We arrived home in three relatively intact pieces at about 6PM last night. 2000 more miles on the car, and a huge personal milestone achieved. I will add a day-by-day overview and pictures, but I wanted to make a start of it.
Saturday 11/19: Got the kids in the car and we were on the road by 8AM. Right on schedule. We made such good time that we stopped in Eugene for lunch with an old friend from High School, Gordon Kelley. We got to meet his "new" wife, Heather, who is a real sweetie. Gordon and I were in an experimental band in college (emphasis mine), Mozart Air Raid. He and Samantha were on the Palo Alto High School rally squad. We had burritos at this groovy little neighborhood hippie restaurant. It was cool. We made it down to Rogue River by about 5PM, and stayed the night at my best friend Randy's sister's B&B. If you're ever in Rogue River, Oregon, check out the Restful Nest. It's on the river in a beautiful setting, and Carolyn specializes in families. The house itself is an ever-evolving craft project, and the food is excellent. She has a huge pig, a shepherd named Foxy and a pug named (what else) Yoda. Showed Carolyn Sam's memorial DVD.
Sunday 11/20: We got a later start than I wanted, but nonetheless hit the road and made up a lot of time. Shasta was visible, and Tyler snapped a few pics from the car. It was really beautiful. Once we passed Yreka, however, I-5 becomes a long, straight road through nothing but brown. Kayleigh counted 17 hawks on the way to Randy & Rose's place in Rocklin. We arrived in the afternoon, grabbed some lunch and prepared to NOT jump in the car and drive somewhere. The house is amazing, a Mediterranean style showcase for Rose's business (she's an interior designer/decorator with a specialty in faux and murals). Lots of tile, big, open downstairs, palatial master suite... very nice. A house like that in the Bay Area would be topping $2.5 million easy. We got in touch with our old mate Chris Oeschger, former bosun of our SCA pirate household. Showed Chris & Randy Sam's memorial DVD, then went out for beers at the local brewpub. Their hefeweizen was awful, but there was a nut brown ale that could stand toe-to-toe with any of our robust PacNW brews. It was good to see Chris again. Hopefully it won't be another 15 years.
Monday 11/21: Randy and I took the kids to see Harry Potter and the Muthaf**in' Goblet of Fire. Despite the amount they had to chop from the book in the interest of time, we sure enjoyed that film. Went and hung out with my aunt Kendra, one of the two remaining children of Kenneth and Hettie Lou Downing now that my dad and uncle Doug are gone. Kendra took Kayleigh and I to the Hallmark store and had Kayleigh pick out Christmas ornaments - one of the things that Sam usually did for them. Had dinner with Kendra's family and Randy. Ate at a little CaliMex place called Dos Coyotes - good food! It's great to have a relationship with my aunt now, despite all the family politics and bullshit that has gone on for decades.
Tuesday 11/22: Headed out I-80 to the Bay Area. Stopped in Fremont/Newark at the home of father/chef/game designer/author/arcade game collector and Palo Alto High School buddy Colin Fisk and his wife Margaret. Chilled with the Fisks and their two boys, and another Paly friend, Sara (Mack) Stafford and her two youngest. Sara left, and Colin made us some lunch - then he and I watched Sam's memorial DVD together while the kids played in the garage "arcade" (Colin's collection of stand-up arcade videogames). Any of our buds in the Bay Area can contact Colin for a copy of the DVD, now that he has one. We hopped back in the car and headed across the Dumbarton Bridge (which I used to take every day when Sam & I lived in Fremont) into Palo Alto.
What a heartbreaker that was.
Drove past Sam's old house (or rather, the house standing where hers once stood), drove past my old house on Sutter (which we just sold). The new residents were home, and I asked the kids if they wanted to see the inside. I knew the buyers would let us take a quick peek. The kids declined, and I struggled with wanting to at least go and introduce myself. "This house has a lot of history... this is the driveway where Samantha and I kissed for the first time. This is the bedroom where I lived and made music and art and had sex for the first time (and many times after), the backyard we transformed into a medieval encampment for the first Kings film project, the pool where I had my 17th birthday (with Sam present)..." And then I realized... why? That means nothing to anyone but me. Those events really TRULY only had relevance to two people in the world, and one of them is gone. That leaves me, and I don't need to dwell on those past events. Just driving up to the house was a marker. That was closure enough for me.
I realized while driving around my old town that no matter how crowded and developed the place has become, it now feels profoundly empty. All that remain are ghosts of happier times, that don't synch up with the reality of now. As Luke Skywalker once said to Obi Wan, "There's nothing for me here now..."
