Ah, Christmas in...Chicago! In shorts! A Boston get-away, for sure.
Let me back up a bit. We were supposed ?to fly from Boston to Detroit at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, Christmas Eve, and from there to Honolulu at noon, to spend Christmas in Hawaii, returning to Boston New Year's Day. But at 5:45 on Friday evening, with Helen just getting in bed and Samantha just about to hop in the shower, they cancelled our flight to Detroit. Our connection to Honolulu was still slated to take off tomorrow, though, and I did not want to miss that plane. So there it was, 6:10 p.m., Robert on hold with Delta customer service with hour-long wait times, and I was looking around for other flights, when somehow miraculously we found one--leaving in an hour and a half!
Reactions ranged from skeptical to buoyant when I said “okay I’m buying these one way tickets to Detroit for 7:40 and we’ll figure out a credit from Delta later, just let’s leave right now!" As it happened, though, we ran into a comedy of errors getting to the airport! Jeremy’s dads across the street were getting a food delivery just as our Uber was about to pull out, but it’s a narrow street and the guy blocked us in, so we had to wait for him to go up their steps, ring the bell, wait, call their phone, wait, decide to leave the food, go back to his car, slowly turn around, etc. That took five full minutes, while Marcus agonized in the Uber.
Then we got down the block, made a right, and another right, and another right, and found ourselves on a tight one-way behind a mail truck with the guy just getting out, opening the back of the truck, taking out packages, scanning them, walking across the street, putting them on a porch, ringing the bell, and so on. It was kind of hilarious.
The Uber driver was very rule-abiding, too, when he got to the airport, which meant he dropped us at the central parking garage where technically all Ubers are supposed to drop off. Individual families/private cars can go right up to the terminal on the departures level, though, and about 75% of the time the Uber drivers do that without being asked. But whatever—we got out in the parking garage at 6:45, and ran across the garage and inside and across three moving walkways to an elevator, then went up five flights to the departures level, then I stood in a line to check a bag with Marcus while Robert and the girls went to a kiosk to do it, just to see who got it done faster.
I was called first, so they ran over to agent who was about to help me, but just then the person who had been there before me came back and said he had a problem that wasn’t fully resolved, so she helped him some more instead, and then finally turned to us. Then Robert took the kids and the carryons through pre-check where they told him to leave the iPads in the carryons, and I went on the plebeian side with no bags. They still did a full body pat down of me, front, back, between my legs—gah! Ridiculous!
Meanwhile, on the pre-check side, they said the iPads raised an alarm “because there were so many of them” (three...not all in the same bag) so they had to take them out and manually recheck the bags, while I waited. It was wild. I was laughing. I took the girls at that point and ran for our gate, leaving Robert and Marcus with the bags and putting them all back in through the scanner again. I do not need to tell you, of course, thatour gate was the furthest one in the terminal--the "go right, go down two escalators, go across five moving walkways, then go up two more escalators, go straight, turn right, jog past 8 more gates and finally get to the gate" gate, that is.
They were boarding main cabin group 1 when we arrived, and then Robert and Marcus sailed up just as they announced main cabin group 2, which was us, and we all sauntered onto the plane. Robert was still on hold with Delta in the car to the airport and then he finally hung up. When we were all sitting on the plane he did actually say “you were right. It’s still not certain if our next flight will go, but if we hadn’t booked hear tickets and left for the airport exactly when we did, there would have been a zero percent chance of getting to Hawaii tomorrow.”
Ha. At that point it was not a "zero percent chance," but as you’ll see, it didn’t quite happen. Anyway, we flew to Detroit without any problem, except for the hour and a half we sat on the tarmac upon landing, waiting for three guys to come help us get to the gate (only one was available for the longest time).
It was one degree in Detroit, which made standing at the airport to wait for the shuttle to the Comfort Inn a tad chilly. You'll recall that we did not bring jackets with us, and Helen and I were wearing Crocs. Fun times! But we spent the night comfortably enough at the hotel, and I offered homemade Christmas cookies (which I'd shoved in my carry-on in the frantic ten minutes before we left the house) to the fellow stranded travelers on the shuttle and in the hotel lobby.
On Christmas Eve morning we enjoyed hotel DIY Belgian waffles for breakfast, and then packed up and went downstairs to take the shuttle back to the airport. In our hotel room at 9:15 I checked and our noon flight was fine. When we were in the lobby 5 minutes later, waiting for the shuttle, it was cancelled. Apparently, winds in Detroit were too heavy, and nothing was taking off--well, one giant plane was about to depart for Seoul, but we didn't have our passports with us (Note to self: Always bring passports from now on).
