Home & Garden Columns

News from Berkeley: The Alameda County Fair, Pick-N-Pull & Chez Panisse

Jane Stillwater
Tuesday July 13, 2010 - 10:53:00 AM
The Alameda County Fair: "We had fun!"
Jane Stillwater
The Alameda County Fair: "We had fun!"
Pick-N-Pull:  America 50 years from now?
Jane Stillwater
Pick-N-Pull: America 50 years from now?

[Editor’s note: This is just a sample of Berkeleyan Jane Stillwater’s free-range blog. For the full treatment, complete with photos, click on her link at the right side of this page.]

If you are having trouble trying to keep from being driven completely nutso by all the grim, horrible and terrible national and international news headlines that just keep pouring down on our heads, then perhaps it's time to take a break and focus in on some of the good things in life instead. And there actually are a lot of good things happening here, locally, in my own home town -- which happens to be Berkeley. 

One good thing about living in Berkeley is that you can never get bored. 

For instance, a friend of mine just started working at a new Japanese grilled-chicken restaurant called Ippuku, and on July 15 at 7 pm, I'm going there for dinner -- so that I can compare their grilled chicken kebabs with all those chicken kebabs that I ate daily while in Iran for a month back in 2008. Iran is the Queen of too-dry chicken. Will Ippuku do better? They have to! Here's a review of Ippuku (which is the Japanese word for "Take a break"): 

I also have plans to spend the night at Arnieville on Russell Street and Adeline, camping out with the disabled people there who are protesting Governor Schwarzenegger's rather foolish budget cuts to salaries for their home-care workers. Will let you know how that goes. 

And here's a trilogy of articles I just wrote about Berkeley -- or at least the East Bay area. Hopefully these places will cheer you up too. 

The Alameda County Fair: "We had fun!"  

"Let's go to the Alameda County Fair on Wednesday," said my daughter Ashley -- and I, of course, replied, "Yawn." But I was wrong. We went and had a really good time. 

Not only was there a carnival with all the rides and monster foot-long corn dogs and all that kind of stuff but this really was a true county fair and there was pie judging and flower judging and demonstrations of gadgets that you never knew that you needed and quilt exhibits as well. 

And there were also chickens. We bought chickens. We now have four chickens -- they were four for $20 (and also came with food.) We named them Smokey Robinson, Sun Rocker, Mariqa Mustache and Scary Spice. 

"Did you like the fair?" I asked my two-year-old granddaughter Mena. 

"We had fun!" she replied. And we did. 

Pick-N-Pull: America 50 years from now? 

My daughter's friend recently needed some spare parts for his car. "Wanna go to Pick-N-Pull with me?" he asked. Pick-N-Pull? What's that? "It's an Elephant's Graveyard for old cars." Let's go! 

Pick-N-Pull is located way out in Richmond, in the Iron Triangle area. Guys (yes, it's a guy thing) go there to pull spare parts out of old cars so they can get used parts on the cheap. The place has HUNDREDS of old cars -- row after row, just sitting there. And looking like what American streets will look like in 50 years after we have run out of oil. 

Ashley's friend brought his tool box. A bunch of other guys did too. And, yes, there were a few women there, but not many besides me. And the pickers and the pullers were all leaning over engines with wrenches and stuff. I loved it. Rows and rows and rows of cars -- most were from the 1990s. There were only a few really old cars and trucks. We looked at them all -- but Ashley's friend never did find the right part for his car. 

PS: Approximately 40 rows at Pick-N-Pull were devoted to the ruins of American-made cars, mostly Cadillacs, Saturns, Buicks and Fords. And only approximately five rows there were devoted to broken-down foreign-made cars. What does that tell us? 

My birthday dinner at Chez Panisse 

"The American life-style is non-negotiable," said George H.W. Bush -- and then he and his sons almost immediately proceeded to negotiate away as much of it as they possibly could to bankers, tycoons, weapons manufacturers, lobbyists and Congressmen on the take. 

And not only was the Bush family's and corporatists' enthusiastic deregulation of our public safety guarantees and the wholesale looting of our treasury a huge threat to the American life-style, that but when our oil runs out in a few years, we can forget that life-style completely! According to James Howard Kunstler's book "The Long Emergency," in less years than we would like, we'll all be back to living like the Amish. 

But there is one part of the American life-style that I absolutely refuse to negotiate until I absolutely positively have to -- my yearly birthday dinner at Chez Panisse. Even if I have to scrimp and save all year long, even if I have to beg my grown children to treat me, I'm going! Nothing makes getting older more bearable than having a birthday dinner at Chez Panisse. 

I can't find the fancy little souvenir menu they gave me which says exactly what me and my son Joe ate, but I can still (vividly!) remember most of it anyway. Salmon carpaccio, rack of lamb and cherry pie. Plus I took plenty of photos.