This year has been one of extremes for yours truly. Funerals, road trips, 80-hour work weeks, World Series glory, grad school hoop-jumping, Christmas plays…and even a little bit of Santa impersonation!
2016 has been one of the best (and worst) years of my life. However, I won’t belabor you, the reader, with an exhaustive recap.
Unfortunately, I have not been as productive on the creative writing front as I would have liked. Hopefully inspiration will strike in abundance in the coming new year. Until then, keep on ramblin’.
I was a naïve ten-year-old when the Chicago Cubs first broke my heart.
It was the summer of 1989 and the “Boys of Zimmer” were my heroes: Sandberg, Dawson, Grace, Dunston, Maddux, Sutcliffe. To this day, I can still rattle off most, if not the entire roster of that year.
(Okay, maybe Google helped refresh my memory)
I still vividly remember coming home that September night in time to catch the last few outs of the Cubs’ division-clinching game against the Montreal Expos. My dad, not the most rabid of baseball fans, stood beside me during that moment of exultation and together we celebrated in front of the television. It is a father-son moment that I hold dear.
The Cubs were to play the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series. I was feeling very confident. Five games later, I was a ruined child. The final out of Game 5 still haunts me. My favorite player, the ever-dependable Ryne Sandberg, hitting a routine ground ball to second base, the ball being tossed into the waiting glove of Giants first baseman Will Clark, his celebratory double fist pump as Sandberg resignedly trotted by.
I was in tears.
Like I said, I was naïve. I didn’t know my history then. 1984, 1969, 1945, 1908—these dates meant nothing to me. In 1989, I was blissfully unaware of billy goats, black cats, and botched ground balls. As far as I was concerned, the Cubs simply sprang into being that year.
My mom was across the street at a neighbor’s house. Bawling my eyes out, I ran over to find her. As she attempted to comfort me, I swore that I would never cheer for the Cubs again. My summertime heroes were now fallen idols in my eyes.
Fast forward 26 years.
I’m still a die-hard Cubs fan; older, wiser and warier, but a fan even now. It’s October again. The Cubs, full of young promise and hope, tantalized their fans with a great season and an exciting start to their post-season march to glory. Back to the Future II predicted, tongue-in-cheek, a World Series sweep.
Yet, entering once more into the NLCS, the Cubs ran into a buzz saw with a Mets logo emblazoned upon it.
In four games, it was all over.
Wait till next year.
I didn’t cry this time; I couldn’t. I’ve been hurt too many times, my heart scarred with the memories of 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007, and 2008. I must confess, I’m a card-carrying pessimist. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s a sad way to live, really.
I sometimes wonder if the Cubs had a hand in shaping my outlook on life, or maybe I was drawn to the team because of my pre-existing pessimism. I can’t imagine what will happen if the Cubs finally win the World Series. Perhaps my head will explode. I’m willing to risk it though.
So, you might be asking, you’ve now spent over 500 words whining about your favorite sports team, why are you even a Cubs fan in the first place? Why don’t you root for the (insert flavor-of-the-month team here)? In fact, just forget baseball altogether and follow a cool, trendy sport like bowling, or golf, or curling (it’s amazing what you can with a broom and a rock with a handle).
Why am I a Chicago Cubs fan?
I get asked that a lot. Well, why is a person a fan of anything? Proximity to the team plays a part. I grew up and still live in the Chicago suburbs. If I had moved to a different part of the country at an early enough age, I’d probably be cheering for another team. At this point in my life, it’s too late to switch loyalties. The Cubs infection has had so many years to graft itself into my very nature that no matter where I go now, I’ll always be a North Side crank.
Growing up, my mother always told me that her dad was a Cubs fan. It always pleased me to know that I had this connection with my grandfather who had passed away when I was too young to appreciate him. Years later, my uncle told me a different story; that Grandpa, sick of the team’s losing ways, had abandoned the Cubs to cheer for the White Sox. This bothered me initially because I held (and still hold) firmly to the belief that you can’t be both a Cubs and a Sox fan. To me, there’s something sacrilegious about supporting both teams at once or suddenly switching sides. It’s like cheering for both sides in a civil war. Anyway, the thought of my grandfather’s alleged switch troubled me until I realized that my uncle was from St. Louis, rendering his baseball opinions highly questionable (my humblest apologies to family and friends who happen to be Cardinal fans). Ah well, it doesn’t matter. The point is that the memory of my grandfather played an important role in my choice of teams.
