Monday, October 26, 2009

San Diego Reunion

Serendipity brought us the opportunity to visit San Diego one more time before we head back to Illinois. Consider a few things to preface this story.
First I had scheduled a backpacking trip for this past weekend, October 24th-25th with a guy from work. He had to back out on me and we rescheduled for the previous weekend, the 17th-18th. He backed out then on the overnight hike and wanted to do a day hike. He cancelled on the day hike the morning we were going to go so I went out alone. Anyway, my original schedule would have put me in the desert over the weekend.
Traci and I had bantered about the idea to go back to San Diego to play on the beach. We had met people in Washington who had moved from San Diego so we figured we might be able to pimp them for ideas on where to visit. We struggled with the cost of hotels. We scoured the internet for camp site reservations. We couldn’t or wouldn’t commit to making the trip happen. We began losing the motivation for traveling six hours west just to play in the ocean. The kids were making plans with their friends from school and the significance of visiting San Diego was fading.
In a seemingly separate line of activities Traci began searching for a friend of ours, Nicki from Belleville. She was someone we had hung around with and we all sort of knew the same circle of people. Traci just thought “I wonder what she’s up to” and pursued her on facebook. She couldn’t remember how to spell Nicki’s married last name and after several failed attempts at finding her she typed in the name of one of her daughters. She had a hit. She had found one of the daughters.

Before we were married, Traci and I had spent several hours watching the daughters, four girls of a single mother who was trying to go to college. We would often go watch all four girls or break them off into groups so our friend could get some time to do whatever she wanted or needed to do. She was raising four girls by herself and any break I’m sure would have been helpful. We saw the girls and our friend off and on for several years until we moved out of the area and lost touch for a little while. The girls grew up, finished high school and began their own lives.
The daughter Traci found on facebook, Elyse, had listed her location as San Diego. Traci sent her a message finding out Nicki was going to be in San Diego the same weekend we wanted to go. Her youngest daughter, Janae, had joined the Navy and was taking our friend on the ship for a few days before while sailing together back to San Diego. A third daughter, Hannah, had also relocated from Belleville to San Diego. Three of the four daughters and our friend were all going to be in San Diego the same weekend we had tried to plan to go. They invited us to stay with them so a six hour car ride was no longer going to keep us from the coast. We advised our children to get ready to swim in the ocean, they love the beach.
Traci had the car packed and ready to go by the time I got home from work on Friday. I quickly ate up a chicken wrap for dinner, grabbed a few things, loaded our stuff and kids and were on the road 20 minutes after I got home. Traci had napped during the day so she was ready to drive. We had movies for the kids and began a long conversation into the dark night, reminiscing about our time with our friend and her girls. We talked about the state of the economy. We talked about our pending transition back to Illinois and a more permanent location. We stopped in Yuma for coffee and a potty break.
Heading into Yuma we had to cross back over the highway. On either side of the overpass we had to cross were two huge construction vehicles with the appearance of front end loaders with jack hammer attachments where one of the buckets should have been. The jack hammers were at work destroying the edges of the over pass we had to cross. As we crossed the light at the end of the over pass turned red. We sat on the over pass with the sounds of breaking concrete, the vibrations of the jack hammers shaking the entire bridge. The kids broke from their movie watching to examine the commotion all around us. Savannah offered she didn’t really like being on a bridge while it was being deconstructed from both sides. The ground shook, concrete fell away from the bridge, Traci gave me a worried look and the light turned green. We found our coffee and returned to the highway circumnavigating the construction project.

