Monday, December 22, 2014

A Unique Hollywood Experience

Last week we headed to Los Angeles to meet up with my cousin, Rob, on his lunch break. Rob works for 20th Century Fox and he invited us to come take a private tour of the lot and facilities. When we arrived at the parking structure we had to give our IDs to the parking attendant and she gave us a series of visitor passes and rule sheets. It was very official stuff. The first rule on the sheet was NO PHOTOGRAPHY WITHOUT WRITTEN CONSENT FROM 20TH CENTURY FOX. So, if you feel this portion is lacking original photos, take it up with the folks at Fox.

We weren't expecting much. When Rob initially invited us it just sounded like we were gonna walk around the lot and he was going to point out things to us from afar. He met us at the elevator and we followed him across the Fox lot which, for the record, doesn't give tours. You just have to know someone.
This is Rob. Rob likes Voltron. 

The first place he took us was the poster and prop archive room. There were two girls working there and I'll be damned if I can remember their names. Rob's boss had called down and told them to pull some stuff and have it ready to show us. So, since they were doing a favor for their boss, we were suddenly important guests. Thanks Rob's boss!

The first girl showed us some classic posters. They were inside of these special drawers and they were protected on either side with poster board. She wore white gloves when handling them and the whole thing felt kinda bad. Like we were defiling these priceless movie artifacts with our curiosity. The first poster was a Return of the Jedi poster but the title read: Revenge of the Jedi. As many die hard Star Wars fans know, this was originally going to be the title of the movie but it was changed prior to release because the creators didn't feel that revenge was a very Jedi-like recourse. Later, they would use the name Revenge of the Sith as a nod to this classic working title. I consider myself to be a relatively big fan of Star Wars but this was all news to me.
Click Here to buy your own RotJ poster on eBay. Signed by the cast and given to Mark Hamill. Only $6,000!

She went on to show us the original poster from The Mark of Zorro. I was having trouble understanding why she would show us this poster until she pointed out that this was the movie the Wayne family was seeing when Batman's parents were killed. She said it had recently been checked out by the Batman vs Superman crew and we could expect to see it in the movie. I wanted to look through these drawers all day but, after seeing a few really cool (and literally priceless) posters, we were handed off to the prop girl. 
The poster we saw was hand painted. 

This part of the tour couldn't have been scripted any better if I had written it myself. The prop girl invited us into her secret room and we gathered around some brief cases on a table. The girl leaned over and asked Noah, "Do you know who the X-Men are?" 

He nodded

"Who is your favorite member of the X-Men?" She inquired

Since she was talking about a favorite subject of his, he loosened up and explained, "Wolverine! I have a wolverine costume and I wore it for Halloween and it has his claws." 

"Well" she said, "I think you'll like what I have in here." 

She opened a wooden box and inside of it were two metal (adamantium) claws. She picked one up and it had two letters engraved on the handle, R and H. She explained that the R stood for 'right' because it was the claw the actor wore on his right hand. She went on to tell us that the H stood for 'Hugh' because these claws were the exact ones that Hugh Jackman used in the X-Men movies! Like the girl before her, she too was using white gloves to handle the goods. Then she asked Noah, "Can I trust you to be really careful?" 

Noah's face lit up and his eyes got really big and he replied, "Yeah."

"Okay" she said, "You just need to put one of these white gloves on first." 

She helped him put a glove on his right hand and then lowered the Wolverine claw down to his level. The claws have a small handle that you nestle into your palm with the blades sticking out between your fingers. She instructed him to make a fist and then she let go. I wish I could have taken a picture of this moment because there was Noah, turning his fist back and forth, admiring his wolverine claw. He was thrilled.  
This is how Noah felt while holding the Wolverine claws. 

She pointed out all of the other props around the room. There were signs and knick knacks from cut scenes that never made it on film but were too cool to throw away so they used them to decorate. Needless to say, the decor kicked ass. She also pointed out some props that had just arrived. One of them was a tent from the movie Wild starring Reese Witherspoon. This movie has significance because both Jessica and I have read that book while on this trip. And it's a tent and we love camping. I just felt connected to this prop. We thanked these fine ladies for showing us around and walked to another part of the building where Rob's friend, Dane, works. 

I totally got to see that tent. It's a Wenzel.

Dane has a desk that is surrounded by film reel and Darth Vader action figures. He is a big Star Wars fan AND he just happens to be the guy who takes care of the film vaults at Fox. We shook hands as Rob introduced all of us and he invited us to follow him to the vaults. 

The first vault was cooled to a temperature of 34 degrees with 30% humidity. He said that the computer that controls the temperature was SO sensitive that it was already adjusting to our presence in the vault. While inside of the vault we were actually breathing the cleanest air in California. He showed us some reels that were from classic films from the 60's. He held up a reel and said, "This reel is worth about $550 a foot and there are over 1200 feet on this reel." 

It's freaky watching someone handle something so sensitive and valuable. It really was a trip. 
Reminder - Internet stock photos. I was not allowed to take pics. 

We walked across the hall to another vault and Dane walked backwards while giving us the inside scoop on the business of storing and de-storing masters. You can't just take them out and hand them to people. They would start to thaw too rapidly and be destroyed by condensation. You have to move them from vault (freezer) to vault (slightly warmer freezer) first. He stopped at a shelf that read STAR WARS ONLY on the side. He cranked the wheel that moved the rolling shelves and exposed a bunch of tattered leather film cases. Holy...crap. The master reels for the original Star Wars Trilogy were sitting in front of me. He opened one and held it up to the light for us. I was mind blown. Here are these films, possibly the most celebrated movie franchise in history, and it's just me and my family getting a glimpse of them in a temperature controlled vault at Fox Studios. I know at least a hundred nerds who would have killed for this opportunity and we just stumbled into it while visiting my cousin at work. How kickass is that? 

