Monday, December 24, 2007

Trips, Travel, and Bah Humbugedness

I apologize for not updating in quite a while, but I've been super busy plotting a way to steal Christmas. The commercialism of the season has really taken me down this year and I'm afraid I haven't been Grinchier (yes, that price tag was $49k). On the plus side, I've began making shoe-inspired armoires for children. Apparently it's a very lucrative market.

Where to begin?

Well, we had a wonderful vacation in California. It took a lot to get there, but it was worth it. Here's the story...

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was concerned about snow impeding our departure from Columbus. But as it turns out, it was my own dim-witted actions that almost kept us grounded. Little did I know that if the keys are in the ignition of our truck, the remote door locker will no longer work. Why? I have no idea. I didn't have an idea. I still don't understand why.

Anyway, prior to our flight, it was 4 degrees below Rachel-tantrum and I though it would be nice to warm up the truck. I walked outside, loaded the luggage, started the car, turned the heater to Beelzebub, locked the door, and went back inside to gather our West Coast supplies (sunscreen, Advil and a 14 month-old poop machine). I went to load the stinkiest of the three, only to find out that our car was now inaccessible. What's worse is the fact that it also contained our luggage. Locked with our keys, I was willing to leave it running where it was and pile into a cab. However, it sat there, taunting me with ALL of our clothing and toiletries, begging to have a hammer put through its side window.

So we called AAA --an agency I became super-familiar with since our return (I'll go in to that later)-- and waited. And waited. And waited. Prayed a little. Waited some more. And then angrily called per Rachel's suggestion to check up on our tow truck. I don't know what divine being heard my t-minus-five-minutes-till-Defcon 5-freakout-screams, but the Blackberry service for AAA had gone down and we coincidentally redialed at just the right time. Come to find out our original call had never registered and, luckily, there just happened to be a driver two blocks south of our street. He arrived on a winged chariot with a soft halo glow, wedged open the door, popped the lock with his magic poking stick, and we were on our way...

...with 45 minutes to go.

If you don't have kids, it's safe to say that you're probably thinking 45 minutes is more than enough time to check-in and board a flight without issue. However if you do have kids, then it's likely you understand the vast quantities of bags and crap said child entails. Basically the hard part was over and we were out of the deep end, but we still needed to lug 14 pallets of bibs, diapers and sippy cups through the airport. This story is by no means over.

Moving forward to the airport, I had two options: either I park the car in the blue lot and risk a late shuttle, thus inducing a $750 charge for last-minute ticket purchases on a competing airline (if we missed our flight, our $10 Skybus tickets were VERY non-refundable), or I drop off the car at the $18/day valet so we can make our plane. We had already won with cheap fares so our decision was clear. Our valet was polite, our bags were heavy, we got a complimentary USA Today and we made it. That's all that matters, right?

Well, it was inevitable...all of that was for nothing. Our plane plane was 50 minutes late. If we took the blue lot shuttle we could have easily made our flight, but our F-150 was now snug a s a bug, nestled between a Bentley and a Porsche in the velvet-lined valet parking little over $.01 per minute (actually $.0125, but who's counting). That was truck fiasco #1.

We arrived in California to the smell of, well, California. I can't explain it. Even in Burbank there's a light salt in the air. I love it. I miss it already.

Ready to exit Bob Hope (ewww), we backed up the forklift and unloaded our baggage. We decided earlier we would do a cargo drop via parachute, but Burbank airport is so small we opted for the fork lift.

Arriving at Avis, we were happy to see our newly landscaped Ford Edge (the back was covered in grass clippings and leaves). Normally I would've complained, but at this point I wasn't going to push it. The three of us were relieved to be California in one piece, so I look at the foliage like it was roses on a hotel bed. Just another romantic accoutrement offered in the Avis rental package.

Anywhoo, driving in LA has always been a guilty pleasure of mine; seven lane-wide highways, 75 mph bumper-to-bumper traffic, car pool's awesome. I'm at home here. The only city I like better is Atlanta. The ATL outerbelt is like a Skip Barber racing school on crack...complete with actual crack.