We went to the airport anyway, riding back on the same shuttle we rode on the night before, and stood on a long line while also trying to find different arrangements ourselves. No luck. Eventually we got to a sympathetic agent who said the best they could do was a flight to Hawaii on Thursday, which seemed not worth it since we'd be leaving Hawaii Saturday night to fly back. We tossed around lots of different options and decided the best would be to scrap Hawaii, but instead aim for Los Angeles (our clothes and packed items were more right for it, at least) where we could get on Tuesday, and rent a car and drive to Chicago for now, spending Christmas with Robert’s sister Jennifer and seeing Chicago cousins and aunts and uncles.
So by noon on Christmas Eve, we finally had the new flight reservation and regrouped to get the rental car. Nothing worked quite perfectly, though (it might be a theme): it then took us 2 full hours to get a rental car. First, Robert reserved one on Thrifty.com when we were still in the airport terminal, but then when we took a shuttle to the facility and got to the counter, they told him he was on the "do not rent list" (again), which is nuts. He successfully rented a car in Minnesota this past August, and had spent a long time before that trying to clear up the mixup that had landed him on the list the year before. No one has any idea about what happened, but we couldn't deal with it then, so we asked them to transfer the car to me. Here the helpful agent refused, making a comment about how she's under surveillance and said we’d have to make an all-new reservation in my name. I was navigating to Thrifty.com to do just that when it became obvious she was not a fan of Robert's charm, but by the time we did that, they said they were out of cars and couldn’t take a reservation.
Thrifty happened to be in the same building as Hertz and Dollar, who both then also said they were out of cars too, but I was able to make a reservation in my name at Budget while we were in the Hertz line with a different unhelpful woman “helping” us. Here the next hurdle arose: Budget was about a three block walk away, on the far side of the frozen tundra of a parking lot, and the Thrifty shuttle said they wouldn’t take us to Budget, just back to the airport, from which we’d have to take a different shuttle back over to Budget—or, you know, walk three blocks across a slushy parking lot in 3 degree temperatures and -22 windchills, in sneakers or crocs and light sweatshirts.
We were clearly dressed for a flight for Hawaii, not for record-breaking storms and cold in the upper Midwest. At this point I went out into the parking lot with Helen and flagged down the first shuttle I saw, which happened to be Dollar, and asked him if he’d drop us at Budget.
“Get in," he said. "This never happened. You never saw me, and I don’t know you. But get in.” We piled in, and he drove us almost but not quite all the way up to Budget. Eventually we got our car: the rear doors were frozen shut, so we all climbed in through the front passenger seat. Obviously. By now it was almost 2 p.m., and the waffles we'd eaten were quite a long time ago, so we stopped at Lefty’s Cheesesteaks for a cheesesteak for Marcus, a beef brisket hoagie with cole slaw and hot peppers and bbq sauce for Robert, cheesesteak egg rolls for me with pimiento cheese to dip into, a popcorn chicken hoagie for Samantha, and soft pretzel bites with cheese sauce for Helen, plus curly fries.
“This sandwich is the first thing that’s gone right in 24 hours,” Robert said. Everyone loved the food, and we ate with gusto in the car, and then got five minutes down the highway before Robert said he couldn’t see anything and had to pull over. We pulled over and cranked up the heat and the window cleared enough for Robert to limp to the exit and a gas station, where we bought windshield wiper fluid and a guy came out and helped us unfreeze the spout so the fluid could actually squirt out. We finally got back on the road, driving west across Michigan toward Chicago. We called Jennifer from the car: "Hey! We're coming for Christmas!" Jennifer is amazing, though: it's good to have family who are flexible, happy to see you, and truly welcoming!
The trip to her house was supposed to take us about the same time as the drive from Boston to New York, but it ended up taking 7 hours. At points the visibility went down to nothing, even with the windshield wipers and antifreeze, and we drove through a blizzard with the highway down to one lane limping along on the right. Marcus was counting wrecks that we saw off to the side of the road, and he was solidly up in the teens before we got near Jennifer's. There was no way we were stopping for more food until we were 15 minutes from her house, though, and since it was Christmas Eve a lot of places were closed all day or had closed early. But we managed to find an all-you-can-eat hotpot place, and we all were happy.
(Exhausted Helen fell asleep at the hotpot place. Meanwhile, Marcus ate 7 helpings of matcha ice cream to cap off his already hearty meal of hotpot fish.)
Arriving at Jennifer's, we were warmly welcomed by cousins Emi and John, and Marcus stayed up with them to watch "The Glass Onion." Our midwestern visit continued: we saw Uncle Max on Christmas Day, and then Dave and Candy came over to visit in the evening. Over the next few days we made waffles, crepes, a ham dinner with mashed potatoes and assorted sides; we got to know Jennifer's new cat, Mo; and Helen got to play with some of Emi's old toys. It was a really lovely Christmas and family visit--unplanned, but perfect.
