Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cabo's Cabo

Some people measure the success of their vacations by the number of mountains they climb, monuments they explore, or layers of tan they acquire.  When it comes to vacationing in Cabo, we like to measure our success in the number of new taco joints we find and the amount of pool water we drink.  After all, it's Cabo.  I liken it to Las Vegas: no one who lives there is from there.  Nothing there is historical, unless you count Sammy Hagar.  The early Jesuit priests didn't even bother to hang out there, even with an El Squid Roe bar, so there's no mission to make tourists feel like they did something cultural on their vacation.  You could easily mistake Cabo for any beach resort town -- until you walk into Gardenia's restaurant and try their shrimp tacos.  That's when you know you've chosen your vacation well.

Yep.  El Arco.
When people ask how our Thanksgiving vacation was, my reply is always, "You know, Cabo's Cabo."  Even those who have never been seem to get the gist.  And that's exactly why we keep going back.  Sure, we'd love to explore the globe, but there's something deeply appealing about a vacation with zero expectations.  There's no pressure to visit museums or climb atop rickety missions or explore a jungle's canopy.  Cabo's most interesting feature is el Arco -- the rock feature on the southernmost tip of the peninsula -- and we can see it from our pool's lounge chair, just over the top of my giant banana daiquiri glass.

We love you, Cabo, but we're getting the hell out of here
For a city that boasts little history, it's a town full of statues.  Grady hates them all, except for the giant Homer Simpson, which he was indifferent about.  I blame the gold-painted panhandler dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow who stood statue-still until we walked by.  That bastard spoiled many a walk along the marina.  After that, Grady shied at real pirate statues, Virgin Mary figurines, every single Day of the Dead skeleton (sold in every single store), and taxidermied marlins.  He was one jumpy little dude.  It was best to just let him hang out in the pool and turn so beautifully brown that when we walked around together, I'm sure everyone thought I was his gringo nanny.

The beauty of low expectations is that you often find yourself surprised.  We stayed in La Paz a few days on this trip and kept seeing stores that sold Clamato.  Some exclusively.  I couldn't fathom any business turing a profit on selling solely a clam and tomato juice concoction, so we tried one.  These make your Bloody Mary Buffet drinks look piddly.  Any item you can find in the snack food aisle or your fish monger's freezer is shoved in a plastic cup, then topped off with Clamato juice.  Add seasoning and there's your drink.  They're odd and delicious.   See?  I didn't think I could drink all my meals, and was pleasantly surprised when I realized I could.

Dylan loves cactus tacos. They taste like green beans
Apparently, our expectations for ourselves also drop when we're there, too.  I'd heard about a great taco place that I wanted to try, but we never went because it would have required us getting in our car and driving nearly a mile.  The conversation went something like, "Honey, should we try Asi and Asado today?"  "Another paloma por favor." Sigh.

When your biggest decision for the day is choosing between tacos al pastor or tacos camaron, it's easy to forget the little things, like hygiene.  We came home just before hurricane Sandra touched down and on Saturday, a full two days after Thanksgiving, Dylan told me she still had Thanksgiving in her teeth.  Please don't tell her dentist that.

So yeah, Cabo's Cabo.  Sometimes that's exactly what we need.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Green Dragon, Purple Dragon

As a rugby player, I have both a social and moral obligation to disdain soccer.  The drama, the flopping, the stretchers, the silly airplane celebration ... they go against the core of my being.  And yet.  I have a Brasilian wife (= soccer) and two small children (= more soccer), and somehow this equation has left me as the head coach of Dylan and nine other little third, fourth, and fifth graders.  We are the Green Dragons.  My first question as head coach was, "How many players are on a soccer team?" which was followed by, "What the hell is offsides?"  Obviously, I was the right man for the job.

Grady, too, is a soccer player and his team is the Purple Dragons.  I know, the lack of creativity in the naming of teams around here is disheartening.  After one match, we asked the team we just beat what they were called, so we could do the "2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate?" cheer.  Their coach replied, "I don't know, you choose."  All I know is that you're supposed to throw a "United" or "FC" after any name to gain a little authenticity.  Between Green and/or Purple Dragon practices and matches, our fall has been soccer-full.  Dylan plays on Saturday mornings.  I can tell where you're from by your reaction to that last sentence.  If it was, "Oh, Saturdays are perfect," then bless your heart, you're not local.  The correct reply is, "Wait, during buck season?  Is that even legal?"  It's not, I checked.