We walked outside onto the lot and Rob showed us places where they film things like How I Met Your Mother and Bones. They basically just use the entire lot in a very resourceful way. One day the Fox employees might come to work and find that their entrance has been turned into a set for a TV show. We saw the buildings where the staff for The Simpsons work and watched some set builders hammer away on a big set. It started to rain so we had to wrap things up. We checked out the gift shop and headed back up to our car and Rob went back to work. Rob has a cool ass job! 

We did some hiking this week. One of the hikes was in the Hollywood hills at a place called Runyon Canyon. Jessica had found it online and when she read about it she learned that it was a popular spot for celebrities to walk their dogs. On the last stretch of the 2 mile hike we walked right past Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly fame. I didn't recognize her but Jessica pointed her out as iCarly and I was like, "Oh yeah, Miranda Cosgrove." I only know this information because I have an adult, male friend who once went to a concert of hers and he refers to her as 'MirCo' (pronounced Meer Coh).
"OMG! Is Miranda Cosgrove standing on the hill behind me?!?!"

Photobombed by the Hollywood sign. 

We enjoyed our Hollywood Hills hike so much that we went hiking again the next day. This time to a place real close to our campground in the San Fernando Valley. It is a place where I have been mountain biking called Towsley Canyon. It is a beautiful trail and the boys hiked the entire 5 miles with very little complaining. I think they are getting used to being little outdoor adventurers.
Yum Family at high altitude. 

We spent the rest of the week hanging out at or near the campground. We finished up our Christmas shopping and finalized our holiday plans. We only bought a few gifts for the boys because we don't have a ton of space. We also believe that one of the benefits of being nomads is we get to trade our material possessions for real experiences. We all love Christmas though so we thought presents were appropriate and I think we found a nice balance.
We took the boys to Six Flags Magic Mountain. It was cheap and super close. 

These next few weeks will be difficult for us. It is the first time we have spent Christmas without our huge families. It's really bittersweet that we get to spend Christmas surrounded by palm trees and swimming pools yet, we will be dearly missing our loved ones in Michigan. When it's all said and done though Christmas 2014 will be about as memorable as they get.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

- The Yums 

Follow us on Instagram @YumFam

Monday, December 15, 2014

Surviving the Storm!

One of the things we have joked about in California is how tame the weather is. People worry when the forecast is predicting 1-2" of rain. That's it. Rain. No wind, thunder, hail, or lightning. Just a bunch of rain. Laughable. 

There had been talk of a storm that was due to arrive in Santa Barbara on Thursday night and 2-4" of rain was expected. Fine. Just some rain. Bring it. On Thursday, things were sort of damp and overcast so we spent the day doing things indoors. We checked out a cool sea life center on the pier and ate dinner in town. The Palm trees were blowing and the waves were pretty huge. It looked like the storm was on the way in. 
Gray day and crashing sea

We arrived back at the camper, put the kids to bed, and Jessica popped in a Christmas movie while I just kicked back in my bed. All was well and we were ready for this wussy-ass California storm. 

At 10:30 the power went out. This is something we can totally work around since we live in a camper. The fridge and appliances can run on propane and our dome lights can run off the battery. But, it definitely makes a late-night storm more frightening. Jessica had finished watching her movie and laid down to sleep. Within a few minutes she was out. 

The winds started to really pick up. You could hear them as they came howling down the side of the valley wall and then hit the side of the camper like a sail. I started wishing I had chosen a site that was wedged between two huge diesel pushers. These motor homes, no doubt, could receive a surge of wind a lot easier than my ultra-light travel trailer. I kept telling myself, "these are only 50-60 MPH wind gusts. You tow this thing down the highway at high speeds. It can handle this." My chant of reassurance was repeatedly disrupted by another blast of wind, as if Mother Nature was arguing with me. 

I started to get used to the not-so-gentle rocking and began to doze off. I was awoken by the alert of my weather radio. It's the last thing you want to hear when riding out a storm and it basically means that things are about to get WORSE. It sounds like an ambulance and it's just an alert, you still have to turn the radio on to hear the bad news. I turned on the radio to get the special alert and it was warning of flash flooding in southern San Luis Obispo county. The creepy robot man inside of my weather radio started naming specific cities. I remembered that Pismo Beach, the place we had just left last week, was in southern SLO county. Just as this thought passed my mind the words "Pismo Beach" came out of the radio. I was still feeling uneasy but I felt grateful that we were no longer there. All this talk of flooding seemed rather foreign to me anyhow. I was dealing with massive wind gusts and hoping my camper wouldn't tip over. I would have gladly traded the wind for heavy rain...or so I thought. 

At 11:30 the wind started to calm down and the rain started to arrive. It was coming in sideways and was occasionally disrupted by another strong wind gust. It sounded like one of those sprinklers that sways back and forth was grazing my camper as it passed by, then it would get interrupted by wind, then sway back over the camper. It was a peculiar rain pattern, the stuff only an unpredictable cold front can produce. Unusual as it was, I felt the storm had stabilized and started to nod off again. 

Within minutes the weather radio was alerting again. This time I had started to hear it in my sleep as I was beginning to dream. I don't remember the dream but I remember waking in a fit of terror wondering what the sound was. After a few seconds I realized it was the radio again which didn't make me feel any less terrified, transitioning from a bad dream to an equally bad reality and all. 

This time the flash flood warning was extended to northern Santa Barbara county. Shit. The radio named cities. Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Solvang...

The ranch where we were staying was in a canyon, halfway between Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez. We were on high ground BUT we could have been higher. Plus, we were nestled next to a mountain that had recently burned in a wild fire. So, there were no guarantees and the risk of a mudslide was high. I looked out the window and the rain was still just light to moderate. I laid down and tried to relax. 

