Mighty strange weather we've been having in the Bay Area this week.

It's been storming around for days, like a fitful colicky child.  Here's the view from our Foster City window, when the late afternoon sun broke through the rainclouds for a mere five minutes today, resulting in the grandest rainbow I've seen in a while, a giant full arc stretching from somewhere in Berkeley to somewhere in Mountain View, with a shadow of a twin rainbow next to it.  Nearly every person on the seventh floor got up from their desks to marvel at it.

Then, THE HAIL.  On the ground.  In California!  I haven't felt that delicious crunch of ice under my feet, on the sidewalk, for a full six years probably, when I left the East Coast.

This is how I know that love is not rational.

No it's not rational, but it's inconvenient, unpredictable, and anxious.  Or am I really talking about infatuation?  If so, this is not the first time I've been infatuated with a place.

Some context: those close to me have borne intimate witness to the harrowing one-month apartment hunt I just conducted, during which I must have seen 40-50 living situations from Redwood City to Bernal Heights in SF (if, like me, you've never heard of it, it's a neighborhood nestled south of the Mission and Potrero Hill, just northwest of where the 101 and the 280 intersect...I'd say it's SF's best-kept secret: affordable, charming, historical, and incredibly convenient for those who own a car).  

It was frustrating especially because I kept open parameters, not wanting to limit my options, and yet a strict list of criteria.  I looked at studios and shares.  I looked at every town within about 10 miles of work: RWC, San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Burlingame, Millbrae, and Foster City.  It was exhaustingI've encountered everything from the pristine townhome furnished completely from Cost Plus, to the houseful of hippies and fruit trees, to well-maintained but boxlike apartments built in the 1970s, to a decrepit old house at the tippy top of a steep incline, which was built in the 1880s and looked 150 years old, an abode befitting witches or old professors.  I must have clocked 100s of miles on my car and became familiar with the nuances of how neighborhoods changed, if you crossed the tracks, or if you landed on the wrong side of a particular intersection.

You know how they say "the odds are good, but the goods are odd"?  That is exactly what the housing market is like right now.  A short drive down El Camino in the town of Burlingame will take you past dozens of "FOR RENT" signs (hint: many owners in this area do not advertise on Craigslist, and many are pushing 90 years old.  Instead, they expect people to walk or drive by and call).  But there was usually one or several things wrong these places, for instance:
  • No laundry on the premises
  • No parking spot included
  • No dishwasher (this was common)
  • Cave-like, with no light
  • "Kitchenette" with a mini-fridge and sink so small you can't even fit a plate in it.
  • Hallway smells of old cats
  • Faces industrial railroad yards and auto repair shops
  • Dirty
  • Faces El Camino: loud/noisy, dusty, and those damn eucalyptus trees make it near impossible to get out of the complex safely
  • Roommates teach channeling classes and renaissance swordfighting out of the house.
  • 3-4 roommates sharing one bathroom
  • Etc. etc. etc.
Out of all the place I saw, I could count on one hand the number of places I truly liked.  Then, I saw 1021 El Camino Real in Burlingame.

I liked the manager, Barry, as soon as I talked to him on the phone.  I didn't like that the place was on El Camino, and it was kind of expensive, but as I approached the old building with its stately facade, I was intrigued.  The lobby made me smile - someone had taken pains to set up some lovely chairs, lamps, and a coffee table.  Barry called me from somewhere up the stairs, and I never thought the stairs would end.  But it was only after I reached the fourth-floor landing that I lost my breath.
Barry was in the middle of fixing the place up and repainting - he kept warning me not to lean on anything - but under all the clutter, what I saw was a golden, light-filled aerie.  It looked out over the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, with one window that faced north and two giant windows that faced full west, inviting all the light from the setting sun.  You don't understand, it is so difficult to find an apartment in the area with good natural sunlight.

My eyes started to adjust and I started to explore.  All the little nooks and crannies, from the built-in bookshelves to the built-in glass-front cabinets, only enchanted me further.  The apartments had been built in 1931 and retained all the old charm.  The hallways were as thoughtfully decorated as the lobby, giving the whole place the feeling of an old, jewel-like, and storied hotel.  I loved it all immediately, madly and deeply, and that was even before Barry pointed out the exercise room on the top floor, and the rooftop deck that allowed an almost 360-degree view of trees, the Woodside hills, and all the way to the East Bay. 