Grady's games are at least on Thursday evenings.  Usually they're on a field that is crowded with deer that have become accustomed to six-year olds booting soccer balls at them.  They barely flinch.  Grady's coach is a spunky Camp Wrangler who greets everyone with, "Howdy!"  She yells positive things at her players and cheers whenever anyone, on any team, scores a goal.  Grady's games are a joy to watch.  No one remembers the score and sometimes there are extra snacks after the game for parents.  Dylan's are the opposite.  They're contests in which parent can cheer the loudest for his/her child and for me to ponder all the decisions I've made in my life.

We are nearing the end of the season and, looking back, I've learned a few things about soccer, and, well, about me.  Here they are:

1)  I channel Coach Snell -- the Welshman who coached my college rugby team -- when I coach soccer.  We work on aggressive soccer and yell a few kid-friendly rugby chants now and then.  I haven't introduced them to "Shoot the boot" or any bawdy songs, but neither did Snell, we learned that on our own.  If I get to sub into a game for a few minutes and leave the field with one less ear than I started the day with, then I'd really do Coach Snell proud.

2)  Grady does an awesome hoppity-hop dance when he's the guy elected to kickoff.  The ball goes nowhere, and he just jumps up and down beside it, but it's fun to watch.  Besides, the tactic is so confusing to the opposing team that I might incorporate it into my game plan.

3)  I don't handle girl problems well.  The Green Dragons are 80% girls, and they're girls who don't always get along.  When in-fighting happens, I yell, "Get along or run a lap."  Guess what doesn't work?  Yeah, yelling "Get along or run a lap" to nine-year old girls.  Luckily, I have an assistant who A) knows the rules of soccer, and B) handles those problems well.  Wait, what to I bring to the table? Not much.

4)  Boys poop in urinals.  This has nothing to do with soccer; I just noticed it when I was taking Grady to one of my practices.  I can't un-see that.

5)  I've taught Grady a valuable soccer lesson: follow the big kid.  He has a buddy on the team who is a bit larger than most other players.  Anyone in his way generally lands on his/her back.  I've taught Grady to get behind that action.  At some point the ball is going to squirt out Grady's way, or at lest he'll be the first person there to celebrate a goal.

6)  We've had to institute a "no cowboy boot" rule for our practices.  It hasn't worked.  At least one player per practice has forgotten her cleats and plays in boots.  It's usually Dylan.  No one has been kicked too hard yet, but it's bound to happen.  One parent calls them "Siskiyou County Cleats."

I don't talk about it much, because I don't want to ruin my rugby reputation, but soccer is really growing on me.  The joy of a youth soccer game is really a thing to revel in and watching Grady run around the pitch just makes me smile and laugh.  My Green Dragons are an awesome group of kids and are as fierce and tenacious as any burly rugger I ever encountered.  "Be Brave" has become our motto and I've stolen a few of the more appropriate rugby chants for us to yell before matches.  So if you're not out buck hunting on a Saturday morning and find yourself in Etna, don't be surprised to hear "Saturday's a soccer day!"  You're not hearing things, it's just the Green Dragons getting ready to rumble.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fun For the Whole Eastside Gang

This year's theme for the Siskiyou Golden Fair was "Fun For the Whole Herd" but will forever be known by the Eastside Gang as The Beginning of the End.  Sure, we've been going to the fair since the dawn of man, but we were merely interlopers, drifters rolling through the carnival with the tide of parolees.  This year we pulled back the curtain and saw, really saw, what's to come.

The first shift in perspective came on Day 1 when we realized that Dylan already knows how to work the system.  Dylan ditched us and hit the carnival with her friend Peyton and Pey-Pey's dad, Robert.  Both Dylan and Grady have always worn my old Director IDs on lanyards -- as a cool fashion accessory and also as a talisman against bug-eyed carnies.  The "badge," as one director once told me, will get you in anywhere at the fair except for the women's bathroom.  When we tracked down Dylan later that evening she and Peyton were having a blast.  Dylan had also figured out the power of the ID.  She gets a bracelet that allows her on all the rides, and Peyton had bought a day pass, but Robert was left to buy tickets on his own or stand by and watch.  Dylan gave Robert my lanyard and told him, "You don't need to buy ride tickets, just show this."  Of course it worked, and the three of them rode nearly every ride in the carnival.

