Day 10, Dog Park, Google Headquarters, and Monday Night Football:
Finally, game day! The reason we chose to visit California this particular week had finally arrived. My Minnesota Vikings were taking on Beth’s San Francisco 49ers in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. Even better, the game was on Monday Night Football (dun dun dun duuuuun, dun dun. dun dun dun dun duuuuuun). Before we can get to game time, however, I should start chronologically with the start of day ten. I didn’t set an alarm again, instead allowing our furry alarm clock to wake us up naturally. Maeby did her self-chosen job and woke me up at about 8am. So much for sleeping in. It’s almost as though she knew we had something planned just for her.
The game was late in the day so we wanted to dedicate some time to our dog. Debbie and Jack have a dog as well, Lucy, so we took the two lucky girls to the dog park. It was three miles from Debbie’s so she drove us. The large dog park in Benicia, CA was occupied by a single owner and dog when we arrived. Similar to Charlie, Elaine’s dog, Lucy is energetic and likes to play. Her version of play is closer to roughhousing than Maeby’s version, fetch, but they coexisted well enough. Maeby loves the dog park. She is able to run as fast as she can and not run out of space and/or into something. She has that ability in our yard at home, of course, but this park was ten times as large. She took ownership of a large portion right in the middle (she’s a diva sometimes). Beth, Debbie, and I took turns throwing a tennis ball for her. We also brought along a toy we call “The Devastator”. It’s a foot-long piece of hard orange plastic that destroys anything in it’s path. It’s not an indoor toy and Maeby absolutely loves it. This particular dog park was big but it also had zero grass. Maeby’s face and chest were all muddy from her own slobber running back and forth with dirty toys in her mouth. The tennis ball got so gross Beth left it there for the next lucky dog. Judging by the number of discarded balls, that’s a popular choice.
We dropped the dogs off at the house and went out for a quick lunch nearby. The Bombens are not known for making dining decisions so I chose Mexican. From there, Debbie had to pick a specific restaurant, a Tex-Mex place called Sandoval’s. It’s a really small restaurant in a historical building kitty-corner from California’s third State Capitol Building. That’s right, Benicia was the Capital of California in 1853-1854 before the state legislature voted to move it to Sacramento where it has been ever since. Our waitress brought us chips and salsa and we wolfed down the first bowl before she came back to check if we were ready to order. I couldn’t decide what to have so I settled on enchiladas covered in a verde salsa. It was typical of Tex-Mex restaurants throughout the country; big portions, decent flavor, and an inevitable bloated feeling.
After lunch, Beth and I dressed in our finest NFL jerseys (Harrison Smith #22 for me, Colin Kaepernick #7 for her) and hopped in the car. We were headed South but had a couple stops before the football game. The first was one of the Bomben’s Bay Area residences in Milpitas, CA. We saw the house where Beth’s family was living when Beth was born. I snapped a picture from the street like a creeper. The second was a major addition to my itinerary; Google. The Google HQ. Kelli Ramstad, whom I have known since Junior High (we actually went to High School and College together too) now works at Google in Operations. I had not thought to reach out to Kelli while planning the trip but I knew she was working for Google. In fact, I often shared my frustration with unnecessary changes to Google Maps. You’d think I would remember to ask the only non-relative I know living in the area if they wanted to meet up while we were in town. Kelli saw on Facebook that we were in California and offered to show us around the Google campus in Mountain View, CA. I nearly hyperventilated with excitement and jumped at the chance. It’s not always a bad thing to make changes to your travel itinerary.
Mountain View is about eight miles from Santa Clara where the 49ers now play so we decided to fit our tour in before the game. It also solved another problem as we now had a solution for getting to the game without parking my Minnesota car anywhere near the potentially riotous Niners fans. Kelli gave us an address for one of the buildings on campus and met us there. The lot where we parked was right next to a Sculpture Garden dedicated to the Android mobile operating system. There was a large sculpture between six and ten feet tall for each dessert-nicknamed version. If you’re not familiar with Android, every version except the first two have had creative nicknames starting with the letter ‘C’ and moving alphabetically since. They are, in order, Cupcake, Donut, Eclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream, Jellybean, Kit Kat, Lollipop, and Marshmallow (Marshmallow is the current version so that sculpture was elsewhere on campus). There was also a Google Maps car parked nearby, complete with signature 360 degree camera on top. I was geeking out hardcore. I love Google Maps despite all the changes they make without asking my permission.
