Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Return to California Part 1: SoCal

Last week, I shared some of my memories from when I was living in California. That was such a big part of my life that it is hard to believe I have been living back in Michigan for almost twice as long as I lived there. I've lived in Belleville alone for longer! (Sob.) My fiancé Greg had never been to California and had no interest in visiting until a good friend of his from college and her boyfriend moved out to my old haunt, the San Francisco Bay Area, last year. I seized my opportunity. Also after two March vacations in a row to cold places (Montreal and Massachusetts), I felt I was owed some place warm.

Greg has to take half of his vacation time in March, which happens to be a lovely time to visit California! Trust me, avoid LA in June at all costs unless you actually enjoy inhaling car exhaust. It's called the June Gloom and it hangs over the city in a thick, brown fog, but not fog. San Francisco also has problems with poor air quality in June, so really, don't take your California vacation in June. July and August are also out. LA is at its hottest and San Francisco is at its coldest. San Jose and Oakland are also oppressively hot. San Diego is probably fine. San Diego is fine pretty much whenever. Summer is tourist season, though, and it's always best to avoid the crowds, especially when dealing with SoCal traffic. 

Funny thing about the terms SoCal and NorCal. Many San Diego residents resent LA being called SoCal, insisting that they are the Real SoCal. LA is just too damn far north! (It isn't. Look at a map.) Likewise, people of the North Bay and north (Humboldt and neighboring counties especially) can become quite irate when San Francisco and Oakland are referred to as NorCal. Humboldt is the True NorCal. (Again, I direct you to a map.) So not only is there plenty of fighting between the north and south, there is also lots of infighting in the north and south. (Just split into 4 states already.)

Greg and I began our journey by flying into LAX. Previous to this, I'd never had a problem at LAX, and really, considering all my trials at Ohare, this was minor. Contrary to what the website leads one to believe, there is no food outside the terminals of LAX. At least not where we went. We thought it would be easy to grab some food, then hop on the bus I'd looked up ahead of time on Google and check out some sights before heading to our AirBnB check-in appointment at 3pm. It took over half an hour to get food, burgers and fries at a cafeteria that seemed largely utilized by airport staff and was located in a building that resembles a UFO.

I don't know how long we ended up spending at LAX, but it took numerous trips to the Info desk, a laptop, an tablet, and a phone call to get us out. A taxi would have been about $100, so we contrived to take an express bus to Union Station, then a taxi from there to the AirBnB in Atwater Village, a fun little neighborhood in Los Angeles. This was our first time using AirBnB, and it was extremely positive! The neighborhood was great and the house we stayed at happened to be vacant at the time. (There was a full kitchen had we spent more time there and wanted to save money by cooking our own meals.)

The first night we hooked up with our friends Kimmy (my cohort in adventure before she moved back to California) and her new beau Aaron, then headed over to Griffith Observatory. I am sorry that I never made it there sooner. Entry is free and there are many and varied displays about space, the earth, and more. We got to see a Tesla coil in action! It was very pretty. There are also shows in the theater for a modest fee, and the views of the surrounding area are quite lovely! You can see the famous Hollywood sign and look down on downtown Los Angeles.

The next day, the four of us regathered and headed to Disneyland. This is a place that I have been to many times! I had a yearly pass while I was living in California because if you go twice in a year, the thing has paid for itself. It also freed me up to visit just for the heck of it for only a few hours and not have to worry about wasting money. The park closed early that night, which was disappointing at first, but turned out to be perfectly ok with me and Greg, who were still on East Coast time, so 8pm felt like 11pm and we were pretty exhausted. We had dinner at the Blue Bayou and got a free dessert in celebration of our engagement. I proposed last month, but Greg gave me a ring while we were on the Haunted Mansion Ride, where he'd intended to propose to me before I beat him to it. It was a wonderful dinner! And a really fun day. I only wish we could have spent another day or two exploring the park. Maybe next time!

The next day we got up early again and walked to the nearby Enterprise center to rent a car. Greg and I drove down to San Diego to meet up with my friend Ginger, whom I've known since 5th grade. The three of us spent the day at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. It turns out March is a great time to visit because there are so many baby animals! We also saw a cheetah run. I don't know if she hit full speed, but she was fast!  Cheetahs are endangered and I was once told they very well might go extinct in my lifetime (I have not attempted to confirm or deny this). So to get to see one run was pretty special.

Our last day in SoCal was mostly spent in the car. (Sigh.) We picked up some fun steampunk items at Clockwork Couture (and took pics with their TARDIS), had lunch at a steampunk coffee bar, tracked down Lillian Leitzel's grave, drove to Venice Beach, failed to see the freak show (though we did see a crazy cool goth-type house), then turned around and drove through rush hour traffic back to meet up with Kimmy and Aaron at Game Haus in Glendale.

