California Dreamin'

It's not the car I would have chosen.

For our Southwestern USA trip, I wanted an American car, one that I wouldn't ever want to own, but one that fit in with our trip. I envisioned a Ford Taurus or a Dodge Charger: something with a big engine that would take up the road. Big. Bold.

American.

When we arrived at Avis, in Phoenix, my brother-in-law, who drove my wife and me to the rental agency, joked with the agent about us taking a Mustang convertible: the agent, who was typing up the agreement, looked at me and asked, "Do you want a Mustang? I can give you a Mustang."

The car was in the same class that we reserved, and I was tempted, would have said yes if it was only my wife and me on this trip. I'm sure the kids would have been over the moon if we pulled up at my in-law's place in a performance car with its top down, but they wouldn't have liked to sit in the back, with luggage crammed around them, for the entire journey.

When we were in France, we rented a small Renault, and the kids had to put up with a cooler and camping gear, limiting their movement. I vowed to never do that to them again.

No, they deserved a spacious back seat, so I stuck with the car that they had held for me (which was parked next to that bright-red Mustang in the Avis lot).

It wasn't American, didn't stand out in the lot. It was a smokey grey Toyota Avalon. Off-white (light grey), leather interior. Not fully loaded but had lots of convenient features, including XM Satellite Radio and shiftronic transmission. What was important, though, was that all of our suitcases, plus my camera bag and tripod, my wife's backpack, and shopping bags fit in the trunk, leaving the kids plenty of room in which to stretch out.

The Avalon was also really good on gas, which saved us enough money that my wife didn't complain when I decided to pick up those extra bottles of beer at the Whole Foods. Gas prices shot up between Arizona and California (double), and so we filled up just before we crossed the border and only had to fill up once, in Temecula (where my company's North American head office resides) before we returned to Phoenix.


Interstate 10 cuts right across Arizona, coming in from New Mexico in the southeast, turns up through Tucson, and hits Phoenix before it heads due-west, into Southern California, where it ends in Los Angeles. It's largely flat and straight, between Phoenix and Indio, the mountains staying off to the sides, not really becoming a factor until you pass Palm Springs. Traffic was around you but never a problem, and I could keep the Avalon in cruise control, without overriding it, for most of that stretch.

The Avalon cruises like a dream.

We stopped for lunch in Palm Springs, home of the rich and resort area of movie stars. We ate at Sherman's Deli and Bakery, which is famous for its food and for spotting the famous. While we dined, I recognized two people that I have seen on screen and television, but whom I only recognized by face alone, and not by name (I'm famous for being really bad with names). One, an elderly gentleman, who I recognized from many police or crime dramas; the other, a younger man of Indian or Pakistani heritage, who I am pretty sure does comedy.

While I scanned the room, looking for more celebrities and eating my smoked meat sandwich, I received a tweet from another celebrity, one who lives in Los Angeles and who, over the past couple of years, has become virtual friends with me, thanks to my blog post about my Top 5—the fabulous Kate Kelton. Kate had read my tweet, in which I posted the photo of the LA/Phoenix road sign (see above) and wrote that I was California-bound, and in her response had invited me to an art show that she was having later in the week.


Yes, that's Kate and me, having a
FaceTime chat, back in October.
Yes. Kate Kelton invited me to an event. Me.

I immediately stopped looking around Sherman's for other celebrities I didn't know and who didn't know me. My day had already been made.

What changed my elation to heartbreak was that Kate's show was on the coming Thursday: by Wednesday morning, we were on our way back to Arizona and, by Thursday, we were back in Canada. From sunshine and surf to desert heat, to an ice storm. How I wished we could have stayed just a little longer.

So close but yet, so far.

It was my eldest daughter's birthday, that day (15 already!), and so we treated her to a delicious slice of chocolate layer cake from Sherman's bakery, but our real celebration would be later that day, when we reached our destination.

At La Jolla, we checked into the posh Hyatt hotel, where BMWs, Mercedes, and Porsches were being valet-parked. Boy, did I wish I had that shiny red Mustang then. We were only staying here for our first night, but we thought we should give DD15 a nice place to stay on her birthday, with a heated pool and hot tub as well as a comfortable bed.

As soon as we had finished checking in, we headed to La Jolla Beach to enjoy the sunset on the open Pacific. We walked out onto Rocky Point and watched the waves crash against the rocks, while pelicans and seagulls coasted in the wind.

It was a breathtaking sight.


Sadly, with all of our travelling through the day, having awoken so early in Phoenix, our birthday girl was exhausted and in no mood to celebrate, let alone wander the beach. Or eat. Or swim in the heated pool at the hotel. Or relax in the hot tub. We left the beach after the sun disappeared, picked up some take-out food, and returned to our hotel room.

Birthday girl was asleep soon after. Dreaming, I hoped, of a better tomorrow.

The California leg of our journey continues on Thursday.

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