Back to the salt mines

Aug 05, 2016

All work and no play makes one a dull boy indeed, and as I felt the rustiness slowly creeping in from sheer volume of work, my wife Babes and I decided on a 15-day sabbatical in the States with some family members from my side. If you missed my B&L columns for two weeks in a row, now you know why. And since it was a respite, I deliberately did not bring my laptop along lest I be drawn into work during this much-deserved vacation.

Our destination was San Francisco where my brother Rey (Star business columnist, Bizlink), and his wife Evelyn have a comfortable condo unit in a quiet side of town. This medium rise residential building is on Cleary Road, a short walk away from St. Mary’s Cathedral that is in itself a modest tourist destination.

Life is SanFo is so nice and easy that many people refer to it as God’s Country. Admittedly, this visit is a first for me and my wife, and with our almost two-week stay in the city, we find it a most accurate second name. It is definitely on the other side of the yardstick, opposite of New York City where life is not only brisk, it is almost apoplectic. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed the iconic sights of New York, its shops and food joints, but everything considered, my top choice in the U.S. is now San Francisco.

It is the height of summer in the U.S., and without much background on the city, we brought along light sweaters for the nights out. Temperatures were actually within the 16-degree Centigrade, but with the wind factor, it felt more like 12 degrees which our light sweaters couldn’t handle. They don’t call this Fog City for nothing, and almost every day, we could see the fog descending heavily, even as the sun shone brightly. Still, it was great weather all day and all night long, and this, along with the easy lifestyle of the people who live here, makes it one great city.

Of course, the outlets made the day for my wife, and we visited quite a few of them. What is it with wives—they can’t seem to have enough of what they prefer to call as retail therapy. And what is it with Pinoys who go the US – they can’t go home without a truckload of pasalubongs for virtually everyone back home. These range from frozen food products like steaks and dips to interesting and novel household cleaning products and of course bags, shoes and clothes.

Every day was a culinary journey for this foodie family. One day it would be a Japanese joint, the next day it would be Vietnamese, the next day Chinese, and the next Korean. There are so many Asians living here, and as one can imagine, there is a proliferation of specialty restaurant as well. One Sushi outlet had a circular bar where small color-coded sushi plates loaded on small boats went around and around, propelled on the water by air pumps. One simply picked out the sushi plates he fancied and piled the small plates in front of you. The food servers knew what to charge you based on the color of the plates in front of you.

For our group of six which included Rey’s children RG ( an eligible licensed pilot) and Ina, an Ateneo Developmental Studies student, we counted a total of twenty three sushi plates which set us back about $160, excluding tip. By the way, tips tilt more towards 15% here now, which is a bit hefty.

The Vietnamese restaurant offered huge bowls of a variety of noodles, all with fresh vegetables and/or Wag Yu or Angus beef slices.

At the Korean restaurant, we were served by young Koreans who were obviously very well educated. Here we had an overload of barbecued meats.

What really took our breath away was Ray’s Crab Shack where they serve Louisiana-style shrimps, crabs and mussels cooked in a special sauce that smelled of spices and garlic. The servers gave you plastic aprons and disposable gloves and the sea food was served separately in thick plastic bags, all soaked in the aromatic and strong tasting sauce which we thoroughly enjoyed. It could be messy eating but Rey and I decided to discard the gloves and plunged headlong with bare hands, something we did not do back home. It was a great experience! To be sure, the food did not come cheap, setting us back over $200 including tip for our group of six, but it was quite an experience that we had to do it again just before we returned to Manila.

We went on a nice long drive to Napa Valley too. Unfortunately, wine tasting for most of the stores here is no longer free, but this is one nice town with gentle people, but being a valley, the heat was quite overwhelming. What I found curious was the absence of colored people—we did not see a single black person on the two trips we made here.

We also planned on a side trip to Las Vegas where another brother, Eddie, a retired economist from the UP community, lives with his wife Racquel. It was the worst time to visit Las Vegas, we were told after the fact, and indeed the heat assaults you as you get out of a building or a car, heat that is unbelievable even for someone who lived all his life in a tropical country. The dry heat though did not leave you exhausted, but still the heat was highly uncomfortable. Evenings were cooler, and we enjoyed walks to the Planet Hollywood, for instance, not a long walk from our hotel.

We stayed at the Bellagio Hotel for five days which was a comfortable enough stay. AS soon as we entered our spacious room, we removed all the drinks from the mini ref and put in place our newly-purchased drinks. Too late we were told that even as you lift those drinks out of their designated slots, a sensor registers this on the hotel’s central computer. One is automatically fined $50 for this, apart from the cost of whatever you may have consumed! Luckily we were able to charm our way out of this predicament.

