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. 

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