9/10 I've been writing this over several days, b/c it is so long. I wanted to write along the way, but it was pretty much do do do, with little time to stop and ponder. I think I'm just about back on London time, though I feel crappy today and have a bit of a migraine. Still feeling a little depressed about being back in work and back in the normal world. David's been off in Italy for a week with his mom - he'll be back tomorrow. I also just found out that while I loved the trip from start to finish, Robin actually ended up feeling very stressed - that moving from place to place upsets him. I'm not sure how I feel about that - on the one hand I wish he could have had as fabulous trip as I did, but on the other I kind of think, um, duh, what do you think a road trip is? Sigh.
Oy vey, dios mio, mein got and so on. I just got back from the CA trip today - 9.5 hour flight from SFO, stuck in coach, and zero sleep. Robin took a half a sleeping pill, slept for about 2 hours, and then had to be babysat around the supermarket. Very funny. I, on the other hand, managed to drag my sad ass to the gym, where I actually managed a workout. Of course, now it feels like about 87 o clock, I feel like I want to barf and I'm dreading going back to work tomorrow, but I suppose that's all part of the charm. Actually, I feel a little bit deflated and sad. I was so looking forward to this trip, and it was such a fantastic trip, and now I'm back to humdrum normalness and credit card bills. Two things always strike me after coming back from such trips - the first is that I need to get a job that uses my entire brain, all the time (thus giving me less opportunity to send spam email), and the second is that I need a lot more money. I am not designed to be poor. I guess, overall, I come away from this trip with a few overall impressions... 1. People are ageing. I know this is sort of one of those no shit sherlock comments, but when you don't see people for months or years at a time, they age noticeably, and it's really quite disconcerting. It means I'm ageing, for one. I'm actually starting to have almost grown-up relationships with relatives, which is certainly a novel thing, and I'm being brought in to the gossip circle. I wonder if there is some sort of ritual I have to pass - circumcising a gerbil or something. I also feel increasingly close to family as I get older, which is sort of ironic given that I seem to have moved myself just about as distant as possible. The other thing that strikes me about going back there is the realization that yes, in fact, I am indeed from there. I never thought I would walk around any part of Sacramento and say that there were actually some nice things there. I'm from there, and it's comfortable and familiar but I don't actually know if I could go back. I made a comment to Robin today that I would live in San Francisco before I would live in the United States - I suppose that's how I felt about New York, and then the US invaded after 911 and I left. Kind of sad. I do wish though that I had had the opportunity to grow up with the extended family in SoCal. I don't know them as well as I could, I haven't been involved in the family except in little snapshots. I definitely feel I missed out on something pretty wonderful there, though I certainly feel welcomed and loved when I actually do manage to visit. I miss them - a lot. It's a hard feeling to square with being happy living in London, which I am.
Anyway, our trip nearly got off to a very bad start when the Budget rental company told Robin that they were unable to accept a foreign debit card. That's a bit of an oh shit moment, at the start of a 1700 mile journey from Los Angeles, when they tell you that sorry, your card is crap and you're stuffed. Fortunately, we are able to put it onto my foreign credit card (eek!) and drove off, unslept and totally jet lagged, to San Diego. (Oh, I did forget about us deciding to watch 'Knowing' on the plane, on Robin's laptop, which, as it turns out, has a plane crash sequence in it. Nice. Fortunately, we weren't greeted by any air marshals, but we did rather quickly switch to Frasier. 'Dinner at Debbie's' actually turned out to mean dinner with the entire San Diego crowd at Debbie's. Poor Robin - he really jumped right into the deep end, having to socialize with 12 weird and wonderful people while his brain hovered somewhere between Greenwich Mean Time and Brigadoon. He managed though with flying colours - colors even, and seems to have also come to the independent conclusion that I have a cool family.
