Happy New Year; And See You In Two Weeks

Here’s wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year. And 2018 at CC is going to start without me for the first two weeks. We’re heading for warm sunny weather, Joshua Tree National Park and the deserts of inland Southern California to celebrate a major milestone. And to see a few sights along the way.

We’re driving, and no, we’re not taking I-5. We have two main choices: US395, which comes down the eastern side of California and through the Owens Valley, where the eastern escarpment of the Sierra Nevada Range makes one of the more dramatic mountain views anywhere, rising steeply some 10,000 feet from the valley floor. It’s a stellar sight, and a classic drive.

Or we could skirt even further east, through western Nevada, including Goldfield, whose automotive relics we looked at here a while back. That would also take down through the eastern side of Death Valley, and then through the Mojave Desert Preserve. The route via 395 is 927 miles; it’s 1034 miles via Nevada. Or one long day and one shorter one. And no freeways, except through the Reno area if we take 395, which is another factor in favor of Nevada, along with more opportunities for…brisk driving.

We’ll be renting a house in the Morongo Valley (view from house above) just outside Joshua Tree NP, and plan to do lots of hiking and exploring the desert. And why are we going there? Because we spent our honeymoon in this same area, exactly 40 years ago.

What’s changed the most in 40 years, other than our smooth skins and thick hair? Well, one thing is weddings. Nowadays they’re invariably mammoth, expensive undertakings. Ours was the ultimate cheap-skate DIY wedding.

We had it at a little chapel, and there were maybe 20-25 people in attendance; family and a few close friends. Stephani’s mom made her dress. The most expensive item was my Ralph Lauren suit; my first suit since prep school. The reception was at Stephanie’s mom’s house (we lived in the garage apartment in back). The food was all home made. The cake was petite; I picked it up in the morning at the bakery. Photographs were by a friend of Stephanie’s, who botched them all by using a wrong filter or setting or something. I tried to doctor this one a bit; they’re all too red and yellow.

And no, there was no limo. Out in front of the chapel was my elderly 1968 Dodge A100 camper van, which took us to back home to the reception, and then on our honeymoon a couple of hours later.

I had no camera at the time, so there’s no pictures of our honeymoon; this is an older picture. We just headed off east out of LA and into the desert near Palm Springs, after our first night at my brother’s place in Loma Linda; he and his wife stayed at our house. The first day out in the desert, I just pulled off into the sand somewhere for the night. There was a heavy rain storm that night, which means we got stuck out there in the sand the next morning trying to get back to the highway. I remember walking around looking for something to provide some traction, and finally found it in a scrap of discarded carpet. I slid it under the front of the rear wheels, and it worked like a charm. Yes, we used to just drive around in the desert without four wheel drive back then; imagine that.

The next day it was sunny, and we took the cable car up to Mt. San Jacinto. Then we further inland, and bought the best dates ever at Valerie Jean in Thermal, and eventually headed south towards the Anza Borrega Desert east of San Diego. The weather continued to be unfavorable, as was my ill-fated effort to teach Stephanie how to drive, in that gnarly old van with a three-on-the-tree. I assumed out there in the desert was as safe as any place to try, but sure enough another vehicle came the other way on the narrow road, and Stephanie sort of freaked out. Oh well; who needs to drive in LA anyway?  It took a Peugeot 404 wagon with an automatic to finally do the trick, two years later.

After another huge storm that created wide-spread flash flooding in the desert, we needed to dry out, so we headed to San Diego, and the house of an old dear friend from Iowa. And the last of our very meager budget was spent on a lovely and elegant lunch on the patio in the El Prado at Balboa Park. The weather was perfect. It was a fitting high note with which to end, and head back into the bowels of LA. Ugh.

What was our total wedding and honeymoon budget? It was almost certainly no more than about $500, or about $1800 in today’s dollars. And it would have been half of that had it not been for my overpriced suit. The average price of a wedding in 2017 was $35,329. No, we were not trying to impress anyone. Just profess our commitment to each other.

We didn’t even have credit cards back then, which weren’t all that easy to come by for someone my age then (24). And I certainly wasn’t going to go into debt anyway in order to get married. My salary at the tv station was exactly $500/month, so I saved half of it for two months to pay for it all. I even took to riding my bicycle on car-clogged Century Boulevard to work every day to save gas money. So yes, things have changed some in 40 years. But we’re still together…and we’re celebrating by going hiking in the desert.

not our van

I originally planned to recreate the trip in our new Promaster van, converted to a more comfortable camper than the Dodge. There would have been a certain circularity to that, especially since the Promaster is a Dodge too, sort of.

But one of the things you learn when you have kids is their needs sometimes take priority, so building a “shed” (mini-house) for my youngest son to live in took precedence. It’s getting close to done, so this spring I’ll get on the van.

After a week in the desert, we’ll follow some of the more obscure roads north west to our second destination in Half Moon Bay, house-sitting a beach house of some friends of ours. More hiking, on the beach and in the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I may be all or mostly hands-off from CC during these two weeks, so the rest of the gang will keep an eye on things. If the posting schedule is a bit relaxed, that’s ok too. CC deserves a bit of a vacation too.

All the best in 2018.