Taking a trip to Who Knew Me When

keep-calm-and-go-on-a-road-trip-1So I’m hitting the road this week. Me and my Mazda, Pandora on my phone, lots of coffee and water and a protein-heavy lunchbox so I can resist those nasty road snacks. (Hmm. That would make a great band name – “Appearing tonight for one night only, the Nasty Road Snacks!!!”)

But I digress.

I love road trips. When I was dating my enamorada, whose parents lived in SoCal, I thought nothing of throwing a few things in the car and heading down the 5 for the weekend. It was a quick trip from San Jose to Newhall. Had Sunday afternoon return timed perfectly, if I left by 2, I was back in NoCal in time for dinner.

Then came life/marriage/kids and that ultimate closing act, responsibility.

Life is pretty good now and the marriage is running swimmingly after 40 years (yes, he deserves a medal). Kids have spread out – Sacramento, Anaheim and Virginia. Most days, it’s just the sweetie and me and our two fur kids, 170 pounds of pit bull snuggles around the house.

So it’s a travel day, heading north to Tracy and Manteca, which are kind of near the Bay Area. Not close enough to hit The City, but that’s not why I’m going. I’m not a tourist this time.

The 5 to me is a road filled with familiar landmarks. I’m leaving really early, planning breakfast at Harris Ranch and ending up in the land of the Giants (3 World Series titles in five years, just sayin’) around lunch-thirty.

imagesI’m going to visit two women who have more dirt on me than the huzzbee himself; women who knew me when, before kids, before LAPD, before NBC, before journalism and community volunteering and politics.

They remember the rough clay when it was thrown on the wheel of learning. When I was an ardent, unquestioning supporter of what we now call a questionable conflict; when I worked for an underdog Republican challenger to a juggernaut Congressman (yes, he lost), then moved on to work on the Nixon campaign (we all know how that ended….)

Together, we learned to dance, gave each other noogies, protested pollution, held farting contests, sang ditties about janitors, anguished over having a date for the prom, studied, complained about and had crushes on teachers, athletes, and  played baseball in the intersection. We cruised down the street where two of our crushes (students, not teachers) lived in the hopes of seeing them outside, knowing we’d just die if we did.

Image-1The friend I’ve know the longest was deemed a little too risky by my mom and I wasn’t allowed to go away for the weekend with her family, but the other my parents got to know better and mom was more comfortable with. I loved them both.

Both held my secrets, laughed with me at my awkwardness and inconsistencies and all three of us proudly walked out of Washington High School in 1971 with diplomas. I threw daisies over my shoulder as I walked to the stage, which might not surprise people who know me now. But then, I was a rebel.

images-2One of them used to hit the road with me, throwing a sleeping bag in the back of the car and pulling over to the side of the road to sleep under the stars. Yes. We know we were idiots. Thank God for park rangers who kept an eye out for us.

I introduced one of them to her future husband and I was a bridesmaid at their wedding. She chose yellow for my dress in a semi-flattering cut. I still have the dress. They’re still married, and from the pictures and postings on Facebook, it looks like the years have treated them well.

The other started college at San Jose State with me, then her father died suddenly and life turned upside down. Her father’s funeral was the first I ever attended – I had to ask my parents what to do and say. I would deal with the same loss a few years later and I realized it doesn’t matter what your friends say, knowing they love you enough to show up to help you cope with the loss is everything.

I don’t remember the circumstances of her first wedding, but I remember the second one was so much better. They are still married, although that bastard Alzheimer’s is robbing her of his companionship. I see the resilience and strength that she’s always had when we chat online.

images-1That’s part of the reason I decided to make good on the promises I would make when we’d touch base – “We need to get together soon,” “I’m going to try and make it up there sometime this year,” “Gosh, life got busy and time got away from me” were easy to type, but something clicked lately, something that reminded me that life is short, there are far more people that love you out there and we need to make good on those promises. To say I’m excited is a huge understatement.

There will be much laughter, some tears, lots of “holy cow, I forgot about that!” and “Geez, we’re getting old” over the next few days. Like I said, these girls hold the secrets. There is no pretense with them; they know the real me under the smoke and mirrors, and I can’t wait to be reminded.

My point – have that lunch with a friend you’ve been trying to see. Even if you just meet at the Bucks for a cuppa, catch up. Don’t wait until they’re sick or moving or worse. Remind yourselves how good life is and how much you love and are loved.