There were two major drawbacks though: the apartment was on the fourth floor of an old building with no elevator, and the windows faced El Camino and all the rush-hour traffic noise.  The fourth floor would not be a problem as long as I am able-bodied, but I injure myself a LOT, what with my weak ankles and knee that tends toward dislocation.  The romantic, delusional part of me wanted to overlook these imperfections, embrace them even.  It was prepared to sign the lease right then and there, and Barry seemed pleased to have me as a potential tenant. "You suit this place," he told me. 

The realist in me told me to hold out for something better, as if that were even possible after one finds the apartment-love of one's life.

I told Barry I'd continue looking and think for another a day or two.

Well friends, it was not meant to be.  In the end, my practicality defeated my romanticism, even though the studio at 1021 El Camino really felt like home, like I truly belonged and could be myself.  The next day I found a place which, by all practical measures, completely outweighed the place I loved.  It is closer to downtown shops and restaurants, it is walkable to Caltrain and the library, it is cheaper (with utilities included!), it's in a much quieter and more affluent neighborhood, and it has decent light, though it faces east, not west, and will have none of that magical "golden hour" light that photographers love so much, and which the studio at 1021 El Camino had in abundance.  So I signed the lease on the more practical place and I hope I can make a home of it.

But it's been days, and I still can't stop thinking fondly of 1021 El Camino.  So I wanted to immortalize it here.  Thanks for humoring me.

I'm going to miss this place.

The Mountain View shoreline at sunset is one of the most beautiful places I can think of being.  It's usually windy, but I like how the wind makes this half-dead place, with its half-dead shrubs and teeming wildlife, come to life.  

I think I'm going to try to come here almost every day before I move.  I don't even mind the goose poop.  And last night I saw a skunk (see the second to last picture)!

This place still feels very much like home.

Few things greener than Harvard Yard in the summertime.  Spent a lovely day catching up with people and things... brunch in Beacon Hill, poking around boutiques (kind of took me by surprise how different the styles are here... super prepster!  But no sales tax), dark hot chocolate at L.A. Burdick, picking at vintage finds at Oona's, where I used to get costumes for the opera, frozen yogurt, and a walk through the Yard.  In all, a good day.

And they ask me why I love LA...

Plans for tonight kind of fell together at the last minute.  

My childhood friend and I decided against the LACMA (free after 5pm) because of the protests happening near the Israeli consulate (I can't even begin to talk about that), and opted instead for a bit of boutique browsing on Melrose.  We went into one with some fashion-forward, well-priced-for-the-quality clothes.  I wasn't planning to get anything, but asked where they sourced their stuff--she told me California Mart, one of the largest fashion wholesale centers in the US.  It's in Downtown LA and has sample sales open to the public once a month.  My mom and I used to shop there years and years ago.

We also visited Susina, a decent bakery (but doesn't hold a candle to SF's Tartine), for a sticky bun.

The one thing I really miss about LA is, as ya'll know, the abundance of authentic, and amazingly cheap, ethnic food.  Tonight we went to Sanamluang Cafe in Thai Town (Hollywood Blvd. x Western Ave.).  I forgot how much tasty goodness can be had for $6.50.  We ordered:
  • Tom kha gai: A huge bowl of the sour-ish Thai soup, much like tom yum, except with coconut milk.  Flavored with lemongrass, galanga and cilantro, and chock-full of tender morsels of chicken and straw mushrooms.
  • Pad kee mow: Probably my favorite type of Thai noodle.  Flat rice noodles with tomatoes, onions, and your choice of ground meat (we chose beef).
  • Stir-fried eggplant, vegetarian style with tofu.
There was a ton of food left over, enough for another 2 people probably, and the whole thing cost like $22 including tax.  After that we headed to The Hungry Cat for drinks with some other friends.  I had a very delicious oatmeal stout from the Craftsman Brewing Co. and chocolate bread pudding.

Oh, and we scored some free parking on Sunset Blvd. just a block away from the Hungry Cat!