Thank God for friends.
Wednesday, the 18th of January, was a tough one. The day started out great, waking up in the Marin Lodge in San Rafael. Not for nothing, this is a very decent little place to stay in Marin at $93.00 a night. Likewise, our IAUG NorCal meeting at the Marin Center went off perfectly, with David Lover doing his David Lover thing, Avaya’s VP of Global Finance gave us a killer, personal presentation on their financial situation the very day before their Chapter 11 filing went public (and he did keep his lip zipped on that, for the record!), we had awesome industry analysts like Phil Edholm and Blair Pleasant speak to the group, and I gave away a PlayStation 4 to my friend Tony!
It was a great meeting, with lots of friends and colleagues from around the state; we had a near-record turnout. However, it was storming, and I mean coming down in buckets. I knew it would be a bear getting back to Sacramento from Marin, but I didn’t know how big a bear it would turn out to be.
It was the type of storm where you really don’t want to drive any faster than about 55 or 60 on the freeway, and there wasn’t much traffic until I hit the predictable crawl on Highway 37 before Sears Point. After that it wasn’t too bad, and 80 east from Vallejo was a breeze. I had to pee, and I felt like a little coffee might ensure alertness for the rest of the trip (despite its guarantee that I’d have to pee again before long), so I pulled into a McDonald’s. I got soaked between the car and the restaurant, even though I parked right in front of the door. Relieved and coffeed up, I was sailing away again on a strangely sparse I-80. By the time I passed Dixon, things were still looking good. True, I’ve been on the road for about two hours already due to the setback on the 37, but with luck I’d be home in time for dinner at 5:30.
That’s when things got weird. Sometimes when I’m driving on a longish trip, even if I know where I’m going I have the Google map app running so I can see what the traffic situation is, and my ETA. But suddenly Google told me to get off the highway at Pedrick road.
Strange that Google would take me off a free-flowing highway onto a country road, but I figured it knows better than me, so I got off. It was raining in torrents now, and this road led me a good couple miles south – perpendicular to the highway – but I soldiered on, navigating around semi-flooded areas and moving deeper into darkness. Finally Google had me hang a left, and then eventually back toward the highway, presumably, by way of Mace Road. All I can think is that Google knew the highway was about to come to a standstill, so it saved me a few minutes by navigating me around the worst of it. I soon came to regret this detour.
Before long the coffee has taken its toll, so I pull off up a levee-top and it’s storming so badly that, well, sorry Enterprise-Rent-A-Car, but sadly it was more than rain that soaked your car that night. Then I realized I had pulled off up in an area that I’d now have to back down in this storm, and that was a bit perilous, but I survived.
Eventually I found myself within a half-mile of returning to the highway, and I’m at an utter standstill. There is a half-mile line of cars inching – and I mean INCHING – toward the highway, when Amy texts me that the power has been out at home for several hours. It’s getting to be 6:30 at night, I’m probably a couple of hours from getting home judging by the storm and the state of the freeway, I’m hungry, cranky, tired, and I know the coffee will force me to pee again eventually. After twenty minutes and only moving a couple hundred yards I start thinking about who I know in Davis I can stop in on. It takes me a minute, but I realize: Sergio, Reyna, and Tres Hermanas!
We’ve been going to Tres on K Street for I don’t know how many years. Dad and Vonnie became pretty good friends with Sergio – El Uno Hermano -, Reyna and their family, and had us all over for meals several times. (They were probably the last non-family to visit Dad before he died.) I don’t know how Sergio and Reyna do it. They have three kids, they run a business together, they see movies and watch all the good TV shows, they go to concerts and clubs and on vacations. Their life exhausts me. Since they opened their own Tres Hermanas in Davis we see them less, but it’s always a treat when we do.
I figured even if Sergio or Reyna weren’t there (but they’re always there!), I’d rather spend a couple of hours at their restaurant than sitting on the stormy highway. The longer I stayed in Davis, I reasoned the better chance I’d have for traffic clearing up and the power coming on in my house.
“How do I get to Tres Hermanas from here?” I asked Siri. She guided me out of traffic, through a neighborhood, and into Davis proper. I was feeling good until I noticed that all the traffic signals were dark, and lights were out sporadically in Davis’s homes and businesses. It started storming harder, and before long I was inching through downtown Davis as well. The going was slow, but Tres was up ahead on the left. At that point traffic came to a standstill again, as I saw sirens up ahead – right outside the restaurant. I start scanning for parking spots, because it’s the kind of night that looks like I’m just not parking anywhere.
