January 11, 2006

What I Did on My Christmas Vacation

This was the year we finally did it. After talking about how much fun it would be to drive across country to my mom's in California, we finally decided to take the plunge thanks to high air fares and our closer proximity in Albuquerque to California. So, after really not much planning, we hit the road. I now include for you a day-by-day blow of our trip:

December 22nd:
Leave Albuquerque at about 7:00 p.m. in our car, a 1995 Infiniti G20 which has had a terrible habit of breaking down with mechanical problems that even our auto service professional has never seen. We leave our dog Hannibal in the care of our neighbor Rick . Hannibal is 15 and not in the best of health, but has been on a regimen of antibiotics to prevent sickness while we are gone. We have packed the car to the gills with our clothing, some rudimentary gifts (my family is not exchanging Christmas presents this year), and food for the road. Our plan is to drive as far as Flagstaff, AZ and spend the night in a Quality Inn. We make it in around 1:00 p.m. to the motel. No car problems!

December 23rd:
Leave Flagstaff around 10:30 for the drive to Los Angeles, well actually Glendale, where we will stay with an old high school friend of mine. We wind through the beautiful Arizona high country, and then start a long downhill slope that ends in the Los Angeles basin, traveling along portions of old Route 66. The day is brilliant.

We make a detour at Lake Havasu City because I had heard the London Bridge was there, transported brick by brick from London. Indeed it was, and let me say that Megan and I agreed that it was a picture of everything wrong with America. First of all, Lake Havasu City lies in the middle of the desert by a relatively large lake. Water issues aside, it seems to be a retirement community that was someone's brainchild in the 60s and that really shouldn't be there. As we drive through town, which seems to be full of boat dealers and marine outfitters, we come upon the London Bridge. It is over a lagoon of sorts and you enter to see it through a "London" town square, full of old London replicas such as the Hawaiian Shaved Ice shop, a gondolier poling a gondola with two tourists out among the bridge supports singing "O Sole Mio," a beautifully restored and historically accurate old London attraction, the Dixie Belle paddlewheeler, and other curio shops and such. I got a kick out of the kid doing yo yo tricks to the immense satisfaction of a cowboy with an eyepatch named Kenny (his name was on his belt). In other words, as Megan puts it, this whole attraction symbolizes America's ability to take the history of others, claim it as our own, and put all kinds of irrelevant shit around it.

We got into Glendale around 7:00 p.m. and went to dinner with Fred and Elizabeth and their daughter Mia. After that much driving, dinner, beer and bed felt great! Car continues to work!

December 24:
We awoke and after taking some time to actually get ourselves mentally and physically ready, we went to breakfast with the Genges and then hit the road. We decided to drive up US 101 instead of the faster I-5. This allowed us some ocean vistas, and we were able to visit a mission in Lompoc. We hit San Francisco around 7:00 p.m. and stopped for some Vietnamese Pho in the Sunset District. We then drove the rest of the way to Fort Bragg, arriving sometime around midnight. We went to bed pretty much immediately after tired hellos to my mom and sister who were awake and waiting for us. Car still working!

December 25:
Oh jeez, guess what. That family injunction against Christmas presents? Well, let's see...Santa (aka Mom) broke the injunction as did one sister (Mari). So other sister and Megan and I look a little like idiots for not bringing anything. "But you're present is that you came," said my mom. Yeah, thanks. We had breakfast, meeting Mari's new boyfriend Rick, and then opened the gifts that shouldn't have been.

Pauline wasn't feeling well, so we couldn't do the new tradition of going to see the seals. Nor could she accompany us to the ultimate of family traditions, the extended family dinner and poker game. Dinner was not heavily attended with numerous cousins out of town, but 100 year old Papa John was there. We did not win in poker this year either -- between us Megan and I lost $10.

Car did not break down!

December 26 - January 1:
It rained.

Okay well, there was some clearing at times, during which Megan and I went to the Pacific Star Winery and bought a case of wine, and we managed to get out and on the bluffs a couple of times. We met some of my old friends in a bar. We went down to Mendocino and walked around. We had a whirlpool bath in a spa that opened in the old company store where I had bought my first set of workboots when I became a lumber mill employee in the early 1980s -- can you imagine the grizzled old mill workers faces if they were told that one day in the store where they bought their equipment, that they would be able to buy a ginger bath for an hour for $40?

But it rained and rained. And the roads closed because of landslides and flooding, meaning that we couldn't leave town on January 1st like we planned.