After Day 1, Dylan had nearly exhausted the carnival, but there were 3 rides that she hadn't gone on yet: The Zipper (which she's too short to ride, and even the Badge won't get her on that one), The Gravitron (which we call the Barf Centrifuge and thought she could wait a year before she gets in that one), and the Death Drop (not it's real name).  When we realized even Grady was tall enough for that ride, we didn't hesitate to buckle in.  On the Death Drop, everyone gets his/her own seat and you slooowly rise to the top of a spire.  The view from up there is spect.....shiiiit.  The bottom drops out and you freefall back to earth.  Just before your legs get crushed under the chair, some magical force steps in and the chairs stop, just a few feet from the ground.  Everyone either laughs or cries.  Our family was split 50/50.  Grady, surprisingly, loved it and wanted more.  Dylan cried and wouldn't even walk near the ride for the rest of the week.

Our big step into the 4th dimension of the fair was PeeWee Showmanship.  Dylan's been raising 3 calves since last winter and Biggie, the mellowest, was her fair calf.  She took him for walks twice a day and learned to set him up with a show stick so he'd look his finest.  Grady brought El Chapo, the renegade goat.  Grady walked Chapo twice all summer and usually the goat broke free from his grasp.  They all did amazing.  Chapo didn't live up to his name and try to escape and Grady led him around like a Westminster dog.  Dylan and Biggie were perfect.  I thought the big crowd would rattle her, but she wasn't bothered a bit.  Her hard work paid off and she's already strategizing for next year's calf.

Regina and I did the math and figured we only have about 12 more years of this.  By then, all of Dylan and Grady's friends will be wearing old Director IDs on lanyards, and I'll be camped out in the livestock barn, telling anyone who will listen about the time I rode the Death Drop and wasn't scared, not one little bit.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

An Open Letter to Florida

Dear Florida,

I owe you an apology.  I've been bad-mouthing you behind your back.  I may have even called you the worst state in the Union once.  Man, was I wrong.  You're pretty cool.  You're shaped weird, but I won't nitpick.  Plus, you have to admit, you do have a public image problem.  Have you Googled yourself?  Don't.  It's embarrassing.  Retirement community STD outbreaks, bath-salts fueled cannibalism, 2 Live Crew ... and those are your fun headlines.  I won't go into the really horrible stuff. You know, like Pitbull's rapping.  I'm just throwing this out so you can work on it.

We took the kids on a 9-day spring break extravaganza and I wasn't too confident Florida would pull through for us.  When I told people our plans they said things like, "Florida, in Mexico?" or, "That's nice."  We woke our kids us at 2:00 AM and told them, surprise!, we're going on vacation.  We might not have gotten the enthusiastic reception that we anticipated, and the look on their faces was just ... sleepy.  But 12 hours later when we loaded up into the biggest pickup Enterprise owned, they started to pep up.

First stop, Disney World.  Not just Disney World, Disney World during spring break.  I expected it to be a lot like the theme-park scene in Zombieland.  It was everything I dreaded: crowded, hot, and princess-y.  But, it was also (ug, the cliche) magical.  Disney employees do not half-ass anything and their positive energy is contagious.

The next stop was my biggest fear: Daytona Beach.  I've seen MTV Spring Break specials.  I expected mobs of wasted college students beer bonging off the balconies of their hotels as Vanilla Ice jet skied by.  Ok, I haven't watched tv in a while.  The only mobs we ran into were kids from a cheer competition practicing their routines on the beach.  And mobs of dolphins.  And mobs of fun.  Oh, stop it.

So we did everything we thought tourists in Florida should do (read: everything from the opening credits of Miami Vice). We took the kids to the dog races, we ripped around the everglades on an airboat, we petted gators, we wore white linen suits with turquoise undershirts and no socks with our loafers, we ate too many Cuban sandwiches, we crashed a Cigarette boat into a manatee, and we blew past toll booths in our Silverado. Yeah, about that, Florida. You need to get your act together on that one. $1.25 toll in coins ONLY? Who carries that many coins? No one.

