The Exploratorium has re-opened at its beautiful new location on Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. It is incredible! LOVE-LOVE-LOVE!¬†Featuring over 150 hands-on exhibits, it’s brighter, spacious, and modern.

I think the location is ideal and much more convenient for tourists who can see the Bay Bridge, visit the Ferry Building, then saunter down to the Exploratorium, then continue to the Wharf. Locals get a $5 discount per ticket.

We went on a Saturday when every single parent, grandparent, aunt, and uncle were on-hand to accompany all these gazillion little people. I vow to take a half-day off work and go when there aren’t any crowds. There’s so much to do and it’s all fascinating.

In one exhibit, we listened to a blind man give a sensory-guided tour of the Civic Center BART station. That was really eye-opening to have to listen for contextual clues like coins dropping or the machine sucking in the BART ticket.

There were also petri dishes of the various growth stages of a duck embryo. It was so interesting to see the tiny heart beating in a sac. We could have spent all day there if it weren’t for the exhausting crowds. Definitely going back one day in the middle of the week.

NYC Oddities

These are just a few things I’ve observed that seem strange to me. Not strange to everyone, but to me—a Bay Area Californian.

What is up with the handful of pet shops I’ve come across peddling puppies to the public? I think California must have outlawed these shops because I haven’t seen one since I was a child. The dogs come from puppy mills and are known to have major health problems. If you want a dog, go to the SPCA or get it from a breeder. Don’t get a dog while you’re out boutique shopping!

Most women in NYC get dolled up. I think most Californian women tend to go natural and consider lip gloss makeup.

Do New York restaurants have something against California wine? If I’m lucky, I’ll find one California variety on a wine list. Most don’t even carry California wine. Ummm, don’t you want to source products from the best places? If so, then why not buy from Napa or Sonoma? Nope, New York restaurants seem to prefer buying the worst wine possible. I have been opting for cocktails rather than stinky wine.

Love the subway system. Amazing. I always make a few mistakes whenever taking the subway: wrong line, wrong stop, missed connection. Anywho, you’re held accountable for all the mistakes you make. Let’s say you realize after entering the subway and inserting your metro card that you’re at the wrong station. You can’t get a refund. You’re stuck. You paid your $2.25 and now you need to pay another $2.25 to correct your mistake. With BART (the Bay Area’s public transportation system), if you immediately exit, you won’t be charged. The system will know that you entered/exited at the same spot and should not be charged. With BART, you get charged for the distance you go. With the subway, it’s a flat fee. I’m ok with the different charge methods, but making a mistake and getting charged for it, is a bit annoying.

Back to School

“Hi Dad,” I hollered into my Blackberry. “I’m at 12th Street BART. Can you pick me up?”

So started my adventure after leaving work in the Financial District to return to my hometown for an alumni event at my high school. I could have easily taken the 51 bus straight to school, as two passed by in the 10 minutes I was waiting, but it’s always good to see the folks. My dad did a drive-by to pick me up on Broadway before we picked my mom up from work at the Kaiser office building on Harrison.

My parents dropping me off at my high school campus was strange in and of itself. But walking toward the newly-renovated gymnasium, I felt like a teenager again. Same height, same weight, no gray hair. Strangely, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve returned to looking like my teenage self. There was my obese stage in college; I snapped back. Then there was that fat stage in grad school which hung around like a bad conscience, tormenting me.

The alumni event catered to graduates from the 90s with a wine and cheese reception prior to a Varsity basketball game. Before signing in, I became elated at seeing my former Algebra and Geometry teachers. “Former” teachers had also been invited. Former is in quotes because they seem to all return to the school to sub. I swear the school is like a magnet. Teachers can’t stay away. Alumni send their own kids to the school. I was most surprised at how easily I was able to recall names on the spot as I made my way around the room–names of alums who weren’t even in my class and were several years ahead of or below me. Why is that the case when I am the worst when it comes to remembering names of people I’m introduced to. In one ear and out the other.

After the reception, four of us from the Class of ’93, snaked our way into a section of the packed bleachers to watch our St. Joseph Notre Dame Pilots play the St. Patrick Bruins. It was a thrilling game not only enhanced by the school band and cheer squad, but also by a vocal crowd of older men screaming.

“Cmon ref are you blind? Our kids are practically bleeding!”

I turned around. White men cheering for our predominantly black team. Obviously can’t be parents. I looked again. These guys were old alumni, former teachers, and parents of kids I went to school with. They get so involved that the support never dies, even after they stop paying tuition. They go to every home game. There’s a whole cadre of them.

Luckily we won the game. The basketball team is the reigning state champion, so fans expect dominance. That wasn’t always the case. However, during my time there, we had our Hoosiers moment and have sought to reclaim that glory year after year. Basketball–always will be my favorite team sport to watch.

I called my parents to let them know not to bother picking me up. It was going to be a long night.

Money Monday: HOAs

99% of San Franciscans can’t afford to buy a single family home unless you want to live in Bayview which may sound pretty, but most definitely is not. Instead we hoard our money to buy a little piece of the American dream called a condominium which means you’re permanently attached to other property owners through a building Home Owner Association (HOA). As a full-fledged member of an HOA, you have the privilege of paying monthly HOA dues. These dues can pay for utilities for the common areas, insurance, and other maintenance. Essentially, HOAs = flushing money down the toilet. If you sell your place, you will never recover this money. If you have fully paid off your home, you will continue to pay HOA dues for the duration of the time you own your home. It’s mind-boggling. So mind-boggling that hard-working people are dumb enough to pay this crap. All because we can’t afford a non-detached home. Are you with me? It’s an abusive real-estate cycle.

Since most of us property-owners can’t afford anything but a condo, the best we can do is minimize the HOA payment. I was lucky enough to buy into a newly-formed condo with reasonable owners who wanted the pay the least amount possible, because we were all smart and logical. We started out paying $100/month. I’m currently the only original owner from that first triumvirate. Since then, the dues have increased to $200. Even this amount is low. You will not find many condo owners in the city of SF paying less than that.

Sometimes I haphazardly look at Zillow listings when I dream of a better life outside of the ‘Loin. Yesterday I came across this 2-bedroom, 2-bath beauty in Lake Merritt going for $420k. 1,300+ square feet a few blocks away from BART. Doesn’t get better than this. Take a look.

Gorgeous, right? But something had to give. That’s (what I consider) a low price for such a cute place. I emailed the agent and asked him one question – what are the HOAs?

$720!!! That’s per month. Granted, the place comes with a door man, but $720 with all the same caveats I mentioned above. Money down the drain. So sad, so pathetic. Whoever buys this place is stupid.