I probably should have turned the car around and stayed home when I left the morning of my California adventure.  Having to trudge through a couple of inches of snow and ice should have been the first clue. 

Weather be damned, I continued on dodging the slipping front-wheel drive cars and wheeling past confused motorists and made my way to the departure gate for the first leg of my trip.  I met up with John, a coworker who wanted to visit California with us, and we sat and waited.  Our departure time was 6 a.m.  Only a few minutes until they would begin the boarding process.

“I have to put my feet in it!” I shouted.  I guess it was a bucket list thing, to put my feet in the Pacific.

-myself, upon seeing the ocean

The trip was set to be a purely Brewhoppin trip.  We would land in Sacramento, drive to Petaluma and visit Lagunitas.  Then we would cross the Golden Gate Bridge, tear up the town in San Francisco, and make our way to a hearty lunch at Hog’s Apothecary where we would hopefully get a chance to drink up some acorn beer, a beer that Kharla had been searching for most of the year to date.  Once we had that done, we would loiter a bit more on the California coast, snap a few pictures then hop on a plane and make our way back east.

Lately our plans haven’t worked out as perfectly as that.  Our Jackson trip was a headache from start to finish with the exception of Chip and Lucas and the rest of the gang and beers at Lucky Town.

They would not be working out this time either.  No.  In fact, this would end up being our worst trip thus far.

Our flight was delayed a half hour at first.  The snow had come down so fast and strong that they couldn’t properly clear the runway.  It was so bad that the planes were being prevented from landing AND taking off.  As the snow fell, people began to get antsy.  We began to get antsy.  Our connections weren’t tight so we sat and waited.  Then it was delayed.  A lot delayed.  

We had to change our plans.  We missed the first connection to Sacramento, which left us no more seats to that city.  Next we tried San Francisco.  There was no way for us to make it to either city.  We nearly turned around and went home.  Strike that, we SHOULD have turned around and went home.  

John and I fretted, planned, and plotted.  Kharla, who was in Jackson, Mississippi, hopped a plane and was waiting for us in Dallas, so we committed.  I wanted to see California.  We could still do this.

We reserved a few spots for a flight to LAX, reserved a car, and waited.  Six hours after our original departure time we were rocketing down a snowy runway, finally setting off for the west coast.

We landed in time to see the doors to a perfectly open flight to L.A. close.  Regardless we made our way to the next one, got our seat assignments, and FINALLY began our second leg.  We would be landing at LAX at 4 p.m.  Our flight back home would be leaving from San Francisco at midnight.  It was a six hour drive north through Los Angeles traffic during rush hour.  We threw caution to the wind and made our way to the car rental place.

A blue Chevrolet Spark

Our beloved car, the Spark. Guaranteed to look badass in LA traffic.

Renting the car would end up being yet another indication that this trip might have been doomed. Either way, we struggled through the procedure and walked out to our car.  It was periwinkle.  Small, maybe a hatchback?  Either way it was the Chevy Spark, to this date the smallest car Brewhoppin has had the pleasure of driving.  And we would be navigating LA in it. 

At this point it didn’t matter.  The sun was warm and the air smelled like ocean.  I was in California for the first time in my life.  I had been glued to the airplane window as the mountains breezed by below us.  I watched the Hollywood sign sneak by.  I was in love.  So we hopped into the car, tossed every California song Pandora could chug out, and tore off out of the car park.

I wanted to see the ocean so we headed west.  Traffic was ugly but not the worst.  We found Highway 1 and followed it.  The details of the drive are fuzzy.  A bunch of lane changes, hard braking, and revving the Spark to the redline to clear traffic.  One thing was clear though. We came around a bend and there it was, the Pacific ocean with the slowly setting sun glinting orange off the beautiful waves.  

“I have to put my feet in it!” I shouted.  I guess it was a bucket list thing, to put my feet in the Pacific.  I didn’t realize until this trip that another bucket list item was driving and surviving LA traffic in a Chevy Spark.  I swear it had three cylinders, sixty-five horsepower, and roller skate tires.  

