Archive for the ‘Local’ Category

Cyclisk

July 8th, 2019

Cyclisk
 

Easily the strangest thing I saw on this trip was the “Cyclisk,” an obelisk made of around 340 damaged bicycles. It was created by Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector as a public art project for Santa Rosa.

Ironically the statue is next to a car dealer and a car wash, but Grieve says “The statement is up to the viewer.” I’d also point out there are no bike lanes anywhere near the statue, and the street it’s located is even missing a sidewalk just north of it. So the meaning seems pretty clear… or is it?

If the nearby streets were rearranged with complete streets in mind, it would give the statue a completely different meaning. Perhaps in that context it could be seen as a call to action in its current state.

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

July 7th, 2019

Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
 

I arrived in Santa Rosa this afternoon and made a beeline for the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. It’s the site of the home and a test garden of the wildly prolific horticulturist Luther Burbank. I bought a ticket for the hourly tour.

Although not a household name, Burbank invented a number of common foods you can find at your local grocery store including russet potatoes and various types of plums, as well as flowers including the Shasta daisy. One of his more out of the box ideas was to create a spineless cactus (no spikes) intended to be used as cattle feed in dry climates.

The tour goes through some of his failings, in particular not graduating medical school, not being taken seriously as a scientist in spite of his achievements, and not being granted patents due to laws at the time.

 
Luther Burbank Home and Gardens Luther Burbank Home and Gardens
 

Burbank was friends with some of his well known contemporaries including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Stanford University president David Star Jordan. This is all glazed over in the tour, but with the benefit of hindsight some of these men have a seriously tarnished reputation, including perhaps Burbank himself.

After the tour I went poking around the gardens. The tour guide, apparently finished for the day, noticed me and pointed out something truly strange. Part of the garden is still devoted to scientific research and a Ph.D student from UC Davis grew two separate trees and grafted their branches together. I’m not sure what this means but if she’s successful we might have a new horticultural expert working in Burbank’s old test garden.
 

My recommendation: If any of this sounds interesting, the guided tour is only ten dollars. It takes about an hour, and you get to set foot in Burbank’s original home on the property (a second home has since been demolished.) The gardens are free to visit and a hot spot for wedding and quinceanera photo shoots.

Petaluma’s temperance fountain

July 7th, 2019

Abstinence fountain
 

I happened to walk by a stone drinking fountain in downtown Petaluma with a curious inscription on the side:

ERECTED 1891

TOTAL ABSTINENCE
IS THE WAY TO HANDLE
THE ALCOHOL PROBLEM

It seemed odd at first glance, I think mostly because the word “abstinence” is generally only used in modern American English by religious zealots peddling unscientific sex-ed material. But in this context the word is referring to abstaining from something else: drinking alcohol.

Yet again, the connection seems unclear: what does a drinking fountain have to do with avoiding alcohol?

An episode from the 99% Invisible podcast about the history of modern drinking fountains explains the connection — in fact this very fountain in Petaluma is mentioned at about 10 minutes into the episode.

The gist of it is this: back in the day water wasn’t always safe to drink due to bacteria, so many people stuck with alcohol. Once modern science made water reliably safe to drink, the temperance movement promoted the use of drinking water as an alternative to alcohol.

Obviously people still drink alcohol today, but thanks to plentiful clean water (well, in most places) we don’t have to choose between feeling thirsty and feeling tipsy.

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour

July 6th, 2019

Lagunitas Brewing Company tour
Lagunitas Brewing Company tour Lagunitas Brewing Company tour
 

Today I took a tour of the Lagunitas Brewing operation in Petaluma. The facility was largely built before they sold themselves to Heineken, and still operates independently. Tickets for the tour are free and (if you’re over 21) include a free beer.

The tour focuses very little on brewing and much more of the stories behind the company. Which is fine with me, every brewery essentially does the same thing at some level. Back when I used to brew beer at home I covered the process here.

Some highlights from the Lagunitas tour stories:

  • Founder Tony Magee was an unsuccessful musician from Chicago who moved to California and started brewing “house beers” for local bars, eventually launching his own brand.
  • An early version of the brewery was in a much smaller town that (unbeknownst to the company) had a communal septic tank instead of a proper sewage system. Let’s just say you don’t want to trap yeast with human waste in a closed environment.
  • The state had the brewery shut down for a few weeks after catching employees smoking marijuana at a company party. Lagunitas responded by issuing a beer to commemorate the occasion when they reopened, the Undercover Investigation Shut-down Ale.

