Wednesday, September 28, 2005

California Trip - Day One

We left for our trip to California on Saturday September 17, 2005. I had taken the day before off to get ready for the trip. We worked hard all day, getting packed, going shopping, doing laundry, cleaning house, and mowing the forest lawn. We met with my mom to show her how to take care of our aviary (6 parakeets and 1 cockatiel). We had temporarily stopped newspaper delivery, and had arranged to have the dog boarded. By the time we got everything done, it was after midnight.

We got up a little after six on Saturday morning. Dawn Ann took the dog to the animal hospital to be boarded. The poor dog had no idea the treachery he was about to experience. Not only were we going to leave him there, but he was going to have his vaccinations updated, and get his hair and nails clipped too. Later, as we were on our trip, there were several times when we missed the dog, but taking him with us just would not have been practical.

My Brother Mark arrived at about 8:15 am to take us to the airport. We really appreciated him doing that for us. It saved us the cost of 8 days of long-term parking at the airport - plus we would have curbside drop-off as well. We loaded all of our luggage into his 4-Runner, and made it to the airport in plenty of time.

The kids were full of questions. They both had flown before, but it was a long, long time ago. Bryan was 3, and Amy was only 8 months old. Bryan claims he remembers the trip, and of course Amy cannot remember it at all. So every step of the way they had lots of questions. We got our bags checked, then went through the security checkpoint. Finally we made our way to the gate where our flight would leave from. We had nearly 2 hours to spare. Fortunately the kids were wide-eyed at watching the planes come and go.

We had purchased our plane tickets as part of a package from a local travel agency. The deal included air, 3-day Park-Hopper tickets at Disneyland, and 3 nights hotel in Anaheim. We wanted to stay for a week to do other things besides Disney, so we also booked another hotel in Oceanside, to visit some of the San Diego area beaches and attractions as well. As it turned out, there was another family who had purchased a similar package. They were going to be there for a week as well. They were even staying in Oceanside as well, however they would be staying in a condo there. Our kids played with theirs in the airport during the long wait for our plane to take off. Bryan had brought a binder with his Pokemon cards that he showed their kids. Later, the dad of their family had brought a Nerf football, and was playing catch with his boys in the concourse. Bryan joined their group for playing catch as well. (Later we would run into their family again while in Disneyland - at the magic tea cups ride).

The kids had their noses pressed to the windows of the terminal in awe as our plane pulled up to the gate. They could hardly wait to board! All of the disembarking passengers got off the plane. Then it seemed like an interminable (for the kids) amount of time for them to clean and prepare the cabin for the next group of passengers.

Southwest Airlines has no assigned seating. They have three different groups for boarding, A, B or C. Its first come, first served. If you check in early (like us) you get to be in Group A, and get to board, and choose your seats. If you check in later, you may find yourself in groups B or C.

Fortunately the flight was only about 2/3 full. We were able to sit on two consecutive rows on the right side of the plane, about 1/3 of the way down on the 737. We let the kids each have a window seat. The plane was uncrowded enough that no one sat in the third seat on either row of our seats. That made it quite comfortable.

Amy was quite nervous about the takeoff. She sat by mama, and needed a lot of comforting and hand-holding. Bryan on the other hand was eager for the takeoff to happen. He wanted to feel G forces! The plane finally backed away from the gate, and taxied into takeoff position. Amy's nerves were just about shot at this point, waiting for the pilot to throttle-up the plane. Then it happened. The engines roared to life, the flaps and slats on the wings were extended to increase lift. We began rolling down the runway. Faster and faster we went. The nose of the plane lifted off the ground. It seemed like forever, but eventually the rear wheels also lifted off, and we were airborne! Once again, Amy could start breathing again!

We took off going Northward, and flew over the Great Salt Lake, as we put some distance between us and the airport, we began a giant arching U-turn toward the Southwest. The kids were fascinated to look down at the lake, and discover that Antelope Island, is not really an Island right now (after 6 years of drought, the lake level is down.) Instead Antelope Island is surrounded half by water, and half by mud flats. Looking down at the mountain tops was another new experience for them.

Bryan and Amy hardly moved their noses from the windows of the airplane. We were blessed with very clear weather, and were able to see the ground for the whole flight. Time really "flew" by, and next thing you knew we were landing at LAX. As we approached the airport, the kids got their first view of the Ocean. They couldn't wait to get to the beach.

We had a smooth landing, and found ourselves navigating our way through LAX. It was the first time at this airport for all of us. We retrieved our luggage and went out to curb outside the terminal.

