Road Trip to Oakland

Since I lost my job last year I’ve tried to do some things that were difficult when I was working. I visited some family, am just wrapping up a 1-year certificate in web design, and am playing a lot of basketball. I can now cross another goal off the list: a road trip to see some baseball.

First off, I’ll tell you that I managed to forget my digital camera, so I have virtually no photographic evidence of my trip. You’ll just have to take my word that all of this stuff happened, which I know is difficult in this modern age in which we live.

My team is the Minnesota Twins, and I usually see them play about once a year, when they visit Seattle to beat up on the Mariners. This year, however, it so happened that my friend Mike is also unemployed and an A’s fan who grew up in the Bay Area. After looking at the schedule, we realized that the Twins would be visiting Oakland in June, so we committed to going if we were both unemployed. As (bad) luck would have it, we both were when the time came around to see the games.

Let me back up here. My week of baseball awesomeness began on Memorial Day, when I took a trip to Seattle with my friends Craig and Justin to see the Twins and the Mariners. Not surprisingly, the Twins won. That was pretty awesome, but just the start.

Tuesday and Wednesday I rushed to finish two final projects for my classes, including a 12-page paper on marketing strategies by local Portland TV stations. I’d be glad to let you read it, if you ask nicely. That cleared the way for the trip.

On Thursday, Mike and I took off for the Bay in the sweet and stylish Buick he inherited from his grandfather. Mike insisted on driving the entire 10 1/2 hours it took for us to get there, which was fine with me. We arrived Thursday night in Sunnyvale, to stay with his brother and sister-in-law, who now live in the house in which Mike grew up. The couple, named Dave and Jenn, have a 2-year-old, Chloe, who is absolutely hilarious. Her answer to just about every question is “of course,” which gets funnier just about every time she says it.

Falafel's Drive-In

For lunch on Friday, we decided to go to the Falafel Drive-In in San Jose,  a spot we saw on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network.  The line was 25 people deep for lunch, but it was worth it.  The falafels were tasty, affordable, and really hit the spot.  I don’t think they were the best I’ve ever eaten, but they were certainly among the best.

After lunch we went to Santa Cruz to check out the beach and most importantly, the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot. I thought that it was going to be just a corny tourist trap (which it was), but I was genuinely surprised at how entertaining and mysterious it really is. We found the mystery spot in a wooded ravine, accessible only by a narrow one-lane road. Admission was $5 per person; parking was $5 per car. After we paid for parking, we asked the girl at the ticket booth if we needed a parking pass to put in the car or something, and she laughed and said “no.” Mike asked if the parking thing was a big rip-off, to which she replied, “yeah, pretty much.” At least she was honest.

Can you feel the mystery?

Our tour guide was a teenage girl (as was everyone else who worked there), who rode a fine line between relishing and regretting the ridiculous script which she was forced to recite for the customers. We began with some perception tricks. You know, “the bubble in the level says that this concrete slab is completely even,” but when two people stood on it, whomever was on a particular side always appeared taller.

That was mildly entertaining, but things got weird up in the center of the Mystery Spot. We hiked up a short hill to a cabin that had slid down the mountain, and once we entered the cabin’s courtyard area, Mike and I immediately felt a little dizzy and nauseous. There were various demonstrations of the cabin’s unusual properties, including a display in which water appeared to roll uphill. We also felt like we were defying gravity when we leaned in the hut, like some sort of force was holding us up. All in all, it was definitely worth the $15 we paid to get in.

We then walked the busy boardwalk of Santa Cruz, which I had no idea was so big and bustling. There were teenagers and creepy old guys everywhere. After that, we got some ice cream and had dinner in Los Gatos with Mike’s father and stepmother.

The Oakland-Alameda Coliseum

The next day we met up with some of Mike’s old high-school buddies at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum to catch the Twins-A’s game. We went for the $9 seats way out in center field, knowing that we would likely move closer. The seats themselves weren’t too bad, except that you couldn’t see deep center field. The section was build by Al Davis for the Raiders, who clearly didn’t care about baseball fans. We moved before the first pitch to a section just a bit closer, on the second level just to the first base side of the foul pole. The view was great; we could see the entire field.

The game was exciting. The Twins took an early lead, only to give up the tying run in the 8th inning. They went back on top in the 9th or 10th to win.

The next day we returned to the Coliseum with Mike’s dad, Stan. Since it was just the 3 of us, Stan decided to treat us to 7th row seats behind the Twins dugout, which was really nice of him. The view was incredible. If we leaned out, we could see the top step of the Twins dugout, where all the players gather to watch the game. We were at a perfect angle to see a couple of amazing plays made by the shortstops.

The sun was bright and warm, and I got a mild sunburn. But that wasn’t the most annoying part of the game. Two Twins fans gave the rest of us a bad name by being as obnoxious and drunk as possible. One of them demanded beer from the vendors each time they came around, even though it’s illegal to sell beer in the aisles of sporting events in California. He got louder and louder each inning, and had A’s fans yelling at him (justifiably so) to sit down and shut up. The other fan had incredible seats in the front row, and managed to get two balls thrown to him by players. But instead of giving at least one of them to a nearby child, this 50-something guy kept them both. What could he possibly do with 2 balls? Despite these yahoos, the game was really enjoyable.

This was my first trip to Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, or any stadium outside of Seattle or Minneapolis for that matter, and I understand now its reputation as an out-of-date facility. While the field is beautiful to look at, the rest of the stadium is a relic of the 70’s. It’s very functional, just not very pretty. Concrete everywhere, it lacks the “wow” factor you find in Safeco or other modern ballparks. On the plus side, you could get a really good hot dog for $5, and the cheapest beer was $5 also. I end up paying more for those items at the Portland Beavers games, which is an AAA franchise.

On Monday, we packed it up, said goodbye to Mike’s family, and headed back to Portland. Again, Mike drove the whole way. I managed to sneak one more California experience in, as we stopped at In’n’Out for lunch in Redding.

I really had a great time, and was bowled over by how nice and accommodating Mike’s family was. They made me feel like I was welcome, and for that I am appreciative. I also am glad that I was able to experience Major League Baseball in a new ballpark, and also follow my team around, if even for just a week.

Oregon Zoo

Marisa and I headed to the Oregon Zoo on Sunday, braving rain and mammoth crowds to see some animals.  We first tried to park at the zoo, but it was full.  Then we went to the overflow lot to catch a shuttle, but the line was about 70 people deep.  We ended up parking downtown and catching the MAX in, which was the best way to go, as it was not crowded at all.

Overall, I liked the otter exhibit the best, because of how playful the the animals are.  Marisa had one chasing her hand along the glass at one point, which was really cute.  I was surprised by how much I liked the Pacific Northwest exhibition in general.  You go to the zoo expecting to see African animals, but the section that showed this area’s native creatures was surprisingly engaging.

Marisa meets a Sea Lion

Hello Sea Lion!

Orangutans are really big.

The trainer had the elephant bow down to his human masters.

After years of trying, I finally trapped Marisa in a cage at the zoo.

It was incredible how close this cheetah came to the glass!

The zebra (behind me) would only show us his rear end for this picture.

The giraffe was surprisingly graceful.

*Insert Crocodile Dundee reference here

Marisa had an unfortunate encounter with a bear....

Marisa feeding nectar to a lorikeet.

Look at how tightly the bird is holding onto her thumb.