Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Travel journal: California

Brian and I just got back on Sunday from a week-long vacation in California where we visited our families. Since I'll be far enough along by Thanksgiving and Christmas that the airlines won't let me on the planes (and I suspect my midwife would also think it a bad idea), we thought we'd get a trip in now.

Our flights to California were smooth and uneventful. We flew through Dallas, and only had to move down a few gates to get our next plane. Our Christmas trip last year was much better: after landing in Dallas, we boarded the little train to go on to our next terminal. We were in the first car, by ourselves, and we stood up at the very front, watching out the windows, leaning into the turns to pretend we were driving, and making sound effects. When we finally got off the train at the gate that our next flight would be departing from, we realized that at some point a few other people had boarded that car--mostly men in business suits. Oops. We laughed and ran away. No, seriously, we're totally grown ups who are ready to have a child.

Town on a wide open shore

We spent a good portion of our first full day with friends in Playa del Rey. At first the plan had been for them to come out to brunch with us nearer where The In-laws live, but when we arrived last Saturday and to clear skies and temperatures in the 80s, I called my friend Aly and invited myself over to her house instead.

Sunday was a little cooler than Saturday, but I was actually glad of that. We walked from Aly's house through some wetlands (which were rather dry) down to a bistro near the beach for a big brunch, then went from there for a walk down along the beach.

The weather was great, the beach beautiful, and the opportunity to hang out with Aly was wonderful. But the best part was Brian getting a chance to talk with Aly's husband. The last time we'd seen Aly was at Christmas, a few weeks before the birth of her son. Aaron talked with Brian about fatherhood and babies, and I could see Brian's relief that Aly and Aaron were having a normal life with their baby.


Awhile back I asked The Mother-in-law, a surgeon, if it would be possible for me to view an operation at her hospital. I've never had any desire to be a doctor, but I'm interested in health and health care and thought it would be interesting. Plus, ever since I met The Mother-in-law seven or eight years ago, I've been intrigued by surgeons: I mean, here is a normal person who opens up a living human body as part of her daily life; that's pretty impressive to me. I've seen a video of a breast lumpectomy without much squeamishness, so I thought I would be able to handle it, and she agreed to try to work something out.

When she first told me that she had arranged to take us with her to the hospital on this trip, though, I started to worry. I was worried that seeing an operation would make me even more afraid of having to have a c-section, or that I would become squeamish and faint (I've never fainted at the sight of blood before, and even watch the needle go in when I have to have blood drawn). By the time we were there, though I was looking forward to it.

At the hospital, Dr. Mother-in-law picked an operation that seemed to her like a good one to view: the removal of tumors from a bladder for biopsy. We put on scrubs and booties and caps over our hair, and were led into an operating room where the surgery was already in progress. The surgeon and resident showed us the endoscope they were using, and we watched on the television screen as one of them removed a piece of tissue and cauterized the place where it had been. They kindly explained to us what they were doing. I was absolutely fascinated.

As a bonus, we also got to go down to pathology, where they showed us how they made slides of the samples that were sent down, and sat with us at a microscope to show us the different layers of tissue and what they look for to determine theinvasiveness of the cancer. As the pathologist pointed to different parts of the cells we were looking at, I was surprised at how much I remembered from my high school biology class--it wasn't a lot, but I knew what he was talking about.


The trip was timed as it was so that we could spend Halloween in southern California with The In-laws. Halloween is a big deal in their neighborhood, and I'd never seen it for myself, and Brian hadn't been since 2000. (That year, when I told my mom that Brian was away to spend Halloween with his family, she asked, "What's his last name? Addams?")

I just don't get that excited about Halloween. I love Christmas and Thanksgiving and my birthday (what? It's like a holiday for me. And less than two weeks away now.), but Halloween just doesn't hold my interest, much to Brian's disappointment. After seeing a South Pasadena Halloween, though, I can see how one might be excited.