So I pulled on to the on ramp with a twinkle in my eye, ready to dance like Helio Castroneves, only to forcibly slam on the brakes as we rounded the first blind curve. Traffic in front of me was at a standstill. Damn. Unfortunately, as I sat there chomping at the bit I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the traffic behind me was flowing freely. The resulting chrome tsunami bubbling and building in my rear view mirror was not pretty (it was all we needed).

The four cars behind me screeched to a halt, skidding and fishtailed as smoke poured in to the air. I buckled down, squeezing as close to the bumper in front of me as I could, gaining every inch possible to get out of the way. With millimeters to spare, we barely made it. Rachel and I sat there and quietly laughed at the insanity of the last 12 hours, unable to say much of anything, while the vision of the Initial Here to Decline Insurance box began to burn itself into my mind. I began to wonder if Avis rented helmets? Elbow pads? We might need fuller-than-full protection. Condoms, roll cage, give us everything.

After a quick drive (and a couple of minor panic screams) we settled in to Casa Costa Mesa. Rachel's mom, Cathy, had our room set up for us and we melted in to it as soon as we could. It was long before Steven and Ashley came over, so the gang was all there. It was great to see everyone again and Tenzin was his usual hit, giggling and clapping and showing off. He's now at the stage where he's initially shy so he didn't remember everyone right away, but it didn't take long before he was fighting to get out of my arms and into a Thomas hug. And little man had his fill of those!

We decided to be all touristy an head up to Hollywood and Los Angeles. My work has just moved from their old digs to there new downtown pad, so we figured we'd swing by and check it out. It's good that I know my surroundings just in case that transfer ever goes through. Here's tiny little Zen in front of a gigantic Christmas tree on the first floor.

After NBBJ LA, we braved the drive to Hollywood for one thing and one thing kill Will Smith. I didn't want to at first. As a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed Bagger Vance and Six Degrees of Separation. However, the whole purpose of the long congested drive was to get Tenzin's hand prints and foot prints in Frank Sinatra's at the Grauman's Chinese Theater. When we arrived, there were paparazzi and screaming fanny-packed tourists clogging the street. Apparently Smith was getting his hands cemented for the release of I am Legend.

It all worked out, though. A security guard told us if we could kill two hours, the gates would be down and we'd be free to roam. As a result, the Fresh Prince was spared his life. We snuck in just before they covered the prints and I got to sneak a picture. With Tenzin in my arms, I couldn't help but think about tossing my baby into the mud, thus immortalizing his appendages for all of eternity. I mean, what are they going to do? Have a movie rerelease? It would be awesome.

Here we are with the Chairman. I have a few other pictures, but they're on my work computer so I'll save them for later...

On Friday we left the little rugrat with Rachel's family and headed down to Mexico. It was my 30th birthday week (unlike our fried Brandi who celebrates her birthday month) and we were going to have a little preparty, just the two of us. It's a fun little drive, but I couldn't believe how the wildfires had torn up the hills. At its worst, some spots on the mountain sides would be barren and black and it didn't look like any animal or vegetation would benefit from it for years. Oh, and I also saw a nuclear power station that look like two gigantic boobs.

Right before the border, we did the usual tourist thing and bought travel insurance from every Mexitravel company in San Diego, just to be on the safe side. It was my first time traveling through Tijuana and since Rachel used to preface every TJ story with "Oh, this other time when we should have died in Tijuana," I thought we could use the extra protection.

The weather wasn't the best, but the drive was truly breathtaking. You're flowing through these awesome peaks and valleys, hanging precariously off hillsides (with two hundred foot drop-offs straight into the ocean!) while passing donkey carts and semi trucks, all of this under the auspicious shadow cast from the 200 foot tall Cristo Rey de los Álamos statue (kind of like Rio's Christ the Redeemer, only in color). And the economic infrastructure is amazing. It's par for the course to see Trump Tower Developments sandwiched between tin roof shanties. Check out Cristo's crib:
We stayed in a beautiful little hillside boutique hotel in La Fonda (I don't know if that was the name of the hotel or the name of the town). The ambiance was amazing and Rachel was in heaven...not because of the ambiance, but because we had a fireplace next to our bed. She was consequently able to roast herself medium-well at night, while my cold-blooded self opted for an ice-filled bathtub.