Our first actual day to do anything was the 24th. Actually, it was more the afternoon of the 24th, as we slept until 10 (Poppa had already gone to and come back from water exercise!). Anyway, we finally rolled out of the house around lunchtime and drove down to Hillcrest (where we had a bagel). From Hillcrest, we walked, in a nerdy sort of fashion (much plant identification going on), down through Balboa Park, past the zoo, and back. I don't think I'd ever actually walked through the entire park, nor had I realized just how many unusual plant species it contained... It also contained a lot of memories, but I suppose that was to be expected.
At my request, we all (12 of us) had dinner at Anthony's, where I don't think I'd been in about 27 years. The tack was just as good as ever, and the fish was fabulous. I was shocked though - shocked! - that they had removed the rum frmo the Zabione, or Zamboni, or whatever it was called, cake frosting. It was now just custard. Good custard, but not custard with the weird taste to it I could never identify as a small child. Must not encourage underage drinking, you know.
Robin and I went down to the ocean that evening, in the first of our many unsuccessful attempts to see stars (blocked either by clouds or the moon every night). Still though, the water was lovely.
8/25 Shopping! And Robin's first time driving the car. A little scary, but we only got honked at once, and almost ran only one red light. Not so bad, I suppose, given that the first time I drove in London I drove the entire car up onto the sidewalk trying to park it. (Oh yeah, there's an entire car on my left!). Ventured into the Abercrombie store and were blasted with pumping music, as well as nearly suffocated by their perfume machines, wafting the smell of manliness into the air in a sort of semi-toxic fog. Nice. We had dinner that night with Poppa at a Mexican restaurant in PB. Our waitress, I think, had eaten most of the Mexican restaurant, as well as several passersby. Still though, she was very attentive. Tips - they are an amazing thing for getting personal service, aren't they?
8/26 Robin drove us up to San Marino, to visit the Huntington Garden. I think he was less than impressed by how Southern Californians drive. Like, duh? The gardens were fantastic, and my God they must use a lot of water! It was hugely hot, and there were big pillars of smoke pouring out of the San Gabriel Mountains, just to the north. It made for a slightly surreal visit. On our trafficky drive out to Riverside, Robin spent quite a lot of time leaning over me to take pictures of the fires out of the left side of the car. Southern California paradise, I think not... We stayed with Maggie and her various critters. (Hmm, that sounded bad, didn't it?). She really must have the coolest dog on the planet - Lyric. I would not want to be the person trying to break into that house... We stayed up late shooting the shit. It's nice finally becoming a grown-up in the family, b/c you get to hear all the gossip you were denied as a child.
8/27 Our big desert adventure started at noon, as it took us a little while to get out of the house (big surprise). First stop was Walmart for a cooler. Very important when one is driving across the desert with chocolate. Second stop, being the raving homosexuals that we are, was the gym, where we got buff und beautiful before heading out to Eastern Buttmunch or some such similar place. We got only as far as Baker, a pissant strip mall nothing of a town. I think it was a combination of the failing light and the comforting lure of Bob's Big Boy that convinced us we didn't want to go traipsing across the desert in the middle of the night. We stayed at the Wills Fargo Motel (classy there, eh - Wells Fargo litigation on Line 1!),which looked like it could have been the setting for "The Lost Room". Yeah, the 50s was a good decade, I suppose. There was a pool there, in the middle of the parking lot. Rather oddly, given that it was about a million degrees, the pool was quite chilly. It did, however, have the added excitement of bats swooping down to drink the heavily chlorinated water while we were paddling about. Robin was then introduced to the wonder of no humidity when we stepped out of the pool and it was ... COLD! We also had a lovely walk out into the desert to look at stars. There were at least six, although it was difficult to tell, what with the glare from the neon signs and I-15. And we had a little wander past the store advertising 'Alien Fresh Jerky', which, as it turns out, is caffeinated beef jerky (the store was closed, unfortunately, and the aliens in the crappy old car out front looked bored). Yeah, Baker is a happenin' place.
