Katie and I were very good friends at Rice, and we managed to keep in touch, thankfully. She was a year behind me, so I probably saw her on my visit back for Pirates in 2004, but then it was all Internet and the occasional phone call. She got a job she loved, married a Ryan she loved, and bought a house she loved. She's living the dream! She even makes her own curtains.
Katie & Ryan came across some cheap flights from Houston to San Francisco and planned a vacation the first weekend of October. She gave me a heads up, and I took the day off work on Friday to hang with them. I asked her what they wanted to do, and they had no real plans. Katie had never been to San Francisco, and Ryan had only been there for a conference and not seen much of the city. They wanted a local to show them around, and they were putting their day completely in my hands. They trusted me! It was a big responsibility.
I'm sure you all know where we started our day.
I arrived at 16th and Mission BART a little after 11. I saw no sign of Katie and Ryan where I expected to see them, but then I saw them sitting on the other side, facing Mission. Katie was just calling me, but I announced my presence rather than pick up the phone. Katie gave me a hug, and Ryan shook my hand. For now they were in my hands! Figuratively speaking.
We walked down 16th as Ryan noted that this part of the city looked very different from the part of the city he had seen before. We turned down Valencia and walked a block to the first stop on the Mission Tour: Clarion Alley. The murals were appreciated so hard that after two pictures, Katie's camera ran out of battery, apparently not having been fully charged. Luckily, she still had a point-and-shoot. Further down the alley, we saw someone painting something! Art being created! Neat.
Katie wanted to go back to Rob & Joan's apartment to get her spare battery, but I didn't think we had time if we wanted to make the walking tour at 1:30. She suggested possibly stopping by on our way to the tour, and I said I'd see if that would work within our timelines.
But for now, onward to a taqueria! Not a pizzeria, a taqueria!
"We do have taquerias in Houston, you know," said Katie.
"But this is San Francisco!" I said, having gone native despite having lived in Houston for longer.
I had chosen Taqueria El Buen Sabor, which was where I had taken Refur. I even ordered the same thing, a special chicken burrito with cheese and guacamole, whereas Katie and Ryan got beeftastic ones, although she went with black beans and he went with pinto. Ryan tried to pay for all of us with an American Express card but had to use a Visa instead.
Katie and Ryan were immediately impressed by the foil-wrapping job. Katie commented on the burrito's structural integrity, and I mentioned a post-Rice Alumni Happy Hour conversation at Mariachi's regarding the structural integrity of their burritos—or the lack thereof. I think it transitioned into a discussion of the structural integrity of bridges. Because that's how Rice conversations roll.
Katie was also impressed with the tastiness of the black beans, as the black bean juice over the rice really added a nice flavor to the burrito. I always asked for black beans because I thought they were...healthier. Ryan said that black beans were probably about as healthy as pinto beans, both of which were of course better than refried beans.
Later, Katie was forced to admit that the burrito was indeed better than any burrito she'd had in Houston.
After some bathroom shenanigans, we continued down 18th, where I pointed out the mural on the Women's Building. "We do like our murals," I commented frequently.
Next stop: Bi-Rite Creamery! It smelled really good. Surprisingly, there was no line. There's usually a big line, and I like pointing it out as a sign of Bi-Rite's popularity. I tried the vanilla malt with peanut butter and chocolate, but the malt was a little too weirdly sweet, so I chose the mint chip, as I'd never had it before. I couldn't think of a good flavor to combine with it, so I just got the kid's size. Katie chose brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, and Ryan also went with mint chip. We all got the kid's size, which was packed very tightly.
As I paid for us all, Katie said, "You don't have to do that! You're the tour guide!"
"I buy people local ice cream," I said. And I saw that Bi-Rite now had a frequent buyer card or something, which I had not seen before, so I got myself a card with three punches, bam. Enough people visit me, I'll earn me a free scoop!
I took us past Dolores Park and pointed out a titular mission, trying to keep us in the shade so our ice cream wouldn't melt as quickly.
The mint chip was very good, appropriately minty with chocolate flakes instead of chips, kind of like Breyer's. Katie was in love with her ice cream. I tried a bit, and it was a strange combination of flavors, very sweet at first but then gingered up at the end.
"Can we learn how to make this?" asked Katie.
When she was done, she burped a few times and remarked that even the burp tasted good. That's how much she liked it. Later, she would say that of all the stops I had chosen for our tour, the ice cream had been her favorite.
