Last Friday, MacTroll and I took X-man to California to check out the area and to give him an idea of how kid-friendly California will be when we move. It was a whirlwind tour, but it was a lot of fun -- except for the travel home. But I'll save that for last.
The first day we drove from San José to San Francisco. It's about an hour-long commute. I learned that there are two primary highways. The 101, which is cement wall to cement wall with crappy constant jackass commuters that move 1/2 inch at a time, except for the motorcycles which weave at 80 mph between the miserable cars or you can choose the 280, which is undeveloped because it runs by the main water source for San Francisco. We chose option B. Might not be as direct, but there were a lot less cars on it. Except, I realized that although I had prepared X-man for the 65 degree weather that is San Francisco in the summer, I had forgotten my own jacket at home in the rush to get everything in the car.
We were stopping on our way into the city at a restaurant called The Counter. It's a custom burger place that also serves vegan burgers. It was right next to the mall we were going to take X-man to the Lego store at some point, so we decided while I needed a sweatshirt, we might as well stop there, too.
I have only really nice things to say about the San José Westfield Valley Fair Mall, particularly the Lego people and the folks in the sportswear department at Nordstrom's. They were all very good with X-man and very helpful. Then we drove into the city. The original plan was to go to the beach, but since it was 45 degrees colder than it was at home when we got there, we just hung out in the W and played with Legos. They also had a free 1981 video game table next to the bar where we played Ms. Pac-man, 1941 and Galaga. :-) We also watched the SF Giants beat the Houston Astros on TV.
The next morning, I had X-man dressed from head to toe, but it was still 55 degrees as we walked one block down to The Grove for breakfast. The Grove is a pretty sweet place. I notice a theme of California restaurants using trees or driftwood as decoration everywhere. The woman who opened the Big Grove Tavern in Champaign used to work at the Thirstybear across the street from the W. She brought the driftwood element with her to Champaign. :-)
Anyway, we ordered X some bacon and a croissant and a freshly squeezed OJ (which he found very cool to watch). I got an egg white omelet and MacTroll got some egg bake thing. We went up and sat at a breakfast bar overlooking the restaurant a little after 9 a.m. and then people started piling in for breakfast. The people watching was fascinating. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and got in the car and went to the Exploratorium. I had taken X-man there when he was three and found it very small child unfriendly. I would say that assessment still holds true for pre-schoolers. However, it really was pretty good for him now, but I did have to read a lot of things too him. He understood most of the science behind the exhibits and was constantly asking questions. It's a very hands on place that is moving to a new location on the docks in 2013.
He was sad when we left, but we had to get some food in him, so we went to this hole in the wall called Underdog near Golden Gate Park where we were going to meet his cousins at the Koret Children's Quarter for a play date. The amount of time to get from the Exploratorium to the restaurant was ridiculous. 1) Because MacTroll took off driving in a direction before I got the GPS situated and we ended up in the stop and go traffic heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge. X-man was freaking out that we were lost and going to have to pay to cross the bridge. But we caught the last exit at the Presidio and I guided us back. Once we were in Golden Gate Park it was stop and go traffic again -- for 45 minutes just to get from one end of the park to the other. It was a mess. And it was a shitty, crappy, windy, cloudy cold day. Parking was impossible and I was feeling my blood pressure rise as my sugar levels dropped. People make me cranky. So glad we're not living in SF.
As it turned out though, the hot dog place was awesome. On the wall they had a poster with new "rock, scissor, paper" ideas, which is awesome, because we've been playing, "Rock, Scissors, Paper, Anything" now for over a year. X-man was fascinated with how the new 25 different characters could take on each other. He was particularly excited that Monkey defeated Man (and Woman) by flinging poop at them. :-) Underdog had organic fed beef dogs as well as vegan options. We just had to ignore the fact that paying a meter is $2 for an hour.
After lunch, we went to the park. We had purchased X-man a balloon launcher at the Exploratorium, and his cousins were running late, so we played with the balloons for a little while.
Then we went over to the playground, where the first thing X-man did was get soaking wet in the sleeves and pants in the sand and water area. But since the place was huge and a lot of fun, he didn't notice. He loved the park the last time we were there (we ended up visiting twice) and this time was no difference. He spent most of his time on the cement slides again, but he was also big enough to go on the massive rope climber and to find a friend to "cook" with in the sand and water.