Loyalty is important to me. I’d like to think of myself as a loyal person—to my family, my friends, my house plant, and yes, to my favorite ball club. Not knowing what I was getting into back in 1989, I hitched a ride on the Cubs bandwagon. For better or worse, I have managed to stay on. I may have forfeited my opportunity to cheer for a winner, but the lessons I have learned as a long-suffering fan have proven valuable in the long run. I’m a loyal pessimist, and maybe that’s not such a sad way to live after all.
~One Year Later~
November 3, 2016
The fat lady has sung, pigs are flying and hell is a block of ice-
Tim and I began our Sunday with brunch at a trendy little café called MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse. We opted for the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet where the food was good, plentiful and provided enough strips of bacon to wallpaper the room (Mmmm…bacon wallpaper…). Despite the crowds, my brother and I managed to snag a table by the front window. Judging by our fellow customers, MoKaBe’s was most decidedly hipster. Judging by the décor, there was also a touch of militant liberalism about the place. Being the straight-laced conservative that I was, I half-expected one of the bearded, plaid-wearing staff members to pick me out of the crowd and hiss “We don’t serve your kind here.” Tim and I managed to fly under the radar though, and we left with pleasantly full stomachs.
We next went to the nearby August Gate Church to attend the 11 a.m. service, where my brother had attended a couple of times. August Gate was a relatively new church community, meeting in a small building that had apparently once housed a church of another denomination. It was a nice and welcoming place. It was also very warm as there seemed to be no air conditioning. Before the service even started, the sweat was coming down my face in rivulets. As my co-workers could testify, I had an acute sensitivity to heat (which meant any temperature above 70 degrees) and a severe dislike of sweating in dress clothing. I spent much of the worship portion of the service with my eyes closed, not in prayer or in genuflection, but simply to keep the streaming, stinging sweat out of my eyes. The church was led by Pastor Noah, a young man with a cleanly-shaved head and a flowing beard that would have made the original Noah jealous. Worship was led by Pastor Josh who possessed an equally impressive beard. It turned out to be a special service as the congregation was about to launch a sister church into northern St. Louis. The soon-to-be pastor of that church gave the message.
After church, Tim and I went downtown and walked around. We strolled through Citygarden, home of some very…interesting art installations. We passed by the courthouse and the beautiful Old Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, all the while Tim provided me with interesting architectural tidbits about the city. Having earned a degree in engineering and being employed by a construction company, Tim was becoming something of an expert in the St. Louis cityscape.
We wandered down toward the Gateway Arch, observing the construction going on in the park around it. I had hoped to go up to the top of the Arch, but it was inaccessible that day. I had gone up once before many years ago, back when I was terrified of heights. Between the dizzying view and the herky-jerky elevator that brought me to that view, it was not the most enjoyable of visits for me. Since then, my acrophobia has faded and I figured that my second visit would go much better. Alas, it was not to be, at least not today.
We moved on to a plaza which framed the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. In the midst of the plaza, we saw a rather strange sight. At first, we (and others around us) thought we were looking at a statue of a man dressed in white snowsuit (complete with white gloves and baseball cap). Standing in the blistering heat with sunglasses obscuring his eyes, he stood motionless under a large black and white umbrella and holding a large Christian flag. Upon closer inspection, we discovered that the statue was an actual person! What was this all about? Later internet searching revealed that the man, named Brad, was, according to him, instructed by God to stand before the Arch for several hours every Sunday afternoon, offering prayer and a compelling life story that brought him to that place. Not sure at the time whether we could speak to him (or if he would speak to us), Tim and I passed by and moved on to the recently restored Lewis and Clark statue. We were fairly certain that these were in fact statues (I kicked Captain Clark’s shin just to make sure).
We passed under the historic Eads Bridge next, then headed back to where we parked the car.
With time pressing, we took a quick drive through beautiful Forest Park, passing by the art museum along the way. This would be a place that I would have to revisit at another time. But now it was time to go home.