8/28 This was to be a day of elevation and temperature contrasts. We had a hearty breakfast at Bob's Big Boy (there aren't many places to eat in Baker), then headed north into the middle of ...NOWHERE... I think I'm glad we didn't drive this road at night, and didn't make it to Nevada. We had planned the day to get to Death Valley quite early, before it got hot, which means, of course, that we got there just before lunchtime, when it was about 98709870987 or so degrees. Stopped at Badwater, which is apparently the lowest place in the USA (they have helpfully printed a big plaque up on the cliff, right at sea level). Robin and I dutifully walked the boardwalk out into the semi-dry lake bed (where does the water come from, I wonder?). We even did this shirtless, given the heat, and then both of us looked at our pics afterwards and resolved to go to the gym. I don't think there is actually any way of capturing the desolation and enormity of Death Valley unless one is actually standing there. Photographs just don't do it justice. We were the last ones remaining at Badwater, and suddenly realized that if we stood still, it was actually entirely, and I mean entirely silent. No birds, no bugs, no nothing. The superheated air pressed against our ears - making, to use a cliche, the sound of silence, plus an extra 283 feet of air pressure. It really wasn't a place one would like to spend a lot of time - I suppose that's one of the reasons they didn't call it "Paradise Valley". We stopped off at Furnace Creek, an oasis that contains a golf course (why?), a date plantation, some solar installation, a hotel, bar, general store, post office (lowest in North America), and quite a lot of hot and bothered looking tourists. I had a seat under the veranda (yes, there was a veranda) to write out a few postcards, sweating the whole time like a lesbian at a carpet sale (that's a scientific term). The people who worked there were buzzing about in their National Park cars, dressed in long pants and shirts. Are they completely insane? Anyway, as the sun (and temperature) peaked, we started the long drive out of the valley, up some very hairy roads that just about caused poor Robin to wet his pants (they would have dried quickly, anyway).
We made it to Lone Pine, a rather frontier town on the eastern flank of the Sierra, just about the time Robin's brain was going to fall out. Sampled some of the local cuisine (Subway) and flirted outrageously with the hopelessly closeted guy behind the counter. I really am going to go to hell. At least I'll have good company. I drove the rest of the way up to Mammoth, which I don't think could have been more different than Death Valley had it tried. The Aspen of CA, Mammoth just dripped with uber-cool outdoorsy trendoid types, including a woman who seemed rather taken aback - shocked even, that I found $679 for some ski boots to be a little pricey. They're comfortable, you know? Mammoth sits in a bowl, surrounded by rather high and pointy mountains, which gives it very good skiing (the snow helps too). There is a small road leading out of Mammoth Lakes to the north, called the Mammoth Lakes Scenic Loop. It's old name was the Mammoth Lakes Evacuation Route. This is because aforementioned pointy peaks are actually the old rim of a rather gargantuan volcano that blew up 750m years ago, and which is apparently thinking about filling up with magma again - the Long Valley Caldera. They changed the name of the route b/c it was bad for property values. These things are important, you know. Robin was terribly pleased that I had us staying in the middle of a potentially active supervolcano. I just try to keep it real, you know? Anyway, we had a rather expensive, yet very tasty steak dinner at Slocum's steakhouse, which I am nearly sure was not named after "Are You Being Served's" Mrs. Slocum, though that is, in fact, why we went there. Supported the local economy a bit more with the purchase of a water filter, then toddled off to bed at the 5 star Motel 6 sitting at the edge of town (with special beds that sagged in the middle to keep you snugly in place).
8/29 Our breakfast the next morning was at the rather unfortunately named "Schat's Bakery", and then we headed off north again, thankfully not burned to a cinder by any nighttime volcanic activity. Our first stop was the rather accurately named "Obsidian Dome", which, as it turns out, is a ginormous pile of, get this, obsidian! We 4-wheeled our Nissan rental car down a dirt road to a place where we could walk a trail up to the top, then spent a while marvelling at the rock formations, and, it being us, the trees and flowers. Sweeping away in the distance we could see other big piles of volcanic doodah (another scientific term), as well as the crater walls. Volcanic peril behind, we descended into the Mono Basin. The funny thing about Mono Lake is that it looks beautiful and mysterious in the photographs. It is beautiful and mysterious, but, unfortunately, its mystery is exceeded only by its smell. Who would have thought that an alkaline lake with several thousands of years of heavy duty bird activity would smell like, well, several thousand years of heavy duty bird activity, plus some funky chemicals in the lake. The lovely and mysterious photographs also somehow ignored the foot-wide coating of solid brine flies feeding on God only knows what at the edge of the water. My God that place smelled like the inside of a seagull's ass! I suppose that would explain why there are no resorts along the edge of the lake...