On two wheels I roared into a parking area, scoffed at the $8 per entry parking price, threw the periwinkle Spark into a spot and the three of us made our way to the coast.  

Eric staring into the ocean.

Myself, gazing windward at the California coast.

It felt like miles.  Miles of thick deep sand.  There was a wedding going on to the south, and some pretty little couple were getting their pictures taken while ‘wallering’ over a lifeguard stand.  There were teens throwing stones at seagulls.  Typical beach stuff that we would find on the east coast except where the land met the ocean were mountains.  Big beautiful mountains. 

Quickly I shed my shoes and socks and dipped my man toes into the frigid pacific water.  Checked off the bucket list.  I had quickly decided that if we didn’t make it to San Francisco in time then we would just simply stay the night and fly out the next day.  I wanted to see the Monterrey aquarium, the Golden Gate, and drink a beer.  

But first I had to find an In-N-Out burger and get me some Animal Style.

I was halfway through my Double Double and fries when it hit us.  If we didn’t make it to San Francisco, we weren’t going home tonight.  Or tomorrow.  Frankly, Monday wasn’t looking so good either.  The snow storm we had left on the east coast was merrily causing chaos from Florida to Maine.  Flights were canceling, and we were becoming more and more stranded.   It had taken us an hour to make our way to the burger joint.  We wouldn’t make it to San Francisco, and if we didn’t make it to SFO, we weren’t getting home.  This trip would cost us our jobs.  

So while we tried to enjoy our dinner, in between bites, we scrambled to find a way back home.  After our deliberations, we sadly abandoned our northerly route and tore back through the outskirts of LA, pulling as much power out of the Spark as we could.  

Kharla staring into the sun.

Kharla enjoying what was left of the west coast sun.

John staring into the sun.

John, doing the same.

We made it to a strong WiFi signal.  In the terminal we could now see the flights get cancelled in real time, and with it watch our chances of getting home fall even further away.  

“We could always work here.  We should put in some applications,” Kharla quipped.  The idea was tempting.  We would all be jobless in a days time unless we made it home.  

John was searching tirelessly, frantically almost.  We made a reservation on a flight to Miami, a ten hour drive south of home, and hurried through security.  We narrowly missed a flight to Monterrey that would get us to John’s wife and a way to catch our flight out of San Francisco.  It didn’t look good for us.  Every flight was full.

We sat down for a beer.  We ended up Brewhopping after all.  

Halfway through my pint I went in search of a bathroom.  Nashville had a flight leaving soon.  I did my business and went to the gate agent.  They were booked full, but no one was on stand by.  She put us on the list, an angel among gate agents, and I hurried back to the bar and Kharla got our tab squared away.

Fingers crossed, and hearts heavy with potential unemployment, we stood patiently as the flight to Nashville boarded.  Group one was called.  Then groups two through four.  Then the Angel of the Airlines paged our names.  It was like Christmas.   No, it was better than Christmas.  Better than the year my brother and I got Star Fox 64, a popcorn tin, and new bicycles.  Best. Year. Ever.  Either way, Kharla would be sleeping in First Class and John and I would snuggle up in the exit row back in coach.  

Of course getting to Nashville was only the beginning, we still faced a nearly three hour drive in the snow back home, but that was hardly cause for concern.  We had done it.  

For the three hours the three of us traveled to LAX from Dallas in first class and the two hours we spent enjoying California until horror and terror dawned on us, the trip was amazing.  I had seen a state, albeit a small bit, that I had only dreamed about.  It was beautiful, and while behind the wheel of the periwinkle Spark, it felt like I was in a Need for Speed game, in an unreal landscape of pretty people, pretty cars, and pretty places.

Brewhoppin will be back.  This time we will plan for more than one day, have redundancies in place, and we will remember not to travel the day before the Oscars, and not when there is a terrible snow storm ripping apart the east coast.   

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