Overall, I was amazed and impressed by all the construction that was going on in the city. There was a sense of revitalization that I had never encountered here in former visits. I also enjoyed touring the city with Tim, who was clearly enthralled by his new home. Still, being a long-time resident of Chicagoland, I clung to my old prejudices about the city. Despite the pleasant visit, the best part about a trip to St. Louis, I mused as I crossed into Illinois, was leaving it.
The final leg of my trip was rather anticlimactic as I traveled north along I-55. I cast many a bored glance out the window at the uninspiring Illinois scenery around me and wished for mountains. I arrived home around 9:30 that night, travel-worn, and to be perfectly honest, rather glad to be back.
After two weeks, 13 states and 4,700 miles, my odyssey had finally come to an end…or had it?
Epilogue: Sunday, September 25, 2016
A month has gone by since my return, but thanks to my persistence in recording, editing and blogging my journey, I have been continually reliving, reviewing and analyzing my journey of self-discovery. Had my road trip accomplished anything? Had I managed to “find myself”?
Yes and no.
Naturally, a two-week vacation is not going to solve all of life’s problems. However, the trip did serve as a catalyst in giving my life a much-needed reset. I had the ability to process my grief, frustration and spiritual weariness while reveling in the wonders of this country, and in the wonders of rekindled friendships. Now I was finally ready to move on, to take on new challenges, and yes, to even face an adventure or two (provided that I remember where my car is parked).
In the morning, I had figured that from Heber, I had about 23 hours more driving ahead of me with three days to go. Of course, this daunting schedule didn’t stop me from sleeping in and I didn’t start out until about 11:00. Having no place in particular that I wanted to visit, my Friday was mainly devoted to driving. It wasn’t very long before I had picked up I-40, exited Arizona and started in on New Mexico.
Before leaving California, I had debated on whether I should attempt to follow the old Route 66 path from start (Los Angeles) to finish (Chicago). However, with time starting to run out on my trip, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to do a Route 66 tour justice. I needed time for exploration. Sadly, it would have to remain a goal for another journey. Still, driving east on I-40 through parts of Arizona and New Mexico did put me on the “Mother Road” for a time.
Established in 1926, Route 66 was one of the country’s main thoroughfares to the west, crossing through parts of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It gained a great deal of usage during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, as many Midwestern farmers and assorted “Okies” sought a new life in California.
In the post-World War II era, as 66 became a popular vacation route, small towns connected by the highway found profitability in the thousands of tourists that flocked through every year. Mom-and-Pop shops sprang up, fast food got its start, souvenirs and motels were in abundance. In short, it was consumer America in miniature. People got their kicks on Route 66. It was the epitome of road tripping.
The establishment of the Interstate Highway System in 1956 marked the beginning of the end for Route 66 as, over the following years, sections of the road (not to mention many small towns) were bypassed or subsumed by the newer, stream-lined interstates. In 1985, Route 66 was officially decommissioned as a highway. Sadly, it is no longer possible to drive continuously from Chicago to Los Angeles on the existing Route 66 roads, although there are enough stretches around to make a nostalgic trip out of it.
Sometimes, progress is not all it’s cracked up to be.
As the day rolled on, I watched the world go by from my windows: Manuelito…Defiance…Mentmore…Gallup…
It was late afternoon when I made a stop in Albuquerque. After scarfing down dinner, I decided that I would attempt to pay a surprise visit to a former co-worker of mine who had recently found employment at a library in town…at least, I thought it was in town. Thinking that Albuquerque would only have one library, I dropped in at what turned out to be the main branch of an extended network of libraries throughout Bernalillo County. As I didn’t know specifically which one of the libraries my one-time co-worker was at, I chalked up my visit as a failure and headed out. However, let this journal bear witness that I did try…
Moriarty…Santa Rosa…Cuervo…Tucumcari…San Jon…
It was dark when I crossed into Texas panhandle and the Central Time Zone. By midnight, I was in Amarillo and ready to call it a night. I found a cheap hotel just off the highway and was registered by a warty-looking man with a Texas twang who wanted to discuss the rainstorm that had recently passed through the city. As I hadn’t encountered any rain that day (and being rather road-weary), my participation in the conversation was minimal.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Much like the day before, there was much driving to be had. I was still about 15 and half hours from home and hoping to make it to St. Louis by the end of the day. I left Amarillo around 10 am and continued to follow I-40 through Texas and up into central Oklahoma, stopping occasionally for food and gas. Around Tulsa, I picked up I-44 and by mid-afternoon I had crossed into Missouri (State motto: “Where Missouri Loves Company”).
