Don't Shake the Flask

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Tag: road trip planning

From Snowy Montana to Sunny California and a Brief Musing on the Nature of Love

Day 1 (December 25, 2012)

The whole impetus for the trip came when my sister and I were talking about places to go for our winter vacation. “Let’s go to Albuquerque!” I said. “I don’t think they have much snow. And more importantly, I’ve never been there before.”

My sister was at first a little skeptical. After all, what was in Albuquerque? I had no idea, but that in itself wasn’t a deterrent to me. A vacation, if the sole purpose isn’t about R & R, has little purpose if there isn’t a bit of adventure and discovery along the way. But my sister, a foodie, quickly came around when she realized this was her chance to experience more authentic Mexican food. Apparently the stuff is usually of dubious quality north of the 49th parallel.

Originally, I had thought about heading straight to Albuquerque and spending time there, but it soon morphed into a road trip starting in San Diego where we would first visit one of our cousins. Our final plan became the Loop: 1) take the I-15 north from San Diego to Barstow, 2) the I-40 from Barstow to Albuquerque, 3) the I-25 from Albuquerque to Las Cruces, 4) the I-10 from Las Cruces to Tucson, and 5) the I-8 from Tucson back to San Diego.

On Christmas Day, I flew down from Missoula to San Diego to meet up with my sister. (The thing that I usually notice about fellow passengers is how some of them dress so uncomfortably for a plane ride. I suppose for them, the desire to be fashionable and to be seen trumps comfort and practicality.) I got a rental car which hadn’t been my first choice, but it’s Christmas so sometimes you just have to roll with things. The Volkswagen Passat ended up serving us well throughout the trip. The only thing I was really annoyed with was the fuel door which was definitely not user friendly. It didn’t open when I wanted it open and it opened when I didn’t want it open. Also the user manual that came with the car? My sister scoured the thing and there’s no freakin’ phone numbers to the car company’s help department.

Anyways, we hooked up the GPS to figure out a way to get to our cousin’s apartment but at first the GPS was uncooperative as it continued to think it was still in Montana. After many long minutes of attempting to coax the device into believing that it was in San Diego, we gave up and called our cousin for directions.

By the time we arrived at our cousin’s home, the GPS had decided to behave and we were starving. Our cousin, her boyfriend, and his brother decided to take us to one of their favorite restaurants, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot. Seeing the place completely packed was definitely promising. Once we got a table, we decided on getting a split hot pot–one spicy, one non-spicy. We also ordered a whole bunch of stuff to go into the hot pot. And it was delicious. Highly recommended. (Also, after reading the menu I finally learned what one of my favorite vegetables tongho was in English: chrysanthemum leaves.)

Afterwards, we ambled around Balboa Park which was decked out with lights for the holidays. It was also quite weird seeing one of the museums advertising a torture exhibit. (Note: My digital camera does not do well in the dark so these are the only ones that turned out not terribly blurry.)

Later that evening during the course of conversation, our cousin brought up the fact that her sister had sent her a “salacious” picture of their parents. Apparently her sister had found an entire “romantic cruise photo shoot” on their computer. “She didn’t hack their computer,” my cousin took pains to explain. “Besides, they didn’t mind that we wanted to show the pictures.”

“Is this something that once I see I can’t unsee?” I had asked.

“No! It’s totally cute!” She showed me the picture.

My aunt and uncle were on the deck of a cruise ship in an uncomfortable looking cinch pose. Fortunately, they were wearing ordinary clothes. But it could make for a horrible romance novel cover.

“That’s…weird,” I managed. I handed the picture over to my sister.

She was a bit speechless. “Uhhh…”

The thing is, this photo shoot seemed completely at odds with what my sister and I know about our aunt and uncle. They and our parents grew up in the sort of cultural milieu where such lavish documentation of affection just isn’t done. While my uncle is a little more easy going, I think of my aunt as the quintessential tiger mom not so secretly obsessed with status and appearances (sort of like an Asian Hyacinth Bucket)–constantly driving her daughters to excel so that they could ultimately become medical professionals.

My cousin further told us that she and her sister had constantly badgered their parents to actually show that they love each other. “But we didn’t know that they would do this!” Maybe all that badgering finally made them snap and they decided to do something to embarrass their kids. Although if that’s the case, it backfired as my cousin thinks the whole thing is awesome.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with over-the-top displays of love. But what I find troubling is the belief that the only way to show that you love someone is to have that over-the-top display. Sure, some people do it and it’s natural to them. But not everyone has the personality, cultural inclination, sheer chutzpa, or any number of other things to do that sort of stuff. A grand dramatic gesture isn’t necessary to show that you love someone. The small seemingly mundane things can also express love. And to me, those small things seem far more believable because they are harder to fake and less dependent on an audience.

And so with that philosophical thought bouncing around in my head, I tried to get some sleep on my cousin’s couch before the long drive the next day.

Dreaming of the Road

Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to be “settled in”. It seems like I’m always running errands for one thing or another. The to-do list never seems to end. And already, I’m contemplating the notion of moving somewhere else–primarily because my neighbors think that all the noise I make is waking up their baby. Which is total bullshit. I rarely stay up past midnight. I live alone. I don’t talk to myself. I don’t have a television. And any music I play, I can’t hear it in the next room.

Then again, new parents may in general be crazy. Maybe my presence is just a convenient excuse for why they aren’t getting any sleep.

As for work, I think it’s going well. I haven’t yet transformed into one of those nutty, stressed-out post-docs. But other than that, I can’t really talk much about work. There are these rules they have about what one can or cannot say on blogs and social media. I may have to put a disclaimer on this blog about how everything in here is my opinion and not that of my employer–blah, blah, blah–just to be safe even though I write under a pseudonym, don’t talk about work or even say who I work for.

* * *

Recently, my sister and I have been contemplating doing a road trip together. I guess we could go for complete spontaneity, but considering where we want to do the road trip, I do not want us to be inadvertently stuck in the middle of the desert at sundown with no one but weird snowbirds and their dusty RVs to keep us company.

We’ve divided up planning with me figuring out possible routes with a list of cities and towns we might be passing through while my sister, being the discerning foodie, will make a list of eateries that we should visit. (I suspect we’ll be eating a lot of Mexican food as my sister is always complaining that there’s no real Mexican food in Canada.) And other interesting spots we might come across in our research, we’ll just add to our master list of “things to see if we happen to be there.” This way, with our prior planning, we will go see and eat interesting things wherever we happen to be while avoiding the tourist traps and the burger places owned by giant corporations.

Of course I can’t discount the wisdom of prior travelers, so I definitely welcome any suggestions anyone might have. (We will probably go through bits of I-8, I-10, and I-40. The actual route won’t be finalized until we’re actually on the road. And then, maybe not even then.)