After a few minutes the rain showed up in FULL FORCE. I have experienced heavy rain before. In Michigan the torrential downpours can get pretty bad. The raindrops are big and they come down sideways and decrease visibility to practically zero. This was different. It was worse. The rain was falling like sheets of water. Like someone had parked our camper under a giant waterfall and left us there. You could feel it through the camper walls and the corners near the floor and ceiling were all getting damp. I felt worried and the sound of the rainfall wasn't doing anything for my anxiety. I grabbed my phone and decided to play some games and try to forget the storm. 

There is no cell phone reception in this park and I was playing games offline on my phone. I was deep in thought, trying to find the perfect word to play in scrabble when my phone started to make emergency sounds. 

My anxiety shot to a new level when I saw this warning but I was also a little bit amused. Here I have been feeling disconnected with no cell phone reception and the National Weather Service has a direct line to my cell phone at all times. Those sneaky bastards. Just then, the weather radio started going off again. No matter how many times it goes off, you are never any less worried. They extended the flood warning till 2:15am. Not a huge deal but I knew it meant that I was gonna be up for a while. 

I decided that, to be safe, I would have to shine my flashlight around outside the camper every so often to make sure the water wasn't rising around me. If things got hairy, I would wake up the family, put them in the car, and drive to higher ground until things calmed down. This is easier said than done because, as I mentioned, visibility was nil. I did what I could though and, after about 45 minutes of complete washout, the rain slowed to a normal pour. All was well. 

The weather radio went off 3-4 more times after that. A couple times to issue a special marine warning. Waterspouts and huge swells were imminent and they were urging boaters to seek harbor. This sort of made me feel better. At least I wasn't on a boat amidst waterspouts and gigantic waves. The other warnings were for counties to the south and east of us. Ventura county and the springs burn area. They were being quite specific with the directions for folks in that burn area. 

"Take precautions to preserve life and property but only if it is safe to do so. Otherwise, seek shelter on a second floor, out of the reach of rushing waters."

That is verbatim. Man, I felt glad that the high winds and heavy rains were gone. Still, it was very much pouring outside but it seemed trivial compared to what had just happened and what was happening to the south and east of me. 

I was exhausted from all the worry and wanted to sleep but my mind was racing. I wondered when the power would be back. We could go a day or two without it but, after that, we would need a generator or a way to keep the battery charged. I managed to fall asleep and when I woke up, it was sunny and pleasant.

The power came back on at noon and everything was starting to dry off. It was weird to see the calm and sunshine after the night we had. In Michigan, when it rains like that, it's usually dark and gray for a few days. Here, in California, sunshine is the default weather setting. Storms come and go and they get on with the awesome weather. It's pretty crazy...and I don't trust it anymore.
Our campsite. Nestled at the foothills of a recent burn area. 

On our last day in the Santa Ynez Valley we hung out in Solvang for a day. We ate danish food and did tourist type stuff. We have all been reading a LOT of books since we moved into the RV so we picked up some new reads at the bookshop as well. The town reminds me of Frankenmuth or Holland, a Scandinavian themed tourist town that is bursting at the seams with cuteness.

Horse Drawn Trolleys in Solvang
We headed south again the next morning and landed in Valencia, CA, right next to Six Flags Magic Mountain. We haven't decided if we are going to go there or not but we have family in the area so we have some fun stuff planned.

Hangin' W/ Uncle Rob in California.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Friends, Feasts and Fellas Who Fight Fires

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.
- C.S. Lewis

It is official, we are in Southern California. Palm trees have become the dominant plant and the coastal towns are more typical looking. They look more beachy. They have that laid back, it’s-always-summer feel to them too. They are busy too because the snowbirds are here for the winter. So, I guess we are officially snowbirds.
Eating lunch in paradise!

We have some very snowbird-like plans for the holidays too. We are spending a week in Santa Barbara and a week in the greater Los Angeles area (Valencia). We will then spend Christmas in Palm Springs and we have loose plans to spend New Years in Las Vegas. Then, just like that, we will have reached the end of the year. Time flies when you’re having fun. Speaking of fun, we met some new folks this week who showed us a good time.

We were staying at a really nice RV park in Pismo Beach and Jessica was off on a bike ride with the boys while I was working on my computer. She came back into the camper without the kids and told me she had met some friends.

“I want you to come meet them. They have a boy that is close in age to our boys and THEY HAVE A BABY!” She said, with a face full of pure joy.

There is nothing in the world that makes Jessica more happy than holding a baby. Parents, if you need a break, she will hold your baby for HOURS. The younger it is, the more adorably excited she gets too. If it is an infant, she will hold it until you demand to have it back. Yes, I just called a baby ‘it’.

I walked down to meet her friends and I was greeted with smiles by large group of strangers. They had a fleet of really nice travel trailers, 5th wheels and class A RVs and they had created a nice little community on their end of the park. This group was a few generations of firefighters from the Bay Area and, if I can summarize these kick-ass people with one phrase, they were all class acts.

Jessica had been invited over by Rayna, the mother of Carson, a 4-year-old who the boys immediately bonded with. Rayna had told Jessica that her son was playing on the playground with some other kids and he had made those kids cry.

“Was it a boy and a girl on that playground over there?” asked Jessica

“Yep.” She replied.

“My boys made those kids cry too!”

So Jessica and Rayna immediately bonded over the fact that they had crazy boys who make other kids cry. After that, they treated us like we were family. The girls invited Jessica to go out for drinks on a couple occasions and I joined the fellas for some beers at the brewery and sipped whiskey with them by the fire at night. It was really awesome too because there was no drama or judgment happening within the group. They accepted us and each other and everyone was just out to have a good time.
Noah, Sam and Carson horsing around. 