But now, you’ll have to excuse me. The road is calling and it’s an old familiar song.

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Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

81 at 60 and it feels so good…

Every now and then, especially once you pass the age of 60, you challenge yourself to do something you did in your carefree youth, just to see if you still can and if the deed lives up to the memory.

Some things are best left to the scrapbooks and fireside tales, like my sweetheart taking up pole vaulting again, which he tried after many years out of practice. All I have to do is remind him of the difficulty of fitting his tuxedo pants over the ankle cast and he’s good to stand on the sidelines and coach.

When we were dating, our home base was San Jose. One or both of us used to drive back and forth to Newhall every so often to visit his mom and sister or go to Disneyland. We got familiar with the stops (or lack of, back in those days) on the 5 and often discussed the pros and cons of taking the 101 instead, sometimes opting for a scenic route that was a little bit longer. Once we married and kids came along, the trips became less frequent; we settled in SoCal and my parents lived in the Bay Area. Trips were confined to the occasional holiday. As kids grew up and relatives passed on or moved away, schedules precluded any spontaneous five-hour drives.

My last trip north a few years ago, on a journey to research an art festival in Sausalito, my beloved Saturn Vue nearly blew up, ending our road trip with a humbling and expensive flight home.

So when I set out last week to drive to Sacramento to visit my oldest daughter, 40 years after it had been my habit to just jump in the car and take off, I think I was looking to prove something to myself. Could I still do it without complaining and would it be as fun?

I hit the drive-thru at Starbucks at 6:15 a.m. for a cup of iced coffee (the day was already warm), took the cross-valley connector and jumped on the freeway with no problem.

While I didn’t hit much traffic at all (keeping a watchful eye out for the CHP), the early spring and bright sunshine did facilitate a lot of company in that thousands of bugs felt compelled to hurl themselves against my windshield in a statewide suicide pact. I swear I saw a few panicked faces (dare I say they were “bug-eyed?”) before impact. A stop at Harris Ranch for breakfast included some scrubbing of the glass so I could see the road and a second stop was necessary before I reached Stockton for the same reason. This was worse than any trip I could recollect.

My cousin, who also lives near Sacramento, keeps bees and does her best to educate the rest of us about their plight and challenges. When I saw two honeybees were impaled on my windshield wipers, it became a priority to get rid of the evidence, lest I hurt her feelings. And I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d done in some distant relative…

Radio is as messed up as ever in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, I came out of a hill to a mix of Motley Crue and Jason Aldean, prompting me to pull over and find Pandora on my phone. It was interesting on the way back to listen to morning deejays in Sacramento, but once again, hitting the farmlands along the freeway, it was time to Pandora my Miranda Lambert station.

The solitude of the road is something I have missed and one of the reasons I don’t embrace public transportation. When you’re in your car alone, there is time to think, time to wonder and sing off-key with no fear of the car next to you listening in. I enjoyed being able to look at roadside signs and toy with the idea of stopping at some tantalizing restaurant or gift shop (I do Yelp about one, www.mamarock.yelp.com) without taking a vote or settling for fast food. And it’s always interesting to see what cargo is sharing the road with me, although the current port strike must have had some effect on my road companions, as they were few. I found it ironic during a drive some time ago in which I found myself traveling with several semis loaded down with garlic – all headed for the famous stinking rose festival. Doesn’t it actually grow in Gilroy?

Driving up, I was buoyed by the excitement of seeing my daughter and cousin and I made good time (my daughter’s comment: “Holy cow, Mom, you drive like m… uh, I drive like you! Not that we ever speed, on the record…) The visit was great; we saw historic sites, beautiful scenery, ate delicious food, laughed and caught up on each others’ lives and as many relatives as we could remember before getting sleepy.

Heading home, I grabbed the obligatory Starbucks and breakfast sandwich and joined pre-rush hour Capitol drivers. The skies were overcast and grey for nearly the entire drive, making the cheap sunglasses I purchased unnecessary. Along the road, I saw the signs denouncing Congress’s “dust bowl” and reminders that our water shortage is something we need to take seriously. Sadly, some of those signs are showing their age, another reminder that water wars have been part of our state’s history for some time. No mention of the possible high-speed rail proposed to cut a swath from south to north and take traffic off the highway.

Don’t know that I’d take a train anyway. I like my solitude and sanctuary too much. And I get a senior discount along the road.

Where are we going next?