Road trip: SoCal, 2011

Thursday: wrapped up work; popped ibuprofen for the stress-induced headache; instructed the housesitter on the care and feeding of the critters and plants; packed the ice chest, extra diabetes supplies, suitcases, wetsuits, suit jackets and suitable music on the iPod. Left later than intended, managed one Radiolab podcast before familial relationships succumbed to differences over air conditioning and musical tastes, finally found unity in The Black Keys, then arrived at our friends’ house in Oakland at 1 a.m. They’d left us a key. We hauled in what we needed to and collapsed into the beds.

Friday: Everyone overslept, but I didn’t care because I need to go for a walk before another long car ride. I stretched my legs uphill, explored a few O-town blocks, found a park with a playground structure suitable for pull-ups, pep-talked myself regarding the upcoming foray into our hometown. Returned to our friends’ house, whipped up some breakfast quesadillas with zucchini from the farm share, and tofu and tortillas we’d brought. Commandeered some sri racha in the kitchen. Yummy. That was the high point of the day, or at least the highest point before reaching my dad’s house and having him pour us margaritas. In between, long lows of boring scenery, stinky feedlots, 100-degree heat and more arguing about music.

“What do you feel like listening to?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“No. We should just talk. Is something wrong with talking?”

“Nothing’s wrong with talking. But we’re on the 5, it’s hot and ugly and why can’t we just chill out to some music?”

“Oh, sure. Let’s just ‘chill out’ and not talk ever.”

Like that.

Welcome to the Antelope Valley.

I finally took over driving duties halfway up the Grapevine, drove us into the Antelope Valley with unbidden emotions and pieces of memories flashing through my head like the interminable rows of power poles sprawling out on all sides. I do not miss the desert.

I dodged a roadrunned, but accidentally ran over a rattlesnake. I deeply regret both the loss of life and giving Bobby a valid complaint about my driving ability.

Left the children at my father’s, attended a pre-reunion get-together at a semi-swanky restaurant-bar in downtown Lancaster. Bobby’s class of 1981. If I’d stayed in school instead of California High School Proficiency Examining out my junior year, I’d be class of 1987. I have never regretted the testing out, never longed to revisit my high school days. Bobby and I differ that way. A few dozen people stood around on the restaurant patio, drinks in hand, name tags on dresses, sports coats. Mostly, everyone looked good and exuded niceness. I think by the 30th high school reunion, the assholes have been weeded out. People really did want to know who was doing what and how things were going. Bobby’s ex-girlfriend from high school re-introduced herself to me as, “Bobby’s ex-girlfriend from high school.” She looked killer in high heels, tight pants and a shirt cut to show off her still-impressive tits.

Eventually we moved the party to a hotel where a number of people were staying. I don’t miss the desert, but I confess, I love the balmy nights. Despite the pleasantness of the company and climate, I couldn’t keep up with the reunion crew. I abandoned Bobby to his friends, drove back to my dad’s house at midnight, making two wrong turns along the way. Developments over the years have altered the city almost beyond my recognition.

Saturday: We spent the afternoon admiring photos from my dad and stepmom’s cruise to Norway, Russia, elsewhere, then lunched at Thai Cafe with one of my oldest, dearest friends. Thai Cafe is amazingly good and amazing for existing in a place more typically associated with cultural deprivation than known for its great restaurants. I want to write about how good it was to see my friend, but I don’t have the words at the moment for the complexity of emotions I experienced. Happy to see her, to catch up, so sad about the loss of both her parents over the past couple years, especially because during my adolescence, when things were so strained between my mom and me, her mom filled the role, not as surrogate mother, but as perhaps an especially treasured aunt. The one you can tell things to, who will give you advice on boys and booze, and forgive you your mistakes, but not let you off the hook with regards to expecting good behavior. She was really wonderful to me; I thought of her often when going through the toughest years of Chelsea’s teenage drama, but I didn’t stay in touch and so never told her how much she meant to me.

“I’m so glad I knew your mom in high school,” my friend told my kids. “Without her I wouldn’t have had nearly so much fun!”

See? Even then I was the facilitator of good times.

