Do You Know the Way to Monterey?

My wife and I took a weekend vacation to Monterey.  Maybe vacation is the wrong word.  My wife was sent to Monterey by her boss to attend a work conference and I went with her because I was afraid to be left at home alone with the cats.  I don’t trust them.  Especially when their food bowl is empty.  They look at me like furry little mob bosses who have been greatly disappointed by an underling. 

I believe if they had opposable thumbs and could work a can opener by themselves, I would have disappeared years ago.

Anyway, the hotel room was paid for and I felt it was safer than staying home, so I went to Monterey.

The first day, I watched television in my room for about eight hours and ate a buffet lunch from the hotel restaurant.  Not the most exciting day, but still better than being home.  The second day, however, my wife had some free time and we decided to take a walk.

My wife wanted to visit a cemetery in the Pacific Grove area.  She told me that there were family members buried there and she wanted to see grave sites.  She assured me that the cemetery was “close by” and we could get there on foot.

She was technically correct about being able to get there by walking, but I must say that her estimation of “close by” could use some revision.  The cemetery was five miles away from our hotel, and we ended up walking for over two hours before we finally found it, and by the time we arrived I was more than ready to lie down in the grass and join the current residents around us.  I suggested to my wife that she should find a groundskeeper and ask him if there were any open holes available.

It isn’t as if five miles is exceptionally far to go, but there were some extenuating circumstances.  For example: I’m old and fat, and terribly out of shape. 

My wife seemed to enjoy the walk far more than I did.  She constantly pointed out sights along the way and made comments like:  “The water is beautiful,” Look at all the sealions,” and “If you’re going to throw up, please do it in the bushes.”

I did survive the walk to the cemetery, to my great surprise.  Obviously, as I am still here to write about it.  But as I soon discovered, the worst part of a five-mile hike comes only after you arrive at your destination.  You see, apparently, when you walk five miles in a straight line, if you wish to ever see home again you first have to walk the same five miles in the opposite direction.  For those of you slow at math like me, that makes the journey ten miles for the round trip.  The walk, plus bathroom breaks, pauses to rest and stare at the scenery, stops for food and drink, plus two short pauses for me to lie down and cry about the overall unfairness of life, took about five or six hours in total.

By the time I made it back to the hotel and poured the blood out of my shoes, I was done for the day.

And still, the death march (as I will forever refer to it) was not the worst part of the trip.  Oddly enough, the absolute worst part came when I thought the vacation was over and I was safely on my way home. 

Because we packed up and left the hotel right after waking up on Sunday morning, we did not eat before starting our trip home.  Therefore, we decided that we should stop and get some food while we were on the road.  We saw a sign and pulled over into the parking lot of a….

Well, to avoid any potential lawsuits in the future, let’s just call the place “Donny’s.” 

We parked our car and went inside Donny’s restaurant and were immediate seated by a friendly, smiling hostess.  Our waitress joined us and took our food and drink orders then disappeared into the back room.  It was at this time that I took my first good look around the restaurant.  It was about half full with customers, but there was absolutely no food on any of the tables.

Everyone in the restaurant had their heads turned toward the kitchen.  It was like a scene from a horror movie when all the zombies notice fresh brains for the first time.  Their hollow stares told me that they had been in this state of foodless limbo for quite a while.

Somewhere in the restaurant, I heard a small child begin to scream.  The noise continued for a very long time, and just when I thought it was going to stop, it would ratchet up another notch and get louder.  I couldn’t see what was happening, but I can assume from the nature of the scream that one of the families had given up on ever getting their pancakes and had started eating one of the children. 

In addition to the screaming, I heard an elderly woman in the booth next to mine begin to cough.  It was not the typical polite cough followed by a small clearing of the throat.  No.  This was the kind of wet, gagging cough that says, “One functioning lung is more than enough, so I will now try to remove the other one and spit it out onto this table.”

My appetite, much like the woman in the booth beside me, died a slow agonizing death.

By the time the food arrived about an hour later, I only had the energy to take a couple bites, pay the check, and get the hell out of Dodge.  I have never been happier to get into my car and drive away from a place.

Initially, I thought spending a week in Monterey with my wife sounded like a great idea.  How could a free hotel room and scenic ocean-front views ever be a bad thing?

In the future, however, if my wife is ever travelling for work and asks me to come along to keep her company, I think I may just stay home and take my chances with the cats.  At least when they try to kill me, it won’t be a surprise.

