There and Back Again: Our Roadtrip to SoCal

This is very, very late and I’m sorry.  But I can only say this: it’s over five thousand words.  It includes pictures and cute videos of dogs at the beach.  Feel free to skim as necessary.  I’m putting it up anyway, because I don’t want to have the specter of this monster hanging over future postings.

My Parent's Birds, Mango and Bobber

My cousin got married during the first Weekend in May. And while we were trying to decide on plans to get down and back, we realized that while we had people lined up to watch our pets, my mom had no one to watch her dog. So after checking with my aunt & Grams, we decided to drive down to California with our Midna and my mom’s Bonnie Lass, while an aunt and uncle here in Salt Lake looked after our three collective conures.

Since Salt Lake to Yorba Linda is a long damned drive in one stretch, we opted for a stopover at a really reasonably priced casino in Mequite, NV, that not only accepted pets, but didn’t charge a big fee to have them stay in the room. Two 5 hour (ish) drives is much better than trying to drive straight through, especially when you consider having to pack up, feed/water, potty-break two dogs.

Midna and Bonnie on the Drive

I don’t think either dog had ever been on a long drive before, but my mom’s dog is a much more confident traveler.  Midna it turns out is okay with maybe one long drive between houses she’s staying at, but refuses to eat or poop if you stop over through hotels and the like. She gets quite stressed, and is even pretty hesitant to drink water in the car. We’ve also discovered a whole new set of weird neuroses involving grass. Or rather the need for grass before a she can actually relieve herself. We tried and failed during potty breaks in the desert area behind the hotel room to get Midna to even pee, no matter how long we let her wander or sniff. We even went further away from the area immediately next to the hotel and let her off leash in case that was the problem. It wasn’t. Our solution was to make sure we stopped by a little park maybe half a mile away so she could do her business, but we now know our dog is crazy. Well, crazy in a whole new and exciting way, I guess.

The beginning of May seems to be a nice time to travel through the desert.  With all the rain, we saw blossoms all over, including this very pretty white flower that is much bigger than most the small scrubbish stuff that blooms in the spring.  I have no idea what it is, but they were everywhere on the trip down to California.

Mystery White Flower

We also learned a lesson about this particular hotel and the way that noise and footsteps are magnified through the ceiling above. While I’d definitely stay here as stopover again, I will definitely ask for an upper level room (Midna’s stair anxiety notwithstanding). We didn’t sleep especially well the first night we stayed at the hotel (on the SLC-SoCal leg of the trip) because the dogs took a long time getting used to unexpected noises above them. Lots and lots of growling and barking, mainly on the part of my mom’s beagle. It was a little frustrating and I was a bit irritable the next day.

Bonnie in the Park in Mesquite

May I just take a moment to complain about California drivers? Now people tend to rag on the drivers wherever they live (while assuming they are one of the few good ones) and that’s more or less just human nature.  But I swear, driving in California makes me 10,000 times as anxious and uncomfortable as driving anywhere else I have because they don’t actually behave predictably.  After years of spending childhood summers there, and now having driven there as an adult, I have come to one unifying idea about drivers in California: they do what seems most expedient for them personally without taking anyone else around them into considerations.  It makes for some stress-inducing driving.  It comes into play pretty soon after crossing the border, from what I’ve seen, so I believe there is some sort of bizarre social dynamic at work in training drivers within the state of California that produces scary fucking car operators.

If from this you deduce that I was driving this leg of the trip, you are correct.  We got to Grams’ house without incident, however, which was great.  The girls were happy to pile out of the car and greet all the new people and other dogs.  My Grams & Gramps currently have two dogs, one of which is very people-focused (Katie Lynn*) and the other of which (Molly) is like my Midna: she loves everybody.  The dogs got along famously, although there was some initial jealousy with Bonnie, who has a few unfortunate tendencies toward dominance.  It took her a while to become great doggie friends with Midna, and she is somewhat possessive over her friend now.  If Midna plays with another dog, Bonnie will often growl a bit and try to demonstrate that no, you can’t do that, she’s my friend.

We left the dogs at Grams & Gramp’s house, then hurriedly checked into our local hotel** and freshened up so we could make it in time to an impromptu dinner in honor of cousin Matthew’s 18th birthday.  I can’t tell you how old this event made me feel.  Matthew is not allowed to be that old, because he was little boy when I was a teenager.  Nothing makes you feel as crazy old, in my experience as having those you remember as tiny grow up.  When I was a kid, I was sort of wearied by the way that older relatives would exclaim in amazement at how big/tall/old/whatever I was getting, and now I’m one of them.  I actually understand what they were trying to express with that sentiment, because it’s amazing how fast time passes when you’re measuring the lives of children.  Oh god, I’m not ready to be old.

