Here’s some food for thought: Sacramento is slowly but surely establishing its regional culinary reputation. Vintners in the Foothills now earn respect when once they garnered only snickers. Organic farmers in the Capay Valley have become national role models for the local, sustainable-agriculture movement. And anyone who’s lived in Sacramento proper for more than 10 years can testify to the dramatic growth in dining-out opportunities. What’s this all have to do with adventure? Well, you’re not going to get too far on an empty stomach, are you?
You’re at the Trader Joe’s on Folsom Boulevard. Your roommate told you that there seems to be a veritable bonanza of “hot” persons who shop there between 5 and 9 p.m., and even though your sexual magnetism appears to be hovering around Karl Rove/Condoleezza Rice level these days, you figure that wandering around and eyeballing what the universe is so cruelly denying you right now might provide a decent form of amusement.
As it turns out, your roommate was right: It’s frickin’ Christmas. You’ve perused the various sections of the store, keeping a running scorecard of whether there are more opportunities in the wine aisle or in the frozen-food section. Yeah, it’s totally stupid, but you’re bored, and sometimes boredom is the mother of fun-but-stupid games. It soon dawns on you that the best action is in the produce section. It is there you find the person of your dreams, fondling various fruits and vegetables. It’s time to turn on the charm.
“Is it true that you can tell what’s on the mind of a person holding a cucumber?” you ask this perfect stranger.
There’s two ways this could go (not counting sideways, fast): Your newfound friend is either amused or not amused—perhaps even frightened. Hopefully, it’s the former. Strike up a conversation, then suggest an adventuresome night on the town, say, dancing at Faces, Sacramento’s premier gay nightclub. On the other hand, if your reception is cool, other tactics must be employed. Shadow your quarry, being careful not to be spotted.
Your teddy bear has you all shook up—all the more reason to get that tummy settled ASAP. So you swing by Dad’s sandwich shop in the Southside Park area, hoping it’s not past “beer-30,” the approximate time the owners close shop on Saturday afternoons. You’re in luck. They’re open, and you and your paramour peruse the extensive list of sandwiches before choosing to split a grilled cheese and a Fat Elvis, the latter being the perfect combination of peanut butter, local honey and banana on white bread.
Seated at a shaded sidewalk table, you nibble on your sandwiches and gaze fondly into each other’s eyes. The day’s just beginning to heat up. That Fat Elvis is a big hunk o’ peanut buttery love, and after it’s gone, you lick the honey off your sweetie’s lips. The King would be proud—if he wasn’t dead. Oh shit, you suddenly realize artery-clogging concoctions such as this eponymous sandwich are what helped off Elvis. That and the prescription pills. And the Illuminati.
Luckily, you’ve planned ahead. In an attempt to prevent yourselves from gaining the “happy weight” that comes with being comfortable in love, you’ve both agreed to spend the summer taking advantage of Sacramento’s many outdoor recreating opportunities. In fact, your first outing is planned for this afternoon. But Elvis seems to have brought out the devil in your companion: Looks like there might be ample opportunity for some indoor recreation this afternoon, as well!
No one has to tell you that getting your family all on the same page about anything is roughly akin to shaving a cat: It can be done, but not without a bench vice. So a little bribery is in order, namely dinner out for a summer family-brainstorming session. That doesn’t mean you have to stoop to dinner at Mickey D’s or Chuck E. Cheese’s, your children’s drug of choice. For now, you’re still calling the shots, and the Ethiopian cuisine at Queen Sheba offers a far more palatable, not to mention educational, choice.
Owner-hostess Zion Taddese graciously welcomes your kids, who are gratified to learn that utensils are optional—they eat with their hands, using tasty, tangy injera bread to scoop up mild stews and other tasty and authentic Ethiopian staples. At least some table manners are required, and when your oldest starts pinching and harassing your youngest, well, a cold glass of Ethiopian beer or honey wine does wonders to ease the shame of your failed etiquette training. But alcohol only goes so far, and when the misbehavior continues, you’re forced to decide.
