California Christmas 2022, New Year 2023

 

Day 1. Friday, December 16, 2022

 

I woke up at 5:00 am today, three hours before the Uber driver was to drive us to the airport, and six hours before our flight.  Our weather is below freezing, and that is the forecast for the rest of the day.  By 6:00 am I was packed and ready to go. I woke Linda at 6:30 for her to shower and prepare for our trip.  By flying to California, we gained two hours and consequently decided not to have breakfast at home.  With the required arrival two hours before boarding at the airport, we will have time at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport to have breakfast, and a three-hour layover in Las Vegas, Nevada providing plenty of time for lunch.  Isn’t flying fun?

 

Nancy was our Uber driver. Nancy arrived early, and we enjoyed an unhurried drive to the airport.  Nancy told us she has a 14-year-old grandson. Nancy started driving for Lyft and found their app terrible when it kept freezing up, plus taking her to the wrong location.  By working with Uber, she has been a happier driver with a better experience over the past eighteen months. I was not surprised that she has a near five-star customer service rating.  My only shock was that it cost us $30 to make the reservation a few days ago. I was not aware of that Uber service fee.

 

We used Uber several times in different cities across America and have found their app works exceptionally well when operated from my iPhone.  Their security is top-notch with checks and balances to verify that you have the assigned driver and that the driver has my correct passenger information.  We used their service in Rome while on vacation in Italy in May 2022.  You build trust and keep using the service as a valuable resource.

 

Linda and I enjoyed a light breakfast at Starbucks in the Milwaukee airport. After a long wait, we used the time to catch up on reading and writing. Before takeoff, our aircraft taxied to a position where the plane could be de-iced. The process took 20 minutes. Southwest flight attendants are known for their humor.  She announced that there are four emergency exits so if you wish to abandon the flight, now is the time.  In the unlikely event of decompression on the flight, masks will fall from the bins above you.  Insert a quarter to let the air start flowing. I feel for anyone if this is their maiden voyage, they will not appreciate or understand the humor.

 

I must make a shocking comment. Airlines are always on the lookout for profit, and that is understandable. The Boeing 737-800 that we flew had two sections of three seats on either side of the aisle. The seats are not particularly spacious, nor do they provide much leg room and a challenge when seating obese passengers. While we were waiting in the terminal to board this flight, we noticed a husband and wife sitting across the way from us.  He was well over three hundred pounds, and she at least two hundred pounds.  They boarded before us.  She had a window seat, and he had an aisle seat. They needed all that room to overflow into the center seat. 

 

My heart would bleed if due to a full flight, someone would need to sit between them.  My hope would be that he would move to the middle seat, and a passenger would take the aisle seat and spend the three and a half hours leaning into the aisle to get some comfort.  As a general statement, many passengers complain about the lack of legroom and the narrow seats.

 

Southwest flies several Boeing 737’s: 737-700’s, 737-800’s and a handful of 737-MAX 8’s. The majority have 143 seats, while the 800’s and MAX 8’s have 175 seats.

 

November in Wisconsin is typically our greyest and gloomiest month as winter sets in. That is one reason we are motivated to take a trip to warmer parts of the country.  November this year was an exception to the rule. For the first half of the month, we had above-average temperatures and more sunshine than normal.  It does not take long for cabin fever to set in.  We bundle up warmly and go for daily walks around our neighborhood, provided it is not snowing or raining. California is always a treat and a vast improvement from our weather conditions.

 

A comment I sent to family and friends on December 1, 2022: Robyn had an exasperating experience with Airbnb.  Linda and I depart for our resort in Palm Desert, California on December 16.  Robyn and her family will join us there. On December 22, we all fly to Robyn’s home in the San Francisco Bay area.  (More accurately, her home is in the town of Moraga in the East Bay).  Three days later we moved to an Airbnb close to Robyn’s home and remained there until January 9 when we flew home. 

