Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Someplace special

A recent work-related conference placed me within an hour's flight of my hometown of Stockton, California. As the base airfare was less than $40 and opportunities to visit my parents and sister only arise once or twice a year, I jumped at the opportunity.

Some who are familiar with my hometown's many challenges might wonder why I'd bother. Not being a 'Stockton apologist', I recognize said problems and have even sung the blues about them. Problems aside though, there's a lot to like about Stockton that many (read “Forbes Magazine”, among others) either refuse to acknowledge or gloss over. After spending an extended weekend in the nation's easternmost Pacific seaport, I'd like to rectify that oversight.

Valley deliciousness

My first stop upon landing at Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK) was Chuck's Hamburgers, a family-run eatery dating back more than forty years. Though Chuck's menu includes a range of delectable options (e.g. milkshakes served up in the metal can, pancakes so large they're nicknamed 'manhole covers', etc.), this trip included two of my longtime favorites: A completely loaded club sandwich on sourdough and a half-order of onion rings. Yum!

The visit and related proximity to childhood memories also inspired me to make sopas (a traditionalPortuguese dish often served on or around Easter) for my parents and sister. Sopas made with fresh-baked multigrain sourdough bread from Stockton's Boudin Bakery made for yet another delicious Stockton memory.

Music and the arts

Second stop on this year's spring vacation to Stockton was the Haggin Museum. My parents and I enjoyed wine tasting, hors d'oeuvres and the blues, made possible by Friends of the Haggin (who organized the refreshments) and Ms. Lizzy and Her Cadillac Kings, the evening's talented performers. Sipping delicious, locally grown and produced red zinfandel wine accompanied by fresh California strawberries, all while listening to classics like “Sweet Home, Chicago” (a song about where I now live) made for yet another memorable moment.

The weekend's entertainment didn't end with that first night at the Haggin though. On Friday night, my parents and I enjoyed listening to local band “Bad Habits” while dining on delicious tri-tip sandwiches at Royce's BBQ. My mom and I then headed out to the Elks Lodge to listen to the classic rock n' roll stylings of “RB/X”.

[More]BBQ and Baseball

Yet another Stockton claim to fame is Banner Island Ballpark (aka 'The BIB', a minor league venue once recognized as one of the nation's finest ballparks). A quick stroll around The BIB quickly illustrates why it's a Stockton gem. Nestled alongside the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, just across the water from Stockton's downtown marina, with a host of children's activities and blessed with cool delta breezes and a plethora of dining options (I enjoyed a BBQ'd chicken salad and deep fried Stockton asparagus), I can't think of a better place to enjoy a ballgame... Which is no mean compliment coming from someone who's personally enjoyed 'The Friendly Confines' on a number of occasions.

Far away home, far away port

Watching the Stockton Ports' batters slam doubles and triples, seeing ocean-bound freighters loading up on molasses and concrete, enjoying warm sun and clear skies... Good times. Does any of that eradicate the specter of bankruptcy, high crime or Stockton's other challenges? No, of course not. That said though, I'd like to remind Stockton's many naysayers that, while the city's challenges are great, a thousand miles of sun-drenched waterways, countless acres of verdant farmland and plentiful vineyards all translate into someplace that, challenges aside, is still pretty dammed special.

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