Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Final Mistake

I had trouble sleeping last night. I guess I was anxious about finally returning home, anxious about sleeping in my own bed, anxious about no longer being a guest. I wanted to leave Phoenix early because I knew I had to get to Palm Springs around lunch. Liam was anxious too. He wanted to play as much as he could with his cousins before we left. It's amazing how fast toddlers can completely destroy a clean room. I liken it to my theory about graffiti, If you don't paint over it, it will eventually just create an illegible layer of paint that resembles a solid. Cleaning a toddler's room has to be similar to that, why pick it up if it is just going to end up there anyway. Think of all the time Sisyphus would have saved had he not rolled the boulder up that hill. I bet you his room was dirty too.

Thanks to my Uncle, breakfast was early, fast, and wonderful. Since we were not able to carry out my plan of only taking out of the car what was necessary, we were delayed slightly repacking the car. Three quick hours to Palm Springs, lunch with my Dad, and we're back at home. That was my final mistake. Believing that my children would be able to step foot into my Father's new retirement mecca without swimming for hours in his newly constructed pool. I told Susan we would just roll up and honk the horn so the kids wouldn't even have to see the pool. We were going to spend the following weekend there anyway! Once again Susan just nodded in agreement to shut me up.

The quick three hour drive to Palm Spring took a little longer than anticipated due to Liam's desire to wear big boy underwear instead of his usual pull-up diaper. He was inspired by his cousin of the same age not wearing diapers and I suppose needed to keep up with the latest trends. This inspiration led us to stopping at nearly every rest stop and gas station to allow Liam to relieve maybe a teaspoon full of pee into toilets of various condition. He was very proud of himself, and so were we, but it did extend our trip about an hour.

We arrived in Palm Springs and my plan not to enter my Dad's house was ruined right off the bat because we of course had to allow Liam to use the restroom. The kids knew that we were going to eat first no matter what so they refrained from stripping and jumping directly into the pool. Did I mention it was 115 degrees? The heat in Palm Springs made Phoenix its bitch. I couldn't blame the kids for wanting to swim, but I so wanted to get home. We all agreed to have a quick bite at the nearby Panda Express before a "quick" dip in the pool. This time my entire family nodded in agreement to shut me up.

We ended up pulling into the driveway a little past 6 pm. Not bad considering we ate lunch and swam. We even left our swimwear there because we were returning the next weekend. Liam, who wore big boy underwear successfully all day, promptly pissed in his bed as soon as we got home. We didn't have the rest stops to remind us to ask him if he had to pee every 15 minutes. The animals were alive (both fish remaining alive was a shock to me), and the garden didn't die. I paid the boy next door to take care of the dog and the yard, something I did for the neighborhood that I grew up in. Once we unpacked the car (for the final time before repacking and going back to Palm Springs) the trip had officially come to a conclusion. Although I began this trip not really looking forward to it, I had a blast. It was wonderful spending so much time and experiencing so much with my family. It was nice meeting new relatives and seeing others we hadn't seen in quite awhile. Of course, the DDD tour was also a nice bonus. There is something about the road trip that you miss when you go on a package vacation by plane. My car made it through over 1500 miles and extreme heat without one hiccup- I guess my family did as well.

As for the blogging, it has also been an experience. I have enjoyed it, but it does take time and patience from your significant other. There were times I should have been helping when I was typing away. I appreciate those of you who have been following, commenting, or just reading occasionally. I even had a request to continue blogging after the trip is completed. Perhaps if something lights a fire under me sufficiently I will, but until then----Goodbye.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Beginning of the End

As has been the case this past week, I awoke before everyone else and went downstairs to partake in the free continental breakfast. After preparing a cup of coffee the way I know Susan likes, I step outside and am greeted by the smell of Santa Cruz, California. The distinct smell of pine needles, rosemary, and the ocean breeze reminds me of something that can only be experienced in California, and for some reason I was experiencing it in the parking lot of a Hyatt Place near the Albuquerque airport. Although I'm sure it was the easy to maintain rosemary bushes that surrounded the hotel, but the romantic in me told me that it was my desire to go home that triggered the aromatic memory. If it wasn't, why wouldn't I have noticed it during the rest of the week I stayed there?