 

When Linda made the Airbnb reservation, she had to pay a deposit with a balance of over $1,000 to be paid on checking into the Airbnb.

 

Robyn decided that she would give us a very generous Christmas gift and pay the balance off for us.  Robyn sent emails to Airbnb and could not make headway, so she called them.  Airbnb said that she could pay the balance, but only with Linda’s credit card!  As an alternative, they said that she could purchase a gift card of the same value, but it could not be used for this reservation and must be used for a future Airbnb stay.  Robyn called the owner of the home we will be staying at, but Masha informed Robyn that her hands were tied, and she had to negotiate through Airbnb.  At least Robyn had her heart in the right place.  What a precious daughter.

 

We reserved an Uber ride on Monday before this Friday trip. Uber would take us on Friday from our condominium to Milwaukee’s Mitchel Airport and plan to use another Uber from Palm Springs to Palm Desert a 20-mile journey.

 

We depart on Southwest Airlines from Milwaukee, changing planes in Las Vegas, Nevada, and onto Palm Springs International Airport in California.  We relocate to our timeshare at Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, CA.  Transport from the airport to the hotel by Uber. Southwest notified us that our flight out of Las Vegas would be delayed by 30 minutes.

 

Our flight into and out of Las Vegas turned into a circus. We knew we would have a three-hour delay at the airport, but soon we learned that the flight was delayed by an additional hour. The good news is that the Boeing 737-700 only had eighty passengers on board, so we had the comfort needed to relax. Linda and I had three seats to ourselves.

 

However, as we pulled away from the gate, we heard some strange jarring sounds. It turned out that the tug used to tow the plane from the gate was faulty and we had to wait for a replacement tug. The flight to Palm Springs is only thirty-five minutes and we arrived safely.  With all the time we had in the Las Vegas airport, we ate twice. For our first treat, we had a large mango smoothie and later a chicken quesadilla.

 

Dating myself, this is not the first time I flew into the airport in Las Vegas.  On a previous landing I recalled that as soon as I de-planed, I heard one arm slot machines and the sound of coins being ejected from the gambling machines.  Not this time. Without any exaggeration, there must have been a thousand new large glitzy silent electronic gambling machines serving the 110 gates in the two concourses.  The airport was unbelievably busy, and many gambling machines were in use.  A stranger was telling us that people arrive at the airport loaded with money, but as they board their flights to other destinations, they leave with empty pockets.

As an aside, when we were still living in South Africa, Linda and I traveled to the U.S., and at that time stayed in an upscale hotel in Las Vegas.

The Uber ride in a new 9-seater Chevrolet Suburban SUV was a treat. The Palm Springs airport to the Palm Desert resort was about a 20-minute ride. Gerardo, our driver, explained that he lives an hour away in the greater Los Angeles area. He was not a talkative person, and I suspect that his home language was Spanish, but his English was great. 

What I genuinely appreciate about many Uber drivers is that they place safety at the very top of their customer satisfaction list.  I was able to see the speed Gerardo was driving and he never exceeded the speed limit and mostly drove under the limit. For the record, the two Uber rides today cost us a total of $130 including gratuities.

Arriving at the Marriott Shadow Ridge resort was more than we could have expected.  The resort is far larger than we are accustomed to, and the unit we were allocated is very luxurious.  We arrived late, so we will explore beginning in the morning. 

Day 2. Saturday, December 17, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

 

We woke at 6:30 am to a warm day, certainly much warmer than home in Wisconsin.  Please understand that with the time zone differences, it would be 8:30 back home. After a shower, we decided to walk across this large property.

The Marriott Shadow Ridge complex is dived into four sections.  Starting from the entrance, you find Chuckwalla Village, Jackrabbit Village, Roadrunner Village, and Snake Village.  Our unit in Snake Village is the furthest location from the entrance. There are a total of twenty-eight buildings, each a three-story structure. Our unit is on the top floor overlooking a miniature golf course.  There are a total of 1,085 units, with four electric charging stations managed by private enterprises, each able to charge four electric vehicles at a time, so sixteen stations in all.