Note: Stop reading now if you don’t want to become super jealous of Google employees. Oh, don’t be a wuss, just read on…
I had seen The Internship starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn a month before the trip and I’m glad I did. The movie centers around two older guys trying to get hired at Google after losing their jobs. The Google campus and culture play a huge part in the film. It was predictable and stupid at times but I liked it. More importantly, it really helped my tour experience. The free colorful bicycles used by employees (and characters in the movie) to get around were parked everywhere. We didn’t need those to get around, however. Kelli picked us up in a Google car. Like the bikes, small compact cars in the signature Google colors are parked throughout the campus for any employee to use when needed. There’s some kind of website where they can check them out and get the code to unlock the car. Jealous yet? I am.
Kelli drove us from the Sculpture Garden to another building on campus. She narrated things as we passed including one dilapidated shack where the stubborn owner refuses to sell his land to the company. Can you imagine the amount of money they offered him just to get rid of the eye-sore barely still standing? We walked through a couple of buildings and Kelli explained what kind of work she does for Google and how she got the job. That’s all a bit personal so I won’t elaborate on that. We used some Google bathrooms and saw a fancy lobby filled with free drinks and snacks (oh, and a slide from the third floor). Kelli told us to take any snacks we wanted. If only we hadn’t eaten lunch! I grabbed a thing of Oreos just because we could. Google employees have access to free food and drink whenever they need/want. There’s tremendous variety too. Each dining area has different options. She brought us by a juice bar that closed at 3pm and said, “Oh, we’ll have to go by a different juice bar that’s still open. They have a bunch of juice bars apparently. I chose one from the menu that contained apple, lemon, and ginger. It was sharp because of the ginger but delicious. Kelli got extra ginger in hers. Beth had something green. I don’t remember what fruits were involved. By the way, if you’re capable of making fancy juices, you can officially work at Google.
Kelli next brought us through a series of larger buildings with interesting courtyards. There was a sand volleyball court in the middle. Kelli and I played on a co-rec team back in college. She gets to play on breaks at work now. How very cool. The courtyard also had a stationary lap pool, the kind where the water moves and you swim in place against the current (because that’s not weird for a public space at work). Big deck chairs (colorful, of course) were all over the place so that Googlers can work outside or relax during breaks. A T-Rex skeleton decorated in empty plastic bottles stood off to one side. He gets a different decoration every couple months I guess. There was a big shark fin made of sheet metal protruding from the sidewalk. I could go on and on. There is no limit to the amount of interesting stuff to see.
Inside the buildings, Kelli was able to show us a couple of the break spaces but not the offices beyond. One of the spaces was an arcade filled with pinball machines, arcade games, foosball, ping pong, and a rube goldberg machine. One guy was going to town on a ‘Dance, Dance, Revolution’ game. I assume he occasionally does actual work there or he couldn’t afford to be goofing around all afternoon. Kelli also pointed out an employee laundry room. They don’t want employees needing to leave for any reason so even laundry is possible at Google. Large trucks even show up on a regular interval to provide free spa treatments, haircuts, and other services right in the parking lot. Okay, so you’re super jealous now right?! I certainly was/am.
She then drove us to another building, a large employee gym. It was similar to the athletics facilities found on college campuses. There was a massive room of weight machines, a yoga studio, a massage room, a relaxation room, and a meditation room (because sometimes the relaxation room is too noisy). The bathrooms all have heated seats and bidets. A screen in the hall displayed more than thirty upcoming classes employees could take including Taekwondo! It was ridiculous. All of it was. Our last stop on the campus tour was the Google Store. There were thirty other people in there. Employees must get a lot of guests. Everything you can think of was for sale with either a Google, Android, or Youtube logo. The prices were quite reasonable too. I bought a Google Maps t-shirt that says, “I am here” with the recognizable red location arrow. Beth and I bought a bunch of gifts for people back home and bid Kelli adieu. It was really awesome of her to offer this opportunity and show us around. She said multiple times that she wasn’t sure if she was providing us with a good tour because she’s so used to everything that she can no longer tell what’s cool. I assured her that she had done a fantastic job and everything is sufficiently cool.
From Google, Beth drove us to the VTA light rail station a mile or two away. Parking was extremely limited but we found a lot a couple blocks from the train. I purposely parked next to another couple that was mixed (he was in a Vikes jersey, she was wearing Niners) to increase the odds of my car making it through the evening unharmed. I obviously have a Minnesota license plate but my Vikings sticker is what I really feared might get someone irked. Going into the game I was worried that if the Vikings won on National Television that my car and myself might face violence. Sports fans can be the most extreme people on the planet. People have died. I wasn’t murdered on the walk to the station where we had to pay like $4 each for tickets that lasted all night. That brought our total with parking to $18, far less than we would have paid to park near the stadium (and we got to skip most of the traffic). Mountain View is the first stop on that particular light rail line and that was rather helpful because the train filled up before it left. If we tried to board closer to the stadium, especially with me clad in purple, I think we would have been out of luck.
