are), and knew about Amazing Yarns and Creative Hands. I bought some Kraemer Yarns glittery brushed mohair, a bargain at 560 yards for $7.50.

Then came some more bumbling as I tried to find the Best Western and the GPS was no help at all. I circled around and around, and finally gave up in disgust. I couldn't decide on a different motel, so I decided to drive another 77 miles to Arcata, even though it was already 5 and I was tired of driving. I started driving south, and saw the Best Western about a mile down the road, not at all where the GPS told me it was. This just proves what my grandmother always told me when I lost something -- you'll find it when you stop looking for it. I checked in for the night, feeling that I had accomplished almost nothing all day.

Yesterday was better, even with the 350-mile drive. The weather was finally warm and sunny. I spent a nice few hours in Humboldt County, known for its marijuana growing and laid-back atmosphere. On the way to Arcata, I saw a sign about elk viewing and took a little detour. Right off the road was a field where I saw one animal that looked like a horse to me, but could have been an elk. I didn't get very close. In Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, I walked around the main square, visiting a bead store and a fiber/quilting/yarn store. Then on to Eureka, a relatively large town for which I had a list of 5 or 6 bead and yarn stores.

After lunch in Eureka, I took a short detour to visit Ferndale, a nearby small town with lots of Victorian houses. I really felt as if I had "stepped back in time", as the sign says. To get there, you exit from Route 101, cross a bridge over the Eel River, and drive through a few miles of bucolic fields (in the literal meaning; they are full of cows). I spent only about a half hour there, walking on the main street. I passed a yarn store, but it was closed Tuesdays (an unusual closing day for a yarn store).

My last Humboldt stop was in Garberville, a funky small town, where I visited Garden of Beadin'. I've seen this store at several shows and wanted to see it in person. A lot of their stock was not yet unpacked from the Portland show, but I managed to buy a few tubes of seed beads anyway.

It was at this point, leaving Garberville around 4:30, that I made the decision to drive all the way home, another 230 miles. I thought I could always stop if I got too tired, but luckily, I was alert for the entire trip. Up there, Route 101 alternates between stretches of freeway with a speed limit of 65, and winding mountain stretches where you have to slow down to 30. You never know what's coming, but the scenery is always beautiful. I stopped for dinner at the Hamburger Ranch in Cloverdale. Soon after that I passed Santa Rosa, and from there the trip was just like coming home from Sebastopol, a drive I've done many times.

I enjoyed my northern adventure, but I'm also happy to be home. I think I'll stick around here for a while. I don't have another trip planned until the end of June, when Jim and I are going to London to help my cousin Jeffrey celebrate his 60th birthday. To answer Jocelyn's question, I definitely bought more beads than yarn, although it's hard to tell because the beads take up less space. I've already incorporated them into my growing bead stash.

I'd like to thank my small group of faithful readers for keeping up with my blog and for all your comments. I owe you a post about my Bead Expo projects, and I'll do that, but since it involves taking pictures (which I still think of as a chore) it'll be a little while.