Although born and bred in Illinois (a dubious distinction to some people), Missouri had always felt like home to me. Having gone to college in Hannibal and being part of a traveling drama team during that time, I had seen a great deal of the state. Having a number of Missouri friends and family members (a dubious distinction to other people) ensured my repeated visits to the “Show-Me State” in the years following graduation. In recent days, my younger brother Tim had himself graduated from college and established himself in St. Louis.
I was 12 when Tim was born. In his infancy, I had nicknamed him (with brilliant originality) “Baby.” I’m not sure why I chose to call him that other than the fact that he was, at one time, a baby. The name stuck, however. But Tim started growing up, and as “Baby” no longer seemed suitable, his nickname was morphed into “Bee Bee.” Over time, that too was changed to just “Bee,” which I still call him to this day, much to the mystification of uncomprehending friends and family members. (Incidentally, my middle brother Jon was given the nickname “Mole,” but that’s another story.)
Thanks to construction, traffic, and paying a visit to the slowest fast food place I had ever encountered, it was after 10 pm when I reached the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood of St. Louis, where I would be spending the night at Tim’s apartment.
I recalled one of the many reasons why I could never live in St. Louis when I pulled up at the apartment building and stepped out of my air-conditioned car into the miasma of a late August night. Where Phoenix had been all heat, St. Louis proved to be all humidity. I texted my brother of my arrival but it turned out that he was not at home—but soon would be, he assured me. As there were no spots that I could legally park on the street, I went to a nearby gas station to wait. Tim soon found me and I followed him back to his building which had a gated parking lot.
Tim lived in a spacious and nicely furnished two-bedroom apartment that he shared with a roommate. After a quick introduction to said roommate, who was entertaining his own guests, I set up camp in Tim’s bedroom and made an early night of it.
Disclaimer: To the friends and family members living in California and Arizona that I wasn’t able to see, my apologies! Two weeks just isn’t enough time.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
It was time to start heading home, and as much as I enjoyed my travels, I felt ready to go back. Not that I was homesick or travel-weary, but it was time to start living my life again.
The night before, I had toyed with the idea of stopping off in Long Beach and to splash around in the ocean before leaving California. However, good sense prevailed and I decided to get an early start and to eat up some miles instead. There would be other opportunities to go beach-hopping, I hoped. Before departing Riverside, I remembered to get my car a much-need oil change (it had earned it). The morning and early afternoon went by uneventfully. Before long I was in Arizona and headed toward Phoenix. I did get a bit of a shock when at one point, I glanced out my window and saw not one, but two large dust devils twirling along side by side in desert not far from the highway. I was fascinated. They looked like miniature, half-hearted tornadoes as they harmlessly sucked at the ground and danced eastward along with my car.
Another thrilling event occurred while speeding along my way towards Phoenix: my little red car turned 100,000 (miles). It’s quite the milestone for any car owner.
I had a number of friends and family members who lived in the Phoenix area and I spent much of my drive trying to figure out who just who I would be able to see. Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to visit with everyone. I got in contact with my Uncle Brian, but he was out of town and wouldn’t be back until evening. My longtime friend Andrew was available to hang out. I thought about what where we could go when I had an idea. I checked online, and sure enough, they were at home. I thought, why not? I mentioned my idea to Andrew and he readily agreed. When I got into downtown Phoenix, I found myself a parking garage, this time being very attentive to my surroundings. The city around me was fairly quiet. It was also extremely hot. Although I have always found the southwestern U.S. a fascinating place to visit, I couldn’t imagine ever living there. I’m not a hot weather person, humidity or no humidity. And I was suffering mightily as I walked the several blocks to Chase Field where I purchased two tickets to see the Diamondbacks. Yes, I intended on going to yet another baseball game. It seemed fitting though, as Andrew and I grew up being big baseball fans. It was he and his family who took me to my first Cubs game. Chase Field would be a fitting place for our reunion.