Every evening they had these ENORMOUS potluck dinners at the clubhouse. This wasn’t a typical potluck with hot dogs, hamburgers and casseroles either. Everyone had a special dish that was first in class. One guy, Jeff, made a BBQ meatloaf that changed the way I feel about meatloaf forever. In addition to this there was an amazing mac n cheese bake that contained ham, broccoli and 4 cheeses. They also had pulled pork, lasagna, spaghetti, salads, ham, chicken, and a massive selection of amazing desserts. Every night the fare changed too, these people could cook their asses off.  It is common knowledge among the firefighting community that firemen are excellent cooks but discovering this, for the first time, at a fireman potluck was something I will remember for the rest of my life. We ate with them twice and I gained 5 pounds each time.  
At dinner, this fella, Jeff, handed out white elephants left over from his garage sale. It was a riot. 

These guys don’t brag about what they do for a living. In fact, it seemed they were more interested in hearing about me than talking about themselves. I did, however, walk into a firefighting conversation one night and heard some intense stories. It occurred to me that a California fireman stays busy. We all know this state has a wildfire season and these are the dudes who have to deal with that. They talked about using evacuated homes as shelter with red skies and smoke engulfing the landscape around them. Jason, Rayna’s husband, described the sound that a wildfire makes...a speeding freight train. He talked about a time when he was positioned in a neighborhood trying to save some houses and suddenly a bunch of animals came running out ahead of the fire. At the end of the line of animals was a pair of huge bucks that were completely in flames, running for their lives while burning to death.  

“It’s an image that will stick with me for the rest of my life.” He said.

I made some references to the movie Backdraft and I was told that the only thing they got wrong in that movie was the fact that the firemen could SEE inside of the structure.

“In a real fire, you can’t see a damned thing.” They explained.

They told me funny stories, like responding to a call where a dude had been shot through the leg with a crossbow…by his WIFE. And they told me about the serious stuff, like losing a colleague who didn’t get out of a fire in time. A serious moment of silence followed this. Everyone deep in thought with a distant gaze, perhaps remembering their fallen brother or, maybe just realizing how real the dangers are when fighting a fire and how fortunate they were to be here today.

We bonded with these fine folks for three days and, when it was time to pack up and leave, it felt like leaving home all over again. We shook hands, gave hugs and exchanged contact info. We loaded into the car and continued on our journey.
Beer, Food and Jessica. Three of my favorite things in the whole world. 

Our current home is in the mountains above Santa Barbara at a working horse ranch called Rancho Oso. We are not really horse people but the town of Santa Barbara is just 30 minutes away and it is beautiful. In the meantime, this ranch has a pool, hot tub, playground, clubhouse and some hiking trails. We are just getting settled in and finding our way around. The first thing we usually do in a new town is find a grocery store and stock up. Unless, of course, we are taken in off the streets and fed by a large group of firefighters.
Hannah at Rancho Oso. 

I have eluded to this before but, it's very clear to me now: While there are lots of beautiful places to visit in America, the real attraction is being able to connect with new people. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How We Became Full-Time RVers

There I was, standing on the sidewalk, next to a fire engine with a full staff of firefighters sitting on top of it. The phrase "Happy Birthday Jesus" passed before my eyes as I directed my attention to the spectacle that was happening in the road. The words were written on the side of a sleigh that was being pulled by a group of men dressed like reindeer. Inside of the sleigh was a brass band dressed in angel costumes that sounded like they were straight off the streets of New Orleans. A closer look at the band would reveal that they were just bobbing along to a recording but it was a well conceived theme anyhow. After they passed by I was overcome with a feeling of optimism and curiosity. The same feeling that one might have when they get off an airplane in a new city. The dreamy, surreal feeling of wanderlust was overflowing from me as I looked down the road and waited for the next portion of the Arroyo Grande Christmas Parade to pass me. Marching bands, dog clubs (coastal people are crazy about dogs), and baton twirlers marched down the road to welcome in the holiday season and I thought to myself, "How the hell did I end up here?"

It seems like it all happened so fast. It was just March of this year that we took our old pop-up to Chelsea, MI for a weekend of camping and started discussing the possibility of travelling the country for an entire year. I can still remember how frightened I felt when I actually thought about going through with it all. We decided that weekend that we were going to make a decision and stick to it. Shit, or get off the pot. We talked about it all weekend. We discussed the challenges and exit strategy. We went back and forth the whole time. At the end of the weekend I put the keys in the ignition, fired up the engine and looked over at Jessica and said one last time, "Are you sure you wanna do this?"

She paused and clutched her forehead with her thumb and index finger and said, "Yes."

That week we notified our friends and family and got down to business. I started writing this blog, we had a huge garage sale and we went back and forth with a picky buyer before finally selling our house to her. We traded in the pop-up and upgraded to our 32' travel trailer and started turning it into home. By the end of July we were ready to make the leap. That was all it took. A small conversation in March turned into a huge, life-changing step in July. We placed a sense of urgency on living our dream and everything fell into place. Here we are, 5 months later, and so much has already happened. It's no secret that the holidays make people sentimental and, for me, it has really started to make me think about all we have done in the days since we moved into our home on the open road. We have so much to be thankful for this year.

