Travelog

Cruising SoCal Before Corona, Pt. 1

Posted on: Tuesday, April 21st, 2020
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Travelog | Leave a comment
  • Editor’s Note…

Yes, this travelog story took place last month. However, we’ve learned from the greats (like friend and guru Sherry Ott) and even fancy mags that travel stories rarely publish promptly for a variety of reasons. In this case, those included some technical difficulties, COVID-19 disruptions, and a related, gnarly case of what psychologists are now discussing as mass indecision-inertia.

  • Life’s a Long Beach

Having disclaimed THAT…Pictured above is my daughter jumping for joy just to be by the ocean during spring break last month. In California, you’re often close to a beach, since the coastline stretches for 840 glorious miles. Our trip of Great Expectations became, indeed, the best of times, the worst of times. We somehow accomplished our BreakAway’s ambitious itinerary. But the corona crisis and angst chased us around every palm tree. 

  • Rellies, memories & more

You’d hardly suspect that Long Beach hosts nearly half-million residents. I don’t see them; I notice quaint neighborhoods (with about half-million self-care shops), charming architecture, and a classic Cali vibe overflowing with flowers and greenery like these bird of paradise—precious soul flora for us Midwesterners.

Thanks to a dear aunt who moved there in 1960, I’ve been visiting occasionally throughout my life. In fact, her house was the last stop of a most epic breakaway—a 4-month RTW extravaganza. Upon arrival that day, she informed me that my beloved grandma had passed away the night before, as if waiting for my return. It rained the entire stay, like tears from heaven, which inspired this “The Sky is Crying” post.

Seeing my aunt again this time around was a great treat, and also sparked memories of childhood summer stays featuring Disneyland, Angels’ games, and all that SoCal has to offer a giddy kid. The smell of the sea and happy faces at the beach transported me, for fleeting moments, into a 6-year-old again. Long Beach was an idyllic place to spend an extended summer vacation, and now strikes me as a splendid place to grow old.

  • Seal Beach offers local color & old-Cali charm

With people (and colleges and sights) to see, neighboring Seal Beach and The Pacific Inn provided an ideal launch-pad location for eating well and wandering the peaceful seashore and village. Strolling there feels like iconic California on sense-surround, from the chirpy birds to a world of aromas wafting from the many eateries.

Sadly, in what would soon become a pattern, we were among the last guests at my favorite Seal Beach restaurant, Walt’s Wharf. They closed down shortly after our late-night feast. And, after 50 years of making delightful, delicious meals and memories, this local treasure is unlikely to survive Corona’s crushing wave.

We knew before arriving that The Virus would show up in various ways, from nervous airplane passengers to omnipresent Purell. But we also were somehow blessed and blissed; our timing could not have been luckier. One week later, we would have missed the shops, the salty souls surfing, and the hippies jamming for tips under a full moon. 

  • Cruisers in limbo

The Pacific Inn and its tiny lobby became a bustling gathering spot for people waiting to board cruise ships which were stuck in Long Beach Harbor because of possible Corona cases among imprisoned passengers. A friendly, retired couple from Michigan held court for hours in the lobby, chatting and reading while keeping another night’s reservation ready JIC. (It came in handy.)

Late (late!) that evening, an impossibly jubilant (drunk) group of 8 would-be sailors arrived with enough luggage to sink a boat. They were ecstatic to land the last available room after waiting all day at the port. How all 8 of these wide-bodies slept in their 2 queen-size beds…we’ll never know. But from the sounds of it, the party was sleep-optional!

As metaphorical darkness kept surrounding us, a guy began to wonder…as our week winds down, will the California to-do list be do-able? will our plane allow us to board? What is our Plan B? Yet despite the chill of pandem-onia in the air—or perhaps because of it—we focused on relishing every moment of being…Away.

  • Visiting colleges before class dismissed!

Up and early one morning, we drove through SoCal’s crazy traffic using the time-saving HOV lanes (that move at speeds that would make Germans jealous) to visit 2 of the 5 Claremont Colleges’ excellent schools—Pomona and Pitzer. Pomona (nearly $70K; 8% acceptance rate) won me over and made me long to be 18 (and smart and rich and lucky). Perhaps my enthusiasm, if not youthfulness, radiates from the embarrassing dad-on-campus picture.

