Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Back from the family reunion

Miscellaneous observations from the road

Part of why you haven’t seen any new posts from me lately has been that Pat, Gerald and I have been off at a family reunion, and while Gerald had his own computer along on the trip, Pat hogged mine much of the time … you can see the results in the form of picture-rich posts on his blog, Desert Sea. By the time he got done with his posts, I was just too tired to do more than check my email and check up on other people’s blogs.

I suppose I could now try to reconstruct the events of the reunion, but there are a number of reasons for not doing so:

1. So much happened both on the journeys to and from the reunion and during the reunion itself that everything blurs together and I don’t have a coherent narrative.

2. I would have a really hard time coming up with blog nicknames for all of my relatives who don’t have online identities.

3. If I gave a blow-by-blow narrative of events, it would be boring to everybody who wasn’t at the reunion, and maybe also to some who were there.

4. I’m still tired, and I don’t want to be up until dawn typing a blog post, when I have to work tomorrow.

So I’ll just give a quick summary of the trip, and then make some observations.

The reunion was in Aptos, California, near Santa Cruz. It had originally been scheduled to be in Big Sur, but recent wildfires forced a change in plans. The New Mexico contingent traveled in two cars, the “slow car” with Mom, Fuego, MaK, and the Z, and the fast car, with Dad, Pat, Gerald, and me. The slow car took three days to get there; the fast car, two.

Santa Cruz is not too far from the Bay Area, where we have some acquaintances, but all of those acquaintances were occupied elsewhere while we were there – not that it mattered all that much, since reunion activities took up a lot of our time.

Highlights of the week: Meeting Jer at a British pub where the steak and kidney pie was authentic, but the peas were definitely not mushy. Hiking to the beach and obeying Zorro’s instructions to “phone when you get to the water” – I told him he ought to get his team out there; the sunset was fantastic, and everything was beautiful, and he really needs to get some practice in currents and tides.

Gathering in a meeting room at the hotel to take family members through a slide show of historic photographs, and of photographs that Dad took of what places look like now on a recent roots-tracing vacation. The current owners of the houses in Lima and Detroit have taken good care of them, including Gus the Ghost’s attic (can’t remember whether Gus was in Lima or Detroit). Cousin L is just about an identical copy of our grandmother. Z looks almost exactly like Fuego did at that age. Everybody remembers Helen and Margaret, nuns who, just simply by being there, changed the space around them, whether it was in Santa Fe or in Boston. Everybody also remembers Aunt Anne, one of the great-aunts for whom I was named, one of the strongest-willed women in Ohio – I’ve heard she was the first woman in Ohio to fly in an airplane, for example, and she was an early passenger on the trans-Canadian railway.

Taking a trip to San Jose, to a barbecue place where Cousin L was playing in a bluegrass band. She plays the upright bass. Some time in the distant past, another cousin advised Gerald, “If you play the bass, you will always have a job.” He was thinking of symphonies and jazz bands, but it seems to hold true for bluegrass and country and rock and just about everything else. Still, Cousin L seems to have a good thing going. The main disappointment is that she’s tucked away in back where almost nobody sees her – but, perhaps because she had family watching, the band let her do a duet with her husband (who isn’t a member of the band but who is musical and played a guitar lent by a band member for the duet).

Following the barbecue, meeting Jer’s girlfriend, “That Girl,” at her apartment in San Jose. She was worried about making a good impression. She had created a special dessert, which she called “Pure Evil,” for the occasion, and she had also baked a couple of pies. She didn’t need to worry. Any dessert that contains four or five different kinds of chocolate, all mixed together, is going to go over well with my family. When she met me, she said, “I recognize the hair.” Her hair is curlier than mine, a paler shade of red, but still red, and probably not artificially maintained the way mine is. If she and I and Cousin L showed up in the same place, we would all immediately get pegged as sisters. And that’s not a bad thing. I would like to have a better blog nickname than “That Girl” to refer to her … I’m almost thinking “Curly Green” – but I wouldn’t want to impose that name unless she’s read The Gammage Cup, the young-adult novel that Great-Aunt Carol wrote that was the runner-up for the Newbery Award the year I was born. (I always considered myself to be Muggles, and Jer to be Gummy.)

Visits to the beach: The hotel was not right on the beach, but rather, it was about a half-mile from the beach, and to get there on foot, we had to cross the Pacific Coast Highway. We went twice, and I didn’t find the effort to be rewarding.

Other journeys: We had excursions to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Great Basin Redwoods State Park. Both were awesome. Pat has some good photos from the aquarium on his blog. I especially enjoyed the state park. The family split up into separate groups according to hiking ambitions, and I was in the low-ambition group, which took a short loop trail, led by a college buddy of Mom’s who lives in the area and used to be a park docent. We greatly enjoyed the huckleberries, which were in full season. I imagine that That Girl could make an awesome dessert using wild huckleberries.

Watching sailboats: Wednesday, after the trip to the aquarium, Pat, Gerald, and I went to Santa Cruz, where there is informal racing every Wednesday. There were probably about a hundred boats out, although some of them might not have been racing. We were on a jetty just outside the harbor entrance, and it was awesome to see the boats come in, especially the first ones, which were just totally screaming along. I was just overcome by the feeling, “If only I could be on one of those boats.” We also discovered that the Harbor Authority parking police are on the prowl on Wednesdays; we had overstayed our parking meter by 20 minutes, and so we found an $18 parking ticket on the windshield.

There’s a heck of a lot of agriculture going on in that part of California. Most noticeable were tomatoes (not still-green things carefully packed in crates for shipment to supermarkets, but ripe ones, in hoppers similar to dump trucks, presumably destined to end up as ketchup or tomato paste) and garlic (in Gilroy, we drove right past a solid-waste transfer station without smelling it, because of the strong garlic aroma). If we just had some oregano, we could have had a great marinara sauce.

