Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Last Weekend: Part 1 - The Coast

If it weren't for the last minute, most things wouldn't get done. So don't judge me that I waited until the very last weekend to do some of the California Activities that are right in my back yard. I never wanted to play tourist for a year even though I am one. As a result I missed doing the touristy stuff that I probably should have gotten off the list a lot earlier. So I was off to Monterey and lastly Alcatraz.

So I was told Monterey is beautiful. I was told that I had to go at least once, but wait until the weather was nice. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally after six months of rain, there was finally a weekend when I was in town and the rain was not. I know that statement will mean nothing to any of my east coast friends who had to suffer through multiple blizzards this winter. Around here, however, the non summer came to an end and summer was back.

Right next to Monterrey is this little private community with collection of sub par golf courses called Pebble Beach. The weekend I was visiting was right before some little golf tournament called the U.S. Open. Deciding to first see what the big deal is about before hitting Monterey itself we hit the 17 mile drive around the 8 golf courses that pepper the whole Pebble Beach area.

The 17 Mile Drive brings you through the whole Pebble Beach community showing off fantastic coastal scenery and a slew of houses that have garages that cost as much as my house. Actually that might not be true, because some had garages that my house could fit inside, and I am pretty sure that real estate is more expensive around those parts then where my house is located. So those garages cost more then my house. Some sat dangerously close to some of the 8 golf courses that make up the area. Either they have golf ball proof glass or the golfers that play there can afford to fix whatever they break.

Halfway through the 17 Mile Drive you hit the coast. Believe it or not, in the near year that I have been living in CA and in the countless times I had visited in the past I had yet to actually touch the Pacific Ocean. Deciding that this was the time to correct that I can tell you this, unequivocally: The Pacific is god damn cold! Stepping in my knees instantly went numb and it took about 5 minutes before I even felt my toes again. It is distinctly possible that some shrinkage happened. CA may have the better weather then the east, but why the hell anybody would think of going into that water is beyond me. Note: At this point I was reminded of a standard rule of travel I had violated ... always keep a towel handy.

After continuing along the coastal drive another few miles you finally come to the crown jewel of the drive. Pebble Beach is not only one of the premier golf courses in then world it frequently fights for the top spot. As luck would have it we had arrived there mere days before they were set to host the U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh were bumming around the place taking practice rounds and you could tell the staff was in full gear getting themselves and the place properly primped. I was dressed in a tee shirt, cargo shorts wet with salt water and a baseball cap. Yep... time for a drink in the club house.

Settling into the Club House Grill I knew Steph and I made the right choice of locations to get lunch. The staff didn't care I was dressed like a vagrant, several regulars were peppered around seated at the oak tables, and two spots at the bar were already waiting for us! Now in the past year I have been afforded the opportunity to live it up quite a bit. Lunch at “The Club” would be no exception. I did want something special for the occasion however. So instead of ordering my standard G&T I decided to get a Dark and Stormy. To this I had the distinct pleasure of stumping the bartender, Tomas, as to what is in one. Explaining the simple concoction of ginger beer and dark rum got the conversation ball rolling and soon my new friend was planted with Steph and I in conversation down our end of the bar.

Needless to say everything was superb. After taking a look around for a little bit we continued onto our next destination, Monterey. The main tourist trap in Monterey is Cannery Row and the Aquarium. So... the aquarium... let me say this about the aquarium. It is nice Not thrilling... but nice. It offers a great view of Monterey bay, and has some really cute sea lions. But, other then that, I felt that it is sort of showcased stuff that washed up in or is only found in the bay. Even the sea lions can be seen for free just a few miles away at Fisherman's wharf. The jellyfish were cool, but you can only watch invertebrates slump along for about 15 minutes. I will say that I may be spoiled by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, but I was underwhelmed.

I had burned enough daylight that it was now time for dinner. My new bartender buddy Tomas had fortunately directed us to a hole in the wall that after a little searching proved to be a fantastic treasure. The Fish House couldn't have been any more different then my lunch location nor named any more appropriately. The place looked like a standard 1970s split level house that had a seafood restaurant crammed inside. It was clearly a place that locals frequented more then tourists. After a brief wait, two seats opened up at the bar. Ordering a glass of wine got you a bottle that was upended until your glass was full, the fish were caught just that morning, and the oak grilled garlic oysters were amazing.

Now, by this point in my travels I like to think that I have finely honed my ability to talk to anyone anywhere and make friends. The bartender Sal was awesome and was aways quick with a joke and a drink for Steph and I. I never anticipated, however, there to be a downside to my new craft. I couldn't turn it off. As two very loud and rude ladies jumped the wait list for the bar and nabbed two seats next to me, all I wanted was for them to shut up and keep to themselves. Instead I became their new best friend. Nothing I did to put up the “Don't talk to me” flag worked. Such are the pitfalls of a year spent trying to make myself open and non threatening in conversation.

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