The next stop was Paxton Gate, which did prove to be as fascinating as I hoped. Ryan became entranced by a compass and a giant lock. Katie loved the various plants. She couldn't figure out how she would describe the place, because "curiosity shop" had become an overused phrase that implied generic trinkets, and Paxton Gate was anything but generic. On exiting, Ryan and Katie approved of my taking them there, which pleased me. They would do this a couple more times throughout the day, give me positive reinforcement on my tour guide prowess. I really appreciated it.
Next door was 826Valencia, the pirate store. First, we said hello to the fish. I read aloud a sign about Otka the pufferfish. Katie thought the pufferfish looked kind of like a bird. I thought she was crazy. She also thought the fish were more interesting to look at than regular fish, and with that I agreed. Just remember, do not judge the fish.
I let them loose in the store proper, where they enjoyed looking at the tattoo remover and kitten plank and folic acid. Katie liked opening drawers, especially the ones that were up high; since she was short, she had no idea what she would find when she stuck her hand in. I pointed out a hilarious poster—that was also a T-shirt I should probably get sometime—that read, "Pillage before plunder: What a blunder. Plunder before pillage: Mission fulfillage."
They also had a bucket of Cursed Shirts, on clearance for ten bucks each. Katie said, "I like how you even have to dig through shirts to buy them." They were mostly ones that said "826 Valencia" and nothing else, so they weren't very interesting.
As Ryan examined a map of Madagascar, I gave the guy behind the counter a heads up: "I'm going to be setting my friends up for a mopping."
"I'll be here," he said. I had been waiting for an opportune moment since we entered, and it was not aligning. I was getting nervous and shaky for some reason.
Finally, the area was clear, and I told Katie to go look at those cool signs over there.
Katie was a mix of stunned and amused. Ryan had had his back turned and didn't know what had happened. "You see these?" said Katie. "They used to be up there." I told her she could pose to give him the effect. I carefully picked up the mophead and placed it on the cutiehead.
I showed Katie the picture. "You know, that actually makes a good mug," she said. "...What's that thing you wear on your head?"
"Wig," I said. The mopping had addled her brain, it appeared.
We continued down Valencia to Borderlands, a new addition to the Mission Tour. Katie was overwhelmed by the selection of science fiction and fantasy. She wished there were a sci-fi/fantasy bookstore in Houston but didn't think the city could support it. She read the staff recommendations and tried to see whose tastes she was most aligned with. Alan's tastes aligned pretty heavily with Ryan's, so she told him to take note.
To my surprise, I stumbled across The Silent Gondoliers, which I didn't even know existed. I had seen the ad in the back of my copy of The Princess Bride, but I had assumed it was a joke, just another layer to the ruse. I didn't realize William Goldman actually wrote another Morgenstern book!! It was only ten bucks, so I grabbed it. I had been wanting to buy something to support the store since Seanan's book release party.
Ripley was again on someone's lap. We pet her. Katie was afraid of the way it felt, hoping she wasn't hurting her by rubbing her skin. I struck up a conversation with some guy, or he struck one up with me, I can't remember what about, really, but it was probably about sci-fi/fantasy books. Katie thought I knew him, but as I told her later, no, he was just a guy who was in a sci-fi/fantasy bookstore. They do that.
I checked the time and saw that it was already after 1, so we had to leave. I bought my book. Ryan had found a Sherlock Holmes collection. The guy I'd been talking to was buying three books, one whose title I recognized, Blindsight. I had heard it was really cool! I forgot why, but it sounded cool!
He also mentioned Tim Powers, whose name sounded sort of familiar. "Have you read American Gods?" he said. I had. "When it won the Hugo, all I could say was, 'But Tim Powers did that ten years ago!'" He was a big Tim Powers fan. "Everyone should read Tim Powers!" Ryan made a mental note of the name. The guy said, "The books you need to read are Last Call and Expiration Date. Go get them right now! They have them here!" But we were on our way out.
Katie and Ryan wanted to come back, though, so I ran back in and grabbed a card so they had the address. Ryan remarked, of his purchase, that he wouldn't feel bad browsing Barnes and Noble and then buying the book from Amazon, but in a place like that, he felt that he should buy it there. If he would not have found the book otherwise, they should be rewarded. How coincidental! I told them about my recent dilemma.
We walked up Valencia, I wanting to rush but not grasping the efficiency of crossing streets when available; thankfully, Katie helpfully pointed out when such options presented themselves. I was not being a very good leader, but she did not point it out.
I continued not being a very good leader in the BART station, as I casually passed through the entrance gate right before Katie reminded me that she and Ryan needed to buy BART tickets. And now I was trapped inside. I called instructions to them for a few seconds until I noticed that the attendant was giving me the go ahead to help them, so I jumped the gate to offer my assistance. They seemed to be doing okay; Katie had put in a twenty, and there was an option to split it into two tickets. Bam. I jumped the gate again, and Katie and Ryan managed to use their tickets properly.