Speaking of warm and fuzzy, we were in Rome so why not do as the Romans, right? I walked down to the corner store to get some beer and a small bottle of tequila, but since I only know enough Spanish to get me arrested I didn't know how to ask the right questions. After much gargled debate with the store keeper, I ended up buying the one bottle of tequila manufactured in Cuba. Anyway, La Fonda was amazing. The restaurant had $6 ceviche and, yes, a chimnea for Rachel. Seriously, our table had wood-burning fireplace BUILT IN TO THE SIDE. Too cool. The table was so nice that Rachel wanted to move when we were done eating so other diners could share the same experience.

The next day we stopped in Rosarito and ate some pork (I hope) tortas at a little roadside stand, then bypassed the shopping to head home to Orange County. While driving to La Fonda took only three hours, the drive back took about six. We had to sit at the border crossing While I'd like to say that it left me a little disgruntled, it was GREAAAAT people-watching. There were vendors selling everything from hot churros to Mexican wrestling masks, kids playing in the street, Federale cops in effeminate shorts on bicycles, hungover 19 year olds in their parents' minivans...all kinds of interesting eye candy.

Now back in California, we headed straight to the mall to reAmericanize ourselves. Actually, they have a really awesome Christmas set-up there with one of the biggest carousels I've ever seen. We wanted to get some pictures of Tenzin, but this is the best I could do. The combination of spinning, in addition to our son's fear of creepy plastic horses, meant that this would be a very brief photo opportunity.

OK, actually I should erase all that previous paragraph, but I won't. I'm finishing this post on a different computer then I started and I thought I had the pictures, but I don't. So instead, just click on this link to be taken to our Koday Gallery from the trip. We got some really great shots, like this from the Huntington Pier...

And this one on the Huntington Boardwalk...

The rest of the trip was an absolute blast. We celebrated my 30th at Perq's in Huntington Beach at around 4:00pm (even though the Beach Ball in Newport opens up at 6:00am. I was informed by Rachel that drinking before breakfast isn't a mature, 30 year-old thing to do). After a few libations, Ashley showed up and took us out on the town. She kind of had to since we got kicked out for a locals-only Christmas party. Rachel was none too pleased that she was no longer a part of locals-only parties. Anyways, I was told that we had a great time. I really loved that bar at that place. It was fun drinking that drink in that place that I liked. I smiled so much, my head hurt really bad the next day.

The luggage was damaged in transit...

Good food, good drink, good times. It was so nice to be able to relax. This is the first time we've ever spent a full week out in California. When we do our typical three or four day trips, everything feels super rushed. This time, we really got to sit back and soak everything in, enjoying every minute we had with the family. I won't burden you with the virtual hell we came back to in Ohio, but I will say this...if you own a Ford, be careful. It can sense when you make your final payment. Horns pop out of its hood and it tries to eat your first born. Then it sneaks in to your house and drives over every Christmas present under your Christmas tree. To make matters worse, it then drags you outside and pins you under its wheels, slamming your fingers one-by-one until your bloody nails fall off. Then it gets in to your fridge steals your lemons, squeezing acidic juice all over the wounds, making sure to drench the damaged nail portion the most. Then it waterboards you. Metaphorically. In the crotch. After kicking a kitten. In the crotch. With shoes it stole off of a homeless person. Stupid truck.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Lime with extra salt...on the runway...

We are flying out tomorrow, yes?

Please say we are.

Why do I ask?

Because I woke up this morning to this outside of our kitchen window:

Please, please, please!

At least Tenzin seems to enjoy it.