Before leaving Albuquerque (boy am I glad I won't have to type Albuquerque anymore) we promised ourselves that we would hit Sophia's Place one last time before leaving. It was a Monday morning and once again it was empty when we arrived. Susan, being the creature of habit that she is, ordered the Huevos Rancheros and I ordered the Sophia Omelet. Being the Los Angelinos that we are, we ordered off the menu for the kids and had them make up some eggs and bacon. We don't usually order off the menu, but I know it's something cool people in LA do. So being in Albuquerque and naturally feeling a bit more sophisticated than the local yokels, we thought in this case we were cool enough to attempt this stunt. Actually, the people at Sophia's are just awesome and would do this for anybody, but it is nice to be made to feel cool.

While we were eating, a large family entered the restaurant, clearly on a little DDD tour of their own. I figured this out when the entire clan surrounded the Guy Fieri picture for a family photo. Those of us who are veterans on the DDD circuit believe it goes against etiquette to make a big deal out of the large Guy pictures left at each stop- it's just uncool. The family came and went without even finishing their food, too busy worrying about the experience itself rather than experiencing the food Sophia's has to offer. My last experience at Sophia's allowed me to leave Albuquerque on a successful and memorable note.

The drive ahead to Phoenix would be the longest stretch of driving on the trip- 456 miles to be exact. It wasn't something I was looking forward to, as I had done it just 4 days prior. Therefore, I decided to focus on aspects of the drive that I may have not noticed on the way there. The aspect in question turned out to be the numerous "Indian" tourist traps that line the highway offering a variety of enticements to get you to pull over in the middle of nowhere USA. These places are introduced to the weary traveller by thousands of gigantic billboards that line the highway proclaiming this and that every 40 yards or so, "Authentic Indian Blankets, exit 224, 4 miles," "Clean Bathrooms and Dreamcatchers, exit 224, 3.8 miles," " Free Petrified Wood, and Mechanical Dinosaurs (not a joke), exit 224, 3.6 miles." This would go on for miles, building up the anticipation until you really did have to exit the freeway just to see if all of this could be true. I would start to believe that the entire Navajo Nation would be waiting at exit 224 ready to sell me blankets and show me their state of the art dinosaurs. Instead, exit 224 would consist of a double wide trailer with a few gas pumps and paper mache dinosaurs.

The one we decided to stop at made the promise that we would be able to see the "Continental Divide." I'm no geologist, but I think the continental divide is where two continental plates come together. Not being a geologist, I really have no idea what this would look like. Since I'm down to a quarter tank, I'm a little thirsty, and the kids need to pee (prime road trip stopping conditions) we decide to take a looksee. Well, I filled the tank (35 dollars), bought a few drinks and snacks (8 dollars), and let the children relieve themselves in the relatively clean facilities (priceless). However, I was disappointed when I discovered the continental divide is apparently a covered wagon with the words, "Continental Divide" written on the side. Those of you who may be geologists, or even have taken a few units of geology in college, please confirm whether or not this is a scientific fact. If not, I will have to inform the good people of the "Indian Village" near Thoreau, New Mexico that they may be misleading the public. Come to think of it, the "Indian Village" actually looked more like a gas station and a Kwiky-Mart.

About 320 miles into our 456 mile journey we returned to Flagstaff. This is the point where we head due South toward Phoenix and the final leg of the trip. This is also where a normal person begins to feel like they have driven too much, yet must continue because the end is so close. Fortunately, the stretch of drive between Flagstaff and Phoenix is quite beautiful. In roughly an hour and a half you descend from the evergreen forest of Flagstaff and slowly watch the environment morph into a desert littered with those iconic cacti only found in the Southwestern United States. Although I was quite ironically nearly driven insane by driving, at least the view was pleasant.

We arrived in Buckeye (a suburb of Phoenix) around 7 hours after leaving Sophia's Place back in Albuquerque. My cousin lives there with her husband and two beautiful children (she's probably reading this so I think I just earned some brownie points). As an added bonus, my Aunt and Uncle and their two dogs were also visiting. This was my chance on the trip to allow Susan to see my side of the family. Although it really isn't the same because there is no language barrier and Susan worked with my Uncle for 10 years as teaching colleagues at Bell High in Los Angeles. Despite that, they graciously allowed us a night's rest before the final 320 miles back to Whittier. They also threw Naibe a little birthday party that made her feel special. Liam was in hog heaven because he was able to play with his cousin Jacob who is only a few months apart in age. 18 month old Aliyah, or Yah Yah, as she is called, was tolerated by her cousins as she followed the boys around while they were pretending to shoot every living thing in sight with their makeshift guns (usually fingers or toy golf clubs).