One of the nice highlights of our Las Vegas trip was a visit to the Mob Museum, which housed a thorough collection of all mob-related affairs, from the original brick wall where powerful mob bosses were gunned down in the infamous Valentine’s Day massacre to the courtroom they recreated where mob bosses were sentenced. Everything was related to the visitors either through an audio system or visually through a large screen. One intimately knew of Bugsy Moran and how Las Vegas started; how the Prohibition Era cultivated corruption and crime, and how dedicated Federal agents paid with their lives. Indeed a highly interesting visit worth the trip when you visit to Las Vegas.

Now that we’re back, it’s time to buckle down to work, make up for lost time and work out enough reasons to merit another sabbatical next year.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

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About the Author

Ray Butch Gamboa graduated from the College of Arts and Letters of the University of Sto. Tomas. It was a course that should have been preparatory to a law degree, but the call of broadcasting aborted his plans.

At the age of 16, while still a student, Butch tried his hand at disc jockeying, landing a job at Mareco Broadcasting Network's AM stations DZBM and DZLM. From there, Butch moved on with his illustrious career as a popular disc jockey, riding the airwaves of Bob Stewart's middle-of-the-road music at DZXX, and ending his disc jockeying career at ABS-CBN's DZYL and DZQL.

From there, he stayed on with ABS-CBN, covering live the proceedings at the Manila Stock Exchange and eventually entered into the world of television sales as an account manager for the premier channel of ABS-CBN Channel 2.

In the early 70's, at the outbreak of Martial Law, Butch was one of the thousands of professionals who woke up jobless when then President Marcos declared the new status of the nation. With the closure of ABS-CBN, Butch ventured into different fields outside of broadcast. He tried his hand and with ease and success at export (Costume jewelry), real estate (brokerage), and restaurants (fast food).

In 1987, after the revolution, with the broadcast industry back to its free state, and with its irresistible call ringing in his ears, Butch made his inevitable comeback and pioneered in a local motoring show, producing Motoring Today on Channel 4 and co-hosting with local motor sports' living legend Pocholo Ramirez.

After 4 years, he ventured into another pioneering format by producing and hosting Business & Leisure, which was originally aired on ABS-CBN's Channel 2. The format eventually espoused similar ones in other different channels. But the clones in due course faded away leaving the original staying on airing on Channel 4 and eventually on Shop TV on Sky Cable's Channel 13.

The following year, the pioneering spirit in Butch spurred him to produce another TV show, Race Weekend, also on Channel 4, covering circuit racing at the Subic International Raceway after the motor sport's hiatus of 17 years. But when similar shows with duplicated formats sprouted, he decided to give way and ended the program after a year, although still enjoying unparalleled viewership.

In 1998, when the local automotive industry was in a slump, Butch contributed his share to help the ailing industry by producing another popular motoring-related show, this time exclusive to the automobile and its industry—Auto Focus, which became a vehicle for local automotive assemblers and importers to showcase their products and dwell on the industry's latest technological developments.

In 2003, Butch teamed up with his brother, Rey Gamboa who was a former Shell executive and presently one Philippine Star's business columnist to co-produce and co-host the TV show Breaking Barriers on Channel 13. It is a talk show that features guests who are in the news and in the middle of controversies. The program ventures to draw deeper insights into current issues to learn how they impact to our daily lives.

Today, Motoring Today on its 28th year of service to the general motoring public still enjoys its unprecedented loyal vierwership nationwide while Auto Focus, after 16 years has firmly established its niche viewership among automobile enthusiasts and on the other hand Business & Leisure is on its 24th year dishing out current business issues and lifestyle features.

Today, aside from writing weekly columns for the Philippine Star (Motoring Today on Wednesdays and Business & Leisure on Saturdays) and executive producer / host of weekly TV shows (Motoring Today, airs Sundays on Solar Sports Channel 70, Business & Leisure, airs Tuesdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13 and Auto Focus airs Thursdays on Shop TV, Sky Cable Channel 13, Ray Butch Gamboa is currently the Chairman and CEO of Sunshine Television Production and Marketing Services Corp., President of Gamcor Management and Development Corp., Chairman of Asia-Pacific Realty Corporation, President and Chairman of Socio-Communication Foundation for Asia and Founding Chairman of the Society of Phil. Motoring Journalists (SPMJ)