 

Needing breakfast we walked to the reception building, about one mile away, and found a light breakfast at The Bunker, situated there to feed golfers ready to enjoy a day on the greens.  We are not golfers, but we found a place to sit on an elevated veranda in the sun.

 

We realized that we are on vacation and doing our duty to keep the economy thriving.  We returned to the reception building that includes a Marketplace shop.  We bought necessities for a few meals, and without missing a beat spent $100 in no time.  We returned to our unit to enjoy tea and a donut.

 

Our unit consists of a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, lounge, and dining room. We have two television sets, one in the lounge, the other in the bedroom.  The TV set in the lounge is an enormous 85-inch device.  The living quarters’ design has an interesting feature.  There is a large barn door between the bedroom and lounge.  If you have someone sleeping on the sleeper couch, you can close this great big door to give each the privacy that they may enjoy.

 

A shower is a pleasure with unlimited amounts of hot water.  Here too you need to be careful because if you turn it on to maximum heat you will scald yourself.  I did not find I needed to waste any water because heated water was on demand instantly.

 

If nothing else, we loved going for long walks and enjoying a change of pace to read, watch TV, and chill. Lying at one of the several pools was enjoyable.  One aspect of travel that I enjoy is watching the local news on TV.  You get a great and positive sense of community.  Strange as it may seem, I even enjoy watching local advertising. That too helps to provide a flavor of the community. 

 

Day 3. Sunday, December 18, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

The day started quietly, and after a light breakfast, Linda and I had our first walk of the day.  We had another opportunity to see additional attractions that were available at this resort. Robyn, Darin, Olivia, and Isabel arrived just after noon. They were fortunate in that their room was ready shortly after arrival.  I was treated to a box of See’s Candies chocolate made in San Francisco that Robyn bought at the airport in Oakland. Now that we had transport, we were ready to explore the local town.

 

Robyn and Darin were disappointed with the room assigned to them, significantly smaller than our accommodation.  Their room was more like a hotel room.  We decided that the twins would sleep in our unit for two nights until Robyn and Darin move into a larger unit in our building. 

 

We are members of Costco, the wholesale club.  Costco is located three miles from our resort. We purchased food for Robyn, her family, and us, and will save a fortune based on inflated prices at the resort.  The resort has a captive audience. Linda and I elected not to get a rental car. Robyn hired a rental car large enough to accommodate all six of us.

 

When visiting the local Costco, I was impressed by how large this store is, in comparison to our Costco at home. Being in California I was amazed by the number of diverse people living and shopping in this community.  My surprise again was by comparing with people we see in our hometown.  Here we saw a greater percentage of Asians and Hispanic people.

 

Day 4. Monday, December 19, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

 

I woke up with a dilemma today.  I have always been an early riser, so I was up at 6:00 am, showered, and what now?  I could not return to our bedroom because Linda was sound asleep and could not go to the lounge because the granddaughters were sleeping there, so I was confined to the bathroom.  It was not really that big of a problem because I could get my early morning reading and writing done using my iPhone and iPad.

 

I don’t want to come across as an old codger who cannot adapt, but there are advantages to being at home where everything has a place, and everything is in its place.  Being on vacation, we must compromise and make do, but that is the fun of travel.  Most of what we do is different from what we eat for meals.  At one of my medical checkups a few years ago, my doctor did not approve of my eating healthy grains and milk and strongly recommended that I stick with oatmeal.  That said, preparing our meal on the road is not that easy, and coincidentally I am back to granola and yogurt on this trip.

Robyn will not be enjoying any outings as she must stay in her room to work “from home.”  However, with the day’s work done, we all spent time at one of the many pools at this resort.  I can hardly believe my stupidity.  I forgot to pack my swimming trunks, so I lay at the poolside in my jeans. 

