A Day of Mis-adventures
Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mr. Pirate & I decided An Adventure was in order. For no other reason than "just because". The weather was *fantastic*: blue, cloudless sky, very slight breeze, temps in the mid-60's. In fact, if you stood in the sunlight, it was actually warm. All together, a beautiful Fall day for being outside.

Mr. Pirate thinks that riding the train is grand fun and since an Amtrak station isn't too far away, a trip out to Old Town Sacramento for lunch and back would be a lovely day's outing.

Until we discovered that ONE round trip ticket was $32.00 For those of you who are math-impaired, that would be $64 just for the train ride. Lunch would be additional. Now a train ride for no reason other than "it's fun" is a great idea until the cost of such fun is exorbitant. I find it astonishing that anyone actually rides the train, if all fares are like this. Bottom line: no trip to Sacramento.

Since we weren't going East, we thought to head West, Young Man, head West. A BART train ride to San Francisco sounded great; we'd exit at the Embarcadero Station and head towards Pier 39, which is a mile away. If we wanted to, we could ride a trolley instead of walking. Furthermore, today starts Fleet Week in the City and in the afternoon, the Blue Angels would be doing their survey flights for their performances later in the week. This would be REALLY exciting! woo hoo!

Off to the BART station we went. Remember, this is just before noon and in times past, there have been parking lots reserved for mid-day travelers. However, this practice seems to have gone by the wayside. We spent 1/2 hour going through all 3 street lots AND the 3 story parking garage ... there were NO open parking spots. Bottom line: no trip to San Francisco.

Back to the house for a quick pit stop and another thought occured to Mr. Pirate .... eating at the Commandant's House in Benicia! Excellent idea! The Commandant's House is a lovely Victorian in Benicia, where the Commandant of the Armory used to live. When the Armory was decommissioned (?) declassified (?) disbanded (?) and the real estate went public, the house became a restaurant. I remember eating there ages and ages ago; the house had such a lovely ambiance.

BUT ... some niggling thought at the back of my memory indicated it wasn't a restaurant any longer. A Google search confirmed it. ::sigh:: Another fine idea shot down in its prime. Bottom line: no lunch at the Commandant's House.

Now you might think that this would be a case of "3 strikes and you're out" .. but this is Mr. Pirate you're dealing with and when he is on a Quest, there is no stopping him! He remembered another funky place in Crockett, a restaurant named Nantucket .. and by golly, it was still there! woo hoo! Clam chowder for lunch!

Crocket is a place that you can't actually get to from anywhere. You really need to know that Crockett exists. Established in 1867, it used to be a C&H Sugar company town but, over the years, has evolved from that status. C&H Sugar still has a processing plant there, but the "company town" atmosphere has dissipated. It does, however, seem to be stuck in a time warp and like many other cities these days, there are more vacant storefronts than occupied ones.

The Nantucket is Right On The Water. This isn't to say that it's in a touristy, waterfront area. It's definitely NOT San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. In fact, if you didn't know it was there, no one would ever, ever find it. I'm simply amazed that it stays in business.

To get to it, you have to drive under a LOT of freeway fly-overs (there have been a lot of freeway redevelopment in this area), go down a dead-end street, go past the C&H Sugar truck yard, into a dead-end gravel lot just before you hit the Amtrak train tracks. In fact, the tracks are barely ON the shore; you couldn't get any closer to the water of you wanted to but just on the other side of the tracks, there is a tiny spit of land ... and that's where the Nantucket is.

If you look at the map at the top of the page, you'll see a red arrow and star ... that's where the Nantucket is located (the green and blue arrows on the map will be explained later).

You can't drive across the railroad tracks; there's nowhere for a vehicle to be. You have to WALK across 2 sets of tracks plus a siding to get to the BACK entrance of the Nantucket.
In fact, a close-up of the tracks to the right of the entrace shows a rather delapidated warehouse and a boat that has been ... uhhh .. "beached" in a rather precarious position.