So, last week we feasted on some turkey. It was our final week as camp hosts at Butano State Park and we felt it was appropriate to do dinner right in the park, which is in the middle of the redwood forest. We invited our California friend Becky to join us and she accepted. She showed up with gifts for all of us, including a jacket that she made for our dog, Hannah. She has a special bond with Hannah because while we were running around trying to keep up with these crazy kids of ours, Becky would often show up and take Hannah for the day. Becky worked for the state park too and she would work the entrance kiosk with Hannah by her side.
Here is the jacket Becky made for Hannah. She is super crafty. My aunts would LOVE this lady. 
Thanksgiving Tip: Drink lots of wine before dinner and it won't matter what the food tastes like. 
We grabbed a brown-n-serve turkey dinner from an organic market called New Leaf Market. It made it easier for us to pull off the feast and, I gotta say, I was really happy with the way everything turned out. I had to drive to Half Moon Bay to pick up the food on the morning of Thanksgiving but I didn't drive alone. We had a pair of bicyclists, a guy and a girl, staying in the park, that had biked in from San Francisco the day before. When they arrived it was clear that they had bitten off more than they could chew. I always chatted with the cyclists that came to the park and these two were no exception. They wanted to know when the 17 bus left Pescadero. They had dinner plans back at home and realized they wouldn't make it if they biked. I explained that the bus only comes to Pescadero twice a day, 5am and 5pm. As I was leaving to go pick up our thanksgiving dinner the next morning I noticed they were still at their site, looking bummed.

"Did you guys miss the bus?" I asked

"Yeah." One of them responded in a sad tone

"C'mon" I said, "Get your things together quickly. I am going to Half Moon Bay and they have a bus stop right in front of the store. You'll be able to catch a bus easily there."


They started scurrying to pack their stuff up. As I watched them frantically stuffing tents and sleeping pads into pannier bags I thought maybe I shouldn't have told them to move quickly. I wasn't really in a hurry. It was thanksgiving and all I really had to do was sit around and eat food all day. I unconsciously rush myself and others when I am on task sometimes. It is a flaw of mine that stems from my controlling personality. I feel more relaxed when things are wrapped up tightly and go as planned. Not that I minded giving them a ride. Quite the contrary, it felt good to help these two out on thanksgiving. I put my bike rack on the back and strapped their rigs to the back and we headed to town.

Their names were Martin and Christina. They had both lived in San Francisco for about a decade. I don't know where they lived before that but Martin had an Australian accent and a great sense of humor. We drove past a farm and he asked me why they had llamas in their field. It was funny because whenever I rode past that field I wondered that myself. I mean what do people need llamas for?

"Unless you have a petting farm, I can't see the point in owning a llama." I said

"I know" he said, "What, do people drink llama milk or something?"

"I don't drink llama milk and I would be really offended if I was a guest of theirs and they fed it to me." I added

We laughed about the llama until we saw a field with mini horses in it, which got us talking even more about pointless farm animals.

"What the hell do people do with a mini horse?" he asked

"No idea" I replied, "You can't eat 'em or ride 'em and they can't sleep at the foot of your bed like a dog, they might be even more pointless than a llama."

He laughed, "What about kids, can't they ride a mini horse?"

"Sure" I said, "But then the kid grows up and the horse watches him with a depressed look on his face as he rides a real horse around the farm."

We burst out with laughter at the thought of this and we went back and forth doing our impressions of a sad mini horse that misses the days when his owner used to ride him. Meanwhile, Christina was fairly quiet in the back seat. I don't like to neglect people in conversation circles so I asked her questions about herself. She is a physical therapist in the bay area. I don't know specifically what she does and the field of physical therapy is so vast I can't even begin to speculate. She didn't elaborate and I didn't want to force a conversation to happen so I went back to joking around with Martin about random, silly topics. She enjoyed it just the same as we were entertaining her with our absurd banter.
Highway 1, on the way into Half Moon Bay
When we arrived in Half Moon Bay, I helped them unload their bikes and wished them a happy Thanksgiving. Martin and I shared a bro hug/handshake and a final laugh together. I started walking towards the store and Christina said, "Hey, I left you a little present on your arm rest."

"Thanks." I said

I grabbed all of our food from the store and then headed across the parking lot to a Walgreens to get some other household items and to get Jessica a newspaper. It's a tradition of hers to look through all of the sale papers after dinner and plan her attack for Black Friday. She doesn't get up all early and she doesn't fight over door busters or anything, she just likes being out among the shoppers listening to Christmas music.

When I returned to the car I remembered about the gift Christina said she had left on my arm rest. I looked over and there was a small box of chocolates with a note on top that said, "Thank you SO much. Happy Thanksgiving!"

On top of the note was also a little something for me. Something that, in California, is more acceptable than in most other states. Something that, when I was all done eating dinner and the kids were in bed, I sat on the steps of my camper and enjoyed. Thanks again, Christina.

The next day, while Jessica was doing her Black Friday thing, I got to work on prepping the camper for departure. I cleaned it real nice and put air in the tires. I checked the lug nuts and made sure the bearings had plenty of grease. One thing I learned from hanging out in my dad's auto shop my whole life is that things with wheels DO NOT like to sit still for long periods of time. I mentioned in an earlier blog post about people getting rusty and complacent when they sit still for too long. This philosophy applies even MORE so to automobiles.

I needed to get on the roof of the camper to clean it and spot check it for damage and leaks so I loaded the boys into the Gator and we drove down to the maintenance shed to see if there was a ladder lying around. When we got to the maintenance shed we ran into a guy named Rene. He has a normal american accent, not the French accent you might have been expecting. What is interesting about Rene is that he lives in Butano State Park too, in one of the employee cabins along the road to the campground. What's unusual about this is that the ENTIRE two months that we lived in the park we had only ever heard about Rene from others. We never once crossed paths. So there we were, on one of our last days in the park, face to face with the ever elusive Rene.

Rene likes to talk and I am always open to having a conversation with a stranger. When he learned I was from Michigan he was excited to inform me of his Minnesota roots. He then went on to talk about the seasons. He said that Californian's are egocentric because they live in a place that has two abbreviated seasons instead of the four seasons we were used to.

"Let them spend a couple years watching the seasons change every few months and they might realize that they are part of something bigger." He said.