There was also a lot of chess, boardgames, and drawing, and on Monday night a single trip back to the hotpot place with Emi and Jennifer, who hadn’t been there, and then a Target run for candy and ice cream.
(Helen made Christmas cards for everyone.)
(Some of Samantha's creations while at Jennifer's house)
On Tuesday, we went to a fancy indoor minigolf place with computer scoring, trivia, and all sorts of other bells and whistles on the way to O’Hare and then flew to Los Angeles by way of Minnesota. I was fully prepared to get stuck in Minnesota at that point, partly just because that was how things had been going for us, and partly because we didn’t have confirmed seats on the Minnesota-LAX leg of the trip, but somehow we made it out and landed in Los Angeles Tuesday night, four days after we first left home.
In Los Angeles over the next five days, we played the tourist, visited with California cousins, and more, but one overarching theme was Californians who apologized to us about the weather. For much of the trip, it was 55 and drizzly, but our sojourn in Detroit really had given us some great perspective on things. We wore sundresses and shorts, we spent one rainy afternoon in the movies seeing the second Avatar movie with Sal and Sue, and we flew back home to Boston on New Year’s Day entirely without drama. When I had those 7 hours in the car in Michigan to plan some fun things for LA, I rented Robert a Tesla X for the trip, and he and Marcus definitely enjoyed the car.
Wednesday morning we were all up bright and early and headed out to the beach, since we were staying in Santa Monica just a couple blocks from the pier. We walked around a desert-inspired park and playground, then walked out on the pier and talked to people who were fishing.
Marcus was impressed by the "Big" connection (Zoltar) more than the "Lost Boys" connection (you know, the actual location), and Samantha kept saying "You and Daddy used to actually COME here?" as though we'd lived in Los Angeles in another century....oh wait. Hm.
From there, since Stan's Donuts had closed, we got other SoCal-style classic donuts and then the "Best Damn" breakfast burritos on Santa Monica Blvd, sitting at a sidewalk table watching cars--just like our old LA times, for sure--and then headed to the La Brea Tarpits. "So it REALLY means the Tar Tarpits, which are actually asphalt," concluded Samantha, who was paying attention to things.
Lunch was hand rolls that hadn't existed when we were in LA before, and quarter cookies (now $.75, but still good, and still a deal) and ice cream sandwiches in Westwood.
Marcus and I ran into a Whole Foods to pick up clementines and bottled water for the next few days, and the girls and I browsed in Aahs, with my memories of walking through there with Robert's grad school friends very vivid. We saw the Fox theatre, too, but since we had plans to see a movie tomorrow we just walked on by.
We drove over to Anaheim to a different hotel, Robert having forgotten what rush-hour freeway traffic was like in LA, and when we got there Helen cuddled up next to me on the bed and fell asleep. The big kids were a little sleepy too, but they also were hungry, so Robert went out with them for conveyor belt sushi with cat-shaped robots, and they came back full and happy--and very sleepy, but that was fine.
On Thursday morning, we stopped at Starbread for Senorita rolls, which were a unanimous hit. I think we ended up getting 20 of them, plus ube donuts and brownies and other deliciousness. From there it was a quick trip to Knott's "Merry" Farm (Helen was particularly pleased with that seasonal pun. The kids loved all the rides--Helen loved everything she was tall enough for, including the log flume and the pony express (where you are bent forward "riding" a "pony") and the Jaguar, and Marcus and Samantha loved the wilder rides too, especially the Slver Bullet. We also got some seasonal food specials, including a turkey meatball with cranberries and brussel sprouts, and Helen and I watched some a capella carolers for awhile and also picked out some fun flavors of taffy (popcorn, s'more, and more).
Helen also liked the historical displays about the different California missions.
From the park at the end of the day we went straight to Uncle Fung's Indonesian restaurant, which was basically right across the street, and which was fantastic. Laksa like in Singapore? Amazing chicken satay? What a way to end the day!
Except, the day wasn't quite over yet--we went to The Source OC in Buena Park, a fun Korean mall, for ube Japanese cotton cheesecake from Cheesetella and matcha and vanilla custard-topped souffle pancakes. We also got Old Ferry Donuts, a Korean chain that just opened their first store in the US here a week before Christmas, and Samantha and Helen loved looking in the "cute" store and finding notebooks and stickers that they wanted to spend some Christmas money on
We went up to the top-floor foodcourts, then, and Marcus had a big bowl of bulgoki on rice, because clearly after dinner AND the pancakes AND a huge hojicha-flavored soft serve, he was still hungry. Growth spurt, perhaps?
