Santa Clara 2017 diary: Day 1

Saturday, 3 June, 2017. 10:44

I’m sitting on a Caltrain train heading south from Millbrae (near San Francisco Airport) towards Lawrence, where I’ll be getting off and walking to my hotel for this trip, the Biltmore Hotel and Suites in Santa Clara.

My flight left Sydney at 13:00 on Saturday, and landed here in San Francisco just before 09:30 the same day, thanks to crossing the date line. The flight was uneventful, and reasonably comfortable with my exit row seat. The couple sitting next to me were Sean and Bridget, staying in San Francisco for five days before heading to Chicago for a friend’s wedding, then going on to Washington D.C., New York, and Toronto before heading home.

I met Abhishek at Sydney Airport after he had realised from a Facebook post of mine that I was also flying to San Francisco. It turned out he was on the same flight, heading over for business with his new company, Dolby. So we arranged to meet up at the airport. He is staying here longer than me, and up in San Francisco proper for a while before heading down to Sunnyvale, but we might manage to meet up for a dinner on Thursday night.

I used some time at the airport before Abhi arrived, and some time on the flight, to draw some panels for Eavesdropper. After eating the beef brisket lunch on the plane, I tried to rest and close my eyes until the breakfast service coming into San Francisco. I didn’t really sleep, but am feeling not too tired at the moment.

Sea of cloud
Sea of clouds. In flight to San Francisco

At San Francisco airport, I added $20 to my Clipper card, then got on a Bart train to Millbrae, where I went to the Caltrain platform to catch a train south. There were Clipper tagging points on the platform, so I assumed they worked like Opal and needed to be tagged before getting on the train, and then when getting off again. I tagged one, and the display screen said something like “Fare $11.20 okay, balance $4.20”. This looked like it had deducted a fare already, which seemed wrong. Not knowing what else to try, I tried tapping it again, and it said something like “$11.20 refund okay”. Guessing that this meant I’d tapped off the system, I tried a third time, and it repeated the same message as the first time. So I’m now assuming that what it does is estimate your balance after some sort of fare and show you that, rather than what is actually the current balance. Anyway, I got on the next train when it arrived after about 15 minutes, and we’ll see what the machine says when I tag off at the other end.

The train seems okay, and I managed to get a seat even though there weren’t many free. But it smells funny in here. I’ll be happy to get out into the fresh air again when I get to Lawrence.


After arriving at Lawrence, I waited behind a short queue of people tapping their Clipper cards, and tentatively tapped mine in case it sounded some sort of alert siren indicating that I’d failed to pay or didn’t have enough credit on my card or something. But it seemed to work just fine, deducting roughly what I thought it should, and leaving me with a balance of about $8. On the negative side, I’d assumed I could add more credit to the Clipper card before getting on the train back to the airport on Friday, but there didn’t seem to be any machines to do this at Lawrence.

The station was small and had very little in the way of amenities. It’s in the middle of a large industrial area, with no houses of shops nearby. I’d decided to walk to my hotel, a walk which Google Maps said would take 59 minutes, but I figured I walk fast and could do it in maybe 40 or so. The weather was warm and sunny, but not too hot. I walked near a small group of people who’d also gotten off the train and were headed in the same direction, at least initially.

As we turned a corner we saw about five police cars parked on the side of the road, and maybe eight officers in a group with a woman in handcuffs. They waved at us to walk into the adjacent car park and around them, rather than along the footpath that they were occupying, but the people in front of me walked into the road instead, so I followed them as it was less out of our way. At the front of the police cars was another car, presumably belonging to the woman, and the front was damaged like it had been in a smash recently. No idea what happened though.

Beer at the Tap Room
Refreshing ale at The Tap Room, Santa Clara Square

I left most of the group behind after a while, but one guy walked ahead faster than me, and seemed to be going the same way, taking turns where I did. But it was now after midday and I was getting hungry, so I stopped in at a shopping area called Santa Clara Square to get some lunch. There was a bar called The Tap Room, which had burgers and sushi, so I got a crunchy tempura prawn roll and an IPA. The sushi roll was pretty good, and large and filling enough for lunch.

After eating, I continued the walk to the hotel. It involved walking along the side of an expressway, which was pretty dull and noisy from the traffic. I was a bit hot when I finally made it to the hotel, and checked in and had a shower, grateful to cool down and change into fresh clothes.

Biltmore Hotel view
The glorious view from my hotel room

I rested a bit and messaged Nicolas to come over and pick up his new camera that he’d asked me to bring from Australia for him. He appeared soon and took delivery and we chatted a bit. He said he will be at the ISO meeting reception on Monday night, so I’ll see him again there.

Crossing the tracks – Amtrak line running through Santa Clara near my hotel

Then I decided to go out for a walk to check out the area and get some exercise so I could stay awake. I walked past a taqueria which I thought might be interesting, but it looked a bit run down. It was a good ten minutes walk away, again through dull industrial areas. Then about another 15 minutes further along was the Rivermark Village shopping mall, which had several decent looking places to eat as well as other shops. One place was a bakery called The Prolific Oven and I went inside to have a look, and found they had a raspberry vanilla slice! I had to try it, and checked the time was 16:30, so hopefully it wouldn’t spoil my dinner too much. It was interesting and pretty good – you can read my full review at Snot Block & Roll.

Edible cookie dough?!
Black bean burger for dinner

After that I dropped into Safeway to buy some things for breakfast. I got some Granny Smith apples and some bananas. I also bought some more Old Spice deodorants to take home. I couldn’t believe one of the weird things I saw in the supermarket: chocolate chip cookie dough, in plastic tubs saying you could eat it by the spoon! Like it wasn’t really made for baking cookies – it was just made to eat as it was. I returned to the hotel again and tried to talk with M. by FaceTime, but the hotel WiFi was flaky and the connection kept dropping out. Eventually we found that voice only worked better than video, so we could have a chat.

Black bean burger
Black bean burger for dinner

Around 20:00 I went down to the hotel bar for dinner, feeling too lazy to walk out anywhere else. The bar had a black bean vegetable patty burger, which I ordered with the French fries. The waitress asked if I wanted mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard, and I said just the mustard. She brought the burger out with a squeeze bottle of yellow mustard. The burger was decent, and not too heavy, so was a good choice. After eating I came back to my room for the evening.

2 Responses to “Santa Clara 2017 diary: Day 1”

  1. K`shandra says:

    Ha! Rivermark is only about a mile from my office. Sorry I didn’t realize you were in the area last week.

  2. D’oh! It’s hard keeping track of all the people I know in various places.

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