Our GPS that we brought from home did not have a California map, so we used our new tablet's map app to get around. It was a little frustrating because we got off track a few times and struggled to find our way back on, but it worked. Next time we visit, we'll have to make more time for SoCal. And rent a car right off the bat, and make sure our maps are loaded on the GPS.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Memories from California

I remember circling the City in a plane, spying the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, and thinking, "It looks like a toy!" Short, tall, and almost glowing orange in the California sun. It looked too real to be real. Like an oversized caricature on a tourist's map. I remember a friend waiting for me on the ground with a sign with my name on it and hugging.
Flash forward almost a year to San Jose, and I remember standing in line at a Starbucks. I was dancing in place to the swing music played over the shop stereo. The man next to me turned and said, "Since we're both dancing, why don't we dance together?" and held out his hand. We danced until our orders were called.
I remember watching the sun rise with a guy I'd met the day before as we walked along the light rail tracks. It was too early for the train to arrive at the station we'd started from, so we were walking to the next station where the train would be running. Didn't matter that the walk probably took about as long as waiting. We walked. We talked. The sun came up.
I remember one night a month later, not long before I moved away from that city, standing on the light rail platform saying goodbye to friends and that same friend gave me a hug, picked me up, and swung me around because he remembered I'd said no one had ever done that to me before. It was the perfect "I'll see you again one day." And I remember us going out with other friends, this time in San Francisco, in the Castro, on his 21st birthday, two days after my 26th. I grinned and said he could finally buy me a drink. And he did.
For a summer, I lived with a friend in SoCal. We got year passes to Disneyland and visited the park whenever we felt like it, even for just a few hours. It felt like freedom. I remember the Pinnochio ride breaking down, and we thought it was our fault because we'd been taking pictures of ourselves making faces. It was not. We took pictures of each other with the scenery while being escorted out by a park employee, who kept asking tiredly, "Please don't do that."
Back in the Bay, I remember walking home one night along the same route as a coworker whom I'd always found fascinating, but he never talked to me. Never really talked to anyone. He had his earbuds in and I respected that, so we walked in silence. About halfway to my turn-off, he took out his earbuds and started talking to me, I guess because walking right next to someone you know and not talking to them is awkward. He talked about philosophy, his major. He quoted Locke. I must have answered capably enough because the next night after work I found him waiting at the door asking, "Are we walking home together again tonight?"
I remember another night, another coworker and friend rode me home on our bikes and he confessed that he liked me and wanted me to be his girl. I felt flattered, and awkward, and like I was in a 50s teen movie. I had to turn him down. I felt bad. We remained friends. He was a killer breaker.
One night I crashed with a friend, and we played video games until we fell asleep. The next morning he told me he'd thought about stealing my tights because they were nicer than his.
And there was that time my boss indignantly told a journalist that none of her employees were gay and a coworker told me, "Glad I didn't put that that on my resume."
I remember friends getting into an impromptu break battle at a goth club. The winner got a free drink, but he didn't drink alcohol, so he gave it to me.
There were the only frat parties I've ever attended, at a Christian house outside San Jose State, with heated root beer pong competitions and lots of dancing.
The night President Obama won his first election, my roommates and I baked a cake with his emblem formed in frosting. One roommate ran down the street, an American flag tied around his shoulders as a cape.
I remember a woman clutching the Bible and preaching to us passionately in Chinese on the bus; taking the boat to Alcatraz, looking back, and finding the most beautiful view of the City; wandering Golden Gate Park in search of bison; the house painted rainbow.
For my 27th birthday, I remember drinking Tokyo Teas, a Lemon Drop, and a shot of Jameson that ended up with me on my knees puking onto the curb outside West Portal Station, friends bribing a cab with $40 to drive us the 5 minutes home because the buses didn't run that far out, and everyone at work the next day pleased that I'd had such a great time. (For the record, puking does not equal a good time.)
Once, I made up my own walking tour of the Haight and North Beach, following in the footsteps of 60s and 70s rockers and beat poets. I took pictures and made a travelogue scrapbook for my father whose dream it always was to visit San Francisco. When I finally gave it to him, he turned the pages and studied them with care. Then he looked at me, puzzled, and asked "Who's Sid Vicious?" It was in that moment that I realized I was losing him.
I barely remember leaving. I know my roommate of two years and her boyfriend at the time drove me to the airport. I know we stopped at In-N-Out for my last meal. I can still feel how tightly my friend hugged me when she said goodbye. I know I needed so many hugs. At my going away party, I didn't cry until Reyna started crying, and it made her cry more and we hugged and cried.
I might remember the flight. It might be a different flight. I think I watched the sun come up over Lake Huron. I don't remember. There's so much after that night that I don't remember. Don't want to remember.
But I do remember California.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Congratulations, Mom

Life has been pretty hectic and busy around here, but I wanted to take a moment and congratulate my mother Teri on unlocking life achievement Retirement. We had a wonderful time celebrating!