Packing and unpacking an SUV filled to the rim with luggage, toys, and electronics- twice, at two different hotels, neither with any type of luggage cart or conveyor belt leading to the room can be tiresome. My plan in Phoenix was to only take out the necessary items required to sleep and dress the following day. We were only going to stay about 14 hours or so right? Toothbrush, underwear, and change of clothing is all we need to take out of our bags. This would be the perfect plan for the so far perfect vacation. Susan was of course in agreement only so I would shut up, I would later find out. So yes, despite only spending about 14 hours at my cousin's house in Phoenix, we emptied the entire car and repacked it the following day. At least it was only about 105 degrees.

Tomorrow we will finally be returning home. Of course we will stop in Palm Springs to have lunch with my Dad, but we will finally be home!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Ties That Bind

Being an only child, and the son of an only child, my idea of a large family get together involves about 20 people at a Chinese restaurant. I wouldn't say we are like the white family from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but we definitely aren't the Greek family. I come from a family that doesn't get together or even speak to each other often, but when it comes down to it, we would do anything for each other. My Mother has two brothers and a sister, and between them they have 6 children. From that generation, of which I belong, there are 5 offspring. If my math is correct, if we all got together, on my Mother's side only, there would be about 22 people. If Susan's family got together, on just one side, there would be a cast of thousands. Think the battle scenes from Braveheart. I suppose that's why Susan loves that Greek wedding movie.

The day after the Quinceanera was the traditional Menudo at the home of the newly crowned woman, Brianna. For once, we were allowed to sleep in a bit before heading across town (remember in Albuquerque this only takes 15 minutes) to the family get together. For those of you not in the know, the menudo I'm speaking of is not the boy band that gave the world Ricky Martin, but it is a Mexican soup with the main ingredient being the stomach lining of a cow. It tastes much better than it sounds, but it is a little stinky before you add the lime and chile. The Menudo event however, tends to occur in the Mexican family as a means to extend any party of any kind. After a wedding, "Come to the Menudo at Tia Hortencia's!" After a first communion, "Eh, let's go to the Menudo at primo's!" And of course, after a Quinceanera, "Get your butt up and drive across Albuquerque, even though we saw them 5 hours ago, to the Menudo."

As we drove up to the house, the garage door was open and within it was the typical gathering of men with cowboy hats, large belt buckles, and alligator boots, all smoking and laughing. This group should not be confused with the Hollister shirt wearing, pointy elf boot kids from the day before. Walking past these men and greeting Susan's father, who is typically found within this group, we enter the house to be greeted by the women and children inside. As soon as we enter a table is cleared and bowls of menudo are being shoved my way. I feel like Ray Liotta in the Goodfellas when he brings Lorraine Bracco to the restaurant and bypasses the huge line out front by walking through the kitchen, only to have a table made for him in the front row. It wasn't quite that extravagant, but Susan's family really made me feel welcome and I appreciate it.

Every room of the house was packed to the brim with Vargases. I didn't attempt a headcount, but there had to be at least 70 people there throughout the day. I was later told that this was only a portion of the family. Sitting there, eating my slightly stinky but extremely tasty menudo, I thought about how wonderful it is to have families like this. On my Father's side of the family, the few who are left only get together when someone dies. I'm not sure if these people hadn't seen each other in years or days, but everyone was laughing and talking like they do this everyday. The children, including my own, were playing outside while the women were in the family room and kitchen talking about God knows what. Although most of the men were outside smoking, a few of them, myself included were in the living room awaiting the World Cup Final.

As this is not a soccer blog I will not bore you with the intricacies of the "beautiful game," but I will tell you I enjoyed my time at Susan's cousin's house immensely. Perhaps it was the match, perhaps, it was the food, but I'm almost certain it was the shining example of familial love created by the Quinceanera.

