Love the international flavor of the Bay Area

They say there is no place like home, but every once in a while it's good to see it from your rear-view mirror.

My family took one of those "Wanna get away?" vacations to the Bay Area in California and enjoyed getting out of the Texas blast furnace for a few days.

There are disadvantages to city life—traffic, cost of living—but we were so relaxed on our recent vacation, we barely took notice.

Soon af ter our arr ival, we watched our niece Ayla Granados graduate from Castro Valley High School with about 600 kids. Her younger sis Alyssa was also promoted to high school from eighth grade and five-year-old nephew Christian made the jump from kindergarten to first grade.

A graduation ceremony out there is something else. They don't do valedictorian and salutatorian any more, as those have apparently become too political. But we did get to sit through no less than six students singing songs and a few speeches from top students and school dignitaries. Save one young man who showed a decent amount of humility, we judged that overconfidence was the main attribute, though I guess it's good to be an idealist when you are young. The overconfidence by the singers, however, was pretty much unwarranted.

Our son Esten (right) befriended a fellow 8- year-old Michael Wong, whose family came to the U.S. from China. The two enjoyed the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Our son Esten (right) befriended a fellow 8- year-old Michael Wong, whose family came to the U.S. from China. The two enjoyed the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. With a house full of relatives, we began our first several days at a nearby hotel. Each morning we were greeted with breezes from the bay that kept temperatures '60s and an unseasonal weather pattern kept daytime temps in the low 70s, almost during our entire stay. Talk about nice!

On Saturday, we bundled up (seems crazy, huh?) to watch Alyssa compete in a swim meet. Both gals had been raised in swim clubs, popular in this west coast state, and they are both very good athletes now.

Saturday, we mostly prepped for a graduation party at the home of in-laws Abel and Genny Granados. It was one of those days where homemade Mexican food was simmering on the stove and we grilled hot dogs and burgers for good measure. A vacation day like that with no agenda makes for a very relaxing time. I stole away for a few minutes to read a couple of books I had brought—nothing related to work or business or economic development. We went long into the night enjoying family time and some of Abel's old Navy buddies, who were able to relax about the plight of their state and its near-12-percent unemployment rate.

On Sunday, we drove into San Francisco for the Haight-Ashbury Street Festival, which is a far cry from a Rockdale Fair. There were probably well over 100,000 people cramming the streets of the infamous neighborhood for the country's counter-cultural revolution. We kept the young boys distracted with lemonade and answered a few of their queries about some of San Francisco's more colorful characters with, "Well, they're just a little different out here." Still, it was enjoyable, even though Abel and I spent nearly an hour trying to find a

Abel is an electr ician and makes a decent living but here is where California living can make for additional burdens. Their modest, three-bedroom home is appraised at $498,000. He said they could probably sell it for much more. They live in Castro Valley, which is a nice area, but I couldn't imagine having to come up with a $3,000 mortgage payment each month. They had laughed before about Rockdale's 30-page phone book, but they seemed a bit envious of my mortgage payment of less than $600.

The cultural offerings are what makes the area unique. There were 3 jazz stations on the radio to choose from—playing cool Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and even old-school big band. One night we headed 10 miles into Oakland to hear some live jazz, an 83-yearold guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli and young pianist Benny Green.

You can also get lots of different kind of food—Chinese, Thai, sushi, almost anything you want—a short drive away.

After the jazz show, we had a nightcap at The Last Chance, a tiny hole in the wall built in 1883 that hasn't changed much. It was neat to have a beer where the writer Jack London sat.

We spent our final day back in San Francisco and took the kids to the Golden Gate (Esten was surprised it wasn't actually gold), down on the Wharf and to the National Academy of Sciences Museum. There, Esten hit it off with a young Chinese boy named Michael Wong and the two went from exhibit to exhibit with wideeyed wonder. Though communication was a bit strained, they also shared their enthusiasm for science and some candy.

It was a vacation full of new experiences for us and our boys. Sometimes, you gotta get away.

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2009-06-25 digital edition

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