Thursday, March 19, 2009

America's Finest City, Part One

It's been a whirlwind week of exposing San Diego's many gifts, as our friends Teresa and Gina have been visiting from Alabama. I had a crash-course in our tourism infrastructure, one that I was sadly needing, like the refresher in CPR every two years. For instance, I learned that we are no longer America's sixth largest city--we've somehow fallen to eighth, which was news to me. Which cities have taken sixth and seventh from us, I wonder? Readers, do enlighten if you can.

I have a strong compulsion (which has been cruelly pointed out to me on a couple of occasions) to treat vacation reports like a sort of Jewish Christmas letter (All the Details You Love, Now with More Snacks and Super-Deluxe Kvetching!), describing every moment of each day with transitions like "Then back to the car" and "In need of refreshment, we..." so this time I am limiting myself to one or two significant events from each day of the five-day visit. If you want, you may read a lot more driving, eating, and shopping interludes into these daily reports. If you don't, simply read on:


Having flown in late the night before, T and G were ready for a hearty breakfast, but I'm not allowed to talk about that part, or the stop in Coronado to admire the view across the bay. I'll skip right to the event of the season, the preschool auction dinner, which had actually been scheduled for the better part of a year. Happily for us, our guests were game to attend this hell-raiser, and everyone rested up for the debauchery while I helped set up the space, providing skilled labor like:

1) placing stickers inside of shoe-boxes for the raffle
2) peeling price tags off about 100 picture frames for item descriptions
3) arranging sand-filled votive candles on tables to represent tropical splendor
4) gluing lot lists to giant poster boards with a sad little stick
5) drinking mimosas until I was cross-eyed

In the end, the place did look sort of glorious, and definitely festive. I changed into my dress (very of the moment, with a "large floral print and contrasting bright-color shoes," because I don't miss a trend) and regretfully left my Hawaiian-shirted husband and friends to make use of their drink tickets and shop while I worked the check-in table (did I mention I was on the planning committee? That was probably a key bit of information.) After that, I danced crazily from table to table (there was a DJ) writing my name down everywhere, which is a strategy that usually finds us at evening's end purchasing a bunch of stuff I don't remember wanting, but this time paid off with one item I will definitely use--a new subscription to the acting workshop I'm already in! Yay! Teresa and Gina bid on and won a package of gift cards, playing right into my hands (literally) by handing over the mani-pedi gift certificate they'd have no use for in Alabama. And the new raffle was awesome--we won a mosaic set for Jarrah, and a package of dance classes for me. Woohoo!

Dinner was mostly delish and plentiful, the company was good, and the drinks were tasty if not very strong. One of the preschool moms is a chef, and she made the desserts--her key lime cupcakes were some kind of revelation on the tongue. I stayed after for clean up, which went swiftly and netted me some gorgeous dendrobium orchids. And when I finally got home, David rubbed my aching feet (too much running around in those contrast-color high heels) and we pronounced the night a great success.


San Diego is famous for its zoo, and the Wild Animal Park is even more impressive since you can ride a tram through rolling hills and see baby giraffes frolicking. It was a really special visit because a baby elephant had been born the day before--he was even on the front page of the paper. Turns out I have never been to the elephant enclosure, judging by the long walk uphill I don't remember making. But it was totally worth it. When we arrived, the baby was lying on his side near his mother, and didn't look much of anything except startlingly small...for an elephant. But then he started to wave his little ears and wiggle his legs, and after a good, swift kick from his mum (nothing like a little maternal encouragement) he staggered to his feet and waltzed around her a little bit before they took off. We didn't get to see him up close for long but I will never forget it. I emitted a sort of combo laugh and scream, unable to process the strange delight of seeing this little guy. He weighed 155 lbs. that day, and was perfect and tiny and gray like a baby elephant in a children's book.

Then we had the rare experience of seeing the male lion, with his big, fluffy brown mane, sit up and stare at us when our tram came into the station. He stayed like that for so long it's like he was posing. It was a gorgeous day, not too hot, and all over the park there were new residents. We saw a guy feeding a baby cheetah a bottle of milk, and Jarrah shoved her way up to glass, in front of the other people, past the sign that said "do not go past this sign." Jarrah also wants me to tell you that on the way back from seeing the Sumatran white tiger we got to jump up and down on the "bouncy bridge." And for 10 minutes afterward I felt like I was walking on a boat.

Sunday night I had planned dinner out (Jarrah was with her babysitter) at a new place I was itchin' to try. In a strange confluence, it was three doors down from T and G's hotel. It was called The Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room. I don't know what it was before, because this place is new, but it looked like it had been there since the '50s. And while you're there, you eat and drink like it's the '50s, tossing down your Harvey Wallbanger or Manhattan while waiting for the waitress to return with your slab of raw beef. That's right--raw. Everyone ordered the sirloin except me--I had to be different and get the filet, which was about a foot high and took several hours to cook. And I would know, because at the Riviera Supper Club, you cook your own meat. We threw the hunks on the huge, communal grill in the center of the room, and doctored them with teriyaki and Worcestershire (at least I did) and busied ourselves burning our garlic bread while they sizzled. Soon enough, our sides arrived at the table--four cheese Mac and Cheese, and Creamed Corn, and a baked potato the size of a Mini Cooper with a stick of butter melting through the center. I want to say the food was "a heart attack on a plate" but it's been done. In any case, it was all supremely delicious and evil. And we didn't stop there--we ordered an Apple Crisp with Cheddar Cheese topping, and a Chocolate Malted Creme Brulee. Each of these was the size of a family soup tureen. I've never understood when people say "I won't be hungry again for a week!" That's absurd. But this time, I was still recovering at breakfast the next day. Teresa got so full she couldn't sit down anymore and kept saying "I have to walk!"


