My spring break this year coincided with a conference Robert needed to go to in San Francisco, so our plan was to make it an entirely Californian week--first San Francisco, then down to Los Angeles to visit family and friends and hopefully soak up some sunshine.
On Saturday March 6th we got an early flight from Boston straight to SF on Virgin America. It's a new airline in Boston, so it has its own corner of a terminal with its own dedicated security gate--very nice and easy to get into. On the plane we walked around, napped, and played at our seat and at the back of the (brand-new) plane. Marcus was, in Robert's words, "better than perfect" on the flight, and we arrived 45 minutes early into blinding sunshine. Lara met us at the airport and we went to her and Wei's house in San Bruno. Marcus really got into feeding their guinea pigs (which he happily called dogs), though at first he was hesitant. We went to Dim Sum King in Daly City and the Ranch 99 supermarket there for free sticky rice samples and a bottle of lychee juice. After dim sum, Lara and Wei drove us into the city and dropped us at our hotel, while Marcus napped in the car.
After checking into our hotel, we all rested a little bit and then took the cable car to the ferry terminal for dinner at Mijita--the best horchata I've ever had, some excellent fish tacos, and a great mushroom quesadilla. Marcus was asleep in the mei tai on the way home, and he transferred perfectly to the bed. Baby went to sleep at 8pm, and we followed closely at 9pm.
On Sunday Marcus woke up at 3:00 in the morning--perfectly normal on Boston time--and I shushed and nursed him back to sleep. That worked until 4:00, when he woke up--again, normally and happily--and I shushed and nursed him down again. At 5:00 he woke up again, this time clearly thinking that there was something wrong with us, so Robert reflected that we had essentially gotten to hit the snooze bar twice, so what the heck, we might as well get up for the day. By 7:30 we were outside in Chinatown, having met up with Robert's friend Jason, also there for the conference, and also jet-lagged (he was actually on London time, so he had it worse than we did). We got take-out dim sum from three different places, played in the Chinatown playground, and then met a wonderful Taiwanese bookshop-owner in a cafe--she kept talking to Jason in a mix of Taiwanese and English, sure that there were mainland Chinese spies all around us. Our final stop was at a famouse place for dan tot, and again Marcus slept in the mei tai while we wandered around.
Eventually we said goodbye to Jason and went down to Powell and Market to meet up with Mona, who had taken the ferry over from Marin to meet us for brunch. Together we took the Muni into the Haight and went to Kate's Kitchen. Robert had bacon and cheese pancakes, and I had the most delicious cornmeal pancakes topped with bananas and lemon curd. There was a little bit of a wait, but meanwhile we just walked around the street, Marcus picking up bits of trash and throwing them away. Our fastidious baby! After brunch we walked up to Alamo Park where there were plenty of dogs, sunshine, and playground equipment/other kids, and then an hour or so later, exhausted, we took a bus back to Powell and Market and headed home to our hotel to relax.
After a late nap, Robert went to his conference dinner, and my friend from Boston, Sue, came and picked up Marcus and me for dinner. With Sue we went back to the Ferry Terminal and had dinner at Il Cane Rosso—chicken liver and blood orange crostini (Marcus dove in head-first and licked all the liver pate off), risotto cakes with sweet potatoes and chard, and chocolate bread pudding with cajeta. Marcus had a great time walking around, Sue and I got to catch up on everything that’s happened since she moved away from Boston, and since you’re essentially eating in a hallway on outdoor tables and chairs, no one minded when Marcus wandered and waved and got up and down.
On Monday, Marcus did the 3:00 am, 4:00 am, and then 5:00 am thing again, so we all got up at 5:00 and played a little and watched some horrible animated panda movie on TV. Baby took a nice nap from 6:30-8:00, and then we went down to the conference breakfast with Robert. Breakfast ended when Marcus became more interested in climbing up and down the marble stairs leading up to the lobby than in picking out the blue and purple Fruit Loops (the only ones he wanted to eat) and discarding the rest. We climbed the stairs a number of times, and then at 10:00 Marnie’s brother Tom and his husband Ed met us at the hotel and picked us up (“in a red Prius with paw-prints”) for the day.