A few minutes at the labyrinth made you realize you’ll never enjoy the summer by sitting indoors and focusing on your breathing. You grab your shoes, head out of Trinity Cathedral and walk a block to the neon-lit patio of Monkey Bar. Hey, who’s that sexy thing leaning in the doorway? Oh, is that drink for me? Scorpio, what’s yours? The next morning you’ve got a gin-induced hangover and a stranger’s head on the pillow next to you. But you still haven’t found what you’re looking for.
You’d like to forget how you wound up at Pine Cove and, Lord knows, after a few more drinks the entire evening will disappear down the old memory hole. You are seriously scribbled, but what you just did at the Blue Lamp weighs in your brain pan like a slab of freshly seared maguro. What the heck were you thinking? There’s the person of your dreams, and there’s you, clutching two overflowing tumblers of cognac, lisping, “Puh-hapth yewd like thum mo co-vauth-ee-ay?” then buicking all over said dream person’s new shoes.
“Is that who you’re talking about?” the bouncer snarled, seconds before heaving you out of the joint by the nape of your neck.
You want to make it all go away, and more ammo than you’ll ever need is lined up on the Cove’s shelves. You pull down bottles of Courvoisier and Hennessy. The cashier is ringing you up when you suddenly wonder how you’re going to get home. You glance out the window, and there parked at the curb is … your car! You don’t even remember driving. Bag in hand, you walk outside, inspect the grill, make sure you didn’t hit something, like, you know, a deer … or human being! Jesus. But hey, you made it this far. Why not drive the rest of the way?
You’re still at Trader Joe’s, shadowing your future betrothed, who’s trolling through the frozen-fish section. You’re starting to have your doubts about this potential mate, who’s been on the cell phone for past 10 minutes, spoiling your chance to make contact. Ah, there, the phone is flipped shut and tucked away. It’s time to move in for the kill. Suddenly, someone grabs your arm from behind, squeezing your biceps so hard it hurts.
“Hold it right there,” the cop barks.
God damn cell phones.
Turns out there’s a word for what you been doing. It’s called stalking. There’s also a criminal statute. You’re lucky: This time, you’re merely escorted off the premises and issued a verbal warning. Oh, yeah, and banned from Trader Joe’s for life. You were warned not to be spotted.
Are you beginning to understand that this “friends with benefits” fantasy is a farce? Face the facts: If you could fornicate without your conscience intervening, you’d be a porn star instead of a bit character in a summer guide. Yet you still think there’s an easy way out. So, since you’ve already let your manners slide a considerable distance, you decide why not let them go all the way to hell.
First, you go on a lot of dinner dates, but don’t pay for any of them. Or if you do, it’s only after behaving like an uptight accountant, meticulously calculating your share of each bill and paying not a cent more. Unfortunately, instead of being pegged for the tightwad that you are, you are rewarded for your newfound frugality and common sense with more of those aforementioned benefits, which only serve to remind you that this slow, easy-way-out scheme of yours just ain’t doing the trick.
So you redouble your efforts. You raid the farmers’ markets (Roosevelt Park, Fremont Park, Cesar Chavez Plaza, Downtown Plaza) and stock up on flatulence-inducing foods. Your high-fiber grains and oats, your celeries and carrots, your unfermented soybeans, your dairy products. The result is a backfire, and not just of the paint-peeling gastrointestinal variety. Yet, it just so happens that your cheese-cutting is willingly tolerated as a sign that you’re trying to eat healthier. That’s right. More of those by-now-excruciatingly-wearisome benefits.
Blast! (Pardon. That was the soybeans.)
It’s maddening, really. Since beginning your campaign of passive aggression, you’re getting laid now more than ever, subsequently finding yourself becoming more emotionally intertwined with the baggage you’re attempting, albeit half-heartedly, to jettison. But you haven’t given up. It’s time to call in the heavy artillery. If going all-out agro is required, then by god you’ve got what it takes.