Nearly all the houses on the two blocks I saw were quite well decorated. Brian and his dad strung a dummy up through a tree, so that it could be dropped in front of people as they came up the driveway. A coffin that was lit up opened and closed as a mechanical skeleton hand pushed on it. Other families had put up orange lights on their houses and bushes the way some people put up Christmas lights. I saw one house that had the windows all glowing orange, which I thought was a nice effect. Another had a creepy looking monster in the window, and at one a woman dressed as a white witch sat beneath a spotlight on the walk up to the front door.

For me, the best part was accompanying my best friend and her son trick-or-treating up and down the street. James (aka Mr. Incredible, at least last Tuesday) is four now, and was shy at first, but opened up over the course of the evening. I guess sugar has the same effect on him that wine has on me. He was a little wary of some of the houses' creepier decorations, but he seemed to have fun. At most houses he would run eagerly up the walk to the front door (although he did take interesting routes to avoid monsters on lawns or bats hanging from trees) and join the other kids there in collecting some sugary loot. Whenever possible he would take the candy in his hand, rather than let the adult put it into his bag. If it did end up in his bag, he would crouch down and dig it out when he returned to where we were waiting, so he could hold it up and say "I got this kind!" and ask what it was called.

We went up two blocks, and as we worked our way back on the opposite side of the street, the crowds began to pick up. Swarms of parents waited at the foot of each driveway, and children lined up outside doors. When we returned to the In-laws' house, we had to wait in line in order to approach the front door.

By the end of the night, The Father-in-law and Brian had tallied over 1700 little beggars, and at one point they had been coming at a rate of 12 a minute.

A cloud shifts, the plane lifts

The next morning, Brian and I flew up to spend the rest of the week visiting family and friends in the Bay Area. We had planned on driving up the coast, but after I discovered the week before that just sitting in a movie theater for two hours left me stiff and in pain, I booked us on a cheap Southwest flight. I hadn't flown Southwest since Christmas, and I always forget that the whole thing is a little less formal than other airlines, what with the flight attendants singing over the speakers and all. This time we were also told that it was the pilot's last flight: after 32 years of flying, he had reached mandatory retirement age. The flight attendant asked us to wait around after we landed and give him a round of applause when he exited the cockpit, which seemed like a reasonable request to me.

As we were approaching Oakland, she came over the speakers again, reiterating her request and also informing us that Southwest likes to make a big deal of a pilot's retirement, so the airport fire department would be meeting our flight and spraying water over the plane from either side. I thought that was a nice touch, but mostly I was just glad we had been informed in advance. No matter how smooth the flight and gentle the landing, I would have freaked out a bit, I think, if I'd been surprised by firetrucks hosing down the plane.

Taking pregnancy brain to a whole new level

On Wednesday I meant to double check which company I'd ended up renting a car from, but when I logged into my email, I forgot. As we approached Burbank airport, The Father-in-law asked me about it again.

"I forgot to check, but I'm sure it was Enterprise," I said. I did remember being on the Enterprise website. And I remembered that it hadn't been Alamo or National that I rented from, although I have used them in the past.

Brian hauled our suitcases onto the rental car shuttle in Oakland. On the ride to the cars, I listened to a woman talk about an Assembly race and felt comfortably at home. We waited in line at the Enterprise counter, while I glanced over at the National counter from time to time: both companies have green logos. Enterprise had no reservation under my name and no more cars. National didn't either, but they did have a Cadillac we could rent for $140/day.

We sat down on a bench to think. There was pay wireless, so I could check my email that way, but I decided to call The Sister instead. (That makes her sound like a nun, doesn't it?) She kindly logged into my Gmail account and searched for "rental car," "car," and "Enterprise."

Nothing. Except that I had rented from National back in July.

