I sat in a couple of fairly decent hotels, drinking coffee in the morning hours while the teens were abed, reading. Currently, my book of choice is called Behind the Beautiful Forevers. This book is about the kind of poverty that makes you feel like a total shit for your irritation regarding your hotel's lack of air conditioning, and the fact that its "pool" is about the size of a bath tub, begging you to do 1000 laps before bed.
Travels with my teenaged daughters made me feel sort of like a kidnapper. I declared "we are going on a trip", and mind you, they were happy enough with the prospect. They never complained (well not very loudly) and they made tremendous adventure mates. I can, and did, rip them from the far more interesting world which they inhabit, and I do not, to spend a few days with a middle-aged Mom. And with the other 17 million people who chose the Central Coast of California as a dandy place to spend 4th of July weekend.
Seriously, who goes to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk on the 4th of July? OK, everyone, and us. But it seemed to me we were the only legitimate visitors, and everyone else was just foolish and were they REALLY going to eat that deep fried Twinkie? I dropped the girls with some cash and promises to be back as soon as I found parking, which it turned out was all the way back at the hotel, and the 2 mile walk after the 1 hour it took to get from Boardwalk back to hotel was rather a relief. For me, anyway. The Girls were dubious. At least they got to ride the Giant Dipper. It made the day both fun and educational.
Travels to tourist-ridden places brings out the snob in me. Truth be told, that snob is probably not so deep under the surface. But more than snobbery, it brings out the questioning mind, the one who recalls a quote a friend shared recently, "think of the poorest person you've ever seen and ask if your next act is of any use."
Monterey Aquarium is a favorite of mine. I have been there perhaps 10 times in my life. Pre-children, when I was still a teenager myself. Then with my little kids in tow. Then with older kids, and this weekend with two teens. WHO CHOOSES JULY 4th WEEKEND TO GO TO THE AQUARIUM? OK, everyone, and us. Thankfully I had my tickets beforehand and could avoid the 60 minute line, after the over 60 minute 2 mile drive through town in a traffic jam of people dying to walk down Cannery Row. When we got into the aquarium, I felt suffocated by the throngs of unhappy, whining children and obese adults (snob, I know), and the people pointing at these amazing sea creatures and saying "ewww that's so gross". I almost turned around and left, but J just gave me this look like, Mom, you have to be kidding me here, and I pulled myself together and made the best of it. Rewards: sea otters, penguins, sharks, tunafish, ocean sunfish, jelly fish, sardines. All somewhere in the range from awe-inspiring to unbearably cute. But the treasure of my day was this magnificent octopus. It spread itself into its full sail, tentacles reaching and it is just so hard to describe how lovely it was.
After the crush of Monterey (Steinbeck was puking, I am sure of it. Though in reality I bet Cannery Row was pretty disgusting and horrible back in the day), we were driving back to Santa Cruz and I turned off and up this single land road, in the higher hills where the redwoods grow, and into a quiet space that re-inflated my soul. No, seriously, it was like someone gave my soul CPR, though technically the new guidelines no longer involve mouth to mouth/chest inflation. At the end of this road was The Land of the Medicine Buddha. We prayed with the prayer wheel. We hiked (a bit; mind you, two skeptical teens in flip flops are at my side). Prayer flags everywhere, the sky intensely blue and SO quiet. Granted, 2 monks drove by in a SUV and that sort of blew the effect a little, but I guess it also cracked me up. Purity does not exist.
The only proper ending to the 2 days of tourist stew being shoved down my throat was a good cry. Have you seen The Fault in Our Stars? I almost choked to death on my own sob snot.
The next day, we headed up the coast. I say this as if I take it for granted. I do not. The central (and northern) coast of California is my absolute favorite place to be in the whole entire world. I think the teens like to too, though maybe not with the intensity of someone who considers each day precious, and who is deep in her questioning mind. We did hike out to see the elephant seals. They travel approximately 25,000 miles per year, so said the naturalist at our well earned vantage point (deep sand, headwinds, and what J described as "the longest walk I have ever taken in my entire life). And they always come back to this place, where they were born. It was all males that day, head-butting each other and making this guttural growl which V said sounds like a backed up toilet (which is true). After viewing them, the guttural noise and wind was at our back. I was happy, and my kidnappees were real survivors.
A long walk, and oh yeah, there was some running later on, along the coast trail (my coast! I could eat you on toast, I love you so!), and we were so hungry. We had to wait for V to finish writing a paragraph or a chapter or something. Being the wife and mother of authors can be very trying at times. But we made it to dine with The Blue Lady. She haunts the Distillery in Moss Beach. I was wondering if I pinched one of the waiter's asses, then looked away, if I could blame it on the Blue Lady. The girls gave me a panic-stricken, "Mom! Don't!" Like I would. Like, would I? Hmmmmm…
The trip involved bad hotel TV (Naked and Afraid? This is actually a reality TV show, and I may never get the vision of these people's buttocks out of my head). It involved sitting quietly with and laughing with my girls. It involved a lot of sunshine, and a hell of a lot of tourists. Octopus beauty and monks and prayer flags and coffee on the balcony while looking at a great blue heron in the bay. Runs, walks, and food. I am not at all sure any of it was of any use, but I am so very grateful that I know how to like it.