There was a train at the platform, but it was going the wrong direction. Another train going the wrong direction came and went. Katie asked me if any trains were going our way, since three had gone the other way. Two, I corrected, and noted that now there would be two trains coming our way and nothing going the other way. Our train arrived soon after. (This may have happened later, and probably did.)
Katie preferred the system where you could buy a ticket from anywhere in one zone to anywhere in another zone rather than this complicated system of different fares for different trip lengths based on stops, but she appreciated the existence and availablity of public transportation in general.
We got off at Montgomery, and I led us up and out. We were running late, but I thought we could still make it. As we walked quickly up Montgomery, I pointed out that we were in the Financial District.
"Ah, the suits," said Ryan.
"That also explains why those people acted like they owned the sidewalk," said Katie, referring to a group of people we'd had to swerve around.
"They may own it!" said Ryan.
We passed a Walgreen's whose windows were decorated with pictures of the old Walgreen's. Katie was amused that so many of the establishments wanted you to think about the old times and be nostalgic.
Finally, we reached Clay St. and the Transamerica Building. The tour group hadn't left yet! Huzzah! We were doing the same walking tour I had gone on before, the Gold Rush City tour, this time led by Harlan Hirschfeld. Coincidentally, another group was also from Texas, and not just from Texas, but the greater Houston area.
Early on, Harlan tried to blow our minds with the fact that everything east of Montgomery used to be water, but he saw me anticipating the big reveal and pegged me as a local. I told him I'd been on this tour before, and he said there was some new stuff, no worries. And his tour was different from the tour last year. There was some overlap, but he told stories I hadn't heard before and didn't tell ones I wished he had because they were cool. He picked on me a couple times, expecting me to know things since I'd been on the tour before, but it was a year ago and I didn't remember everything exactly! I failed.
Katie and Ryan won, however, when he asked why manhole covers were round. "They won't fall in," said Ryan before Katie could answer. Engineers, the both of them!
It was a fun tour, and this time I tossed in a few bucks.
It was now around 3; the tour had lasted longer than I'd thought, ninety minutes. But Katie and Ryan had enjoyed it, so it was all good.
Now I led us up Columbus, pointing out the Italian flag painted on each pole, signifying that we were in North Beach, Little Italy. Our destination was City Lights, since Katie was a fan of the Beats. I discovered that Sherman Alexie was speaking next Friday at the Women's Building and...what the hell, Amber Tamblyn was doing a poetry reading on Thursday at City Lights! Huh!
Books, books, books! They're so pretty.
I lost track of Katie and found her upstairs reading "Howl." I grabbed a copy and read it myself. It's angry and racy and incoherent and full of exclamation points. Ryan also found us. Katie had moved on to observing laundry swaying in the wind. In the poet's chair, mind you. She was very proud of being in the poet's chair.
After City Lights, we continued up Columbus to Z. Cioccolato, the candy shop whose sign touted free fudge samples. "What brings you here?" asked the woman behind the counter.
"They're from out of town," I said. The woman encouraged us to try the salt water taffy. Katie and Ryan were a bit hesitant, but I assured them that, no, really, you can seriously just try any of them. I don't even remember which one I tried first. Katie and Ryan started tossing taffy into a bucket to take home.
Z. Cioccalto was more than just a candy shop, however. It also had...oddities, like a curseword generator. "I see you've found our newest book," the woman said. By flipping two sets of pages, you could create brand-new profanities like "penis nozzle," "trash jockey," and "douchewad." There were also some great keychains with recorded phrases from Mr. T, The Big Lebowski, Monty Python, and...Mr. Rogers.
The woman asked us what fudge we wanted to try, but I figured I'd gotten enough sugar from the taffy and previous ice cream.
There was also a stand of cards for birth years that had important events occurring in said years. "Oh, this is a neat idea!" a woman declared to...me, for some reason. "Things that happened the year you were born. Do they even have your year? How old are you?"
"Twenty-eight," I said, bewildered. I looked to see, and, no, they didn't extend into the eighties. She found hers, though: 1963.
"Oh, this wasn't a good year," she said. "John F. Kennedy was assassinated." She continued down to the list. "Martin Luther King gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech."
"That's good," I said and made a break for it.
Outside, I waited for Katie and Ryan, who came out with caramel popcorn. "What's that?" I asked. "Caramel popcorn?"
She had just given it to them. "She thinks we're coming back to buy fudge," said Ryan.
"We might!" said Katie. "Did you try it?" Katie's sweet tooth was in heaven today.