We took a drive in the evening to Palm Springs, eleven miles away.  The Christmas lights were magnificent, they really know how to turn the city into a Christmas wonderland.  Our first stop was Great Shakes to taste the local specialty, a date shake.  The dates are chopped very finely and as you drink the shake through a straw you get tiny bits of tasty dates. 

We followed up by having dinner at Athena Gyro, a Greek restaurant.  Linda had a Greek salad, and I ordered lamb kebabs with a Greek salad.  The servings were very generous.  Linda and I requested a box to take half our dinner home. Overall, we had a terrific day and evening.

 

Day 5. Tuesday, December 20, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

 

We took time out to play miniature golf, on the challenging course just outside our unit.

Most of the day was relaxing, with a walk and spending time soaking in the sun and reading at the pool.  In the evening we drove back to Palm Springs to see the lights at The Living Desert Zoo & Botanical Gardens.

 

Recognized in the “Top 5 Best Zoo Lights” by USA Today, WildLights is a magical winter wonderland, complete with twinkling lights, dazzling light displays, and holiday fun. It is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit and make lasting memories with friends and family.

 

I am not sure how I can give justice by writing about WildLights.  It is a situation where seeing is believing and soaking in the experience.  Many of the exhibits had lights changing while synchronized to music.  The only slight disappointment was that most of the animals stayed hidden.  That should not be too surprising given it was nighttime, the crowds, and the noise.  But then, in all honesty, we were visiting for the lighting display and not the animals.  I am positive that in the daytime the animals, and here I am biased, especially those from Africa would be a joy to see. 

WildLights pathways will take guests on an illuminated journey around the Zoo with endless awe-inspiring sights and festive photo opportunities. Guests can go for a spin on the carousel, enjoy themed treats, take a free souvenir photo with Santa, and much more. In true WildLights tradition, the G-scale model trains, with more than 3,300 feet of track, were decked out for the holidays.

 

 

Robyn and her family moved from their original room to a much larger room in our building.  They were delighted with the change. 

 

Day 6. Wednesday, December 21, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

 

It is quite amazing to wake in the middle of winter to a gorgeous warm day that turns very warm as the clock moved beyond 11:00 am.  A quiet day to start with another walk to get exercise.  We received several emails informing us of severe weather conditions in the Midwest and Northeast that will disrupt flights.  We are hoping that will not impact our Friday flight to Oakland, California.

 

Darin was called on to grill lamb chops near our unit.  Linda and Robyn made salad, so we had a great evening meal.  We went to the local market, and I purchased a small tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, specifically, the one promoted by Steven Colbert, a late-night host on TV who gives all his royalties to charity.  While grilling we met two Canadians from Vancouver Island and enjoyed learning about their experiences visiting this resort.

 

Day 7. Thursday, December 22, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

Today our most exciting plan is to drive three hours one way to Joshua Tree. This will be our last full day at the resort, and we need to get flight boarding passes for tomorrow, twenty-four hours before boarding time.  Southwest Airlines issued warnings about disrupted flights due to the massive snow and ice storm hitting the Midwest and Northeast over the next few days.

 

As I sit on the balcony outside our unit looking at the mountains in the far distance with lightly covered snow at their very peak, I think of the amazing changes in this enormous country.  Here I sit enjoying the warm weather where the southern Midwestern and Northeastern states are bracing for one of the biggest storms they have had in years. 

 

Contrast that with the fact that talking to Robyn last night, I downloaded an app to my iPhone that will warn of an earthquake that has just taken place in California.  In fairness, the warning is only issued if you are in the proximity of the quake.  The app lists where quakes have happened globally, and the timing and severity of each quake. 

The road to Joshua Tree included wind and solar farms.  Driving back from the high altitude had my ears popping several times. That was followed by a terrific meal at a Jewish-the owned restaurant.  My only complaint was that we did not discover this restaurant at the beginning of the week.