I went back inside the building where Brian was waiting and told him what The Sister had found. He patiently went up to each of the rental counters that didn't have a long line to confirm that we didn't have a reservation with them and ask about the prices of their available cars. The cheapest was $39.95/day. I was pretty sure I had reserved a car for $25/day, so he pulled out his computer and I did a quick search. I discovered that Dollar (which had a long line, so he hadn't checked there) had $29.95/day. I made the reservation, wrote down the confirmation number, and went to wait in line, fingers crossed that the reservation made it into their system promptly. While we waited, I thanked Brian for not being cranky at me about my mistake.

"And at least this makes a good story," I told him.

"I'd be too embarrassed to tell anyone," he said.

Yeah, well.

Where we came from

When we moved from Santa Cruz to the DC area four years ago, we were lucky that Brian's company was willing to allow him to telecommute. The arrangement has worked out pretty well, but I know he likes to get back to see his coworkers live and in person, so we headed down to Santa Cruz for the day to have lunch with them and to visit with another friend.

It was a drizzly, gloomy day when we arrived at the office. Brian requested Mexican food for lunch, and rather than taking us to one of our usual Santa Cruztaquerias , one of his coworkers suggested La Costa, a casual place in Davenport. Eight of us headed up the coast, and we seemed to be the restaurant's lunchtime rush, although the man that had picked the restaurant assured us that during the summer they do better business with people driving along Highway 1. The food was good. I had my usual, simple bean burrito, but they were able to make vegetarian enchiladas at Brian's request, and he raved about the mole sauce on them. I had fun listening to everyone joke around, and just enjoyed the appearance of the people we were sitting around the table with: nearly everyone was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and ahoody . I miss the casual atmosphere of Santa Cruz (although when I was temping there I always managed to end up placed in offices that were formal enough that women who wore skirts needed to wear nylons; I didn't wear skirts much). I know that I could wear jeans and ahoody to work if I wanted (provided there weren't meetings that day), but I think I would feel too out of place.

The drive up the coast those few miles was wonderful. We had been at the beach only a few days before with Aly, walking along and looking out at the sparkling water, but somehow thegrey , choppy water here was even better. Maybe it was more familiar. We stopped at the home of one of the coworkers on the way back to the office. Or, more precisely, we stopped at the site where he and his wife are building a new house. He led us into the house, point out where different rooms would be, and we climbed up to the second story. While the others investigated what the construction workers were doing and admired the craftsmanship that was going into the building, I stood in what will be the master bedroom, looking through the window over the cypress trees and the farmland to where the cliffs drop off to the ocean.

After lunch Brian and I headed downtown by way of West Cliff Drive, and I thought about the countless times we'd walked there when we were living in The Circles. Everything seemed the same. I thought about how much I wanted to move back to the area. Then I thought about lack of jobs in public policy and the cost of homes.

We met up with my former writing professor at Caffe Bene downtown, just around the corner from his former haunt, Jahva House, which is now a brew pub. I had been disappointed to see that Jahva House was gone when I was there last December, but I enjoyed Caffe Bene, which I'd never been in before. After a nice visit, we said good-bye and headed up to campus, in search of some cute slug gear for Sticky.

It was nearly dark when we reached the main entrance, and as we drove up the hill, the fog was setting in. We were lucky enough to find a metered spot in the Bay Tree lot, and I thought that I was glad to have worked on campus for a couple of years after graduation; otherwise I would have been completely shocked by the changes around campus. (I was surprised to see that the apartments across the street from the bookstore had been completed, although that probably happened some time ago.) I picked out a Fiat Slug tee for Sticky to wear next spring, and Brian vetoed the $20 slug slippers I had my eye on. We also bought a poster of Natural Bridges that we saw near the register, since that was our favorite beach when we lived there, and because it was done in a style we both liked instantly.

We were tired and ready to go home, but we wanted to wait out the rush hour traffic, so we went back downtown. We wandered up and down Pacific Avenue, going into Chefworks, Bookshop, Logos, Streetlight, and the hat store, noting the new stores--both chains and shops that proclaim that they are locally owned--that have opened since the last time we were there. Finally we grabbed slices of pizza at Pizza My Heart and sat in a booth, just like we used to do back when we were in college and then when we were living in town afterward. On other visits to the area, we've both been a bit disappointed, perhaps because we've idealized the town in some ways. But on Thursday night we were both content and thought that this was a place we wouldn't mind living in again.

