Monterey is a nice, seaside town on the northern California coast. It has wonderful, temperate weather, interesting shops to visit, a world-renown aquarium, and British pubs nestled in the midst of historical buildings and night clubs. It was, however, the last place I expected to be accosted by a one-armed hobo who accepted credit cards.
I exited the Walgreens Pharmacy on Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey on a Friday evening. I needed some Advil to soothe my newly acquired headache after attending a Paula Poundstone show (not sure if that was the headache’s cause, but she did rant and ramble for three hours). Waiting for me on the sidewalk outside the Walgreens was a scruffy-looking nerf herder with only one arm along with his female companion.
“Pardon me, sir,” he asked, gesturing at me with his stump. “Do you happen to have any spare change? I really need to get some Orajel for my mouth.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I don’t carry cash.”
“How about American Express?” asked his equally scruff-looking companion.
I have to admit, the fact that they just asked me if I could donate to their change cup with an American Express card left me stunned for 1D4 rounds (D&D reference, ask your uncle). I politely declined, and went about my business. I do have a confession though. I happen to have an American Express card. Just don’t tell the one-armed hobo.
Can you imagine what this seems to imply? We’ve moved closer and closer to a cashless society, what with our ATM cards, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, etc. It won’t be long now before the hobos, beggars, vagrants, Muppets, and homeless people begging for change on dirty street corners will no longer ask for actual change. They’ll just have an attachment for their iPhone where you can swipe your card. I’m sure there will be an App that allows you to donate “change”. It could be called the iBum.
Anyway, I was visiting Monterey for the weekend. Why? Why the fuck not? Monterey is a great town. And I used to live there. While I was in the Navy I got the opportunity to become a military linguist. The Navy had sent me to the Defense Language Institute in September 2000 where I was enrolled in their Arabic program. I spent a year and a half in Monterey, studying Arabic in classes by day, and frequenting the pubs and cafes at night. It was a great time.
I hadn’t visited Monterey in many years. I had always been meaning to return there, but I never got around to it. I only live a three-hour drive away, so I had no excuse. Once that realization set in, I may have flogged myself once with my Indiana Jones bullwhip to get my procrastinating ass into the car and on the road.
**Side note: I actually have an Indiana Jones bullwhip because I’m a nerd and because reasons.**
Where do you think is the first place I went upon returning to my former language-learning, military stomping grounds? The Crown & Anchor? Cannery Row? The aquarium? Those places were nice and all, but there is a place in Monterey that I would drive three hours for, even if that was the only place I would visit. I speak of course, of Compagno’s.
Compagno’s is a deli in Monterey that has the best sandwiches on the planet. The quality and caliber of Compagno’s sandwiches is not the subject of mere opinion. It is scientific fact. I’m sure there’s a paper in a scientific journal about it somewhere, such as notable culinary publications like “Sammich! Quarterly” or “Dennys Gives You The Shits”. Compagno’s sandwiches are like an orgasm in your mouth. Wait. Um…not that I would know…what that’s like…um…shut up. Everything there is freshly made of course. Your meat is freshly sliced, crisp veggies, real cheese, flat breads the size of paving tiles, and to tempt you even further into a sinful food coma, there’s a large, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake taunting you from behind the glass. Compagno’s even has a wall of imported beers. Gasp!
Where is the wonderous place? Well…that’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you. Compagno’s is a locally owned deli that has been in Monterey for many years. It isn’t on any of the tourist strips. It’s not by Cannery Row or the aquarium, not at all close to Fisherman’s Wharf or Pebble Beach. It is tucked inside one of Monterey’s neighborhoods. The only people who know about it are the locals and members of the military. This is what adds to its charm.
Upon my return to Monterey, I went straight to Compagno’s to get my sammich fix. (Colloquial spelling of sandwich. Suck it, grammar Nazis!) Also it was too early to check into my hotel. With my sammich and bottle of Polish beer in hand, I drove to one of my favorite spots on the coast. It’s along the road, beyond Lover’s Point, with a rocky outcropping the juts out into the sea. I used to go there often, and climb out onto the rocks. As you can see from the pictures below I could no longer go out to the very end the outcropping. That part has now been roped off as a bird sanctuary. I may have felt slightly evicted. I mean…that was my spot! I wonder if the Seagull & Pelican Lobby LLC donated heavily to members of the Pacific Grove City Council in order to gain a monopoly on said rocky outcropping.
It’s all part of the conspiracy for Big Avian!
Despite those scheming birds I had no trouble enjoying my lunch out on the rocks, overlooking the crashing waves. If the pictures can do the scene any justice, you’ll understand why I always came out to this spot.
After lunch I checked into the hotel and spent all of thirty seconds in my room. There were historical sites to explore! For any of my readers (all two of them), you know that I love history, archaeology, and exploring places with any sort of historical significance. On a related note I also love good beer and Doctor Who. If you combined all of this in say…a pub on top of a Mayan pyramid overlooking an American Civil War battle site that serves drinks in Tardis mugs…I would declare that to be the greatest watering hole ever.
