I am, truly, not much of a hypochondriac, but there is one notable exception: every time I take an overnight flight, I am convinced that I shall never recover. We had a thoroughly splendid vacation in San Diego and its environs, but the long flight back from LA (after a commuter hop from San Diego) to Dulles was the embodiment of something ending not with a bang but a whimper. I have become convinced that our pioneer forebears crossed the continent in covered wagons largely to avoid jet lag, though I suppose that escaping the fees on checked baggage might have been a contributing factor.
Still, let's focus on the "thoroughly splendid" part, shall we? We ended up spending a second day in Joshua Tree National Park, in large part because b&c had forgotten to bring his camera along on the first day. Joshua Tree is so beautiful and thrilling that I was more than eager to spend a second day there. Even though the temperatures were below forty and the winds were fierce, the air was so clear and the sky so blue that I would have put up with considerably less hospitable weather. We went on some unpaved roads that day, so we got to drive through vast fields of Joshua trees, with snow-capped mountains in the distance.
According to Native American legend, Joshua trees house the dormant souls of virtuous warriors. The more interesting and exemplary the warrior's life, the larger the tree grows. The trees are generally somewhat widely spaced, but they are sometimes found in pairs, an arrangement indicating that the two deceased warriors were lovers while still living. This last part of the legend is seldom recounted, as is the belief that when things get bad enough, the dormant warriors will awaken to open a huge can of whupass on the Anglo oppressors. In the past, shamans -- using peyote -- could enter a trance and tell the stories of the warriors resting in nearby trees. This art has largely been lost, but some younger Native Americans have recently reported similar results by using large doses of Diet Mountain Dew Code Red.
The traffic from Joshua Tree down to San Diego, where we spent the last few days of our trip, was very bad, but I didn't have to drive, so I was only stressed out when directions needed to be provided. B&c is not what (any)one would call a calming influence when behind the wheel, but I have mostly learned to separate the signal from the noise, so it wasn't too bad. We got into San Diego sometime after 8, checked into our hotel, and went to look for the nearest bar. It wasn't a gay bar, but even after talking with the bartender for a while and telling him that we were on vacation together, it was still clear that he mistook us for breeders. I always find this sort of confusion disconcerting because it makes me think that I've worn the wrong shoes, but there's only so much room in my luggage, so what can I do?
We spent the next day at the zoo. I believe one of the lesser known articles of the Constitution says that if you're visiting San Diego for the first time, you have to spend a day at the zoo. It's a very impressive and very well run facility, and I'm glad I got to see it. After we'd been there about six hours, though, I was a little bit tired of walking about, and I was getting cold every time I wasn't in direct sunlight. I hadn't brought a jacket, and the sun was about to set, so when b&c said that we still hadn't seen the jaguars (or some other large feline that shares a name with an expensive car), I told him that I'd head back to the hotel, and he said that he'd be along in time for happy hour.
I'd originally suggested San Diego back in the summer when I figured that it would be too expensive to fly and stay abroad because of high oil prices and the weak dollar. The dollar has since strengthened and oil has since fallen, but I'm pretty sure we still managed to save a lot of money because b&c found very reasonable airfares, and I booked our hotels through Priceline. We had a very nice suite at the Sheraton Suites in San Diego, and it only cost $65 a night. San Diego isn't that big, and it has an excellent public transportation system, so once we arrived, we didn't need to use the rental car again until we returned it on the evening we flew home.
I don't like to think about money too much while I'm on vacation. I avoid doing so by a) thinking about it when I'm planning the vacation, and b) following a few general principles while I'm traveling. I never, for example, consume anything from a hotel minibar, and I don't generally get meals from hotel restaurants, which typically provide uninspired fare at inflated prices. We typically find one place we like for all of our breakfasts and otherwise we look for places that are interesting but casual. That way when we get home, I'm not surprised when I go to pay off the credit card bill, and neither of us is unhappy when we divide the expenses and one of us writes the other a check.