The popcorn was offered to me, but I said I didn't like caramel. I tried a little anyway.
"How can you not like caramel?" said Katie. "That's like not liking sugar."
"It's too sweet!" I said. "I don't like things that are too sweet."
Across the street, we spied the Beat Museum and were curious, so we stopped in only to discover that it was, in fact, a tourist trap. Some random used books, a gift shop, and a "museum" that consisted of pointless memorabilia. We were good.
The North Beach tour continued up to Washington Square. I pointed out the church where things had been filmed, even though I forget what had filmed there.
"Can we sit down?" asked Ryan.
"Yes," I said.
"Can we sit down not on the grass?" he said.
"Yes," I said, pointing to a bench. We sat down.
As we rested, we people- and dogwatched. One dog was very excited about his ball. Katie pointed out owners who looked like their dogs.
Our main focus, however, was a group of people who appeared to be having a wedding. The formation definitely appeared wedding-esque, with a line of men on one side and a line of women on the other (one woman holding a flower), all of them dressed up quite nicely. But it seemed to be a very informal affair.
Katie finally pegged it as a wedding rehearsal, which made a lot more sense.
We observed intently. Why did that guy go and jokingly put a hat on the groom? Why did there seem to be some ceremony involved in the groom and bride drinking out of the same Starbucks cup? Katie thought that was a Jewish thing, and perhaps the hat was supposed to have simulated a yarmulke. But Ryan suggested it was a joke on the groom's baldness. We also saw the groom appear to smash something on the ground, which was a Jewish thing, but neither he nor his future wife looked Jewish. The wife had very straight blonde hair and was very Anglo-Saxon. The maid of honor, if she were her sister, however, could be Jewish.
Katie suspected that it was a mixed wedding, with dual presiders. There were indeed both a man and a woman appearing to preside over the ceremony, along with a woman Katie identified as a wedding planner based on her clipboard. Ryan did not believe her, thinking someone else was the wedding planner, but Katie insisted that, having been a bride, she knew what a wedding planner looked like. The woman did seem to be running the show.
Katie also pointed out that one woman had very nice legs, and holy crap, she was right. They were very toned and shiny. "She's probably a runner," said Katie.
"She's probably a runner," said Ryan, many minutes later after we were admiring the legs again, having missed our earlier leg admiration.
Ryan wanted to be mean and throw a bunch of popcorn at them to attract the pigeons. The pigeons were flying in flocks all around the park, being scared away by protective dogs. He also wanted to be mean to any of the single, shy women attending the wedding.
"If there are any shy, single women over there, I should give them my number!" I said. Luckily, Ryan's not really mean and I'm not really confident.
Washington Square was the last stop on my North Beach tour, so I would have to improvise now. We did have time to do the glass elevator at the Westin St. Francis...if I could figure out how to get there.
Before we left, though, I wanted to take advantage of the sun and get a picture with Katie. Katie thought we could get someone to take a picture of all three of us, so we looked for someone who would be least bothered. We settled on a woman messing around on her phone. She asked if we wanted a special background, but we had none in mind.
"Best friends!" she said to induce us to smile. Well, hold up, I barely knew Ryan. But he seemed nice so far. The woman took another picture because she didn't like the first one—I saw afterward that Ryan was making an unfortunate face. The second one was better.
My goal was to take us west to Powell and then go south since I knew that going diagonally down Columbus would take us farther away from Union Square, but I somehow ended up taking us in a circle that put us back on Columbus. Of course, looking at a map now, I see that Powell FORMS ONE OF THE SIDES OF WASHINGTON SQUARE FOR FUCK'S SAKE. But, uh, we ended up having a better time of it going the stupid way. Katie and Ryan had been interested in seeing Chinatown, and down Grant we could see the strong trappings of Chinatown, so I took us down that way.
Chinatown was Chinatown. We saw a long line outside Golden Gate Bakery and investigated, but they appeared to be standing in line for pastries, and we were not in the market. We passed several jewelers and shops having "retirement sales," which I'd never seen before. We went into one store and oohed and ahhed over jade dragons and a giant rooster statue. Ryan thought that it was just the sort of thing you wanted to greet your guests with as they entered your home.
I went for the obvious joke: "'And this is my giant cock.'"
Ryan thought it would be embarrassing, but Katie thought it could be a display of humility: "'Why do you have that?' 'Compensating.'"
As we passed Commercial, I pointed out to Katie that you could see the clock on the Ferry Building at the end of the street. I told her the story Harlan had not told about the man who built the Ferry Building wanting to be able to see the clock from his home on Commercial...but he died before the building was finished.