However, before this happened, I had another reunion to attend. I headed out of Phoenix to meet another friend, Amy, for dinner in the Phoenix suburb of Goodyear. Unfortunately, my timing was rather bad. Amy was sick and had just gotten out of work from teaching kindergarten. She also had her spirited young nephew in tow, who had just concluded spending the week at her house. His mother arrived shortly after Amy and the four of us dined on Subway. The nephew turned out to be an amiable little chap who, as I learned, was also quite an advanced reader for his age (as a Youth Services Associate, my heart leapt with joy at this). With a fistful of Minecraft toys, he chattered away and sipped on his favorite drink which happened to being a mixture of all the fountain drinks combined. Eventually, the nephew and his mother departed and my friend and I were left to ourselves, but not for very long. She was clearly drained, and time was quickly getting on.
I headed back into Phoenix and met up with Andrew outside the ballpark. It had been years since we had hung out together and we had a great time catching up on each other’s lives as we watched the Diamondbacks lose to the Braves 3-1.
There was a brief bit of excitement in the second inning as the Braves’ first baseman chased a foul ball to the stands, attempted to catch it, then flipped head-first over a low fence and landed hard, tailbone first, on a row of empty seats. It looked very painful and the crowd collectively “Ooooo’d” as we watched the replay on the video board. It was a few tense minutes before the first baseman eventually got up, receiving a round of applause. Amazingly, he stayed in the game. It was proving to be quite a game too, as the Braves had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning. Andrew and I were hoping to be witnesses to history, but it was not to be. The Diamondbacks managed to break through at last. Oh well. It was still an enjoyable way to wrap up my trip out west.
It was around 10 pm when the game let out. Instead of staying the night in Phoenix, I decided to forge ahead a little while longer. Three hours later, after sleepily navigating windy roads in the pitch black, I made it to Heber, AZ (a speck of a town in the middle of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, not far from the New Mexico border). I pulled into the first hotel I came across. The outer doors of the lobby were locked for the night at this point, but undeterred, I laid on the buzzer until someone came to let me in.
After my San Diego experience of the past two days, I opted to keep my explorations closer to home this time. I spent the afternoon in downtown Riverside. I began by visiting the Riverside Metropolitan Museum. For free admission, I perused the natural history, Native American and local history exhibits. One historical event I found particularly interesting was the rampaging elephant tragedy of 1908.
On April 16, the Sells-Floto circus had come to town, which of course included a number of elephants. Around 1:30 that afternoon, a storage tank exploded at the nearby Standard Oil Company, the noise causing the elephants to panic and stampede. Most of the pachyderms were corralled before too much damage was done, but one, the largest one as it turned out, would not come quietly.
He charged east into downtown Riverside via Seventh Street (now Mission Inn Avenue), causing property damage and injury before hooking a right at Orange Street and plowing into the Glenwood Hotel (now the Mission Inn) courtyard, pinning, then trampling the unfortunate Ella Gibbs. She would be the lone elephant-related casualty of the rampage, although a second death would later occur due to the tank explosion at the oil plant. The elephant continued on, despite the desperate efforts of his handler, barging his way through the hotel lobby and several other businesses on Main Street before finally being subdued in a stable.
The sad fate of Miss Gibbs tends to give one pause. Death comes to us in many forms; through sickness, accident, homicide, suicide, or old age. In our own ways, we try to prepare ourselves for one of these eventualities. However, how does one adjust to the reality that one day, when you’re going about your business, you may meet your end at the trampling feet of an elephant? Still, I suppose if we took time to imagine all the possible ways we could die, we’d never leave our homes. Carpe diem.
After the museum, I walked around town admiring the architecture of the Mission Inn, the First Congregational Church and the Chinese pavilion.
I decided to have a late al fresco lunch at the Mission Inn Trattoria. As I munched on my panino con polpette (a fancy way of calling a small meatball sandwich) and cupcake-infused ice cream topped with various berries (which was amazing and highly recommended), I watched the world go by. School had apparently gotten out as backpacked-students streamed by the trattoria. It reminded me that classes had also begun back home. For the library that I worked at, the start of school was typically a big deal. Located down the street from a junior high, we were inexplicably the hang out for roughly four dozen latchkey preteens; hungry, hyper, hormonal preteens, recently released from the rigors of the classroom, and now ready to explode. Needless to say, the first couple weeks are harrowing for the library staff as everyone tried to adjust and accommodate.
