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Friday, 2 September 2011

A Family Trip...

The following story is about a family trip we took 26 years ago today, the Friday of Labor-Day weekend. Enjoy!

La          Labor Day is here, meaning summer will officially wind down in North America this weekend.  It may sound a cliché if I say that this year summer went away so fast that I didn’t feel its presence.  But truly it seems that the summer was over as soon as it started.  Perhaps it was the weather that was exceptionally mild. We hardly had any summer activity.  We didn’t take any trips even a day trip to the beach.  Nor did we enjoy the unusual mild weather to have an outside activity, a BBQ, a picnic or a party.  Nor did we sit by the pool, and eat watermelon or sip Mojito…  

Families usually pile into their vehicles and hit the road for summer vacation. Not us. My husband has never enjoyed car trips to campgrounds or resorts. I learned this after many unsuccessful attempts to organize family vacations.

My first major attempt, was in 1985, when my son Erik was six months old. For weeks I had worked on plans for a road trip which would start Friday prior to the Labor Day weekend and extend to the following weekend. 

A few years earlier, in 1980, my husband and I had taken the same route.  We had left the kids with my parents and driven from L.A. to Santa Barbara, then to Hearst Castle, passing through the city of Carmel to San Francisco and then to Lake Tahoe. On the way back, we had stopped in Fresno, where we met family and also picked up a ton of grapes from a nearby vineyard. Our visit had coincided with a California grape-pickers’ strike, so vineyard owners had placed notices advising passers-by that they could pick as many grapes as they wanted. I think it was one of the first organized boycotts of farm workers headed by Cezar Chavez. We filled the back seat of the car with bags of grapes. In my opinion, it was a great trip full of adventures.  

I called it our second honeymoon.  But my husband didn’t see it that way.  Even today he complains that I confused him en route by giving him wrong directions.  He must have a selective memory, as he doesn’t remember all the good times, all the beautiful places we visited, and the many intimate and private moments that we had together without the intrusion of the kids.

It was our first trip to San Francisco, and oh boy, did we discover unusual places and sites! We had lots of new experiences, visiting a cornucopia of whimsical shops and even adult stores. We had Clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf, shopped in Chinatown, and ate an unbelievably delicious dinner at a restaurant in Sausalito. 

The drive alongside of the scenic route of highway 1 that twists around Pacific shoreline was so spectacular that I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. Watching from above the azure sea, enveloped by steep rocky ridges and ragged coves was just breathtaking.  And then I was lured by the beauty of the quaint city of Carmel by the sea. It just happened that we were fortunate enough to witness the most beautiful sunset with clear skies and be able to take amazing snapshots of Carmel's signature cypress trees against the backdrop of the setting sun.

On the way to San Francisco, we visited Madonna Inn, the flamboyant motel next to the freeway just outside of San Luis Obispo.  In 1980, it was only 22 years old, and I fell head-over heels for that lovely inn.  I was fascinated with all the pictures of the celebrities taken with the owners of the motel.  I felt the glamour of the Hollywood embedded in its walls. The motel was built with fairy-tale motives and each room had a story-book theme. I decided when the kids were a little older, we would take them to see the lodge and spend a night there.

Back to the summer of 1985: when my oldest daughter was 10, Tina was 5, and Erik was six months old. I thought it would be a good time to show the kids the Madonna In. With a lot of zest, I made all the reservations, figured out the logistics, and informed our family members in San Francisco, making plans to meet them.
I had also made arrangements with my Dad, to come and help me to load the car on Friday morning.  This way my husband could have a few extra hours to finish last minute details and wrap up all the loose ends of his real estate business and we could get on the road before noon.  
The night before, without my husband’s help, I had packed all our clothing and gear, including one week’s supply of diapers, baby food, formula, medicine, books and toys.  I had also planned en route snacks and drinks.  By 11 a.m. I was ready: all our gear in the trunk, the baby in his car seat, the girls in the back seat, and me behind the wheel ready to pick up my husband from his office and start our trip before pre-Labor Day weekend rush hour.
My plan was to drive to Santa Barbara, spend about an hour there, maybe go to a restaurant, and arrive at San Louis Obispo around six in the evening and spend the night at Madonna Inn.  I thought after all the preparations I had made, everything would go as smooth as silk. But my careful plans were turned around.  My husband had a real estate transaction to finish. I chauffeured him from his office to escrow, then to the bank and back to the office.  We danced the same steps back and forth until around six in the evening. 
I don’t know how I survived those six or seven hours cooped up in the car with three kids.  I guess it was a test to gauge the level of my tolerance. Either the kids were well behaved or I had enough self-control not to start banging my head on the windows of the car or pulling my hair out of desperation.  I am sure my ancestors have had much more difficult ordeals than what I went through that day, but those were a disastrous seven hours.  
It was around 6pm that we got on the road.  Since my husband was in a great mood, and I didn’t want to start an argument, I put my distress behind and didn’t mention anything about the inconvenient situation that I had gone through.  The important fact was that he had closed a deal; now we could enjoy our vacation.  Our car was a roomy burgundy 280 Mercedes. We had a mobile phone inside of the car.  The first thing we did was to call the Madonna Inn to cancel the reservation.  Then he called his parents to Tehran, Iran, telling about the deal he had just closed and our impending vacation.
This was before Caltrans had made improvements on101 freeway, and northbound traffic was horrendous. We decided that instead of driving all the way to Santa Barbara, it would be better to spend the night at the home of my husband’s brother who lived with his young wife in Westlake Village. We called to say that we were going to intrude on their privacy and would like to spend the night at their home.  They were very accommodating.  They ordered pizza for dinner, the girls slept on the sofa bed, and my husband and I slept on the ground on sleeping bags. My sister-in-law Sato remembers that we connected two small couches together to make a cot for the baby to sleep.
My husband thought we could spend the night at their home, leave early in the morning, have breakfast at Santa Barbara and then continue the trip to San Francisco, having lunch at the Madonna Inn and arrive Carmel to spend the night. We left Westlake Village around seven on Saturday morning.  We had breakfast at a restaurant in Santa Barbara, strolled around, went to the beach, took some pictures, and after spending a few hours in tony Santa Barbara my husband announced that he no longer wanted to drive all the way to San Francisco and that he would prefer to stay where we were.  So, we changed the plans that I had put so much thought into arranging and cancelled the rest of the hotel reservations. Since it was Labor Day weekend, all the rooms in Santa Barbara were taken. We finally found a room in a crummy motel that didn’t even have a crib for the baby. He had to sleep in his stroller. Fortunately, we were able to use the next-door Sheraton Hotel’s pool and restaurant. Although we didn’t follow our itinerary, we still had a good time, took many precious pictures, and have wonderful memories from that trip. We stayed in Santa Barbara for two nights and returned to Los Angeles on Monday.
Maybe my summer vacation plans were too ambitious, or maybe I couldn’t understand how traveling with three kids could be overwhelming for a guy.  It took me a few more attempts to finally realize that family vacations are not up my hubby’s alley.  By the way, I never took the kids to see the Madonna Inn.  But a few years ago, I traveled with a friend to Solvang, the Danish town in the Ojai valley, and from there we visited the Madonna Inn and had dinner in its all-American restaurant. After so many years, I have finally learned that indeed: "Men are from Mars and Women from Venus," as Dr. John Gray says in his book. 

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