We dropped Jarrah at school a smidge early, as we were catching a boat at the downtown marina--whale-watching! David and I had followed orcas in British Columbia, but it would be our first time cruising grey whales in the open ocean past San Diego Bay. The tour was 3.5 hours, which we assumed would be a bit much for Jarrah, and quite frankly, was a bit much for me. But it was a glorious day to go to sea, and the boat was surprisingly crowded for a Monday morning. We didn't get good seats, but in the end, no one sat down anyway--we were all poised at the sides, holding our breath, and I inhaled great hanks of long, brassy hair, attached to the teenage girl squeezed in next to me. Our naturalist, Kerry, from the Birch Aquarium, was a chipper and cheerful gal who talked the whole time, and we did learn quite a bit about what we were seeing. For most of the trip, that was basically water and kelp, but it was soothing to watch the boat cutting through the white foam. We headed out towards the Los Coronados islands, tiny outcroppings of rock that are part of Mexico, and eventually passed through some pods of dolphins. One of the pods was spectacular, about 50 Common and White-Sided dolphins surrounding the boat and leaping every which way. I marveled that the dolphins seemed to enjoy riding our bow--several at once would hug the front end so tightly we feared for their safety. Kerry kept saying they wanted to "play" with us--so interesting.

After a couple hours, I began to fear that we were one of those trips that would receive the "better luck next time!" vouchers for a free re-do, but finally, someone spotted the two grey whales we watched for the next half-hour or so. Or rather, the people on the other side of the boat all screamed in delight as one of the whales decided to "breach" or jump head-first out of the water ("Ohmigosh, that is SO RARE!" screamed Kerry) but none of our party saw a bloody thing. After that, we all stood (or staggered, or clutched) waiting for "blows" while the whales "sounded" underneath for five minutes at a time, and basically saw a whole lot of nothing except some expelled water and occasional glassiness on the water's surface which meant there was a whale somewhere...that we couldn't see. And then we had to turn around. But considering that Gina was heaving over the side at this point (hit hard by sea-sickness) and I was pretty banged up from falling over a bench when I tried to sprint to the other rail to see the freakin' whale that couldn't wait ONE MORE SECOND for me to get over there, it was time. All of us were strangely exhausted for the rest of the day, and David and I fell asleep on a bench inside on the way back.

This week was also momentous in another way...Jarrah was "Star of the Week" at her preschool. That is a big freakin' deal, in case you were wondering. The photo above shows her posing with her wall, which included her artwork, her "favorites" list, and a bunch of photos. I loved how she claimed "broccoli" is her favorite food. Yeah, right. Try sugar, eaten with a spoon from a bowl. And I think her Grandma and Pop-Pop will be kvelling that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. A "bone doctor," she told us. For some reason the kid has gotten interested in bones.

And this last one was just too cute and funny not to include. David went in to check on her one night last week when I was at rehearsal, and found her like this. She never woke up, even though he turned on the light and took a bunch of photos. I guess we can deduce that Jarrah got pretty tired doing all this sight-seeing.


Myrnie said...

Heehee, poor Jarrah- so tired! It's tough doing all that sight-seeing AND being star of the week...all in one week!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a week! I love the favorites list. Why am I not surprised Nathan has those exact jammies.

Marlene said...

All I can say is, "HERE'S TO MONTANA AND WYOMING!" See how I threw that "Wyoming" in there? xoxo

Anonymous said...

Oh my, I'd love to know exactly HOW Jarrah got into that position and fell asleep. Or stayed asleep. That is just hilarious!

And it sounds like you all had great fun!

Can I say what my favorite was, though? The glowing San Diego twilight sky in that picture outside the restaurant. That made me suddenly, achingly SO homesick for California! The sky does not glow like that in New England. Just does not.

Miss J

DrSpouse said...

Hilarious last picture. My guess is she threw herself dramatically at the bed and missed but couldn't summon the energy to move??

David said...

Yes, that last picture deserves to be last, as it's the best.

Patty Howells said...

Your description of going to the Coronado Islands reminds me of our honeymoon when we sailed out there. Eddie became seasick, and when he saw dolphins swimming alonside our boat he thought he was hallucinating. Finally I noticed the dolphins and Eddie realized he wasn't completely losing it.

I love the last picture of Jarrah. xo

Anonymous said...

Sounds fabulous! we went to the zoo last weekend and saw a baby hippo which was both cute and very bizarre... :) wish we could all go to the zoo together! :) Liz