California Adventuring with Olin Friends

The best day of my winter break started surprisingly early--7 am, which I'm pretty sure isn't actually supposed to happen on vacations. Vivian ('09) and I stumbled out of her house before her mother even woke up (I was staying with her family for a week), and headed straight for our all-time favorite breakfast joint: Jamba Juice. There's really nothing like a fresh fruit smoothie on a California morning.

We pulled up in front of Will's ('09) house close to ten minutes late (sometimes there's traffic in the morning--surprise!), feeling guilty for our tardiness. Luckily we weren't the only ones running a bit late--only Morgan (the golden retriever) awaited us impatiently. We settled down at the kitchen table to finish our delicious morning treats, lolling uselessly while Will's parents packed up the van and Will fed a very eager Morgan.


Morgan the golden retriever.

Something about piling into the back of a minivan with a bunch of my friends makes me feel like a little kid going to the park to play (especially with parents in the front--even if they were Will's parents, and not my own). But this day held something much better than the park in store for us. We drove north to San Francisco, getting off the freeway briefly to pick up two more passengers: Dave and Russell ('09). Will called them every few minutes as we neared; we finally picked them up on a sidewalk near Golden Gate Park. I didn't realize how much I had missed them--we had only been separated for about a month--until Dave and I were hugging, and then jumping up and down in excitement.

Back in the van, we chattered incessantly as we headed north--out of the city and across the bridge. We stopped for a brief photo opportunity (Will rolled his eyes), and then continued into Napa Valley.

Friends by the Golden Gate Bridge

The five of us (Vivian, David, me, Russell, and Will) near the Golden Gate Bridge.

Oh yes. Today, we were going wine tasting.

After what seemed like hours of anticipation in the car (but was probably more like, oh, 45 minutes), we arrived at Ceja Vineyards. We were greeted by the owner's loquacious son, who went by his nickname, "Fregone." (He told us his real name, too, but I don't remember it.) He led us through a very enjoyable and down-to-earth wine tasting, poking fun at wine critics the whole time.

Friends at Ceja Vineyards

The five of us at Ceja Vineyards.

After the wine tasting, we were all feeling pretty excellent, and the weather was downright perfect, so we headed outside to play bocce ball--or, well, a loose interpretation thereof. I think my team might have won, but as Vivian and I were distracted by the Ceja family's cat halfway through, I really can't say.

Friends at Ceja Vineyards on the bocce ball court

The five of us with Fregone on the bocce ball court.

We enjoyed a tasty picnic lunch--complete with Ceja's house wine and many Sprinkles cupcakes--on the patio, fighting off the cat whenever possible. We basked in the sunshine.

Russell and the cat.

Russell fights off the cat.

Then we were on the road again. Russell took a nap leaning against Vivian. David and I snickered.

Russell naps on Vivian's shoulder.

Russell and Vivian in the van.

Schramsberg Vineyards specializes in sparkling wine. We took a tour of their wine "caves"--lichen-covered tunnels, lined with millions of bottles of fermenting liquid. The bottles looked like they were covered in cobwebs--but I suspect it was really just more lichen.

To say that the tasting was enjoyable would be a nearly offensive understatement. For whatever reason, our tour guide was more than generous with the "tastes," and we ended up with about half a glass of each wine--six in total.

Sparkling wine glasses

Dave's glasses--after he had already sampled all of them.

After tasting $100-a-bottle champagnes, I don't know if I can go back to my trusty old Andre--$4-a-bottle in North Carolina. Oh well. It will be a very enjoyable journey to bankruptcy.

The following hour or so is somewhat hazy in my memory; we returned to the minivan and tried to visit a third winery, which was unfortunately closed for the day by the time we reached it. We headed back toward San Francisco, Napa Valley vanishing into darkness behind us.

