Let me just say that, after you’ve driven a four-cylinder car for so many years, six cylinders feel like a friggin’ rocket. This was the first major roadtrip we took in the Dodge Intrepid we received from Dani’s grandmother earlier this year, and it was a true pleasure to drive. I have never reached 90 MPH with such ease.
It was a lovely little holiday. We burned down the five in about eight hours, including stops, on Christmas Eve with almost zero traffic. When we got to the Flaherty-Carns household (my mother’s place) we settled in by starting the laundry marathon. See, living in an apartment complex where you need to pump quarters into a machine to get your clothes clean is a drag. It’s made more so by the fact that there are only about five said machines to the 100 or so people who live in my part of the complex. Laundry tends to pile up like a landfill in our house. Knowing this, mom encouraged us to bring our laundry with us so we could do it there for free. When we arrived with only our trunk and back seat full of laundry, she was disappointed tat we didn’t bring it all.
Christmas was nice. With no room left ion the car for our gifts, Dani and I decided to open the presents we gave to each other before we left. I received a couple of nice sweaters, a long trench-style raincoat (DESPERATELY needed after some #$@! stole my old London Fog a couple years back) and what is, quite possibly, the greatest gift of all: GARDEN GNOMES!!!!!! And not those crappy cement jobbies you see at the Home Depot, which I would have been perfectly happy with. OH no! Dani got me two — a male and a female — traditional Nordic garden gnomes, complete with RED POINTY HATS!!!! Hand-painted, made of relatively fragile plaster (so they’ll actually have to be living-room gnomes, which is all the better in my eyes) and just totally beyond awesome. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING says love like garden gnomes. I almost cried.
I gave Danielle a couple of cool things, but the creme de la creme was the totally bitchin’ Sketcher’s Four-Wheelers. They’re blue with red wheels with little sparkles in the wheels and an American flag tag on the toe. She had mentioned about two months ago how cool she thought they were, but it was a bit of an off-handed comment. I then mentioned that Brittney Spears was tied tot hem and she immediately changed her mind. I discovered that, while they have a Brittney model, they’re not all hocked by Spears, so I figured it would be a good gift. Then I got nervous, as Christmas is always a test of how well I know her. Fortunately, I tend to know her slightly better than she knows herself. Her face lit right up the second she lifted the gift. It’s heft apparently gave it away and she was stoked, putting them on right then and there to go try them in our parking lot. I also got her a bottle of her favorite perfume — Calvin Klein’s Contradiction — which I don’t think anyone had ever gotten for her before.
We celebrated Christmas early with Dani’s family as well, since we were going to be out of town. Her parents are pretty groovy and they gave me some nice shirts and a sweater. Her brother Zack also gave me a really cool sweater (I was in desperate need of new clothes this year). But the COOLEST gift I got, aside from the gnomes, came from Tom and JoAnn, Dani’s parents: A KITCHEN TORCH!!! And not one of those half-assed jobbies you see hanging in your local pseudo-gourmet shop. Oh no. I can practically weld with this thing. It’s a Williams-Sonoma torch and it is just beyond cool. I can not wait to make my first creme brulee with it. I also plan on using it to heat soup. And anything else I can think of. Just genuinely awesome.
On Christmas day Mom, as usual, spoiled us. I’m an only child, which should explain a lot, so she tends to go a tad overboard. Add to that fact that she raised me on her own from the time I was seven years old and you get a good feeling for just how overboard overboard is. This year was relatively tame by comparison, but we still received enough DVDs to almost start a new library. I’m all about the The Simpsons Second Season DVD box set. I also got Band of Brothers, Ice Age and a couple of others. All in all, a good haul. Dani found this incredible cobalt blue vase on eBay that we gave to mom, who loves cobalt glass.
In addition to the videos, mom gave us each an inspirational book, which was odd considering that mom’s not usually the type to do that. I can’t for the life of me remember the title at the moment. Essentially, she intended to give the women’s version to Dani, who she has officially adopted as a daughter now that we’re seriously talking marriage. She inscribed something in the book that Dani was not allowed to read in front of me as it was guaranteed to make her cry, as did the card mom gave her. When buying the book, mom found a copy for men as well, so I also received that. It’s quite touching to see the two most important women in my life bond like that. It seems so common to hear about the mother hating her daughter-in-law or vice-versa, or for the woman’s family to not dig the groom, but in our case there’s love all around. Her family digs me and I totally dig them, and my mom loves Dani and Dani just friggin’ raves about my mom. It’s the best situation and I really totally dig it.
We weren’t able to see my dad while we were down which totally bummed me out. We had initially planned to see him on Christmas Eve, as we had planned on driving home the night before, but we decided that we’d probably be way too out of it to enjoy the visit. So we switched to the day after Christmas instead. On Christmas, Dad called us and said he wasn’t feeling well and had been feeling kind of sick for a while. He just wanted to sleep, so he said he’d come up to see us in April. That’ll make it almost 18 months since I will have last seen him, which sucks. It’s partially my fault. When I was unemployed, I just didn’t want to spend the money to travel anywhere, so I didn’t go home that entire time. Of course, he hasn’t come up here to see us either, so it’s kind of evenly split on that one. He’s been up here a couple of times to visit the wine country with one of his girlfriends, but didn’t have a chance to stop in and say hi. So, bummer all around.