 

Day 8. Friday, December 23, 2022, Marriott Shadow Ridge Enclaves in Palm Desert, California

 

We woke to another beautiful day in the Palm Desert.  We check out of the resort at 9:00 am and head to the airport in Palm Springs.  The weather forecast for the San Francisco area calls for unseasonably hot weather followed by rain tomorrow. 

I am truly fortunate to have flown in and out of airports in Southern Africa, North America, and Western Europe, plus one trip to India.  Flying out of Palm Springs, California was a unique experience.  After we checked our luggage and passed through security we headed outside to a secure location where they provided several restaurants to purchase whatever we desired. 

 

Linda bought me a hot bacon and egg sandwich, and Linda bought herself a muffin. We both had coffee.  The flight to Oakland was supposed to depart at 11:45 am, but every few minutes we got another alert to say the flight was further delayed. The country has significant storms from the Midwest to the Northeast.  The news informed us that more than two thousand flights had been canceled, and our assumption is that our flight originated in the Midwest, and we know the prior stop was Las Vegas.

 

Linda was commenting about the number of people traveling with small dogs.  Normally the airlines will accommodate passengers who are dependent on service dogs, but what we see are just pets.  Then too we read this account “A woman attempted to bring a 4-foot boa constrictor in a carry-on bag through a TSA checkpoint in Tampa International Airport last month. A woman claimed the snake, named Bartholomew, was her emotional support animal, but after the airline was notified, it refused to let her have it on the plane.”

 

Robyn had her vehicle parked at Oakland airport, so the six of us had a walk to retrieve the vehicle and enjoy the drive to Robyn’s home in Moraga.

 

Day 9. Saturday, December 24, 2022, Robyn and Darin, Moraga, California

 

It’s Christmas eve and we started the day shopping at Costco (the wholesale club) apart from provisions I was able to collect Linda’s and my medications from the pharmacy.  Robyn is driving us to make the purchases, and one more time I must state how much I love being here and enjoying this community.

 

I made a few phone calls to friends to wish them season’s greetings.  We are waiting for Darin’s family to arrive, his parents flying from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and weather permitting, they may make it on time with the horrendous weather in their region, and Darin’s sister flying in from Los Angeles.

 

Darin’s sister, Keri, got booked on four consecutive Southwest flights, each scheduled to land at a different nearby airport, and all those flights were canceled.  Keri arrived at the airport in LA at 9:00 am and finally boarded the fifth flight after 7:00 pm.  Darin’s parents did not fare much better.  Their first flight was canceled, but they knew that from home before starting on a 90-minute drive to the airport.  Coincidently they all arrived within 30 minutes of each other but at different airports. The weather system in the Midwest and Northeast did quite a number on travel plans.  After two days 12,000 Southwest Airlines flights were canceled or delayed.

In the evening we went for a walk around the Moraga neighborhood to see the homes decorated with Christmas lights, and more impressive were the luminaries that lined the streets outside each home, and many with lights leading to the entrance door.  We commented that walking in the neighborhood is something we could never do at home in Wisconsin where today the temperatures were forty degrees below freezing, and the streets were covered with a couple of inches of snow.

Robyn spoiled us with a charcuterie board for dinner.  Naturally, the variety of cheeses and meats was a delightful appetizing experience. 

 

Day 10. Sunday, December 25, 2022, Robyn and Darin, Moraga, California

 

Merry Christmas.  We woke to a house full of people, nine in all.  After the travel challenges yesterday, it was no surprise that everyone slept late.  What with loads of gifts, and special meals, this promises to be an incredibly special Christmas.

 

We had a late breakfast, and early dinner, so we were able to skip a meal today. Keri went back to the airport in hopes of retrieving her luggage! While in line at the airport watching as flights arrived, the suitcase magically appeared. Keri returned to Robyn’s home happy.  This has been a frustrating experience because the airline is clueless as to where the luggage is.  I showed Keri our Apple AirTag and she plans to invest in this technology that allows you to track your luggage.

