I haven't been on an airplane since one of my dispatch partners, Jen, and I flew down to Orlando two years ago to attend the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch Navigator Conference in Orlando, Florida. Prior to that I hadn't been on a plane since September of 2002 and, frankly, that's been okay by me. It's not that flying scares me or anything like that - even though the take-offs do tend to make my palms sweat a tiny bit but once we're past that I'm generally okay - it's more that it's gotten more and more uncomfortable over the years and, frankly, I miss airline food. There - I've said it - I actually liked the food that they used to serve in-flight and now you're darned lucky if you get a miniature packet of peanuts and a can of soda! Still, there are some occasions that call for actually sucking it up and getting on a plane as it would take too long to get there via automobile and with the rising cost of gas, it's probably just as cheap to fly these days anyway!
That said, it appears that I shall be boarding a plane in just a little less than three short weeks and winging my way to a place I honestly never thought I would go to again ... California. More specifically that would be Stockton, California - the second most miserable city in the country (according to the statistics I quoted in this post) that also just happens to be the hometown of my BFF Miz Cyn. As a matter of fact, it is my BFF MC who provided me the plane ticket to return to a place I thought I would never return to in this lifetime and when your BFF requests the honor of your presence and provides you with the means to get there, how can you say no?
For those not familiar with Stockton or the Barkleys of the Big Valley (you did know that the TV series The Big Valley was set in Stockton, right?) - it's the 13th largest city in California located approximately 80 miles east of San Francisco and 40 miles south of Sacramento in the Central Valley, which is a major agricultural region. I called Stockton home from 1981 until 1987 and took my first job as a 911 dispatcher with the Police Department there in 1984. I still have ties to the region in the form of not only my BFF MC but also with my former grandmother-in-law from my first marriage, who isn't getting any younger and if I hope to see her again on this side of life then it's probably a good idea I get out there to visit her now. Quite the compelling reason for getting on a plane and traveling roughly 3,000 miles.
There are, of course, other compelling reasons which were discussed at great length prior to my agreeing to this trip. Other than really wanting to see Cyndi, whom I have not seen since mid-2003 even though we have kept in constant contact via telephone over the years, I figure it's high time we had another picture taken together as the only one I have is this one from 1986 when we both worked at SPD.
No, no - this isn't an outtake from Charlie's Angels even though we have the hair for it - this was taken on the day our "dispatch team" worked it's last shift together before they scattered us to various schedules in the dispatch center thereby ruining a really good thing. For those who haven't seen this picture yet, Cyndi is the one in the sweater (she was pregnant with her third child, Daniel, at the time and didn't have to wear a uniform) and I'm the one in the middle with the really wavy almost-blonde hair. The others are Chris with her arm around me, Kathy to the right, and our shift supervisor, Dianne, who was kneeling in front of a cake. As much as I like this picture, it's over 20 years old and my hair will never look like that again so it's time for a new picture. Unless we want to do some fancy PhotoShop cutting and pasting, that is going to require Cyndi and I both being in the same place at the same time.
Which brings us to another compelling reason for me to go ... as much as Cyndi would love to hop on a plane and come back East for a visit so that we could take a picture here, her husband insists that it's my turn to go West as Cyndi made the last two trips. Jeff has a valid point but we're not looking at it exactly the same way that he is. By our sneaky calculations, we figure that if I fly out there now then the next visit is Cyndi's and she'll be able to justify a trip East to explore New York City and Gettysburg. Devious, aren't we?
The third compelling reason has to do with the fact that I've not been able to get decent Mexican food since my last visit to California. This may not seem like much of a compelling reason to a lot of you but - trust me - when you've experienced authentic Mexican food then the likes of Taco Bell just is not going to do it! I blame part of this reason squarely on my dispatch partner Jen, whom I mentioned above, as she loves to watch the Food Network and I have had to suffer through innumerable hours of watching Guy Fieri chow down on some fantastic looking Mexican food on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. A girl can only take so much and then something's gotta give! I'll admit it - I'm weak! - but ever since Cyndi and I started discussing a potential trip I've been able to practically taste the quesadilla and beef enchilada in the #12 combinación plato at the Cancun Mexican Restaurant that I've been jonesing for since I was last out that way! Some memories just die harder than others!
