I went on an archaeological expedition of sorts recently. With my parents as navigators, I headed to the Hayward/San Leandro/San Lorenzo area, which is where I lived until I was about 6 years old.
Even though I don't live that far away from there, I hadn't been back since I was in high school. During the whole time I was there, it was a little like being in a dream, as everything looked familiar, but a bit off.
Some buildings looked the same but housed different stores. Other buildings that I expected to see were gone, replaced by the same cookie-cutter strip-mall architecture found throughout the country.
We visited the San Lorenzo Public Library, where I got my very first library card when I was 4. The bench upon which I shakily signed my name on my card had been replaced by self-serve stations to check out books, but the swing set out in the little playground outside the library was still there. My son, Brody, got in a bit of swinging time himself, which he enjoyed quite a bit.
One of our last stops was around where the old Doggie Diner used to be in San Lorenzo. Much to my dismay, the building that once housed the eatery is now home to a Starbucks.
I don't remember eating there, per se, but I know it made an impression on me, because it gave me a nightmare that to this day, I still remember.
I was 3, almost 4, when I had this dream. In it, it's almost bedtime, and I'm sitting on my bed, getting ready to take off my socks (brown with a white and a tan stripe). The hallway that led to my room is dark, the only light coming from the living room. As my door is open, I see a shadowy figure skulking toward my room.
It is the Doggie Diner mascot, impossibly tall, like Clifford the Big Red Dog, and before I can hop off my bed, he scoops me up in one hand. I was worried that he was going to eat me, but he doesn't. Instead, he tickles me. I'm laughing so hard that I can hardly breathe. And then I woke up.
Why I remember this almost 30 years later, I can't begin to explain.
I remember seeing the giant dog mascot every time we went to Gemco, which was across the street from Doggie Diner. Not too far from there is Black Angus, which also holds a permanent place in my early childhood memory.
I was in the car with my parents; I was probably 4 years old, tops; I don't remember my brother having been born yet. We drove by the restaurant in the early evening, when the sign was lit up. I heard some suppressed giggles from the front seat, and my ears perked up. I was always on the lookout for anything that made people laugh.
As it turns out, the "G" on the Black Angus sign was burned out. But I didn't know why it was funny, being only 4.
"What's a anus?" I asked.
This just prompted more laughter, and I don't think I actually got my question answered. To this day, every time I pass a Black Angus, I always look to see if the "G" is lit up, much to my wife's delight, I'm sure.