I feel kind of bad for my dad this year. Last year, he got married for the fourth time in a ceremony that I presided over. They got divorced a few months later. So, this holiday season, he was pretty much alone throughout, and he didn’t sound too happy about that. I had really hoped to see him. Dani was all set to bake some cookies and a pie for him, since he doesn’t get much home cooking anymore. I’m concerned for his mental welfare as a result of all this, and don’t feel like a particularly good son for allowing him to sleep rather than driving out to see him. Granted, we’re talking at least an hour’s drive from Tustin, as he now lives in Sun City, but it still would have been a good idea, I think. It’s one of those situations where my dad and I don’t really see eye to eye. We don’t fight or anything, we just sort of realize that we’re totally different people. He’s always been more of the jock where I’ve always been a bit of a geek. That, plus all the weird crap surrounding the divorce (which was 20 years ago… I’m so totally over it, but I’m not sure he ever will be) makes for a fairly strained relationship. We both need to try harder, but it’s difficult when he’s way the hell down there and I’m way the hell up here. Despite the tension and our differences, I really love the guy. I mean, hell, he’s my dad. He’s made a ton of mistakes, but all that proves is that he’s human. And, as he gets older, he gets harder on himself for the mistakes he’s made. In the end, he’s really a good guy. I really hope he understands that.
Since seeing dad was out on the 26th, we chose to hit Disneyland that day. It was supposed to train on Saturday, which is when we’d initially planned to go, so moving it up seemed a good idea. Apparently, everyone else in Orange County agreed. I hadn’t been to Disneyland in almost a decade, which is odd considering that I used to go at least once a year when I lived in OC. They built California Adventure over the old parking lot, building new massive parking complexes about half a mile away. The new garages looked something like a scene from the Matrix. The newly revamped tram takes you from the garages to the park, dropping you conveniently off at the new Downtown Disney shopping district.
It’s really hard not to be cynical about Disneyland. As a child it held so much awe and wonder in me. As an adult, I’m savvy to the marketing blitz and the kind of thought that goes into the design of everything, which is built to take more of your money. Downtown Disney is a prime example of this. It’s essentially a shopping mall where you pay $8.00 for parking. It takes its idea from Universal Studios’ City Walk, which is another hyper-stylized shopping area. Knott’s Berry Farm pioneered the idea with the shops that sit right outside their theme park. You used to have to pay admission to buy certain souvenirs, but now you can get most anything you’d find in the park at the stores on the outside. The World of Disney store is like a mini-mall in and of itself just for Disneyland souvenirs. As they were having a 50 percent off sale for Christmas items, it was a bit of a mad house. We fell prey as well and bought a cute ornament with Minnie and Mickey under the mistletoe. I later bought Dani a figurine of the same scene as well as four of the little Christmas beanie toys — two for Dani and two for my nephews who we planned on seeing the next day.
It costs $45 to get into EACH park. That’s $45 to go to Disneyland and another $45 to get into California Adventure. I’ve heard that California Adventure isn’t really worth the $45, so we’ll probably be waiting until another time to visit it. Disneyland, on the other hand, was packed with a capital P. There were lines for everything. We arrived at about 12:30, so the park had been open for more than four hours. We missed both Christmas parades because we were otherwise occupied and really didn’t want to wait for seats for them an hour ahead of time like everyone else. The “It’s a Small World” ride wait was 120 minutes, and they had to close the Fast Pass on it because its schedule was full. ON IT’S A FRIGGIN’ SMALL WORLD!!!!! Dude, I remember when that was, like, a guaranteed no-wait ride. Just wild.
We ate lunch at the Carnation Cafe, which was groovy, then sauntered off. I had heard somewhere that they had changed the Star Tours ride, but I was apparently mistaken. It hasn’t changed at all since they installed it. The Innoventions ride was VERY cool. They had closed the rotating carousel a long long time ago shortly after one of the cast members was crushed to death on the rotating stage. You used to sit in seats facing the middle, which rotated to provide the show. Now, you enter on the outside, watch a little presentation on one of the four subjects they represent, then are set loose to wander about the inside playing on various computers and such. I finally got to see a Segway up close and personal but, unlike my buddy John, I didn’t get to ride it. The computers had some fun software on it for kids, but, working with them all day, I wasn’t as excited about them as I once was. They did have an area where you could surf the Internet through Google, but it was extremely limited in what you could view. I couldn’t find any porn at all. What’s more, I couldn’t even access my own site! I was so hoping to leave this homepage up on the screen for someone to view, but no go. Total bummer.