Our first stop was Benkyodo for mochi (peanut butter filled, and then blueberry-filled, were my favorite) in Japantown, and then we drove down to the south coast via Golden Gate Park. Marcus fell asleep before we’d even left the city, so we just kept driving, down to Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay for chowder and excellent fish and chips. Marcus stayed asleep when I transferred him into a sling for a short walk behind the restaurant and then all through lunch and then back into the car. After he woke up, we drove to Tom and Ed’s house in Daly City, right on the water, and explored their house and beautiful back yard. It was a brisk day with a couple very small showers, but Marcus had a lot of fun playing ball with Tom in the yard and washing off all the cat toys in the Zen-style water sculpture. In the house, though, he was terrified of the cats, backing up screaming until the cats fled, so we gave up and drove back to the city. It was 3:00 when we got back to the hotel, and we just relaxed until we joined Robert for the post-conference reception at 5:00. Marcus ate a couple spring rolls and drew on some of the conference pads and just generally was charming.
For dinner, I dragged Robert and David over to the Ferry Terminal again for another night at Il Cane Rosso—white beans with pork belly, this time, and another nice starter and dessert.
On Tuesday, Marcus apparently got over his jetlag and woke up at 6:00—his normal time. We arranged for a late checkout, went down to breakfast, and then came back to the room and Marcus crashed for a nap. I transferred him to a mei tai and went back to the ferry building (there really are other places in San Francisco, I’m sure, but I happen to like so many things here!) where I had a chai, browsed, and then sat on a bench in the sun by the water until baby woke up. Once he did, he wanted to walk, so we walked hand-in-hand through the farmers’ market out front, buying tangerines and apples for the plane, and through the stores inside, buying brown sugar-fennel salami, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, sourdough rye bread, onigiri, and the gorgeous fat Imperial rolls and a Vietnamese crepe from the take-out window at Slanted Door. We crossed the street to Embarcadero Center, where Jamba Juice was having a promotion—you ride an exercise bike with a blender hooked up to it for about a minute and blend your own frothy chai-based drink. I signed a bunch of liability releases and photo releases and then got on the bike with Marcus on my back, peeping over my shoulder—pretty fun, though the drink was almost unbearably sweet for me. We went back to the hotel to meet Robert, and we all had a picnic lunch in our room from the goodies we had procured. While Robert dashed off to the final sessions of the day, Marcus and I went out once more, down to the Gap on Powell (I traded in my size 8 jeans for size 4—I’m solidly back in pre-pregnancy jeans at last), a Jamba Juice in the mall for a peach shake, a Bristol Farms for a couple of those applesauce packets Marcus likes to suck down on planes and in carseats, and a little bit more wandering. We returned, met up with Robert, and headed to the airport with Jason once the talks were over. With Jason, we had sort of a second lunch/early supper at a Chinese place in the International Terminal (where Virgin America takes off and departs from, weirdly), and then said goodbye and went through security for our flight to Los Angeles. Marcus was asleep before take-off in my arms, and he slept the entire flight through a transfer into a wrap.
In Los Angeles, we waited for the Fox Rental Car van, and Robert started getting extremely nervous, grumbling about why didn’t I get a “real company” like Hertz (uh, because they were $500 more expensive, no kidding around). Yes, it took about 20 minutes for a van to come—vs. perhaps 5 minutes for every single other rental car company—but we saved the $500, like I said, and when we got to the Fox building, we got amazing service. Several employees (after we’d already paid) counseled us quite seriously on which cars to take and which to avoid, offered us large/more expensive options for free, and urged us to take our time, consider our choices, and perhaps go with the 2010 cars which they think are much nicer than the comparable 2009s. We got into our white minivan, with baby sleeping even through the transfer to the carseat, and drove straight to Tito’s Tacos off of Sepulveda. I ran in and got our tacos (and a tostada, which I love from them. Robert, remembering, rolled his eyes and said, “You and your tostadas!”—but it’s efficient, see: they charge extra for cheese on the tacos, but tostadas come with cheese, so get a tostada and redistribute some cheese onto your tacos!) while Robert waited in the van with Marcus.
We ate in the van in the parking lot, and then drove straight down Washington to the hotel, the Inn at Venice Beach, which was two blocks from the beach on the Marina del Rey end of Venice Beach. Marcus woke up briefly once we were in the room, but went right back to sleep in the bed—what a perfect baby!
On Wednesday, we got up at 7:30 and had the free breakfast (adequate, and certainly better than nothing, but not fabulous) in the hotel courtyard before heading out for our real breakfast—at Square 1 in Hollywood, where Robert had truly excellent French toast with pecans and sauteed apples and I had baked eggs with bitter greens and mushrooms on grits in an individual skillet. We ate outside, under the lovely warm sun, right across from the creepy Scientology building. Marcus mostly had crayons, which he kept trying to shove into his mouth.