I knew we needed to turn right at some point, but our options were very hilly. I wondered if Grant hit Geary. It ought to hit Geary, right? (It does, I can see on the map now, but I didn't know for sure.) Finally, I turned us onto Bush, which had an incline but not a great one.
And a block over I discovered we were above the damn Stockton Tunnel. Aha! This is why things were awry! (It wasn't. We would have hit Geary just fine had we continued down Grant.) I took us downstairs. Katie had offered a map before, but I would only use it as a last resort. It was more fun to get lost and figure things out myself.
We walked down Stockton and, lo and behold, Union Square presented itself. Never having approached Union Square from that direction, I was disoriented and couldn't locate the Westin St. Francis at first, but I finally spotted it. There was nothing interesting going on in the square tonight.
I led us into the hotel and back to the elevators, all the while not saying a word or explaining what we were doing. Katie and Ryan sure trusted me! I was hoping for an empty elevator, but it seemed to be a busy time. I hit the button for the top floor, 31.
And up we went. Whee! As we surfaced and went higher, they saw why I had brought them here. "There's Union Square," I pointed below. We continued climbing.
"This is a great view," said Ryan. Katie was going mad snapping pictures. Anywhere she pointed and shot, it was a great view. The car hung on the 31st floor for a while before being called down to 19th for...no one, so I hit the button and took us back up again. Katie continued taking pictures every which way.
It's hard to see, but I love the look of wonder she has here. The car was called down, and Katie wanted to go up again, despite Ryan's protestations, so she pressed the button. But Ryan won out, as the car decided to continue its downward descent when actual passengers entered and wanted to go to the lobby.
We left the hotel and examined some of the art galleries across the street, including one that had the art of Dr. Seuss. It was just closing, though, so Ryan couldn't go in and admire the Cat in the Hat statue.
I took us down Powell and into Rasputin, which I had been reminded of after seeing an Amoeba bag. We searched through the stacks for cheap music and movies. I came across Muse's Absolution for six bucks and Rage Against the Machine's Live at the Grand Lake Auditorium for four bucks, so I snagged them. Katie wondered if they had some obscure band she liked on Pandora, but she couldn't remember the name. When I went to buy my CDs, she disappeared, and even Ryan couldn't find her. We decided she must have gone on the hunt.
There was an elevator to the top floors that Ryan hadn't noticed. I had never been on it, but...it has an elevator operator! What...the crap? There was even a sign next to him explaining that yes, that was his job, and he does it all day. We found Katie on the fifth floor looking in the jazz section, hoping a name would strike her. Then Ryan was all, "Brass Monkey?" That was it! But they didn't have it. Alas.
We took BART back to 16th and Mission. As we stepped off the escalator, who should be there but Joan! She was going the same place we were: Rice Alumni Happy Hour. And she was happy indeed, for she had just gotten a job!
Happy Hour this month was at Gestalt Haus, which supposedly had a good vegan bratwurst. But we were more interested in the beer. And by we I mean everyone but me, who had water. Rob was already there.
While people waited for drinks, Joan said that she hadn't noticed my shirt before, but now that she had seen the back, she needed to see the front. Oh, cool, she was a Guild fan! I displayed the front.
"And it's signed," said Katie. She had noticed! I had specifically worn the shirt for her since we had been talking about the Guild before, but she hadn't said anything about it all day. I displayed the signatures for Joan, and she was very impressed and jealous.
Joan secured us a table, and we chatted and read the graffiti on the table. Owls continued to enter. Kevin, Other Katie's boyfriend, whom I was surprised Katie didn't know. Dave! Who was surprised and pleased to see Katie. Katie didn't know who from Rice was in the Bay Area but Rob and Joan and me, the official People She Was Visiting. And then came, of course, Ryan. Wuh oh. Even though Ryan is more prominent in the narrative of my life than Katie's Ryan, he is less prominent in the narrative of this day, so he shall be Other Ryan. Who was followed by Other Katie.
Joan, having just gotten a job, bought everyone a round.
Nirvana was playing, and I tapped my finger on the table to the beat. Rob was doing the same thing and noticed. "Ah, Nirvana," he said. "Ah, middle school." Although I didn't really get into Nirvana until college.
There was another guy who Rob knew but we didn't, really. He said Katie and I looked familiar, but he had forgotten our names. We introduced ourselves. His name was Gaiden (not sure on the spelling there, but he didn't look like a ninja), and the name sounded familiar. You remember meeting a guy named Gaiden, after all. But we weren't at the same college and we didn't have any classes together. He did date Felicia, however. Aha! That must have been it, yes. Now it came back to me. We had met once or twice.
