Sunday, September 30, 2007

Go West!

My oh my. The first trip out to the west coast in 12 years. The occasion? Grandma Northup's 90th birthday. I mean, how can you not go?

Many of you know I am not a great flier, so of course I spent months worrying about this trip. The funniest thing of all? I was all ready to fly away on Friday, but when I called JetBlue to get my confirmation number, I found out the flight wasn't until Saturday. I laughed and laughed at my mistake. It turned out to be for the best, as I had a full day off to get ready and pack and whatnot. Hee.

I had forgotten how beautiful this country is from 35,000 feet. Especially the southwest, which is all reds and oranges and purples. I could see wind farms over Arizona, parts of the Grand Canyon, and once we got to the mountains in California, we could see a forest fire and a plane dropping that red flame-retardant stuff. Beside the fear of falling out of the sky in a fiery ball, flying is cool.

We landed in Long Beach, CA. This was my first time at the Long Beach airport, and it is awesome. It's tiny and cute, and the baggage claim is outside. You stand there in the sunshine while soft rock is piped out for your amusement. It made me feel like I was travelling in the early 60s, and was a nice entry to a state I have very mixed feelings about. Also, I think the facade of the airport was the double for the airport in Sunnydale in Buffy, The Vampire Slayer. Very cool.

After we got our bags, Mom, Dad, my brother Zach and I loaded up the rental and headed north up to Santa Barbara. A beautiful coastal town that has Mom's Alma mater, UCSB. The drive through LA brought back memories of living in that city. Ick. I hated it there.

This is the cute little motel we stayed at. Once again I felt like we had been transported back in time. It screamed early 60s surfer to me. I had the pleasure of sharing a room with Mom and Dad, while Zach took off to stay with Tom, a good friend of his from high school that has taken up residence with his lovely wife in this little town. I spent two relatively sleepless nights listening to my parents snoring, and woke up with a backache after lying on that crappy mattress. Yeah, so, motel not so cute after that.

After a nice meal at a sweet little Italian restaurant, and a bad night's sleep on that terrible bed, we got up on our first morning in SB and went down to the beach. I always marvel at how different the Pacific looks to the Atlantic ocean, and the color of the sky is totally different by the beach. We happened to be there on the day that war veterans set up a beach version of Arlington cemetery in protest of the Iraqi war. It was very powerful and solemn. The vets there had lots of information about the war and were friendly and in good spirits. We thanked them for what they were doing, and spent some time reading the various stats about the war. The picture I took with my cell phone is kinda bad (all the pictures in this blog are from my phone), so I hope you can get a sense of what it looked like. Each one of the crosses in the sand represents a soldier that has died in the war.

After that we walked along the pier, and then headed over to State Street, the main drag of SB, full of shops and bars and restaurants. It is very obvious that the college has made this area a bit of a party destination. The whole place is gorgeous.
We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant, and outside on the patio was Noah Wylie with his family. Mom hilariously reminded me to send my Celebrity Tag texts (thanks, Ma). I did not take a picture, because I'm cool like that. Let me tell you, Noah Wylie is tall and adorable in person. His two kids are cutie-pies, and his wife is very normal pretty, not that crazy Hollywood pretty, which made me like Noah even more.

Speaking of cute. I had forgotten how tall and cute California boys are. Wow. The place was crawling with them, and unlike in NYC, they were friendly and happily flirted with me. I will say it again. What is wrong with the men in New York? Sheesh.

Anyway, that evening we went to visit some friends of my Mom. First, was Eric, a scientist with a lovely new bride and a nice home in the hills. We had drinks and hors-d'oeuvres and chatted away. After ward, we went over to Susan and Charles home. A gorgeous house with a stellar hillside view of the ocean and full of beautiful furniture and art. Susan is an artist, and she graciously showed me her studio and what she is currently working on. They fed us flank steak and asparagus grilled outside and some wonderful crunchy bread. Turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip. These people know how to live. Unfortunately, because of the Yankees/Red Sox game and the wine and food, I totally forgot to take pictures of any of it. Sorry guys.

We got up Monday, met Zach and Tom out for a yummy breakfast, and drove out of town off to Central California to see Grandma and Grandpa Kissack, and Aunt Kay. The drive took forever, driving through desolate, god-forsaken country. The most distressing thing to me was all the people living in these ugly towns, in the middle of land that doesn't have water and hardly any vegetation. There is a lot of farming going on out there, which is crazy. The amount of water piped out there must be enormous to support all that. Plus, the land is so dry right now, it looks like if you breathe too hard the whole place will go up in flames in a second. The mountains are pretty, though.

