Spring Break 2008

March 5, 2008

Here’s what happened.

Spring break was a strange cacophony of snow, sun, too much food, American excess, Mexican poverty, and lonliness. We spent a lot of time driving, and the only music in the car was Carrie Underwood and Celine Dion. Did I mention too much food? In short, it was one of the better — if not the best — spring break I’ve ever had.

We flew into San Diego Sunday morning and I made a bunch of jokes about whales’ vaginas and Germans and we got picked up at the airport by Dean’s stepdad. It was raining but it was still a whole hell of a lot warmer than Detroit. As we drove across the harbor, and then the city, and then through the lush green hills around SD, I couldn’t help but ask “Why, again, do I live in the midwest?” We’re unmistakably cooler in the midwest, and we’ve got more culture — however, they’ve got senior-citizen friendly weather and tans.

For lunch, I ate my first fish tacos (the real kind, with cabbage and white salsa and guac) and they were outstanding. We then took a stroll through fire damage, including Dean’s family’s home which was a total loss. Crawling around the rubble you can’t help but be mistified by the power of something as sincerely weird as fire. The hills and valleys around SD were scorched as well. The damage was immense. That night we watched the Oscars while eating food from a restaurant called Oscar’s and then went to a service at Dean’s church, which was very young and pretty cool.

Tuesday, after gorging myself on strawberry crepes for breakfast, I gripped the “oh shit” bar for about an hour as we climbed higher and higher into the mountains 2hrs outside Los Angeles whilst listening to Ms. Underwood (the signs: Elevation 1000 feet… 2000 feet…. 8000 feet). The two-lane road was a tiny ribbon curving all up and down the mountain, complete with mountain-size dropoffs on the other side of the shoulder (which sometimes didn’t exist) and vomit-inducing elevation and direction changes every 50 feet or so. Finally we made it to Big Bear Lake, a town at about 9000 feet surrounding a dam-made lake in the valley between peaks, where Dean’s family had a cottage. Dead tired, we spent the afternoon sledding and sleeping.

Wednesday I skied for the first time. Not on the bunny hill, but the normal intermediate run from the top of the mountain all the way down. This was no Pine Knob. We got to the top of the first peak on the ski lift and I readied myself to disembark from the carriage… only to find we still had half the mountain left to climb. Even if you didn’t fall, it took 15-20 minutes to get down the entire run; at the rate I was falling it took about 30-40 minutes. I didn’t break a bone, but I did gash my arm on my pole. I eventually made it all the way down without falling. It was a rush, and admittedly, I was scared shitless half of the time. But I did it, so be proud!

That night we drove to Palm Springs. On the way I had my first In-N-Out burger, a double-double which was absolutely drenched in thousand island. Awesome. Just awesome. Another two hours of Carrie Underwood and we pulled into one of the weirdest things I’ve ever been in: a luxury R/V park in Indio, CA (yes, the same Indio where I had attended Coachella in 2004). In the park, which was gated, there was a country club-type clubhouse complete w/a four-star restaurant and a waterfall; every R/V — excuse me, “coach” — cost anywhere from $70K to $1M+ and was situated on a “lot,” many of which were built upon with small indoor shower rooms that looked like haciendas, or pools; most people had luxury golf carts (in the shape of Hummers, Rolls Royces, or Porsche) to carry them around the park; the middle of the park had a small canal in which people docked pontoon boats so they could shuttle back and forth down the 1,000 foot long waterway while drinking champagne. It was like a bunch of people with so much money they ran out of ideas to spend it on. It was a picture of American excess. And everyone was old.

We unloaded Dean’s SUV in his R/V and headed off to the local indian reservation casino, Fantasy Island. Here, I drank a decent amount of Stella Artois and lost $10 on slots. Dean saddled down at a blackjack table, and a few minutes later a soccer mom took the seat next to him. She was no cougar in the “cougar” sense — she was a bit overweight, frumpy, etc. She was going through a divorce. And she wanted Dean and I — or at least Dean — to take it to her, in no uncertain terms (“So this is fantasy island — do you know what my fantasy is?”; “Did you two bring your swimsuits?”; etc. etc.). She invited us back to her place; to this, I walked away… but Dean said yes. We end up in her car, being driven to ours in the lot outside the hotel. Dean and I are squished in the back seat due to the presence of … a carseat. We get in our car and proceed to follow Danielle to a country club a few exits down from Indio. The entire time I’m screaming about how terrible of an idea this is. We get to Danielle’s driveway and Dean finally comes to. Danielle cannot contain her disappointment.

