Blood and Doughnuts: 52 Hours in Northern California

A few weekends ago, I headed out to northern California for a third time, with a firm agenda for the three days I'd be there. Somehow I was able to, in the words of noted philosopher Larry the Cable Guy, git 'er done. It started like this:

Saturday, 4:45 a.m.: I leave my apartment to get my 7:30 flight to San Francisco at JFK. Up until the night before, I thought my flight was at 7 a.m. Apparently, I signed up for American Airlines' "We're Gonna Change Your Flight Time and Not Tell You" plan. It wasn't that big of a deal, but since I was on a strict time schedule to (a) get to a record store on Record Store Day, (b) get to the Ferry Terminal Farmers' Market, and (c) get to my cousin's house to have enough time to hang with her kids for a bit before leaving for the Avett Brothers concert that night, the lost half hour was a bit of a drag. Plans to fit in some chicken and waffles in Jack London Square were put on the back burner. And at least I could sleep 30 minutes later.

Saturday, 5:10 a.m.: Boy, I wish a PATH train would get here. Oh, here comes the WTC train. OK, I'll take that in and pick up the A train to Jamaica.

Saturday, 5:25 a.m.: Oh, the A train isn't running downtown today. Awesome. I guess I'll take the 2/3 to Penn Station and get an LIRR train to Jamaica.

Saturday, 5:45 a.m.: Boy, I wish that 2/3 train would get here. Oh, here it is. Cool, only three stops. Wait, it's running local?

Saturday, 6:05 a.m.: OK, next train to Jamaica leaves in 8 minutes. This is gonna be cutting it close.

Saturday, 6:40 a.m.: Here comes the AirTran. Let's see...where is the American terminal? Oh, cool, the next-to-last stop. This is gonna be cutting it really close.

Saturday, 7 a.m.: Flight's boarding, hustle to security check, short lines, throw change in bucket, remove shoes, take off belt, take off jacket, take off flannel shirt that probably has metal buttons, and get on through..."Final boarding call for American flight to San Francisco." Oh, Lord.

Saturday, 7:21 a.m.: So...out...of...breath...body's...not...meant...for...running...gate 42...there...it...is...made it.

Things went a little more smoothly once I got to San Francisco. I took the BART to the Powell Street stop and walked to Rasputin's, not my first choice to celebrate Record Store Day, but the San Francisco Amoeba was too difficult to reach with the time crunch. Still, I picked up lots of free Record Store day swag at Rasputin's, along with a couple of RSD exclusives and an old Pete Seeger Folkways record that's in pretty good shape (and has the liner notes) and a weird religious record with birds on it. It was cheap; I couldn't leave it there.

The Ferry Terminal Farmers' Market was as great as I remembered it, even if it was an off season for produce (oranges don't do much for me). I was able to get the last Love Bun (a fried croissant with granulated sugar, with a cream cheese filling...pretty healthy) of the day from the Noe Valley Bakery stand, a couple of containers of dried pluots, three bags of almond brittle from the Alfieri Farms stand, and some dried plums.

Then it was off to Oakland for playtime, during which I was crushed in the Cat in the Hat Game (though cheating was gleefully acknowledged by my considerably more youthful opponent). I threw in some churching before dinner, and then it was off to see the Avett Brothers at the recently restored Fox Theatre in Oakland. The show was fan-freakin'-tastic, as a good chunk of my favorite Avett songs ("At the Beach," "Murder in the City," Pretty Girl From Cedar Lane," "Go To Sleep") were played, along with a Roger Miller cover ("Where Have All the Average People Gone") in the encore. And the theater itself was gorgeous (sorry, I didn't bring the camera).

And, really, what better way to cap off the day than with a two-mile walk through downtown Oakland? I didn't feel like calling a cab or bothering my cousin, so I figured, hey, I have a general idea of where I need to go and these streets look relatively safe/well traveled, so I'll give it a shot. I survived (which, based on my cousin's reaction when I got back and told her how I arrived, wouldn't have been something she would have bet on), and celebrated by buying some doughnuts at the local Colonial Donuts, which boasted some impressive-looking (and decent-tasting) fare.

Sunday's goal was to revisit the Livermore Donut Wheel, home of the fried treat that I declared Best Doughnut Ever upon my first visit in 2008. On that visit, I really wanted to buy a T-shirt but was rebuffed by a perplexed cashier, who seemed to regard the idea that someone would want to buy one of the shirts displayed in a frame on the wall as utterly impossible. So, buoyed by a Livermore Donut Wheel Facebook page that touted the sale of said T-shirts, I mapped out the two-train, one-bus, 90-minute-plus journey from Oakland to the Wheel.