The *front* door faces the water and the view.

The view. Well, it isn't spectacular ... you're looking at a very decrepid wharf and a rusty old boat. To the right of the rust old boat is the Carquinez Straits and the very new Carquinez Bridge and the formerly new Carquinez Bridge. (The original bridge was torn down years ago). You can see part of these bridges better in the "tracks to the right" picture above.

But really .. who cares about the view when you're hungry? :-) I am pleased to say that the food is excellent. We both had the New England Clam Chowder (*excellent*); Mr. Pirate had a bowl and I had a cup. Mr. Pirate had a small side salad and I had 2 (large) crab cakes from the appetizer menu. When I finished my cup of soup, I found I could only finish one of the crab cakes; the remaining one came home with us for later consumption. (I anticipate enjoying it for dinner along with some leftover Posole soup).

Apparently, the Nantucket is known far and wide ... even the Sacramento Sheriff & staff/deputies pulled up in their power boat to have lunch there. Notice the antiquated pier in the background? Very typical of the State of Things on the waterfront. :-(


Once you get outside the Nantucket, walk back towards the railroad tracks, get around the abandoned piers, you will see the most AMAZING vista. If you look at the map at the top of the page, you'll see a bright green arrow pointing to the California Maritime Academy. (aside: one of Mr. Pirate's cousins attended that school!) The green arrow on the photograph at the top of the page is the same spot. Although you can't see it on the Google map, the land mass to the left of the Maritime Academy in the photograph is Mare Island, a former Navy Shipyard where (among other things) nuclear submarines where based.

As we were eating, we were remembering a TV ad (for local viewing) of a seafood restaurant where the customer is mildly complaining that the fish on his plate is still moving, so the resourceful waiter pulls out a handgun and kills it. The waiter is pleased. The customer is pleased. The commercial was hysterically funny. Unfortunately, it was not for the Nantucket but for a competitor's restaurant, Dead Fish Restaurant, up the road.

After we finished our lunch, we tooled on up the road to Dead Fish .... a much ritzier place than the Nantucket. Very plush inside, luxurious bar and restaurant areas. Mr. Pirate commented that Dead Fish is the kind place where you'd take a date.

I surmised that the Nantucket was where one obviously took one's wife. :-) :-)

Since we were in the area, we motored around beautiful downtown Crockett and the absorbed town of Valona. Did you even KNOW there used to be two towns, side by side? Yep, Crockett and Valona. Apparently there was some sort of bad blood or town rivalry between the two because we were told if there was a fire in one town, the fire department from the other wouldn't show up. Let's see .. what's that grocery store jingle ... "since we're neighbors, let's be friends" ?? Apparently Crockett and Valona never heard of it. When the two towns grew (physically) closer to each other, Valona was absorbed into Crockett and is now a kinda/sorta neighborhood.

According to Wikipedia, Valona is "an unincorporated community ... located in the bluffs above Crockett... the similar village of Selby is located nearby." Mr. Pirate had mentioned Selby, but we never did actually find it.

However, in walking around beautiful, downtown Crockett, we DID find Valona .. in form of the corner where Toot's bar is located (and the surrounding streets). Toot's was open by the time we got there (around 3pm) but it was only unofficially open .. the bartender was there, as was a .. ummm ... "interesting" customer. When we mentioned to the barkeep that we had been told Toot's was open, he rather disagreeably retorted, "Who told you that?!?". When we replied that one of the C&H workers did, he backed off, then sadly told us that he couldn't serve us anything since the cash register wasn't open (and wouldn't be until 4pm). Qué lástima. Qué mala suerte.


The area immediately surrounding the Nantucket and the Crocket shoreline seems just so sad. Piers and homes have been burned and not rebuilt. There's no reason to rebuild ... there's no business.

All the haunts that Mr. Pirate used to frequent in his youth are gone .. boarded up or converted to housing.