Will's parents dropped us off at a Safeway near San Francisco's famous Castro district. Dave promised it was only "a few" blocks from his boyfriend Dan's apartment (which was our next destination); he needed to pick up some vegetables for the evening's dinner party. Will and I supplemented Dave's healthy choices (bell peppers, mushrooms, onions) with wine, vodka, and the most flamboyant pack of sprinkles I could find. (Vivian and I had baked some chocolate Guinness cupcakes with cream cheese frosting the previous evening. Dan had teased me via e-mail, and the only threat I could come up with in return was that his cupcake would be "very, er, special.")

Then we began the hike.

It took us several blocks to even reach the Castro--several blocks of pharmacies, thrift stores, and homeless men. I knew we were (finally) getting close when I noticed a man who looked better in skinny jeans than I could ever hope to. When we reached the Castro, it became abruptly obvious why Russell referred to San Francisco as "the Mecca." Even the Bank of America had rainbow flags in its windows.

We weaved down Castro Street, past countless restaurants and bars, and finally turned off, walking past the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and up the hill to Dan's apartment building. Up one long flight of stairs and around the kitchen, I found myself squealing and hugging Michael ('09) who had just gotten in on a flight from Seattle, and then Dan himself.

Dan had done his part to prepare the apartment, it seemed, which was very clean, and also sported a table covered in bottles--alcohol, juice, and soda of all varieties. Dave ignored it and quickly set to work washing and chopping and seasoning. I decorated Dan's cupcake. It didn't take too long, though, and I was soon slicing bell peppers and chopping onions.

When Russell finished his famous spinach and artichoke dip, though, I snuck away from the kitchen, following the dip surreptitiously into the living room. I proceeded to completely spoil my appetite, but I felt no remorse. It was delicious. I asked Russell what was in it, and he simply responded, "You don't want to know. Trust me."

Some friends of Dan's arrived, and also quickly fell on the spinach and artichoke dip. Dave continued to slave in the kitchen, helped (or perhaps heckled?) by each of us in turn, feeling guilty on our way to get drink refills.

Spinach and artichoke dip.

We enjoy the spinach and artichoke dip.

Dave cooks.

Dave cooks.

I heckle.

I heckle.

At some point I realized that I'd been drinking fairly steadily since 11 in the morning. Having had a fairly quiet break up until this day--that is, being a shamefully well-behaved and sober 21-year-old--I was suddenly very pleased with myself.

At some point, dinner was served, and I transitioned from the spinach and artichoke dip into the dining room for an equally-delicious baked ziti made with vodka sauce (my favorite). I'm not sure how I managed to get the cupcake down at the end of the meal, but it was too tempting to resist. (Did I mention the cream cheese frosting?!)

We suddenly realized the late hour, and set Will and his iPhone on the task of discovering the Caltrain's departure times. There was one departing in a half an hour, and another departing at midnight. My desire to get to bed before 2 am won out over my desire to stay, drink, chat, and eat more, and out we waddled. Down the stairs, down the hill, back through the (by this hour, quite bustling) Castro, and into the metro station.

A stranger noticed Vivian's cupcake carrier, which still had a few cupcakes left (it is a colossal tribute to Russell and Dave's cooking skills that any were left at all). He commented on it curiously, and we offered him a cupcake. He accepted it, hesitating slightly when we mentioned it had been made with Guinness. He took a bite, however, and proceeded to make a few delighted "mmm" noises, and to expound on its delicacy once he had swallowed. Vivian was flattered. I was just astounded that a stranger would accept and eat homemade food, in a subway station no less. I suppose Vivian and I don't look like the poisoning types.

We boarded the next subway bound for the Caltrain station. Will was agitated, by which I mean he checked the time on his iPhone, counted the stops on the subway map, and told us simply that we "might have to run." I twitched impatiently the whole way there, but we boarded the train with three minutes to spare without breaking into a run once.

At this point, we were feeling quite tired.

Will naps on Vivian's shoulder

Will naps while Vivian plays WordMole on my Blackberry.

An hour later, we reached the Palo Alto stop, and Will's mom picked us up. I don't remember much of the ride home, but I do remember standing in Vivian's kitchen filling up my water glass while Vivian's mom spoke to her in Chinese.

"Um," Vivian responded, looking at the clock. "12:10." I yawned, finished my water, and went to bed, happy.

-- Angela

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