 

The twins made out like bandits with all the Christmas gifts they received.  Father Christmas/Santa Claus was exceptionally generous this year.  One gift they received from their grandmother amused me.  Each received one glove from a pair of oven gloves.  Inside each finger was a dollar note with different monetary amounts.  If that was not all, they received a day planner with more cash saved between the pages.  I am sure they will save the cash to pay for gas/petrol when they start driving later in 2023.

 

One additional gift was tickets to see the Westend/Broadway show Six, the story of Henry VIII and his six wives.  This will be performed at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco beginning in February 2023. To read about Henry VIII and his wives follow this link

 

We had a fun evening playing a couple of games that had the nine of us bellowing with laughter.  The first game was to unwrap a package that Robyn had created using layers and layers of small gifts with Saran Wrap, a thin plastic film.  Robyn started the laborious task of creating the roll with a special gift, such as a mug, and then layered it with other small gifts like chocolates or even $1 notes.  The person on the left of you had to roll two dice, and if they rolled any double then they got an opportunity to try to unwrap the package.  This created lots of laughter as each player tried their hardest to roll a double, and during the short duration to try and peel off additional layers to the wrap, a task that was not easy since the wrap almost glues itself to the underlying wrap.

The second game we played, also creating lots of laughter was to roll a special alphabetized dice, and then find an article or name on a card that tells you what word you need to document and then draw the word so that the next person can try and guess what the word is.  We each started playing at the same time and had one minute to draw a picture to explain our word, then pass it to the next person to try and determine what that word is.  They then write a word and pass it on to the next player, who must then draw the word presented to them.  It is obvious that the word you started, after eight people participating and passing on their pictures and words, seldom got to the end with the correct word.  That is what helped create lots to laugh about.

 

Day 11. Monday, December 26, 2022, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to a cloudy cool day with plans to visit Alcatraz today.  It was a 40-minute drive in heavy traffic from Moraga. After we return to Robyn’s home, Linda and I will be relocating to the nearby Airbnb. 

 

We drove to a parking lot at the Fisherman’s Wharf near Pier 27 in San Francisco.  With nine of us in two cars, we were waiting for the rest of our family to join us, mainly because parking was extremely scarce in this lot.  We were standing alongside cars parked near the main road and saw a million in one incident. 

 

A car stopped in the road, and two guys hopped out of the car, each wearing a balaclava to help hide their identity.  They peered into a parked car with Florida license plates, did not see anything worth stealing, and hopped back into their waiting vehicle and took off. 

 

A few minutes later we saw two vehicles parked alongside each other in this parking lot that had their windows smashed.  I was surprised because the one vehicle had two suitcases in the back seat, and for some reason were still in place. 

 

We spoke to a car guard who said that he called 911, the Universal Emergency Number, to get immediate police action.  They brush him off and tell him to call the local police station.  He follows the recommendation, but the police show no interest in this crime.  The car guard said that this smash-and-grab is a daily occurrence.  We asked why he does not report the license plate of the criminal’s vehicle and said that most often they are stolen vehicles or fake plates on the vehicles.

 

The parking lot has warning signs at the entrance to the car park stating that it is wise not to have any valuables clearly visible from outside the vehicle.

 

Our trip to Alcatraz requires a full explanation.  It was a wonderful experience, on a cool and misty day.  More details to follow.

After dinner at Robyn and Darin’s home, they drove us to our Airbnb about ten minutes away.  We were in for a fantastic surprise.  The apartment was more than we could ever have expected.  It looked brand new, and everything was first-class. We had a lounge, kitchen, bedroom with bathroom, and oodles of living space.  There is little question that we will be incredibly happy here for the next fourteen days.  Linda even commented that we should stay here for an additional month, but then there is the cost of adding to this luxury.

