On the road again: Sarah Foster goes west
Here we go again.
I hopped on a plane headed for Santa Cruz last weekend, but this time I was not alone. My boyfriend and I and another couple decided to make the trip for a friend's wedding.
I'd been to California twice before, once to San Diego with the family when I was little and once to L.A. to be with a friend during a stressful medical procedure which, for obvious reasons was not much of a vacation, though I did get to see some of Hollywood.
With all my recent travel nightmares under my belt I felt prepared and totally freaked all at the same time. (I have the TSA dance down to a science: put boarding pass and ID in mouth, throw carry on and purse into security container, take off shoes and sweater, smile awkwardly and walk through the metal detectors, put everything back on and grab your bags. So simple.) Granted we'd only be there for two nights and one full day so I didn't have a lot packed but I felt an impending doom that something was going to go wrong and we'd either miss our connections or we'd be fogged out and wouldn't make the wedding at all.
As it turns out, my travel bad luck only really affects me when I travel alone. When I travel with others, all the bad crap that's supposed to ruin my trip ruins theirs instead.
It wasn't quite that bad, but one of our travel companions had her luggage lost by the airline and, get this, by the time we flew out on Sunday afternoon, she still was not in possession of her own bag, due to the fact that the airline thought it smart to reroute it to Portland. Well, sure why not... Portland is not even in the same state but at least it's closer than when they had it in Minneapolis.
I'm absolutely convinced that the airline industry is the only one that can get away with providing little to no customer service or convenience and still be in business because people have no choice but to fly.
If you went to a restaurant and they told you they accidentally delivered your food to another table but not to worry because they were rerouting it through the bar and it should arrive in a few days, you'd leave. But when you're two thousand miles away from home, you grin, bear it and rush off to buy new stuff so you don't have to go to a wedding in the same clothes you've been wearing for days.
That fiasco aside, Santa Cruz and the surrounding area are beautiful, though not particularly warm. Our drive from the San Jose airport into Santa Cruz was a pitch black, high-speed nightmare, but when we arrived at the hotel I could see the beach and smell the Pacific Ocean.
The downtown area is full of clothing boutiques, unique shops and food and coffee everywhere you turn. Our hotel was a fifteen minute walk from downtown and directly across from the beach and the boardwalk, which I was told features the oldest roller coaster in the country.
We spent our first night drinking heavily to forget we'd spent the day on a cramped airplane. The odd thing about the boardwalk area is it's a very young, trendy, fun crowd and yet, almost everything but the bar closes at 10 pm and you have to make the trip to downtown for any late night eats.
We woke up the next morning and hit up the same corner bar/restaurant for brunch. Really good food served by a bunch of young beautiful people that look like they walked out of an Abercrombie catalog. When I asked for a beer chaser with my bloody the waiter had not the slightest idea what I meant so I wound up having a bloody with a bottle of Coors Light 'on the side,' which promptly earned me the nickname 'Beer for Breakfast' by the groom. (They didn't have ANY Miller there.)
Due to the relatively temperate weather -- and I'm sure the economy as well -- the number of homeless people you see on the boardwalk as well as in the hip downtown area is astounding. There are people ranging from young adult to senior citizen from dawn until dusk walking, sitting and sleeping around town. The thing I found most surprising was that only once were we asked for spare change and the guy asked for only a dime. Though they all looked very haggard and at times far outnumbered our group, I never felt the slightest bit nervous or afraid of being robbed or having a confrontation. In fact we had to ask them for directions a few times. These people were all obviously down on their luck or had seen better days perhaps, but they didn't seem all that outwardly upset about any of it. It did make me sad for them though, not in a pitying way, but just that I wished I could have told each and every one of them not to give up, that better things await them, even if it wasn't true in every case.
After racing through the shops downtown to find my poor friend a new dress and shoes for the wedding since her luggage was lost in transit somewhere over Montana, we scrambled into the wedding with a few minutes to spare. It was a beautiful wedding with a bigger wedding party than I think I've ever seen.
The priest was very laid back and even quoted Janis Joplin at one point. Hands down the most entertaining part however, was when the nun came over and told the wedding photographer that he had to stay still and not use a flash. That, and she glared at anyone not singing Hallelujah at the top of their lungs. We all agreed afterwards the only thing missing was a ruler for her to smack us on the knuckles with. But every wedding needs some comic relief.
I do's, kisses and some more crusty looks from Sister Sassy and I finally began feeling the effects of my vodka consumption the night before. So I headed straight back to the hotel for a little recovery time. A few hours later I was ready for a drink and really ready for some wedding cake. Perhaps I've mentioned this in a previous column, but I'll admit it again, I have a substance abuse problem -- wedding cake. Those that have attended weddings with me and had the misfortune of being seated next to me know that I can put away piece after piece of sugary frosted goodness until someone physically stops me. Thankfully my boyfriend is usually too preoccupied with perfecting his choreographed dance routine to notice. I'm currently receiving treatment for my addiction at my gym.
The reception wasn't like most we have here in Wisconsin where no one leaves until the free booze runs out. Well before midnight the dance floor cleared, a waiter pried the last of the cake away from me and the center pieces quickly disappeared. This scenario could not have played out better for those of us flying out the following morning. We briefly considered meeting the wedding party out at the bar but realized just how much we'd hate ourselves the next day and thought a better idea would be to jump in the ocean(freezing), the hotel pool(not much warmer) and then into bed.
Wake up, pack, (How did two people make this big a mess in less than 48 hours?), off to the airport. The rainy weather made it a little easier to go, but not much.
The drive between San Jose and Santa Cruz is a twisting road up and down each side of a mountain. Just off a four hour flight and sober it's bad enough, but hungover and exhausted you're lucky if you don't taste your Egg McMuffin once or twice.
The flight out to California felt endless. Stuck in the middle seat for four hours unable to sleep was more than uncomfortable. For a trip any longer than two hours I would recommend going first class if at all possible. It changes the whole experience of a longer flight. Anything longer than two hours in coach you'll feel like you're just surviving; in first class you're almost ready to lean in the cockpit and tell the pilot to take the scenic route. And the free alcohol doesn't hurt any either. Plus you get a meal and free baggage checking, which with today's airline baggage fees, you almost save money by bumping to first class and not laying down forty bucks just so they can lose your damn bag anyway.
If you can't get a seat in first class, do anything you can to get the first row in coach. There's always a ton more leg room and the only downside is you have to watch and smell whatever the lucky bastards in front of you get served while you munch on the five peanuts they ration off in coach.
As we waved goodbye to California and its homeless beach bums I was definitely sad we hadn't had more time to truly see the area surrounding the city. I could almost hear Monterey, Big Sur and wine country speaking my name. The ocean, the mountains, it's such a different landscape than Southern Cali and I felt a little robbed having only seen a fraction from the window of a car. But I have a feeling I'll be back.
See more at www.OnSantaCruzareawedding.com
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