A weekend 80 years in the making

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A weekend 80 years in the making

Maybe a year ago we started floating to immediate family the idea of a surprise visit to Ohio for my father’s 80th birthday. We’d done this for my mom in the Before Times and it was complicated enough then arranging surreptitious transportation all the way to the Shire.

After months of random conversations about how this may work in the era of covid my mother informed me it would be better if we met somewhere else. Texas was floated for a bit for an equidistant warm alternative before we discovered that nobody really wanted to go there, so they decided to come here instead, but closer to Thanksgiving. So we started planning around a Thanksgiving visit, which by the time to buy plane tickets came around got downsized to be just mom due, in part, to a foot injury (?) my father was suffering from.

Our original plan of going east may have been dashed in part due to our preferred covid prevention and mitigation tactics being too high a bar for the Mid-Ohio-Valley red hats. My hometown is currently sitting at “medium” transmission risk with twice the rate of Covid admissions to local hospitals as the liberal hellscape of Los Angeles and most of the United States, but as the song says: “try that [avoiding covid] in a small town!” Thankfully, mom (perhaps a bit reluctantly) agreed to mask up before and during the trip in a proper N95 so we could breathe together inside the house/car in California.

I think I get my introversion from my parents, and what may have previously seemed like a vulnerability sure seems like an asset as covid continues to swirl around them as they hunker down in retirement pursuing solitary hobbies. I don’t know if the meek will inherit the Earth later, but after Covid ravages the rest, the hermits certainly have a better chance at avoiding “brain fog!”

I’m partially only mentioning this because I now know a family member is planning to go to a theater performance unmasked. Totally their right, but their reasoning was that the little town is too isolated for Covid to spread much (and possibly there’s some survivorship bias at work since they’ve not been infected yet but I know many people that had to remove the “yet” after the late summer 2023 wave). The numbers tell a very different story and I know this person reads this blog so this is my passive aggressive way of trying to hammer the point home for them. And anyone that may similarly think smaller towns magically inhibit airborne viral infections. They don’t. Only masks and vaccines do, and those work far better in tandem than alone.

Okay, covid rant over, but I didn’t want anyone ELSE reading this thinking we set aside our standards and carved out an exception for family. Nobody* is special or immune to this problem and the “othering” of folks that get infected (“summer flu” anyone, maybe sprinkled with a little “mystery virus?”) is how we’ve eased into a quiet epidemic of long covid that nobody wants to acknowledge (or attempt to prevent) in public.

*Apparently studies are showing certain genes produce a naturally higher resistance to infection, but none of the studies will explain how a person could (without completing a full personal genomic mapping) know whether they have these genes or not. This is probably a good thing as the naturally immune would likely act even more irresponsibly than the general public already is. Remember how Reaganites thought we should just ignore the biblically justified “gay cancer?” Red hatters will claim covid is “God’s will” if science proves those immunity genes belong to the neanderthal bits leftover in European ancestry. And if the opposite is true, what then? We already saw that. They’ll revisit the lab leak fiasco and blame it on the Chinese to spur more racial violence. Or we could just wear masks, test, isolate and get this over with. But most humans like to do what’s easiest in the moment (goodbye masks!) and hardest in the long (covid) run, and not the other way round.

That got dark in a hurry, but this is the world we live in, regardless of whether certain echo chambers allow it to be seen or not.

So, probably thanks to covid, a visit that was originally us going to Ohio for my father’s birthday in December turned into my mother visiting California for Thanksgiving. Very different from where we started, but I’ll take what familial warmth I can get in this cold dark new world.

Mom arrived after noon, settling in for an early (for us, later for her) Thanksgiving dinner prepared by Sam.

Costco sweet potato fries, Costco cranberry sauce, Costco roast turkey, Costco turkey gravy, and Costco meatballs (are you seeing a theme here) on Costco plates with Costco utensils all washed down with Costco Malbec. It was almost Costco filtered water too, but that’s a story for another time.

