So we woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, walked the dogs (I mentioned we took two little dogs with us too. I didn’t? Oh. Sorry. We have dogs. At least, one of them is a dog. The other one could possibly be half Chupacabra. She’s REALLY ugly.), and then did a little bit of shopping to fill the gaps in our inventory that inevitably appear after the first day on the road.
My wife had gotten in contact with a close friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in 30 years, and we decided we’d make a break in the itinerary to stay in Sacramento and have lunch with him and his daughter. It’s only 8 hours to San Diego from Sacramento, we could leave at 1:00 or so and still be to the RV park at a decent hour. At least, that’s what we figured.
“Thirty two years,” he said. He sounded just like I thought he’d sound. “I checked. It’s been 32 years.” He looked just like I thought he’d look. I was standing in front of Johnny Vaughn, who had been my best friend in elementary and junior high school, before moving away. A few years ago we’d reconnected on Facebook, and continued the friendship right where it had ended, but we’d never gotten together in those ensuing years.
I had watched his daughter grow up through the pictures on his wall, and he celebrated the birth of my second two kids the same way. We both rejoiced the coming of the new Star Wars movie: when we were in 6th grade, he and I were the two biggest Star Wars fans Slater Elementary had ever seen.
Now he and I stood facing each other at the entrance to a random McDonald’s in Sacramento. How was I supposed to act? How should I feel? What would I say? My wife will smile at this, maybe. More than anyone else she knows how hard social situations are for me, even very simple ones with a friend I consider closer than a brother. She’s the one, in fact, who arranged the meeting. I don’t know if I thanked her for that. I need to.
My friends and family have been so much better to me than I have been to them. It’s a failing of mine. I grew up believing that I would be there for them whenever they needed me, but time after time it’s me needing things. I don’t even know where I would be if it weren’t for my wife and friends like Johnny.
It turns out, talking came easier than I thought it would. Smiling and laughing was hard… I felt so nervous that I would say something wrong, or be weird, or stupid, or whatever. I accidentally drank Lily’s drink because I didn’t even recognize she’d gotten Sprite and my drink was Diet Coke. Mrs. Nomad got along swimmingly with Johnny. She is so much more graceful in social situations than I am.
The time came to say good bye. We each vowed that it would not be another 32 years before we saw each other again (I hope to see Johnny later this month). Then the wife, the boys, the girl, the dogs, the baby and I clambered into the RV and set off for the rest of our adventure. San Diego was 8 hours away. It was 2:00 pm. Ah well. A 10:00 pm arrival isn’t that egregious.
From Sacramento there are two routes to Los Angeles. The I-5 continues south through the Sacramento and the San Joaquin valleys, avoiding most of the bigger agricultural hubs in the valleys. Those towns all get served by the 99: Merced, Modesto, Fresno, Madera, Visalia, Bakersfield. I know them all well, because I grew up in Fresno, and the 99 was the only route in and out of the valley for us.
California basically uses the I-5 as an expressway through central California, and the 99 as the business route. They both split in Sacramento, and then merge back together just before the Grapevine, the stretch of road that climbs up and over the San Gabriel mountains, which separates Los Angeles from the rest of California. We opted to take the I-5. By all rights it should have been the faster route, because we’d be enjoying top cruising speeds, instead of fighting truckers and local residents all the way across the belly of the state.
The scenery turned out to be better than we’d hoped for, aided by the deliciously robust clouds that a prior rain storm had left for us to enjoy. Just before Firebaugh, we noticed a sign indicating a Vista Point. I took the opportunity to stop, just because I’d never stopped at it before, and wanted to see what there was to see. None of us were disappointed. We got to see the Great Valley in a way that most people never do.
Back in the RV, we got back on the I-5 and continued our race south, only to be almost immediately ground to a halt with bumper-to-bumper full-stop traffic. Honest to God, here we were on a major Interstate, sitting at a complete stop, wondering what the hell had happened. It had to be an accident ahead, right? Traffic the other way seemed fine, if a little heavy. Wow. A big accident this far away from any big city. That sucked.
Except, we reached Firebaugh. We drove through Firebaugh. We drove past Firebaugh. There was no accident. Traffic just started back up again, almost reaching peak speeds before it slammed to a complete stop at Coalinga. Coalinga! How long was this infinite line of cars stretch? Surely this wasn’t holiday traffic headed back to LA? It couldn’t be.
No. I’m serious. It simply couldn’t be.
Here’s Los Angeles.
Here’s Firebaugh. It’s 250 miles from Los Angeles. There is no chance in hell that this many people were all trying to get back there after the Christmas break.
We tried to get a decent internet signal to check traffic sites (none of which have a decent mobile app or page. WTF, internet? WTF, California?) and scoured the radio for stations covering “Coalinga News and Traffic.” No such luck. Then we asked on Facebook for any of our California friends to let us know what was happening.
Turned out there was a huge fire to the west of Los Angeles, along the coastal route, and so traffic had been diverted… everyone coming home on the 101 was ALSO coming home on the I-5! Bam! The problem with WHY we had so much traffic was solved. It didn’t solve the dilemma of how much time that was going to take… and as it turned out, time become not so much an issue just a short while later.
As we were approaching the rejoining of the I-5 and 99, Damien got violently sick. We had just pulled in to a truck stop to get gas and Double-Doubles, when he jumped up and ran for the door. I was still driving! Mrs. Nomad shouted “Stop the van!” Stephen ran screaming like a little girl for the master bedroom. Damien tried to open the door to the RV… and ejected the contents of his stomach all over the door and entryway to the RV.
I spent the next hour cleaning up the entryway.
Damien spent the rest of the night in the bathroom, occasionally throwing up.
Jakob decided he wanted to be car sick in sympathy, so he went into the front seat, moaned like a beached whale, and stuck his head out the car in an attempt to cool down his innards doggy-style.
Night already blown, I drove through LA and took the 101 south when we got to it, so we could get a good look at the LA skyline. Traffic had diminished tremendously by that time, and the rest of the trip to San Diego went as smoothly as could be expected. Somewhere along the line my stomach got queasy, and for a moment, I thought, “God, did I get what Damian got, cleaning up his filth?”
But then I said quite firmly to my stomach, “Dude. You have an In-N-Out burger in you. You will not desecrate his memory by denying him entry to the Golden Toilet Bowl in the sky. You hold that burger, and you digest that burger, and you be grateful you ever got to taste that burger.”
And that was the end of that.
We pulled in to the Mission Bay RV Park at like 2:00 in the morning. Sea World was waiting for us in six hours.
Baby-Kai votes this post and the rest of this adventure as “Key-Chewingly Dubious.”