We met another Paly friend, Marte Matthews, who is married to yet another Paly friend, Paul Means. She brought their son Jonathan (now almost 5), and together the 5 of us converged on the Klutz book headquarters in Palo Alto. Our family has a connection to the Klutz empire by way of my dad's cousin, children's entertainer Nancy Cassidy. She's recorded several albums of kid's songs, and her husband John kicked off their product line with Juggling for the Complete Klutz (and still runs the operation today, even though Klutz is now owned by Scholastic). My sister's friend Mindy works there, and she gave us a tour. It was very cool, and the kids had a blast in the craft room. They now have a set of construction cards with which you can build a medieval castle - guess what Tyler immediately gravitated to.
Went to Rengstorff Park in Mountain View and met Paul. Hung out with him for awhile and chatted. Paul was one of a select few people who got to know Sam at all in high school, and we used to party in our college years. Plus, he's a good Scot, and that goes a long way with me.
Met Sam's parents at Aldo in Los Altos. A truly prima Italian restaurant in every way, Aldo is owned by Donato and Marlene De Marchi. Marlene was a friend of Sam's in high school, and when she heard of Sam's death, she contacted me via email. Marlene held a benefit dinner at her San Francisco restaurant in conjunction with the Palo Alto High School Class of 1985 twenty-year reunion, and raised a very helpful amount of money for Sam's memorial fund, which has helped us get rid of some medical and related debt from Samantha's cancer fight. Marlene hosted us for dinner with her kids and Donato's father. Donato was working the kitchen and the tables, but kept appearing to check on our dinner. What an incredibly gracious and friendly man! The food was unbelievably good. Tyler, who is possibly the pickiest 11-year-old on the planet (and those of you with 11-year-olds know that's saying something!), had TWO servings of ravioli. We waddled off to Sam's parents' place, a condo/townhome where the Old Mill 6 movie theater used to be. You know, the place I worked in high school, where Sam & I went on our first date. Got the kids involved with stuff and left them in the grandparents' care while I went and met drummer pal Steven Fox for a couple beers at the Boardwalk, an old hangout of ours on El Camino. Whew! That was a day, and then some.
Wednesday 11/23: Got the kids in the car and headed over the hill to Santa Cruz. Drove by my old house off Pasatiempo Drive, where I lived just prior to moving to Palo Alto. Went down to Capitola and took the kids to lunch at Erik's Deli on 41st Ave. As with Palo Alto, more people and less ambiance... less feeling of belonging. Granted the 8 years I spent living there (1976 to 1984) were a long time ago, and a lot changed after the Loma Prieta quake. It was, on the whole, less painful than Palo Alto, as I didn't have as many Sam-related memories to be triggered there. Went out to the home of my oldest friend with whom I remain in contact. David Beach lives in Santa Cruz, not far from the Mystery Spot, with his wife Jane, daughter Audrey, son Isaac, a cat whose name eludes me, and mammoth dog Thurston. We caught up while the kids played outside in the trees. Showed Dave & Jane the memorial DVD (what are we up to now, 4?). Left Dave with some Deep7 books and a couple of my Impetus CDs. Hopefully it won't be another 8 or more years before we see them again.
Went a few miles down the windy Soquel roads and arrived at my uncle Russell's place. He's on the side of a hill, and you can look in a 360-degree turn and not see a single other home. They're THERE, just hidden in oaks and such. And he's got a view of Monterey Bay and the peninsula beyond. It just so happened that his two sons were home - Aaron had moved back from Chico with his fiancee, and Noah was home before starting his masters program at school. We went out for beers at a local joint near the Rio theater, where we used to go see movies all the time... hell, I saw The Empire Strikes Back there with my dad and Russell when it first came out. It was good to reconnect with my cousins, who I'd not seen since our wedding. Noah actually caught Sam's garter. We had a good dinner with Russell, the boys, Aaron's fiancee Alyssa (hope I spelled it right) who is a fantastic artist, and Russell's wife Gan Neh Na (a truly radiant soul). We watched Sam's DVD (#5 for the trip, and my 2nd time for the day), and then Russell pulled out this video from 1987. It was Thanksgiving, the 100 year celebration of the Downing family being in the Santa Clara valley. My uncle Doug was alive. My dad. Samantha. They were all there. Almost everyone was drinking. And drinking. And drinking. Sam & I were joined at the hip as if to say "watch my back - I'm not safe here". It was incredible to watch the politics and the interactions unfold at an event I'd completely blocked from memory. Still, good to have the time capsule. I'm dumping it to DVD for Russell, and saving the bit with Sam for my archives.
Fell asleep to the sound of coyotes in the hills.