We found the "Red" curbs where you are supposed to wait for the shuttle bus to take you to your car rental lot. The car rental we got with our travel package was with an off brand agency called "Ace Car Rental". Our flight had arrived a little early. We were supposed to pick up the car at 1:00 pm, but we were at the curb by 12:45. We waited at the shuttle-bus stop for our bus. We saw the buses from the major car rental companies come and go. Over and over again! Sometimes two buses from one of the Majors would even arrive at once! Still no Ace Car Rental bus. I had decided to get out my travel papers and give ole' Ace a call. In a worst case scenario, we could have hopped on a bus with one of the major rental companies. Most of them had neon signs on the side of their buses advertising that they had cars available.

Finally Bryan said he saw a smaller van shuttle with Ace on the side, but some other name on the front of the bus. Eventually we saw a bus that said "Johnny Park" on the front of the bus in big bold letters, and had Ace car rental, pasted on with window decals in small letters on the side of the van. Good thing Bryan had his Eagle Eyes on! We hopped on the bus, and made our way to the rental agency. They were all out of cars! Fortunately, someone in the line right behind me was just returning his car. So they turned around and rented his car to us. They quickly ran the car through the car wash, and vacuumed it out. About 15 minutes later, we found ourselves loading our luggage into a crimson red Chrysler PT Cruiser. (Remind me next time to insist on a name-brand car rental company. I don't mind doing business with a discount company, like Alamo or Budget). After all the hassles, though, we were thankful to have our rental car (and air conditioning!). We paused for a moment to offer a prayer, and express our thanks for our safe travel thus far, and for direction in finding our way to our Hotel in Oceanside. That seemed to help everyone settle down.

Our Hotel in Oceanside was right long I-5. We got on I-405 Southbound from the airport, then eventually merged onto I-5. We found that we liked traveling in the HOV lanes along the freeway. They had double-double yellow lines, with limited access points. This was nice because it limited people darting in and out of your lane. Most of the drivers in the HOV lane were driving within reason of the speed limit, which we appreciated too. The nifty part was the special Interchanges developed for the HOV lane. The I-405 to I-5 merge had a special overpass that bypassed all the rest of the merging traffic and interchange all together, and landed us in our own lane on I-5 without having to merge at all! Sweet! All we had to do now was stay on I-5 until we came to the appropriate Oceanside exit. I had used Google Maps to get directions from the Airport to the Hotel. (and to other locations we would be navigating toward.) It gives you turn-by-turn information all along the way. What exits to get on and off of, and which lane to get into. These navigational aids really helped along our way. A little over an hour later, we were in Oceanside and checked in at our hotel. The trip really went quite smoothly, and was surprisingly uncomplicated.

We hauled our belongings up to our room at the hotel, and got all moved in. We didn't stay long though, because we were getting pretty hungry by now. We found a restaurant called "Spoons" and had some dinner. By the time we left the restaurant, it was dark.

From the restaurant, we drove down toward the beach, and found ourselves on the Pacific Coast Highway. We found a place to park, and walked down to the beach. The ocean holds a lot of fascination for us land lubbers. This was the first time, in memory at least, for the kids at the beach. We could see a few stars coming out. A nearly full moon was rising to the East behind us. Even though it was dark, there were enough lights along the beach to see the waves break and roll in. We could smell the salt air. The kids were already looking for seashells. I walked up to Dawn Ann, and gave her a hug from behind, so that we could both see the waves.

In between interruptions from the kids, we remembered a similar night, some 14 years ago, when we were on our Honeymoon in Kauai, on a little beach in Kapaa. There we watched the moon rise over the sea, and thought and planned and dreamed of our lives together. It would have been nice to have had a little time to ourselves to reminisce about those wonderful days in Hawaii, but alas, kids and duty called. We took our shoes off, and rolled up our pant legs. The water seemed quite chilly, but we got used to it after awhile. It was fun to feel the sand between your toes, and feel the undercurrent of the waves was the sand out from beneath your feet as the waves receded back into the ocean.

Finally we needed to return to our hotel room, much to the whines and disappointment of the children. I think they could have stayed out there all night long! I got everyone tucked into bed, and then went scouting for a grocery store. We found a "Ralph's" grocery store, and bought some sodas, a styrofoam cooler, some fruit and treats for the room, and returned to the hotel. Everyone was sound asleep by the time I got back to the room.

It had been an eventful day. There were a lot of firsts for the kids. We had made it there safely. It was nice to be away from all of our normal responsibilities, for a few days of fun and relaxation. We can't afford to do these kind of trips very often. It is our hope to create some fond memories of being together that will last a lifetime for the children. I still remember some of the major vacations that my parents and family took when I was growing up, and they are fond memories to this day.

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