The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 4, 2013

Random Thoughts: What a Short Strange Trip It’s Been

Filed under: Food, Wanderings — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:52 am

There seems to be some sort of a strange limbo that one finds themselves in when something long anticipated is about to arrive, but is still not quite here just yet.  The two weeks of vacation that I’ve been planning for the past six months are coming up this weekend, but I can’t quite mentally check out just yet since various work-related things have picked this time to flare up and keep me busy.  As I noted a couple of posts ago, I ended up on a whirlwind business trip to Silicon Valley a couple of weeks ago, and although the tight schedule didn’t allow time to do much besides work, I did manage to sneak a couple of other things in along the way.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about from the upcoming cruise (although some of it might have to wait until I get back) but in the meantime, here’s a few random thoughts left over from the trip:

One of my personal cardinal rules while traveling is that whenever possible, I try to eat at places that I cannot find at home.  This means that for the most part I avoid the major chains, and try to seek out the more local type places or restaurants endemic to the area in which I’m traveling.  I do this not because I’m any sort of a food snob (although I suspect on occasion I might be one whenever it happens to be convenient) but mostly because it’s a way to take advantage of the limited time I have to travel.  After all, it there’s a place I can go to on a typical Wednesday night, why would I spend vacation time there?  Anyway, while on this particular trip I had limited time for just about everything, so I wanted to find something not too far from the hotel, yet something with a bit of history to it.  A search of some Yelp reviews came up with Original Joe’s in Downtown San Jose, an Italian restaurant and steakhouse boasting a long history and generous portions.    After braving a fair bit of traffic in the downtown area and a couple of unplanned sorties into way-too-narrow parking lots, I found my way to the place, and after a short wait found my way to a spot at the counter.  As you might expect, this place is a throwback to a previous era, with decorations little changed since the restaurant’s opening many years ago.  Another interesting feature of this restaurant was an open kitchen, where one can watch the frenzy of activity as steaks were grilled, pastas were served up, veggies were sauteed (sometimes with the theatrics that a conveniently flammable bit of something-or-other can add to the whole experience) and things generally hummed along at a frantic pace as a hungry Saturday night crowd (when I arrived, the people in front of me were warned that the wait for a table could be as much as an hour) was served.

As a place with a 57-year history in the same location, there’s bound to be a few stories to be told, and as luck would have it, I found just the person to tell them.  Seated next to me at the counter was a regular of this particular establishment, who first visited the restaurant at the age of thirteen, and who had been visiting the restaurant for over 50 years.  And he seemed more than happy to talk about it with a newcomer who had no idea the place even existed two hours before.  The waiter had been there a month, but was getting used to it pretty well.  The guy working the saute pans was one of four guys trained for the (suprisingly complex) job a few years ago, but was the only one who actually made it through.  Some of the guys in the kitchen had been there as much as thirty years.  He knew everyone there, and many came to visit.  There were also plenty of stories.  The computers for order tracking in the kitchen were installed only a few years ago as they recovered from a fire (apparently one of two the place has had in its history,) but even with modern technology they still call out all the orders anyway.  In the end, the New York Strip was pretty good (maybe not the best I’ve ever had, but I’ve definitely paid more money for much worse steaks over the years) but it was the guy who knew everyone in the place except for the random stranger who happened to be sitting next to him that really made the experience for me.  And that, in a nutshell, is why I seek these types of places out when I’m on the road.  Even if the food isn’t always amazing at places like this (it’s rarely quite that memorable, but at the same time it’s rarely disappointing,) sometimes it’s worth visiting a place like this just for the experience.

Flying in and out of cities I’ve never visited before typically means visiting unfamiliar airports as well, and for lack of much else to do on the way back, I took the opportunity to wander up and down the shockingly long hallways of the San Jose Airport while awaiting my return flight home after the business I had been sent down to take care of was completed.  As airports go, the one in San Jose is relatively small compared to most of the ones I fly in and out of (28 gates total, most of them being in one big long line) but it’s also one of the more modern ones I’ve seen, with Terminal B having opened to passengers just a few years ago.  Heeding the now standard advice to arrive two hours before my flight’s departure time, a short security line left me with most of that two hours to wait, which left plenty of time to wander.  It turns out that the walk from gate 28 (where the security checkpoint for terminal B is located) to gate 1 in the other terminal comes out to pretty close to half a mile in each direction.  With flights coming in and out of Terminal B constantly (most of them Southwest and Alaska flights), you get the impression that this is a rather busy airport in spite of its size, but as you wander down to the older Terminal A, you find that things get a lot quieter fast.

One particularly interesting sight along the way was an ANA 787 Dreamliner parked at Gate 15, getting ready to board a flight to Tokyo.  I’ve seen a few Dreamliners flying around here and there in the skies over Seattle, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to see one up (reasonably) close.  Sure it’s had its highly publicized problems, but it’s still quite interesting to see one.

As the gate numbers go down, the activity in the terminal seems to go down with them, to the point that by the time you reach the waiting area where gates 1-7 are located the place is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost town.  Whatever newsstands and restaurants used to serve this part of the terminal now appear to be shuttered due to lack of interest.  A Bane-Of-My-Existence AA MD-80 sits idle at one of the gates, waiting for nobody in particular.  A couple of the gates have signs up indicating long-haul flights that are several hours away, giving no reason for anyone to really be here in the first place.  In fact, the only source of sound in this part of the terminal at all seems to be the occasional clangs and clicks of a kinetic sculpture, busily whirring away and accomplishing nothing useful while nobody pays any attention to it (well, nobody until I showed up and watched for a few minutes, I’m admittedly a sucker for these kinds of things.)  These days, it seems like every airport I fly into is as busy as ever (especially if you’ve got three flights of people waiting at one gate, as seemed to be the case with my outbound flight from Seattle) so it’s a little odd and quite possibly just a bit eerie to see nothing happening in an airport where you would expect the exact opposite.  Then again, all it takes is a little walk, and everything is back to the way you’d expect it to be.  21 gates and a world away, it seems.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, here’s a picture I took of the Android lawn statues in front of Building 44 of the Googleplex in Mountain View.  Granted, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to do a lot of sightseeing while I was down there, but given the fact that practically my entire job right now involves working with Android right now (and most of the phones and tablets I have here at home run it too) I figured it was worth a visit.  Aside from the big Android in the back (the one next to the donut) they really aren’t nearly as big as you might think.  The Jellybean and KitKat ones aren’t much taller than I am.  Maybe if I had more than 18 hours notice that I’d be flying down I’d have more time to plan things like this next time, but sometimes you just need to cram in whatever you can cram in.

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