He was really an interesting dude with just the right amount of cynicism that I can appreciate in a person but, I was also in a hurry to grab a ladder and finish prepping my camper. So, Rene will forever be the mysterious guy that lived in the same park as me and, I kinda like the thought of that. It's like when you go see your FAVORITE band in concert for the first time and they play a short, 45 minute set. Some things are better left to the imagination.
You gotta take advantage of things like tools and ladders when you have them. I gave the camper a full check-up and cleaning. 
We got pounded with rain that night which basically voided all of the time I spent washing the camper and, the next morning, we hooked up the camper and pulled out of Butano State Park for the last time.

We set a course for San Luis Obispo just because it looked like a nice place and a convenient half-way point between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. We settled into a nice RV park in Pismo Beach where we have modern conveniences like cable, internet, cell phone signal, convenience stores, and restaurants. These things ALWAYS feel good to have when you make extended sacrifices living in the woods. We spent an evening doing some holiday decorating on the camper and I saw a happiness in Jessica that I hadn't seen in a while. She was probably feeling a little bummed that we are spending the holidays on the road but, the Christmas tree and lights that we decorated the camper with, while small and inexpensive, were a huge boost to her and I think she feels a little more like she is home for the holidays.
This was a really great moment. 

After we set up our camper in Pismo, I decided that I wanted Lebanese food really bad. In Detroit, you can find Mediterranean food on every corner because we have a really huge middle eastern population (the largest in the country). When you head west, these places become harder to come by. So, I was ready to get some kebobs and fattoush. When we got into the town of Arroyo Grande the restaurant I wanted to eat at was closed but there were people sitting all along the street and police barricades everywhere. Within a few minutes, we were surrounded by crowds, marching bands and the holiday spirit. We had, quite literally, stumbled into an awesome holiday parade in a quaint, charming town. The sleigh float with a New Orleans brass band passed by me and made me question, "How the hell did I end up here?"

...and really, it's a long and unusual story.

Follow our journey on Instagram @yumfam

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Travelers Guide to Meeting New People

Just like that, our final week as camp hosts is here. Butano State Park has taken on all of the forms of a place called home. When it is sunny and warm the park reveals all of its many things to do. When it is rainy and cloudy it is easy to loathe the lack of cell phone signal and TV stations. Love it or hate it, it has been our home base for the last 50 days. Familiarity and stability are things that we don't often get on the road and they can bring lots of comfort. I don't want to just say we will 'miss' this place because it has really become a part of us. We will take this place with us for the rest of our lives and welcome opportunities to reminisce with others about it. Perhaps we will come back in 20 years and make note of all the changes and say things like, "Back when I lived here, we didn't even have cell phone signal and the Highway was only 2 lanes from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz."
The view from my camper door. A rainy day at Butano. 

One of my favorite parts about being a camp host is getting to meet new people. Every night we get a new set of neighbors and I head out with a cart full of firewood and greet them all. Some have everything they need and I give them a simple wave and a well wish. Others need help registering or reading the trail map and I am delighted when I actually know the answer to their question. Then, there are others who invite you for conversation. They offer you a beer or invite you to take a seat and chat with you. These are my favorite kind of campers. One of the rules I made for myself before this trip was that I would welcome any and all opportunities to meet new people and build relationships. Someone I barely know invites me for a beer and a chat? The rule says I accept. I meet someone that I feel a connection to? The rule says I pursue that connection. To people that know me, this probably sounds like something that I already do but, I have to admit, as I grow older, I often close the door when I meet new people. Anyone that has a family can understand what I mean. It's hard to give the effort needed to establish new relationships when you get older.

The other day I met a Korean fella named BJ. He has a brand new 27 foot Airstream that he pulls with his Hummer. He wasn't into talking about what he does for a living but he mentioned the terms 'biotech' and 'silicon valley' at one point and I added it all together...dude is rich. 

My first encounter with BJ was in the evening of his first night here. He came to buy wood and offered me a handshake and introduction. Jessica was off writing a warning for a campsite that had left garbage out. We have strict rules about leaving food and trash out because we are protecting an endangered bird called the Marbled Murrelet. Anyhow, I had a feeling BJ was the culprit so I was straight forward with him. 

"Are you the guy with the Airstream on site nine?" I asked. 

He nodded. 

"My wife is up there writing you a warning because you left some trash out." 

"Oh, it's just garbage bags, no garbage." He said, defending himself. 

"Yeah, pretty sure you had to have left some animal attractants out because she has been up there a while putting your stuff in the food locker." 

We went back and forth for a while, neither of us wanting to concede the argument we were pretending to not have. He finally assured me that he would take better caution with his food and I went to get him his firewood. We chatted for a bit and I learned that he was Korean so I figured the least I could do for my Asian brother was deliver his firewood for him. 

When I arrived at his site with the wood we got to some more chatting. He was drinking straight bourbon from an expensive, titanium camping mug, which I thought was an interesting choice of chalice. When not in the woods, rich people drink from crystal. When in the woods, they use $50 camping mugs. He was extra talkative, mostly because of the bourbon, but he was also alone. The rest of his family wasn't due in until the next morning. I really enjoyed the chat and I learned that he is actually a very experienced fisherman. His specialty is catching crab and he showed me his haul from earlier that day. A plastic cooler with 6 Dungeness crabs crawling around inside. He said he was gonna boil up a few later and I should stop by. I thanked him for the offer and gave him a maybe, then I headed back to my camper. 

Later that evening, the family and I were watching a movie on the camper when I heard a whisper through the window. 

"Hey Mike, you awake?" 

I opened the door and BJ was standing there. He had a headlamp on his head and in his right hand was his signature titanium mug-o-bourbon. In his other hand was a plate. On it was a fully cooked crab with my name on it. BJ was totally butt wasted at this point but he is the most pleasant drunk I have ever met. I bet this guy is the most amazing party host ever. 