A Quick Trip to Nowhere

I have heard it said that getting there is half the fun.  Well, what if you never get “there?”  What if “there” just doesn’t exist?  What if “getting” is the whole thing?  Do you miss half the fun?

What am I talking about?  I’m not totally certain myself at the moment.  So, let me back up and start at the beginning.  Recently, I boarded a cruise ship and took a voyage down the coast of Mexico.  While I had a very nice time, most of my vacation was spent travelling from one place to another without any real destination in mind.

The vacation started on a Thursday morning.  I got in my car and drove for two hours to San Jose where I caught a shuttle van that drove me for an additional hour to San Francisco.  In S.F., I boarded a massive cruise ship which carried me down the west coast of California and Mexico for four days.  On the fifth day, the ship stopped in Puerto Vallarta where I got into a taxi and drove around the city for a few hours before getting back on the boat.

The ship then made three more stops over the next three days.  I rode tour busses, taxis, and shuttle boats for a few hours each day, then re-boarded the ship before it left port at 5 PM every evening.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, is it really a vacation if you never actually get anywhere?  If you are constantly moving forward with no end point to the journey, is it really a journey, or is it just travel?  There was no set destination or arrival point on this trip, instead there was only a parade of vehicles moving me from one place to another.  Cars, cabs, boats, busses, and more walking than I care to remember, just to travel for ten days and end up exactly where I started:  My own front porch.

And let’s not forget the four thousand bucks I spent to do it.  It apparently costs a lot of money to go nowhere.

I enjoy travelling.  That’s why I agreed to the cruise in the first place.  And, frankly, I would happily do the whole thing over again.  During the trip, someone else did all the cooking, cleaning and bartending so all I had to do was eat and drink until I passed out, then sleep until I was rested enough to start eating again.  Who can complain about that?  Me and my three extra chins had a great time.

There was excitement on the trip as well.  For example, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to survive the taxi ride in Puerto Vallarta.  The driver kept talking to me over his shoulder while he drove along streets  of a city where car lanes were more suggestions than requirements.  He would veer from left to right, whipping past pedestrians and other vehicles at high speed while telling me in broken English that the house we just passed belonged to his cousin who owned the best bar in the city, and all I needed to do was say the word, and he would take me there for some tequila.

I passed on the offer.  Based on his driving, I figured he had already had enough to drink.

At one point, I heard a siren from somewhere nearby, and I started looking behind us for an emergency vehicle trying to pass the taxi.  I soon discovered I was looking in the wrong direction.  A moment later, I spotted an ambulance with its lights flashing and siren blaring, moving past my window in the lane right next to us. 

We were passing it. 

My taxi flew by the ambulance like it was a little old lady that got in our way while out for a Sunday drive.

I vowed then and there, that if I ever got badly injured or sick in Mexico, I would never call an ambulance.  I was going to get a cab.  It would probably save me ten minutes getting to the hospital.

The entire ride was a roller coaster of excitement, dread, and a growing queasiness in the pit of my stomach as I imagined the car I was in becoming part of a twenty-car pile up in the middle of a busy intersection.  In fact, the only time the driver slowed down and acted like a human being behind the wheel was for the thirty or so seconds it took for a police car to drive past us.  I don’t blame the guy for being cautious either.  Police cruisers are a little bit more intimidating in Mexico than in the U.S. 

(Don’t believe me?  Just take a peek at this week’s cover photo above.  I took the picture myself during my adventure.)

When we finally crossed the finish line of the imaginary race in my driver’s head, I stumbled out of the taxi and sat down on the curb until my heart rate returned to normal.  I told the driver he should put a video camera on his dashboard and record his trips through the city.  I imagined that many of his passengers would be willing to pay good money to get a copy to show their friends back home.  I know I would love to have video proof of the harrowing events I survived that day.

During the ride, I thought about using my phone to make a recording, but I realized that would require me to release my death grip on the car seat in front of me.  So, instead of video, all I have are a couple still photos, frequent night terrors and a pair of permanently stained underwear to remind me of my brush with mortality.

Getting back to my original point, I guess sometimes the journey, all by itself, is enough.  Or to be more specific, surviving the journey is enough. 

If there is only one thing readers remember from this week’s blog, I hope it is this: It’s hard to care too much about where you end up when you are just happy you arrived in one piece.

That, or maybe, if you are ever in Mexico and need an ambulance, flag down a taxi instead.




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