Yet here I was in southern California, enjoying a leisurely meal on a beautiful late summer day. I felt sorry for my co-workers.
I had really come to enjoy the friendly, laid-back atmosphere of SoCal. I’m sure there were exceptions to this rule, as California natives could testify, but I had been fortunate enough not to encounter them. Even at the crosswalks, which had always been a source of consternation for me, particularly in Chicago. I was one of those weird people who liked to follow traffic laws. This type of mentality didn’t work back home. For example, I’d be at a busy intersection in Chicago, trying to wait for my turn to cross the street, but getting dragged along by crowds of impatient people around me who felt that traffic lights were for other people to follow. Again, I may have experienced the exception during my stay in California, but it was nice to see that some people cared about safety.
I’ll get down off my soapbox now.
I returned to the house not long before Kari returned from work. We returned to the Mission Inn for dinner at Las Campanas where we dined on Mexican cuisine outdoors near the main entrance to the Inn. Entertainment during the meal was provided by a couple of caged macaws that were located over the fence behind us.
At first, they merely squawked at people passing by them, but then came:
At a table not far from us, a little girl was intrigued by the now-talkative birds, and attempted to make conversation with them.
Macaw # 1: “Hello!”
Little Girl: “Hello!”
Macaw #2: “Hi!”
Little Girl: “Hi! What’s your name?”
Macaw #1: (after a pause) “Hello!”
Little Girl: (Insistent)“What’s your name?”
Macaw #2: “Hi!”
Mother: “Please sit down and eat your dinner.”
Little Girl: (frowning and crossing her arms) “You’re mean birds.”
Macaw #1: “Hello!”
This went on for a while. Meanwhile, the girl’s toddler brother, perched on his high chair, kept looking back at me with a grin, as if to say: “Can you believe my nutty sister?”
After dinner, Kari and I took a quick tour of the Inn’s very opulent lobby, restaurant and the architecturally fascinating outdoor café. As I learned, the Mission Inn had been a favorite stopping place for a number of presidents over the years, including William Howard Taft who,
in his honor (and corpulence), someone had made an extra-large chair for him to use while dining at the restaurant adjacent to the lobby. Apparently, he was insulted by this and refused to sit in it.
Speaking of Taft and chairs, there is a historical tale (unconfirmed) that the president was the originator of the seventh inning stretch. During a ball game in 1910, Taft, uncomfortably crammed in his seat, stood to stretch halfway through the seventh inning, and because the president stood up, the rest of the crowd felt obliged to do the same. I doubted if Taft decided to sing “Take Me Out the Ballgame” at that point.
Around dusk, Kari and I decided to hike up Mount Rubidoux, a small mountain on the western edge of town. Apparently, half of Riverside had the same idea as the roundabout trail we followed was packed with walkers, joggers and bikers. The hike proved to be quite the workout for me. Still, I kept my whimpering to a minimum. The sun was setting as we walked along the western edge of the mountain. At this point, our conversation turned to thoughts of my recently-deceased mother. Kari asked me what was my best memory of her. In all honesty, I was stumped for a time. It wasn’t that I hadn’t any fond memories of Mom. It was just that my mind drew a complete blank. Although it wasn’t a happy memory exactly, I shared with Kari the story I told at the funeral. When I was little, my mother and I were at the local grocery store. At the check-out line, I spotted a huge display of rubber balls, and I absolutely had to have one. When my mom refused to buy me a ball, I marched over to the display and declared that I would not move from that spot until I had gotten one.
“All right,” she said, then left the store. She’d come back, I thought. It was then that I saw my mom pulling out of the parking lot. Howling, I ran out of the store. She had called my bluff. I chose to tell that particular story as a testament to her strong will. I was admittedly a stubborn person, but she was more than my match. In a strange way, I was proud of that about her. Though she was only 5’ 2,” she was no simpering housewife. She had a toughness about her and firm belief in God that made her the rock in my family.