After three hours, he was spent. We got him back to the hotel room and put him in a warm shower and then took him down to the hotel restaurant (which didn't have a kids menu but said, "We'll make him anything he wants") and fed him a grilled cheese sandwich, corn soup and some strawberries. Afterwards, we played in the hotel pool.
On Sunday, we got up and X-man asked to go to the Grove again, so we did. :-) Then we got in the car and we drove back down to San José. MacTroll took the 101 this time, because he figured it wouldn't be too awful on a Sunday morning. It wasn't stop and go, but it wasn't pretty either. When we got to San José, we drove X-man around the neighborhood we're looking to live in called Willow Glen. We took him by the elementary school, by some houses and then we took him to a place called Psycho Donuts (we called this lunch) in Campbell the town next to Willow Glen. "Look at the eyeballs in the windows!" X-man was very excited. He chose a Cereal Killer donut. Every day they have a vegan donut option, but I went with a Rocky Road to Hell.
After Donuts, we checked into the Fairmont Hotel in Downtown San José. Two years ago, I thought it was a weird place, and I still do. If you're a tourist, you're conveniently located next to the highways. You can walk to the Children's Museum and an art museum and a Tech Museum. But if you want to go for a walk, you're stuck stopping at the street lights every block -- or a trail system where people advise you to travel in groups and to have a mountain bike because the trail from downtown to the Airport isn't finished and turns to gravel and has camps of homeless people living under it. The scientologists were also out giving stress tests...
Anyway, I met with Sara Greenwood, our California-based, realtor and went out for coffee at the Starbuck's at Willow Glen and then we went to a couple open houses for two houses that I marked as "favorites" in her search software. It was fun to get to know her. Her daughter is going into second grade at the public school we're hoping X-man goes to. The one thing I love about Willow Glen (even though it's in the middle of San José) is that it's quiet and easy to walk. No traffic in the neighborhoods and the Main Street is a lot of fun. I'm basically going to try to figure out a way where I don't have to drive to most things. I'm even thinking of investing in one of those wire carts to push my groceries in.
House 1) was overpriced for what they were asking for, and they made some interesting choices regarding trying to fix the place up to put it on the market (like waffle textured carpeting upstairs) and what looked like a sky light in the kitchen was actually florescent. So, it's nice to see these things up close. The second house was a rehab job. They took a two bedroom one bathroom house and expanded it 900 square feet. They did a lovely job, but it didn't feel cozy, even though it was small. The street it is on is transitional, so there was an eye sore across the street. But we still have to sell our house before I have to worry about finding a house. But I did get a good idea of what a house that's $1.5 million should look like versus a $1.2 versus a $875,000... And I NEVER thought I'd say those words.
While I was with Sara, the boys went to the Tech Museum. When I returned we wandered down to Los Gatos. This is the city where a lot of Apple people told MacTroll we should live. We went to a Beatles Tribute concert that wasn't -- kid friendly. IT was a small park that was wall to wall people. There was no sitting room. MacTroll couldn't find his friend for 45 minutes, so X-man went off and played with some kids in an empty fountain. Seriously, you couldn't put a playground there, LG?
Anyway, the traffic was a mess. Parking was a mess. X-man was miserable. We lasted 30 minutes once MacTroll found his friend before we left.
On Monday morning, we took X-man to the Fruit to see where MacTroll works. I hadn't been there in -- a long time -- but campus had grown in size and become -- less fun. The sand volleyball court was gone and the cafeteria was so crazy overcrowded that we bailed on our idea of lunch and ate at Subway down the street. MacTroll also seemed a bit tense, and he forbid me from taking photos within the door of the building, which seemed jacked up considering what kind of company they are. Anyway, what I will tell you is that X-man found some of the art in the lobby fascinating. It was a table made up of 120 iPads. All of the apps ever created were color coated by design of their logo and were traveling across the table like a big wave of red, blue, green, etc. You could tap a logo and it would tell you what countries that app was most sold in and other info about it. X-man spent literally 20 minutes playing with it. Outside the gates is the campus store, so we went in there. X-man was afraid there wouldn't be any kids -- but it was filled with children of Fruit employees for some reason that day. He played with the store iPad for a little while, too. I ended up buying a second sweatshirt because some small person rubbed his greasy bacon fingers all over my shirt the other day at breakfast. :-)
Plus, we got to recycle the 4 Fruit-owned laptops we had uselessly sitting around our house on campus.
