A few notes:
- I don’t have any photographs worth mentioning. I do have a few selfies with some knifemakers, a few shots of their tables, but nothing to write home about. The original plan meant leaving my car alone in a major city for several hours, I thought it prudent to minimize the risk of theft, and so I left my camera at home.
- The sale itself was early December, so this isn’t exactly breaking news. I intended to write this up earlier, but c’est la vie….
- I’m not going to give away any names, whether it’s that of a business or an individual. Two reasons: one, I’m terrible with names, and the circumstances of the trip didn’t help that; two, I don’t feel comfortable using this platform for negative publicity. If you’d like the names (for your own trip planning), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll hook you up.
- I have done my best to avoid exaggerations of any kind.
I don’t think I need to explain the allure of Triple Aught Design to those of you that read this site on a regular basis. Some may balk at the price, sure, but once you strip away all the cheesy “executive protection” marketing, you’re left with clothing that seems uniquely suited to gear geeks. Plenty of pockets, reinforced fabric at high wear spots, and a technical look that isn’t tactical, but isn’t outdoors-ey either. If you care about TAD much at all, you’ve probably also heard about the annual Dogpatch Warehouse Sale. This sale is legendary to fans of the company, and I’d wanted to go ever since I knew it existed. Not only do they drastically drop their (admittedly exorbitant) prices, but they also clear out old prototypes, hard goods that aren’t quite up to scratch, and invite knifemakers to swing by and hock their wares.
So when I found out that I had that weekend off this year, I jumped at the chance. It was the perfect opportunity to get out of town for awhile, which I sorely needed after the slog that was harvest season. Furthermore – and this is embarrassing to admit – I’ve lived in California my entire life, and never once visited the Bay Area. For what it’s worth, I was spending my time in Yosemite, Sequoia, and pretty much anywhere else there was a lot of nature and not a whole lot of people. Anyhoo.
My girlfriend loved the idea, and we decided to make a little event of it. Some of our more grandiose plans were kiboshed by a glance at the hotel prices. To give you a sense of perspective, one night at a Motel 6 would have set us back $130. I’ve booked hotel rooms in San Diego during Comic-Con – last minute, no less – for half that. We eventually decided to spend Friday and Saturday night at Anthony Chabot Regional Park. It looked pleasant, had good reviews, and cost less than $20 a night. Sure it was out of the way, but we planned to drive to the nearest BART station and take the train in anyway, so we didn’t mind.
You’ve humored me so far, and I appreciate that. To tide you over to the actual gear content, here are some notes on the actual stuff I brought along:
- Knife: Viper Dan 2 in burgundy micarta. I wanted something that was easy to carry, wouldn’t frighten anyone, and wouldn’t look out of place next to the hoards of Dauntless’s I expected to see.
- Torch: Zebralight H52w. I know, I know, it’s an older light at this point. In its defense, the H52w produces more light than I’m ever likely to need and serves double duty as a headlamp (which is extremely valuable while setting up a campsite).
- Pen: Tactile Turn Slider in titanium. Did I need a pen? Not really; but I’ve gotten into the habit and it was easy enough to slip into the pen pocket in my jacket.
- Watch: Timex Weekender Chrono Oversized. It was the only watch I had at the time, as the Bertucci A-2T was in for repairs. It fit the bill.
- Bag: Tom Bihn Synapse 25. It’s been my go-to travel bag since I bought it three or four years ago.
- Fidget Toy: Aroundsquare Titan Begleri. Do I feel like a bit of a tool including this? Yes. Yes I do. However, it kept my hands away from my phone, my knife, and my pen while I was driving. That’s a pretty valuable asset for someone as compulsive as I am.
I won’t bore you with the details of the drive. It was pleasant enough, as long drives go. San Jose was pleasant, and catching dinner with a good friend from my old graduate program was a great start to the trip. The food was good, and due to the combination of odd sizing nomenclature and a respectable beer list, I was able to order – dead serious – a goblet of Dragon’s Milk. The waitstaff did not appreciate my insistence on repeating the order back to me.