We went to dinner at a great pizza place by the Brea Mall, which is one of those places where you can get “deep dish” pizza that deserves the name.  (Personal preference is usually more toward a thinner crust, but this is the good stuff.)  Gotta love when pizza comes out in giant rimmed cast iron dishes that require a sturdy stand to support it.  They also make a pretty good mojito; Thack’s long island iced tea is the real kind you can’t really get in Utah, and he handed me the car keys pretty soon afterward.  A few of my cousins managed to drink enough fast enough that they were refused any further service at the bar inside (proof that being “born again” doesn’t actually change you in fundamental ways, such as learning restraint or taste, despite what he’s preached at me in the past).  Then out came dessert.  You know how some places make giant cookies as part of their dessert menu?  Well this place calls their a pizookie and serves it in another cast iron pan covered in the middle with a giant fucking pile of ice cream.  Good but decidedly messy & difficult to serve.

Since we had a somewhat sleepless night with the dogs the night before, we bailed pretty early and went to bed.  (Also, while a one hour time difference isn’t a lot, when you’re tired, it seems like a lot.)  The next day was the wedding.  We went shopping for a gift (they temporarily live in Boston, but are trying to move back to California; as a result, they didn’t want to transport a bunch of stuff, so most gifts were going into storage.)  We bought them a bottle of good champagne and a Visa gift card since they wasn’t much else that they would take back to Massachusetts with them.

We also managed to eat at the closest Panera and buy a box’s worth of liquor at the BevMo by the Brea mall.  I really do love Panera; this is one of those chains I’d love to have here in Salt Lake.  I think they’re better than Paradise, which we do have here, even if they did serve me gogurt instead of a smoothie.  They had a bunch of smoothies and they had a tasty sounding one predominantly made with strawberries, or at least that’s what I figured.  Then when the drink came out, it was so thin and yogurty that it seemed like they’d just put tube yogurt in a cup.  Boo.

The actual wedding was in the early evening.  It was held at a disturbing counterfeit chapel that was part of a huge mortuary complex/cemetery.  While it’s only moderately creepy that the “chapel” you celebrate your wedding is part of a mortuary (after all, in actual old churches, there are graves in the fucking floor), what was truly upsetting was this building aped designs and feelings without actually having any tie to the traditions it borrowed from.  Thrack had a very, very long rant about this; he actually feels that the structure itself is offensive and ethically dubious.  To briefly summarize, it was  a new building that really wants to feel like an old Catholic church (i.e. shape of the building, stained glass windows with religiously based iconography, construction of cast pieces of concrete to mimic stone, predominantly gothic arches, etc.) but fails in the details but also isn’t really a church.

Don't be Fooled, this is NOT a Church

For context on what exactly is wrong about faking the appearance of a church for pretty ceremonies (instead of the huge horrid megachurch weirdness you normally attend) in a building that has no religious services of any kind, I think you need to hear some of the things that really bother him about many generic “Christian” denominations in the United States.  It doesn’t matter that he’s no longer active, Thrack is culturally very Catholic.  He finds unifying organization and some kind of base dogma very important to being a part of a Christian church because of the lack of internal cohesion in the bible.  When your organization is free floating, with no connection to a greater group and you are free to believe more or less whatever you like, based on cherry-picking of scripture, Thrack sees you as operating some sort of business or franchise.  My uncle’s church in SoCal, for example, has a fucking Starbucks-style coffee shop on the upper level; when we were “encouraged” to go to church with them last time, there were lots of angry comments about how the entire place was a depraved money-making venture. So when these people want to get married somewhere pretty that looks like a real church, they turn to a chapel look alike building on the grounds of a cemetery complex because it borrows on a wealth of architectural history and iconography without having a fucking clue about the significance.  As a result they also get the details just wrong, which also bugged the hell out of him.  (Altar against the wall as in a pre-Vatican II chapel, no crucifix anywhere, no kneelers, icons in windows in patterns that don’t make sense or images like what would be in a diocesan seal, but wouldn’t be in windows, to name a few.)

