Archive for April, 2009
You might think, ‘Who’s drinking beer before noon on a Saturday?’ And then you look around and see that a whole lot of people are drinking beer before noon on a Saturday. Whether it’s like this all the time or not, I don’t frankly know. What I can say is that on this particular Saturday, this particular restaurant and brewery (Rubicon in Midtown) was pouring a lot of tasty hops.
It was for a good cause, after all: The 3rd annual ‘Women in Brewing’ WEAVE fundraiser. And it was simple: No entrance fee; just nominal donations to sample the brews. Made by women, of course.
What we got out of it? Our favorite was a lovely Smoky Vanilla Porter, followed closely by a light and tangy Tangerine Wheat. We also made some friends over that vanilla porter. Yet while there wasn’t a big To-Do encircling this little neighborhood event, one thing seems certain: Sacramentans love a good cause, especially when it’s topped with the perfect amount of froth.
There are only a few small puffy clouds scattered in the sky; against the bright blue backdrop, they look rather striking. The trees are blanketed with vibrant green spring leaves and a blossom storm whirls beneath like a tornado, rising majestically out and upward.
It is a quiet and serene Saturday morning in this part of Downtown Sacramento, but I know from experience that things in one part of town do not define all others. For just a few blocks away, things become anything but sleepy.
At the Capitol, thousands of adults, teens, children and dogs gather in readiness to march for a cause. It’s the annual March of Dimes March for Babies fundraising walk, and the Capitol is truly hopping. Participants are carb-loading, taking team pictures, socializing and even dancing to music blasting through the speakers. When Go-time comes, the crowd is so thick that we move like molasses through a tiny straw.
But marching west from the Capitol, down Capitol Mall, through Old Sac and Westfield Plaza, and snaking through Downtown and then Midtown, the crowd gets a unique view of their very own town, with major street closures removing obstacles and revealing a sparkling city that is perfectly comfortable in its own skin.
Fast forward 6 winding miles and an after-celebration, we walk back toward the office to find another kind of action on the streets of Sacramento: On K Street, a convention crowd watches as a legislator is being filmed. On J Street, activists line the road with signs and cheers for ‘Newsom for Green Jobs’. And on 16th Street, a group of young tourists begins their day.
It’s just another ordinary day in Sacramento… revealing some extraordinary and unexpected things.
Some clouds have appeared in the April sky, and along with them a very large layer of wispy ones. To the east, threats of a brief spring thundershower seem to loom, hovering over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s still refreshing – like spring should be – with the blue sky backdrop just softer and more varied in hue than usual.
The tip tops of the trees are swaying in slow motion as if dancing to some slow, rhythmic sounds no one else hears. A pea-sized plane flies high and above, tunneling through the low tufts of clouds. From a downtown office building window an emerald green dragonfly rests on a wire at eye level…
It’s not exactly a typical April day, and it’s not so unnecessarily unusual either. It is somewhere in the space between ~ a place where a day like this could disappear as if it never existed.
But if you walk the gently-humming streets and look up at the dynamic, contrasting sky or stop long enough to immerse in the feeling of this day… you might notice the splendor in an average everyday day that most tend to miss.
It was Sunday, April 19th, nearing 3pm, and the air was balmy outside the Crocker Art Museum in Downtown Sacramento. Couples, families, teens and solitary souls made their way to the back lawn of the museum grounds for a ‘Mass Meditation on Peace’. It was the closing ceremony for the ‘Buddha’ Exhibition.
I headed toward the entrance and past a guard who simply smiled as I walked by. There were no fees, no bag checks, no sign-in sheets, no questions, no hassles. The rather full crowd was mostly sitting in chairs and on the grass; a few were resting comfortably at picnic tables or standing around the shady perimeter.
There were brief introductions and warm welcomes to and from members of the Dalai Lama Foundation and Lion’s Roar Dharma Center, the exhibition’s curator and Sacramento’s City Manager. There was a brief (and very soothing) chanting demonstration by 3 monks in red and gold robes. And then the mass meditation and chanting began.
The crowd whispered the mantra of compassion and self-transformation (Om Mani Padme Hum) over and over again within the tall protective hedges of the grounds. It was so softly audible that I wondered what it might sound like to a passerby.
More like “an applied sacred psychology” than religion or even philosophy, Buddhism has long been revered for its openness and acceptance of others’ ideals and traditions. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me then that the gate to the museum lawn remained open during the entire ceremony – with people quietly wandering in and out, and back in again. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised at the complete ease that seemed rooted within this ceremonial gathering, and radiated so effortlessly throughout the crowd.
Armed with camera dangling from my wrist, I head out during the lunch hour on a fine spring day, and immediately see something abstract I’d like to capture. I begin heading toward it when I notice Sacramento’s former mayor (Heather Fargo) exiting Lucca Restaurant from the direction in which I’m heading. Not wanting to be mistaken for the paparazzi and out of respect for the privacy I imagine she might desire, I shift courses and take the long way around.
It seems there’s always someone locally, regionally or even globally-famous heading into or out of Lucca on J Street (Esquire Grill on 13th, Faces on K, The Park UltraLounge on 15th, etc.). And yet, it might be of little surprise that the Midtown/Downtown vortex attracts big and plenty players since it’s so centrally located, so full of good restaurants, so near the Capitol and so loaded with charm.