He was '06. And there was apparently another group of Rice folk sitting at a table, a couple of whom came to talk with us because...they were his freshmen. Which would make them...oh God, they were '08. WE WERE SO OLD.
Katie and Joan and Rob reminisced about Rob's drunken antics. And Joan's! Ryan remembered her being drunk in class a few times. Joan did as well. Katie recalled that she had flirted with this one guy. I didn't know him, but Katie assured me that the fact that Joan flirted with him was very notable because he was not a guy girls flirted with.
"I don't get flirted with," I said.
Katie gave me an "oh please" look. "You have your girls!" she said. "Your Michigan girls!"
I rolled my eyes.
"And your online girls!" she said.
"How's life?" asked Other Katie.
"Stupid," I said.
"Did you say 'stupid'?" she said.
Joan ragged on Rob for telling her that "he had a history" with some girl at a wedding. That was all he said, no further explanation. What was she supposed to think? How was she supposed to react?
What Rob meant was that he had a history class with her, or he had history. He thought his use of the past tense was clear enough since you cannot have "had" that kind of History, you can only have one. I cannot remember the exact exchange, but Rob attempted to defend himself, and Katie—who used to date Rob—vouched for his penchant for poor grammar when drunk, and I gave her a grammar smackdown high-five.
I flitted between Katie and Co. and Dave and Co. Dave was talking about a lawsuit involving copied sex toys in Second Life.
After a couple hours, we were getting hungry. The place did serve brats, but Katie was confident she could get better sausages in Houston. And we'd had burritos for lunch. Rob suggested sushi, and we were up for that. I let the other group know about our plans as we left.
Outside, we found Joan on the phone waiting for us.
"It's a Joan!" someone declared.
"Thank God there's a Joan!" I cried.
Joan spoke to the person on the phone, "I don't know if you heard that, but someone said, 'Thank God there's a Joan.'"
We were only walking down a block or two to YoYo. We had acquired a large group, but by the time we got there, the second group decided to splinter off and get burritos. Dave was torn, but I grabbed his arm and pulled him our way, not only because I liked Dave but also because Katie did. We also got Other Ryan.
They seated us. Across from me were Ryan (across and to my left, really), Katie (directly), Dave, and Other Ryan. Next to me were Joan and Rob. I did not cheat on that Seating Order, oldbies.
It seemed like a fancy place from the outside and inside, but the prices were surprisingly reasonable! So that boded well. Rob ordered some sake for the table. I think he ordered a "small," except what we got was a murder weapon full of drink. It was almost as big as Katie's head. Rob offered me some, and I declined.
Either Rob or Joan made the hilarious and awesome observation that we had gone from a German bar to a Japanese restaurant, so we needed to go to an Italian place to complete the Axis of Evil. I was all for it.
Katie had never had edamame, so we ordered some edamame to start. Ryan hadn't had it before either and asked if we were supposed to eat the shells. Nope.
Joan didn't like seafood, so she was going to order her own thing. Rob suggested we do chef's choice. I wasn't sure how that worked.
"Would anyone mind if the bill was forty bucks?" he said.
"A person?" I said.
"Yeah," he said.
"That's ridiculous!" I said instinctively. The waitress came back and asked if we wanted appetizers. We got some fried tofu, seaweed salad, and gyoza. Rob had been here before, so he was leading.
Ryan and I didn't have plates for some reason, maybe because there'd been some confusion on how big our party was at first. He could share Katie's plate. I used the edamame boat to place my fried tofu in. It was good because it was fried. And the seaweed salad was also very tasty! I did not expect that. Katie said it was very good as well. She was amused that I was using the edamame boat as my plate.
I asked Rob how chef's choice worked. They would just bring out stuff until we said to stop. I had assumed we'd all just order a couple rolls. Other Ryan said this way we wouldn't have to choose. Ryan said he'd heard you were supposed to do chef's choice to really see how good a sushi place was. Everyone was up for it, so I was too.
The waitress came back and asked what we wanted. "Could I have a plate?" I asked. She went back and grabbed plates for me and Ryan. We got special flower plates!
Joan ordered teriyaki and tempura, and Rob told the waitress to just bring things out. I think I heard him say something like "on the less side." Chef's choice, but not too extravagant.
Joan was trying to search for the right way to describe the request, and I hit upon it exactly: "Chef's choice, but we're not expensing this!"
Ryan was afraid that maybe chef's choice meant that he would just be getting rid of whatever he didn't want, but Katie explained that it was the complete opposite. She couldn't remember the Japanese word, but it was about trust. We were putting ourselves in his hands, and his honor was on the line not to betray that trust.