After the food and beer had settled, we ended up departing San Jose a little later than we would have liked, but not so late that we were worried. The campsite we were to stay at closed in an hour, but we were only 45 minutes away.
Cue Murphy’s Law.
We made two mistakes, both fairly small. The first mistake was missing the turn off for Castro Valley, which ended up costing us 5 minutes. That alone would not have undone us, but for the second mistake. The second mistake was placing trust in the navigation system on our phones. You see, it turns out that this magnificent technology calculated the travel time to the borders of the park, not (as logic would suggest) the actual entrance. Even accounting for those mistakes, we made it to the gate five minutes before they were supposed to close.
The gate was closed.
Now, it had been a long day, and a long night besides, so forgive us for not doing the logical thing: pulling over, setting up our sleeping bags in the back of the car, and waking up before anyone could give us grief over it. That would have made sense.
No, instead we drove back down to Castro Valley and started looking for the cheapest hotels we could find. Between the drive back to Castro Valley and the hunt online for a deal, we ended up burning another 45 minutes before finding a hotel. In retrospect, a hotel that cost $65 a night in downtown San Francisco should have been a warning in and of itself, but like I said earlier: we weren’t thinking clearly.
We did find out why Motel 6 was $130 a night: they have their own parking garage, and it turns out that we would have gladly paid the premium if we had known how sparse parking in the city would be. I thought parking in Dublin was a madhouse, but San Francisco takes the cake. The closest open parking garage was two miles away from our hotel. We didn’t care. At that point, all we wanted was sleep, two miles or no.
Those two miles should have been committed to film. In the span of that walk, we went from upscale hotels, department stores, and banks (all done up to the nines for Christmas) to liquor stores, corner markets, and a sea of barred windows. Now, I’m not exactly a starry eyed small town guy seeing the big city for the first time. I’ve been in plenty of nasty areas throughout California. But I have never walked within a few feet of three individuals smoking a crack pipe. To be fair, the one with the pipe waved and gave us a smile.
Funnily enough, our hotel turned out to be on the same block as that little soiree. We almost went back to the car, as we couldn’t find the damn place. After scanning our surroundings for the third time, we noticed a sign behind a very large, very imposing security gate: lo and behold, it matched the sign that we saw online. They must have taken the picture before the gate was installed. Simple mistake.
After being helped inside and given directions to the manager’s room by a guy who was legitimately friendly enough to put our minds at ease, we began to take stock of the interior. In its heyday, it must have been pretty attractive: white paint with gold accents, floral elements in the moulding. I’d imagine the original tenants were quite happy with it. However, do you know what those same accents look like at midnight? Like the interior of the Overlook Hotel.
The manager did little to quell our anxiety. Not on a personal level, mind: he was more than affable enough. He was obviously stoned, so that may have had something to do with it. No, he was – and I don’t mean this in an unkind way – odd. His face wasn’t old, yet he had a full head of shock white hair. Very few wrinkles, yet skin that was nearly translucent. In other words, he looked as if he had seen a ghost or been struck by lightning. The most curious aspect of his appearance, however, was his left arm, which was inflated, just as if someone had taken a bicycle pump to it.
The rational part of my mind was intrigued, but not put off by this. It’s obvious he had a medical condition of some sort (for the arm if nothing else) and it would be unkind to judge him for it. So we took our room key and headed up the stairs, grateful for the chance to sleep.
The room was likewise odd. Very clean, and it did have a few amenities, such as a sink and a microwave. There were problems. The hole in the window let in city noise, and the shutters couldn’t cover enough of the window to block out the nearby street lights. We were also fairly certain the beds would glow in the presence of a blacklight. But we put these considerations (and our belongings) aside and headed down the hall to the restrooms.