I wasn’t completely alone. There were a few Vikings fans on our train and a bunch more once we arrived at Levi’s Stadium twenty five minutes later. I even saw a mother and her toddler in purple and gave the little girl a high five. Like any pro sporting event there was a massive crowd. The tone of the crowd was generally merry. Football was back! A new season meant that everyone was undefeated. Okay, so it was Monday night and our teams were playing last in week one so technically 14 teams had already been defeated, but the concept remains true. I’m a huge NFL fan, football is my favorite sport. It felt so much better to have the season underway and we were surrounded by 60,000 people that agreed with me.
Levi’s Stadium was really impressive from the outside. It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting. It’s only the third NFL Stadium I’ve been inside (proving that I need to get out more) but it seemed really big. The Metrodome, where the Vikings played for 31 years, was a big place but nothing close to this. Our new home, U.S Bank Stadium, is twice as large. It doesn’t open until next year but it is already fantastic in the MInneapolis skyline. Beth and I crossed a footbridge over a small moat (which they have for some reason) and entered the concourse. This was definitely a beautiful and efficient building. On the main level, all the food and bathrooms are in the middle of one double-wide concourse and another regular-sized one. There was 3-5 times more walking space than the old Metrodome. There were a ton of food options, some of which you’d never find in Minnesota like curry and vegan burgers and hot dogs. Maybe once our new stadium opens there will be some wild options but what even goes in a vegan hot dog?
Our seats were in the upper level so we found a flight of stairs on one of the sides and started up. I assumed there were escalators somewhere but we missed them in all the excitement. Six flights of stairs later we arrived on the windy upper level. It was a cold wind. I bought Beth a 49ers sweatshirt for an anniversary present. Our seats were high up but considering the prices for lower deck seats, I wasn’t complaining. Planes were flying over the West side of the stadium and landing at the nearby San Jose International Airport. The pregame festivities included fire-breathers, a drum line, and honoring the newest 49er in the Hall of Fame, Charles Haley. He was flanked by existing HOF members from the home club including Steve Young, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. A recent Youtube ‘sensation’ I had never heard of, a homeless man that plays piano, was tapped to play the National Anthem. As far as National Anthems go I thought it was pretty bland. It was just the guy playing piano, he didn’t sing or anything. A hundred people brought out one of those 80 yard American flags. I guessed there would be a flyover at the end and thankfully there was. Two jets flew directly over us!
Finally, it was time for kickoff. The sun was setting leaving the clouds around the stadium lit in dark purple and bright pink. I don’t remember what happened in the game. I think it got rained out or the Vikings played so well the NFL cancelled the rest of the season and gave them the trophy. Okay, fine. My guys got killed. Down 7 in the first quarter, our kicker, Blair Walsh, went up for a field goal. The lady behind us yelled for them to block it. I told her not to bother because he’d miss it anyway. Sure enough, he did. He struggled during the preseason and I saw the miss coming a mile away. Carlos Hyde, the 49ers second year running back, had 168 yards and two touchdowns in the game. The final score was 20-3 but it was substantially worse in terms of how the game felt. The Vikings never gained momentum offensively and couldn’t stop a light breeze defensively. The local fans didn’t let me forget about it either.
I have a new found respect for fans of the visiting team. I have a policy of cheering loudly for my team and only aiming slights at the opposition when they start it. Most of the people in our section didn’t have the same policy and their jokes and insults were not creative or funny. One guy said he had a new nickname for Adrian Peterson, our running back. Instead of “All Day”, his actual nickname, he said it should be “Bottled Up”. Like I said, not at all clever. The group behind us was more reasonable. They asked where we were from and were impressed that we driven so far for a football game. They live in Las Vegas but have season tickets anyway. At least it’s a short flight for them. After the game, it took us half an hour just to get outside. We did get to take the escalator back to the main level. People were packed onto the footbridges like cattle. No one was getting out of there quickly. We stood in line for another half hour. I exchanged solemn looks with several of my disgraced brethren. We didn’t make it back to the car until midnight and to Debbie’s until 1:30am. It was a really long day, and my team may have lost, but it was well worth the trip. Yes, the 2000 mile plus trip from Minnesota. End of day ten.