When my family first moved to California eight and a half (oh God, really?) years ago, I volleyed between despondent and massively pissed off. I was a senior in high school and had lived practically my entire life in one house in Chicago’s north suburbs, fifteen minutes away from my aunt and cousins and half an hour away from my grandmother. I had lots of friends at my giant, award-winning, nationally respected high school, I was on a very hardcore swim team and a State-winning water polo team, and I was taking all these advanced classes. Then we moved to the Tri-Valley, clear halfway across the country, where I was enrolled in a tiny (by my standards) public school with no water polo team and only a handful of AP classes. I basically resigned myself to just pushing through that last year; I didn’t really feel confident about making friends or forgiving my parents for depositing me unceremoniously in that hell hole, so I figured I’d just get through it as best I could and then go back to Chicago for college.
As with many preconceived notions, mine were dashed when I met probably the most important people in my life besides my family. I ended up making some amazing friends that year, and these girls are not only still my best friends in the whole wide universe, they’re pretty much my sisters. Anyway, usually my family goes to Chicago for Christmas for about two weeks, but this year my mother, who has been doing a lot of international traveling for her job, pretty much said “Enough planes already!’ and instead of all of us convening in Chicago, I flew out to the Bay Area for Christmas. Lucky for me, my best friends (whose families also still live in the Tri-Valley) were there as well, and we spent ten days hanging out, during which a lot of really fun stuff happened. Here is a partial list:
- Christmas Eve brunch: I went out for breakfast with my friend Kim, her sister Jennifer, Jennifer’s boyfriend (of like five or six years who for some reason I’d never met) Steve, my friend Cambria, and my brother JJ. IHOP (I know, we so classy) was really crowded, so we went to this ancient breakfast place that I’d never actually been to and ate our fill of greasy food. The best part of that morning was going to our old high school (where my sister’s still a student), which is being razed to the ground and rebuilt. It was like exploring the ruins of Rome, except not as pretty–seriously, there were walls torn down and we saw a mural that we’d never seen before in our collective nine years of attending school there because it was in the teacher’s lounge. The new building was sleek and cool and we were all super jealous because we had to attend class in dark, cramped buildings from the seventies.
- Christmas Eve: My mom cooked a full Wigilia dinner (delish!) and we opened presents. It was fun and low-key and I wore a kick-ass Blair Waldorf flower headband but I seem to have misplaced my camera and so the only pictures are on my parents’ ancient digital, good luck to me getting a hold of them. That’s actually the theme of this whole vacation–ten days and I have no pictures to show for it.
- Town Dive Bars: We spent many of our nights exploring the limited number of bars in the valley, because we usually just go to one and, fun as it is, we thought we might have a better time at the others. Pretty much they were all let-downs, because let’s be honest: this is a suburb, and we all live in real cities. Still, the Bud Light is dirt cheap and the company was amazing.
- Jenny’s birthday/mustache party: Jenny had been talking about having a mustache party for her birthday ever since she came to New York in October, probably, or at least since Th4nkSgiving. Anywiz, as luck would have it I received stylish mustaches in the office White Elephant game, so we wore them to one of the aforementioned dive bars one night. Let me tell you, it was amazing. Cambria’s mustache made her look just like her father, which pretty much creeped us all out. There were a couple of guys with us, but they were all clean-shaven, which made it all the funnier. These pictures are so hilarious, you guys, and if I ever get them I will defs share them on the blog (knowing Jenny and her current lack of any sort of computorial apparatus, it may be a while…possibly June). The best part of the whole night, though, happened before the party, at my parents’ house while my brother and I were getting ready to go out. My mother saw the mustaches on the kitchen table and asked, “What are those for?” I told her about the plan–wear the mustaches to the bar–and she gave me a huge hug and said, “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore.”
- Harry Potter Clue: At the risk of sounding like a huge nerd here, Harry Potter Clue is THE MOST AMAZING GAME ON THE PLANET. It’s SO MUCH BETTER than regular Clue, which I find sort of boring. The board MOVES, with secret passages appearing and disappearing and doors opening and closing. Also, there are spells and Dark Marks and the whole thing is a Harry Potter fan’s dream. I even won once! I almost never win at games, and since Cambria has been playing Clue ever since she was a small child, and Kim is a veteran board gamer, I was pretty proud of myself to have beaten them. Oddly, we didn’t play Apples to Apples or Phase 10 this time, which are our staple games. (Someday I’ll blog about how Phase 10 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. It really is.)