The trip there was lengthened a bit by a missed train connection and standing at the wrong bus stop for 10 minutes. But once I was on the bus and began to see some familiar sights, I knew that the Great Doughnut (and Doughnut T-Shirt) Quest was about to reach its successful conclusion.

I was a little nervous about my timing, as it was around the time when the likelihood of a fresh doughnut was slim. I was also hoping to get a red velvet cake doughnut, but that was not to be. So I settled for a chocolate coconut, geared myself for a letdown, and put in my request for a t-shirt.

When the cashier (who I'm assuming is the guy who runs the Facebook page) disappeared for awhile in search of a shirt, I grew worried. Was a two-hour quest about to end in tragedy, with a non-fresh, lackluster doughnut and no shirt?

No, it wasn't. Or at least the doughnut kicked ass and they got me a T-shirt (they were out of XLs, so I settled for a large...I'll have to cut down on the doughnuts).

Tragedy, on the other hand, came very close to happening.

As I went back to the bus terminal, I realized I didn't have any small bills for the bus. So I stopped at a produce stand to get a drink, but not before I saw the bus heading for the terminal. I still had some time, because the bus had a small layover before departure, but I still had to hustle. I quickly scanned the drink selection, saw a lot of sugar water, and decided to get a tall glass bottle of Pepsi. Remember that "glass" part.

As I headed to the terminal, I saw the bus pull out. Damn. But I didn't really have anyplace to be, so I wasn't too bummed out. Since the next bus was 40 minutes off and I'd already sat down for a half-hour waiting for the bus to Livermore, I figured I'd just walk up the bus route and catch the next one, maybe see the inside of a Safeway for the first time. (Have I told you that I like to go to chain supermarkets I've never been to when I travel? Well, I do.)

So, as I was walking, I figured I should consolidate my two bags (one with the glazed doughnut I bought at the Wheel and one with the other doughnuts I had bought at Colonial the night before). So, I paused at a bus stop, put the bottle on what I assumed to be a level surface and began the consolidation.

Well, you know what they say about how you shouldn't assume. How does the phrase go? Oh, right, it goes like this: "When you assume, you make an ass out of u because that surface isn't level and that glass bottle's gonna break and a piece of it is gonna tear open the top of your middle finger, leaving you staring at a bloody hand while you're on vacation."

That's how the saying goes, right? I'm bad with sayings.

In any case, that's how it went for me. And as I searched for something to wrap around my finger, I was faced with a choice of a doughnut bag or my Livermore Donut Wheel T-shirt. I went with the bag and headed off to that Safeway, which I hoped had both bandages and a bathroom.

Wow, I thought, as I stared at my bloody hand, this will be a terrible way to die. And then I looked to my right and saw a bowling alley. As if things weren't bad enough, I had torn open a bowling finger while less than a block away from a bowling alley. If I could have heard anything other than the voices of panic in my head, I am certain I would've been able to make out God's laughter.

I headed into the Safeway and first scoped out where the bathroom was. Once I found that, I went in search of bandages, found a box of waterproof Band Aids, and headed to the checkout. Since my right hand was literally covered in blood (and a paper bag that was also covered in blood), I figured it was in my best interest to keep the right hand as close to me as possible, lest anyone notice my hemorrhaging. So, with the bag of doughnuts and the new Willie Mays bio in my crimson right hand, I executed the cash transaction flawlessly with my left hand and headed for the bathroom.

Once I removed my doughnut-bag tourniquet, the blood started flowing, and it soon became apparent that the waterproof bandage was not going to work. And so panic returned. As I washed out the wound, I tried to grab paper towels, but they weren't close enough, and it wasn't an automatic dispenser, so I had to keep going back and forth, dripping blood everywhere--on the sink, the other sink, the floor. And as I tried to clean up the blood stains, new ones emerged. Then since the paper towels weren't absorbing well, I tried the toilet paper in a stall, which didn't work out, because now there were blood spots leading to the toilet and blood on the toilet paper roll. As I wiped away the floor stains with my shoes, I became very grateful that it's illegal to set up cameras in bathrooms, because if it weren't, there would be a very disturbing record of how I turned the Safeway bathroom into a set for the new "Saw" movie. As I left the bathroom, another gentleman came in. I thought of apologizing in advance but figured it was best to let it be. Since there were no audible screams and I wasn't surrounded by security at any point, I'm assuming he was nonplussed.