Bobby left for his reunion — I did not attend the official shindig, sure that no way was it possible to make a $135 ticket worth the price. Dad took the rest of us out to eat at an Italian restaurant where the alfredo sauce was delish, the waiter amusing, the cheesecake sinful and the harpist plunking out Beatles’ covers adorable. Next to the restaurant loomed a billboard adorned by the face of a woman I attended high school with. She’s a dentist now and wants your business.

Sunday: A late start due to Bobby’s long night (he had a wonderful time) and off to meet my mom in North Hollywood for lunch.

My mom is super awesome. She teaches science to K-8 graders at a private school just north of Studio City. Her lab includes a plethora of reptilian and amphibious creatures, test tubes, walls of computers, hovercraft-building supplies and all the parts one could need to make a personal robot.

Albino frog.

She took us to lunch at Bollywood, an Indian restaurant that threatened to ruin all other Indian restaurants for us; it was that good. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, stuffed as we were with garlic naan, saag paneer, aloo gobi… the waiter brought out complementary cheesecake.

I wish we could’ve visited Mom longer, but we were off again to L.A. proper, passing the John Anson Ford Amphitheater where Bobby and I so long ago saw Jane’s Addiction, when the JAF still hosted rock shows, before the Ramones’ bleeding into Ella Fitzgerald across the way at the Hollywood Bowl triggered the end of that era.

Scene at the Brewery.

Our friends live in the Brewery, an art colony next to Union Station. Once a Pabst factory, now home to a couple hundred working artists. It’s inherently cool. The husband half of our friends is having a good year. Among other successes, Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, bought one of his sculptures during a spring show in Los Altos.

El Lay

From there, we left later than intended, arriving in Ventura to stay the night before trekking up to Santa Cruz. The motel cost $59, was as shabby as might be expected, given the motel factor and the price, but clean enough and boasting not only a kitchenette in every room, but a jacuzzi bathtub that we were too tired to use.

Monday: Once again, a late start. More breakfast quesadillas courtesy of me and the kitchenette. Car packed, coffee bought and, after arguing about which way to go, off we went up the coast to the day’s destination of Santa Cruz. I finally found music Bobby was willing to listen to — he only wanted to hear what “fit” the ride and fortunately for our marriage, The Mother Hips’ “Pacific Dust” CD was in the car.

One thing about living in Humboldt, and I’ve mentioned this before, is, it’s so damn pretty that even places like Big Sur don’t seem all that in comparison. Cliffs, rocks, yep. Just more sunshine.

Warmer, yes. Prettier, no. (Still pretty.)

Arrived in Santa Cruz in time to check into our motel, conveniently located almost right across from the boardwalk, and swoop up a family friend who’d just moved there after graduating from Arcata High a couple weeks ago. We took him to dinner at Hula Tiki. Best sweet potato fries ever. Rum drinks to steal booty to. “Jungle tofu.” Color me content.

And then the boardwalk! We happened to be there on Dollar Ride Night, so not only did we get to shriek our way along the Giant Dipper, but we were able to do so for cheap! The Dipper sends you through a dark tunnel before lifting you up the clackety incline and dropping you into the whizzing, creaking, whirlwind ride that exemplifies all that’s great about old wooden rollercoasters. The kids and I rode not only the Dipper, but the Hurricane, whose main feature is a propensity for sideways corkscrews. I passed on the Doubleshot, which launches a group of people up along a square tower (think Zombieland) way up high, then bounces back down to Earth. Nick and Kaylee wrapped up the night with that one.

Hula's Tiki

We would’ve gone on the bumper cars, but a dad trying to sneak his too-short kid onto the ride caused everything to come to a halt and we didn’t have time to wait for security to sort it out. Other than that, a great, satisfying night.

Tuesday: Nick and I surfed Steamer Lane, Kaylee took photos, Bobby treaded water for an hour-and-a-half in the motel pool. A lighter mood prevailed — at least until we couldn’t agree on the fastest way to San Francisco, where Nick was scheduled for a check-up at 1:30 p.m. (We were getting on the road later than intended.) But, things worked out, both time-wise and, unexpectedly, relationship-wise. Sometimes you have to be on the verge of falling apart to realize how much you want to stay together. Road trips can do that to a family.

San Francisco, watercolored.

All photos by Kaylee!

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