Greatest. Watering. Hole. Ever.
Monterey has no shortage of fine historical places to visit. The main one I wanted to visit was the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo. It’s smack in the middle of Monterey, and easy to access and visit. It was built by the Spanish in the 1700s and is one of the oldest buildings in California. It is still a working and fully serviced Catholic church. Only this one didn’t have any creepy priests that I could see. The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo is free to visit. It even has its own little museum.
I strolled around the Cathedral, and then by the door to the museum, which is located in the building next door. I had just noticed the sign that read “Museum” when the door sprang open, and a friendly lady practically ambushed me.
“Hello! Would you like to come inside and see our museum? We have lots of relics from the history of Monterey and this church.”
Of course I accepted her invitation. Free museum? Ancient (sort of) relics? Sign me up. The docent’s name is Geralyn, and we spent the next half hour talking about the history of the Monterey area as she showed me around the displays of the museum’s collection. The museum itself is small, but it has many interesting and impressive pieces. I even got to show off some of my historical knowledge when I brought up that an Argentine pirate once sacked Monterey. Geralyn was surprised that I knew that, and even suggested I could become a docent there. Of course I thought about it. The opportunity to live in Monterey again is more tempting than a box of donuts that make you lose weight. Another time maybe.
After leaving the cathedral, I took a stroll down Alvarado Street. Alvarado Street runs through downtown Monterey, and leads right to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had spent many an evening on this little strip during my student years, studying Arabic at cafes like Plume’s, imbibing mass quantities of beer at pubs like The Crown & Anchor or The Mucky Duck, and seeing movies at the Golden State Theatre.
Walking down Alvarado Street, thinking that an afternoon Guinness at The Mucky Duck sounded like a mighty fine idea, was when I realized that nothing lasts forever. For any of my fellow military linguists and old salt shipmates, I am sad to report that The Mucky Duck is no more. It is now called The Bull & Bear Bar. It is no longer a pub or tavern like it was, but as you can see from my photographic proof, it is now more of a nightclub. I went by there later that evening, only to find a line to get into The Bull and Bear, young people waiting behind a red rope to enter this establishment that was guarded by giant, ogre-like bouncers. I could even hear the rhythmic thumping from the bass beat of electronic techno dub step that was undoubtedly produced by a DJ covered in glow sticks.
Un-tiss un-tiss un-tiss!
This sound quickly morphed into:
Followed by a:
Wawasssssssshhh—krakkakrakka—dowwowpowdow—(unknown power tool noise) bootsandpantsandbootsandpantsandbootsandpants!
Honestly, I don’t really mind dub step and think it’s okay. But is it just me, or does dub step music sound like two robots fucking?
Despite the vanishing of one of Monterey’s eons-old dinner and drinks establishments, I am happy to report that The Crown & Anchor is still there. And it is still as nautical and alcoholic as it always was. I’m sure you’re not surprised that this is where I had dinner…and some pints.
The Golden State Theatre on Alvarado Street used show movies, but now it is being used for various shows. On this particular evening, the comedian Paul Poundstone was performing. I used to see her on TV many years ago on “An Evening at the Improv.” I figured this could be a fun idea, and purchased a ticket. I enjoyed the show. Paula Poundstone was pretty funny, but her stand-up set did run rather long. She even joked about how she tended to ramble on and on and on and on. Ironically, after making that joke, she carried on for another seven months. But the thing about her show that evening that stuck out to me wasn’t her jokes, but a couple that sat next to me.
This couple was laughing and guffawing at everything Ms. Poundstone said. Even if it wasn’t a joke, these two were yucking it up and having a great time. For about an hour, anyway. That’s when Paula Poundstone talked about being an atheist. She even made a point to say she had no problem with anyone’s religion, she respected their beliefs, and then made jokes about her own atheism. She didn’t poke fun at any other religion at all. But you couldn’t tell that to the couple next to me. Suddenly their raucous merriment came to an abrupt end at the mention of “atheist”. They went deathly quiet while in mid-laugh, their previously joyous faces turned to stoic slates of displeasure, and their eyebrows hunched forward so far their brows looked like miniature Quazimodos.
The couple stood up, and walked out. I never saw them again. Some people just have no sense of humor I guess.
I left the theater after the show. Unable to or even wanting to enter what used to be The Mucky Duck, I spent the rest of the evening back at the Crown & Anchor, chatting with people, ogling the ship models and Royal Navy wall paper in the men’s room, and knocking back some of the pub’s nice selection of beers.
The next day was spent in the touristy areas, and buying little trinkets such as a couple of zombie coffee mugs and a “Game of Thrones” garden gnome. You know, as we all do.
Monterey is still a great town. I can’t wait to go back for another visit. Only this time I plan to be a little better prepared. I’ll make sure to carry some ninja smoke bombs to aid me in escaping those one-armed, credit card-accepting hobos.