On Friday morning, I directed us to Hank's in Costa Mesa for breakfast burritos, and from there to the Noguchi Gardens, which nearly everyone (else) was skeptical about as a vacation destination, but which people ended up really enjoying. It was also clear and lovely to walk around.
This is a lima bean sculpture, echoing an older use of this land as lima bean farms.
Our next stop was the nearby Lyon Air Museum, where we looked at airplanes, cars, and old motorcycles.
Friday before the movie we hurried back to The Source OC. Marcus ate more souffle pancakes, and we bought more Old Ferry Donuts to bring back to my cousins' house later. While in line for the donuts, I told Samantha to grab a tote bag from the display, figuring I'd bring one back as a gift for Sarah, who does love donuts and different donut shop logos, but when we got up to the front to check out, the cashier apologized and said they couldn't sell the tote bags until January 1. Uh, okay...here I was trying to give you money? She said we should come back on New Year's Day or after, and I said we couldn't (across the country, etc.) and was so sorry because I wanted to get one for my friend. Oh well--Samantha put the bag back and I paid, and then I was standing over on the side while they put the donuts in boxes, when suddenly two men came over and started talking to me. Through his friend who was translating for him, one of the men explained that he was the owner of Old Ferry, and he was so happy to bring his donuts to the US, and he had heard that I wanted to buy a bag, so he wanted to give me a bag as a gift since they couldn't sell it to me. There was a lot of complimenting and thanking and bowing, on all sides, and then we took our free tote bag and our donuts quite happily.
Elsewhere in the mall, I got a dalgona candy milk tea, with big chunks of the candy melting in it as a sweetener, and Samantha had a perfectly customized tteokbokki, during which we accidentally stumbled onto a launch party for a new single by Ateez. (I had to Google that. Suffice it to say, everyone else in the place knew what they were there for, and we were clueless.) Sal and Sue bought popcorn and make-your-own mixture sodas and candy for the movies, so my children were in heaven. The chairs were comfortable, which was great because the movie was endless--in a good way, but we were in there for a looooong time. I kept whispering to Helen, "The little sister is NOT going to die," and then she'd get reassured for a few minutes.
On Friday night, after the movie, Sal and Sue hosted everyone for dinner. Sue and Robert filled dumplings and she fried them up, and we brought the cotton cheesecakes (chocolate and ube) and a dozen Old Ferry Donuts to share. Old Ferry pistachio was a particular hit. What a donut! It was great to see adorable Mia for the first time, to watch Enzo and Cooper run around and play, and to get to talk to Winnie and Gracie a little.
On Saturday morning we met cousins for dim sum in Monterey Park. "No daddies!" Enzo observed. "No daddies here but him!" pointing to Robert. Dads or not, everyone who was there ate heartily and we had a private room off the main room. We stopped for Mr. Obanyaki filled pancakes (ube, tapicoa milk tea, mango, matcha, and Nutella) and separately for delicious beef jerky, and brought our spoils back to share.
On Saturday afternoon, we hung out at Sal and Sue's. Robert and Helen demonstrated all of their tricks for Cooper, and Samantha assembled most of a cardboard Harry Potter castle kit that Sue had at the house (neglected by Jenna due to the demands of parenting).
On New Year's Eve, we all went to Jeff and Alex's house for a party. Sal had said they lived at the top of a hill on a very dark street, and Sue had mentioned they had a lot of Christmas decorations. "You can't miss it," she said, even while Sal was explaining that the street was curvy and it was hard to spot. When we arrived at the location where Google Maps said Jeff and Alex lived, Robert was uncertain. "Do you think we're at the right place?" he asked.
Yes. Yes, we did think we were at the right place. (And indeed, we were!) Helen was stunned by the beauty of Alex's Christmas tree, not to mention her wall of pocketbooks and shoes and her glittery, mirrored bedroom with jewelry galore. The kids were also impressed with Amanda's charcuterie and dessert board spreads.
All too soon, it was time for us to say goodnight in order to get a little sleep before our early morning flight. We waited until after midnight on Boston time, and then Alex gave the kids a bunch of poppers and after we had said goodnight we drove back to the hotel and, huddled under the awening in the parking lot in the pouring rain at 9 p.m., gleefully used up all the poppers. Happy new year!
“So how was Hawaii?” people asked when we saw them in Boston in January. Ha. No, seriously, though--it was a good trip. We did a lot of varied things, we ate a lot of good food, and we rolled with it. "That was a pretty good vacation," Marcus mused, in the Uber back to our house on New Year's Day. We definitely agree.
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