So we sat around with my sick sister and watched 48 episodes of Scrubs -- the entire first two seasons on DVD. And I must say that Dr. Perry Cox is my new hero.

On my birthday, Dec. 29th, we got a call from Rick. Hannibal was really sick. Vet was called, and she came by the house. Hannibal needed fluids and was generally feeling crappy. There wasn't a need for us to run home immediately, not that we could, but we were worried all the same.

At least the car seems to be running okay!

January 2:
Roads finally open. We leave after tearful goodbyes with sister and mom. Okay, maybe we all were slightly relieved to be out of each other's hair! Megan and I drive down to Marin County, stopping only at a winery that caught our eye, Nelson Family Vineyards, and then a quick drive through chi-chi Healdsburg. We arrive at Megan's brother's house at about 5:30, driving up just about 5 minutes after they came in from a spa vacation. We were treated to their new plasma screen television, and a nice dinner whipped up by April, Michael's wife.

Hannibal still feeling crappy, but seems to be doing better.

Starting to feel spoiled by the car. Still running!

January 3:
We drive into SF and go to the new DeYoung Museum, which looks from the outside like a Sams Club warehouse. We saw the Hatshepsut exhibit, which centered around Egypt's only female pharoah, and it was quite good. We then met my college friend Richard for dinner, and then back to Marin.

Hannibal doing better.

Car still hanging in there!

January 4:
We spend a lot of time hanging around Michael and April's house, then make a mid-afternoon hike in Devils Gulch on the road toward Point Reyes. It was a nice hike up to a waterfall, and with all the water lately there was a lot coming down. We then went and grabbed the Larkspur ferry to San Francisco and met Megan's brother and his wife for dinner, stopping in at City Lights to peruse books and Vesuvio's for a drink. Michael took us to a Greek place for dinner, which was really good. He felt like celebrating because he just found out that after surgery he was completely cancer free.

Hannibal got annoyed and ran away from Rick when he tried to feed him -- always a good sign!

Car still going -- might we hit a homer?

January 5:
We drove over to Oakland to see a Hall of Fame traveling exhibit on baseball, and to say hello to a former roommate of mine, Amy Billstrom, when I was volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. She now works at the Oakland Museum, where the exhibit is located, and so we were able to kill two birds with one stone!

We then met Michael, April and my friend Richard for a movie in Fairfax. We saw Syriana -- dense, complex and leaves many questions. Tearful goodbye to Richard, who went back to his teaching gig.

Hannibal progressing steadily. Needs steroids to help combat his deteriorating hips.

Car still going -- I'm hopeful.

January 6:
Got up early and met Megan's friend Dean in San Francisco for breakfast. Then we were off to LA. We made an afternoon stop at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, which was well done and would be especially satisfying to Steinbeck fans. Then on to Glendale for a dinner with the Genges and blessed sleep.

Hannibal better still.

Car still running. Will miracles ever cease.

January 7:
Had some breakfast and went to the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens with the Genges. It was a beautiful day. We left LA around 4:00 p.m. for long drive to Flagstaff. Road is all uphill, and thanks to late start, most of it is in the dark.

We pull into a Burger King in Kingman, Arizona, and the car craps out on us. Yes indeed. I cannot get it into gear when the car is running, though it works fine when car is completely off. We manage to wrestle into fifth gear (first just doesn't work at all) and drive to Flagstaff.

Hannibal's doing better though -- but I'm not happy about the bill we'll get.

January 8th:

Car didn't magically fix itself. We get going around 10:00 a.m. We considered stopping at the Meteor Crater, but a $15 apiece fee to get in and car worries scuttle that plan. We do stop for ice cream in Gallup, but the gears seem to be more reluctant than ever and we get back on the road quickly for the run into Albuquerque. We arrive home at around 4:00 p.m. to grateful dog.

You know it's sad when your mechanic even feels sorry for you after awhile. Something is wrong with the clutch, though he doesn't know exactly what. It is one of those wierd things that continue to plague us with this car. The bill was around $750 to replace the clutch. We have now put about as much money in two years into fixing it as we did in buying the thing.

Hannibal really perked up on our arrival home. He's weak and skinny from lack of food, but shows improvement in appetite each day. At fifteen, and at the rate he's deteriorated, we know we don't have a lot of time left with him, but his ability to rally from bad sicknesses is inspiring.

Megan's back to work, and I'm back to writing on the dissertation. It was a mixed bag of tricks, this driving trip to California, but I'm glad I did it.


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