Dennis did California

Don’t freak out or anything, but this post is out of chronological order.

My dear friend Dennis came to visit James and me the weekend before I headed home to see my family (early May). Here’s what happened.

tripod
Philip, me and Dennis in San Francisco. The three of us met while working at the Alley Theatre more than a decade ago (time flies). Over lunch, we discussed our plans to bring queso to the Bay Area. Million dollar idea. All we need is a million dollars to get started. After lunch, I brought Dennis down to Pacific Grove for the weekend. Where SF is an expensive, exotic cat with vegan dreadlocks winding its way back and forth between your feet, PG is an old hound dog that barely raises its head from the porch. I generally prefer hanging with the hound dog, but it’s fun every once in a while to try to pet the cat.
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The fog started rolling in before we were out of San Francisco, and it followed us south. We teetered back and forth between fog and clear blue skies all weekend. Sometimes at the same time. Dennis is the first friend we’ve had visit, and we weren’t sure what to do for entertainment. So we did what we love–went to Big Sur. Two days in a row.
scamper
We took him to some of our favorite places. This is one of the Garrapata turnouts. I took this from the stairs going down to the beach. James suddenly lit out for some off-roading (seen here, scampering up a hill), and Dennis followed. 
tall
Here’s where they ended up. And they managed to get down without breaking anything.
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Sitting in the car waiting for the Point Sur Light Station gate to open. We did the once-monthly moonlight tour in April and loved it, so we were excited to see it was happening again while Dennis was here. (Notice the reflection of the ocean. And, though I may wear a cap like a dude, when taking a photo I hold my pinky out like a lady.)
point sur
It was a totally different experience this time–and still amazing. The weather was calm–no gale-force winds. The skies were cloudy, obscuring the sunset and moonrise. Our tour guide was dressed in a vintage lightkeeper’s uniform, and he carried a lantern. There were amateur ghost hunters in the group. Oh, and one more thing.
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Whales! I’d pumped Dennis up to see sea lions, whales and otters (he’d seen plenty of bears in San Francisco), but on his last night here we still hadn’t seen any whales. Even though, just a week ago, I easily saw water spouts while driving down the highway next to the ocean. We were gathered at the base of the rock the lighthouse sits on, and Dennis joked that the whole trip was a bust because I’d promised whales but there were none to be seen. Then someone in our group pointed and yelled “Whales!” Sure enough, there were two gray whales frolicking in the water very close to shore. Not only were they blowing spouts of water, they were also breaching and hanging out close to the surface.
gray whale
This was the best action shot I managed to snap. It was odd that they were so close to shore–hope they weren’t trying to warn us about aliens or great white sharks or great white alien sharks.
Our tour guide, inside the lighthouse.
Our tour guide, wearing a 1920s lighthouse keeper’s uniform. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this same fellow told us some ghost stories later that night.
And then there's Maude.
And then there’s Maude, chilling at the Big Sur river.

I didn’t manage to take pictures of the two times we ate burgers (here and here). Or the time we ate It’s It. Just know that those important things happened. And they were good. So was our visit with Dennis. We’re hoping he didn’t find us too weird and will come out here again soon.

senses

SOUND: It’s early and I’m sitting at my desk,  listening to the garbage truck empty our three trash cans. One for yard waste, one for household garbage and one for recyclables. It’s easy to tell when he gets to our recyclables. The clanging of empty wine bottles is enough to wake the neighborhood. Luckily, they’re already up because other people’s cans sound similarly populated.

SIGHT: I just started reading Big Sur (Jack Kerouac). It’s about his trip to Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s cabin in the woods (near Bixby Bridge). He’s trying to deal with the letdown of life, post On the Road. His mental state comes through clearly in his description of Big Sur. It sounds like a frightening, cold and overwhelming place. And though I feel differently about it, I still recognize it. The reason I mention the book is this passage made me chuckle:

I’m absolutely alone for weeks on end (because later in August when the sun conquered the fog suddenly I was amazed to hear laughing and scratching all up and down the valley which has been mine only mine, and when I tried to go to the beach to squat and write there were whole families having outings, some of them younger people who’d simply parked their cars up on the high bridge bluff and climbed down) (some of them in fact gangs of yelling hoodlums).

I feel you, Jack. I feel you.

TASTE: When I went to Boston, I ate something called a Butta Burger. Oh, did I mention James and I are eating meat again? Mostly just on the weekends (and mostly just burgers). Like riding a bike. Anyway, the burger came from a place called Tasty Burger, and it was right next to my hotel. The Butta Burger is a bun that’s been toasted on the grill (and buttered) gently holding a meat patty topped with caramelized onions (and a gilding-the-lily pat of butter). Too rich to finish, but it was a damn tasty burger.

The place I stayed in Boston is a renovated HoJo from the ’50s (it’s now The Verb). While I’m not big on themes (theirs is rock-n-roll), I thought this place was pretty cute. And it offered the occasional unique experience. Like, when I was bent over in the bathroom drying my hair, this is what was looking at my backside. (It’s the sliding door to the bathroom.) Also fun whilst sitting on the loo.

who knew hair drying could be so exciting?
you like the way I dry my hair, ladies?