To me, the 6 degrees of separation between us regular folks and those more blatantly recognizable are closing in. Blame it on the internet, reality TV, the widening of the “celebrity” umbrella… As the world gets more cramped, we’re naturally going to bump up against one another all the more.
What I like about this phenomenon happening in Sacramento is this: It makes everyone and everything seem that much more accessible. It doesn’t discriminate. And instead of feeling like we’re robots walking amongst a bunch of strangers, familiarity is a welcome feeling in a world I had feared was losing its personal touch.
As I head back to the office – my memory card (and belly) full – I coincidentally converge at the corner of 16th and J with someone very well known in my social circle, my friend and co-worker Dawn Brown. We walk back to the office together, chatting about the warm weather and how much easier it will be to get together with friends now that spring has sprung.
It’s hard to tell if it’s still the Happy Hour crowd… or if the night dwellers are already out, but it’s 7:30PM on a Friday night and this corner is hoppin’. There’s a bouncer checking IDs outside of DeVeres Irish Pub, and it’s not even dark yet. Inside, the place is jamming, I’m assuming mostly from the after work crowd…
Luckily, there’s still room inside to maneuver and carve out a little drinking space for ourselves. And as any small-town-turned-grown-up city would tend to have it, I see several people I know already. Our friends – who have thankfully found a babysitter for the evening – arrive soon after, and for us, the night has just begun…
Fast forward a wee bit: We segue about 10 feet next door to the 30+something crowd at MIX Downtown (small plates & lounge), and find that it too is already warm and fuzzy inside, with people scattered evenly around the dimly-lit, rather large loft-like space.
The open-air patio draws us to the far end of the club and we tuck back into a corner where we are able to people watch and carry on conversation at the same time. The place doesn’t lose its momentum as the night wears on, with more friends and strangers arriving, as well as 80s music beginning to pump from the not-so-deafening speakers.
We don’t stay late, only because we have somewhere else to be and someone else to meet before turning into pumpkins. But I think these places calling Sacramento home are doing something right: Creating space where a hint of sophistication can mesh well with a preference for casualness.
For a land such as Sacramento, long inhabited by Native peoples and then suddenly discovered by prospectors and entrepreneurial settlers, there was bound to be explosive change. And as one man’s fortune is often another’s loss, so began the battles amongst groups and individuals. From lovers’ quarrels and duels to the death to shipwrecks and hangings, opportunity at times gave way to chaos in a wild and lawless land. More than just stories to some, ghosts of the past still linger close enough to touch.
Old Sacramento is loaded with ghost stories, and Sacramento’s Midtown and Downtown areas have long given rise to spirit-ed speculations, many of which are just beginning to surface. Take this Midtown mansion at H & 22nd streets… Whether you believe the rumors and tales or not, my bet is that this house will leave at least some sort of impression on you.
The woman at RH Phillips Winery (Yolo County) admitted that the particular Chardonnay we were sipping was being kept at about 38 degrees, much too cold for such a luscious, ripe wine. So I cupped the glass in my hands to warm it up. A few minutes later, the wine was good to go and my taste buds appreciated the restraint.
Seems it’s always Liz coming from the back office through the large, modern winery to greet the inquisitive tasters. And seems she’s always talkative and friendly and knowledgeable about the area (not to mention the wine) in which she lives, works and plays.
Vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms(!) encircle Sacramento like loving tentacles, from the Sierra Foothills to the Delta region; from Central City to busting city limits. And some of us truly embrace them back (maybe sometimes even more than we should).
California itself is an agricultural powerhouse, with grapevines being a very prolific and hot commodity. Wine regions around Sacramento include Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, San Joaquin, Nevada and Placer counties (see Sacramento wine guide), with the infamous Napa and Sonoma counties not far behind.
But not all good wine needs a long-standing reputation to precede it. The best ones often find us unexpectedly, when we’re traversing a scenic back road or trying something we’ve never had before at a local restaurant. My suggestion: Just be open to new experiences and flavors. And when you find something you love, love, love… buy, buy, buy as much as you can afford. Because good vintages aren’t easily (if ever) duplicated.
I headed from the office to Old Soul Cafe, where I met my friend Julia Seebach, who owns MidtownGrid.com. I forgot my walking shoes, so thankfully it was a balmy 74 degrees and sunny. I took my time soaking up the scenery along the way, even sharing the trek with some co-workers heading to lunch at nearby Zocalo.
After the hugs and kisses and ‘Oh my it’s been so longs’, Julia and I ordered from their scrumptious $4 and $5 menu, grabbed one of the two outdoor tables and waited for our bottomless spinach salad to arrive. People passed through the alley and almost all imparted friendly greetings. One of the Old Soul people came out to water the large and very vertical rosemary plant near us. I might not have noticed had she not begun talking to it in such a sweet manner. Another Old Soul soul popped ‘round to tell us about the daily 2PM coffee tastings they now offer. And then Jason, one of Old Soul’s owners, passed by with a gentle ‘hello’.
I met Julia several years ago when I interviewed her and her husband Scott Smithline about their up-and-coming new business. A year or so later I interviewed Scott again, this time about recycling and the politics of recycling.
It’s funny how I always somehow feel like I’m coming full circle, although never quite closing the gap… perhaps always just open enough to new degrees of experiences, people and perspectives.