Thursday, September 24, 2015

West Coast Vacation: Staging in Santa Monica

Our first few days were spent in Santa Monica, California, visiting with our daughter Sarah and getting ready for the road trip.

We flew to Santa Monica from Indy on Saturday morning.  It was a 7:15am flight, which meant getting up way early to do the hour drive to the airport.  This meant disturbing the routines of our two Boston Terriers, Beans and Sox. 

If you live with dogs, you know that they develop a sixth sense about your activities.  Beans, our older BT, gets nervous whenever we get out the suitcases.  She starts to shiver and will hardly get out from underfoot until we drive away.  Mary got smart this time and put both dogs in a back bedroom while she got the suitcases out and set them on our bed.  While Beans' radar was twitching while we packed, she didn't get alarmed like usual.  On Saturday morning, Mary took them into the back room while I loaded the suitcases into the car.  That diversion, along with a couple dog biscuits, allowed us to slip away without a lot of drama.  (Don't worry...we didn't leave them alone for two weeks!  Our other daughter, Katie, is house sitting.  She and fiancé Adam came out later in the morning.)

We were on the road by 4:30.  It was a dark drive to Indy, compounded by construction - concrete barriers crowding the shoulders, dim lines, lanes rerouted - and rain.  We white-knuckled it through to the airport.  Not a great start for a driving vacation.

Running the gauntlet through airport security is always a hassle.  Nine times out of ten, my bag gets pulled to the side and the TSA agents have to inspect it.  This morning, though, it was Mary's turn to win the lottery.  Her bag ended up in the bad suitcase lane, and a terse agent (remember -  it's 6:00am and his job is to rustle through peoples' personal belongings) asked permission to search it.  Mary said "Sure, go ahead.  I don't know what you're going to find, though."  As the agent opened her bag, she muttered "Oh, shit.  I forgot!" 

"Forgot what?", I asked.

"My shampoo and conditioner.  I forgot to put them in the bag we checked.  Damn it!"

At about that point, the TSA agent pulled three plastic bottles from her suitcase - shampoo, conditioner and eyeglass cleaner.  "Sorry, ma'am, these are larger than 3 ounces.  You can't take them on board."

Now I'm standing there thinking how much can this cost, five or six bucks?, when Mary says to the guy, "I hope you can take that stuff home to your wife.  It's fifty bucks worth of product!"  (This is why I don't enquire about what a trip to the stylist costs, nor am I ever told.)

"No, ma'am.  We can't keep it.  You can go back out to the lobby and check your bag, if you like."

Mary muttered something, and I stepped in.  "Just let it go", I said, and guided her to the end of the line and on towards our gate.

Thankfully, the flight was uneventful.  I took a nap while Mary read a magazine.  She doesn't sleep on a plane.  Her explanation:  "I can't sleep.  I have to be ready in case the pilot needs me to fly the plane." 

After a couple hours in the air, the pilot announced that we should look out the left side of the plane.  It was a beautiful clear morning and we were flying over the Grand Canyon.  We had a great view.

Sarah and Pearl, her French Bulldog, met us at LAX and drove us back to their apartment.  Along the way we passed what, to us, was a typical crazy California sight - a CVS drug store that had a two story high, three-dimensional figure of an evil looking cross-dressing clown on its façade.  I didn't get a picture because we were anxious to get to the apartment.  "We'll come back later for a photo", I said.  That statement became the basis for our first new rule of the vacation:  If you see something photo-worthy, take the picture now!  Don't plan on coming back to get it later.  You won't...especially if you have to contend with LA traffic.

Mary's brother, Eddie, drove up from Carlsbad and met us for brunch.  We don't get to see him very often, so it was a fun way to start our time in California.
We checked in at the AirBnB apartment mid afternoon.  It was in an apartment building in downtown Santa Monica, about 7 blocks from the beach.  Nothing special, in fact it was smaller and not as well equipped as the online description had led us to believe.  We quickly discovered that the internet and cable TV did not work.  Yep, we wanted to get away and disconnect.  Be careful what you ask for!
However, the temperature in Santa Monica was in the mid-90's, much higher than normal for them.  Many places, including Sarah's apartment, didn't have air conditioning.  We stocked up with wine and snacks from a nearby grocery store and happily spent the late afternoon and evening sitting and talking.  Yes...talking.  Remember that?
On Sunday I bought an LA Times and enjoyed sitting on the patiodrinking coffee and reading a real newspaper.  (The Columbus Gazette lasts me about 5 minutes on a typical Sunday!)  While I read the book review section, Mary read the real estate ads aloud:  So-and-so director's estate is up for sale for $55M.  Marginally known actress selling her big house for $12M.  She bought it 3 years ago for $9M.  Wish I could get that type of appreciation!
Later in the morning, we walked to the beach and along the walking / skating / biking path for a mile or so til we got to Sarah's side of town. 