The next day we headed off to Berkeley to visit friends. We spent the afternoon at the home of some friends, eating a delicious lunch of spicy black bean soup andchiles rellenos on their patio, and then met up with another friend when he was finished with work for dinner (Indian) and a stroll down Solano Avenue. It just felt good to be around people I've known forever. And to eat spicy food without getting heartburn (although a banana I ate the next day just about killed me with the heartburn).

I lived in Martinez my entire life until college, but I rarely ventured across the bridge to Benicia. Not that that's surprising: Benicia isn't exactly full of tourist attractions. But on Saturday, Brian and I met up with some friends for lunch there, and spent some time walking around the downtown area. We walked down onto the pier for views of the water and the surrounding hills (and the smokestacks of the refinery back in Martinez), and strolled back up First Street past antique shops and the old state capitol. I still don't think of it as a tourist destination or some place I'll be hanging out a lot, but it was cute and not a bad way to spend breezy afternoon.

Older than I once was, and younger than I'll be

I'm going to be 28 in a couple of weeks. I've got a master's degree and a salaried job. I've been married for almost five years now. I am about two months away from having a baby. Most of the time I don't feel very grown up, though.

Saturday night I sat at the dinner table in the house I grew up in. My dad was there. My sister and her fiance (she's getting married! That sounds much less nun-like) were to my right. Brian was to my left. And my brother and his live-in girlfriend sat across the table from me. It seemed a little surreal. I suddenly felt old. When did we all grow up?

Where my thoughts escape

I experienced homesickness on this trip, which surprised me. By the end of a week away, I am usually glad to be back in my own house, but this was different. Our first night in California I laid down beside Brian in his parents' guest room and began to cry because I wanted to go home. "I want to be in my bed and see my cat and have my pillows," I whimpered, knowing I was sounding ridiculous, but totally unable to help myself. I was tired and hormonal, and Brian was very patient, and comforted me each night as I went through the same thing.

Sunday night when we got out of our cab, I felt a surge of energy, in spite of the long day spent traveling (we left Martinez at 5:45 that morning) (the fact that I slept for nearly all of the flight from Dallas to Washington probably helped). After spending 10 minutes on the couch letting the cat jump back and forth from my lap to Brian's as she rubbed her face against ours and tried to groom us, I got to work: I unpacked, started the laundry, sorted the mail that arrived while we were away, paid some bills, and made a list of things to do this week. I even did the dishes after dinner without complaining. It was all very boring and felt very good.

The time difference kept me up for a long time, and the cat woke me up frequently, having returned somewhat to her natural nocturnal ways while we were gone. But I was back at home in my own bed.

I was going to wait to post this until I had sorted and uploaded photos. But then this would never get posted, and The Sister informs me that opening this page to see "More Squashy Goodness" every day is getting old. So for her sake, photos will have to wait. Halloween pictures are posted here; my jack-o-lantern is the one with the spider.


lynnerd said...

I'm glad you had a safe trip, but I would have come in a heartbeat to see you if I had known you were on the West Coast.
Regardless, I have something for Sticky that I'll have to mail since I'll miss most of her infancy. Look for it soon. :)

Christie Grabyan said...

Wonderful entry Liz, Although, I was having a perfectly normal day until I read your post, and now I'm homesick! I drove down Highway 1 between SF and Santa Cruz in my moving van at the end of August. It saddens me that at least a year will have gone by until I see that coastline again.

I'm sitting here in London, looking out at the fog, but somehow, it's not the same as the fog in San Francisco. I know why I'm here, but it sure would be nice to be home for a bit.

ann said...

Your post made me miss Santa Cruz. As I look out the window to inches and inches of snow, a part of me is glad I'm living in Alaska. But another part of me would love to be in California right now.