I’ve left out many details, and there are many more stories on the tour. Depending on the tour guide you might get a different set of stories entirely.
 

My recommendation: Anyone who enjoys Lagunitas’ beer or is curious about this quirky brewing company would probably enjoy the tour. Their taproom and beer garden with live music and food is just outside the brewing facility. One caveat is it’s only accessible by car; I think I spent around $30 total getting to and from the brewery from downtown Petaluma via Lyft.

Marin County Civic Center

July 6th, 2019

Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Exterior of the building
 

The more I’ve seen of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, the more I’m convinced he was an interior designer at heart who happened to get tasked with architecture. His interiors are always unique and playful, but the exteriors are almost offensively boring.

It’s certainly true of the Marin County Civic Center. From the outside it mostly looks like a big mess of arches, as though a bridge builder lost his or her mind.

 
Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Marin Civic Center Marin Civic Center
Interiors
 

Stepping inside though it’s a completely different story; while it certainly has some of the look of a mid-century government building, the giant skylights and lush indoor gardens give off relaxing vibe. Pretty much the opposite of what most of us have come to expect from our interactions with government offices and courthouses.

I should point out that part of the secret to the building’s success is how well it’s maintained. It’d be much cheaper to let entropy take its toll and allow the gardens die or turn into weeds. Instead they’re watered, pruned, etc.

A number of tourists were wandering around in there snapping photos just as I was. Not much was going on since it was the day after July 4th, and the county fair was in full swing outside.

 
Marin Civic Center
 

On my way out I walked through a gallery of painted portraits for sale. I recognized a couple of the people, but this one in particular seemed appropriate as he’s one of the more famous people in Marin County: George Lucas.

Museum of International Propaganda

July 6th, 2019

Museum of International Propaganda
Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda
 

My last stop in downtown San Rafael was a tiny museum with an unusual premise: the Museum of International Propaganda.

Housed in a former shoe store, each section of the museum is devoted to a certain type of propaganda. Examples include leader worship, promoting the military, and demonizing a perceived enemy.

It seemed to me a prevailing theme was the truth didn’t matter, as long as it got the message across. Are the farms failing? Start a rumor of an American covert operation! Is the leader of the country a war criminal? Here’s a photo of him smiling with some children!

One of the most surprising artifacts in the museum is a watch, part of a limited series given out to soldiers who participated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

At the end of the main gallery, it switches to parodies of propaganda:

 
Museum of International Propaganda
 

It’s interesting how the same imagery used to control the populace can be flipped on its head, now mocking the same authority it was once used to prop up.

The last area of the museum is a temporary gallery; it’s worth pointing out here the museum has only been around a couple years so temporary is relative. Right now it’s mostly about propaganda from the last presidential election to present day.
 

Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda
 

My recommendation: This is a very thought provoking museum, far more interesting than I would have expected. Definitely work a visit if you’re in the area and it happens to be open (the hours are very limited.) It’s free, though they do accept donations and ask you to sign the guestbook.

Louis Pasteur “420″ statue

July 5th, 2019

Louis Pasteur "420" statue
 

When I got off the bus from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, I discovered I was a short walk from the origin of a well known slang term: 420, the not-so-secret code for marijuana. I had to go see it for myself.

As Atlas Obscura explains this unusual statue of Louis Pasteur in front of San Rafael High School was a meeting point for a group of students in the early 1970′s. These students met at the statue at 4:20 PM after school to head out and smoke marijuana.

The term 420 was somehow picked up by the band The Grateful Dead and it spread from there.

This got me wondering about something: how many hippie types with “420″ t-shirts and such are anti-vaxxers who drink unpasteurized milk?

Mission San Rafael Arcangel

July 5th, 2019

Mission San Rafael Arcangel
 

For the Forth of July weekend, I decided to split the difference between a real vacation and a “staycation,” opting to explore several parts of the North Bay I’ve never or rarely been to in the past.

My first stop is in San Rafael, named after the second to last of the Spanish missions in California: Mission San Rafael Arcangel.

