Vacation Week


            On the one year anniversary of our relocation to California, my family headed to the west coast for a visit. What adventures would transpire? Find out here on the official site of the Bear Team! (What follows is a work of non-fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely intentional).

The week began with a bang; literally. Actually it was two bangs; the one when the asshole in the BMW rear-ended me, and the one when my car was pushed into the car in front of me. This happened during my morning commute to work, and, believe it or not, put a damper on the rest of my day. Instead of working a normal shift, I spent the morning dealing with the Chula Vista Police Department, Nationwide Insurance, Body Works Collision Center, and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Fun, fun, fun!

Eventually I made it home, in a Chevy Malibu no less, which is about as far away from my normal mode of transportation as you can get. I’m used to sitting high up, above most other drivers. In the  Malibu, I’m low. So low that I feel like I’m looking up at everyone; even the hordes of people who sleep on the sidewalk. Hey, cut me some slack. It isn’t my fault that San Diego is the homeless person capital of the world. After all, if you have to be homeless, what better place?

My mom, brother (Matt), nephew (Matthew), and niece (Taylor) arrived at around 2 PM. Since it has been a year since we’d seen them, I wondered if the kids would be a little shy around us. But when Dena and I met them for dinner at Crest Café in Hillcrest, where you can get anything from fried chicken to a vegetarian sandwich to breakfast served all day, it was as if we’d never been apart.  After dinner, we had dessert at Pinkberry, which features frozen yougurt so addictive it’s often referred to as “crackberry.”

After taking a walk around the neighborhood, it was time to pack it in for the night. When Dena and I arrived back in North Park, we parked on the street a block away from home and began walking toward our apartment. We’d only taken a few steps when suddenly, we found ourselves just across the sidewalk from our old friend Stumpy the Skunk.

He didn’t see us at first, as he was busy foraging for bugs, or worms, or whatever the hell skunks eat, in the front yard of an apartment complex. But then, he looked up, saw us standing there, and immediately began to scurry across the grass in the direction of our apartment. It was as if he’d planned on waiting for us in our yard but had somehow lost track of time. Fortunately we managed to beat Stumpy home, and get inside before he welcomed us in his own special way.

The next day, we headed for the San Diego Zoo, where, for slightly less than you’d pay for a vacation home in Vail, we were allowed admittance. All jokes aside, the zoo is an awesome place to visit. You can see everything from bears and elephants to lions and zebras. As an added bonus, admission price includes unlimited use of the aerial tram, a skylift which takes you high above the zoo from one end to the other. Riding the tram with Taylor and Matthew was a highlight of the week.

Famished after our big day out, we headed for Kansas City BBQ This restaurant, which Matt found online, was featured in the movie “Top Gun,” in the scene where Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards famously duet on the Jerry Lee Lewis classic “Great Balls of Fire. To view this scene, click here: The pulled pork, chicken, sausage, ribs, slaw, and beans were very good, but the most memorable thing is the décor. The walls are covered with license plates, sports memorabilia, and posters, all with a Kansas theme.

The next day, the entire family headed to Ocean Beach,_San_Diego. It was the first time my mom and the kids had seen the Pacific Ocean, which differs from the Atlantic Ocean in a number of ways; the most prominent one being water temperature. On the East Coast, the water is often warm during the summer. Not on the West Coast. Nothing can prepare an East Coast native for the first time he or she steps into the frigid Pacific waters. Matthew and Taylor enjoyed playing in the ocean despite the cold water, though walking back to the car in wet clothing was something of an adventure.

In addition to playing in the water, we also visited the tide pools which form on the cliffs South of the beach. Then we ventured to the end of the pier, which features great views of the ocean and shoreline. On the way back, we stopped at the Ocean Beach Pier Café for dinner. The café, which is a personal favorite of ours, boasts great views, and even better food. Seafood, burgers, mexican food, and breakfast (served all day) are all available. I would recommend the fish and shrimp, which is less than ten dollars, and includes a mound of fries, coleslaw, and a cheese and jalepeno stuffed hushpuppy called an “o.b. sinker.” Delicious!

That night, after the kids were asleep, Dena dropped Matt and I off for a night out in the Gaslamp Quarter After climbing the stairs to the top of the Convention Center and taking in the views of Coronado, the Bay Bridge, and the marina, we headed back into the fray in search of a good place to grab a drink. We started our night at Nicky Rottens, a bar and burger joint featuring some of the worst karaoke ever performed.

Later, as we were walking along fifth avenue, we passed a new place. There was a guy outside promising two dollar shots and three dollar well drinks. We went inside and ordered a beer, a Jack and Coke, and two fireball shots. The bartender put them on the bar in front of us and said “twenty-one dollars.” Something seemed amiss. While I’m no prize winning mathematician, I was quite certain that 2+2+3+3 did not equal twenty-one. Maybe the basic principals of arithmetic don’t apply in the Gaslamp.

We visited a couple of other places, including a tequila bar at which my brother had a memorable argument with a pedicab driver. The majority of the exchange took place while I was in the restroom, but due mostly to the fact that the driver was no longer around when I got back, I’m quite certain that you can chalk it up as a win for the home team.

On Thursday, which was the family’s last day in San Diego, as well as the Fourth of July, we visited Balboa Park. After engaging in the usual summer activities (playing on the playground, eating ice cream, dodging hordes of sign-carrying protesters) we were ready for a good meal. I suggested that we go to Mama Testa. On the way there, I could hardly wait to get my hands on some fish tacos. Mama Testa is awesome! Mama Testa is my favorite! Mama Testa was closed.

Who would have thought that a Mexican restaurant would close for the Fouth of July? Oh well. We ended up at La Fuente The food was good, though the most memorable thing about the experience was the loud, loud, LOUD group sitting just behind us. In the words of a long time family friend, “you can’t have nothing.”

Since our visitors had an early flight the next morning, after dinner it was time to say our goodbyes. Though living far away from family is sometimes necessary, it is never easy, and I couldn’t help getting a lump in my throat when the time had come to part ways. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but if my heart grows much more, it may just explode.

Dena and I wrapped up our holiday by taking in San Diego’s annual Big Bay Boom, at which fireworks illuminate the night sky over downtown. After the last explosion had come and gone, we drove home through the hazy smoke which wafted in from the bay. We arrived in North Park tired and ready to crash. It had been a long and emotional week. As we parked our rental car and headed for home, I felt it incumbent upon me to say a few words; something which would sum up the rollercoaster ride of the previous few days. “I hope the cats didn’t puke on the ottoman,” I said. You can’t get much more eloquent than that.

That’s all for now, for it’s late and the witching hour will soon be upon us. As always, thanks for reading. Nothing warms an East Coast transplant’s heart like having people take a few minutes to read his online rantings. Happy post holiday hangover everybody!



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