Gentleman that I am, I let Beth use the facilities first. As I leaned back against the wall, I noticed something: under the unflattering fluorescent lighting, the distinct red of pooled blood stood out against the tile. The pool of blood wasn’t large; the circumference of a grapefruit at best. There was a fair amount of splattered blood around that small puddle though; droplets scattered around the puddle about a foot in all directions, with more crawling up the corner of the doorway the little pool was in front of. I was pondering the implications of that when Beth opened the door, noticed what I was staring at, and promptly asked to leave.
My first reaction was to rationalize what I was looking at. We had just walked past the restrooms on the way to our room, and the blood wasn’t present then. Our door hardly shut, so if someone had been assaulted, I’m fairly positive we would have heard it. Odds were that something unpleasant had happened. Not criminal, but certainly nasty.
It was at that point that I realized that I was making the same rationalizations that got the first couple killed in every horror movie. As silly as it sounds, that realization immediately put me in the “we need to leave” camp. Between the creepy hotel, the otherworldly manager, and the bleeding door, it seemed the universe was giving us some strong clues. I always said I would never make the same mistakes that those morons on screen did. This – rational or not – was my put up or shut up moment. So we left. The manager was shown the bloody door, and his lack of a reaction was disquieting in its own right. Walking back to the car was miserable, and by the time we arrived we were too tired to think of other options, much less drive to them. At that point, we did what we should have done at the park gate three hours ago: clambered into the back of the car, and crashed for the night.
That’s how two out of towners spent their first night in San Francisco.
After sleeping for all of four hours, we dragged ourselves out of the car before anyone – barring one woman who gave my SUV the stink eye – noticed that we were there. There was a Starbucks down the street, and we availed ourselves of their facilities to freshen up as best we could. We grabbed two coffees and a pair of breakfast sandwiches, and drove to Dogpatch.
Pulling into Dogpatch was almost surreal. The neighborhood was friendly, the houses were colorful, and the lack of crack pipes was a definite plus. We managed to park fairly close to the address our phones listed and started off on foot.
The Dogpatch Warehouse was easy to find; the line of people wrapping around the building gave it away. It was certainly a diverse cast. There were plenty of “operators” and hipsters, to be sure, but most people didn’t really stand out (and I don’t mean that as an insult). Once the TAD crew opened the doors, the line moved quickly; I assume those ahead of us sprinted to the jackets.
Fortune favored me, as my mission was far less ambitious. All I wanted was to build a stash of their Doomsday Canvas clothing. Before you ask, no, I’m not a Doomsday Prepper, and if I worked in an office I wouldn’t bother with them. For me, they’re a work requirement. At times, my job requires that I wear fire resistant clothing – pretty standard for work in the oil fields. The problem is that most FR clothing is hot garbage. They’re bulky, wear out at a surprising rate, and the pockets (with a few exceptions) barely qualify as such. The Doomsday Canvas line from TAD fixes those issues, and the chance to load up on it on the cheap was irresistible. For all you TADdicts out there, yes, it truly is cheap: I paid less than half of the listed price across the board.
It bears mention that the folks at the sale were great. I’m not talking about the staff (though they were of a similar ilk), but the other people at the sale. We had a little corner in the back where we guarded our findings until we could try them on.
Sadly, that meant that my budget for hard goods was non-existent. That was really disappointing, as the Dauntless Mk.IV has been a grail knife of mine since its debut. The discounts on hard goods were nowhere near as extensive as those offered on the clothing, and most would see that as a downside. Me? I didn’t mind. Higher prices kept me from being very irresponsible with my money, and in the long run I was still irresponsible later on it paid out.
Sadly, that meant that I was consigned to the dreaded role of “lookie-loo,” which doesn’t feel quite right when you have custom makers right in front of you. The turnout was impressive for a relatively small venue. Serge Panchenko, Joseph Bowen, Ban Tang, and an assortment of Beggs were all present. I’ll admit that (aside from the hard goods table of TAD gear) I spent most of my time at Serge Panchenko’s table, then Joseph Bowen’s, with a bit of time split between Ban Tang and the Begg clan. All of it was really cool to see.