"So, I brought this crab for you and your wife," he said, slurring a little, "Because she cleaned up my stuff and packed it away for me." 

He started cutting open the crab with scissors and handing me half-shells lined with crab to eat. I was totally into it and he had to suggest that I call inside and invite Jessica out. I sometimes forget to be courteous when I am being fed fresh crab from drunk Asians. Jessica came out to try some. 
"So, I was telling Mike," he said, "That since we are all from the Midwest I came to share some seafood with you. It's not walleye...people here say what? Walleye? Look at me like I'm craz...I like crab though. I got a place. Right on the coast. I been catching crabs there for years. So, that's why I bring you some crab."

He got to do most of the talking since I was fully engaged in eating the crab. He cooked it in some Creole seasoning and it didn't even need butter or anything. I was just nailing it right out of the shell and it was amazing.
"So, I just wanted to bring you guys some crab," he assured us, "Because I always eat what I catch on that day and my family isn't here yet." 

I finished eating all of the crab while giving courtesy nods to his anecdotes. He was enjoying the fact that I was enjoying the crab which, in turn, made me enjoy the whole situation that much more. As I searched among the discarded shells for traces of overlooked meat he gave a farewell wave and said we could stop by for drinks, crab and chicken. We thanked him and he headed off. As much as I wanted to head up there to get wasted with BJ and eat all of his gourmet food, I was actually pretty tired and decided to go to bed shortly after his visit. 

Me and BJ in front of his awesome Airstream. Photobomb Credit: BJ's Son

In addition to taking food from strangers, we have had a pretty eventful week here. We spent a couple days dealing with a virus the boys were passing around. The sick days coincided with a three day spell of storms and torrential downpours so the obvious play was to kick back and ride it out. On one of the rainy days we headed to San Jose. We had learned from the locals that if the weather is bad on the coast it will be good in the valley. As we popped out of the pass in the Santa Cruz mountains we were greeted with rainbows. No joke, the day went from gray and rainy to clear and sunny the minute we entered the valley. We left the coats in the car and went and checked out the Children's Discovery Museum.  

See? Sunshine and T shirts in the valley.
The park outside of the Museum features a giant Monopoly Board. I vow to come back to this park with my cousins and get a game going one day. 

We headed up to San Francisco to partake in the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Sunday. It was on Pier 39 which sounds like an amazing setting for an event like this until you consider that Pier 39 is a pier. There is one way in and out, the entire thing is surrounded by ocean and the foot traffic bottlenecks the whole way. We bummed around the less crowded parts of the pier and checked out some of the shops while we waited for the show to start. 

a 60 foot tree

At showtime, we found a great spot on the second level that looked down on the stage. We threw the boys on our shoulders and watched the show which was presented by Disney. As you might have guessed, the show was like a big promo for Disneyland that encouraged kids to encourage their parents to take a trip there and experience the Magic of the holidays with DISNEY! This type of blatant marketing is something that you have to put up with if you want to see a Disney calibur show and, in the end, it's worth it. Nothing makes you feel young like a singalong with Mickey and friends. 
After the tree was lit we headed to Chinatown to have a late dinner. One of our ranger friends at the state park, Ziad, had suggested this place to us last time we went to San Francisco and we were excited to go back for a second time. The House of Nanking is BY FAR and WITHOUT A DOUBT the most delicious Chinese food I have ever eaten. I can't describe it but I am 100% confident that anyone who tries this place will agree with me. If you do try it, there will be a line and the people who are working to seat guests will be short with you. They might even come off as rude if you are one of those pain-in-the-ass people that need constant attention at restaurants, regardless of how busy they are. Wait in the line. Deal with the rudeness. IT. IS. WORTH. IT!
The seating at the restaurant is intimate. They pack people in there so tight that you may end up eating just a few inches from another party. As luck would have it, we ended up dining with a couple from Farmington, Michigan. They were on vacation and staying at the Drake Hotel right in the middle of town. The next day they were renting a car and heading to Monterey. We gave them pointers on places to stop along Highway 1 and told them about our trip to Monterey. They were both really great people to chat with and it was nice to be able to talk about home without having to define everything. We were just a table of Michiganders all sharing a meal in a far away place. They were really impressed with the way Noah and Sam behaved. We used the iPhone + Netflix trick to induce mealtime cooperation so they basically sat silently. It was all a clever trick but our dinner acquaintances didn't need to know that. 

We arrived home late on Sunday and I went straight to bed. Before falling asleep I thought about my rule. The one where I am supposed to accept invites from people and welcome opportunities to connect with others. Then I thought about BJ, the guy with the crab, and how he is a perfect example of why this is a good rule. Technically, it was BJs persistence that allowed me the opportunity to get to know him better but look at how our perception changed.  At first glance, BJ was an annoying weekend camper from Silicon Valley who leaves garbage out. As it turns out, he is a great guy with an interesting background. The world is full of kind and amazing people. You just have to put yourself out there a little and you will see them...and some of them might be holding fresh crab and some bourbon. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Move, B%#CH, Get Out the Way!

So, the other day I called my mom while standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean. She lived in Sacramento for a couple years and she loves it here. I thought she would get a kick out of hearing the ocean. I had just finished asking her if she could hear the waves when a guy behind me rudely shouted, "Hey, we are trying to take pictures here, can you move? You're on the phone."

The bluff I was standing on at Pescadero State Beach. 

I had been caught off guard so my initial reaction was to comply with his request. Maybe I was being inconsiderate by talking on my phone in a spot that gets a lot of attention from photographers. Then I started to let it roll around in my head. His tone was very offensive and I wasn't intentionally trying to piss him off. Just because you are annoyed with someones behavior doesn't mean you have the right to be an offensive jerk. He even ended his snotty request with an obvious remark about what I was doing. I know I am on the phone, bastard.