Next-door Pitzer College (not much cheaper; a smidgen easier to get into) was founded in the 60s and reverberates California’s legendary liberal leanings. The grounds have been converted to dessert foliage and thus get high marks in environmentalism. The dorms are all attached in an open, communal design. The curriculum is what-you-make-it (literally) with a student body that knows its ABC’s and PC’s.

My first impression during the Pitzer presentation was true love. And some details, like this famous “Free Wall” piqued applause and evoked eras of when expression was refreshingly artistic rather than screen-centric. But by the end of the tour, I realized I’m probably just not evolved enough. So I made the difficult decision not to apply (as their most evolved student ever, age-wise). And, if asked, might encourage my daughter to consider carefully as well.

Our timing remained fortuitous. All 5 Claremont colleges ceased tours and info sessions the following day…and sent students home within the week. The pizzeria that served our sumptuous lunch? Shuttered the next day. Scary? Yes! Nonetheless, getting sick or stuck—so far from home—was simply not on the itinerary.

  • Don’t stop maneuvering

So we carried on and managed to create a most enjoyable time, never mind the burgeoning worry trailing us like a sick dog.

We seemed to know, on some level, that the airports would soon go quiet. That the street life would turn off. And that it might be months—years?—before we were able to manage a faraway BreakAway again—something we’ve done as a way of life since my daughter’s birth. To have this time, even amid the worry, was precious and priceless. 

Life can be mercilessly…uncertain. Which is all the more reason to—as the old bumper sticker preaches—”Don’t postpone joy.” 

So I again hearken my Grandma who in both good and bad times would cheerfully chirp (and a Seal Beach boutique echoed), “Count your blessings.”  

COMING NEXT: Cruising SoCal Before Corona…On to LALA Land!

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FOTOFRIDAY: Life’s a Beach

Posted on: Friday, March 27th, 2020
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The pun works well today, too well.

Days before California got closed, residents and tourists alike were blithely enjoying the sweet spots—including the 840 miles of lovely coastline. Memories help us cling to hope, and gather the strength and patience to weather hard times like this crazy virus.

Here’s to better days ahead.

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FOTOFRIDAY: A Sign of Sick Times

Posted on: Friday, March 20th, 2020
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During spring break last week, my daughter and I managed a BreakAway of sorts (more on that soon), and were enjoying a stroll down Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade on Thursday. That’s just one week ago today as I sit back home writing. The Nasty Corona Virus was all the buzz, yet this was the first sign I saw of a business closing. Man, how the world can change in a mere 7 days.

Travel tends to bring some risk and angst. But this trip featured an endless barrage of disturbing news, rather like the waves at a California beach that just keep coming and coming—but stressful, not peaceful.

We got lucky. Our ambitious checklist of things to do all got done, even though many of them would not have been possible the following day. We visited three colleges that suspended tours the day after. We were also the last guests to enjoy the Getty Museum, a neighborhood bar, a French restaurant…

We’ve returned to a shut-down, locked-down world, including my daughter’s school and sports. A world we must stay away from people, stock up on food, and hoard toilet paper. A world where many are worrying about not only how to pay bills, but how to eat. The situation is dreadful, and getting worse.

But, Dude! How was Cali? Well, it was a lovely trip, miraculously. We even played Frisbee under the sun on a beautiful beach; that’s a deep-tissue soul-massage for us Minnesotans. Normally, any sane person would feel sad to see a vacation like this one end.

Yet this time, as I comb through photos and memories and worries, this traveler can only say: There’s no place like home.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Art Vs. Noise

Posted on: Friday, March 13th, 2020
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Spring break this year inspired a California trip for my high-school daughter and me. We had several missions: Visit family and friends; sneak in some sun, sand, and surf; and see some potential higher-ed schools.

“Be prepared” is a motto of this travel-centric website. So we packed ample snacks, sunscreen (didn’t need it), umbrellas (very handy, unfortunately), and hand sanitizer. Nothing, however, could prepare us for a world-wide pandemic—and all the accompanying fear and loathing. It’s brought new meaning to “traveling heavy.”

Still, we gratefully accomplished most of our goals, including a fascinating info session and tour of Pitzer College, in Claremont, CA, a school founded in the 60s and where those ideals are alive and loud. Proof: The “Freedom Wall,” where students can write anything, anytime. It’s extraordinarily popular, even sorta famous.