There was a lot of activity on the beach that morning.  In addition to the joggers and bike riders, there were local surfing schools holding classes near the water's edge and some aerobics classes being held in the sand.  Of course, there was also beach volleyball.  We saw three teenagers doing acrobatics off the concrete curb.  They took turns running across the sidewalk, leaping up onto the curb and doing flips in the air.  Mary asked if they could do it together, and they obliged.

Away from the beach, we wandered through the local Farmer's Market.  It occupied almost a full city block and was open all day on Sunday - imagine that!  We sat on the sidewalk and ate delicious burritos stuffed with organic vegetables, rice and feta cheese while we listened to a quartet mangle some otherwise good songs.  You gotta take the good with the bad.
On Sunday evening, Sarah recommend that we have dinner at Seasons 52  ( ).  It was our first great meal of the trip.  Our waitress, Stacy, had a great sense of humor and was very knowledgeable about everything on the menu.
We began with appetizers.  We had an Ahi Tuna Tartare that was fabulous.  It was layered with wasabi-avocado mousse and a tropical salsa and was served with Hawaiian sea-salt crisps.  (I could have ordered a second one and stopped there.  OK...who am I kidding!) 
Along with it we had a flatbread with a trio of roasted mushrooms, garlic confit, spinach, green onions, goat cheese and truffle oil.  Also delicious.
As an entree, I had Asian-glazed Chilean Sea Bass with organic black rice, snow peas, shitake mushrooms and a micro wasabi.
Mary had a wood-grilled pork tenderloin with sweet potato mash, saute of bacon, French green beans and Brussels sprout leaves and a zesty jus.

Sarah had a filet, which looked delicious, but I didn't get a picture.
All of it accompanied by a chilled Viognier - a crisp white wine we've come to enjoy, but don't find on many menus.

On Monday we got serious about the rest of the trip.  Mary and I started by walking several miles to  to Sarah's place and back.  (We'd left something in her car the day before!)  We then had a nice al fresco breakfast at the Blue Daisy Café (, a block from our rental.  Mary's was the best - a bagel with salmon, cream cheese, capers, onions, tomatoes and cucumbers.  I was tempted by big breakfast sandwiches and benedicts, but opted for some oatmeal with strawberries, bananas, honey and cinnamon.  (Something about the healthy southern California scene must be rubbing off.)

In the early afternoon we took an Uber to LAX and picked up our rental car.  A few minutes of stress as they had difficulty preparing the rental agreement to match the cost we had booked. 

Problem solved, we asked Siri to get us to In and Out Burger for a late lunch.  Mary had been on a previous trip and we said we'd go once on this trip.  We arrived at about 2pm to find the parking lot full and the drive thru backed up 10 cars deeps.  After circling the lot a couple times we found a spot and went inside.  There had to be 12 - 15 people working in the kitchen and front counter.  The place was running full bore and everyone working there was smiling!  (I'd like to know their secret...and share it with employees and servers everywhere!)  Our burgers came out hot and delicious.

On the way back to the apartment, we made a couple stops to pick up a cooler, some ice and a variety of supplies for the trip. 

We had one last dinner with Sarah on Monday night at a local tapas restaurant - Manchego (  It was a warm night and the place was not air conditioned, but we had a great time trying a variety of the small plate dishes.  (It was also dark - no pictures.) 

We really enjoyed getting to spend some time with Sarah, to talk at length about her work in the law firm, and to see the area where she lives.  We'll have to make it back to Santa Monica again soon. 

We took an Uber back to the apartment and packed our bags, ready to set out on the road trip the next morning.

1 comment:

wijohnst said...

Great post. Glad you guys are having a nice time.