I wrote a review, but Linda had already written her own one posting hers.  My version: We selected this Airbnb because it is conveniently near our daughter and her family. What we did not expect was a five-star establishment totally remodeled, spacious, and comfortable with all new appliances including a large-screen television set. We found it a convenient walk to dozens of restaurants and stores including national chains like World Market and Trader Joe’s. We used the nearby miles-long walking track built on disused railway lines. We were so impressed that we immediately made another reservation for later in the year. The cherry on top is the personable host Masha. We highly recommend this establishment.

 

Day 12. Tuesday, December 27, 2022, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to a rainy day.  The plan was for all our family members to drive to Muir Woods.  Sadly, we had to cancel this outing due to weather conditions.  This is what we might have enjoyed.  Muir Woods National Monument is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, north of San Francisco. It’s known for its towering old-growth redwood trees. Trails wind among the trees to Cathedral Grove and Bohemian Grove, and along Redwood Creek. The Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails climb a hillside for views of the treetops, the Pacific Ocean, and Mount Tamalpais in adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park.  Walk among old-growth coast redwoods, cooling their roots in the freshwater of Redwood Creek and lifting their crowns to reach the sun and fog. Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, this primeval forest is both refuge and laboratory, revealing our relationship with the living landscape.

 

Our greatest need was to visit the local grocery store to load up with provisions.  We had dinner with Robyn and family and for the first time took Darin’s vehicle to drive to our Airbnb. 

 

Day 13. Wednesday, December 28, 2022, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to a sunny day with little chance of rain until late tonight.  We have a trip planned to Hawaii in April when Robyn and her family will join us.  Due to the dramatic time zone changes, and the travel time to get there from our home in Wisconsin, we had planned a stopover.  On the outbound trip, we will spend a night in San Jose, California, and on the return trip, we plan to stay in this same Airbnb for a week so as not to impose on Robyn, but to be close for any outings that we may all have.  If that is not an endorsement of how much we love Masha’s Airbnb, then what is?

 

Day 14. Thursday, December 29, 2022, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to rain again today, with the forecast to continue raining through Friday night.  Robyn was up before dawn to take her in-laws to San Francisco Airport (SFO) for their flight to Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Robyn had to return home and take Keri, her sister-in-law to Oakland airport to pick up a rental car to drive back home to Los Angeles.  Keri had no plans to experience another disaster on Southwest Airlines.

 

The situation with Southwest Airlines has been total chaos with the airline canceling thousands of flights each day over the past few days with their systems collapsing and baggage building up at all the airports they fly out of.  This has led to a Federal Government investigation as passengers have been displaced or stranded at airports, sometimes en route to another destination to connect to ongoing flights and the reason Keri canceled her Southwest flight to rent a one-way car.

 

Darin confirmed that his parents and sister each got home safely to their respective homes.

 

Southwest didn’t heed calls to upgrade tech before the meltdown, unions say. December 21, 2022, an internal memo sounded the alarm on staff shortages as a winter storm and the holidays came up. 

 

Southwest Airlines pilot and flight attendant unions warned for years that the company’s rickety computer systems left the airline vulnerable. The carrier stuck with outdated technology and never heeded those warnings, they say.

 

Southwest’s overwhelmed technology — a scenario fueled by a punishing winter storm — left it this week facing some of the most difficult days in its half-century history, in some cases forcing managers to solve problems with pen and paper while crew members wait on hold for hours with schedulers.

 

The wave of cancellations continued to frustrate tens of thousands of travelers, as Southwest scrubbed approximately 2,500 flights on both Wednesday and Thursday while trying to recover from a meltdown that left it under growing scrutiny from lawmakers and federal regulators. The storm struck much of the country, but the speedy recovery of other airlines left Southwest the focus of anger as air passengers tried to return home from holiday travel.

 

Southwest’s competitors have capped fares on routes the airline flies, to limit costs for travelers seeking alternate flights home. Meanwhile, Southwest’s troubles may have been foreshadowed in a December 21 internal company memo that highlighted a worker shortage in Denver, where Southwest has significant operations, and which was pounded by the storm.

