Monday, September 03, 2012

[Travel] Back to the O.C.

Back to The O.C.: Now that Miss Anna is out in Southern Cal it seems I will be traveling there habitually for a while at least. Slowly, I'm learning my way around. Traffic is as bad as it is thought to be, but in some circumstances you can get around it if you are willing to pony up some scratch. There is a stretch of toll road that will get you from OC airport to points south, with very little traffic even on a weekday rush hour -- but you're going to be dropping round about $6 per trip to use it. It'll reduce a hour long stop and go to about 25 minutes, so it's probably worth it. What's not worth it are the carpool lanes. Although we had access due to multiple riders, I never noticed them moving any faster than the other lanes. And you are limited to certain points where you can get in them and out of them.

So here we see the first effect of spending time in So Cal. Traffic becomes a significant concern at all times. There are few things more relative than traffic attitudes. Here in Dexter they were repaving a bridge that caused it to be taken down to one lane, for a couple of months. We had the option of driving 5 minutes out of our way or waiting 5 minutes to take turns crossing. This was an outrageous disruption. In So Cal waiting 5 minutes in line to pay and extra six dollars to take a toll road is considered a privilege.

Besides the fact that So Cal remains a beautiful place, there's not much to report on. The primary goal of this trip was to get Anna settled into a new apartment (a very cool place). Lots of moving and cleaning. I installed a ceiling fan for the first time in my life - OK, it wasn't on my bucket list, but still a minor achievement. Also, I managed to destroy only one picture frame in the course of getting wall hangings up, which I consider a personal victory.

We bedded down at the lovely Dana Point at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott. A lovely place elevated above the shore where we have stayed before. It's a quality hotel through and through, but not without its quirks. They tend to get themselves overcrowded, especially on the weekends. There is only valet parking, meaning you pretty much have to tack an extra $20-25/night on the expected cost. Those two bummers combine such that Sunday morning, the big checkout time, we called down to have our car brought around and they said they were not taking calls for cars, we had to show up in person because they were so busy they had no room to leave cars sitting in the driveway waiting. So we showed up in person and were quoted a half hour wait. Whatever system they have going on here needs attention.

The other issue is one that afflicts many many restaurants and lounges: the inexplicable need to plant a ridiculously loud band in the middle of the room such that conversation consists of shouting at each other. It's really remarkable that a place like the Laguna Cliffs Marriott, with a beautiful open air restaurant that would be an amazing place to just curl up and cocktail the night away with friends, feels the need to try to make itself into a third rate nightclub. As I said, this is not a rare occurrence which is all the more annoying because it is possible to have live music without turning the place into a half-assed roadhouse. One night we ate and a surprisingly good Italian restaurant called Roma D'Italia in a shopping center near Anna's place and they had a live jazz duo that was quite good and entertaining yet somehow managed to play at a volume that permitted conversation using inside voices.

In any event, we did have one free day that Miss Kate and I used to go down to San Diego to do a bit of biking. We got down to Pacific Beach and rented a couple of bikes with the intent of riding to Mission Bay Park, but apparently you couldn't get there from where we were. We headed off in the right direction but next thing I knew we were trying to negotiate what seemed to be a freeway cloverleaf with cars whipping past us at 60 mph. It's not like there were signs, and sadly the map app on my phone did not indicate where the bike paths were. We headed in what looked like the safest direction and eventually came to nice stretch of path that took us to a beach, but it was a dog beach, and smelled like one. After backtracking a bit and maneuvering through another insane intersection we finally made it to Mission Bay Park but with only a few minutes to ride around before we had to turn back. On the way back we took a long shortcut through the parking lot at Sea World before making another wrong turn and surmounting two steep bridges that we didn't really need to surmount and so had to unsurmount them in the opposite direction before finally stumbling back to the bike shop. I know San Diego to be a strikingly beautiful city from previous trips, but you would not have guessed it from our ride. At least we could console ourselves that we got some exercise.

Anna's response to hearing of our cycling misadventures: "I hope you guys are finally over being active." Fair enough. Next time we'll spend the afternoon shopping and eating in La Jolla.

It was, for me, a day of losses. Not only did I get us lost on the bikes. But I managed to lose my American Express card at a restaurant and the book I was reading on the plane home. Double bonus: it was a library book, so I get to go hang my head in shame and be scolded by a librarian. This is bad for me because I am borderline sociopathic about keeping myself aware and on alert when travelling. As a result, that kind of thing really rattles and frustrates me.

Not every trip can be a joyful experience start to finish. Luckily, an al fresco glass of wine in the California coastal night air, is enough to make it a good trip. Seeing my beloved friends makes it worthwhile above all else.