We were also fortunate enough to have a couple of reprieves from toursit-ville.  An afternoon with our cousins in Orlando and some time with an old friend of Regina's who just happened to move to Daytona was just icing on the cake.

But we had a blast.  Florida, I'll say it: you're great.  Just lay off the bath-salts for a while and update your toll road system to 1990 levels, and we promise we'll be back.  You can even keep Pitbull.  Seriously, keep him there.

Kind Regards,

The Eastside Gang

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tupac, Biggie, and the Happiness Machine

The first time Tupac got his head stuck in the fence, Dylan told me that she prayed to God about it and pretty soon he got unstuck.  He's gotten his head jammed between the heavy gauge wires of the stock panel fence five times since then -- mostly because of his lust for fresh grass -- and today I had to use a hacksaw to get him out.  Dylan worries to the point of tears about Tupac, but Biggie just stands back and watches.  I'm sure he thinks Tupac is a dumbass.

I'll explain.  Dylan's been feeding three bottle calves all winter.  The orphans -- Biggie, Tupac, and Timmy -- came to us under different sad circumstances and Dylan has logged hours and hours taking care of her boys.  She and Grady hand-feed fresh grass to them daily and Dylan can now lead Biggie (the friendliest) around with a halter and twice she's climbed on his back.  Orphan calves, we call them leppys, are pretty common on ranches and usually resemble pregnant dwarves.  Their growth is stunted a little and they get big bellies.  But Dylan dotes on her babies and these calves look the opposite of pregnant dwarves.  Sterile giants?  Maybe.

While Grady's eyes light up when he gets to run the levers on the backhoe, Dylan's heart is belongs to animals.  Odd for a child whose first
three years were spent tormenting our cats so badly that she looked like she'd been tossed into a blackberry bramble.  She still has a decent scar from one especially pissed off cat.  Somehow that crazed toddler affection has turned into genuine care.

Dylan's love of animals and Grady's love of heavy equipment somehow comes together in the form of  our newest pet, Lardo, a St. Bernard puppy I got Regina and the kids for Christmas.  Last fall, when Regina told me that "someday, maybe in a couple of years" she'd like another St. Bernard, all I heard was, "Go buy one now, please and thank you."  Lardo is, essentially, a happiness machine.  He puts on more weight than a feedlot steer and takes about nine naps a day.  When he runs at full speed it looks like he's in super slow-motion.  He brings us nothing but joy.  And slobber.  And sometimes rotting squirrels.  The kids beg me to let them bring him into the school nearly every day, and it's hard to say no.  Who doesn't want to see a puppy?  I have a theory that if you aren't interested in, at a minimum, petting him, then you're an alien.  Or a psychopath.  Or an asshole.

We seem to be in the business of acquiring ride-able pets.  If you're cruising Eastside this fall, don't be surprised to see Dylan riding a calf, Grady riding a puppy, and, for once, Tupac and Biggie living together in perfect harmony.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

And I Would Walk 585 Miles ...

It took us 8 years to return, but this winter Regina and I loaded up the kids in the truck and drove the (nearly) 1200 miles to our favorite spot in Baja.  I hate to tell you exactly where, because what once was grueling 16 hour trek through the desert is now an easy 2 hours and can be done in a Prius with bald tires.  Such is progress.

It was a perfect trip.  The kids fell in love with a stretch of beach I've been going to since I was an infant and Regina has already started her list of things to bring when we return.  I couldn't of been happier.

So, when you spend that much time in close quarters in the Baja desert, you learn a few things.  I learned that the kids can manage the 2400 mile drive, especially with screens for them to gape at; that Grady can eat beans and rice 3 meals a day and be perfectly happy; that Dylan's terrified of Trigger Fish; that we need a bigger boat; that even without maps, Regina is a great navigator; that military checkpoint stops are a great time for the kids to run around and stretch their legs; that Highway 3, the "wine and cheese" road, while a beautiful drive, is more of an "occasionally you'll see a vineyard and dairy, but mostly you'll see interesting road-kill" drive; that I sunburn while the locals are wearing beanies and down jackets; that adventure-drives through the desert in search of abandoned gold mines are best left to 4-wheelers and jeeps; that a Christmas tree in Baja can be just as great as a silver-tip here; and that Santa can still deliver internationally.

And I would walk 585 miles more.

Sometimes the best vacations don't need a lot of explanation.  Enjoy the photos.