We ate dinner at the Blue Bayou, which was a first for Dani, then hit the Haunted Mansion. I’m not sure when they started doing this, but they dressed the mansion up for the holidays in the style of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was REALLY cool. The narrator explained that Jack Skellington and his crew had taken over the mansion and we were witnessing the result of two holidays colliding. The ghosts that pop up from behind the gravestones all wore Santa hats. The talking statues were replaced by talking jack-o-lanterns and, instead of the hanging man in the entrance at the elevator, it was the giant head of Jack staring down at you saying “Merry Christmas”. Very, very, very cool.
After that we went to watch the fireworks. The whole reason we went to Disneyland for the holidays was because Dani had heard that it was snowing on Main Street. We’d heard various things to back that up, including someone telling us that the “snow” was actually flakes of soap, which disappointed me to some degree. In all the times I went to Disneyland, I don’t think I had ever seen their fireworks show. Since half the park flocked to see it, my friends and I usually took advantage of the open lines and went on the more popular rides. Besides, you can usually see the fireworks from our house in Tustin, so I never saw the need to pay for that privilege.
It turned out that the snow only fell during the fireworks show, so we camped out a spot near the Rivers of America and waited. The fireworks were simply the best fireworks I had ever seen. I felt my anti-Disney cynicism literally melt away as I watched them. I was actually in awe, which is hard when you see the things every year. They had these rockets that looked like shooting stars, leaving a bright glowing trail behind them as they went. They were totally my favorite. They also had bursts that, when opened, looked like smiley-faces. Spectacular just doesn’t seem to cover it. At the end, they popped up the blue lights and the “snow” began to fall. It was actually soap suds, not flakes, and the foam fell on us just like a heavy snowfall. It really was magical and romantic and just plain gorgeous. I could not get over just how beautiful everything was and found myself really admiring the Disney folks for pulling that off. My sense of awe was bursting and, for the first time in years, I really felt that Disney magic.
We went on the Pirate of the Caribbean (I love that ride, for some reason) and then decided to head home. We slept pretty well that evening.
The next day Dani wasn’t feeling too hot, so I drove out to Riverside to see my brother Bill on my own. He and his wife had a second child last January whom I had never seen. I’m the God father to their first son, Michael, and I love that little monster. Their newest son, Zackery, is just the cutest, sweetest baby I’ve ever seen. He was remarkably well behaved and has one of those smiles you just fall in love with. Michael spent all of his time showing me the cool things he was building with the Zoobs I bought him. That kid cracks me up.
Bill, his wife Melissa and I went out for dinner and got away from it all for a bit. Bill works two jobs to support his family and literally never sees them. He’s up at 5am and usually not home until midnight. He took Friday off to spend it with me. He was glad to have the excuse to take some time off. I miss those guys in a big way. I wish we all lived closer so that we could spend more time together. Bill is not my biological brother, but we refer to each other as brothers since we really are the closest thing each of us have to a sibling. We’ve known each other for as long as we can remember, having met when we were about a year old. He’s only a week and a day older than me, so we’ve always celebrated our birthdays together, and we grew up right across the street from one another.
I sometimes find myself feeling sorry for seeing Bill working as hard as he does and all that. For a while, I considered it a bit of a mess. But, upon just a little more inspection, it’s easy to see that there is absolutely no mess to be found. Yes, he got married and had a family when he was rather young (he and his wife were 20 when they got married and had Mike). And, yes, he has to work two jobs to keep everything together. But you’ve never met a man who looked as happy as he does. Bill is a man who looks at life and says, “OK, no problem.” I think it kills him that he needs to spend so much time away from his family, but aside from that he just sees everything as stuff that just needs to get done. I never hear him complain, nor does he express any sense of woe over it. He recognizes that he has a responsibility and, rather than shirk or fret over it, he just puts in everything he’s got every day to make it work. And damned if he doesn’t make it look easy, though we all know it isn’t. I only wish I had that kind of drive. I swell with pride whenever I think of him. His sense of maturity makes me look like a teenager in comparison.
Our last day at home was spent watching some of the movies we received, relaxing and, for Mom and Dani, doing a bit of baking. It was good to just hang out with Mom, yap and have a good time. I don’t go home nearly enough. I love my mom and really enjoy when she’s around. Dani has been working on her to move up to the Bay Area, which Mom has expressed some interest in. I think that would be a great idea. I originally moved up here to go to college and selected this area primarily because of its distance from home — close enough that I could easily get home in an emergency, but far enough away that I could claim some independence and no one could sneak up on me. Having Mom around would be a boon. Having both parents around would be pretty cool. Having Bill and his family up here on top of all of that would be simply awesome. But I can’t expect everyone to uproot their lives to be near me just because I decided to leave home.
I have no real strong desire to move back home, though I did find myself less hateful of OC on this trip. I think I’m realizing that home is, essentially, where you make it. I love the Bay Area, but it is beginning to wear on me a bit. Perhaps if I lived somewhere other than Hayward I’d be less jaded about the place. That’s something we’re working on, though.
The traffic on the drive home royally sucked, as the road is paved with idiots, but we still somehow made it home in eight-and-a-half hours. The house is a total mess, and I’m back at work, but all in all it is kind of good to be home. I miss everyone already. But that’s just another excuse to head back home when I have the chance.