Thursday, December 23, 2010

a recent trip to california was historic & ironic - first, the assumption by friends here that it would be warm & balmy in california; no, actually, we're going up into the mountains where it snows a lot. the assumption that getting away from home stress would be relaxing; no, actually, it was my wife's family, so it was relaxing mostly only for me, though the kids did pretty well too. it was icy here as we left; the ice hung on the brown grasses and brackish weeds as i took the dogs to the kennel & i remembered how beautiful southern illinois was this time of year. the roads were salted - the ice storm was the day before, and the shoulders were icy, but the drive itself up through the villes was uneventful. going past that baseball player's house- almost to nashville, i resolved myself to look him up, find out who the heck he was; i always wonder why he would build this huge mansion right on the road, literally, very much out in the middle of washington county farmland. saw seventeen state license plates on the drive, but a lot of them were in the long-term parking at the airport.

the plane was delayed in san diego of all places because california apparently had been suffering all kinds of rain and fog, also in places like denver where the planes originated. in fact it rained almost the whole time we were there, in california, though the last day, way up in the mountains, it turned into a very wet snow and then cleared up a little as we left. that first night we were stranded in sacramento, but drove the valley the following day, through almond orchards, olive orchards, little old houses surrounded by miles and miles of orchards, even grape orchards, as a lot of the valley is turning into wine country. going up the hills we saw beautiful grasses and trees and finally the small town of my in-laws, halfway up sonora pass near yosemite, in a glade of pines 3800 feet up a pass that was apparently closed for the season.

took the boys ice skating one day, in a town further up the road, long barn; this town was over 5000 feet and as we got out of the car we could hear the wind roaring through the pines with an awesome wail; i asked the skating people if the huge pines were going to crash over and they said that was doubtful so we skated away and then rolled back down the hill. the constant rain was causing flooding and high water everywhere, but the place was unusually green and beautiful: green grasses on high mountains, scrub oak hillsides, beautiful pine forests; old stone walls traversing the wide hills. on the roads people were worried about mudslides at the mountain edges.

the relatives were gracious and hospitable, but i couldn't help thinking that it was a difficult place for young teenagers to become adults, expensive and crowded as it was; it made illinois look easy. the twisted mountain roads would become dangerous the minute you took them for granted, and that would happen quickly; also, it changed from rain to snow to worse fairly quickly. coming home we took a back road through stunningly beautiful mountains; now it was sunny, and this time we went past a penitentiary and a resort town with a lake, all very scenic. license plate spotting in california is interesting because you occasionally see very old black ones, or blue ones, a spattering of square-lettered ones, or yellow-sun-top ones, along with the vast majority of the new version, which is a kind of cursive like illinois. the license plates stay with the cars, so you're drawn to the older cars, which have the older plates; then, there is this interesting-vanity-plate culture, though not so much in towns like stockton, oakdale, lodi, and the places we were going through, calaveras and toulumne counties. in fact i saw very few vanity plates and very few of any other states either, as california is so big that it's rare you see anyone from even nevada, except when you get to the rent-a-car parking lot when you see all kinds of stuff suddenly, in my case eight more not counting truck plates.

the trip back, planes were delayed again because of rain & weather. what, they couldn't handle rain & snow? three hours in sacramento again...going through las vegas, the pilot said, lowest ceiling he'd ever seen, and in fact, we could barely pick out the strip's neon from the fog. we'd seen the ocean, barely, at san diego, out the window, and now we saw vegas from the plane without ever getting out of it. the little guy fell asleep on my lap; he'd been a little sick there at the end, and lost his earthy-toy under the bed at the motel; we landed in st. louis 1:30 am st. louis time, and rolled into our driveway at about 4:30, exhausted. the baseball player was kirk reuter, giants pitcher, from a farm town there in washington county, known as "woody"- a favorite of giants fans of whom we saw many on our trip, probably a veteran of those same flights, and weather patterns, and airports. his house sits behind some trees but is basically right on the road, so huge that one has to imagine entire exercise facilities in it.

the st. louis area was 32 and snow-free; we drove through frozen hills and fields as the kids, awake now, asked when we would get there. one little county seat, pinckneyville, had a 25-foot santa and manger scene at their courthouse on the way up, but now it wasn't even lit up, it was too late and people save money by turning this stuff off in the late evenings. home again.

there are cultural differences between the two places, but i don't want to belabor them. once we stopped for pizza, and even the pizza there is full of fresh vegetables; the food is, in general, better than here. but i impulsively said hello to some guy with his young kid and he was a little taken aback, as maybe you don't do that there. one birthday party we saw, was for a young kid, but had mostly aunts and uncles, extended family, but very few other kids. they filled up the restaurant's side room, ok, but the little birthday girl had too many presents, not enough friends, i thought. who knows? you see a lot of this stuff through windows, across airport lobbies, even in this one seven-eleven (i didn't know they still had these in the us?) - places are different, and that, at least, makes for some variety in life. stunning, on the scenery end, but california has always been that; even the valley, with the orchards going off in rows for miles, is stunning. the hometown, in contrast, is its usual self. cold, bleak, and a little heavy on the traffic, due to the time of year.


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