We reached the top of the mountain as darkness fell. There were two apexes that we could choose to travel to. At the top of one flew a large American flag, at the other, a large white cross mounted into the rock. We opted for the via de la Cruz. Almost symbolic of life’s journey, the final path to the cross wasn’t an easy one. We had to heave ourselves up onto large steps in the fading light while trying to dodge people struggling to come down the same way. It was worth the effort, however. At the top, the lights of Riverside glowed and twinkled around us.
Many other people were there enjoying the view as well, including a little boy who pointed up at the cross and excitedly exclaimed to his parents: “I see God! I see God!”
In different circumstances, the summit of Mount Rubidoux would have been a peaceful place for quiet reflection and prayer. It was not to be that evening as crowds of people chatted, scrambled over the rocks and blasted loud, serenity-busting music from portable speakers.
We climbed down from the mountain and returned to Kari’s house where we concluded the evening with a cribbage rematch. Much to Kari’s chagrin, I won despite my sloppy play and her frequent usage of the accursed “Muggins” rule.
I dozed off for a couple of hours and woke up when I heard Kari getting ready for work. Sheepishly, I slunk out of my room and recounted the events of my previous evening. Our original plan for the day had been for Kari to leave work early, then the two of us heading to Dodgers Stadium for the evening. Clearly, this was not going to happen. I had to get back to San Diego to find my car. Although it meant a later night that she had planned, Kari agreed to drive me back and help me with the search.
After Kari was whisked away to work via carpool, I spent my morning scanning Google Earth on my phone, virtually retracing my steps. I racked my brain, trying to recount every detail of last night’s journey, but nothing was ringing a bell for me. I was half-expecting the San Diego Police to call and tell me that my car was found and towed away. Well, if that happened, at least I would finally know where my car was.
With my stomach still in knots, I picked up Kari in her car (after promising that I wouldn’t lose that one too) and together we began our mission to find my lost vehicle. As we headed south, I slowly began to relax. I believe this was due in part to a call from Kari’s mother who had learned about my situation and wanted to let me know that she was praying for me. Kari kept up a steady flow of light-hearted conversation as we jammed along to Twenty-One Pilots’ “Heathen” (“All my friends are heathens, take it slow/Wait for them to ask you who you know”) We weren’t quite sure what the song meant, but an inside joke was born, nonetheless!
I made my inglorious return to San Diego around 5:00 pm. My frustration began to mount anew as I scanned the very same streets from yesterday and saw nothing to clue me in. Desolately, I directed Kari to drive up one street, then another. I kept up a running commentary of all the details that I remembered. There was a parking lot right next to the garage. There was construction nearby. There was that plaza. It was by sheer chance (or answered prayer) that we turned up a street that I hadn’t explored last night. The surroundings were becoming more and more familiar to me.
“Wait,” I said, looking to my left. “Construction.” We began to pass by a parking lot.
“There!” I shouted, pointing at a parking garage to our right. “Turn here…I think that’s it!”
By the time we pulled into the garage, and shelled out $25 to get in (which I gladly paid), I was positive we were in the right place.
And there it was, right where I had left it the night before.
It had not been stolen, towed away or even ticketed for being there overnight. It was a joyous reunion! As we left the parking garage, we made it a point to find the nearest street sign so we wouldn’t forget: 11th Street and Imperial.
“I’ll probably remember that intersection for the rest of my life,” I mused.
With the heavy weight of anxiety lifted and the whole night open, we decided to go to the Padres game. After all, the Cubs were still there and I would never miss an opportunity to see them again. We purchased a couple of right field upper deck tickets, and still having plenty of time before the game, we stopped for dinner at The Kebab Shop (which was highly recommended on Yelp).
Initially, we weren’t particularly impressed with the restaurant. It looked rather unremarkable and there were few costumers, but then we had the food. Oh, was it good! I had my first taste of a very excellent shawarma and topped it off by stealing a few of Kari’s falafels.
The game that followed was equally excellent. The Cubs won again, this time 5-3.
It was a great time overall, and Kari deserved much of the credit. Her willingness to help me in my misadventure, along with her efforts to keep my spirits up along the way was an immeasurable help and comfort to me.