- Eating: Time at home with friends is usually our excuse to pig out. There’s a lot of great restaurants in the Yay* that we just don’t have in New York and even San Diego, so we try to do a nice sampler any time we’re home together. I went to Pasta Pomodoro, Jack in the Box, Red Robin, In ‘N Out, Zachary’s, and Fuzio, and the only reason that list isn’t longer is that I had of lot of dinners at home with my family, on purpose, because I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
- Santa Clara: While I was home I went out to Mountain View to visit Carmen, my best friend from college. We had dinner at this lovely Mexican restaurant in the Pruneyard, El Burro, where the service was terrible but the food was delicious, and I saw an old acquaintance from college, Celeste, who was the editor of our literary review, the Santa Clara Review, when I was the fiction editor.** On our way back to Carmen’s house, where my car was parked, I asked her to drive us past Santa Clara, and I oohed and ahhed at the new fancy business school (Carmen was an accounting major, so she’s impressed by/slightly bitter about it) and the BRAND! NEW! BIG! LIBRARY! Because even though there was a whole article about it in the alumni magazine I inexplicably receive at work, there were no pictures, which is the dumbest thing ever. Anyway, our old library was a HOLE, totally inconsistent with the gorgeous mission-style architecture of the school, dark and ugly and pretty useless. They destroyed that monstrosity and put up this stucco-and-glass beauty. Direct quote from me: “Maybe if that had been the library when we were going to school, I would’ve used it more than once or twice a year.” On the way home I got slightly lost and ended up going past Santa Clara again (because I knew how to get home from there, curse the badly marked 101/237 junction), taking the long way to gaze at it one more time. Nostalgia has such a powerful influence on me; I sort of miss that place, and I can’t believe that my life now isn’t one long summer vacation and that I’ll never go back for another year there. Sad.
- New Year’s Eve: Actually, this was sort of a weird night for me. Not bad, really, but I did end up going to sleep on the floor, freezing cold***, stone sober, at around five thirty in the morning, far after everybody else went to sleep, so…weird.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Kim and I went to see this film super late one night, and let me tell you, I thought it was great. Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t care less about Brad Pitt, but I loved the movie. It was long, yes, but the pace was leisurely rather than plodding, which added to the supple Southern feel, the story was beautiful and heartbreaking, and the CGI was terrif (I don’t agree with some reviews that it veers into the territory of the Uncanny Valley, because these weren’t CGI people, they were live actors)–I mean, when Cate Blanchett was supposed to be eighteen, she looked eighteen. I really thought for the longest time that they’d found a young girl who looked exactly like Cate Blanchett before realizing they’d done fancy computer stuff to her face. I cried about eighty-five times. People are complaining about how the plot has very little to do with Fitzgerald’s short story, which, come ON! You really couldn’t film that short story; the premise is great, but it’s ripe for a tragic love story and you don’t get that from Fitzgerald.
I’m sure I’ve missed some things, but those are the highlights. I really wish I had pictures of that mustache party. I think y’all would really enjoy them. Sigh. Someday. Related: I should find my camera before my birthday party on Saturday night. That I’m sure I’ll want pictures of.
*You’ve got to check out the Urban Dictionary page for “Yay.” It’s fantastic.
**Actually, that day was what I’m calling the Day of Randoms. I went to the mall with my mom and sister and we ended up seeing the mother of one of my sister’s friends, a family that my sister used to carpool to school with, my friends Kim and Jenny, and a girl my sister goes to high school with. Then we went to another mall and we saw our dentist. Then I saw Celeste. It was so so weird. I didn’t run into a single other random person while I was there. Curious.
***Actually, I was cold the whole time I was home. I don’t think I was ever really warm once. I didn’t bring a coat because I’m an idiot and ended up having to wear my old high school letterman’s jacket just so I didn’t freeze to death outside. People, listen to me: Just because it’s California doesn’t mean it’s going to be warm in January. Take it from me. I should’ve known better, I’ve lived through those winters. I thought all I would need was a rain coat. I was dead wrong.