We drove down to Culver City to see my cousin Maria and her new baby Davey (Maria, Dave, and Davey have since moved back to NY, but when we were planning our West-Coast-trip, we thought this would be our only chance to see them for awhile!). Marcus wasn’t sure what to make either of Maria and Dave’s dogs (who mostly were stuck behind gates in the kitchen while baby was there) or of Davey himself, especially when Robert held him. We took Maria and the baby out to Yashima (formerly Mishima) on Sawtelle for a Japanese lunch—Marcus made short work of my onigiri and tried some of everything else, from udon on up. We got some Pinkberry yogurt (Marcus had his own sample cup), and drove back to Maria and Dave’s where we just hung out while both Marcus and Davey took naps. Marcus, emboldened by his experience with the guinea pigs from a few days before, kept trying to feed Maria’s dogs tortilla chips, with greater success than you might imagine given all the possible variables here.
At last we set out to chase down one of the Kogi trucks for Korean-inspired tacos. We found one at last way over on east Sunset and got a Kogi dog, tacos, burritos, and a special mulita with a blueberry sauce. On the way back we ran into a churro truck, so I got 8 churros for $3, topped with strawberry jam and sweetened condensed milk. With Marcus asleep in the car (he was really coming into his own as a California baby, starting to tolerate cars and carseats much better), we dropped off a couple tacos for Maria and Dave and drove straight to our hotel, where we parked near the beach and ate in the car. I liked the tacos, but once I tried the churros, there was no going back, so I dined on strawberry churros and Robert finished the Kogi items. Marcus again transferred to bed and went right back to sleep like a champ.
Thursday, we got up early (of course), but still normal for us, and drove right to our old house and looked around our old neighborhood. Then, with a napping baby in the car, we drove to Westwood and went to Stan’s for coffee sticks and peanut-butter-filled donuts—delicious as always. Robert talked to Stan himself, who was shocked that there aren’t as good donut places in Boston. I ran into the Whole Foods (weirdly now where one of those movie theatres in Westwood Village had been, right next to the parking lot) for a couple emergency extra snacks, Robert took a call for work, Marcus kept sleeping, and we drove south to Newport Beach to meet up with Jason and Fei Fei and Max at their company there. We went in, said our hellos, and played with some of Jason’s (quite extensive) eBay toy collection before going across the street to the mall, where, in typical Los Angeles fashion, there were lovely couches outside right next to a lush green lawn. Marcus ran around and played with a ball for awhile, and then we went to a French-ish cafe and ate outside (I had a mediocre salad, Robert had an average croque Monsieur). More Pinkberry for dessert, some time spent gazing at a fountain, and then some time spent playing on the edge of a flight of stairs with lots of potted plants all over it—Marcus tried to cram himself into the tiny spaces between plants, strategically plotting his next move. We had a really nice time with Jason and Fei Fei, but at some point they had to go back to work, so we went over to Maria and Dave’s house for a little while before dinner.
Dinner Thursday night was a big getting-all-the-cousins in one place deal—Sal and Sue came in from the suburbs with Jenna and Annie, two friends of theirs, and Jeff and Alex and Alex’s two kids. We all converged on Versailles, a wonderful Cuban place on Venice Blvd that has the best garlicky chicken (as well as huge slabs of beef) and that doesn’t at all mind either large loud groups or else wandering babies. Davey slept in his bucket seat the entire time we were there, and Marcus crashed midway through the meal and went to sleep in my sling. We had a great time—it was really nice to see how Jenna and Annie have grown up, and it was great to talk to Sal and Sue again after so long. Maria and Dave excused themselves early, so we all took a family photo, and then dispersed, stuffed and happy.
On Friday we got up and out early because Robert thought he had a conference call he needed to call in to at 8:00. Our plan was to be on Venice Beach, Marcus and I playing, while Robert found a quiet spot to call, but when we got there he found out that his call had been changed. So we walked down Venice Beach a little anyway and found a nice playground by the sand where baby played and slid and swung. When our hunger started to overwhelm us, we left the playground and kept walking, looking at dogs and surf, and stopping for an acai granola-topped smoothie along the way. We walked almost all the way to Santa Monica Beach, and then turned around and walked back down. We got a pupusa and then angled inland a little and walked along the canals back toward our hotel (about 4 miles round trip, I think).