I would call it a work of participatory art—and find it interesting that people are fascinated by it. Can we say the same about the gazillions of messages placed online through countless platforms? No.

Art beats noise any day. And that happens every day at Pitzer College.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Life Before Costco

Posted on: Friday, February 21st, 2020
Posted in: Travelog, FOTOFRIDAY, Wily Mktg | Leave a comment

Here you see a shop-owner dutifully working in the shadows of his perfect produce shop just outside of Paris 20 years ago. So much has changed on USA soil; there are myriad grocery options in most American cities, yet a family-owned fruit and beverage boutique may be impossible to find. Who can market a small market and make a living?

So this is life before Costco. It also portrays the other-worldly passion of worldly Paris, where such artisanal shops in 2020 are probably less omnipresent but still very present. And residents show up.

This writer-chef loves the savvy of Trader Joe’s and the convenience of a Target that sells everything from grapes to undergarments. But as I reminisce this random Parisian morning and a sight any traveler to France will encounter countless times, there’s no question which lifestyle offers better connection, quality, and values.

Long live Costco? No. Viva la France!

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FOTOFRIDAY: Baroque Helix Spire, Copenhagen

Posted on: Friday, December 13th, 2019
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No, I didn’t climb it. In fact, I had to snap this pic from a moving boat. But you can’t help but stare at the oh-so Baroque Church of Our Savior in Copenhagen. Built in 1617—when the city had already been thriving for some 500 years—the church also boasts one of the loudest carillons in Europe that plays 8 times daily, on the hour.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Slab City, Near Palm Springs

Posted on: Friday, December 6th, 2019
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Kirk Horsted

Alternative living community—busy in winter. “Slab” used to be a navy base; now it’s a seasonal “home” for a counter-culture tribe of nomads and artists. Artful, edgy, fun to photograph. Recommended for intrepid travelers only.

Like my camera-carrying daughter!

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FOTOFRIDAY: Ahh, Italia…

Posted on: Friday, November 22nd, 2019
Posted in: Sabbatical Shuffle, Travelog, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment
Kirk Horsted

Breakaway has already reported on the growing trend of offering sabbaticals as a marketing ploy. But have did you know that 280,000 people applied for airbnb’s sabbatical in Italy? Their mission for the free adventure? “Breathe new life” into the fading hilltown of Grottole—home to 300 residents. AND 600 empty homes!

It’s funny: Pastoral life in ailing Italy sounds like paradise to frazzled people everywhere. Yet in Italy, they seem to be abandoning the old ways and places to race into modernity. Such are the ways of…progress.

I’ve not visited Grottole, but I do love Barga, the Tuscan valley town that’s today’s FOTOFRIDAY pic. Barga is thriving, actually. But it’s surrounded by no less than 9 hilltowns in varying stages of abandonment and decay. Still, like 280,000 kindred spirits, I’d gladly BreakAway to volunteer for three months to help keep old Italy from dying.

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FOTOFRIDAY: Only in California?

Posted on: Friday, October 4th, 2019
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Why do you travel? One reason many would mention is to see new things. Indeed, your sense of observation gets more keen when in a new place. You just plain pay more attention.

That’s not to say that a rainbow poodle would go unnoticed on the streets where you live. I’m guessing that’s the point of painting your poodle: To draw attention. This particular critter crossed my path in Carmel, California, and seemed almost as interested in me as I was in him.

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FOTOFRIDAY: GBA, GBPR!

Posted on: Friday, September 27th, 2019
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Kirk Horsted

God Bless America gets plenty of play. Heck, they still sing the song during the 7th-inning stretch at every Sunday MLB baseball game.

God Bless Puerto Rico? Not so much. Talk about being thrown curveballs, spitballs, and beanballs! In recent years, this unlucky territory of the USA has suffered catastrophic weather, skimpy support (not to mention abuse) from Mother Country USA, and a rapidly declining population as people flee their beloved but beleaguered homeland.

This week, Puerto Rico got pounded again by nasty weather. Sad. These are real people—real Americans. I’ve spent some time there, and aim to again. So today I salute Puerto Rico and wish them continued toughness and tenacity as they brave all these rough seas.

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