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The Solano Stroll
November 12th, 1999

At Least In The Beginning
The OATS were restless, rounding us up to drive over to a soul food restaurant just off Telegraph, the OATS being the company technical support group. Eleven of us eventually arrived to sample the "best soul food" in the city and since there wasn't a table large enough to seat us all together, they put us at one end of the circular bar, just inside the front door.

Alice enticed us with stories of macaroni and cheese, the best we have ever tasted, collards and greens, which I assumed I could avoid, and fried chicken. In looking at the menu I got all experimental and went with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, rice and potato salad. The few Cajun restaurants that I've been to in Oakland make potato salad the way my mother (and her mother before her) made potato salad and I figured there was always the chance this recipe was a fixture on the New Orleans - Soul Food continuum, a high off the hog late afternoon backyard barbecue special in both cuisines. Or was I being optimistic? You never know. I do not eat a lot of fried chicken or potato salad or even macaroni and cheese anymore due to the usual problems with heart burn and premature failure, except every now and then and this was every now and then.

We were on a work lunch, of course, and the company technical side doesn't drink at lunch, not even on Fridays when we'd be getting back to work after 3:00. (This became apparent with the length of time we had to sit and wait before we were served. No problem. A quiet time, watching the crowd, listening to the juke box.) All the people I knew at the company who had liked beer with their lunch have long since left for greener and one assumes wetter pastures, many of them now rich, I might add, through interesting jobs and exciting stock options, which is not the way it's supposed to happen: They should be out on the street desperate for another drink, caging nickels while their erstwhile never imbibing former work mates made snide remarks and pointed their fingers as they passed them on the street in their almost, but never quite paid for suburban automobiles.

The unwritten rule (after all that) is a drink with lunch is OK, perhaps even civilized. Half a dozen drinks with lunch is less acceptable. So should I have a drink in this dark cool restaurant with all of my fellow workers sitting beside me dry as dogs on the one side and all the the regulars sitting on the other side at the bar listening to Etta James on the juke box and sipping cool ones? Nothing too serious, you understand, the occasional shot with a beer back, some people in the corner ordering sweet red concoctions on ice in big squat glasses sprouting straws, thin sliced fruit hanging off their sides like multicolored wattles on a reptile.

I'd forgotten how good a cold American beer tastes on a warm Friday afternoon. I hadn't forgotten The Solano Stroll what happened when I was younger, the weekend coming, the late light hinting of adventure, one beer leading to another beer on into the night, which, if I were lucky, proved eventful. We didn't talk about the merits and drawbacks of one or another of fifty micro brews back up on tap behind the bar (or the merits or demerits of one of a hundred wineries and chateaux as I once did in my wine business years), but sat staring into the distance discussing art and life, something exotic being Dos Equis, Becks or gold flecked Tequila in a square cut glass unless we didn't have a square cut glass, of course, so we drank it out of whatever was available. We would use limes when we had them. We were civilized in these things, at least in the beginning.

So the day ended with phone calls, a slight second beer buzz and some thoughts about picking up a quart of Miller at the 7 -11 on the way home. The chicken was regular fried chicken, good for fried chicken, but nothing to write home about because fried chicken is not my favorite way to prepare chicken, but the macaroni and cheese was great, the rice with a few beans for flavor was great less just a smidgen and the potato salad was just like mom's. Just like mom's. Wow. That and cold beer and what else is there in life? Anymore. I didn't buy the quart of Millers and although I scanned the photographs for today's entry, I decided to go to bed early, scribbling out in longhand the paragraph just above and finished it this Saturday morning. The sun is out. Nice color, air crisp. Get the camera.

The photographs were taken at the Solano Stroll.