Me: “I’m sick.”
Dani: “I’ve got ginger ale or a diet coke.”
Me: “I just need to rest.”
Dani: “I’ve got a bed here you can use, and me and your buddy can hang out.”

Finally we weasel away and get some chicken fingers from Carl’s Jr, go home and pass out.

I spent all of Wednesday next to the pool finishing one of the best books I’ve read in a while, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. The book chronicles a family growing up in the Dominican Repulic under Trujillo, all the way up to he most recent generation which is residing in New Jersey after being forced to flee due to pissing off the dictator (referred to in the book as, no joke, “fuckface”). Oscar is a fat loser obsessed with sci-fi and RPG’s and girls but with no success in the latter group, and his section of the book chronicles the last years of his short, sad life, which in a way typical of all great, whimsical Latin writers, ends up being a metaphor for the entire history of his family, or in a larger sense, the DR. It’s as funny as it sad and historic and educational; it’s expertly written (Gabriel Garcia-Marquez meets Dave Eggers); and, dios mio, it ends well.

Had dinner at the clubhouse restaurant: salad w/avocado and goat cheese, with my entree being beef burboungion. And it was free! Awesome. Round two of the indian casinos followed, this one decidedly less fun and w/less cougar success. We ended up back at the R/V and watched “Rendition,” which sucked. Really, really sucked.

Thursday we drove through the mountains back to San Diego. Forgot to stop for gas and almost ran out at about 3,000 feet. Spent considerable time coasting. This was a no cell phone signal zone so it could’ve very well ended up like that one Gus Van Zant movie if we had stalled out. Thankfully we made it back to the real highway. Back in San Diego I had El Pollo Loco which ripped me up something fierce, the perfect way to get ready for my trip to Mexico.

We cross the border and instantly you’re bombarded w/the starkness of the contrast. Literally, on the other side of the wall, it’s a different world. You realize how lucky you are simply to have been born a few miles north of someone else. The border structure is immense — a no man’s land of acres and acres, multiple rows of fences (which, ironically, are a whole hell of a lot more expensive looking and well built than the shacks on the south side), border patrol Suburbans circling around like little ants. It’s strange to see it up so close.

We climb up over the mountains and curve down on to Mexico’s version of the Pacific Coast Highway. The highway infrastructure is weak. The homes look disheveled, even the nice ones. Truth be told, at points I felt myself identifying things with Cambodia. And to think — this is all literally in our backyard. As I cruised on with five Americans singing “Glamorous” by Fergie in a Lexus SUV I couldn’t help but feel a little … whatever.

We took a pit stop for some souvenirs; Dean’s brother bought brass knuckles, I bought nothing. A half hour later we stopped in Rosarito, where we had a seafood feast at a restaurant right on the beach. The seafood was obviously fresh as hell. We had ceviche, shrimp scampi, garlic fish, fresh lobster, tortilla soup… so much food. A mariachi band played “Guantanamera” and I couldn’t help but feel like a white colonizing tourist. “Oh cute, look at your little culture. Dinner sure was great. Well, bye now! Back to the place you wish you could be! Sorry!”

At the border crossing Mexican peddlers weaved in and out of traffic, selling unknown quantities of infinitely unwantable crap, like ninjas on surfboards, sombreros, toy ukeleles. We bought 5 bags of churros from a Mexican man who ran his life off to get them to us, and as he poured with sweat as we handed him $10 out the window of our forementioned Lexus SUV, something in me just decided it was all shit. But, yet, the churros were delicious.

Friday morning we flew home to Detroit. I had sort of a freakout Friday night, and Saturday my mom and I had a uniquely American experience: together picking up our anti-anxiety meds at a drive-thru pharmacy.

What a hodge-podge of events, cultures, events, etc. etc., each of which could be the subject of a Chuck Klosterman article.

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