Thus suitably refreshed, we continued our northward journey, breathing in the pure mountain air of Yosemite on fire. We crossed eventually into Nevada, then began our long ascent to Lake Tahoe. The funny thing about Tahoe is that the place itself is beautiful, much as the photographs show. Crisp mountain air, clear blue water, enormous pine trees. Oh yeah, then there is the settlement around Tahoe, which seems to be populated with the denizens of, shall we say, the shallower end of the gene pool. (Puddle, really). Robin was expecting Monte Carlo or Macau. I think what we got was more Modesto. Yeah, I don't think he was hugely impressed by Tahoe... Oh well. I took over driving then, the rest of the way to Sac. Despite the two times I tried to kill us passing slow drivers (note to self, be more careful, especially when exhausted), the drive passed without incident. Wilton, and the world's shortest Aerobed, beckoned.
8/30 - 8/31 These were both days of shopping and general farting around. I think we were both completely exhausted by the trip by this point. We did have a very nice walk around the capitol grounds (and I would actually admit that Sacramento has some nice things). I also ran twice - one very nice run around downtown, and one Saharan-type run through Wilton (Saharan b/c the temperature was rising and, Wilton being flat, I could see the entire course spread out before me). Mom had Jonathan, Lindsey and Chloe (who may be the world's cutest baby) over for dinner on Sunday. Chloe liked me! Me, who generally doesn't know which end of a baby is up - maybe it was the shaved head? Who knows? I was very happily surprised though that she just lit up when passed over to me like some sort of little pajama clad party favor... :-)
9/1 - Robin likes to think of himself as very solidly middle class (in the British sense of the term, ie. he manages to avoid most of the general weirdness of life). This being the case, it was of paramount importance that I take him to the State Fair, which represents just about as broad a section of CA (particularly the rather broad Californians) as one could possibly hope to get. We wandered about among the hoi polloi, me taking pure delight in Robin's horror at the size of some of the fairgoers. I had my picture taken next to the Jelly Belly portrait of Schwarzenegger (can't spell that), and we both sampled the culinary delights of the fair (cinnamon rolls and Polish sausage sandwiches). I was very disapppointed though that we didn't run into anyone from Wilton. I suppose times change (as do the cow fashions - who knew that the cow fashions of the late 80s - big poofy topnots and fluffy tails, were now passe? I suppose they went the way of shoulder pads and excessive hairspray...).
Feeling suitably fat, we headed out to Jonathan and Lindsey's to stuff down more food and coo a bit more over Chloe. Sat around, all of us (Mom and Katherine as well) and had conversation, then lit into the gossip and family dirt as it got later in the evening (I love gossip and family dirt- have I mentioned that before?).
9/2 I have been to the mountain. Or, rather, Robin and I have been to the mountain. I took Robin up Round Top Mountain (10,381 feet) - my absolute favorite place in the Sierra. I think we stopped about every 2 feet so that Robin could examine the latest variety of alpine flora (ooh, it's a Blue Footed Mountain Wibble - very rare!). We did forget the tree book though that he bought at Mono, so we had to argue about the pines. Never get into an argument about pines - very messy - sap everywhere. We made use of my new water filter, and actually didn't get giardia (hurrah!). And we got to spend at least 20 minutes on the top, admiring the views, before we had to hurry down to get back to the car before dark (once again, we'd had a late start, as someone (not me) was hungover in the morning... Hmm). We took Mormon Emigrant Trail back to Hwy 50 - almost 30 miles through a dark forest without a single other car. I don't think Robin was very pleased to be that isolated, though I thought it was actually kind of soothing, once I got over the initial worry of driving down that road at night.