Eventually, Beth and I made our way back to the car. The sale was fun and fast-paced, but didn’t have the “Black Friday” feel I was worried it would. I walked off with an armful of new and improved work attire, and Beth scored a sweet little technical hoodie. We had most of the day left, and intended to drive around and see the sights.
It’s at this point that I should mention that I don’t handle big city traffic gracefully. Stop and go is fine, I can be patient; but there’s a frenetic quality to driving in large cities that puts me on edge. Much to my regret, the only person I could vent to (or at) was Beth, who didn’t deserve it. Don’t feel too bad for her though. She got her revenge by tricking me into taking Lombard Street. If you haven’t seen it, look it up. Then imagine someone driving it in a 1999 Ford Explorer, which was famous for – guess what – rollovers. The pedestrians were looking at us with a mixture of concern, amusement, and pity.
Apart from the driving, the city was quite pleasant. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, though that was overshadowed by an out of the way restaurant called “Kingdom of Dumpling.” Those are still the best dumplings we’ve ever had. We cut the day short, though, as the previous night and the day’s driving had the both of us ready to drop. Neither of us wanted to risk a repeat of the prior night, either, so we made our way back to Castro Valley late that afternoon.
The dumplings had worn off by that point, so we were happy to stop at a little place called Cafe Rumi on the way there. It was billed as a coffee shop that offered Mediterranean food, and both of us thought the prospect sounded pretty good. We ordered a gyro, a kebab plate, some princess cake, and two Turkish coffees. The food was fine. As for the coffee, well, it needs a bit of context.
For those not in the know, Turkish coffee is delicious. It’s strong, sweet, and rich. I’d only had it once prior, at a family restaurant in Los Angeles. It was served in a small cup, so I took the daintiest sips I could so as to prolong the experience. I drank it more carefully than I do my favorite whiskey (Knappogue Castle). The chance to unwind with another cup – especially considering the last day and a half – sounded perfect.
I don’t know what we were served, but it wasn’t Turkish coffee. We strongly suspect we were charged $8 for glorified espresso shots. I’ve had more since: the stuff at Rumi’s is definitely an anomaly. We were too tired to make a fuss, so we ate in silence and left. A local Scout troop was selling Christmas trees in the parking lot, so I decided to ask around and see if anyone knew what the campground we were headed to was like. According to all reports, it was nice enough.
We made it with hours to spare this time, and managed to find a pretty sweet campsite near the park restrooms. It only took a few minutes to convert the rear of my Explorer into a makeshift bed, and afterwards I walked the 30 or so feet to the restrooms to make use of them. Now, to get to the men’s restrooms, you have to walk by the facility showers. Each shower is located in a small room with a door, not a stall or something of that ilk. As I walked past them, I noticed two or three people hanging out in one. They weren’t using the facilities, and all of them were fully clothed, but nature was calling and I wasn’t in the mood to ask questions. I found a bathroom stall and started to avail myself of the facilities.
It was then (pants around my ankles) that I heard footsteps, soon followed by voices. Someone had apparently joined the little shower soiree, and judging from their tone wasn’t thrilled about it. I couldn’t make out much, but phrases like “you were supposed to bring the stuff,” “not this again,” and “going to beat your ass” stand out in my memory. The growing agitation in their voices urged me to hurry, albeit quietly. By the time I made it back to the car, I could hear dull smacking sounds, as well as what sounded like sobs.
Of course, Beth was in the car and quite cozy when I walked up and told her we might have a problem. Instead of explaining, I just opened the door so she could listen in.
Ten minutes later, we had a spot on the opposite end of the park while rangers were checking out the bathrooms for any oddities. Were we chicken? Sure, but at least we slept well that night. In fact, from that point on the trip was entirely uneventful.