As I crawl closer to Tres, I can see there are about three police cars and a fire truck, but I’m not sure why. They’re talking to someone, rain lashing down on all of them, on the side of the road. Finally I’m alongside the restaurant and I’m crushed: it’s dark inside, they’re closed. But wait, something’s happening in there. People are moving around with their cell phone flashlights. The power is out, but are they open for business? I’ve also noticed there are some other restaurants around, so if worse comes to worse I’ll wait out the storm in a pizza place or something.
Miracle of miracles, a parking spot opens up right in front of me, right along side the restaurant! I park and head over to Tres to see what’s up. The door is unlocked and the hostess stops me. “Are you meeting someone?” She doesn’t want to let me in, not sure why – maybe because the power is out? I ask if Sergio or Reyna are there, and she perks up. “Oh sure, right over there!” Sergio and Reyna greet me with hugs, sit me at the bar, bring me chips, salsa, and beer, and ask me what I want to eat. I could cry I’m so happy. The power is out in the restaurant, they have half a house, and they’re still cooking. Still taking care of customers.
I tell them I don’t need anything to eat, I don’t want them to tax the dark kitchen any more than necessary. Chips, salsa, and beer are just fine. They’re not having it, so I get tacos, rice and beans.
I eat in the dark at the bar, with Sergio or Reyna stopping by every so often to take a pull of tequila and chat for a minute. I asked Sergio about the police cars out front, and he told me someone had been hit by a car, but his understanding was they were OK. This night was like descending into Dante’s Inferno! Still, I was safe, warm, fed, and despite the near-tragedy out front, I couldn’t be happier.
After a half hour or so, the lights turn on and everyone cheers. I enjoy the rest of my meal and a second beer in the warm glow of blessed electricity. Sergio introduces me to Sal and the group at the table behind me. Sal, who is in celebrating a birthday, was a customer Sergio became friendly with. They had some adventures together and went on a hike to Yosemite’s Half Dome. Sergio had been out partying pretty late the night before their trip, and by the time they hiked several hours to get to the rails that lead hikers up the Half Dome face, Sergio was wiped. It got spiritual and introspective. He realized he needed to change his life. He was partying too much, and needed to focus more on his family and his inner self. Sergio was lagging behind the other hikers, wiped out physically and mentally. Sal respected Sergio’s desire for solitude, but wouldn’t leave him behind. By the time they reached the rails, Sal literally pushed Sergio by the ass to get him moving up to the top of the mountain. Their group watched the sunrise from atop Half Dome as planned, and Sergio says he came off the mountain a changed man. For Sal’s birthday, Sergio was going to present Sal with a large, framed Half Dome photograph the Sergio had taken when he was younger (he is an accomplished photographer and photography teacher). Sal didn’t know he was getting a gift from Sergio, and I was sworn to secrecy. Sergio told me this story between sips of tequila as he was serving the restaurant, keeping an eye on his and Reyna’s kids running around, and it hit me square in the feels. He introduces me to Sal and I can tell the warmth and friendship of that gentleman are sincere. I was also invited to Yosemite before the end of the night.
Amy and I are texting, the power is still out at home, and I’m telling her only half-jokingly that sadly I live at Tres Hermanas now. I don’t think she’s amused, but she understands. Sergio clinks a glass and calls the restaurant to attention and tells everyone the Half Dome story he just told me. He presents Sal the photo and there’s not a dry eye in the house. Sal gives a speech and tells the restaurant about the first time he came to Tres Hermanas, and sat at the bar “right over there where Chip is sitting now,” as I raised my glass. More tears, more hugs, more drinks, and I am in no hurry to get home to my cold house.
I stayed for a while longer, maybe two hours total, and made my way home. Traffic was still bad, and power was still out at home, but all joking aside, my heart is on Shepard Avenue with Amy, Henry, Josie and the dogs: Benny and Rosie. And of course Vincent, although he lives in Berkeley now. Power came back on in the middle of the night, and real life was waiting back at work the next day.
My crazy day started in Marin County seeing all my friends from the Avaya Users Group, with a pit stop visiting Sergio and Reyna, and ended back where I belong, on Shepard Avenue with my family.
It’s good to have friends like Sergio and Reyna. We don’t see each other much, and don’t have a ton of personal history, but they’re my kind of people. They are people who work and play very hard, love life, and love people. They may or may not know how meaningful it was to me that they took care of me that night. Their friendship and hospitality were precisely what I needed, and even these weeks later, I’m still very grateful for it.