Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last Two Days in California: Paso Robles and Celebrations

Entry for 17-18 August 2009:

Time was running out for the California part of our trip. We’d done various chores at Murray Creek, but still hadn’t seen my sister Anna. Anna suggested that we drive down to Paso Robles directly from Murray Creek, where we’d been visiting my mom and dealing with the Spring Crisis. So, having unboxed and put away 8 boxes of the vinyl records that I had mailed to California 3 years ago, walked the Labyrinth, and eaten dinner from my mom’s garden, we said good-bye to my her until December, leaving her in her lonely aerie looking out over Murray Creek.

Sunset in late-August California happens about 8pm, so dusk gathered around us as we descended through the Sierra Nevada foothills, past Valley Springs, driving through the vast orchards of nut and fruit trees that lie to the east of Stockton. Across an occasional empty field, we could see across the Central Valley to Mount Diablo – the Devil’s Mountain – silhouetted in the fading light. We turned south on Interstate 5, the main road connecting the Central Valley to Southern California, a long, straight highway that we’d driven dozens of times during the years we lived in Los Angeles in the mid-1970’s. It was dark by now, and, as always, the highway seemed to run for thousands of miles along the west side of the Valley. Diane and Kenneth were dozing, so I began to run through the radio dial. There’s a lot of country music in the San Joaquin Valley, and my dad used to do the same thing on long drives. Finally, improbably, I found a public radio station playing unbearable new music. I went back to the country music.

Cutting across the coast range at Kettleman City, we got to Paso Robles about midnight. Kenneth’s cousin Luke was up waiting for us, and Anna got up also to greet us. We were tired from the long drive, so we left Kenneth and Luke to reconnect while we crashed.

The next day, Kenneth and Luke stayed at home holed up in Luke’s cave of the bedroom, exchanging videos (e.g., all the Tom Baker Dr. Who episodes for all five seasons of Babylon 5, plus some Japanese anime) and Jim went to work; Anna, Diane and I, however, had a Tuesday Paso Robles Adventure: Anna and Jim are the proud new owners of a door store, so we began with the Royal Tour of their new business. After the Tour, we had Chinese for lunch, before driving out to one of the city parks, which featured a small artificial lake on top of a hill. There we sat in the shade of a picnic shelter house, relaxing in the breeze, and talked for a long time. Anna and I have a lot in common, and we always have good talks. Finally, we went back into town and walked around the town square. It was a warm, slow, late-August afternoon, and groups of teenagers clustered here and there in the shade, hanging out but trying not to move too much. Ah, California summers!

We went back to Anna & Jim’s place, collected the boys and Jim, and drove over the final row of coast mountains, on narrow, twisting roads through the canyon and down to the Pacific coast. There we made our way a few miles along Highway 1 to Taco Temple, a legendary California-Mexican-fusion restaurant, where Anna and I had their famous fish tacos.

I had promised to get Diane back to Pleasanton by dawn of the next day, so after dinner we made another drive, not quite as long as the previous night, through the dusk and into the night, on Highway 101. Within the space of a day, we’d driven on all four of California’s major north-south highways: 99, 5, 1, and 101, triggering many memories of previous journeys up and down the vastness of Northern California, hills, irrigation ditches, crops, California live oaks scattered along the way.

Tuesday was our last full day in California, Diane and my 36th wedding anniversary, and the day before Gladys’ (Diane’s mother’s) birthday. We decided to have a combined running celebration, including some of Gladys’ friends with birthdays also. Diane got up early and made two blueberry pies, while Kenneth and I went out for one more run together. I shopped for gifts and cards while the pies baked. We went to celebratory lunch at Eddie Papa’s, a fun restaurant featuring regional American food and unusual soft drinks. (I had Cock & Bull Ginger Beer from Chicago, and a Reuben sandwich – I have a weakness for Reuben sandwiches: corned-beef and sauerkraut on grilled rye bread.) Later that evening, Marjorie and Kris, still acting like newly-weds, and four of Gladys’ friends came over for the joint birthday party, with snacks and blueberry birthday pies, candles, songs, cards and presents. We were determined to get the most out of our final days in California, and I think we succeeded pretty well, actually.

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