Since I still needed some sort of covering for my finger, I headed back into Safeway; bought giant waterproof Band-Aids, butterfly wound bandages, and non-stick surgical tape; once again successfully executed the left-hand transaction; and then decided to just leave the store rather than go through the bathroom scene again. By the time I got outside, the bleeding had mostly subsided. So I wrapped one of the giant waterproof bandages tightly around my finger and waited for that bus.

It came soon and I was back on my way, down a pint or two but feeling a lot better than 15 minutes prior.

So, of course, where do you go after that? To the record store! Or, actually, record stores. I did some quick runs through Rasputin's and Amoeba in Berkeley, picked up some cool stuff, called my cousin to pick me up on her way to get pizza, and then shared with her the story of the day. She seemed a little concerned/disturbed. I'm used to such a reaction, though, so I just plowed through the story, which, since I hadn't died, now seemed very funny.

When we got back to the house, I asked my cousin's husband to take a look at the finger to make sure there was no glass in it. He took a look, seemed a little taken aback by the wound, recommended stitches, and then cleaned it out. I wasn't in the mood to get stitches, so he just taped it up and we dug into some pizza from Gioia, which wasn't very good. And that opinion isn't clouded by the fact that I couldn't bend my middle finger. If I'd had my entire middle finger at my disposal, it still would've been average pizza. But it takes a nice photograph, along with my wounded finger.

My final morning in California featured another ambitious agenda: get up early, take the BART to North Berkeley, walk a mile with my bags, eat a pancake souffle at Bette's Oceanview Diner, do the almost impossible super-quick run-through of Amoeba in San Francisco, and catch a 3:50 flight home.

This actually wound up being the smoothest day of the trip, and it got off to a good start when I got a hug goodbye from my cousin's elder boy, who gave me the cold shoulder upon my departure last time (probably because I was gone for roughly ten hours a day at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass). The walk to Bette's (as featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives") was relatively straightforward and uneventful, and I grabbed a seat at the counter a little after 10.

I knew the pancake souffle would take awhile, so I started with some yogurt and granola, which was surprisingly only so-so. You'd think a place in Berkeley would have a little better granola, but you can take that stereotype and shove it. But it filled me up well enough for the main course, which certainly lived up to expectations appearance-wise.

I didn't realize this until thumbing through the diner's pancake cookbook later, but the best way (and, if I'd been thinking clearly, surely the most logical) to eat a pancake souffle is to start on the edges and work toward the middle. But I started otherwise, so the first few bites were underwhelming. But as I continued, and the middle had more time to cook, I grew more satisfied. Overall, a fine breakfast, if not quite Sweet Sue's. And cool jukeboxes.

I walked off the souffle on my way back to the BART and eventually wound my way over to Amoeba (via the always harrowing Haight bus) with a self-imposed deadline of a 1 p.m. departure. I started on the left with the Lounge section, spent some quality time in the Country section, breezed through the TV Soundtrack section (looking for my white whale, the Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution LP), and was only a little off schedule when I got on line. But then I spotted the heretofore unknown 45 section. I bargained with myself to just quickly scan through two boxes, found a 45 (w/ sleeve) of Brian Wilson's "Let's Go To Heaven In My Car" from the "Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol" (still might say that's the best one; it's neck and neck with "Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment") soundtrack, and checked out.

I made it to the airport in plenty of time (i.e., a solid 45 minutes before departure) and was back on the right coast in no time.

I've almost caught up my sleep, and the wound on my finger is continuing its healing. And it's a good thing, because there's a trip to the Midwest with some bowling on tap for next week. And I'm open to the idea of a superior Chicago doughnut.

But I'm not buying anything in a glass bottle.


I Nose These Guys

While I try to carve out some time to listen to records, I provide the following for your viewing pleasure.

I am proud to say I went to high school with these boys, and they made me laugh plenty back then, too.


What I Liked About March

*24 hours in Ithaca
*The official announcement of the Howard/Paprocki engagement
*"The Street Stops Here," PBS
*Monster Mania, Cherry Hill, NJ

*Split Lip Rayfield, Mercury Lounge, NYC
*The beginning of the summer music festival announcements
*Josh Ritter/Rick Barry, The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ
*Todd Snider, Allen Room, NYC

*The Blasters/Hudson Falcons, The Saint, Asbury Park. NJ
*Cherryholmes, Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank, NJ
*Andrew WK, Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, NYC
*The willingness of people to drive me places