Suddenly my mouth started to open and so began another classic encounter.

"Yeah" I said, "I am aware that I am on the phone."

I gave him a glare of disapproval as I walked past and then continued to talk to my mom. He wasn't happy about my comment as you might have guessed. I mean, even without my intentional prodding he had become a confrontational shit head, now I was blatantly trying to upset him. I should take a moment to describe this person so you can get a good idea of the kind of person he is. He was in his late 40s and in good shape. He probably surfs or does yoga or some other California-esque activity that people engage in to achieve an even balance or a state of zen, clearly it's all an act for this dude. He has a blonde pony tail down to the middle of his back that he probably thinks is beautiful but to cautious onlookers it's a desperate attempt to hang onto any remaining traces of his youth. Tight jeans, a loose fitting t shirt, an expensive camera and a Mini Cooper complete the package. If I had to guess, based on his appearance and sense of entitlement, he is a true California narcissist.

He approached me in a way that, where I come from, says 'get ready for a fist fight'. Much like a charging animal, however, he was just bluffing to see if I would cower. Now, just inches from my face, the facade started to crack on this otherwise chilling surfer dude.

"Listen, you were blocking my shot now you don't have to be a fucking dick about it." He said, talking through his teeth.

"You're the one who is being the dick buddy. Get the fuck away from me and go take your stupid picture."

He stayed in my face for a minute pretending to contemplate whether or not he was going to physically assault me. I knew better and I wasn't going for it. I continued with my smartass glare and tuned back into my conversation with my mom, who was still on the phone listening.

"What an asshole." She said

I replied to her in a volume that was accessible to all of the people standing on the bluff, including macho photographer guy.

"That's how some people are out here. They see something they don't like and they open their stupid ass mouths. You should see this guy, mom. Typical asshole with a pony tail who thinks his photograph is going to win some kind of award or something. Newsflash: You can buy 10 postcards in town with that same photo on them and they're all better than his. Oh, he is leaving now..."

My voice got louder so he could hear me as he stormed off,

"Oh, get this, he drives a MINI COOPER. HA, Nice car if you are a woman. What a pansy."

He pulled onto the highway and was visibly upset by my personal attacks. I can't help it. When people take it upon themselves to shake-up the social barriers that keep everyone comfortable, I take it personal. I hope I have done an adequate job of describing this guy because I want all of my Midwestern friends to understand that people like this guy DO NOT exist in your neighborhood. This is one of the unpleasant differences I have experienced since we started travelling. There are other differences, subtle as they may be, that I have encountered and I think it is these differences that make travelling such a great experience.

For instance, wherever you live, you take for granted how the gas pumps work. You just take it off the hook and put the nozzle in your car and begin fueling. I am here to tell you that the gas pumps in EVERY SINGLE STATE have different rules and regulations so the experience is quite different depending on which state you are in. Oregon has a law that PROHIBITS you from pumping your own gas. Full service gas stations are alive and well there. In California the pumps have these large black vacuum hoses that suck up all of the fumes and recirculate them into the holding tanks. Also, that little metal piece that you use to lock the pump in the ON position so you don't have to hold it while you pump, I have seen 4-5 different designs for those. The ones in California require two hands. I am used to the Michigan design that allows me to flick it into position with my ring finger. Octane levels all vary too. Depending on where you are at, 87 octane can either be regular OR midgrade. I know, mind blowing.

Grocery shopping is also an experience that varies from place to place. The obvious difference is the produce section. Michigan offers apples, sweet corn and cabbage all for ridiculously low prices. These crops all require massive amounts of water and in Michigan we have plenty of that. Head west and water becomes harder to come by so, anything that uses lots of water is naturally more expensive. When you get to the checkout line in Minnesota they ask you if you want paper of plastic, meaning what kind of bags do you want. When you get to the Pacific Coast they ask you if you need a bag. Say yes and you get charged 10 cents for each one. This sort of makes me chuckle inside because things are SO EXPENSIVE out here yet the people who live here will do anything to save a dime.

The point I am trying to make is that when I left home 3.5 months ago I had visions of myself standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with my arms outstretched and standing on a boat in Puget Sound with whales all around me. The reality is that those experiences NEVER turn out as advertised. For starters, you are NEVER alone when seeing these attractions. Foreigners in rented RVs, boy scout troops, kids who are being force-fed stimuli from their parents, and people who call their pets 'fur babies' are going to be crowding around you to get their glimpse of the american dream. The true experience of it all is in the details. Small differences that make you go "hmmm" and little nuances that pique your sense of wonder are what travelling is all about.

We took a day trip to San Francisco this week. Here are some pictures.

Go here. Eat Chinese food. You're welcome. 
We went comic shopping!
We hung out on the pier and watched the sea lions.

Riding the BART train into the city. We tried to use public transit the whole time but San Francisco is the birthplace of UBER and it's just TOO easy to use here.
I have spent their entire lives teaching them to be Tigers fans. After just ONE MONTH in the bay area, they are apparently Giants fans.  
On the corner of the historic Haight and Ashbury intersections you will find a Ben and Jerry's. The kids enjoyed it. Don't worry deadheads, you can still buy drugs from the homeless hippies located right across the street.
I took this photo at the entrance to the De Young Museum. A security guard scolded me and told me that if I happened to capture an image of the art work to please delete it or I could be fined. HA! Here you go internet.

One of the things I hope for, in sharing this journey with you, is that I can inspire you to not only travel, but to just get out and observe the things around you. Don't worry about saving up to go to a tourist destination, just go somewhere new and immerse yourself in the local culture...and when you get there don't yell at people who are unintentionally blocking your view.