Week Eighteen (3-9 June 2014)
Like the Man With No Name, we followed the setting sun west through the mountains and sands of the Mojave Desert, but in steel wagons rather than on palfrey, to make our return to the Golden State. Place names, set by Franciscan missionaries of old and with Spanish airs that smacked more of the direct Castilian sort, stood out like blazes letting us know that we were, indeed, on the right trail. Bernardino, Diego, and Joaquin were just a few of the saints honored by roadsigns announcing places further to our west as we moved along the path from Nevada to the City of Angels.
After a hiatus stretching more than four years, a clear indicator that we had reentered the eclectic state of California as we drove toward the Pacific came in the form of a nighttime radio talk program focused on how to expand one’s capabilities in the realm of psychic warfare. (Not something you’d encounter so readily on the more “conservative” East Coast where we began this journey.) Though we crossed the state border into SoCal and, at heart, we tend to resonate more with the NorCal culture, the return was a warm experience.
Signs announcing the ongoing drought and need to conserve water triggered flashbacks to our prior residency here. Those signs also left me wondering about how much longer the American people can expect to have true food security with a national breadbasket that is in a longterm and constant state of want when it comes to a crucial element for agricultural success–water.
As we rolled into our last stop on the mainland, the coordination and logistics needs of our journey kicked into high gear. Many of the aspects of our move from this point relied on perfect timing. For example, the cars had to be meticulously cleaned in preparation for USDA inspections before being loaded onto cargo ships bound for the Big Island, and one vehicle required the last minute replacement of a cracked windshield to qualify for shipping. With our vehicles accepted by the company and in transit for several weeks, we were able to arrange rental transportation for our remaining days in LA and for when we arrived in Hawaii until the arrival of our personal vehicles. We were then at liberty to secure our plane reservations to get ourselves to the islands and hotel reservations for our initial arrival.
The actual ship that will carry our cars–the Mahi Mahi.
With our property on the Big Island still being cleared of trees, we scrambled to secure a longer term rental home to provide shelter until we can occupy the promised land (thank God for Craig’s List). During this time, we continued to dialogue with folks out on the island who are working to prepare the land for us (it is all moving ahead, despite the challenges of the terrain and vegetation), and with folks awaiting my arrival to further process me for a possible part-time gig to bring in a little cash. Our ongoing search for an appropriate and affordable work vehicle did not surface any candidates during this time. (There must be a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited for us out there somewhere.)
Exciting? At times. Stressful? You have no idea… Eyes ahead, we pressed on.
Jehovah Jireh Weighs In
Having no real plans for our stay in Los Angeles, other than to arrange for our cars to be forwarded to Hawaii and for us to secure plane tickets to launch ourselves toward the islands, we moved toward the city using a travel model more heavily centered on faith than Priceline. About halfway across this great nation, we received an unexpected invitation to stay near the city gratis with retired Christian friends of the extended family–with folks who had never met the six of us before. Turned out to be a delightful stay, not unlike discovering some long lost kin. Evening conversation with our geologist host, over glasses of full bodied California red, were peppered with discussion of stratigraphy, diatomite, and shale (most engaging for this student of archaeology). Daily breakfast was rounded out by a range of fruit from the back yard, reminding us of the food bearing plot we left behind in Virginia and of what lays ahead in Hawaii. Tips on composting and fruit tree grafting were exchanged on an ongoing basis. (T.C. and Amy are, simply, the best.)
Other aspects of our LA stop–though fraught with complexity–pleasantly resolved in a manner that would confound the student of Murphy’s Law and defy the odds. The last minute requirement to replace a cracked wind shield? Completed in 3 hours, after walking in, for around $150. After hours of scrubbing, vacuuming, and high power rinsing our cars to purge all earthly biological matter for the good USDA–and concerned that we may not pass the inspection–we were told that the inspections may not even happen. Without transportation, we turned to a rental car agency that, unprompted, decided to upgrade us and knock $200 off our bill. Finally, having no real plan for recreation at this last stop, given our frugal budget, an in-law (a gifted animator) in the employ of the late Mister Disney’s namesake stepped forward to provide us with free passes to that world famous park in Anaheim, rounding out the hectic move-related elements of our stop with a little entertainment for the kids (and kids at heart).
(For those who do not subscribe to a faith-based explanation here, if you see an application for Occam’s Razor in all of this, do tell.)
