Thursday, May 07, 2009

Day One: Atascadero, Here We Come!

Last weekend, David, Jarrah and I drove to the Central Coast of California for my sister Lindsey's "destination wedding." The wedding was pretty much just family, but since Thomas has nine siblings--all partnered, most with children--it wasn't all that small.

I had the best intentions of leaving by 9:00 a.m. (the drive-time was around six hours) but 9:00 found us unshowered, unpacked, and squabbling over who was responsible for forgetting to do what. It was closer to 11:00 when we headed out, and then we made it four blocks before I realized I had forgotten my iPod. I'm glad I went back--nothing like a good soundtrack to accompany glittering ocean views across Highway 1.

I know some of you are wondering how Jarrah did on her first big road trip--well, I'll tell you: she was a champ. She fussed so little that we never ONCE broke out the big ace--the DVD player. I had gotten her a squishy lap desk, which she made good use of, coloring and reading. And the most successful diversion was the one that made me cringe: a little set of Disney princess dolls where you can squeeze them in and out of rubber outfits. Of course, the microscopic shoes quickly vanished into the orifices in the car seat, never to be seen again, but Jarrah calmly explained that princesses like to go barefoot, so no worries. She gabbed and gossiped to (with?) those princesses for the better part of two hours on the way up, and at least an hour on the way back. Score! (However, don't ask about the magnetic board and neon letters that I whipped out in the last hour yesterday--it captured her fancy for literally as long as it took David and I to get back in our seat belts and reach for the ignition: "I want princesses now!")

I had various schemes (carefully researched) for stopping on the drive up, but in the end there was a bit of winging it, which worked out fine. We left too late to make it to Ventura for lunch, and round about L.A. I started wondering if we could find Stanley's. Stanley's is a restaurant in Sherman Oaks where I was first taken by a local friend about 20 years ago, and where I had my first Chinese Chicken Salad--it was love at first crunch of the mai fun. Now I really had no idea how to get there, but David looked it up in the Triple A guide book (I was driving at the time) and by some miracle, it was still open and listed. A couple of taps into the GPS, and we were on our way.

The Valley was a lovely 90-something degrees when we disembarked, but Stanley's was cool and crowded and buzzing with activity. The last time I was there, Sylvester Stallone was at the next table, and I joked to David that we might see someone famous, and then we did! Well, he's only famous if you watch Showtime's "Weeds," but we do, and there was the guy who plays Celia's husband, looking exactly the same as on the show. No one was noticing him--he's definitely what you would call a "character actor." Anyway, it was an exciting moment for me, followed by the famous salad, which was just as good as I remember. Even though they serve it in a bowl that seems like it could accommodate a family of six, I ate the whole thing.

Back on the road, we were soon in beauty territory, rolling green hills on one side, sparkling white caps on the other. Too bad we were moving ominously closer to a massive spiral of billowing smoke--we'd heard that there were fires in Santa Barbara. Amazingly, our proximity to that conflagration affected our journey not at all--we didn't hit traffic the whole day. We passed peacefully through Santa Barbara and stopped in the lovely beachside town of Carpenteria (as a child, I used to confuse this name with the one-stop rug shop "Carpeteria," but it's pronounced Car-pen-ter-EA) for gas and coffee and were quickly on our way again.

Now we had a decision to make, because we were invited to a fancy-shmancy dinner with the fam up in Paso Robles at 7:45, and while we were on track to make it there, I had a sense of dread when I anticipated dining in a linen-tablecloth establishment at Jarrah's bedtime after she'd been in the car for eight hours. I mean, she might have enjoyed it, but David and I certainly wouldn't. It was tough, but eventually I let go of the idea, and everything was easier after that. As it happens, we made the right decision--my mom said they were there until midnight because of slow service.