And, yes, those are Spiderman pajamas and moonboots.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Donde está adentro y hacia fuera?

Roughly translated: Where is In & Out? We'll get to that later...

Well, it is officially not summer. It’s not because it’s only 32 degrees or because there’s a projected 2 to 4 inches of snow on the way tonight, but because we killed a tree. It’s a proud time of year when the Thornburg’s and the Rayo’s don layer after layer and head to the nearest (or in this case an hour away) tree farm in order to hunt the elusive Blue Spruce, or even the occasional Canaan Fir.
For those of you not directly in-the-know about tree hunting, it’s very important that you know the difference between the two kinds of trees. The Spruce is a medium-sized evergreen tree that maxes out at 25-30 meters tall, with thin and flaky bark. It has pendulous cones that are slender and cylindrical that turns red to brown after they mature.
The Canaan Fir is a small to medium-size evergreen tree with diamond-encrusted bark and carbon fiber branches. Native to Eastern and Central Canada, the fir bleeds solid Dom Perignon champagne when cut. The needles of the Canaan have a secretion on their stomata that can both cure mesothelioma and fuel Formula 1 race cars. The Canaan’s cones are 4-8cm long and can be used as nuclear warheads. The international market for the cones alone exceeds $35.7 billion annually.
OK, so maybe the Canaan description isn’t entirely true, but this was our first time to the Young’s Dairy Tree Farm and we didn’t know that the Canaan --the tree we slayed in an arduous battle, exhibiting dauntless levels of courage and valor-- was, in fact, $65 with tax, whereas the pines and spruces are relatively cheaper (by cheaper I mean appropriate-cost-for-cutting-down-your-own-tree-in-a-30-degree-drizzle).
Apparently, no matter how quickly you re-duct tape it to its base, it’s still not refundable. I even tried to show him the dirt stain on the base of the tree, but that excuse only works with Nordstrom sweaters.
We were forced to stick with our purchase, but I can’t complain. It’s a handsome tree. It took us about 15 aisles of wandering green to track it down and after passing various Charlie Brown’s and Time’s Squares, we agreed on this beauty:
The sleds were great, too. Even with the lack of snow, it was fun to pull our tree carcass through the muddy grass over to Sarah, Michael and Henry’s fallen timber, then an easy walk over to my Mom and Dad in order to watch them slay their beast. Prior to the cut, the sleds also doubled as excellent baby transport, too. Tenzin was unsure of their stability at first, but soon got his “giggle on” as he surfed in the sled. Unfortunately, per Rachel’s wishes, I didn’t get the opportunity to try out the sled behind my Dad’s F-350. What’s the use of a tow package if you don’t use it, right (for me, not Tenzin)?

We even took advantage of Mike’s reciprocating saw --a tool I still consider to have a tinge of cheatiness, but a definite Godsend to lazy city folk-- and had the trees felled in no-time. On our way back with wood-in-tow, we passed other families just beginning their hunt and I couldn’t help but laugh at the envious glance in Mike’s direction, saturated in admiration at the gratuitous use of man tools. You could see them take a quick glare down at their Amish-like saws with a “Why didn’t I think of that” expression, so I’m going to put money on it that we see over-horse powered chainsaws next year. You know it’s always a competition among gentlemen.

In non-freezing temperature news, we’re eagerly awaiting our flight to California in just two short days. We’ll be lifting off at 0600 hours and landing with a vengeance. Hopefully this time, I won’t get pneumonia. While I enjoyed the comfortable bed the Thomas family provides, I’ve always found sand to be that much softer.

We’ve got the usual agenda: food, drink, family, more food, more drink…oh…and a little thing called my 30th birthday. We’re planning on driving down to Mexico for a few days to celebrate. If anybody has cheap pharmaceutical drugs or designer watch rip-offs on their Christmas list, we’ll be sure to make a stop in Tijuana for you. Until then, wish us luck with the Federales. AAA’s bail program works south of the border, yes?

Only 20 more years till I’m 50. Alas.