Susan has informed me that my past few posts haven't been as funny as the first few, and although I was unaware of my trying out for Last Comic Standing, I feel it necessary to explain that oftentimes the most beautiful things are hard to poke fun at. This day was one of those times.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Meat, Cowboy Boots, and Hoochie Shorts

When I was a young boy, probably 10, I impressed the chef at Tadich Grill in San Francisco by downing a 20 ounce porterhouse steak all by myself. I know this because he actually came to our table and congratulated me on my eating prowess. Although over 20 years have passed since that memorable experience, I continue to have an ongoing love affair with all things beef. Despite already making a stop on the DDD tour earlier that morning, tonight was our chance to hit the Monte Carlo Liquor and Steakhouse; thusly named due to the liquor store some patrons walk through before entering the restaurant. You actually don't have to walk through the liquor store as there is an entrance in the back, but the experience is unique and fun nonetheless. The Monte Carlo is your typical old school steakhouse. Every town in the country has one of these dark and dingy places filled with red vinyl booths. Think The Buggy Whip in Westchester, or Steak n' Stein in Pico Rivera. However, what sets the Monte Carlo apart, other than the liquor store and the now all too familiar Guy Fieri picture, is the hodgepodge of Greek and Americano themed decorations plastered all over every square inch of available wall space. From a brass plate of the Parthenon, to James Dean, back to Greek Orthodox pictures of the Virgin Mary, and finally back to Elvis. The centerpiece of the entire decor is a gigantic picture of the original, now deceased, owner who looks so Greek that I swore he was going to spray Windex on me.

This was the first place on the DDD tour that was actually busy. We arrived fairly early for dinner and had to wait about 15 minutes, but as we left there were at least 20 people outside and 20 more inside waiting for a table. We were lucky enough to be seated directly underneath the family patriarch, so other than my paranoid feeling of being squirted with WIndex I felt a little special. I of course, ordered the porterhouse, which has been a must for me at every steakhouse since that day in San Francisco. Susan ordered 14 ounces of Greek marinated pork on a kabob, or as the Greeks call it, souvlaki. The kids had steak fingers, which are deep fried strips of breaded steak. I hope they one day realize what a wonderful father I was by allowing them to eat steak, breaded and deep fried in oil. Susan thought her pork was a bit dry, which was true, but it was full of flavor. My steak could've been compared to any high end steak house I have ever been to, which would've undoubtedly charged me twice what I paid at Monte Carlo's. For the value and experience I recommend this place. Stick to the steak and you can't go wrong.

The following day, we had plans to go back to Sophia's to experience heavenly Mexican food. Unfortunately, we had to scrap those plans and go to the local Waffle House instead (more on this in a bit). Very much like my plans to leave the house during a vacation, I know I must do the same thing when preparing to go to a special event. Therefore I asked Susan how much time she needed to get ready to go to the Quiceanera- 3 HOURS! She will tell you that she has to get both kids ready and herself, which is true, but I did give Liam a bath, and she did Naibe's hair before we left for breakfast so I have to believe that most of these 180 minutes is dedicated to making herself beautiful. Now as her husband, Susan is always beautiful to me, so I naturally assume that three hours is quite a long time to prepare yourself for anything. I don't think I could fill up three hours preparing to climb Everest, let alone get dressed.

So the decision was made to go to the nearby Waffle House instead of the 15 minute drive across town to Sophia's. I have of course heard of the Waffle House before, but being from LA I have never been to one. This turned out to be an experience in it itself. Living directly behind a Norm's in LA I have come to expect massive crowds waiting for mediocre food on a Saturday and Sunday morning, yet this place wasn't too crowded at all. I'm not sure whether this was due to the fact it is near the airport, the struggling New Mexican economy, or the food. After eating there I can safely say it isn't due to the food. I don't think I have ever been to a restaurant in which grits come with every single meal. The waitresses call out the order rather than give the cooks a ticket. Eating there was just like being in an old episode of Alice.

After waiting the pre-arranged 3 hours, we left for the church, the Quinceanera, the actual reason for going on this road trip. Now I know that much of what I am about to say about the entire event may seem like I am making fun of or criticizing this rite of passage, but I really mean no disrespect. I know that in just 5 short years I will have to go through this with Naibe, and what I witnessed scared me more than anything. I now know that Susan and I will have to spend several years of income on a ginormous party that includes every aspect of a wedding other than a groom. Maybe if we find a groom by then we can kill two birds with one stone.

Without a doubt, Saturday was the hottest day of the trip so far. Being the dutiful husband that I am I was wearing a suit, not the light tan colored suit I use during the summer, but the black one I wore for my wedding. The tan suit, besides sporting a small hole in the pants, is beginning to get a little snug around the torso. Susan did buy me a gym membership for Valentine's Day this year (muy romantico), but it's hard going everyday when you've been a lazy ass your whole life. So I was sweating in my black wool suit in 100 plus degrees noticing that everybody filing in was dressed quite casually. I attempted not to grind my teeth as I noticed jeans and shorts seemed to be the dress of choice for most of the spectators. Now, not only was I one of the only non-Latinos in the whole place, but I was the only person in a suit. I literally stuck out like a white guy at a Quinceanera; perhaps this was unavoidable.