Back in our car, I was thinking that a little stroll around Solvang might be just the ticket--David had never been, and I figured Jarrah wouldn't say no to some Danish butter cookies. For the uninitiated, Solvang is a kitschy little place modeled on some kind of faux-Denmark, filled with windmill architecture and lots of bakeries. It's grown in popularity since the movie Sideways (filmed in the vicinity) and a rather successful theater festival, but on a Thursday in the off-season, it was nice and quiet and the weather--breezy, very warm--was perfect for strolling. Jarrah demanded ice cream right off the bat, and then continued to demand cookies, Swedish fish, abelskeiver and anything else she saw for the rest of the visit. David and I just enjoyed being able to stretch our legs. We strolled around town and ended up in a little village green, where Jarrah delighted in putting on a show for the bemused couples lounging in the grass (one of whom narrowly avoided getting their heads trampled when Jarrah decided to do a bit of running and screaming.)

Back in the car and free of obligations for the rest of the evening, we headed for San Luis Obispo, which is only 30 minutes or so from our hotel. When I was reading about the area, it just seemed like fate that SLO has a weekly street festival on Thursday nights, and my "traveling with kids" book was full of raves. We almost didn't make it, because no address was given, and after one wrong exit I announced that we would try only one more. As we rolled through the quiet streets, I suddenly yelled, "That lady has flowers in her bag!" That seemed like a sign. Sure enough, a few blocks ahead we could see the street blocked off, and all the people walking by. Very soon, we were parked and headed into the throng, a bit under-dressed, as a cold wind had whipped up as the sun went down.

Jarrah ordered a "pink penguin" from the balloon sculpture man, and David took her to the jump-jump while I worked out my car kinks at the chair massage booth. It was a little chilly with my jacket off, and the therapist rather disconcertingly chatted with all and sundry (just not me) as she worked, breaking into loud gales of laughter right near my ear with alarming frequency. But it was worth it to get the knots out of my neck.

We strolled the busy streets, filled with children--getting their picture taken with firetrucks, wearing balloon hats, pointing gleefully at the giant bear walking around--and inhaled the yumminess of tri-tip sizzling at several outdoor grills. Eventually, we reached a band, oddly but delightfully accompanied by a troupe of adult hula-hoopers, all dressed as...what? dolls? I was simultaneously horrified by and coveting their little outfits. Some of them had mad skillz with the hoop. And then the bass player jumped down and went a little wild with his hoop. I took a bunch of pictures of him. Jarrah was enthralled with the hoopers, and I encouraged her to run around with the other little dancers, but she seemed tired and stayed on David's shoulders. We watched the band for a long time.

Then we were hungry, so we walked back to the BBQ with the longest line, but they were all yelling--one after another--"Tri-tip OUT!" so that was that. Eventually, we did get a sandwich (and a slice of pizza for Jarrah) and ate on some steep steps overlooking the street. The food wasn't great, but the vibe was lovely, and the moon rose above us and bathed everybody in a golden glow. We were freezing by now, so we headed back to the car and the rest of our drive.

Atascadero is very small, and our hotel was about 10 feet from the highway. The Carlton is very grand, though, and I could tell I would like it as soon as we walked in. For some reason, they had no record of our reservation, but this inexplicably led them to offer us a much cheaper rate. I was sent to tour the room while David gathered the luggage, and it was very large, with two queen-sized beds and a bathroom fit for royalty, including a big jacuzzi tub. I would like to say that we all settled down and relaxed, but one of us was intent on jumping from bed to bed and screaming "I will live here FOREVER!" and "I'm NOT TIRED!" for the next couple of hours. It was eleven or so before she passed out, a little mound of purple in the middle of her huge bed (she insisted on sleeping with her head at the wrong end all three nights) and David and I didn't last much longer.


Stephanie said...

Wow, if that's just the road trip, I can't wait for the main event!

Myrnie said...

Haha- what a fantastic first day! I am SOOO glad the driving went well for you- it's always such a worry, isn't it?

I know precisely the plastic dolls you mean- two of Ernie's friends have them, and she loves them. Sleeping Beauty was left behind (at our house) after a play date...Ernie spent SO much time with that tiny doll before we remembered to return her.