It's not uncommon for expats to, over time, develop an even deeper, more keenly felt affinity for their own hometowns. Absence often has that affect on the heart, or so I've heard. Then again, I've always loved Livermore, California. Not loving Livermore was never the problem. We left for other reasons, but I'll leave that for other posts. Today I'm singing the praises of my town.
Jonathan and I returned "home" for a visit over Easter, and allowed ourselves to be embraced by the comfy sameness of it all.
First Street -- Where all the action, such as it is, happens.
Donut Wheel -- Best donuts in the state.
Valley Furniture -- Can't ever remember a time when there wasn't a Blowout Sale sign in the front windows.
Lizzie Fountain -- A place to cool off your feet, your dogs, and your kids on a blistering hot day; Found! -- Black German Shepherd mix, no microchip.
Baughman's -- Top-notch western gear for all the actual cowboys and cowgirls in Livermore. (Yes, my high school's mascot was The Cowboy.)
Yellow Ribbon Tree -- A constant display of support for our veterans; Fantasy Books & Games -- Livermore is full of nerds, so this place will never go under.
The Independent Building -- Home of Livermore's weekly newspaper.
Valley Gas -- It's funny how living in Europe, even without a car, has adjusted my view of California's "high" gas prices.
Livermore Cinemas -- The Vine theater, just down the street, has weathered the storm of competition, and remains the true jewel, but I forgot to take a photo down that far, so...; Not Too Naughty -- This mini mecca of skimpy lingerie, penis-shaped cake pans, adult videos and toys is the unlikely focal point of First Street in our fair, innocent little town.
The Bankhead -- A place for performing arts. We're classy.
Bruno's -- Of the two Italian restaurateurs on First Street, Bruno is the one who's been giving a creepy thumbs-up to passersby for at least 20 years.
First Street Ale House -- It used to be a hole-in-the-wall pub with limited seating, a welcoming back patio, and delectable Cajun fries. Now it's a bustling, enormous-yet-overcrowded restaurant... with delectable Cajun fries.
Here are my tips if you ever visit Livermore, California:
If it's before noon or nearly midnight, drop by Donut Wheel. Depending on who takes your order, you'll either be treated with gruff indifference or get tossed a free fritter and a smile. Either way, the donuts are fresh and delicious, and the turquoise arches and grimy linoleum are all part of The Wheel's quasi-rural charm.
This is wine country, and there are at least three wine bars to choose from on First Street. For beer, try either First Street Ale House (overcrowded doesn't begin to describe, but it's an honest-to-the-Protestant-God institution in Livermore) or Tap 25.
Take in a movie at The Vine. They show independent films and limited releases, but also the occasional sports feature, from the Super Bowl to World Cup Soccer. You can order food and drinks and enjoy them during the screening. It's a pleasure, and again, a piece of Livermore history.
As is the Centennial Bulb . That's the world's longest burning light bulb. No kidding.
When you take your exit off I-580, tune your car radio in to 101.7 KKIQ for "today's hits and yesterday's favorites." Or, better yet, Kat Country 103.3. Odds are good you'll hear one of two songs I associate completely with my sweet Livermore: Pink Houses by John Cougar Mellencamp or My Town by Montgomery Gentry.
On my most recent stroll down First Street, I was gratified to see a diverse string of new restaurants: Japanese, Afghani, and Greek among them. But the food that counts in this part of the world is Mexican, and between Anita's and Casa Orozco, Livermore has got you covered, too.
It's a great place to live, especially if you want to raise your family in a quiet, unassuming place. A city with culture and brains and heart. With easy access to international airports, major league ballparks, and some of the best colleges in the country.
After Easter dinner, Jonathan and I took a walk from his childhood home to mine. It was a warm, fragrant early summer's eve. I love that we grew up in the same neighborhood, that we share this point of origin. The honeysuckle and the jasmine. The crickets singing in the hedges. The wide, clean streets with names like Bianca, Arlene, Nina, and Lynda. The kestrels winging blue-backed across the sunset. I don't know if we'll ever make it back for more than a visit, but my heart will always partially belong there.
Easter 2014. Behind us is the house I grew up in. Another family lives there now. The door is gray, but it will always be red for me.