Then there is one more compelling reason for me to board a plane, sit in a cramped seat with a tiny bag of peanuts, and lose three hours due to the time zone changes in the process - if I am ever going to get Cyndi to start writing a blog, I need to try to convince her in person. I'm not sure I have the ability to do that on my own (Cyndi can be danged stubborn) so I'm planning on recruiting the likes of several other top-notch bloggers like Sandee of Comedy Plus who lives mere miles from Stockton, Katherine of Wading Through My Stream of Consciousness who could hop over the mountains from Santa Cruz to join in, and the ever Amazing Gracie of Echoes of Grace who lives the furthest but I think I can encourage to be there for this "round table discussion" . I figure that between the four of us, maybe we can make a dent in Cyndi's hard Irish skull and get her to use some of those writing talents she has languishing away. Resistance will be futile! At least that's my hope! Plus I get to meet some more totally cool bloggers in the process and that alone makes it worth the really, really long trip! Anyone else going to be close by that wants to join us?
Of course, even though there were many compelling reasons to say "yes" to this trip, there were several compelling hesitations also. What would I do with Amanda while I was gone for almost a week? Would I be able to get the time off from work? How would my back handle an 8-hour plane ride? Where would I stay when I got out there? As it turns out, during the time that I am going to be in California (May 1st to the 6th), Amanda will be staying with her friend Darcy outside of Philadelphia as that's the weekend of the big Bamboozle concert that she's been looking forward to for months. As a matter of fact, I will be driving down there and flying out of Philadelphia while leaving my car with Darcy's family so Amanda won't miss me in the least. As for getting the time off of work, my co-workers were more than willing to cover my shifts for me so that I could take some much needed time off (some of them are placing bets as to whether I'll actually be back or not but I can assure them this is a short trip only and I'm not going out for any job interviews!). My back has been doing better lately and with a change of planes in Denver, I think I can handle the flight as long as I get up and stretch occasionally while cruising high above the clouds (after being sure to tell the flight attendants why I'm getting up so much!) plus I've read some great tips from other back-pain sufferers that I'm going to try. I might be a bit stiff when I get off the plane in Sacramento but I think I'll be okay.
My biggest hesitation in finally saying "yes" to this trip was one of logistics as to where I would stay while I was out there. As much as I love Cyndi, her house is out of the question as she has way too many cats for my allergies to even allow me to walk into it for any length of time, never mind actually stay there. My former grandmother-in-law lives in a very small house so that was out of the question, too. That left me with finding decent accommodations that I could afford that also wouldn't put me in one of the more undesirable parts of the city. For that I turned to my old friend William Shatner and Price-Line where I negotiated a fantastic deal at the Courtyard Marriott for a fraction of the normal cost. I named my own price and they accepted it at a savings of almost 70%! To say that you couldn't beat that deal with a stick might be a bit of an understatement so how could I possibly say no? Well, I couldn't ... especially considering they required I enter a credit card number before they negotiated the price!
I was a little hesitant on the whole "name your own price" thing as I had no idea which hotel in the area I might end up with and I knew for sure that there were several in Stockton that I had no desire to stay at whatsoever but I thought it might be worth the chance if it could save me some money. I was especially afraid of finding out that my "winning bid" put me at the La Quinta Inn which, even though it's a decent enough hotel, is the one I stayed at the last time I was in Stockton and it had the worst mattress ever! Add on the fact that there are "ghosts" there and it was not high on my list of places I wanted to stay. I was quite delighted when I found out that my offer was accepted at the Courtyard Marriott as I have stayed there in the past also and found it to have absolutely wonderful accommodations plus there is the added benefit of free WiFi! Surely you didn't think I'd go to California for a week and not take my laptop so that I could blog did you?? Heck no! Have blog - will travel!
All in all, even though I'm a bit nervous about it, I'm quite looking forward to this trip. I haven' t had a vacation in years (taking the girls out to Kentucky in 2004 to live in their new home doesn't count in my book) and I really do need a break from work before I burn out completely. Granted, I've got the Beach House in September to look forward to but considering my stress levels lately, I think I need a little something-something a little sooner.
Good food plus good friends has got to equal good times even if it's in the second most miserable city in the country - right?? I mean, it's not like I'm going to Detroit which is the most miserable city in the country!