Walt’s Special Place
What is a visit to SoCal without a salute to Steam Boat Willie, a parlay with the original Pirates of the Caribbean, a whirl around the Haunted Mansion? We hit the park at opening and closed the place down at midnight. The “Magic of Disney” was alive and well, as evidenced by the fact that we Hawaii-bound visitors’ first entertainment experience of the day was the decades old, Polynesian-themed, animatronic Tiki Room. During the course of our visit, we were greeted on several occasions by the likenesses of Lilo and Stitch, and the hula dancers in It’s A Small World seemed to jump out a little more than they have in times past when we have dropped in both here and in Orlando.
(As a side note, it is a little known fact that waiting lines at amusement parks were designed by the Nazis to spur lay folk to birth scientifically applicable ideas that would advance the war effort. Why? Researchers in the employ of the Third Reich were convinced that prolonged standing and shuffle walking would produce the hypnotic conditions and increased blood flow to the brain that are known to spark genius. Black Forest Cake and Goose Stepping are reputedly just two of the more well known results of this effort. For me, I came away from this day (and hours standing in line) with a thought: amusement parks and a zombie apocalypse both rely on large groups of smelly humans congregating and slowly (very slowly), but intently, shuffling for hours toward unseen goals, be it a 2-minute ride or a meal of human brain.)
The Last (Chinese) Supper
Seasoned visitors to LA who share an appreciation for things culinary understand that, with such a large Asian population, the city and its environs offer some of the finest Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and other such foods this side of the Pacific. Realizing that LA may represent our last chance for some exceptional Chinese food for some time, the Hong-Kong-born bride made sure to set us up with the best eats that we could afford.
First, a stop at Din Tai Fung with extended family who reside north of the City. (If you are unfamiliar with the international phenomena of this restaurant, and its famous Shanghai-styled dumplings, it was selected by the New York Times in 1993 as one of the top ten best restaurants in the world and its Hong Kong branches have earned Michelin stars. Google it. Better yet, seek out one of the franchises…it is that good.) We had a great time catching up with the bride’s cousin and her family while scarfing down an exceptional assortment of handmade dumplings, noodles, and cold dishes.
Then there was the run for dim sum. Not just any dim sum, mind you. We walked into a restaurant, carefully selected through vigorous research by the bride, that took me back to my time spent in Kaoshiung, Kunming, and Hong Kong. For starters, we entered the place through a maze of aquariums that rivaled those in Monterey Bay or Baltimore Harbor–a vast assortment of live sea creatures that were lazily swimming out their final days, oblivious of what lies ahead for them just around the corner in the kitchen. To give you a sense of the range of live fare, let me just say they had lobster of both the spiny Pacific and the classic Maine sort and the live crabs ranged from snow to dungeness. A longtime SCUBA diver and lover of marine biology, I couldn’t even identify some of the many assorted fish.
To help you better picture this place, I’ll note that it was the type of establishment in which you actually get quicker seating if you have a large group because it draws, and is set up to accommodate, extended families. Though walk-ins, our party of six was immediately seated after being ushered past a waiting area full of paltry parties of twos and threes. All around our large round table, equipped with the standard Lazy Susan and situated in a mostly red room adorned with mirrors and dragons, were seated other big groups, mostly of the pure Chinese variety. Not many folk of European extraction among the patrons here; I definitely stood out. The bride received one menu (the good stuff) and I was presented with a list of tamer fare, in English. Folks sitting around us bore the countenance, dress, and hairstyles of everything from triad sub-lieutenants to Shaolin priests to recently arrived Beijing State Security personnel. I swear the head waiter was a brother of Jackie Chan.
We stuffed ourselves on everything from fried durian dumplings to braised cow stomach to lobster congee. Oh so good….
Overseas We Go
Ever looking for the least costly way to execute this complicated life plan, we learned that the cheapest way to fly one-way to the 50th state (in the middle of the South Pacific) is via the airline of the 49th state (up near the border of Russia) by way of Oregon and Washington. All-in-all, a 17-hour journey to execute a trip that should be covered in a 5-hour direct flight from LA. (An interesting commentary on the disjointed state of our economic, monetary, and commercial systems when an individual can pay less (in terms of short-term personal cost) to travel further, use up more jet fuel, and create a larger carbon foot print. Honestly…how much longer can this kind of nonsense go on?)
We set out to Los Angeles International, the infamous LAX, at 4:00 a.m. and the kids muscled through their boredom in various ways (to include working on home school essays):
So….that’s all for now. I’ll leave you here with a quote from the 9-year-old, the young Mencius:
“This road trip is making us a closer family.”