So here's the details on the trip to California:
I actually have a fair amount of family on the West Coast. My family's roots are all Northeast (via Eastern Europe, they immigrated to Boston and New York) but we've wandered.
The impetus of this trip was my cousin M.'s Bat Mitzvah in Stanford/Palo Alto. These life events (Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and even funerals) are also excuses for family reunions, since my dad's side is spread across two coasts and two countries; (there's a few of them in Vancouver, B.C.). P., the youngest of my father's first cousins, is the mother of 13-year-old M. (and 11-year-old N.). M. did a beautiful and very focused job reading from the Torah and chanting blessings, and then reading her own interpretation of the Biblical instructions for Jewish dietary law (a.k.a. "keeping kosher"). Since her Torah portion was about food, her party had a food theme as well....chocolate. Co and I sat at the Ghirardelli table. (Other tables included Toblerone, Lindt, See's...) There was a chocolate fountain and tiramisu for desert, and "M's Bat Mitzvah" Hershey bars. It was really a lovely event, not too much excess (except for the chocolate, but really, one can never have too much chocolate), truly fun for both the kids (no less than 40 12-year-olds running around) and the adults.
We also paid a visit to my one first cousin (on my mom's side), who lives near Santa Cruz. Cousin C. (not to be confused with my wife Co) has two small children, 3 1/2 year old S. and 5-month-old E. It was great fun to hang out with C. and her family. Her husband R. is very sweet. They have a house up in the mountains surrounded by huge, huge trees. You have to drive up roads windier than Highway 17 to get to their house (but it's worth it). We hung out at the beach in Santa Cruz and saw sea lions in their natural habitat!
Our third planned destination was The Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley. Though TSBC is happy to do phone consultations, I felt strongly that it must be "bashert (Yiddish for "fated" or "meant to be") that we would be so near the actual office right at this time in our lives, so I arranged an appointment. We headed off from Santa Cruz with our printed-out profiles in hand....only to end up with a flat tire on our rental car. On Highway 280. We pulled over to the shoulder by an exit ramp, called the rental company's Roadside Assistance, and waited, both of us churning in our typical ways (I tend to think that all signs must mean something deep and intense that I must read like an oracle; Co tends to believe in crappy luck).
There was some confusion with the Roadside Assistance phone staff; the woman in Utah, who answered my call, couldn't get anyone to believe her that I was at Exit 37 on the freeway. The tow companies kept insisting that California does not number its exits. Well, I don't want to get too involved in California freeway politics (more on that in a moment) but we were sitting by an exit ramp literally staring at a sign that read "Exit 37." Hmmm. Eventually I was able to name some landmarks and our location was decoded. So when 20 minutes later a white truck pulled up behind us and a man began to jack up the car to change the tire, I wasn't surprised.
I was, however, surprised when my cell phone immediately rang and a disgruntled voice told me that he was from the rental car's garage and that I should tell the man to stop what he was doing. I really had no desire to stop this very, very positive turn of events, but being the Good Girl that I am, I walked over to the man (who was now almost done putting the donut on the car) and said, "Uh, you can stop." He glanced at me and said, "That's okay." Then another truck pulled up and the disgruntled voice came over in person. He was a short scowly guy with a blond crew cut. Scowly Crew Cut said, "He didn't tell you who he was, did he?" Co and I stared at each other. Nice Tire Changer seemed pretty good to us. He had handed Co a pamphlet but we had not read it. Scowly Crew Cut told Nice Tire Changer that he would finish the job (really at this point there was no job to finish). Nice Tire Changer replied, "You know we don't work like that." Scowly Crew Cut insisted on double-checking Nice Tire Changer's impeccable work.
By this time I had figured out something was going on, though darned if I knew what. Scowly Crew Cut hung around a bit, complained that Nice Tire Changer hadn't "introduced himself," had Co sign a piece of paper, and finally left. And it was thus, from the lips of Nice Tire Changer, that Co and I learned about the Freeway Safety Patrol. In California, if you have car trouble on a major freeway, there are people who will come help you FOR FREE. Insurance (especially crappy rental care roadside assistance in Utah, no offense Chicory) be damned...if they see you in distress, they will help. And the garages who profit from the insurance companies don't like it one bit.
Wow. That is some cool socialist hippie California stuff!! I wish we had that program in the Northeast. Nice Tire Changer even stayed behind us and helped us merge back into traffic.
The next step of the adventure was to trade in the wounded Chevy Malibu for another car (since we still had to get to Palo Alto). I called the closest location of the rental company and they assured me they had plenty of "midsize" cars. When we arrived, however, the agent said they could only give us a Nissan Murano, which in case you don't know (I sure didn't) is an "SUV crossover vehicle." Neither Co nor I had ever before driven such a vehicle (we own a Saturn sedan) so that made us a bit nervous. I think that the rental agent expected us to be excited about receiving the big silver Murano for the same price as the Chevy Malibu. However, not only were we mildly anxious about driving the enormous beast, I personally have a previous association with the word Marrano(which of course is what I heard when he said "Murano"). So, I am hoping that spending the weekend with me and Co, at a Bat Mitzvah, helped the big silver beastie get in touch with its Judaism. In return, the Marrano has given us the opportunity to say we have driven an SUV.
Finally, the Marrano assisted us with one more visit: we met Charlotte, S., and LM in the flesh. It was fun!
*We did not make it to the sperm bank, of course, which disappointed me mightily, but of course we can and will arrange a phone consultation. Our primary relationship with that bank would be a postal one anyway. So I do not, personally, take this as a sign that we will not be using their goods....although some other possibilities have suddenly and unexpectedly reared their heads. I'll be blogging about that soon...