Saturday, January 4, 2014

Miles and miles of California

In case any reader is unfamiliar with what a “late checkout” is I would like to take the time to explain this magical idea.  I remember when I visited Laughlin, NV one of the first times to gamble with my wife and our best friend, Rich.  There was a lot of wagering and imbibing free drinks and late night breakfasts so the day we were finally supposed to leave I was feeling a little rough around the edges.  I remember seeing the red numbers on the little hotel alarm clock and thinking “Oh no.  We’re never going to make it.”

“It’s OK,” Amy said, “I’ll call the front desk and get a late checkout.”

And just like that we had another hour to get out the door.  I had never heard of late checkout prior to that day.  This trip it has proven to be vital to our survival, particularly when 11 becomes 12.  I mean, 11 is barely time to eat a continental breakfast and get showered much less cram the luggage into your overflowing Honda Pilot.

We drove downtown so the kids could see the Haight and Ashbury district.  They wanted to know what the significance of the place was so we talked about the cultural upheaval that took place in the United States during the 1960s.  We talked about how a lot of things changed very quickly including civil rights, women’s rights, music and much more and the heart of much of this change was in San Francisco.  I think the fact that they had been to the civil rights museum helped put it in context for them.

From there we drove away from the city by the bay south to Santa Cruz where “Lost Boyz” was filmed.  Amy is a pretty big fan of the film so it was fun for her to see the boardwalk where part of the movie was shot.  

It seemed like a pretty sleepy town otherwise and with our financial situation being what it was we decided to see how far we could get tonight on our journey to Thanksgiving in Vegas.  We left the beautiful coast behind for the straight, flat, mind-bendingly boring route to Interstate 5.  

The deserted local highway plowed through the orchards and lettuce fields southeast, the weight of the darkness holding the horizon flat and featureless in every direction.  There were no exits for miles.  We had to pull off onto a dirt road running in front of a large grove of nut trees for a potty stop.  It was so dark I had to dig the flashlight out for fear of losing one of the dogs.  I took a look at the map but the lack of little dots marking towns was not very encouraging.  

After another half hour on the road I saw the glow of lights beyond a small rise ahead of us.  I excitedly told my wife that had to be the glare from some kind of town where we could find dinner and plan our next move.  Unfortunately as we got closer I saw that it was actually the cold, yellow glow of a power plant, the enormous column of steam huddled against the lights that speckled the metal framework.

Further into the oblivion of night.  Finally finally an exit that actually had some services instead of just roads to nowhere.  We had to drive about four miles but the road led to a real, live Chuy’s not far from Bakersfield, CA.  I had never actually been to the Chuy’s chain before.  They don’t have them in Pittsburgh and when we lived in Arizona we felt no need whatsoever to eat at a chain Mexican food place much less a Tex Mex chain.  But Chuy’s was great.  The kids loved having the big open place almost completely to themselves and Amy and I were pleasantly surprised with the salsa bar.

Once we were all stuffed it was only a little farther to Motel Wal-Mart.  We had taken a big chunk out of the drive to Vegas.  It felt good to fall asleep knowing we were going to make it there tomorrow.

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