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Chaos Theory 

Where to drink when you find yourself broke-down in Oak-town

Wednesday, Oct 5 2005
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The origins of the word "chaos" are surprising (well, let me clarify that by saying, "The origins of the word 'chaos' are surprising if you are a total geek." Everyone else can return to programming his TiVo). Instead of meaning "disorder" or "upheaval," "chaos," from the Greeks, means "a great void," "a bottomless drop," "a big gaping hole," or depending on parlance, "Barbara Bush's vagina."

For my purposes, let's stick to the pedestrian definition of "chaos," meaning "totally fucked up." It is how I live my life; how I drive down the street with a big gaping hole in the back of my car where some kids threw a brick at me as I scooted past (they must have read my controversial treatise on tort reform or something). I have yet to get the window fixed because I cannot afford it. Whenever I get the money to finally fix it, something else happens, like I get pulled over and have to go to court to pay a fine, or my cat snorts up a foxtail and I have to go to the vet, or the Company Store has a sale on its down comforters and I have to buy one before they run out. If it ain't one thing it's another. So this week, when I was in Oakland for a friend's surprise birthday party and emerged to find that my car was making a bizarre clicking noise when I tried the ignition, it made sense. Total chaos, just a different day.

So there I was in Oakland and couldn't afford a tow, so heck, why don't I go to a bar and meet the townsfolk?

When in downtown Oakland and imbued with the urge to imbibe, one can take the hipster circuit. Begin at the Ruby Room, then head to the Golden Bull, then Radio, then Cafe Van Kleef to top off the night. Real hard-core peeps might dip into Luka's Taproom for a snack at some point, but I don't like being in a place with all those windows (my controversial treatise on tort reform, remember?).

But Cafe Van Kleef is the shit. I always meet someone interesting here, either a city attorney who is prosecuting illegal-immigrant Chinese slave drivers, or pot club proprietors, or people who enjoy the work of the Swans, or Jerry Brown. The place looks like a rummage sale, with stuff jutting out hither and yon in some sort of organized chaos. A lot of the things are sculptures and artwork created by the owner, Peter Van Kleef, or "the frying Dutchman" as I like to call him. He is very eccentric, some might say on a permanent acid trip, but he is also jovial, smart, handsome, and very generous. All the things you want in a bar owner.

I sat down at the bar on one of the tall stools and had some sort of a Euro beer. There was Peter, whipping around in a frenzy, going all argie-bargie getting ready for a meeting with people from the city. Even though he was late, he took the time to say hi to me and talk my ear off. He speaks in one long sentence, punctuated with commas, like this sentence I am writing here, which reminds me that grammar is just a nice way to tether the chaos of words, but back to my original point, which is that Peter Van Kleef talks like this, on and on, in a friendly way, and usually with something interesting to say.

He bounced out the door with even more words falling off him like rain, and I was left with my drink and a gent to my right. He was quite handsome, with dark hair combed into a '50s thing, long sideburns, a vintage leather jacket, and Levi's 501s. Ah yes, a rockabilly rebel. Let's see, where to start? Wanda Jackson reference? No, too obvious. How about ... "Hi! So have you heard the Bear Family Louvin Brothers box set?" He stared at me with no recognition. Get this, dear reader, the guy was not rockabilly. He was not only not a hipster, he was an Oakland cop, originally from Italy, who seemed to have no idea that he might look dated in any way. Fascinating! I began to plunge into his depths a bit more, and holy shit, what I found astounded me. This guy was a right-wing Oakland cop from Italy who looked like Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby. He seemed to come from the more libertarian side of Republicanism, so I decided to give him this query: "So, what do you think of gay marriage?"

"Oh, I agree with it completely," he said, finishing off his beer and ordering another with the flick of his finger. "But that's my personal opinion." Oh boy, here we go, I thought, the part where he justifies making it illegal. "What I worry about," he continued, "is where this will lead. I mean, if we let two men get married, who is to say that I cannot bring my brother into this country from Italy, marry him, and he will become a U.S. citizen that way?" He looked at me, palms up in a "You get what I'm putting out there?" kind of way.

I admitted that I had never really considered that argument. However, I said, if that were true, then people would already be marrying their sisters to get them into the country. He had no answer to that, but offered this: "OK, well, who is to say that if we allow gays to marry, that someone couldn't marry their dog, or their parrot, or their gerbil?" Ah, now I saw where he was coming from. He was right: The world would be plunged into total chaos. Much to his chagrin, a gay man had been sitting to his right, listening to our debate. He jumped in and began to assail Giuseppe, or Vito, or whatever his name was.

My cab was waiting for me out front, and, in true form, I couldn't find any cash to pay the guy so I had to go to an ATM. I did, however, get home. My porch light had burned out and I tripped over my lobelia plant, but I snuggled under my down comforter and fell into the great void of blissful sleep.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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