We pulled over at the address provided to us from our hosts, called them and waited. Soon enough they pulled up with a brief reunion of sorts on the sidewalk. Here was our friend and one of her daughters, Hannah, I couldn’t even recognize at first. Our friend hadn’t changed but the young woman in front of us was a new person, not the little girl I remember, the little girl who had carried the flowers at our wedding. We hugged our hellos and went into an apartment where Hannah had laid everything out for us.
It had been a late night so we slept in a little the next day then called our friends to see where to meet and go. We just wanted to go where the beach was and play in the waves. We decided on La Jolla. We followed Nicki while Hannah rode with us in case we were separated. When we got to the beach we met Elyse’s significant other, Cliff, and his daughter Ali. Ali was ten and we thought she and Savannah would get along well. Ali had just played in her first soccer game and was a little tired. Apparently Ali’s coaches were all Marines and they really liked to push their kids to their limits.
Cliff had brought some water toys, namely a body board and snorkeling gear to the beach. The waves were rolling in. Savannah, Shane, Sophia and I got in the chilly water with M and Cliff. We were knocked around in the surf and tried our hands at the body board. We crashed more than anything and had a great day freezing in the 64 degree waters. Traci, Hannah and Nicki stayed on the sand and chatted. Eventually Cliff and Ali took a nap while the kids played in the sand. We spent about three hours there until the hunger pangs reminded us we might need to eat something. Actually Cliff and Ali had packed up their stuff and were leaving to get some food and we all realized we might like some food too. Nicki mentioned something about fish tacos and Ocean Beach.
Traci and I had had fish tacos in Washington. We hadn’t been impressed. We paid for what had looked like two Van De Camp’s breaded fish sticks wrapped in a six inch flour tortilla with lettuce. I wasn’t getting excited about fish tacos. Nicki was very excited about fish tacos.
“Oh these fish tacos are the best, but your kids can’t go in, it’s a bar. Besides we can get a beer. Hannah can watch the kids. You spent enough time watching her when she was that age. For my girls getting these fish tacos is like a ritual. Janae can’t get them yet, she’s too young to go in the bar.”
I now share a great enthusiasm for these fish tacos. I thought these must be the kind of fish tacos people talk about, these must be the ones making people excited about fish tacos. One had a grilled piece of fish the other was lightly battered and fried. They snuggled into a flour tortilla under a healthy blanket of cabbage with a tasty white sauce drenched over the top. I added some hot sauce and dug in not stopping to breathe until my plate was empty. I washed it all down with a brave golden pilsner, slightly hoppy, very tasty.
We spent the moment between bites comparing stories and catching up with Nicki. We talked about Nicki’s most recent activities. She had settled for the time in Denver working per diem and traveling as much as possible. One of her daughters, Cher, was in pre-med in Alabama while the other three were in California. We shared stories from the past, made plans to meet in the future and just soaked up each others company. We talked about the girls’ challenges and successes.
Elyse, her eldest daughter had always wanted to come to California to live. So at age nineteen she left Belleville for California with 160 dollars and a few contacts she had met in the past. She lived with a few people for a while, spent some time without a home and eventually figured out how to make things work for her. I thought of all the ways things could have gone wrong. Elyse had made her own way and survived, thrived in the fallout from her experiences. She had met Cliff and was living with him and his daughter.
Cliff was one of the most laid back people I had ever met, not like sit around and chill “everything’s great dude” type laid back but a calm friendly person who seemed to want nothing more than to just be a great person. He helped out with everything, making us breakfast on Sunday. He brought all of the stuff to the beach for us to play with. He laughed and joked a lot. He showed us all around Balboa Park. I just never felt like he was anything but a good guy, which made him a great guy for Elyse.
Cliff and a friend had recorded some music and we listened to it while we chatted Saturday night over California burritos and Luigi’s slices. It was mostly relaxed guitar sounds with some rhythms, other electronic generated tones like keyboards, some vocals. It was some colorful combinations of styles and notes with a mellow vibe to it. Elyse called music to chill to. There were no real high’s or low’s, nothing overtly dramatic about the sounds but it did change and flow around itself with new sounds coming around each ebb drawing its listener to the next move in the music. The music played softly in the background but I would have liked to hear it and explore it more closely.
The music reminded me of the sunset we had just watched at sunset cliffs. The waves were still rolling in, crashing on the rocks. Nicki convinced us to let the older two kids climb down to the beach from the top of the cliffs. The path was wide down to a point about thirty feet above the beach where a knotted rope had been fixed for people to climb down to the sand. Several surfers were out in the water while a few people wandered up and down the beach in the dying light as the sun settled beyond the horizon. I went down the rope first. Shane and I had done more technical climbs in Illinois with our friend Jeff so I figured Shane would do well. The footholds in the cliff were stair stepped until the final ten feet. There you had to lean back and sort of hold your weight in your legs against the rock while holding the rope and walking down the cliff face. I made it down and spotted Shane as he quickly climbed down. Savannah started to lose her nerve toward the end of the climb.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to climb back up” she said hanging onto the rope while leaning back and testing her strength.
Nicki coaxed her down, reassuring her the climb back up was easier then the descent. Savannah made it down and the sun cast a few colors across the clouds and the ocean. We were ready to climb back up. It was easier to go up and we all made it safely back to the top of the cliffs where Traci and Sophie waited. Traci took a sigh of relief and Shane told Nicki all about his climbing adventures in Illinois.
We finished the night visiting with Elyse, Cliff and Ali at their place where we ate the burritos and pizza and enjoyed perusing through some of Cliff’s home mixed music. It was relaxing, everyone telling stories about each other and enjoying learning the new places and experiences each had had. We were breaking for the night and Cliff threw in an offer to make chorizo and eggs in the morning and I couldn’t wait to wake up for some of that.
We slept hard and fast, everyone tired from fighting the waves and cliff faces. The next morning we wandered over to Cliff and Elyse’s for the chorizo and eggs. It turned out to be soyrizo and eggs, making a tasty dish healthier. This was a good time to be alive, healthy chorizo! How would it taste? Could soy chorizo be as good as pork? Well Cliff made sure it was as good. We had soyrizo and eggs in tortillas with potatoes and onions, cheese and sour cream some tapatio and you could not have had better chorizo and eggs.
We stuffed ourselves and were off to Balboa Park. We walked around the park until we ran out of time then we traveled across town to Cabrillo National Monument where we looked over the bay to the city. It capped off the weekend and we hugged our good byes promising to see everyone again, just sooner this time.
On our way back to Chandler we stopped at the sand dunes just outside of Yuma. We walked up the sand dunes in the whipping wind. Shane was on Tattooine as a Skywalker. Sophie was ready to play in the piles of sand. The wind was prohibitive for any play longer than a few minutes. When we got out of the car at the bottom of the dunes I briefly thought ‘I wonder if I will have a problem getting the minivan through the sand?’

We got stuck immediately after the car started moving. There were several four wheel drive vehicles around with high clearance. I thought we could have had someone push us out or pull us out as we dug the tires deeper in the sand, spinning with no traction. I put it in reverse and tried a rocking approach like I would have done in the snow. Funny, the kids just watched the television. I rocked us into a hole and I stopped. Traci looked at me with a ‘thanks for burying us in the sand’ look on her face. I decided I was getting out of the sand and gunned the engine. I put it in reverse and gunned the engine again and the car moved a little, I stayed with the gas and the car proceeded to move backward. I wasn’t giving up any momentum, forward or backward and we backed across the sand back to the asphalt road. We made it out of the sand and proceeded back to Chandler. We made it home just in time to go to bed, ready for another week.
The trip to San Diego had been refreshing, exhausting and meant a new appreciation for old friends. We could stand doing it again.