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A Few Important Tips about Living in the East Bay

By Ron Sullivan
Tuesday August 21, 2007

A few things I wish someone had told me when I moved here, and a few things I’ve learned since: 

If you need prescription drugs and aren’t on UC’s health plan: You don’t have to be a Costco member to use the Costco pharmacy. Tell the doorfolks on the way in what you’re there for. By the way, if you have medical insurance and want to know what a drug will cost you, don’t ask the pharmacy folks because they won’t know until the claim goes through. Ask your insurer; there should be a phone number on the back of your card.  

Oakland’s airport is much more navigable and civilized than San Francisco’s. If you do go to SFO, be sure your vehicle is less than six and a half feet tall including racks, pods, carriers, or you’ll have to park it in the International Arrivals garage.  

When Two-Buck Chuck won’t do, The Spanish Table sells good inexpensive wines and gives decent wine advice for free.  

The East Bay Vivarium is a store but it’s also a good free zoo; don’t go there in large parties though, as it’s a small space. Also don’t go there if you don’t love spiders and snakes, or get indignant when small animals are fed to larger animals. And don’t tap on the glass! 

Another good freebie: Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Northern California collection at Lake Merritt, Oakland.  

Grocery Outlet at the foot of University Avenue is good for East Coast nostalgia chow as well as bargains. Hellmann’s mayonnaise! (Yes, Best Foods really is the same stuff. Nevertheless.) No one out here knows from chili sauce; also, if you get chili on anything or by itself it’ll most likely have cumin in it. Might as well cultivate a taste for the stuff.  

Tokyo Fish on San Pablo Avenue near Gilman, across from Mealticket, gets fresh poi on Wednesdays. You might find frozen poi there or at many other Japanese markets, but it won’t get sour. Mealticket’s worth a visit too for breakfast or lunch. Get a scone. Great scones.  

Those aren’t the world’s biggest mosquitoes; those are craneflies. They don’t bite. They just bumble around and maybe lose a leg or two if you try to catch them. Completely harmless. Some of us consider them the first sign of spring.  

Those aren’t rainclouds either; they’re fogbanks. It probably won’t rain till late October, if then.  

There’s no poison ivy or poison sumac here, but there is poison oak. There are feral pokeberries on campus, too. Eucalyptus isn’t native. Fennel isn’t native. Ivy isn’t native. Those annual grasses all over the lion-colored hills aren’t native.  

Buying spiderplants (“airplane plants”) here is like buying snow in Antarctica. Ask around; someone will have babies for you to root in water. They grow quite well outdoors. So do geraniums; ask for cuttings.  

It is possible to use California bay laurel to substitute for a true bay leaf in cooking, but use only a very small part of a leaf instead of a whole one. The taste isn’t quite identical but most folks think it’s OK.  

Watch for free in-store concerts at Amoeba, Rasputin’s (Telegraph), or Down Home (Fourth Street).