The ceremony was much more religious than I’d expected for this particular cousin.  He has seemed the most sane of this particular crazy-super-evangelical-born-again-not-quakers-but-they-used-to-be-quakers and I really expected something more secular or at least more generic.  Instead we got a wedding that charged the man and woman involved with extraordinarily restrictive gender roles governed by outmoded religious and social conventions that shouldn’t be relevant in equal society.  (Seriously, it was simply a more mild version of the almost frightening Jehovah’s Witness wedding ceremony we went to a couple years ago.)  My cousin was told over and over again to be the super-duper macho protector dude who earned the money for his family and wore the fucking pants.  Remember the duties/privileges of “the Papa” during Tradition in Fiddler on the Roof?  It was like that.  His wife was told that she had to be the home-maker, the companion, the help-meet and the supporter to her husband, who she should naturally defer to, because he was so strong and kind and provide-y.  Gag/vomit.

My wedding ceremony, while religious didn’t have this level of insulting, constraining crap.  And I don’t know whether religious ceremonies have been trending toward being more conservative in regard to gender roles or whether I’m simply becoming more sensitive to it as I get older, but I’m really starting to feel like I can’t fully relate or participate during weddings in the last few years.  I didn’t always feel this way.  I once read something where someone described celebrating another’s wedding with her spouse and how couples in the audience would hold each other’s hands and silently re-commit to each other as the new couple said vows.  I remember feeling that way.  I haven’t been able to do that during the last few ceremonies because I simply don’t feel like I could agree to be the lesser half of a whole.

Thankfully the ceremony wasn’t overly long (although they got the order mixed up from what was in the program).  We all piled out of the building and chilled outside until the photographer was ready to take family pictures.  The day before had been all blue skies and warm weather, but  by Saturday loads of cold damp had blown in from the ocean.  While I definitely wasn’t as cold as the sun-bathing denizens of California, it was genuinely chilly outside.  I regretted wearing a light skirt, and soaked heat from Thrack’s flesh through his dress- and undershirts by sliding my hands under his jacket.

Drinking Scotch Outside

I was glad when we were finally done and allowed to head to the reception site because it was really damned cold and threatening to rain.  But when we got the restaurant, we had to wait outside for an hour or so; thankfully there was an area that was sheltered from the wind and they put out heaters.  They also had a nice full bar (cash bar for anything beyond beer, wine & champagne) which always makes waiting for anything better.  One super cool thing was the the restaurant was at the top of a major rise so you had a fantastic view overlooking everything and could see the ominous storm clouds rolling in from the ocean, and that’s always pretty.  Plus it was surrounded by large landscaped areas that are apparently very appealing to bunnies.  Yes, I’m mostly excited about drinking scotch while watching a cute wild bunny hop around and eat stuff.  I’m nothing if not predictable.

Thrack was displeased to note that after 27 years of living, he and I still managed to get placed at the kid/freak table.  Yes, really they put us at the table crammed in the corner by the videographer’s equipment bags where we couldn’t see anything important during the reception along with the inconsiderate woman who brought two kids along to an evening reception.  Also at the table were: cousin Mindy who I love, but who I think a large portion of the family thinks of as a wild misfit; Matthew who is Mindy’s little brother and as mentioned earlier just turned 18; my cousin Jack (not actually blood/legal relation, but I don’t care) who is currently the super-bad sinner in the family because not only is he not married to his baby’s mother, but they’re now pregnant with their second child and (worst of all) happy about it; and lastly the literal charity case acquired through their church that my uncle has live in a guest house or some shit.

I was happy to be next to Mindy and Jack, though, so while it was irritating to be shoved in the corner, at least I had people I liked to talk to.  Plus free wine/champagne.  One can never underestimate the importance of free booze.  My main problem with the reception, above and beyond everything else was the music.  It was beyond awful, the kind of stuff I would never have chosen for a varied/mixed reception in a million fucking years. I only got to dance with my husband once because the dance floor was constantly clogged with the younger guests jumping/wriggling/dancing to the worst sort of club-remixed crap ever heard. The worst part was when they’d be remixing or sampling something that was legitimately good, and had been ruined.

With people up and milling around, I went over and sat down at a table with my mom, Grams & Gramps.  They didn’t seem to care much for the majority of the music, but there was a moment when they switched to a country song, Could I Have this Dance (my mom lamented that my dad was gone during the one song she could dance with him) that was awesome and really sweet.  My mom and Grams both started singing along to the lyrics as they held hands.  It was touching to see them have a moment they should share like that and is one of the things that really stands out about the reception for me.

We actually stayed until the restaurant/reception closed, and then left for the hotel room rather than joining the after-party to the reception to be held at some club somewhere.  Definitely not our style or taste; I’m all for a nice bar where I can chill at a table and talk to friends, but a club?  I’ll pass.

