I was going to describe my trip to California as "As fun as a funeral can be" but no sooner had I thought it than I knew that it was far from true. For instance, my friend Gordon constantly talks about how he wants his funeral to be a romping good time with door prizes, a potluck and a giveaway of all of his stuff. But the bottom line is: I had a good time.
The trip started with a snowy and salty drive to Utah's airport. I wanted to bring sandals but refused to put more than one pair of shoes in my bag and I already had dress shoes in there. I didn't want trouble with airport security thinking I was a complete loon by showing up in Tevas while snow came down from the sky. So the sandals stayed home and Security only stole my hair gel.
I probably still looked suspicious because I had worked until 4 am and was at the airport around 8 am. My wife had run outside to our old shed to find a bag as I threw my clothes together at the very last moment. At the airport I tried to organize the loose straps on the bag and, when I did, spiders fell out and crawled away. So there I was, a zombie man with cobwebs and spiders streaming off of my backpack.
I make the best first impressions in the world.
The plane ride to Vegas was fast and pleasant and I read quite a few pages of "Cadillac Desert" which Gordon loaned me well over a year ago. A guy stood next to me in line for my second flight and I had to hide my face to keep from busting out laughing. He was on his cell phone saying stuff like, "I will NOT travel with those people. I like them. But I will not travel with them. They go on vacation. They eat at MCDONALDS! They stay... at the TRAVELODGE! I will not travel with them. Let me tell you about that guy, okay? He's worth $9 million but goes to the DMV to bilk some guy out of $20. Gimme a break. No. You're not driving to Truckee. Because. It's snowing in Truckee. You don't drive in the SNOW..."
He just kept going and going and I had to pretend like I was sneezing so he wouldn't know I was laughing at him. But the middle-aged lady in front of me had a catface tattoo right on the nape of her neck. A catface with hypnotic green eyes, nose, whiskers, mouth... but no face shape outline. When she moved the catface seemed to come alive. It put me in a trance with its stare.
On the ride from Vegas to Sacramento I tried to read but started dozing off. Instead, I just closed the book and kept to myself. The lady sitting next to me had spent the beginning of the trip reading crappy Hollywood rags but she saw the book I was reading and started to ask me about it. I told her it was about the issue water shortage in the western United States. She was impressed and asked if it was a new book. I told her, I think it was written in the mid-80's but is more relevant today than ever. She asked if I was reading it for school and when I told her I was just a nerd she laughed and slapped my arm. Then she talked to me about a great many issues we face in the world today, even in China, and told me it made her happy that people from the younger generation were concerned about them, too. I wondered why a lady like this had been reading Hollywood gossip all morning.
After we had spent sufficient time getting to know each other, she took the plunge and asked me for a favor: "Every year, my husband and I do a WEIRD Christmas card and we were wondering if you could come to baggage claim and take a picture with us when we get to Sacramento?"
Have you ever been to the Sacramento airport? In the baggage claim area they have towers of luggage from the floor to the ceiling, and these people wanted me to take a picture of them pretending to climb the luggage towers for next year's Christmas card. I told them that my brother was driving over to Stanford to pick up my little sister, Erika, and then they were coming to get me. I had my bag with me and we would probably leave as quick as we could exit the building.
But then it turns out my brother was 2 hours late picking me up. So I went to baggage claim and saw them choosing the best angle for a picture. They saw me approach and their faces lit up. "HE'S HERE!" They shouted. The base of the towers are like dumpsters and one of them said, "Samson." That is the tower they wanted to climb because it was the name of the man's grandfather who had been a strongman for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Since I had time to kill, I took a ton of pictures for them. When they left they offered to take me down to Sanoma with them. I told them, maybe another time.
I wasn't upset about waiting but I was hungry. It was about 5pm and I hadn't really eaten anything all day. I was trying hard to avoid eating airport food. To be on the safe side, I decided to walk to Terminal B to make sure by brother wasn't looking for me on any of the loser airlines. During the walk I took this picture, because wouldn't every garage be significantly awesomer if it just had, like... bird thingies on it?
When I walked back to Terminal A, I finally cracked and tried to buy a crappy pizza. The young girl at the counter was from somewhere near Russia. I asked her, "What do you have to drink?" She just pointed at a cooler at the end of the counter, "Coke, Sprite, Juice." I walked down and grabbed a bottle. Then I asked, "Can I get a pepperoni pizza?" No response. I asked again, "Can I get a pepperoni pizza?" Still nothing. So I walked down to the pizza display and rummaged through the boxes. Most of them were empty decorations, so I grabbed the plastic looking pizza and put on the counter in front of the girl. She didn't like that. She said, "This is example only. I will make you a new one." I said, "Thanks."
I watched her make my pizza, spread the cheese, deal out the pepperoni, put it in the toaster oven. When she pulled it out, it fell facedown off her spatula and everything fell off of the dough. She did it all over again. It was really gross and expensive pizza but I'm glad she didn't charge me for two.
A few minutes after I finished the food, my sister Erika ran in to get me. There are two other girls from the reservation who go to Stanford with her and my brother was giving them a ride home, too.
I asked the first girl what she was studying. She said, "Linguistics." I asked, "What kind of a job do you want to get with that degree?" She said, she didn't know. I said, "So you just love words, do you? Do you use the word 'cacti' or do you just say 'cactuses' because it's easier? We were at Home Depot the other day and I wanted to tell my kids not to hurt themselves on the cacti but I was tempted to say cactuses but I couldn't because it seemed dishonest."
She said something like, "I don't really talk much about cactus so I don't really care." I said, "If it's your major, I think you should care." But later on when she wasn't looking, I looked through her stuff and found her school notebook. It was just notes from her classes, but in the margins along the edge I found something she had written:
Clover wets her paw
a short tongue pink and flicking
stroking over her lop ears
nestled down in a field
hidden she lists
Kak Kak calls the Jackdaw
A seed inside a billowy green forest
tangled and sprawling
all beneath a twirling sun
with skirts blazing
her finest yellow fur
Bunny poetry! No wonder she was so secretive!
Okay, okay. I made up the whole bit about stealing her notebook and her love of bunny poetry but that's what she gets for not fessing up. On the other hand, I don't have any evidence to suggest she DOESN'T love poems about rabbits. I guess it's just as likely that her interest in linguistics is tied to a desire to preserve the language of her ancestors but, again, it's all speculation.
I asked the second friend in the car what her major was and she said, "Feminine Studies."
And because I love making a first impression that is sure to charm the pants off of 18 year old college girls, I said, "Oh. So you want to grow up to be a man-hater." And suddenly, a bunch of eyes popped out and jaws dropped. Erika told me later that people had called the girl a "man-hater" in high school and she had not enjoyed it. I told Erika that I didn't know enough about the girl to make a personal attack on her and that I hoped she realized that I was just goofing around to kill time on a long car ride. But just to put a toxic cherry atop the cake, when we dropped the girl off at her house I reminded her to "hate the game, not the playa'."
I'll tell you more about the trip later.