After dinner we commenced the annual (now that’s it’s twice in a row) Thanksgiving evening Family Christmas Tree Raising Ceremony and a bit of early Christmas gift opening (though mom being a mom managed to sneak in more under the tree later before she left).

And after that we commenced with a (I’m hoping not annual tradition) Downtown Alley Movie Night (not pictured). I would say that dad needs to come next time so I’m not outnumbered, but I hear my father also watches the period piece drama.

On Friday we spent the day in East Pasadena looking at rowing machines and new cars with mom, as she has a goal in 2024 to acquire both of those things and can do more (or any) hands on evaluation here than in Washington County Ohio. (and obviously she can walk away from a dealership here with less awkwardness after critiquing the cars since she’s never going to see them again)

But why did we look at this stuff specifically in East Pasadena? Because we had tickets to the Arboretum Lightscape show.

Even $17 cocktails couldn’t keep it from being a tad underwhelming (blinking color changing LED lights is a pretty low bar in 2023 folks, but if it keeps the Arboretum open I guess that’s worth it).

We played Uno back at home before retiring for the night.

On Saturday morning we ate pizza and wings while watching Ryan Day dig deep into the Tressleball handbook to find surprising ways to keep Marvin Harrison Jr. from getting a Heisman trophy. After the second interception we needed to get off the couch so we walked around the Americana for a while. But no matter how much holiday tinsel it’s draped in us Ohio folks can only stomach Posh for so long so we were back at home not long after sunset with more time to kill.

Instead of playing Uno again we finished up by trying out a game of themed Monopoly. What was the theme? (in Norm’s voice, please) You guessed it: Costco. I don’t think it pulls much from the real Costco experience though because I had fun and it didn’t take three hours. There wasn’t anything about congested aisles, discontinued products, long checkout lines, or difficult parking. I complain, but Sam’s patience with the experience has saved me lots of time (and she claims money too) over the years so it was a bit odd I wound up with the win she clearly deserved in recognition of time already served.

Sunday was probably the highlight of the trip for mom, a visit to Catalina Island, which she’s talked about for years but we never had the time or schedule to make happen before.

Since we wanted to only book Ferry tickets if the weather was good we waited until Saturday (after Ryan Day’s panic room experience) to buy, but by then the 10am tickets were “sold out” (I have come to disbelieve this), so we purchased 11am. Our favored time to return was “sold out” as well, so we were forced to buy 7:45pm return tickets. The interior eco-tours were also “sold out.”

The purchase process and follow-up urges Express travelers to arrive “at least an hour ahead of time” at the terminal. We did so and (as Sam predicted) discovered an empty room and a cashier (apparently only there to print the physical boarding tickets for some reason required by their antiquated process) that chuckled and said “it’ll be a while.” I often ignore my wife’s common sense advice in favor of my midwestern upbringing of following directions to the letter, often to my chagrin and her boredom.

After that long while we boarded and sat still (so many people can’t, for some reason) until arriving at Avalon an hour (and 15 minutes slowly drifting into the harbor that they don’t put in their promo materials) later.

We started walking towards the Garibaldi trolley to go up to Wrigley Memorial, but to our surprise mom clarified she’d very much like to walk the entire way to the Memorial. And zoom, off she went. Two miles later up the mild grade next to golf courses and tumbleweeds (long sections of this walk just felt like the valleys of Griffith Park) we arrived at the sparse gardens and ancient looking concrete memorial structure. It had steps and doors and levels, but not quite an interior. High columns supporting roofs over massive open rectangles created irresistible photo opportunities backlit by tiled porticos with a view all the way to the mainland.


Another two miles later we were back in town and a bit early for our pre-booked “Discover Avalon” open air tour, so we picked up our tickets (again, printed, for some reason) and decided to take a sit by the sea until our “be there 20 minutes before showtime” mandate. Hungry after the 4 mile hike we had some snacks to tide us over until dinner, which we agreed would happen at 4 after the tour was over.