The next day was Mother’s Day and my parents were flying back home mid-morning, so we went over to Grams & Gramps’ house so I could see my mom before she left.  We were able to get there in time to have one of my favorite breakfasts of all time: cheerios (they use Trader Joe’s Os because they’re crispier, but the effect is the same) filling 1/3 of a bowl then topped with massive amounts of corner-farm fresh strawberries.  Real strawberries the likes of which are unavailable to us here, and which I admit to devouring with joyful abandon whenever I have a chance.  Grams and Gramps often ship a flat or half-flat home with us when we fly in to see them, and they sent some home with my parents too (and the jerks didn’t even save any for me).

We had a nice morning where my mom and Grams opened Mother’s Day gifts, and then they all piled into a car to drop my parents off at the airport.  We watched the dogs play together for a little while; I never really think about how large a yellow lab’s mouth is until I see a dog like Molly cover most of Midna’s neck.  (Play and slobber seem to be heaven for dogs, I swear).  We packed Midna and Bonnie into the car and set off toward the dog beach at Huntington.

I was worried about the weather we could expect with the grey clouds rolling in from the ocean, but I wasn’t planning on swimming (too early in the year and I expected the water to be freezing like it usually is) and with all the other dogs and new smells, I was sure the dogs would have a good time.  The one worry I had was that Midna, who is decidedly not a fan of water in a liquid form (snow is apparently awesome, though) would flip out a bit at seeing more water than ever before in her short life.

Not to worry, the dogs thought the dog beach was one of the most interesting places to smell that they’d ever been.  Midna wasn’t nearly as phased by the water as I thought (chasing toys down toward the surf with only some effort to avoid stepping in incoming waves, and even when Midna was caught unawares by incoming surf, she would just step a little more gingerly) and Bonnie was absolutely fearless.  She charged into the water, chasing sticks and balls as the shifting water pulled them further into the surf.  Watching Bonnie charge into tumbling curls of white water, I couldn’t help but laugh; she was having a blast.  I think if we were to start taking Bonnie regularly, she would get comfortable swimming in shallow surf in no time at all.

After way too many attempts to reencode these and clean up the audio, we decided to just upload them as three separate videos.  Enjoy:

Bonnie was also over the moon for the sand.  Yes, the sand.  I have no idea what’s so exciting about it, but nothing would do but to rub and roll and wriggle into it with joyous abandon.  She didn’t even seem to mind getting some sand and saltwater in her mouth when fetching toys.  Bonnie even shoved the tennis ball into the ground with her giant digger-paws and then would pick it up.  Both of the dogs’ noses were crusted with sand and they didn’t seem to care.  The water bowl we had for the girls kept accumulating layers of sediment.  While we brought enough water to last couple of hours, I think in the future, I’d prefer to bring a full gallon along so I was sure everyone was staying hydrated.

Water Dish Accumulated Layers of Sand

The tennis balls we brought to the beach were naturally great fun to chase, but the best possible toys are always free and unexpected.

No, We Don't Want to Go

Such was the case with the saltwater soaked driftwood stick I found in some kelp.  Bonnie was so deliriously happy to chase and destroy it that she refused to let go, even when I picked her up in the air.  Midna was happy to not just have toys and smells, but there were all these other dogs to play with!  The girls didn’t want to give up their toys, stop playing or god-forbid, leave, instead begging us to throw the tennis ball again, even as we were cleaning everything off and packing up our gear.

We finally walked them back to the car, and tried to get as much saltwater and sand out of their coats as possible.  Since our dog is a partially naked, speckle skinned creature, she was fairly clean with a simple toweling, but Bonnie was another story.  She has so much more fur (plus an actual undercoat) that she was a solid mass of salty sand-filled spikes, and we were left with much more sand in the backseat of the car that I had hoped for.  Back at Grams’ house, we made sure to give the girls baths in the outside sinks.  Midna clearly regarded this as the most traumatizing bath of all time, because not only was it a bath, but it was up high (so she had to be picked up) and in a scary metal box.  The stuff of nightmares.  But since dogs are forgiving creatures, they quickly forgave us for being horrible people and started playing with Molly.

