A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Saturday, January 03, 2004 :::
A lazy day in Palo Alto. There is only the translation to work on, although signs of life are returning to Stanford campus after its two week winter hibernation. On Wednesday, there were three people within sight of each other on the wide walkway that separates the libraries from the dorms. No doubt, tomorrow that walk will be filled with thousands of kids greeting each other, swapping stories and making plans. There are a few more young people here already, as sports teams and the Daily probably crank up a little earlier. And on Monday, the free shuttle will be running again, saving A Mind That Suits a good hour a day, although he will probably gain weight. Living downtown in a major city involves a lot of walking,and in most of America, life involves a lot of driving. So, too, with Stanford, the Apotheosis of the Suburbs, so the walking involved comes in single long stretches and that, despite the over-awing beauty, tends to bring on a sense of frustration.

That, and the fact that it never stops drizzling. It never rains in the way that anyone raised in Florida would consider a real rain storm. You can always see, for one thing. But because the rain is so light, it never clears the air, leaving in its wake a bone chilling mist. Today is bright and clear and most of the moisture has left the air, and everyone is complaining about how cold it is. As with Romans, who live in a nearly identical climate, they seem not to have noticed that their clothes are dry and the joints aren't aching. Of course, the people in both areas are excessively style conscious, and none of them wears a hat. If it is cold and dry, a hat and gloves are usually sufficient to take the bite out of the cold. Everyone in Rome dons sweaters suitable for the opening of an art show, everyone here dons sweaters suitable for the more rarified Olympic events, but their heads are uncovered, and so they all complain about the cold A Mind That Suits, from sterner climates and sporting a dashing Australian version of a Stetson, feels the cold not at all.

As during the Spring, when everyone in Palo Alto was complaining about how hot or how cold it was, when every day was breathtakingly magnificent, the phrase "the grass is always greener" intruded upon the consciousness. Although it competed with the thought that too much exposure to great weather warps the mind.

Speaking of warped minds, or at least abstract ones, the first night, A Mind That Suits completely forgot that Caltrain stops both at downtown Palo Alto and on California Avenue, just down the street and around the corner from the humble but clean Coronet Motel on El Camino, and so he walked home, trying to avoid the rain, among other things. 45 minutes, as opposed to 3 on the train, which costs a mere 55 cents more than a standard DC Metro ride, and this boy will not be on it more than once a day, at most. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

El Camino is still indisputably the ugliest business highway in America, which is saying something. The broad stretch which runs between the massive grounds of the Stanford sports complex and the equally massive playing fields of Palo Alto High is the only relief from the ugliest 50's, 60's, and 70's architecture imaginable. Boy, did they botch this one.

What a difference the choice of motels makes. A Mind That Suits, in May, stayed at the Mermaid Inn, even though it was 10 bucks more a night, because he misread the map and though the Coronet was in an even grimmer part of El Camino, down by Tower Records. A little more careful study revealed that said motel in fact was near California Street. A few too many 45 minute walks back to the Mermaid had taught this old boy well that the Hoover Insitution is on the east side of campus. The Coronet made much more sense, and saves him about 40 minutes of walking each day, and the walk is much nicer.

(Even the nice lady who has run the Coronet for 30 years admits she doesn't bother figuring out which is actually North or South because the hills, oddly enough, are sort of southward from here, which is confusing. We are, after all, on the Pacific Coast. Palm Drive, the glorious formal entrance to the school, from which everyone takes their bearings, runs from NNE to SSW, and there is even a very small road that runs true North to South. The name of the road? North-South Axis Road. It's over by the Medical Center, and you can tell if people know the school if they know it exists.)

The OTHER big difference is that there are several proper coffee shops near to hand. A Mind That Suits had to wait until 7:30 to get his latte on campus in May, and the Hoover Archives open promptly at 8:15, so no dawdling. But, much as he normally dislikes Starbucks, there is a very nice one with spacious seating and--here's the kicker--A WALL STREET JOURNAL BOX RIGHT OUTSIDE THE DOOR. The Journal boxes on Stanford campus all seem to have disappeared, so nA Mind That Suits had to read stale news from a copy procured late in the day at the Bookstore. But it's never really stale--the Journal is front to back "trend" and "analysis" stories, so very little is stale. The biggest "breaking" news is often crammed in those two columns on the front page. But when you reach a certain age, your habits are settled, and this boy settled on the Wall Street Journal to start his day a while ago.

Starbucks, by the way, seems to have realized that the deliberate choice of uncomfortable furniture was opening doors for the more customer friendly Xando (now renamed, alas, Cosi'). Starbucks has fought back with its own comfortable furniture, not to mention those truly outstanding music compilations that they put together and play in the background. It is indisputably music for the middle aged, but it is great stuff.

Xando's coffee is still better.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 1:52 PM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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