I haven’t made it to the Bay Area often over the past year.  Now that I’m running my own practice, the time has been extremely limited, and it seems that the cases taking me out of town are taking me more into the valley lately than further south.  But I had a couple of days to try to catch up with friends and family a little bit.

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Notwithstanding all of the bad economic news, there are some indications of some semblance of a recovery underway.  Friends tell me that the traffic, which had been way down over the past couple of years, is picking up again.  For awhile they could actually use 101 on the peninsula during rush hour.  And I noticed that the bottleneck north of Novato is back to pre-Depression levels.

Also of note, lots of large ships have come and left the Bay, with goods both ways.  I was on Ocean Beach yesterday and saw four very large cargo ships at one time.  Friends confirm that this has been the norm all year, whereas that traffic had been slower.

I wouldn’t go to the market with that, but, for what it’s worth, consumption-based economics is far from dead.

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On a personal sad note, I visited what used to be my favorite dim sum restaurant in Chinatown and was disappointed.  It was the Asia Gardens, later the New Asia Gardens, and now under new ownership the New Asia Chinese Restaurant.  It’s a huge place, with a big ballroom filled with Chinese patrons at any given moment.  It was the location of my first dim sum experience as a child and even in later years it was worth a trek into the belly of the beast to park in the Kearny Garage under the playground and hustle over to Pacific Avenue to take a number and wait for a table to open.  Then the women would come around with their exotically fragrant pots and steamers filled with savory magic.

Alas, the new ownership has changed the recipes.  I suspected I was in for disappointment when I noted that the hot oil was that chili paste rather than the clear oil with the chili pepper flakes lining the bottom.  And instead of the trademark green tea they served a rather standard black tea.  My first bite of a su mi confirmed the worst of my fears.  It’s good, but the greatness is gone.  And nary a stewed chicken foot in the place!  No longer will it serve as my culinary Mecca, what my taste buds would long for in months or years of separation.  I must find another love.  Probably in the Richmond District somewhere.

They still pack them in though!

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On Friday night I took Asher to his first-ever Giants game.  It was my first-ever visit to ATT Park.  Now as you know, I’m probably more nostalgic than average, and yes I do miss the Candlestick Park of my childhood.  But as baseball parks go, ATT doesn’t disappoint.

I had always thought the baseball standard was for right field to be longer than left, but ATT is the opposite – probably to facilitate the home runs reaching the water.  We were at the third base line on the upper deck (the ticket prices are ridiculously high – and since my son has no interest in the A’s, I’m actually kind of hoping the Giants don’t go all the way this year so that tickets might be a little more reasonable next year.  I enjoyed a great view of the Bay and what’s left of San Francisco’s port industry.

My son did have some questions.  How come all of the ticket scalpers are black?  Why was there only one white person (who we saw) selling food in the stands?  And why are so many people panhandling?  It’s time for a new phase of parenthood.

The Giants were clobbered of course, but that did not diminish Asher’s enjoyment of the game.  When the brawl broke out though, he did look at me and ask what was happening.  He had never seen grown men fight for real and he thought it was silly, and even sillier that all of the cell phones in the stands started flashing.

But he got to see Brian Wilson pitch, which was the only thing he had said he was hoping for ahead of time.

I had some trouble getting out of the South of Market, and it was kind of a surreal experience being lost in San Francisco.  When I was a kid, I rarely ventured to that part of town which was mostly warehouses and heavy industry.  With the park, it’s been developed into simply an extension of downtown.  Not recognizing any of the street names once I made the mistake of ditching Third Street, it took and extra 20 minutes to get to the north side of Market (once I found Third Street again).  But don’t believe their signs which say “freeway.”  I suspect that just like the signs at Great America in the south bay, they are not intended to take you the shortest route, but to distribute traffic so that it dissipates the most quickly.  But no way will I submit to their collectivist agenda!  On the road, just call me “Fred.”

Oh, and don’t buy hot dogs in the stands anymore.   They used to be freshly steamed, and the vendor would put the dog in the bun and apply the mustard right there.  Now they hand you a microwaved dog in plastic, with little packs of mustard.  They have “Doggie Diner” out in the hallway, but no sign of the big red dog heads to link them to the God-awful chain that went under back in the 1970s.

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No disappointment at the Legion of Honor.  It remains one of my favorite art museums, mostly classic.  Easy to park.  I had to drag my son, but he admitted afterwards that he “kind of enjoyed it.”  Probably part of the appeal is that it’s near the beach and with plenty of parking.  Also, unlike some of the other museums, they’ve managed to make the earthquake upgrades without turning it into some ugly “modern” box.  No, I’m not a fan of the changes to the Golden Gate Park museums really.

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Before picking up my wife and daughter at the airport, my son and I had some time to kill.  We drove down to my childhood town of Pacifica and I introduced him to Camelot Fish & Chips – authentically British except that the chips are now cut more like steak fries than real chips.  But the fish is as good as ever, and my son wasn’t disappointed.  Everything’s fried there, so I’m grateful for the distance.

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I then took him to the Serramonte Mall (we had several hours to kill, and the beach was too cold) and explained that it was the first indoor mall on the west coast.  There’s a Target at the south entrance.  My son often wants me to take him to Target in Eureka and is already rolling his eyes at my lectures about consumption, big boxes, corporate evil, etc.  But my lectures about homogenization and how each of the Targets are practically identical and sell the same crap rang true for him as we approached the entrance, when he said, “Oh my God!  It does look the same!”

Indoctrination underway!  Bwahahahaha!

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Lastly, despite the advent of the megatheaters with all  the bells and whistles which have put many of the neighborhood theaters out of business, the Balboa Theater remains affordable, with new releases, and with good parking and the Zephyr Cafe for a post-film espresso – just like I left it.  Ignore the parking meters.  You can find parking a block or two away for free.

While the Castro is still up and running, it has mainstreamed its film selection from what I could gather from the schedule.  However, the Roxie is as artsy as ever.  Couldn’t recognize a single title.  Is the Red Vic still open?  Those were the last three repertoire houses left in the city, where there had been about a dozen when I was in college.  But the VCR killed them before DVDs could deliver the final blow.  I’ve already written about this.

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Maybe more later.  It was a nice visit, but I’m looking forward to getting back to where there aren’t so many crowds and so much traffic.  I don’t know how I lived it this way before.

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