27 February 2010

Alamo Uncovered

When we first moved to Alamo (the SF suburb we call home), I was embarrassed to tell people where I lived. After all it was known for being snooty, expensive, and exclusive, and that's not how I roll. But like the Alamo in Texas, it seemed to belie its reputation. Home-size is small, it lies smack dab on a major road, and building architecture is simple. This was not the quaint, quiet, and cushy reputation that the name "Alamo" seemed to exude. So where was the money and the people who had it? Well, today I found out.

Wanting to check out the close-by trails of Las Trampas Region Park, I decided to follow Las Trampas Road and see where it took me. Intuitive enough, right? But instead of encountering trails as I had expected, I came face-to-face with the fortune behind the community's fame.

Closest to my humble abode lie the small quaint houses whose residents could afford professionally manicured lawns. But as Las Trampas Road got steeper the home prices did too. Bigger lots, better views, until finally I reached the top. Private property, private roads, gates that opened by remote, winding grandiose driveways that led to multi-million dollar homes, with panoramic views of Mt. Diablo and the rolling hills of the East Bay.

While I did eventually find the trails, I found myself more mesmerized with the Maseratis and mansions than the nature surrounding them. With stucco homes and terra-cotta roofs, stones embedded strategically random on facades, and trellises of vines that seemed as much for decoration as production, Alamo lives up to the reputation that precedes it.

25 February 2010

Make It, Or Break It

For the past two weeks, I (and probably everyone else in America) have been mesmerized by the Olympics. Speedskaters being disqualified, the Canadians most revered sport ending in upset, and America's first medals in a sport dominated by Europe for 86 years. But along with the actual competitions come the stories: stories of strife, stories of disappointment, and stories of dreams coming true.

There's Tugba Karademir. A figure skater from Turkey who is the first to represent her country in her Olympic sport. But it did not come without a price. Her mother left her job as an engineer in Turkey so her daughter could train in Canada. Both parents now work menial jobs, and could not even land tickets to watch their daughter perform until an unknown benefactor stepped in.

There's Olympic ski crosser Chris Del Bosco, who has struggled with substance and alcohol abuse. After being stripped of two US national titles and being found drunk in a ditch with a broken neck, he entered rehab. Now being clean and sober, he is one of Canada's finest.

We, as Americans, love these stories of tribulation and triumph. But elsewhere in the world, they are not so revered. I remember a conversation I had with a friend before I left Singapore. His upbringing was less than stellar: his grandmother raised him, being abandoned by his mother. And the mother–son relationship today barely deserves the label "relationship." He has had to make success for himself, with little support from others. When I heard his story, I thought "that's a story that American dreams are made of." But according to him, Singaporean stories of struggle don't boost, they blemish.

When he opened my eyes to this fact, I thought back to my time in Nigeria. Not only were stories of tribulation and triumph not appreciated, they were the stories of everyone's lives. It's not just the poor, it's not just the middle-class. Everyone has trials, everyone has tragedy. And having money or an advantaged-life doesn't preclude you to a life without them.

So last night when I opted for American Idol instead of Olympics and the stories began again, I felt a little less sensitive. The story of Andrew Garcia whose parents were in gangs and they only sought a gang-free life for their son. The story of John Park whose family has struggled with money their entire lives. The stories were as much a gauge of success as the performance itself.

You see, here in the United States, our "stories" often make our success. Who knew that elsewhere they might break it.

16 February 2010

Greener Pastures

"The hills are aliiiiiiive, with the sound of miiiiuuuuu-ziiiiiiiik...." So I never quite understood the opening scene of Julie Andrews' most acclaimed film. Her character Maria probably saw those hills day in and day out, so what was the big deal? No one spins around in the mountain air, basks in the beauty of their surroundings, and begins an inspirational rendition of a song about hills. They are just hills after all.

Now I'm not a singer; nor am I one to get caught up in emotion, especially emotion aroused by aesthetics or natural phenomenon. But for the first time in my life, I've had a Julie Andrews experience...and on a daily basis to boot.
While many fly to the Bay Area for the city, just over the Pleasanton Ridge lies an area that is truly God's county.

Green in the spring and golden in the winter, the hills of the East Bay make one take pause. Their gentle undulation makes you understand why hills "roll." The golden tint of thirst grass and the electric green aura when it's satisfied leads eyes to leave the road and look ahead. The only blemishes you see are the shadows of clouds as they too peer down on the beauty; the only halt in the aimless roll of grassy vegetation are the trellises of vines, flanked and orderly. Even at night, the hills don't lose their beauty as the illuminated curve of headlights traverse through them, back home.