Another observation: The Mojave Desert is HOT! On our way to the reunion, the thermometer in our car read 109 degrees outside of Needles. On our way back, we got a reading of 119. Subsequent checks of the Weather Channel indicate that our car’s temperature reading was not out of line.

At Needles, there is an inspection station, to keep agricultural pests from getting into California. In the past, we’ve been stopped, and if we had fruit or vegetables or potted plants, the inspectors have been interested – or, if there’s a scare on (such as the Mediterranean fruit fly a few years back), some produce is confiscated. This time, the inspector just asked where we were from, and when we said “Albuquerque,” he just said “Have a nice day” and waved us through. But in the next lane over, vehicles towing boats got very close scrutiny.

I must report, if quagga mussels ever reach California’s inland waters, they will not have done so via Needles. These guys are extremely thorough about their inspections. They scrutinize every square inch of the boat, and also every square inch of the trailer upon which the boat sits. They also deserve hazardous-duty pay for doing these inspections in conditions under which most human beings melt.

Yes, these inspectors are less than popular with some of the boating public. I can understand the frustration of sitting in mostly idling traffic, waiting to get inspected, burning diesel fuel that, in California, costs more than $5 a gallon. But these inspectors are just doing their job, and they’ve been doing it well. I want to tell those guys in Needles to keep up the good work. I want them to know that I appreciate what they’re doing, even if most people don’t understand.

And then there’s another bit of hypocrisy. There’s a water shortage in the southwestern U.S. in general and in California in particular. In our hotel room in Aptos, there was a stand-up sign on the bathroom counter urging us to help conserve water – a towel hanging on the rack meant we would use it again, so it didn’t need to be washed, while a towel left on the floor was to be replaced with a clean one. Likewise, there were placards on the night stand with the instruction that we were to leave a placard on the pillow if we wished the bed sheets to be changed; otherwise, they wouldn’t be. We left our towels on the rack and the placards on the night stand, but even so, our linens were changed for fresh ones every day.

We’re also in the midst of an energy crisis, with the price of fuel and also of any electricity generated from said fuel going sky-high. On our return journey, we stopped in Kingman, Arizona, where, even after sunset, the outside temperature was still 103 degrees. When we entered our motel room, we were assaulted by super-chilled air. I discovered that the air conditioner had been set to 60 degrees, and when I turned the thermostat up until the compressor switched off, I discovered that the actual temperature in the room was about 68 degrees, a nice temperature to heat a home to in the winter. I turned the thermostat up to 74, and I probably could have lived with it at 78.

Later that evening, I was becoming annoyed by the volume of the noise from the nearby highway and railroad – this was a low-budget place, but that window seemed to be so poorly insulated that it might as well have been open. Then I pulled the curtain aside and looked, and I found that the window, directly above the air conditioner, WAS open. So, presumably all day, the air conditioner had been struggling to bring the temperature in the room down to 60 degrees, while outside air (the high that day, as reported by the Weather Channel, was 114) was coming in the window.

It seems that those in the lodging industry, whether the upscale hotel in Aptos or the low-budget motel in Kingman, could do much better by the planet. And it would certainly be better for those businesses’ bottom line if they were to save on their water and power bills. Especially where the guests have been asked to help with conservation, surely the housekeeping staff can also take part. And in the low-budget place, perhaps the management can point out that money spent on electricity is money that can’t be spent on the housekeeping staff’s pay, so thermostats and windows should be as important as beds and bathtubs in the room-cleaning routine.

Wow, what a downer of a note to end a summary of a family reunion that was, for the most part, a positive experience. Really, it was good. I wish there had been more time to be together with the relatives, all of whom are really great people to be around. Well, maybe next time …

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Blogger Tillerman said...

Pleased to hear about the authentic steak and kidney pie. As I recall, mushy peas are served only with fish and chips in England, so having S&KP with un-mushy peas was correct.

Your experience with energy and water wastage in the hotel industry is typical in the USA I'm afraid. European hotels seem much more energy conscious, often having card keys that switch AC and lights off when you leave a room, and timer switches in the corridors and lobbies that turn off the lights when nobody is there.

Tue Aug 05, 07:09:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Lydia Manx said...

Folks fail to put energy efficent systems in hotels when designed. In Detroit a friend of mine was in construction and putting in smart units that adjust the a/c and the heating in winter automatically. Most new offices have such controls.

Sounds like you had fun!

Tue Aug 05, 07:15:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

I had noticed three years ago when we went to Prague for Fuego and MaK's wedding, many of the toilets there have a choice of flushes -- a super-water-saving "little flush" for normal purposes, and a "big flush" for those occasions when more water is needed.

I had not seen such fixtures in the U.S. until this past week -- the Monterey Bay Aquarium has them, along with instructions posted in the toilet stalls for Americans who may not understand how the things work.

Meanwhile, I had an odd vision ... That Girl on the television show "Iron Chef," competing against a master. And the secret ingredient for this episode is ... huckleberries.

Wed Aug 06, 02:11:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Pure Evil may be proliferating. Tuesday, I had described it to my class (the discussion turned to family reunions, as I and one of my students had just been to them). This evening (Thursday), the students celebrated the last day of class with an impromptu potluck, and one of the students brought a fair approximation of Pure Evil. The substrate was denser, gooier, and lighter-colored than the original, and the student had enhanced it with shaved white chocolate sprinkled on top.

I shudder to think what might happen if this student and That Girl got into a chocolate collaboration ...

On the other hand, that opportunity might arise -- about half of this class has signed up for the next level in the section that I'll be teaching in the fall term.

Thu Aug 07, 11:58:00 PM MDT  

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