Since X-man had had back to back not so child friendly experiences, I decided that we should head out to the ocean to Santa Cruz. We all purchased wristbands at the board walk and road amusement park rides for 3-4 hours that day.
After the board walk, we ate dinner at Pizza My Heart in Willow Glen. It was a really quiet Monday night downtown, so lots of stores were closed because it was around 7 p.m. by the time we got there. X-man wasn't crazy about their pepperoni, but he was excited about his surprise. We walked three blocks down to Powell's Sweet Shop, where they have almost every kind of candy you could imagine. It was awesome. They have five old movie theater seats in the back of the store in front of a TV that I'm pretty sure plays Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on a continuous loop.
On Tuesday, MacTroll had to go to work, so we tried a place for breakfast in Campbell called Green Bites Café. It's vegetarian/vegan friendly, too, and it had S'mores crepes for X-man. He consumed a large fruit cup of melon and then breakfast was served. You should have seen his eyes bugger out of his head at the number of marshmallows. Dutifully, MacTroll and I helped him finish them. But they were really yummy and the whole place was very reasonably price, so we'll be back there, for sure. Mactroll and I had both ordered boring egg and veggie sausage sandwiches. What were we thinking?
X-man and I walked to the children's museum, where we made new friends waiting for the museum to open. They just relocated to SJ/LG 4 weeks ago from Austin, Texas. The mom was on her own (an engineering widow). She worked in early childhood education and has two children ages almost 5 and 7. We went through the museum together for 3 hours until X-man couldn't bear not being in the pizza kitchen/market area and her kids were hip to do crafts. So we exchanged e-mails and cell numbers, and promised to stay in touch. She grew up in California, but totally understands the freak out over the move.
After the museum, X-man needed some downtime. We ended up watching the Food Network. X-man was fascinated by Cupcake Wars and Chopped. Two hours later, we went down to the hotel pool where we were the only ones in it. Unlike SF, SJ is at least 15-20 degrees warmer. So it was 79 degrees outside when we got in the heated pool. We played for an hour, before it looked like a conference was going to have a private party at the pool. We got ready to go upstairs and as we're walking toward the door to the hotel, a woman walked out and before I could stop myself the name, "Holly?" came out of it.
She looked at me not knowing who I was. I told her my name and the Millikin connection and she totally freaked out. She lives in Arizona now. We talked for a few minutes before X-man was cold and needed to keep going. But it is a small world.
On Wednesday, X-man and I flew home. The taxi ride from the hotel to the airport was REALLY easy. Security was awesome. We got lunch and boarded the plane and had a simple ride back to Chicago... where storms hit and we were stuck. X-man at least got to eat McDonald's... which made his day, even if it was on the floor of the airport.
Our 8:50 p.m. flight to Champaign kept getting pushed back every 15 minutes while there was a ground stop for lightning. Had they said, it's gonna be a couple hours, I would have at least taken X-man to the playground, but since it was changing so frequently, I made us stay put. I found a bench near our gate, so he could lie down, but he couldn't figure that out in such a stimulating place. Finally at 12:30 a.m. we were allowed onto the jet bridge. But the plane was hot from sitting, so we all had to stand for 20 minutes on the jet bridge. Then we got a pilot and a co-pilot (good things) and then we boarded. We taxied out to the runway... and then we sat there until 2:45 in the morning. Where they decided to reroute us to Moline and then bring us in behind the storms through Peoria to Champaign. We had to wait again until they were sure we had enough gas, and then we took off.
We landed at about 3:30 a.m. No lie. In the words of MacTroll, "They REALLY want you to get to Champaign tonight."
And then we were woken up 4 hours later by Concrete Evolutions pouring our new patio in the backyard. So, if you see me today, I'm a wreck. We stayed in bed until 11 a.m., but I wasn't sleeping. More like just lying there with my eyes shut. X-man woke up at 9:30 a.m. and wouldn't leave me for anything. He just kept touching me with his feet and making mouth noises. "But I love you, I don't want to be away from you." Grrr.
On the plus side, the concrete is done being poured in the backyard. They'll need to cut into it and then do the design and seal the sucker before we walk on it. But it's there. That only took a year...