Bay Area Exploits

Rialta on the street in San Jose

It's amusing to observe the patterns of my anxiety, as correlated with the weather and scenery. Portland's climate generally leaves me feeling depressed and wanting more. Its urban landscape is as near to perfect as an American city can be, but it might edge too far into the category of "major metropolitan area" for me to maintain a consistent semblance of sanity.

Monterey's cool, sunny climate combined with its seemingly lacksidasical seafaring populous made it a damn near perfect place to reset my head. And now, being thrusted back into another major metropolitan area, I'm reminded why I left in the first place.

Every California city is comprised of equal parts slums, picket fences, and ugly car-oriented commercialism. Even Berkeley, a haven for progressivism, is a congested beheamoth of a place. Don't get me wrong: Californian urbanites are generally lovely people. It's just that the car-oriented, sprawling nature of their urban areas propagates a unique brand of California aggression. Everyone here is in a hurry to get somewhere, and when they're done being somewhere, they're in a hurry to get somewhere else. It's as if someone put blinders on their car windshields and they're living oblivious to the fact they live in the most beautiful place on earth. Or it's because one look out their car windshields means another In-N-Out Burger, strip mall, or traffic interchange.

If there were a brand name for this perpetual state of rushedness and instant gratification, it would be dubbed San Jose™. In less than 24 hours, I've witnessed a man in a Lexus blast his horn at a woman walking in a parking lot as if his weekend might be ruined if not for his on-time arrival at the local BevMo!. I've counted the BMW's, the Lexuses (Lexi?), the Mercedes-Benz's, and the sad, balding men who drive them.

If there's one thing I've re-learned in my travels, it's that the most vital ingredient to happiness is what I like to call experiential diversity. Nostalgic thoughts act as natural antidepressants. Marketers convince you that their product or service will make you feel at home or bear resemblance to "the good old days." They're just targeting the same part of the brain stimulated the first night home after a peaceful vacation or the moment two loved ones are reconnected at the airport. What advertising and commercialism does not grant us is sustained diversity in experiences, thoughts, and ideas. If our hunter-gatherer roots aren't indicative enough of humankind's tendency toward exploration and conquest, then the blood-soaked founding of the United States should be. Denying our primal need to explore is to deny our humanity.

Never let the people on television, in your computer, on billboards, or on the radio persuade you their way is the right way. It's a certainty they're trying to take your money, and it's a near certainty that they feel the same longing and entrapment as you do when you listen to them. I've found a new kind of fulfillment, and it comes from within.

Cycling at Laguna Seca

Laguna Seca

Winds battered the side of my van through the night, perched atop a hill in Monterey County. I awoke to a rainy windshield, a crisp, dewey morning with a glowing potential to blossom into a beautiful sunny afternoon.

I spent Thursday and Friday working and cycling. The Laguna Seca Recreation Area is home to the Mazda Laguna Seca raceway, which served as a veritable road cyclist's utopia with its maze of paved and barely-traveled access roads around the campus. For two days, I cheerfully alternated between cycling and working every few hours. I hardly spoke to a soul, but this solidarity gave me new perspective.

Detour to Monterey

Rialta at Laguna Seca

I awoke bright and early this morning—5:30 is the earliest I've woken up voluntarily in years. After committing a couple hours of work, I packed up the RV and headed out. My first stop was one of two gas stations in Big Sur. And at only $5.25 per gallon, it was quite the bargain. The shopkeepers had a certain rural charm and genuine friendly demeanor that I'm not sure I've experienced elsewhere.

My trip was to be simple in form, but burdensome in execution. Two hours driving, according to Google Maps, will carry an automobile from Big Sur to San Luis Obispo. What Google didn't know about was the rockslide and road closure I'd encounter a quarter of the way there.

US-1 runs along the perimeter of the Pacific coast. Outlets are sparse: There are stretches where one can drive forty miles without encountering a road leading inland. I was on one of those very stretches when I reached a "Road Closed" sign and a portly woman informing me (in that very same rural charm and friendly demeanor) that a rock the size of a large vehicle had fallen square into the highway, and that it was to be dynamited later that day.

And so, I set off in the northward direction, anxiously steering the windy, hilly intestine of the California coast. Since I enjoyed my grocery shopping experience in Monterey, I figured I'd set up shop in the area for the week. Monterey itself is quite a lot like all the California cities I've visited: Bright, car-crowded, noisy, yet still charming. I was tempted to try spending the night in my RV on a city street, but my waste tanks needed emptying and I wanted to retire to a peaceful place after the day's driving and working. I worked at a local coffee shop, bought enough groceries to last the rest of the week, and headed to Laguna Seca Recreation Area.

Despite sharing land with a race track, Laguna Seca is a gorgeous hilltop campground with full hookups and just about the best view out your window you've ever seen. I'm very much looking forward to spending my workday atop a hill in the peaceful sunshine.

Coastal forest bliss in Big Sur

The RV in Big Sur

I awoke Sunday morning to near-freezing temperatures in the parking lot of the Walmart in Yreka, California. Much to my surprise, I was the first RV to leave the lot in the morning. Armed with a fresh box of granola and unfettered by the bag of garbage and rotting produce left in the parking lot trash bin, I once again headed south on I-5.

Snow turned to rain turned to green forests turned to barren desert, and before I knew it, I was at a truck stop in the Central Valley. It amuses me that entire towns form in California with the sole purpose of providing Interstate travelers with amenities. Also amusing is how unfazed these desert dwellers are by living an existence which would have proven impossible only a hundred years ago.

And then I crossed the California Aqueduct. This is one of those fables I was told was true, but conveniently ignored. But there it was, a flowing network of oasises (oases?) feeding the fairytale city of Los Angeles, transforming temperate into desert and desert into temperate. According to Wikipedia, the California Water Project is the single biggest net consumer of energy in the state, despite it also being one of the largest producers. I'll put this in the categories of very cool and totally not going to last another century.