You slap down your payment and a generous tip (consider it a sin tax for your children’s poor manners) at Queen Sheba, then sidle over to cool, sugar-scented Gunther’s Quality Ice Cream. You and the fam squeeze into a vintage wooden booth, and while the kids are lapping up their sundaes, the two of you, realizing that the children are no help whatsoever, continue the aborted brainstorming session.
The kids debate who gets the maraschino cherries on the banana split while the two of you talk, and, of course, finish up your scoop of rocky road on a sugar cone. (Who says you can’t relive your childhood a little while you’re there? After all, you came to this same ice-cream parlor when you were growing up—and maybe your parents did, too.) When the young’uns are sated with cold and creamy goodness, you put two ideas to a family vote:
After 30 days of healthy living, you’ve had quite enough of salads, incense and the staff pose. This ain’t living. Still in your yoga clothes, you drive straight to the Squeeze Inn for a burger with a cheese skirt: a fistful of sharp cheddar melted over an all-beef patty that’s to die for—and probably will kill via arteriosclerosis should you choose to make it a daily habit. Ah, but as Plato said, moderation in all things. As you sit rubbing elbows with your fellow carnivores in the tight confines of the Squeeze, you realize what 30 days of yoga couldn’t teach you: The key to a perfect summer is eating here now.
After your moonlit stroll in McKinley Park, you segue to Ink Eats and Drinks, the Midtown after-hours eatery, to discover if this alchemical connection you’re forging can survive in a new, artificial environment. So far, the music is good, the food so-so but the company is every bit as fantastic as it was back in the rose garden. It seems like a match made in heaven. How is it possible that you can’t begin to run out of things to talk about, even after a long couple of hours?
You fall into your new friend’s eyes and they fall into yours, and after a bit of hemming and hawing you both confess that what you’d really like to do right now is rip each other’s clothes off and know each other in the biblical sense right there on the bar. But you also both agree that something this special might be best consummated at a later date, and that doing it on the bar in front of all those other customers might prove to be an embarrassment later. So call it a night, exchange phone numbers and begin a wonderful, adventure-filled relationship that lasts the rest of your lifetime.
You’re thundering east on Interstate 80 in your shiny, brand-spanking-new motor home on its maiden voyage. You plan to visit as many of the national parks in the Western United States as you can squeeze in this summer. But, first, it’s time to stock this big dog up, big time.
Take the Douglas Boulevard exit in Roseville to stuff your vehicle’s pristine extra-large refrigerator/freezer with great regional food from the marketplace at Quarry Ponds Town Center. Local peaches, nectarines, salad greens and more from Regionale Produce; a roast chicken for dinner from Pullman Kitchen; awesome bacon or sausage for the perfect camping breakfast from Vande Rose Farms Meat & Fish market; bread and cheese and wine and even a bouquet of flowers for your in-RV dinette table from the other shops; and a double espresso for the road from Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Now you’re good to go.
Then it’s back to the freeway, heading east, listing slightly in the cross-breeze thanks to the additional payload, with just one more major decision to make: Do you drive north to the lesser known volcanic formations of Lassen Volcanic National Park, or south to Yosemite‘s spectacular granite monuments?
You fire up the wireless, log on to www.edc-farmtrails.org and in no time you and yours arrive in your very own bucolic El Dorado—El Dorado County, that is, although it could easily double for the fictitious land in Voltaire’s Candide, where the city streets are paved with gold. The mines here played out years ago, but agriculture remains as precious as any metal. Everything’s for the best as your kids enjoy picking berries and cherries at the American River Cherry Co., snacking on donuts and other treats at the various Apple Hill markets and picnicking at the tables in the lovely garden at Boeger Winery. Speaking of wineries, a little tasting here and at other vintners along the way help ease your nerves, frayed by close contact in cramped vehicular quarters with your impatient children ("Are we there yet?” “How much further?” “What time is it?"). Not so for your unfortunate spouse, who’s handling the designated driver this time out. That’s one way to guarantee a happy landing to what can only be described as a stellar adventure.