SUBURBAN EXPLORER San Ramon

You need never have visited England to appreciate the red cast-iron and glass telephone booths. Those stalwart kiosks create an almost regal private space to conduct your fiber optic conversations, whether a mundane request for the correct time or a heart-rending plea to a loved one to bring the library card you left at home.

The booth’s classical boldness apparently borrowed its design from the family tomb of English architect Sir John Soane (1753-1857). Soane designed the St. Pancras Gardens resting place as well as the Bank of England, although much of his original handiwork has been gutted.

The season also makes the booth a fitting shelter during drenching rain at the Marketplace Shopping Center, near the crossroads of Bollinger Canyon Road and Alcosta Boulevard. This intersection of private commerce and public space actually makes for good browsing on a wet winter day, despite its outdoor setting. For those like myself who thrive in the rain, it’s almost a hedonistic exercise in excess standing in a hammering shower and watching the fountains both in the shopping center and in the park across the street. Dry landlubbers, incidentally, have plenty of places to duck and cover.

Better left unread: There once was a village called Lynchville/The name of which meant no ill/It honored William Lynch/Then became Limerick in a pinch/Then San Ramon, which becomes it better still. A far more rhythmic history of San Ramon can be found, if not in the library, on the Web at www.ci.san-ramon.co.us/aboutsr.htm#history or www.sanramon.com.

Reading in the shower: The San Ramon public library at 100 Montgomery anchors the shopping center. Its front glass facade rises over its roof to let in natural light or offer views of a thunderous, cloud-soaked sky. The pitter-patter of little raindrops or the drumming thump of a monsoon provides delicious ambient music for a day of voracious reading. It’s better than reading a book in the bath: The pages don’t get mildewed and your skin doesn’t shrivel up.

A cure for what ales you: If reading comes easier with a pint, trot over with your latest potboiler to O’Kane’s Irish Pub and Grill or further inland to the Hop Yard Ale House. Coffee lovers have the sit-down comfort of Espresso Romano near the marketplace fountain.

Pick-up joint: Besides the alcohol and caffeine hang-outs, you can sit in or take out the likes of pasta, Thai and other foodstuffs. The early bird gets the powdered or glazed carbohydrates at Digbys Donuts.

You can gear up for the outdoors or dress up the indoors at the shops. Prepare for rain or snow at Any Mountain with its line of sporting goods, apparel and outdoor books. Get a fine curio cabinet at Heritage Court so that you have a place for the collectibles from McWhorter’s Stationers or Dolls, Gifts and More. Women’s clothing becomes more affordable at Back to the Rack consignment shop, or indulge in toiletries at The Bubble.

Pick-me-up: Right across Bollinger Canyon Road lies spacious San Ramon Central Park. Kite festivals, fairs and special events spill from the community center onto its thick green grass. At other times, it’s a good place to push a stroller, jog, join a basketball game or watch the team sports in the dry season. Children will enjoy the playground and their personal fountain.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times

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