The above photo is the current incarnation of this mission. Nothing stands of the original structures. I’m not entirely clear why they built something that’s clearly an architectural mashup between a modern church and the style of an early 19th century mission, especially since it just comes across looking ridiculous. But that’s what you’ll find if you walk a couple blocks up from downtown San Rafael trying to find the mission the city was named after.

To be fair the history of the mission is clearly posted in the front plaza, you can read the official story if you zoom in on this photo:

 
Mission San Rafael Arcangel

Gondola ride to Salesforce Park

July 3rd, 2019


 

The term “gondola” can mean many different things. The first that comes to my mind are the boats in Venice, but here I’m talking about a different form of transportation: a gondola lift.

This gondola in particular takes visitors up from ground level to Salesforce Park on the top of the freshly re-opened Salesforce Transit Center. See it in action for yourself in my video above.

So far I’ve tried the gondola twice now to get up to the park since it re-opened on Monday. I was particularly interested in riding it since it wasn’t operational the first time Salesforce Transit Center opened.

While it’s interesting to try it out, it’s pretty silly. Here’s why:

  • You can only go up in the gondola: passengers are not allowed to ride back down in it. I assume this is due to space concerns at the top and bottom.
  • Unlike the elevators and escalators inside the building you can take to the park, the gondola takes at least three people to operate: one person at the bottom for crowd control, an on board operator, and a security guard at the top.
  • It reminded me of the time I took an inclinator (a diagonal elevator) when I was visiting Stockholm, which is to say it’s not that different from an elevator.

Both times I went on it there was a short line. I imagine it’ll be busier on the weekends, and should draw more of a crowd once buses are heading to Salesforce Transit Center again. It doesn’t seem like it would be worth waiting in a long line for since it’s hardly the only way up to the park.

On the other hand it’s a free attraction to a free park. Can’t complain about the price of admission.

Lakefest at Lake Merritt

June 23rd, 2019

Lake Merritt
View of Lakefest from across the lake
 

Today was Lakefest at Lake Merritt in Oakland. I’d never been to this festival before and decided to go take a look.

Lakefest is a free street festival outside the boat house at the north side of the lake. There’s your typical street food vendors, artists, and local businesses with booths. Walking over from the 19th St. BART station the first two booths I encountered were Oakland Police recruiters, followed by “The 90′s Experience,” which is apparently something like the Museum of Ice Cream. I couldn’t help but to chuckle when I noticed everyone promoting it was too young to have any nostalgia for the 90′s.

Wandering past all the food vendors I spotted another area behind them that wasn’t at all obvious how to get to. I snuck between a couple of food trucks and found a large booth selling Bud Light. I was about to turn away until I noticed they also had a frozen margarita machine. Wasn’t the best margarita, but given the heat I was happy to part with ten dollars and suffer from brain freeze to cool down a little in the hot weather.

At the other end of Lakefest were some kid friendly activities like carnival games, a little “train” ride, and an inflatable slide thing. These attractions had a shared ticket booth.

Lower down towards the lake was another area with a music stage set up, a second Bud Light/margarita bar, and various clothing vendors. If you wanted any type of t-shirt with “510″ or some variation of the Oakland city logo, that was the place to get one.

 
Lake Merritt
 

In some places the event was listed as the “2nd Annual” Lakefest, which isn’t exactly true since there was a similar festival at Lake Merritt of the same name back in 2008 and 2009. While I wasn’t there, my understanding is it was at a different location. Further back in time there was an annual event called Festival at the Lake in the 80′s and 90′s.

It’s worth pointing out that Lake Merritt began attracting increased attention two years ago when the racist “BBQ Becky” incident made national news, and quickly became an internet meme. Whether that incident spurred the organizers to resurrect Lakefest or it was just a coincidence, it’s a great example of the old saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

After leaving Lakefest I went for a walk around the lake. It was easily the busiest I’d ever seen it. Aside from the usual joggers and the drum circle that’s somehow always under the pergola, there seemed to be a record number of picnics taking place around Lake Merritt — including plenty of black picnickers with BBQ grills.
 

My recommendation: I don’t know if they’ll do Lakefest again next year, but if you live in the area or want an excuse to visit Lake Merritt it’s worth checking out. There’s something for kids and adults alike at Lakefest, but of course the same can be said of Lake Merritt itself.