The ceremony itself was pretty standard- for a groomless wedding. The teen of the hour was dressed like Madonna at the 1985 MTV Music Awards. There had to be a point sometime in Quinceanera history in which some person decided that 15 year old girls should wear the puffiest wedding dresses they could possibly find. I think the Rock could have done his finishing move on her and she wouldn't have fallen to the ground due to the massive amounts of puffiness from her dress. Despite my joking, Brianna, did look beautiful. The amount of bling she was wearing complimented her mouth full of braces; it was cute and she was having the time of her life. The highlight of the ceremony for me was the Ross impersonator rockin' the Casio and singing the religious Quinceanera songs set to 1980's Journey beats. His mullet more than made up for the pain I was feeling as I was slowly melting away inside Italian wool.

After the ceremony, everybody made the 20 mile journey to the Route 66 Casino outside of Albuquerque where the reception was to take place. As I walked through the doorway to the banquet hall I suddenly saw the world like a giant Richard Scary book. You know those children's books with the cat and the worm with the little German hat where all the pictures have labels above every object. Yet, in my vision, the labels became price tags: $1000.00 bucks for the live conjunto band (that's the sardine dance inducing type of band I spoke of in the last blog), $800.00 bucks for 3 hours mariachi, $400 bucks for the DJ, $1000 bucks for flowers and decor, $500 bucks for lighting, $10,000 bucks for hall rental and food for 200 guests. If the computer shorts out while I'm typing this it is from the tears I am shedding for fear that this will be coming true for me sooner that I think. I really have to admire Susan's cousin who made this happen for her daughter without help from a father. Although I know her family helped out a great deal, I'm sure she did much of the leg work in making this event happen and I hope her daughter never forgets it.

For those of you who have never had the experience in attending a large Mexican party with a live conjunto, it is quite an experience for the casual gringo. However, this was the first time I have experienced this type of party outside of California. Being a high school teacher I am able to follow trends as they come and go, but trends are clearly regional. In Albuquerque, the cool kids apparently like to wear Hollister shirts (California company by the way), white cowboy hats with the brims bent all the way up (like those gigantic foam ones you used to be able to win at Magic Mountain), and cowboy boots with the toes so pointy they look more like Legolas from Lord of the Rings. Initially, my regional bias kicks in and I want to make fun of them, but then I start to think about the kids in Watts wearing white t-shirts 10 sizes too big for them and baggy pants sagging below their cheeks and realize that there is no difference. For the girls, hoochie shorts are clearly the fashion choice of the day. These girls, I assume most under 18, were beyond club gear, this was street walking wear. And to think, just several hours before we were all in a church, blessing a young girl's passage into womanhood. If your shorts and your chonies are the same size then something has to change. My only hope is that five years from now, the fashion trend for girls will be large unflattering jumpsuits. I suppose I'm just getting old.

We sat at a table with several of Susan's cousins and their husbands. They were all extremely nice and kept buying me beers all night. I felt bad for not buying more myself, but every time I turned around there was another one ready for me to drink. The food wasn't anything to write home about, so I won't. Those of us at the table belonged to the generations of thirty somethings in between the younger and older generations at the party. We don't feel old, we still have the urge to party, but our kids are running around like monkeys, we feel the need to talk about our jobs, and in one case, reading a Southern Living magazine. Susan wanted to stay until the end, but in the end wasn't able to. She had a horrible headache, which is something I hear often, but this time really believed her. I might have just earned myself a bunch more headaches on that one.

The Quinceanera was a large and successful party. Brianna had a huge smile the entire day that never faded, and that is what matters. Tomorrow we will go to Susan's cousin's house for Menudo. The long drive home is approaching like the nightmare that it is. I am looking forward to getting home, just not looking forward to the drive.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Comfort Food

This morning I rediscovered how good food can be a truly emotional experience. Thus far, every meal on this trip has been a lesson in extreme frustration. How can something so cute and so happy be so evil while we are just trying to eat. I'm sure by now, rumors are flying across Arizona and New Mexico about the horrible parents who allow their 3 year old boy to run around restaurants holding a butter knife like a gun, scream at the top of his lungs every 15 seconds, and do absolutely nothing about it. Believe me, we do attempt to control his feral behavior, but like a feral dog he forgets what we say 10 seconds after we scold him. Yet, this morning, the breakfast we had at Sophia's Place in Albuquerque took us to a place in which misbehavior does not matter. It was a place where chili verde and huevos rancheros blocked out all screaming and we were left with a euphoric feeling that only really good Mexican food can leave you with.