At some point, another bottle of sake appeared without our asking. Rob offered me some, and I declined.
Joan's plate arrived first, and she put her tempura shrimp up for auction. Katie and Ryan and I split one in three. Mmm.
The first thing the chef chose to present us was a sashimi plate. It looked lovely, and we dug in. I went straight for the salmon. I also grabbed a red thing...tuna, right? And something weird that looked sort of like eel, very white interior with a brown skin. The salmon was great, as salmon sashimi always is. The tuna was good. The weird thing was rubbery and was probably octopus.
The thing about chef's choice is we didn't know what everything was! There were some white things that may have been scallops? And a white fish that was probably cod? And a very good white fish with a pinkish tinge. I tried to have at least one of everything. And then I made sure to grab another piece of salmon before it was gone. Katie had the same idea.
The empty sashimi plate sat on our table for so long I wondered whether that was all we were going to get. Meanwhile, we had much wonderful conversation as Katie caught up with Dave's and Other Ryan's lives.
The xkcd book release party came up. Katie scolded Rob for not getting her a signed copy of the book. Rob had gotten a mutual friend a signed copy, though, because said friend had gotten him a book signed by Bruce Campbell. Had Katie gotten him anything signed by Bruce Campbell?
Rob also told an awesome Bruce Campbell story. A friend of his had seen Bruce Campbell in New York from across the street or something, and she ran over to him and declared, "You're Bruce Campbell!!"
Bruce turned to her and said, "Someone's got to be." And he walked away.
"Bruce Campbell has moved from my top 10 into my top 5, at least," said Katie.
But back to the release party, which Katie didn't know about, so we explained what it was. I had gone, and Dave was there, and Rob and Joan were unexpectedly there. Rob did not think that was that notable, however. What he did think was surprising, however, was that the woman behind him in line read my LiveJournal. ryca! They had talked to her for like half an hour, and she was really cool.
I told Katie about meeting her, and she said, "And you say girls don't like you."
"She was there with her boyfriend!" I said. The silent boyfriend, confirmed Rob.
Then I related my Randall Munroe story. I explained that Julia and Aarika celebrate my birthday like a national holiday, sending each other Sunil's Birthday gifts. Rob thought it was an awesome idea. Katie once again gave me the "And you say girls don't like you." I tried to explain that it wasn't like that, but it was a lost cause. Girls like me, but they don't Like me. It's a thing.
Anyway, I told the story about Randall's ball pit—and Katie practically squealed at the revelation that he does, in fact, have a ball pit—and the ball with "Happy Sunil's Birthday" on it. And then I told her about meeting Randall Munroe and his asking me if he could wish a happy my birthday to me.
Katie gave me a high-five.
Then came tempura! Tempura crab and shrimp and various vegetables. I grabbed crab and shrimp and a tempura green bean. The tempura was very tasty, we agreed. It wasn't just fried. The tempura broccoli sat sad and alone until Rob took one for the team.
The next plate was very pretty! It was topped with mango. Rob was not a mango fan, so he let us have at it, but we discovered that underneath the mango and seaweed salad were rolls. And the mango was so good even Katie, who wasn't a mango fan, liked it. And the roll was one of the best rolls I'd ever had! Katie thought she tasted crab. Ryan thought there was cream cheese. I had no idea what was in it but it was so damn good.
And there was one roll left on the plate.
"Rob, have you had this yet?" I asked.
"No, it's cool, I don't like mango," he replied.
"No, there's a roll," I pointed out. Aha!
Katie applauded my conscience, as hers also would not allow her to take the last roll unless she was sure everyone had gotten one. Now we didn't have to fight over it, anyway.
Rob had told us to expect sea urchin, and he was right. Sea urchin surrounded by little...butterfish? I took a little fish and scooped some gloppy sea urchin on top of it. It was hard to manipulate, but I got it all in my mouth and...er. Rob had said it would be salty, but I didn't really find it salty, just very blah. It was just there in my mouth ruining a perfectly good fish. Thumbs down, sea urchin. Katie disliked it even more. She said it essentially tasted like the ocean.
The fish wasn't bad, though, and there was still a fish left on the plate, so I asked Rob to pass the plate. I grabbed the fish with the back end of my chopsticks.
Katie said to Rob, "Sunil is much more polite than you." I didn't know what she was talking about. "He uses the other end of his chopsticks when getting things."
Ah! "I learned that from Ryan," I said, which was true.
"But then you have two greasy ends," said Rob, which was also true.
Speaking of greasy ends, Katie made Rob finish the rest of the sea urchin. He claimed he couldn't get it off the plate, but Joan helped him out.