9/3 After another shockingly early start (lunchtime), we headed off towards Point Reyes. Lots more oohing and aahing over plants, then a nice hair-raising drive down Hwy 1 (on the ocean side, of course) with me driving and Robin praying for deliverance. I have to admit I take slightly sadistic pleasure in taking visitors down that section of Hwy 1, and pointing out the bit that fell in the water in the '89 earthquake. We got to Marin Headlands just as the sun was setting, and took about 987987 pics of the full moon coming up over the Golden Gate (us and a sizeable number of mostly European tourists!). Drove into SF, spent a while circling about, looking for parking, paid an extortionate amount, checked into the hotel, then made a (very late) beeline to the airport to get rid of the car. Big pain in the ass that was, and we didn't manage to actually eat dinner until something like 11pm. Thank God for the Baghdad Cafe and its all night dining!
9/4 I really do love SFO, and, if I ever moved back to the US (which I'm not planning at this moment), would probably more there. My God though is it full of weirdos. I suppose I expected that and do a fairly good job at regarding the weirdos as part of the scenery (I'm sure that's not very politically correct), but poor Robin, I think he was a bit freaked out by the guy trying to remove tape from the middle of Market, or the woman brushing her dolly's hair, over and over and over. It is, in fact, quite shocking the number of weird people in SFO, and I've never actually heard a good explanation why there are so many. We had a late night foray to the Safeway at Market and Church. There were several homeless people charging phones and laptops in the front of the store, and a guy so off his head on something that he was trying to sign the credit card thingie, only holding the pen several inches away from the pad. The store clerk just looked on with a level of mild amusement. Anyway, we walked all over Castro, and up to Buena Vista Park, which has amazing views of the city, some interesting trees, and some number of odd sorts trying to hook up for sex amongst the interesting trees. Charming. Oh, we also gymmed, as we did the next day - I think both of us were feeling rather blobby by this point. I also ran, both days, on the biggest hills I could find. Sigh - I miss SFO.
9/5 Last full day in the US. We had a lot more wandering around the city, including a visit to Grace Cathedral, which is, rather amazingly built of reinforced concrete (the original cathedral burned to a crisp in 1906). Robin nerded a bit over organ and took some stained glass pics. He also commented the women should cover their head in church. Sigh - you can get the boy out of fundamentalism, but you can never entirely get the fundamentalism out of the boy. I reminded him that this was an Episcopal cathedral, not his wackjob childhood religion, and they were generally pleased if you were clothed at all. He really is a silly little boy sometimes. I got to meet one of Robin's young admirers that afternoon (he has them, apparently - this is one gets when one appears on the cover of a sex themed magazine). I've never met a groupie before - that was fun. Oh, speaking of sex, Robin did his damndest to try to find some, but to no avail. All the people who contacted him were either out of the city or weird. Poor thing - I don't know how he manages sometimes. We did, however, go to the SFO's biggest gay leather/rubber/sex toy store. Last time we were there (David and me), we were seen to by very attentive and very hunky store clerks (who were quite happy to help one try thing on inside the booth...). This time though, the entire atmosphere was a bit spoiled by the store clerks being absolutely as camp as tits, along with the slightly department store atmosphere of the place. Robin tried to ask for poppers, and was informed, in a little canned speech, that "The state of California has banned the sale of poppers and I can not sell them to you if you ask for them by that name. You must ask for 'the little brown bottle'." Which costs $30. How absolutely ridiculous. I don't think SFO quite lived up to Robin's expectations, though I did try to tell him what it would be like. Oh well - I still love the city.
9/6 Back to London. Long and boring flight, no sleep. Robin took a half a sleeping pill and managed about 2 hours, but then had to be herded around the supermarket like some sort of slightly special small child. We watched "Shelter" on the way back, a coming out story about an 18ish year old surfer dude who falls for a slightly older surfer dude and realizes he is gay. Actually, the movie had a huge effect on me because I thought it really accurately captured the mixture of feelings of wonder, excitement, newness and abject terror of coming out. Two definitive thumbs up.