I arrived in Monterey at around 5:00 pm and stopped off for some groceries; Big Sur is located on a stretch of US-1 with no outlets for miles, so if I wanted to eat more than pub food I had to ensure I was well-stocked. Monterey immediately struck me as a place I could stand to spend some time. Small-town, coastal mentality paired with a seemingly classic Californian aesthetic made it a place to which I'd like to return.

The drive along US-1 was both arduous and one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, probably second only to the last time I drove it. Last time, my vessel was a rented Mustang, and could maneuver the windy, tight turns with ease. This time, it was a bit of a different story. I don't know why motorists on US-1 would want to go faster than 25 MPH. Speeds any greater don't provide the driver with an opportunity to dart their eyes westward at the coast's majesty. I must have pulled into four or five lookout points along the way to let Joe American and his American Family speed by to their next destination, racing as if he had to see the entirety of the California coast in only a day.

I arrived at my campsite and plugged in my land yacht as if it were a household appliance. I'm very eager to have her outfitted with solar panels so I'm not reliant on 110V power. I'm convinced that 12V is the way of the future, and that portably powered microhomes are a means toward sustained energy independence. Anyway, my stay here has cleared my head, provided me with a fresh supply of oxygen, and allowed me to recharge before I plunge into the bowels of Southern California.

Welcome to Walmart. Would you like some fucking chamomile?

Walmart in Yreka

Today I embarked on the first leg of my journey to find America or some nice weather or whatever the hell I'm looking for barrelling down Interstate 5 at a whopping 45-65 MPH (my VW is a 4-cylinder; give me a break). I set my sights on the Mt. Shasta area of Northern California as a reasonable stopping point, and I sought to cross one particular nagging American dream off my very long bucket list. Tonight, I'm sleeping at Walmart.

So far, my experience has been nothing but…what I thought it would be. There's the overweight employees and patrons, not entirely unkempt but as 'kempt' as required by Sir Sam Walton. And then there's the haggard old woman waving hello to the greeter at the front door. Yreka is a town of fewer than eight thousand; I suppose everyone knows your name in a place like this.

It's a bizarre feeling to drive into a Walmart parking lot and then realize you've got your entire house with you. As soon as I pulled in, I cranked on the propane and put on a pot of tea. Chamomile, to put me fast asleep to catch the first crack of sunlight pouring over the mountain. A Walmart patron might have suggested I take some 5-Hour Energy and push through till dawn, but I think I'll take their pimply-nosed complexion as a clear sign that sleep is a better option.

Here's to a good night's rest.

Reflections on a month living small

It's been about a month since I began moving my life into the tiny RV I now call home. It's not a stretch to say that the last month of my life is probably in my top five life-changing experiences, right up there with moving out of my parents' house. Never has my daily consideration shifted so much in the direction of frugality and resourcefulness.

A Jasmine matcher for Backbone.js Event Expectations

I wanted to be able to eloquently test Backbone.js event chains, so I wrote a custom matcher.

A leak is a good excuse for bamboo.

It's been raining and hovering around 40°F for the past two weeks straight here in Portland. As a result, my trusted land yacht (RV) has faced the plight of condensation in all its orifices. And so, I figured, my wet carpet must surely be a result of it raining inside, right?


The plastic tubing connecting my water pump to the faucet had sprung a slow leak, and was dripping water all over the inside of my kitchenette unit, down onto the carpet in front of my bed. I'd impressed myself countless times with my seeming natural handyman talent (this kid deals in bits and bytes typically), but this one was too much stress for me to handle.

My trusty Craigslist contractor came to the rescue, but had a caveat: The carpets needed to be ripped out. With that much water seeping through to the subfloor, chances of salvaging the wood below with the carpets in place were slim. And so, reluctantly, I started the process I had hoped to put off until I reached sunnier pastures. It was time to go bamboo.

Wood Jerry! Wood!

At the inception of my grand lifestyle experiment, I decided I wanted to remodel most of my RV with gorgeous hardwoods from Bamboo Revolution. Their work is most prominent in the interior of Coava Roasters, with which they happen to share a space. When I saw it, I fell in love.

The installation is still a work in progress, but I have a hunch the improvement will be night and day. I don't know what kind of masochist wants carpet installed in their home, but I'm glad to make a swift exit from that club.

RVM, Ruby 1.9.3, Homebrew and PostgreSQL make me want to kill babies

After much frustration with absymal load times on my Rails 3.1 application when running on Ruby 1.9.2, I decided it was high time to upgrade to 1.9.3 to take advantage of its new hash-based require scheme. Turns out it was going to take an entire afternoon because of an issue with the pg gem's configuration.

If you're having the same problem, try the following:

$ rvm use 1.9.3-p0
$ gem uninstall pg # uninstall all versions
$ gem install pg  --with-pg-config=/usr/local/Cellar/postgresql/9.0.4/bin/pg_config

Essentially, you need to be explicit about Homebrew's Postgres installation so you don't end up using the default Mac installation.

I hope this helps. Happy holidays!

My inner monologue

So I've noticed some things about my inner monologue when reading poorly-written prose:

  • If someone misuses the word 'to' in place of 'too', my internal meter speeds up to accommodate the missing 'o'.

    What's up? Oh not to much.

  • Whenever someone writes in all capital letters, I shout the entire sentence to myself


  • When someone uses the possessive pronoun "your" in place of the contraction "you're," I want to give my eyeballs paper cuts with acid blotter paper.

    Boy I bet your glad I took that English class!

  • And finally, when someone does all three at once, I write blog posts like this one!