January 16-18, 2015
We packed up for an early start the morning of Friday the 16th, preparing for the anticipated nine hours of driving it would take us to get to Oakland and any troublesome road conditions we might encounter. I’d washed the car the day before at a self-service establishment as its prior condition, left a smear of red dust on your person if you got near it. A brief stop at an Arco station just off the highway provided a bag of ice for the cooler and our first to go cup of coffee. One interesting observation about this trip, given the number of miles we’d been driving (we’d eventually put almost 7,000 miles on the car in six weeks, compared to 10,000 in five plus months in Europe) was the surprising range in price and quality of the coffee we purchased at gas stations. We use a refillable insulated mug and pricing on a refill ran anywhere from 50 cents to full price, $1.75 at a McDonalds (they don’t offer refill pricing).
It would be a good day of driving, much of it on a familiar stretch of the I-5, which we intercepted north of Mt. Shasta in the small town of Weed. This section of the highway offers captivating views of the peak, fifth highest in California. Not connected to any nearby mountain range, it dominates the surrounding landscape; at 14,179 feet high, it can be seen on a clear winter day from the floor of the Central Valley hundreds of miles away.
Once you descend out of the foothills surrounding Mt. Shasta I-5 is a long flat ribbon traveling through the northern part of California’s great Central Valley. This is the type of driving that is not too demanding, particularly if traffic is light, heading straight, few if any curves, maintaining consistent speed as you use the time behind the wheel to think and reflect, listen to music or a book on tape. We’ve been working on getting through Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln, forty-four hours of highly detailed insight into one of our best, if not the greatest, President’s. We’d eventually make it through the first of three CD’s. I guess we’ll have to take a number of long trips to listen to the whole thing.
About an hour below Redding we began to look for a place to grab a quick lunch, something to tide us over until we arrived in Oakland later that day. We coordinate these stops to coincide with a change in drivers and as we approached the town of Corning, the highway signs provided by the state listing possible gas, lodging, and food options at the next off-ramp enumerated a place called Bartels Giant Burgers. Who could resist a name like that?
We pulled off the highway and into the restaurant parking lot, which was crowded with cars and work trucks, always a good sign. While Joanna gave Dinky some exercise I went inside to sit at the counter, all of the booths and tables occupied, and ordered a burger, fries, shake and soda. There were three ladies behind the counter at the register, grill, and assembly station and it was a pleasure to watch them working, a time practiced routine, to put together multiple orders of various combinations of burgers.
About the time Joanna rejoined me our order was ready, the burger cut in half as requested and we tucked into what was one of the better representations of this simple American classic I’d sampled recently. Freshly ground beef, hand shaped patties cooked to your specification, artfully constructed so as not to fall apart as you handled the sandwich. It just doesn’t get any better. Best of all were the fries, hot and crisp, almost double fried, absolutely my favorite way to consume them.
Thoroughly satisfied we continued south to the I-505, halfway between Williams and Woodland. This handy bypass enables you to skirt around the Sacramento metropolitan area and hook up with the I-80 just outside of Vacaville. As it was late Friday afternoon, and anticipating heavy traffic as we approached Vallejo and into Berkeley, we used our knowledge of the area, garnered from many prior trips, to circumvent the GPS and instead take the I-680 through Walnut Creek. This allowed us to connect with the 24 just west of Oakland, saving us a considerable amount of time waiting in traffic.
We hit the jackpot when we arrived at Jessica and Kris’ apartment, finding a parking spot that would be good for the entire weekend right outside of their building. After almost seven years in Charlotte where we’d get to see Jessica once every 3-4 months, being able to see she and Kris again after just a couple of weeks was a pleasure I’m sure every parent can appreciate. We relaxed a bit after the drive and then decided to head out and explore a bit of downtown Oakland and stop for dinner at the Tribune Tavern, located in the old Oakland Tribune Building.
Unfortunately, it was restaurant week in Oakland and the expected wait to eat was close to two hours. So we took off for The Trappist, a bar specializing in Belgian beers that I’d visited with Kris in the spring of 2014. It’s a quick five-block walk from Tribune Tavern and we enjoyed being out doors on a warm winter’s night. Entering establishment we found the side known as the Front Bar pretty full so we walked to the back of the building and crossed over to the other side known as the Back Bar, securing the last open table.
We ordered our first round, a couple of Belgians and two local craft beers and then ordered our food, splitting the Marinated Olives, an order of Mac ‘n Cheese with bacon (White Cheddar and Gruyere Béchamel) and the house Reuben (Mikkeller Bar pastrami and Gruyere). Given how crowded the place was it took some time for the orders to come out but the wait for the Mac’n Cheese was worth it, thick and creamy with just the right amount of bacon.
The Rueben on the other hand came out burnt and we pondered it for a moment or two, wondering how the kitchen could let something like that be presented to a guest. We signaled to the waiter that we’d like another and they whisked it away, eventually returning with a replacement, which we handily dispatched. Given the size of our earlier lunch, Joanna and I were content with just a few bites leaving the bulk of the food for Jessica and Kris.
We finished up our second round of beers and growing a bit weary of the noise inside and the boisterous Friday night revelers, made the walk back to the apartment where we relaxed over a final beer and made plans for the rest of the weekend. They would include getting out and enjoying more of the vibrant nature of east bay and all that it offers. We could hardly wait.
Mt. Shasta: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Shasta
Central Valley: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Valley_(California)
Tribune Tavern: http://tribunetavern.com/
The Trappist: http://www.thetrappist.com/trappist.php