From the hotel we drove out to Alhambra, where we had lunch at Savoy Kitchen—jammed, even though it was early—and ate an excellent Hainan chicken and rice, a good Malaysian curry, and some garlicky escargot. Across the street, we stopped at Phoenix Desserts for mango mochi rolls—possibly the best mango and one of the very best mochi concoctions I have ever had, perfectly juicy and tart and sweet and chewy and fresh.
We thought about going to the Huntington Gardens, but Marcus was sleeping and I was pretty wiped out after the morning walk, so we went back to Culver City instead to say hi to Maria and Dave. While she fed Davey, we went over to Westwood for Didy Riese—the “quarter cookie place,” we used to call it, which has seen very mild inflation and absolutely no drop in quality after all these years (Sal and Sue remember it from their UCLA days in the early 1980s too). We also ran into an early-bird sushi special ($1 nigiri) across the street, which Robert found to try to console me for some of our favorite old places (the Palms Guelaguetza, the Westwood Cowboy Sushi) having closed in the past ten years. The sushi place also had $1 sake and a crazy but probably harmless man at another table who babbled to us about how lovely Marcus is and how he should go to grad school someday. It was tasty sushi—all the basics, with albacore given that we were in California—but we just ate a little and then went back to Maria and Dave’s to deliver the cookies and say our goodbyes. They would actually be leaving LA just one week later, so they would miss the good cookies as much as we would. We drove back to the hotel and stopped at Foster’s Freeze on Washington for a frozen custard cone as the final part in our evening meal and made it a shockingly early night for this trip—we were in the hotel by 7:00, and this was the first night that baby hadn’t fallen asleep long before we arrived back.
On Saturday, we got up at 6:00 and went to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House in Manhattan Beach by 8:15, where there was a line, but a somewhat manageable one with lots of babies and dogs. Robert had the bacon and cheese waffles and I had a pretty good banana brown sugar oatmeal. Marcus was kind of sleepy and more interested in the dogs outside than our meal. Incidentally, the Google Maps on our phones kept insisting that when we arrived at Bill’s, we were in Boulder, Colorado—Robert absolutely did not believe me when, navigating us there (we miss our Thomas’s guides!) I said that the directions had disappeared, but he soon found out I was right. We never quite figured out how the interference happened, though.
After breakfast we walked out on the pier to the end and watched some men fishing and others surfing. Marcus was fascinated by a big model of a shark—he kept trying to stick his fingers into its mouth to pull out a piece of trash someone had left there, but I kept discouraging that.
We then drove back to Culver City to meet up with Brigitta and Ryan. I’d known Brigitta since CTY, and we’d gone to their San Diego wedding, but this time we met their daughter Lauren for the first time—she’s turning four at the end of this week and is funny and charming and articulate. We visited a little and walked over to a salad place a few blocks away where I had a great California chicken salad (vs. the mediocre one from Thursday) and where we all enjoyed the outdoor seating, and then we caravanned to the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park. The zoo was filled, from Marcus’s perspective, with dogs. Sometimes he would get upset and refuse to leave a dog-like animal—he would then lay himself very carefully down (peering back over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t hitting anything) and shake his head vigorously and refuse to move, and we’d just scoop him up and keep moving. The next animal—usually also a dog, to baby—was generally enough to make him forget his sorrows. We stayed until 5:00 and had a great day, complete with Ryan getting us lost, Brigitta taking lots of lovely pictures, and Lauren telling us fun facts about flamingoes and other animals.
For dinner we all went to Samosa House East on Washington, where Robert and I split a samosa chaat, a mango lassi, some gulab jamun, some fried cauliflower, and a nice veg dinner. Marcus loved the lassi and the fried cauliflower, which he enthusiastically dipped in various chutneys, but then (while on his way to throw out some trash) he took a small spill on the floor and spent the final part of the meal cuddled up to me in the sling. We said goodbye to Brigitta and Ryan and Lauren, and went back to our hotel for our last night in California.
Sunday morning we stopped for huevos rancheros and a breakfast burrito at Cinco de Mayo on Sepulveda near Tito’s, and then went straight to the airport for our flight back to Boston. It was a great week, overall. We nursed on the planes, at a Daly City dim sum place, in three different playgrounds, at a Los Angeles Cuban restaurant, on a San Francisco Muni bus, and in the backseat of Marnie’s brother’s Prius (while he was driving, I was wearing my seatbelt, and Marcus was in his carseat). Marcus adjusted quickly to the time change and slept very very well. All of our flights were on time and, if sometimes cramped, had at least a pretty happy baby on them, and we made it back to Boston well and ready to start our week the next day with school and work and daycare again.