20 minutes before the tour we showed up as instructed and noticed there was a big (old restored) bus at the pickup point. After some confusion we confirmed with the ticket agent (the same one who printed our tickets a half hour ago) that, yes, the bus was for our tour. We stressed that the tour we purchased was “open air,” and she replied “yeah, but those are broken, so it’s on the bus now,” as if that’s the same thing. A smattering of seniors began boarding the closed window big bus instead of the advertised ATV. We demanded our money back and I was quite angry that thanks to her we’d snacked and waited when we could have just ate half an hour ago if the gate agent had told us about the modification of our tour. Particularly damning was the fact that the “open air” part is what distinguishes this $30 per person tour from the $2 per person Garibaldi bus that essentially covers the same route.

The advertised charm of the island was certainly starting to wear off (for me).

We were still hungry so we just decided to eat already. A lot of restaurants were closed by 3pm on Sunday (even though Disney cruise tourists were still meandering around), so we settled on Bluewater which had covid-safe outdoor seating above the beach.

We were advised to get the clam chowder, which turned out to be good advice. We advised ourselves to try the jug of Buffalo Milk, which was not so great advice.

This is ten seconds before taking a sip and realizing it’s just a milk and ice smoothie. Yes, that’s a Disney cruise ship embedded in my neck.

After dinner we hit a few Myrtle Beach style tourist trinket shops on the waterfront before Mom and Sam took a breather while I tried to capture the pinks of the simultaneous sunset and moonrise.


After dark the shops were closed and we still had hours to wait before our scheduled return ferry since the earlier returns were all “sold out” on the website yesterday morning. We decided to try anyway and to our (not) surprise there were suddenly plenty of extra spaces on earlier return ferries if we’d pony up more money for a “change ticket fee.”

Even with the fee it was still another hour before the boat would arrive, so Sam and Mom waited while I took a few long exposure shots, testing out a new manual shutter remote I’d bought for our next trip.

that little hill of lights is actually San Pedro, and the glow to the right is Long Beach, 30 miles east of the island.

My impression of Catalina completely changed after a day of sinking into an obvious tourist trap that is quite glib about taking advantage of it’s captive audience. Avalon itself isn’t even the glamorous retreat that’s advertised, it’s more of a cheap imitation of any of Orange County’s beach cities. But without the high end luxury focus of places like Laguna Beach. There are a few streets of quant cottages, most of which have been obviously (there are signs in the windows) churned into AirBnBs for profit, surely annoying any locals sticking it out, but I suppose that’s a familiar problem for any “destination themed” city (Lake Tahoe, Big Bear, etc.).

But this trip wasn’t for me to enjoy, it was for my mom, and she seemed to enjoy herself so all’s well that ends well. Except it didn’t end well.

On the return ferry mom sat inside while Sam and I sat up top. We only learned on the car ride home that some drunk moron had been making a (in her words “very vulgar”) scene next to her and the boat crew did little to nothing to stop this for the entire hour.

In fact, we noticed the clientele onboard the Express ships seemed to skew a different direction than the brochures promised. Catalina advertises itself as a luxury retreat for the well-to-do. And perhaps they do come and spend some money at the Casino, but they’re not on the public boat. Most of the folks on the boat seem like either the kind that can’t afford to go farther for a vacation and need alcohol to cement the experience as a pleasure or the kind (like us) that are just doing it as a lark to see what the fuss is about. That’s not me trying to be some kind of elitist, that’s just an observation in a city that definitely has class divides. Many travelers on the boat were far rowdier, younger, and drunk. Of course, loud folks stick out in a sea of quiet folks, so the majority were probably just sitting in silence just as peeved at the uninhibited extroverts as we were; I don’t want to give you the impression that the whole boat was rocking like a nightclub with inebriated folks born after 9/11.

On Monday Sam had to be back at work (from home), so our only excursion was a lunch date at Salazar before taking mom to her airport hotel to prep for the very early flight back east.

yes, everyone had their own Margarita flight, but we learned too late that mom doesn’t like ginger or watermelon, so I did some heavy lifting (and zero driving) to compensate.

We will make sure to stock up on Pineapple margarita mix for your return trip (in 2025?), mom.

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