This was of course, the second stop on our DDD tour. I knew we were going out with Susan's Aunt and Uncle, but I wasn't sure we were going to Sophia's. I was also a bit worried about driving halfway across town (which in Albuquerque only takes 15 min.) for a restaurant I've never been to. Although the experience at Brandy's created some unforeseen reservations about taking the DDD recommendation for the second day in a row, we decided to go ahead with the tour. Once again I expected to see a line out the door and was met with a nearly empty restaurant. As it turns out we just happened to beat the morning rush, because by the time we left the place was packed.

Sophia's Place is tiny. There are a few tables inside and a few outside. The menu is scrawled across several chalkboards and apparently changes daily depending on what's in the fridge. They don't have a freezer so everything you get is about as fresh as you can get. Although tempted to get another breakfast burrito, I went with the breakfast tacos. My wife, her Aunt and Uncle all had the huevos rancheros, while the kids split some french toast. I mentioned yesterday that simple things like two eggs and bacon can't be made special- I was wrong. The beans on my plate took me back to my college days when my roommates would sit around the table sifting through uncooked beans looking for pebbles before cooking, what was until today, the best beans I had ever eaten. The carnitas included with my wife's huevos rancheros melted in my mouth with the exact amount of heat that only someone truly gifted knows how to create. I won't go on about wanting to lick my plate, or being happy that Liam didn't finish his unbelievable french toast topped with fresh fruit, so that I could finish it, but I can tell you that I barely noticed Liam's tantrum towards the end of our meal. I can't even remember why he threw himself on the ground. All I can remember is the sense of happiness I had after a truly wonderful meal and the giddiness that surrounded me knowing that we are to return tomorrow.

I know I am writing this bit earlier than usual today. I have the time because Susan is napping and this time change, even though it's only one hour, is affecting me. I was half-asleep posting last night. Tonight will be the third stop on the DDD tour. We are heading to the Monte Carlo liquor and Steak House. It's a 30 year old Albuquerque institution that requires you to walk through a liquor store to get to the restaurant. Tomorrow will be busy with the Quinceanera, but I can't wait to go back to Sophia's. It will definitely make up for the hours of Spanish I will be listening to, and not understanding. It will also make up for the hours of cowboy ranchera dancing that I will be forced to watch. I say watch because Susan doesn't like the way I dance and doesn't even bother asking me. Looks simple enough to me, sway from side to side and move with the sardine-like circle that is created on the dance floor, all while pretending I'm a cowboy. I can do that, can't I? Well, I have to go now, Liam is doing what he calls, "making Shorty food." Shorty is our dog and I will leave the interpretation of his quote up to the reader.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ghetto Red Hot and Freezing

The day began at Safeway in search of prunes for the kiddos. The near constant consumption of cheetos has plugged them up so good that BP is calling for advice. We then plugged the address of the first DDD stop into the GPS my Mother lent us and we were off to Flagstaff. I have come to realize that I have become part of an undocumented breed of travelers created by the exponential advancement in personal electronics. I probably shouldn't have said "undocumented" in Arizona, but you know what I mean. Before we leave each day I must set up the GPS device, turn on the bluetooth (not the kind that you stick in our ear like Uhura, but one that clips onto the visor like a garage door opener), hook up the IPod, and turn on the DVD for the kids. Every time we begin a trip, even to the local gas station, it takes 15 minutes just to get going. This is a breed that only people with older cars can be a part of. The newer cars have all of this built in, while the rest of us losers must buy thousands of gadgets specifically created to make those of us with older cars look like air traffic controllers every time we start the car.