We took off to find a Trader Joe’s to pick up a bunch of wine, and hopefully find something for lunch in the process.  After spending much more than I intended to on wine, we found an amazing little stripmall joint: Durango Mexican Grill.  There is something about little local places like these I love.  They usually have uninspiring decor and won’t impress anyone on looks, but having amazing food.  Put another way, they are unpretentious but having lovingly made food for very little money.  This place had an incredible blackened shrimp burrito that I can’t quite describe; it was flavorful and crunchy and tasted like heaven.  They had wonderful sides: the black beans were well seasoned and a side of rice that is like no other Mexican rice I have had in my life.  It was white, so there was no sign of what seasonings were used, but was definitely cooked with spices, and had occasional bits of green bean and corn.  Thrack’s chile verde tacos (the little street-style soft ones) were phenomenal.  We have some good Mexican restaurants in Salt Lake, but very few of them are that authentic, generally toning things down for their intended audience.  Going to super inexpensive local places like this in SoCal always put our Utah cousins to shame.

We also went to see Thor.  In 2D, naturally, which is trickier than it sounds.  I wasn’t sure how much to expect from the film, because I knew nothing about the comics it’s based on, but I have to say, I liked it.

The next morning was a bit hectic.  We quadruple checked that we had packed everything, stopped to get breakfast, and went to get the dogs from Grams & Gramps’ house to start the drive to Mesquite.  Grams had to go to work and Gramps had a doctor’s appointment, so we didn’t get to say goodbye.  We did want the dogs to run off some of their energy before we crammed them in a car for hours, so we took all four dogs around behind their house into the greenbelt to run loose and play for a little while.  Turns out that two large dogs, plus a couple medium ones are a bit tricky to manage on leashes.  Thankfully we didn’t need to juggle the tangling mess for long before we could let them off to run.

I should probably explain about the greenbelt.  It is an absolutely huge and very steeply banked greenspace that leads up to the Parque de los Vaqueros across the city border into Placentia.  When I was a kid, my cousins and I would ride sheets of cardboard down to the bottom for hours.  My cousin Mindy and I would climb trees and we once buried a dead possum we found under one of them.  There’s a bit of half pipe at the end that was great for riding bikes in.  It’s a great open space and the dogs clearly love it as much as I did growing up.

We wrangled the dogs back into the house and packed Midna and Bonnie into the car.  I made Thrack drive because I drove the leg into California last time and had frankly had enough of California drivers.  I made sure to leave a note for Grams and Gramps since we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye or thank them for putting up the dogs, and we were off.

The pretty white desert blossoms I had so admired on the way down were almost entirely gone now, having been coaxed by the unseasonal rainstorms to grow and bloom, then die.  We had to give up our plans to stop in Goodsprings, NV on the way back to Mesquite, because Thrack started to feel a little too strange by the time we got to the turnoff around Jean.  (Wanted to pop out and take pictures by the elementary school and other buildings to compare to Fallout: New Vegas since you start the game in Goodsprings.)  It was funny to look at the landmarks as we drove and be able to point to the part of the mountains where they placed the handshaking monument with the NCR and Rangers.

Since it was a our last night on our mini-vacation, we decided to go out to one nice meal.  We looked up the best and nicest steak restaurant in Mesquite, and had one last nice dinner.  We split a bottle of wine, and spent a decent while just relaxing after the earlier drive.

We again had to deal with the frustration of having a dog that refuses to pee on anything but grass, but the dogs slept much easier than the had the first time at the casino hotel room.  I did not, however.  We decided each of us should sleep in a bed with a dog to make them feel safe.  Midna interpreted the rare treat of being allowed to sleep on a bed as a sign that she should fall asleep, turn her legs toward me and kick me endlessly through the night.  No matter how many times I rotated my snuggling dog around, I would wake up later with her foot pressing into my spleen.  I was really tired the next morning, but looking forward to sleeping in my own bed while only caring for my own pets again.

Bonnie was super happy to see my mom, and it was a relief to have our Beaky again.  He generally is much more affectionate when we return from a trip, because the horror of his flock leaving is made that much better when he comes home again.  I think my parents were also relieved to go back to having just two occasionally screechy/screaming creatures in their house.

Back to Beaky, Who Missed Us

*Side note: I hate when people give pets ordinary human names.  My Grams has always done this (Becky, Sarah, Jodie, Corey, Casie, Miranda, Molly, etc.) and it makes me batty.  My mom’s dog is shortened to a human sounding name, but it is short for “Bonnie Lass” so it doesn’t violate my don’t name animals like humans rule.

**While I had the option of staying with family members down in California, we haven’t done so in a decent while.  Not that we don’t appreciate the offer, but there’s always the sense of imposing plus feeling like you have to plan what you’re doing around their day/plans and I really hate that sometimes.  It really doesn’t feel as much like a vacation when you have to plan what you’re doing around what Grams and Gramps are doing or being pressured into attending church with them, and be preached at with creepy anti-semitic overtones.

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