Truth be told, I have not yet run up into the hills and begun to sing. But if you happen upon a news story about a mysterious woman in the hills, running in circles and reciting a very bad rendition of the Sound of Music, you just may know where to find her!

***Thanks to http://www.pedalpushersonline.com for the use of their East Bay photo...I think my sister is the only one who could replicate such a beautiful scene in a picture.

13 February 2010

Bay Area Boasting

So as a relative newcomer to the state that rivals Texas for second biggest, there are some very apparent differences both in surroundings, customs, and the just plain 'ole everyday. Yes, there is the obvious: Tex-Mex errs more to the Mex than the Tex; gas prices hang closer to the European than the U-S-of-A averages; and pasta or tortilla chips in the shape of the Golden State are nowhere to be found. But what stands out most is what you see outside....people!

Walking, talking, biking, hiking, riding,
sliding...Northern Californians love the outdoors. And for good reason. With perfect weather, picturesque surroundings year-round, and day-trip
options w
hen the former don't please, there is no reason to hide inside. Case in point:

Less than 50 feet from our townhouse is the historic Iron Horse Regional Trail. Named for the iron tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad that used to occupy the now-asphalt surface, East Bay residents from surrounding areas loiter and exercise daily along this 40+-mile trail. Walkers and runners, bikers and even horse riders hailing from the homes nearby come here to celebrate the reason why they live where they live.

Just up the road, lying west of Danville and Alamo (our new home-away-from-home in the East Bay), Las Trampas offers numerous hiking trails up to its summit at 2,000 feet. For those inclined toward more adventure (and more athleticism) try hiking Mount Diablo. Just east of Danville, this state park allows hikers and bikers to climb bottom to top and even stand on its actual summit (which is exposed inside the visitor's center).

Even for those who prefer sliding down hills rather than hiking up them, Lake Tahoe is just a few-hours drive away. With slopes traversing state lines, picturesque views of the lake from above, and A+ skiing and snowboarding (and those are just the winter activities), it's no wonder the Bay Area has over 7 million people living here.

11 February 2010

To the Texan Traveler

For those who call Lone Star State home and are willing to make the trek to SF, here are some words of wisdom:
  • Close your eyes when your plane comes in for landing. Seriously, you'll think you are landing right in the ocean!
  • If you can't find pasta or chips in the shape of California, it's not a mistake. Let's face it; not everyone loves their state THAT much.
  • Don't send back Zinfandel wine that comes out red. It's suppose to be that way; after all, Zinfandel grapes are red not pink!
  • Yes, people actually ride buses, cable cars, and trains here; and yes, people actually walk up those hills!
  • Get used to the navigation terms "Hill Side" and "Bay Side"; they are more helpful than you will ever know.
  • Good luck finding Taco Cabana out here; it's In-N-Out Burger all the way!
  • But if you do need a Mexican fix, head to the Mission – the district most influential in introducing Mexican food to Americans. And while many a Californian may claim Mission Tortilla's origins there, you may be surprised by this:

02 February 2010

When It Rains, It Pours?

It's funny the small differences you notice when you move half-way across the country. Like how Lubbock has a severe lack of vegetation, Dallas drivers really are as bad as I thought, and Texas highways beat the pants off of any other highway system I've encountered so far. But the most apparent difference came on my official welcome back to not-so-sunny California. It rained for a week and a half straight.

I should have been suspicious following the first day of rain. Between TV shows, during the nightly forecast, and topping the news line-up, meteorologists warned Bay Area residents of severe storms. Having survived the first day of this so-called "severe" weather (which fell on the other end of the "severe" spectrum in my book), I wondered what exactly I was missing! There was no deafening thunder, no Armageddon-like lightning shows, and you could barely hear the pitter-patter of raindrops hitting our skylight.

By the 4th day of non-stop rain (when I say non-stop I mean that literally) and with the rain hitting deceivingly soft, I found myself rushing to the window hourly and peering into a sheet of falling disappointment. With the constant fall eroding the hills and my patience, it occurred to me that perhaps California's definition of severe weather might be a bit different. So after 6 days of rain, I officially conceded.

Severe doesn't have to come in with a bang or sound like the the Good Lord himself coming down from the sky; it doesn't have to leave highway underpasses flooded or sweep away unsuspecting motorists. But by sheer and undying persistence, it can cause havoc to traffic, make hillsides landslide, and challenge the patience of its transplants who move here for one reason...the weather!