Out came a roll with...chocolate sauce? And nuts? Was this like dessert sushi? Whatever it was, it was good! We dug in, and Katie made sure to save Dave a piece since he was in the restroom. He came back to find one on his plate after searching the table and finding no food.
Another bottle of sake had appeared without our asking, but this one was differently shaped and it had a little cavity in the middle where they put ice to keep the sake cold without watering it down. It was so cool! Rob offered me some, and I declined.
Katie said, "You do realize he doesn't even have a glass in front of him."
"How many times have I been to a happy hour and never drunk?" I said.
"You had a beer that one time!" he said.
"No, I didn't," I said.
"Oh, I had one for you," he said. "I have to offer, though! Make sure everyone's included!" Oh, Rob. He's got somewhat of a frat-boy personality, but he has a heart.
Rob told the waitress that we were pretty much good now, but she wanted to bring out one more thing. One more thing? Oh, okay, if she insisted. A roll, though, not sashimi.
"You have to tell them no three times," said Katie.
Ryan was also wanting a roll since he wasn't a big fan of sashimi, not that the sashimi earlier wasn't good. But he preferred nigiri since you get some rice in there. I wanted a roll since it was more filling. I was still slightly hungry.
A very interesting roll came out. It looked like a dynamite roll, but the waitress said it was a YoYo roll. Whatever it was, it was awesome, with unagi and tempura shrimp and whatever other sorts of crazy things were in it.
And then there was one roll left. Ryan and Rob relinquished their claims. I wanted it. Katie wanted it. Oh, so did Dave and Other Ryan. Well, well.
Rob had the answer: "Rock Paper Scissors Deathmatch!" All right, it would be one-two-three-throw.
One, two, three.
Other Ryan: Paper
Other Ryan was out! That...worked out well, as I didn't know how it would have worked if it weren't so clear-cut.
One, two, three.
Dave: I don't remember. Paper? Maybe it was just me and Katie.
Either way, I was out. Damn!
One, two, three.
Katie won! Which was appropriate, since she was the visitor.
"Or we could have gone that route!" said Joan. "Given it to the guest." And then Katie and Ryan were sharing the prize!
The waitress came out. Did we want dessert? Ryan said he did not.
"Okay, you do not, but everybody else does," she said without polling. Then she left.
"It's like she's our mom!" I said.
Joan said, "'Why are you looking so skinny? Here, have some dessert!'"
Our waitress returned with...tempura green tea ice cream! We had been discussing the possibility of having it earlier—but also discussing the possibility of gelato, so. Katie was definitely excited.
She decided to just use her hands even though the waitress brought us forks.
Dave is explaining something!
Rob is smirking.
I gave Katie the camera since I didn't have many pictures of me in my awesome shirt. And she proceeded to take the worst picture of me ever taken.
Thanks, Katie. Thanks a lot. That's actually my second piece, too. It was so good! I don't even like green tea! But it's fried ice cream!
Katie took a couple other pictures from her vantage point. Oh, I did not mention that she was a photographer for the Thresher throughout her college career. So she was into taking pictures.
You can see an empty bottle of sake there.
She took this picture without looking! At the right of the frame you can see the other bottle of sake.
The bill came. As Rob had predicted, it came out to forty bucks a person, including tax and tip. I couldn't decipher the bill to figure out how much everything had cost and whether we'd been charged for all the things we didn't specifically order, like the two bottles of sake, the final roll, and the tempura ice cream. I was glad Rob had at least warned me that it could be that much, as I was ready for it. And I was happy to pay it, too. The last time I'd paid that much for dinner, I was (and still am) incredibly bitter because it was a large group of people I didn't know, and I ordered one plate and no drink, and I felt like I was subsidizing other people's meals. But in this case, I was with my friends, and we had all shared everything, and we had had a delightful, wonderful dinner experience for a couple hours. In fact, Joan was probably subsidizing all our meals since she didn't partake of the sushi. But splitting equally was convenient and made sense. I wouldn't make forty-dollar dinners a regular occurrence, but they're fun to do once in a while.
Ryan tried to pay with American Express but had to use a Visa instead. No love for American Express, all day!
We asked the waitress to take a picture of us before we left.
Outside the restaurant, it was time to bid adieu. Katie & Ryan were headed back to Rob & Joan's. Katie gave me a hug.
I walked back to BART with Other Ryan, Dave accompanying us part of the way. Other Ryan had moved to the City, which I hadn't known, so we were actually going the same direction. He said it was cool that Katie had come. I was amused, since it had been a surprise to him, but I had been looking forward to the day for a while.
It was one of the best complete days, from start to finish, that I've had in a long time.