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Livermore for Wine, Bocce, and Good-Old-Boys

September 30-Oct 2, 2016
Written October 1+
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,

About a half a century ago, I belonged to Sigma Tau Omega, a social (non-residential) fraternity at the University of Portland.  That served as much of my social environment at the time.  Science students don't employ a whole lot of socializing, but we do need SOME.  Last year, 48 years after graduation, we arranged to re-meet some of the old gang (this time, "old" has more complex meaning.)  We saw some up in Portland and another group in Sonora at their annual California gathering.  Now it was time for the 2016 California gathering, this time up in Livermore.
The car navigator said it was under three hours from Fresno to Livermore, but gave little hint as to how boring the drive would be.  The route north passes orchards and vineyards, nice enough, but Highway 99 is lined with construction, old equipment lots, sketchy motels, and small businesses, effectively masking any attractive fields and farms.  Two hours in, we turned west, onto a newer, but still dull, Interstate 205.  Central California.  Less accumulated junk, mostly barren hills.  The crowning point, just before Livermore, was Altamont Pass, windy and filled with California's oldest wind farm.

After checking into our hotel, we headed out to our first goal of the day: wine tasting.  Livermore has a long history of wine-making, but the green vineyards have greatly expanded into brown hills.  Great decoration if nothing else.  We started with the GarrĂ© Winery because it was close and had a cafe. Our wine tasting was limited to a glass of rose and one of sparkling wine, both pretty decent.  The lunch was simple but tasty.  An excellent first stop.
The next stop on our mini-tour was the Concannon Winery, planted in 1883, one of the very first in the Livermore Valley.  Initially, I was put off by the large crowd in the tasting room and the commercial sense of the whole room.  Nevertheless, we paid our $10 for one six-wine tasting, and were assigned to Chuck's bar.  He proceeded to give us a very good story, both of the Concannon grapes and wines and of wine tasting generally.  We have tasted at many wineries and always appreciated learning more.  Concannon's Chuck delivered. 
For the record, we walked away with a pair of their Chardonnay bottles.  When we taste them at home, we need to see if the wine is as good as it seemed in the tasting room.  Often, for whatever reason, that is not the case.
Now it was time to see the Livermore tourist attractions.  I'd done some research, and the pickin's seemed slim, but at least there was a report of a special art display hanging in the downtown library.  The website had promised a collection of abstracts, right up Marianne's alley.  Unfortunately, the hanging had ended hours before and all we saw were empty hangers.  Darn.
We asked the librarians if there was any other art on display in town and they were hard pressed to suggest anything.  One mentioned the lobby of the Bankhead Theater, and we went over to look, but found only a limited display of Opera-related costumes and posters. 
We asked the local tourist office if we had missed anything, and all she could suggest was a "famous mural" on the wall of the old (1875) fire-house-and-town-hall.  I'm not sure why it would be "famous", but we take our tourist attractions as we find them.

By now, it was time to visit Ron and Theresa, the hosts for this year's Sigma Tau gathering.  Ted and Nancy had already arrived too and, in pretty short order, we headed out for dinner. First Street Alehouse was the group's choice, but it was absolutely full and we were getting hungry and thirsty.
Choice #2 was Mello's Pizza and Pasta and this was a success.  Seating was quick, and the restaurant, though full, was not too noisy for conversation, including conversation about hearing aid use in such environments.  It's what seniors talk about. (Bola, the pizza chef, entertained the crowd with his impressive dough-tossing skills.)  Good fun and a promising start to our fraternity weekend.

Saturday started slowly, as all on-the-road days should start.  Hotel breakfast.  Pictures and diary.  Newspapers.  Showers.  It wasn't easy to be on our way before noon, but we had appointments.

We started at Ron and Teresa's house, contributing what we could to the dinner preparation.  Teresa had arranged for dishes that made good use of sous chefs and dishwashers. 

Preps done, we headed to Campo de Bocce for the day's main event.  The bocce court was fast and it took some time before some of us could figure out how to keep the balls from rolling long and out of play.  I'm not sure many of my throws for the whole match contributed much, but my green teammates did manage to earn us four points before the red team completed their 15.  Oh well, it's the game, not the victory that matters.  (My story, unless of course I would have been on the wining side.)
Explanations and discussion.   Never enough of either.
Good form and, for the red team, generally great results.
By now, we had all worked up an appetite so we needed to get back to host Haucks' home.  The patio filled up and we started recovering from the bocce match with beers, wine, and hors d'oeuvre.  And talking.  Lots of talking.

Dinner was more of the same: good drinks, food, and talk.

The last order of business was agreement that next year, the gathering would be at Ron and Cathy's home in Alameda.  That will be the third year for us, but the 30th or 40th for the rest of the Sigma Tau Omega crew.  A very long-standing tradition. (Last year.)

The next morning, we headed back to Ron and Theresa's for a last activity: Zentangle class.   The day before, Marianne had found herself talking about her art work, including Zentangle, (or "super doodling" as I call it.)  Several folks were interested, so she volunteered to give a quick introduction on Sunday morning.  Once a teacher, always a teacher.
With that session over, the rest went out to the local ale house for breakfast, while Marianne and I headed back to Fresno.  Their activity sounded more fun, but we had appointments back home.   We all wished each other safe travel and promised to meet up again next year.  Alameda here we come!

d161002_10_route.jpgFor the drive back, we chose the somewhat longer Interstate 5 route for the southbound portion.  I'm not sure I had ever been on this part of I5 and it proved much less unpleasant than crowded and junky Highway 99.  I say "less unpleasant" because it may never be on the list of 10-most scenic American highways, but it was an easy drive and provided a view over some of the miles and miles of San Joaquin Valley farms and the hills to the west.
Within the navigator-promised three hours, we were home and back to routines: diet, exercise, and a dinner with Marianne's mom.

Nice weekend.  We look forward to next year's event. 

John and Marianne


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