There are two restaurants in Flagstaff that were highlighted on the Triple D; a Mexican place with a Caucasian cook and a regular diner in a strip mall called Brandy's. Knowing that Susan is a closeted Mexican food snob, I knew option number one was out of the question. Let me say that there is nothing wrong with being a food snob. I am a proud sushi snob. Every time I see someone order a spicy tuna crunch wrap a little part of me dies. However, as Brandy's Restaurant and Bakery is supposed to have quite a breakfast, I thought driving the 30 miles to Flagstaff from Williams for breakfast would be worth it. Even though it was a Thursday morning, I half expected to see a line out the door like at the Pantry in Downtown LA. There wasn't a line or even a wait. In fact there was a posted sign that politely asked us to seat ourselves. I also expected to see Guy Fieri pictures up all over the place. There was only one picture on the wall proclaiming that he had once been there.

Susan ordered 2 eggs and Canadian bacon and wondered what was so special about the place. Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay's love child couldn't make 2 eggs and Canadian bacon special so I wasn't all that disappointed. I ordered the steak and egg burrito that was a bit smaller than I expected, but was loaded with lots of cheese and lots of meat. Large amounts of meat and cheese make most things worth it so I was generally happy. Despite this, I wasn't blown away by the place and wouldn't go out of my way to go there again, but we did walk away with something memorable. Our waitress had the biggest guns I've ever seen on a woman! I found it hard not to stare at her tribal tattoos encircling her arms that must have had the diameter of my thighs. Susan told me they put me to shame, but being confident in my Red Dead Redemption and Final Fantasy skills I could not be put to shame by a pair of guns on a female waitress in Flagstaff. Even so, I gave her a big tip to avoid being pummeled on the way out.

After breakfast we set off on the second leg of our journey toward Albuquerque. The Northwestern part of Arizona that leads into New Mexico is really not much to speak of. We did pass a meteor site that had we not just seen the holiest of holes the day before I might have been interested in. I figure once you have seen the most beautiful hole ever created, there just aren't any other holes that can even begin to interest me (insert vulgar punchline here). I also wanted to get a picture of this billboard that read, "The Best Vote for America: McCain/ Palin," but I was too busy wiping the tears of laughter from my eyes to pull the camera out. I don't even think McCain believed that.

After the steak and egg burrito I started really craving a sweet tea from McDonald's. For some reason I can't get enough of the stuff. Of course after salivating and obsessing over having the taste in my mouth for nearly 60 miles, the McDonald's in Gallup, New Mexico doesn't even offer it. This could have sent me into a cranky family depressing rage, but on the way out we witnessed some local culture. Now let me preface this story by stating that what this country has done to the Native Americans cannot be forgotten. Native Americans are a proud and diverse people who had their land and way of life stripped from them. Apparently Gallup is a product of this imperialistic take over because it resembles South LA if South LA was packed with Native Americans. In the 10 short minutes we stopped at the McDonald's in Gallup, a cop harassed a homeless guy, and a woman got into a physical fight with what I can only assume was her mother. She had just called Liam a sweety pie too! At least if you live in Watts you can drive somewhere to escape it. In Gallup you are trapped by hundreds of miles of nothing until you hit civilization again.

As you know today was Naibe's 10th birthday. She spent the entire day complaining as usual, "I can't believe Liam is being naughty on my birthday," "I can't believe I am stuck in this car on my birthday," "I can't believe I don't have any presents to open on my birthday." She seems to forget the entire tetherball court we built for her and allowed her to open before we left on this trip. Nonetheless, I know everyone wants to feel special on their birthday so Susan and I tried to figure something out that she would enjoy. Turns out it was the pool at our Hotel in Albuquerque. Even though the wind was blowing at near gale force and it seemed like 20 below, we all got in the pool. Susan and Liam lasted about 20 minutes before they had to leave due to risk of frostbite. I decided to stay in with Naibe another 20 minutes because I knew this was her birthday wish.

Tomorrow, breakfast with Tia and free day in Albuquerque.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Disneyland Sucks!

I was determined this morning to get an early start. I wanted to wake up at 7:00 am to take part in the complimentary continental breakfast our Comfort Inn provides by 8:00 am. I was also determined to spend as little money as possible in a state that declares all people of color possible illegal immigrants (more on this later). For some reason, once my family is on vacation we are able to remain on schedule quite well. We walked down the hall to the breakfast area and as we waited in line for the small styrofoam cups of coffee, the tiny bowls of cereal, and the two waffle machines for a full hotel of at least 40 rooms, we decided to just go to our standard- McDonald's. So maybe just a little money to the local businesses won't encourage them to vote for racist legislation?