Thursday 11/24: Thanksgiving Day. Awoke to the braying of the neighbor's donkey. Hung out with the family a bit at breakfast and Russell let the parakeets out so the kids could see them fly around. Said our goodbyes and headed back to Mountain View for Thanksgiving with Sam's parents. One the one hand, it was very strange not having Samantha there at Thanksgiving. It was also sad not having my father to call. And Sam's brother and sister-in-law were in Vegas, so it was just Carol, Gerry, the kids and me. We had the standard fare, and it was good. We had some wine I'd brought down from Bainbridge Island. We talked. It was a good day. Got a nice phone call from my friend Jennifer in Mississippi... only now she's in Florida. She was a mutual high school friend of Sam's and mine, a former cheerleader and theater geek.
Earlier, I'd found a photo of Sam I'd never seen before, and asked for a scan of it. When Carol popped the frame open to get it out, we discovered another handful of photos I'd never seen!! We had pie and watched the Travel Channel for awhile, then I put the kids to bed as we had to make an early start.
Friday 11/25: Awoke at 3AM for some reason. Tossed and turned for 2 hours, then got showered and dressed. Gerry and I braved the Black Friday shopping crowds at San Antonio Shopping Center for a 7" portable DVD unit at Radio Shack. We heard of fistfights breaking out over cheap laptops at Wal Mart. We went to Target and grabbed a handful of movies for the kids for the trip home. Thank God we were on foot. When we got back, the kids were still sleeping, so I walked next door to the Safeway and grabbed some doughnuts for breakfast (because I'm a bad father). Saw my old Paly media studies teacher, Mr. Thompson, on his way out. He looked eerily the same as he had 20 years ago. I got the kids up, we ate doughnuts, and we jumped in the car for the trip home.
This time, we went up 101. Down Van Ness in San Francisco, over the Golden Gate Bridge and over to the coast. We made fairly decent time. Nature unloaded the hardest rainfall I think I've ever driven through, but I have good wipers and traction/stability control, so we pressed on. Once across the border in Oregon, things along 101 get very curvy and winding. Because of the weather, darkness and twisty roads, I don't think I got out of 4th gear for 20 miles. So it was almost amusing when I got pulled over by a smokey in Bandon for 70 in a 55. Amusing mostly because I can't do more than 60 in 4th gear without being close to redlining. Also amusing because when Sam and I were driving down the coast many years ago, she was pulled over in Bandon for speeding in the Isuzu pickup. I think it must be one of the only sources of revenue they have, poor dears. So I will write a little letter to that effect and if I still have to pay the ticket and ruin a decade's perfect driving record, c'est la vie. And next time I go to Oregon, I'll skip Bandon altogether.
We made camp in a Motel 6 south of Florence, in the only room they had left - a smoking room. Bleh. About 10PM, the skies opened and a solid curtain of hail came down in the parking lot. It rained ice so hard, some actually bounced UP into the vents and came into our bathroom.
Oddly enough, except for smelling like an ashtray, I got the best night's sleep in that Motel 6 bed.
Saturday 11/26: Awoke at 7AM, showered the smoke-stink off me, and just threw on my old clothes (which totally defeated the purpose of showering the smoke off in the first place). Piled the kids into the car and headed north. We had breakfast in a charming little greasy spoon where Tyler ate like a horse. At one point, we looked up to see it raining outside the south half of the restaurant, and totally sunny and clear outside the north half. Went through Florence (for the second time this year), got some coffee and a couple pairs of headphones for the DVD player. Then off to the Sea Lion Caves. Most of the adults were out in the water, but we did get to see two adult females and a pup in the main cave. Hooked a right and headed over toward Portland, had lunch just shy of I-5, then headed north for home.
Being a holiday weekend when apparently everyone in Washington is visiting relatives in Oregon, we got to sit in a red snail track from south of Olympia to north of Tacoma. Finally arrived home to a very excited dog and a house in chaos (hey, I didn't get Caleb to clean it, just feed the animals and make sure we weren't robbed).
The results of the journey were many, and varied. We drove through three states, counted 27 hawks and 5 rainbows. I realized that part of my perception of Sam's parents was based upon Sam's perception of them. I also REALLY got the message that California is not my home. Aside from the very occasional visit to a dear friend or relative, I really don't feel like I ever need or desire to go back there. It made me appreciate my real home (here in Seattle) a lot more. I drove 2000 miles with two kids in my car (and they were fantastic, BTW). No other adult to help with discipline or driving or cost. And we all got home safely. I arrived home to a house in the disarray in which we left it, and the inspiration to do some serious winter purging. And some of the last bits of equipment for my studio/office arrived while we were gone, so I'll be VERY busy for the next few weeks finishing the space.