Sunday, July 20, 2008

A cheap date in Silicon Valley




"A cheap date in Silicon Valley." It’s not quite like saying “a good bagel in the Midwest” or “skiing in Florida,” but it’s close, right? Cheap? Here? Never.
Well, yes, sometimes. And without leaving the swank environs of high culture, either.

Now that filling my gas tank costs $58 – and I drive a sedan – pinching pennies is on my mind. And I want to share my plan for an ideal date, which just happens to cost $10. Let me repeat: TEN DOLLARS.

(Nevermind that for months, headlines have been exploring our economic gloom while that media-favored phrase “pain at the pump” floats about. It took until my latest fill-up yesterday for the sticker shock to hit, and hit hard. Later in the day, I almost cried at the farmer’s market when trying to buy peppers. But, of course, the alternative was driving to a grocery store.)

So, fellas and fellettes, here’s the run-down for an inexpensive, classy date:

Start with an afternoon at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Admission to treasures collected during the Stanfords’ world-wide traipsing and by successive generations of generous alumnae is free. Gloriously free.
The jewel in the crown may be the world-class collection of Auguste Rodin bronzes. All that sinuous metal, glimmering in the California sun, fronts the interior rotunda where “The Thinker” reigns canonically supreme.



Note: The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. If you’re already unemployed in these harsh times and tend to forget what day we’re on, keep this in mind.

Note Number Two: The café attached to the museum is very, very tasty. It offers fresh, delicious fare by local, celebrity-like chef Jesse Ziff Cool. And you pay for it. So why not demonstrate how artsy, resourceful and sensitive you are by packing a delicious meal to take along on your date?
If you’re doing sandwiches rather than crackers, however, eschew that soft, mushy bread that comes in rectangles for a loaf of the real stuff.


When you’re finished soaking in visual splendor, head to the Stanford Theatre on University Avenue. (It’s within biking distance from the museum, if you’re feeling eco-conscious. Or bite the bullet and drive five minutes.)



David Packard – yes, that David Packard – spent about $6 million restoring this Roaring Twenties-era movie house to its former cinematic glory in 1989. Elaborate murals, baroque chandeliers, a tiled fountain and richly-detailed ceilings make moviegoers feel special. But because the theater – excuse me, theatre – is run by the nonprofit Packard Foundation, the prices are reasonable. Tickets are $7. A small drink and popcorn comes out to $3. That’s still less than a full-price adult ticket at a megaplex.

There’s a catch, of course. The theatre only shows historic films, a personal Packard passion. There are no screenings of “Batman Will Never Die is Not Enough.” But if you can stomach a little Bette Davis or maybe root for Humphrey Bogart – and your date isn’t a die-hard Tarantino loyalist – you should stand a chance here.

If the film ends and you need a bit more time with your sweet thang, take a stroll down University Avenue to Border’s. This is a clever ploy for more free entertainment disguised as cultural savvy. Because when you get to the building housing Border’s, with its airy, Mission-style courtyard and high, vaulted ceilings, you will explain it, too, was once a movie theater. In fact, the competition to the Stanford Theatre.
Yet six decades later, there was no computer-magnate-turned-film-angel to swoop in and save the former Varsity Theatre from eventual conversion to a chain department store.
Which is all the more lucky for you, since it allows you to linger over the bestsellers or browse magazines with your date without spending another cent. Don’t worry; this won’t feel lame. On weekend nights, Border’s is packed to the gills with other couples doing the same thing. It's open until midnight.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a shared passion for David Sedaris or gardening magazines. That’ll be a perfect segue into winding down the date, right?

The total cost of this Epicurean excursion, from art to movies to literature, is $10. In comparison, a “small plate” salad of walnuts, blue cheese and herb vinaigrette at nearby Zibibbo Restaurant runs $12.95. Not that there’s anything wrong with a night of fine dining.


But when the cost of gas, food and perhaps other commodities is climbing with the summer mercury, it’s comforting to know culture comes cheap.

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