And yet, for all of that, the town of Crockett itself has some very, very charming houses. This is no cookie-cutter subdivision: all the houses are different from each other, with their own character. The houses cling to the hillsides and hide in small streets; Crockett has a very small town feel to it. Soooo ... where are the pictures of the houses? uhhhhh .... I didn't take any. My bad. :-)

We also wandered around the undeveloped shore and saw several burned out remnants of former docks and/or piers. There used to be ferries running from Crockett to Benicia before the highway system was fully developed. When the interstate highway rolled around, the ferries and docks were abandoned. Many disintegrated or succumbed to fires, such as this one here, which *used* to be Eckley. Mr. Pirate says there were shops on the pier, as well as the ferry building. If you look at the map at the top of the page, you'll see a blue arrow pointing to where Eckley used to be. (Interestingly, the spot is mislabeled in this Google map).

Again, according to Wikipedia, "Eckley was a city which served as a ferry landing for crossings of the Carquinez Strait prior to the construction of the Carquinez Bridge. It lay on the Southern Pacific Railroad [slightly] northwest of Martinez. The townspeople were very active in the sport of baseball and about a dozen company teams were supported. The population decreased with the construction of the bridge and in the late 20th Century the last residents left. Much of the population relocated to Crockett.

After Eckley, we wandered on over to Port Costa. Now, if Crockett is a shadow of its former self, then Port Costa is invisible. Heh, the 2000 census recorded exactly 232 people ... that they could find. :-)

Historically, Port Costa was .. well .. a port. :-)

Fancy that.

It was the landing spot for railroad ferries from Benicia. So, what exactly is a railroad ferry? Well, back in 1879 (yes *1879*) there was no interstate highway system (duh). There were barely trails from one place to another and to get across the Carquinez Straits, one took a ferry. EVEN THE TRAINS! Yep, a railroad ferry took *entire trains* across the water to Port Costa, where they continued on their way to Oakland. When a railroad bridge was built at Martinez in 1930 (which can still be seen today), Port Costa declined rapidly.

The "downtown" is exactly 1/2 block long but both sides of the block have buildings. :-) Unfortunately, everything was buttoned down tight, seeing as it was only Thursday afternoon. Heck, even the Warehouse Cafe (the local bar and eatery) wasn't open for business. Mr. Pirate & I wandered the 1/2 block and noticed there were some rather charming brick-paved lanes between the old buildings. Saplings from LONG ago had taken root and become full-fledged trees. One such lane opened up into a very picturesque courtyard, surrounded by storied buildings. I *was* taken aback when I spied a black coffin on sawhorses to one side of the courtyard ... but giving everyone the benefit of the doubt (and knowing that awesome Abby of NCIS doesn't reside in Port Costa ... although she very well could fit in), I will assume that this is a prop for Halloween. Yup ... that's the story. :-)

There was also a wrought iron gate leading to another lane ... possibly, we thought, to the back entrance of the Warehouse Cafe. Mr. Pirate opened the gate, took one step inside and from a doorway inside of the gate area, a rather irate man stepped out. Mr. Pirate politely asked if this was the back entrance ... yada yada yada .. and the man, indignantly exclaimed, "NO! This is my house!" Oh. Well. Hmmm. Our apologies. We made a rapid retreat back to the street ... I didn't have the courage to return to take pictures. :-) Returning to our car, we made our escape. :-)

Rounding out the afternoon's adventure was trips through nearby towns of Hercules (also once a company town, established in 1881 by the California Powder Works for manufacturing gun powder but is now completely redeveloped), Pinole (locally known as the "hole of Pinole" ... for good reason) and El Sobrante. Aside: El Sobrante just cracks me up ... that's Spanish for "leftover" ... I wonder how many residents of El Sobrante know that? Yeah, I know that other synonyms are 'remainder', 'extra' or 'surplus' but 'leftover' just tickles my perverse funnybone. :-)

We ended back home around 5pm ... not exactly the day we had originally planned .. but a lovely adventure all the same!