After a stop at an In-N-Out Burger for lunch (oh.yeah! Awesome burgers), we ended our days driving at our destination, Visalia. A boring little city, really. Lots of strip malls and gas stations. But the street Grandma and Grandpa live on is cute, and they have themselves a cute little house, with a really nice great room. It's astounding to me that people living in such a dry part of the country still insist on having lawns. Once again, crazy.

This is the part of the trip when eating became a bit of a sport. There was a lot of eating. Grandma found out I love Mexican food as much as she does, so we had three Mexican meals. Let me tell you, I have missed good Mexican food. There are good Mexican restaurants in NYC, but it's not real Mexican. This stuff was yummy, especially the chile relleno I had for lunch the second day. Yes!

I had made a promise to myself to get out for a walk everyday while on this trip. I am used to walking everyday, and when I don't get to do it, my head gets a little cuckoo. The second day there I decided to go take a walk in the park a block away that has a trail that runs along the river. I just forgot that a river in California rarely has any water in it.

I had to finally turn around and go back, because this trail headed out into a treeless field, and it was getting hot and I was getting a little sun sick. I'm so delicate.

We spent most of our time in Visalia sitting around and telling stories of the family. On the third day, Zach and I decided to go and check out the main drag. Kinda strip mall-y, but it had shops and bars that looked kinda funky. We ended up at the Visalia Brewing Company and had a beer and met some of the local flavor. As usual, everyone was very friendly, and once again, Zach and I were mistaken for a couple (a phenomenon that has occurred since we were kids). The woman sitting next to Zach was VERY happy to hear we were brother and sister. Hee. We also played the poor-man's version of MegaTouch, and got the top ten score on the picture search game as ZEK. Not as good as the 50 million Fran and I got in Honeoye Falls, but respectable nevertheless.
On Thursday we got up and headed back down to the beach communities south of LA. The drive was much shorter, thankfully, and we head straight over to Grandma Northup's home to see her and Aunt Ginger, Uncle Felix and our cousin Talia. These are some of my favorite people in the family, they are unique and smart and a lot of fun.

I lived with Grandma for the first six months or so of my time in LA, and her home hasn't changed much. There are, however, many more giant, multi-million homes surrounding her. It's a little odd, but I love Hermosa Beach very much. It's kinda young and funky with lots of cute little restaurants and shops. After a bit of visiting Zach and I decided to walk down to the beach and check the place out. They had rebuilt the pier since I had lived there, and there are lots of bars and restaurants right down at the strand. We wandered into the Hermosa General Store, a dark store full of t-shirts and hoodies and flip-flops and other various beachy things. The owner was an old hippie and told us all kinds of funny stories from back when they started the place in the 60s. I have a feeling that there are still bongs in that back room. He was very proud of his daughter who was doing great at UCSB, and he sold me an awesome hoodie, that later in the trip covered my skin and clothes in blue dye (it needed to be washed first. Whoops!).

Here's the beautiful pier, taken a few days later when we went down with Dad (that's him on the right). You can see the dark clouds out over the ocean, which came in later that night and they got their first measurable rain in almost a year. It was cool.
We went over to my Uncle Wayne and Aunt Janet's home to meet them for dinner. They have a very nice house close to the ocean in Redondo Beach. It's a small, beachy styled place that is homey and sweet. Here's the view from the front door, looking out over their front deck. Nice view, eh?
The food orgy continued when Wayne and Janet took us a few blocks away to eat at the Chicago Rib joint. The food was good and I'm suprized none of us keeled over from a heart attack afterwards.
Once dinner was over, Mom and Dad took Zach and I over to my Cousin Craig's home, where we were staying. We met Craig's very cool wife Marlo, their charming six year old son Clyde and their awesome 13 year old daughter Alex. Clyde gave up his room and Alex let us share her bathroom with no complaints. The place was gorgeous. After sleeping on a skinny little cot up in Visalia, the twin bed in the guest bedroom was the biggest, most comfortable bed I had ever slept in. Like most places in highly populated areas, the backyard was small, but it had something I had never seen, sprouted coconuts. I had to take a picture.
Our first morning we woke up and Zach and I were on our own to get breakfast. Marlo was nice enough to set up the coffee maker, so after a cup, we decided to go for a walk and see if we could find a breakfast joint. We walked two blocks and stumbled across the Cozy Cafe. It was perfect.

It was just a counter, with barely enough room to make your way around, and seating for about eight people (there was a patio out back for 'overflow'). George, the owner came out and asked us where we were from, and then proceeded to tell us his story about his one trip to NYC. He took our orders, and we quickly got our plates piled full of eggs and potatoes, way too much food to ever consider finishing. It was very tasty. There was not a lot of space, the toasters were placed in various spots around the place, and our fellow breakfasters were friendly and chatty. Excellent food and local flavor. My kinda place.

We then decided to take a walk along the beach, which is very different than Hermosa, with lots of beach side condos, and a pier that is huge, and hard to find your way off of when you don't know where you're going. This was obviously a wealthier looking area, although I'm sure any place within the beach communities is crazy expensive.