The rules would typically favor a local independent bar over the hotel bar, but with $4 Margaritas at happy hour, one cannot go too far wrong. The Sheraton's Margaritas are not overly strong, but two is still a lot for me, and I was surprised on both nights when the bartender offered me a third. I gave him a look that I'm pretty sure he understood to say, "Dude, I've just been doing full rotations on your barstools. Do you really think I need another?" Even though the only actual words I uttered were, "No thanks."
I may have to rethink my usual opposition to bars after this trip. We made three visits to bars, and I enjoyed all of them. A lot of that was being mildly drunk, of course, but I also realized how much fun it is to eavesdrop on other people's conversations. Naturally, I can only do this in a relatively quiet bar, so my opposition to loud, crowded bars is likely to remain intact.
On our penultimate day in San Diego, we took the bus out to La Jolla to see the coastline and the sea lions. The starting point for the #30 bus was just two blocks from the hotel, so it was very convenient. The ride itself took over an hour each way, but it was a very pleasant ride, so I wouldn't have minded it even if I hadn't been able to feel virtuous about using the most environmentally friendly form of mass transportation.
La Jolla was beautiful. Of course, all of San Diego was beautiful. Right after we first landed at the airport, the bus driver for Enterprise boasted about the great weather they have year round. And when we were wandering around town one morning, a woman at the neighborhood development center (which we mistook for the local visitors' center) explained to us how, over the last decade or so, the city had been transformed from a very scary to a very safe place. And it certainly seemed very safe. I saw a considerable number of homeless people while we were there (probably drawn by the great weather), but they all kept to themselves. Only one of them ever asked me whether I could spare any change, and since he was an attractive thirty-something guy with a dog, and I had too much change on me, I was happy to give it to him.
There weren't any homeless people in La Jolla, of course: I'm sure the local zoning ordinances prohibit homelessness. There were, however, a lot of birds who seemed entirely untroubled by the close approach of camera-wielding humans.
And there were occasional attractive young men who removed their shirts to better enjoy the sun. There was beauty all over the place, though b&c noted a certain lack of scantily clad joggers, both in La Jolla and in San Diego proper. I figured that we were just there at the wrong time: presumably if we'd been there over the weekend, we'd have witnessed lots of glistening flesh in motion.
The sea lions themselves were very pretty. They were quite awkward (albeit beautiful) on land, but occasionally one of them would enter the water, and then you could really appreciate how fast and graceful glistening flesh in motion can be.
Our flight out wasn't until about 8:15, so on our last day, after we had breakfast and checked out, we spent a few hours in Balboa Park. It's gorgeous, of course, and there's a very interesting art center there where a few score of local artists show their work. I was taken with the works of a couple of the painters, but there was nothing I loved enough to go to the trouble of having it shipped back to Maryland. Talking to the artists was a lot of fun, though.
After walking around the park for another couple of hours, we drove over to Hillcrest and had a late lunch at a restaurant called Babbo Grande. B&c mentioned to the waiter that the name translated to "Big Daddy," and the waiter laughed and said that the place had, until recently, been called "Big Daddy's," but that the new management wanted to take it in a new direction.
We returned our rental car and got to the commuter terminal a bit on the early side, so they put us on an earlier flight to Los Angeles. We still had the same flight out of L.A., but while airport terminals are rarely places one would choose to visit, the United terminal at LAX was pretty cool. We got a table in a bar, and I nursed a twenty ounce beer and a couple of Diet Cokes until it was time to board. The flight back was not very full, so there was room to stretch out. I didn't sleep very well, and I can't really give a solid recommendation to Nights in Rodanthe as an in-flight movie, but I guess it could have been a lot worse.
There didn't seem to be all that much going on in San Diego. One of the cab drivers we rode with said that it had been very slow because of the economy and the accompanying lack of convention business. But in terms of weather, transportation, and overall pleasantness, it's probably the nicest city we've visited in the U.S. I hope I get to go back.