After breakfast we drove the 50 or so miles to the South entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. This was the only thing during this trip I really wanted to do. If I am going back to Albuquerque, then I am at least going to stop at the Grand Canyon. I was excited and a little nervous because I had no idea what to expect. I tend to over plan things in my life and often end up disappointed. I over plan in the classroom, which is a good thing. I over plan in my personal life, which can be a bad thing. I also over plan all of our family trips, which sometimes makes me a bit anxious if things don't go as planned. Yes, a normal person, a sane and good person would go with the flow and enjoy the fact that he is spending quality time with his family, but this is something I am working on. After paying the 25 bucks to enter the park (good for 7 days, and coincidentally doesn't count toward my political issues because it is a National Park) I really had no idea what to do. This is a rarity for me.

For those of you who know me, I am an admitted Disney whore. My family and I love anything and everything Disney. We love it and don't care if we pay a 500% mark up because it is Disney. Therefore, as blasphemous as this may sound- Disneyland sucks---- compared to the real thing that is. Until now, my only reference point for the Grand Canyon has been the train ride at Disneyland. For the Disneyphile this makes sense, to the yet to be converted I will explain. After the train at Disneyland departs the Tomorrowland station you enter a tunnel that contains a fake scenery of the Grand Canyon filled with fake plants and stuffed animals (the taxidermy sort, not the 500% mark up sort you buy in the Disney stores). The background is a painted mural of the Grand Canyon that scrolls buy as you listen to Donkey music. And you thought I couldn't get a burro reference in three days in a row. The landscape is over within a few seconds and the train continues on to the Primevil World that scared the living shit out of me when I was a kid. Now that I have seen the Grand Canyon I may never ride that train again, or at least get off at Tomorrowland.

The Grand Canyon is the second most beautiful thing I have ever seen with my own eyes in my entire life; Liam's birth being the first. Although it was a bit gross and awkward because he was delivered cesarian and there were a bunch of medical students sharing the moment with Susan and myself. I'm not sure I will ever get over how breathtaking it is. I am certain however that the adjective "Grand" does not do it justice. Once our initial shock subsided we joined the ranks of tourists attempting to get as close to the edge as possible to get the perfect shot without falling off. Naibe and I did our best to become the next victims of the tourist fly trap, but we only wound up with some great memories.

We then set off on a trail known as the "geologic trail through time." As the Canyon is over one billion years old you can only imagine how long this trail is. The trail is lined with stones from the many layers the Canyon is composed of, each one of them sliced down the middle and polished smooth. I must admit, this was probably and most likely will be the most beautiful walk I have ever been on. Yet as we walked what seemed like the 270 mile length of the Canyon there was Susan touching each stone and fantasizing how it would look as our kitchen countertop. I say what seemed like 270 miles because it was probably 3 miles at the most. Yes I nearly passed out twice and an elderly Mexican couple took the more difficult path while I took the easier path for disabled hikers (don't you think I didn't notice them snickering either), but it was a walk I will never forget. We took lunch at the famed El Tovar Hotel, which looks like The Country Bear Jamboree threw up in Arizona, and rode the bus back to the car.

Swimming and a quick stop at the dumpiest theme park in this world and beyond kept me from my plan of undermining Arizona's immigration law. I was going to hang out at a Home Depot and wait to be picked up unlawfully by a confused law enforcement officer, thinking that this would start a chain reaction of wrongful arrest lawsuits that would crush the entire system like Hugh the Borg with an individual consciousness in Star Trek, but that will have to wait. The theme park was well worth putting aside my revolutionary plans for a bit. Halfway to the Canyon in Valle, Arizona there is a Bedrock Flintstones theme park/ RV park, yes you read it right, a theme park/ RV park. You don't even have to pay the five dollar entrance fee to truly appreciate the wondrous tackiness that is American culture, the parking lot is all you need.

Tomorrow we leave for Albuquerque and begin my next over planned phase of the journey- the DDD tour. No this is not about going to Vegas, it's about food. I want to hit as many spots as possible as that Guy Fieri guy hit on his show, "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives." The first one on the list is in Flagstaff and once again we will skip the generous Comfort Inn spread to have breakfast there. I promise this will be the last money I spend in Arizona before hitting the barely blue state of New Mexico. By the way, tomorrow is also Naibe's 10th birthday. We have to figure out something special for her because she is not thrilled about being on the road during her birthday. Susan shot down my Deer Farm idea due to tick season, how she is aware of this I have no idea.

I'll let you know how this goes tomorrow.