Another lunch, another Mexican meal (yum) and after bailing out on helping at Grandma's getting ready for the party, we headed out for another dinner with Janet and Wayne. They took us to Tony's, a seafood restaurant on the Redondo pier. This place was Old.School. It had a spanning view of the ocean, and booths with high backs, and a guy playing the piano at the bar. I swear it could have been 1955 walking in there. I had a Caesar seafood salad and some New England Clam chowder. It tasted great, but I woke up at midnight and had to make a trip to the bathroom to unwillingly get rid of the meal. Ick. I suppose that is the risk you take with seafood.

Saturday we took Alex and Clyde and headed over to Janet and Wayne's to bake for the party. Grandma has requested a carrot cake, and Mom also came up with apple spice muffins and mini Whoopie cakes to ad to the impending sugar high. Alex took the reins and was a rock star helping Mom and I cook. She was a trooper, and was determined to get to the finish line. Meanwhile, Clyde put on a leash and made Zach walk him around the house like a dog. He was a cute little doggy, and Zach's reaction to having to do this was hilarious.
I selfishly took off with Dad and Zach to walk around Hollywood Riviera, a little area of shops and restaurants a few blocks from Cooking Central, and had lunch (uugh, even more food), and then I felt guilty, and headed back to help finish with the baking. My cousin Curtis and his family showed up, and we finally met his wife Lynne and their kids Kelsea and Christopher. Once the baking and frosting making was done, Zach and I went to dinner with our cousins and their wives at a fabulous little pasta place over in Hermosa Beach. As we were leaving, we ran into Aunt Ginger, Uncle Felix, Talia and our cousins Jessica and Julia who had flown in that day. They were headed for ice cream, so we joined them and walked out on the pier and chatted. It was the first time in I don't know when when almost all the cousins had been together. I am terribly not used to large gatherings of family, so it was fun.

Whew! This is a long one, isn't it? Hey, just a reminder: Jericho is available on DVD October 2nd! Go out and get it, or NetFlix it. C'mon, you know you want to! Hee Hee.

Sunday was the day of the Big Party. But first! My second roommate here in NYC, the lovely Dana, lives in Long Beach, and she drove up to meet me for lunch. We walked down to the Catalina Brew Company, a cute little coffee house a block from the beach. It was so nice to see her again, and after a nice lunch of sandwiches we took a long walk and caught up. Hopefully I will get back out there again soon and I can meet her two boys, but it was nice to have a ladies only lunch.

I got back just in time to catch a ride over to Grandma's for the festivities. The place was packed with family, friends and neighbors. There was a lot of food, and the cake and goodies Mom and Alex toiled over were so yummy. Grandma seemed happy, if a little overwhelmed. I met long heard about distant relatives, and met some of her square dancing and old Barbershop pals. She is also popular with the neighbors, which makes me happy knowing they are there for her. I think the party was a huge success! Here's a picture of Grandma opening presents. She's so cute.

If that wasn't enough, Rhonda and Paul happened to be in LA this weekend, so they came down Sunday night with our friend Paul, from college, and Zach and I took them out to Heromosa Beach. We hit a couple of bars and walked out to the ocean. It was a lovely, chilly evening, and nice to spend some time with some good friends. A nice end to a long and fun family adventure.

As stressful as the flying was, and as frustrating family can sometimes be, I am really glad I made this trip. I got to reacquaint myself with family and enjoyed most of my time in California. Hanging out with all those family members made me feel like a little kid again, which was kind of disconcerting seeing how I am very much a grown-up in my day to day life. But one thing I know for sure, I really don't want to live in California again. It's nice, but sooooo not me.

In the tradition of Fran's Travel Blog, here's some extra pics:

The rental! A blue Chrysler Pacifica. Very roomy and nice, especially when you've got six adults to take to dinner.

More of those dry but beautiful California mountains

The Santa Barbara shoreline taken from the pier. Beautiful!

The art fair in Santa Barbara and Dad, showing off my excellent picture taking skills (yes, that's my finger there at the bottom).

The local flavor at the Visalia Brewing Company.

Grandma and Grandpa Kissack in olden times. Cool picture, but they don't look too happy, do they? Maybe it was taken by one of those cameras where you have to sit there forever before the picture is taken. I, of course, forgot to ask.
I had forgotten you can get your booze at the grocery store in California. One of the few reasons to consider living there.


GirlFran said...

Wow! What a trip! I think it is so cool you got to hang with so many of your extended family, Kricka. That was a great story. the picture with your finger in it cracked me up. Good stuff sista

Paul said...

Krick -
I'm slightly bothered that I wasn't grouped in with the "tall and cute California boys"...

Kiandra said...

Interesting to know.