TOUCH: I flew JetBlue to/from Boston. First time on that airline, and I liked it. You can choose your seat when you book your flight (and I was able to move to a better seat when I checked in), and their planes have the most legroom in coach. I didn’t feel like I was stuffed into my seat, which was good since the flight was around six hours. This was my first trip as a Californian, and it made me realize how conveniently located Houston is for travel.

My only complaint: We hit what felt like a speed bump an hour or two out of San Francisco, and it would have been nice to hear that calm pilot’s voice say, “We just fucked up a flock of birds or some shit, no worries.” Instead…silence. Which kind of freaked me out, so I would have appreciated a little more communication from the cockpit. Oh, and this young guy kept hitting on me the whole way back from Boston and no one seemed to care. In fact, they were egging him on.

come on, man, I have a boyfriend
come on, man, I have a boyfriend

SMELL: The Pacific smells a little fishy lately. And there’s been some foam on the water. And I don’t know what it all means, which makes me realize I have a lot to learn about where I live. And that makes me happy.

le menu

James and I had a fun conversation about where we’d eat in Houston if we could magically be transported there. You’ll see the abbreviated list below, and it includes places that are no longer in business. Because why not. Yes, this is a bit of homesickness creeping in (hence the focus on comfort food). We don’t miss Texas yet, but we do miss a bunch of Texans. I hope you know who you are.

BREAKFAST

  • Pig Stand (RIP) home of the cowboy omelet, which cured every hangover it went up against – I wrote about my conflicted feelings when Pig Stand closed in this post
  • Shipley Donuts – we’ve had donuts only once since moving, at the most highly reviewed donut place in the area – didn’t even come close (in fact, we ended up throwing them away) – you can’t beat Shipley’s, except when they’re getting raided
  • Chilosos Taco House – the egg + Chappell Hill sausage breakfast taco is magic in a homestyle tortilla – they always screwed up at least part of our order, but all was forgiven after the first bite
  • Aunt Bea’s – I’ve never eaten at a restaurant that serves so much butter or hosts so many morbidly obese guests – read this about my first experience there (and the butter)
  • One’s a Meal (RIP) – anyone who ate at this restaurant likely remembers the very tall Greek waiter named John who worked there forever – you can find him at Avenue Grill, and he’ll probably remember you – he remembered James after not seeing him for years – randomly, here’s a Reddit conversation from a week ago about this very man
  • Tel-Wink Grill – the line gets so long for breakfast, it snakes its way through the restaurant (nothing like eating with a stranger’s ass mere inches from the edge of your plate) – the Houston Press weighs in

LUNCH

  • Stanton’s – though this place has been around for a while, I didn’t make it there until a few years ago – it would have been a contender for best burger in Houston during the burger journey – it reminds me of grocery/burger joints in the country
  • New Orleans Poboy (RIP) – here’s what I had to say about its closure in that fake advice column I used to write – still one of my favorite burgers of all time
  • Antone’s (before the family sold out) – if you had the privilege of eating an Antone’s back in the day, you would want to slap the fools who make the mushy bread, no chowchow version for sale today – Houstonia talks about the decline of the Houston poboy
  • James Coney Island (RIP the two-story location downtown on Main St) – I used to go to this location with my grandfather – always loved sitting at the old school desks amidst the white-, blue- and no-collar patrons – after lunch, we’d hit the tunnels and wander around, eventually capping off our experience at the 60th floor observation deck of Chase Tower, the tallest building in Houston
  • Liberty Kitchen – I used to go to the one in the Heights (in what was once a quickie mart) (Pepperidge Farm remembers), but I heard a rumor there’s a framed FIGHT STUPIDIZATION sticker on the wall at the fancier Liberty Kitchen on San Felipe

DINNER

  • Barbecue Inn – this place will always have my respect for telling Guy Fieri they weren’t interested in his greasy ass filming his TV show there – plus, the food’s delicious and there’s always a line, so they aren’t hurting for business – I had an awkward encounter in the bathroom there on my birthday eight years ago
  • Tia Maria – we moved through a number of TexMex haunts over years, and this was the most recent favorite for our regular Friday night nosh – that first sip of frozen margarita marked the end of the work week
  • Beaver’s – there’s something very “Houston” about Beaver’s – their delicious drinks inspired me to purchase a muddler
  • Spanish Village – we ate there when I was a kid, and I still remember the multi-colored chairs with straw seats and the Christmas lights that lined the dining room – luckily, not much has changed (except I became old enough to understand why the adults liked eating there–the margaritas will knock your ass out)
  • Dolce Vita – the only forced-valet restaurant on the list (you can still find parking in the surrounding neighborhood, so that’s okay) – I had some great meals there with some great people, and I credit Dolce Vita for introducing me to the concept that brussels sprouts can be delicious
  • Hickory Hollow – two words: hot tots

I think I gained 10 pounds writing this post. I hope at least one of you is inspired to check out some of the places that are still around or maybe revisit one of your old favorites.

And don’t worry about us. We might be a little homesick for our peeps, but we still have all of this to keep us company.