 

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said Wednesday the collapse of the airline’s operations was avoidable, noting it has warned for years about the company’s unwillingness to modernize its operations. Company officials acknowledge current problems stem, in part, from an inability of internal planning and scheduling systems to recover after widespread storm disruptions.

 

About 60 percent of Wednesday’s scheduled Southwest flights were canceled, along with a similar proportion of flights that had been scheduled for Thursday, according to data from the tracking service FlightAware. Southwest’s 2,509 cancellations Wednesday affected air travel across the country, with Chicago Midway International Airport, Dallas Love Field Airport, and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport seeing about 30 percent of outbound flights canceled.

 

Southwest officials have said the airline was not short-staffed before the storm pounded much of the country, citing instead the inability of internal planning and scheduling systems to recover from the storm.

 

Southwest’s operations are unusual among the four carriers that dominate the U.S. market, relying more heavily on a point-to-point route model than a system of hubs and spokes. Such a system can leave crews and planes far from where they need to be when problems hit, slowing the recovery.

 

December 31, 2022, update.  Southwest resumed normal operations Friday after canceling more than 15,000 flights in just over a week, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight status in real-time. About 1% of Southwest’s flights are canceled on Friday, compared to two-thirds of flights on days prior, according to FlightAware. Many customers are still trying to track down luggage, rebook travel, or get money back for ruined trips.

Robyn arranged for us to attend a college (university) basketball game at St Mary’s College.  The Saint Mary’s Gaels played the San Diego Toreros.  St. Mary’s won both periods, beating the first 42 to 26, and the near-final score was 72 to 43. We left with 5 minutes and 43 seconds on the clock.  We left before the game finished since the result was not in doubt.  It was a rainy night and we parked far away, so we wanted to get out before we were overwhelmed with traffic since the stadium was full.  Our seats cost $40 each, so expensive entertainment. 

 

I thought that I knew the rules of the game since we had watched many high school basketball games when Audrey was playing, but many of the rules are different.  With the high school game, each period of play ends after a fixed period, or when the first team scores twenty-five points.  They also clear the scoreboard and play the best of three periods.

 

In the college game, they set the clock at 30 seconds, and as the team, with the ball, they must attempt to try and score within that time, or the opponents get possession.  Each time there is a turnover, the clock is reset to 30 seconds until the game clock set at 25 minutes runs out.

 

We watched the movie “Midway” about the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces launch a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval base in Hawaii. Six months later, the Battle of Midway commences on June 4, 1942, as the Japanese navy once again plans a strike against American ships in the Pacific. For the next three days, the U.S. Navy and a squad of brave fighter pilots engage the enemy in one of the most important and decisive battles of World War II.

 

We have been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii; consequently, it was interesting to see the detailed history that led to the U.S. entering WWII. 

 

Day 15. Friday, December 30, 2022, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to another rainy day.  Our biggest achievement at the start of the day was to do our laundry.  The family that owns this Airbnb has a Maytag Washer and Dryer in their garage, and we have access to those machines.  They look brand new and are a top-notch band. 

 

We believe that they are out of town currently as we have not seen any life from anyone in their home.  There was no vehicle in the garage.  This may be a repeat comment, but everything in our Airbnb is new and first-rate.  What a way to enjoy a vacation and give Robyn and her family space for them to have privacy. 

 

Robyn’s plan was to allow us to use Darin’s car, but after we arrived at their home the engine light came on, and Darin could only have that attended to by the dealer on Monday.  At the same time, he will have vehicle recalls attended to.

 

Robyn plans to fetch us after she has done her grocery shopping.  As we did yesterday, we will spend the rest of the day at her home and have meals with the family.

 

For entertainment, we watched the movie “Bridge of Spies.” During the Cold War, the Soviet Union captures U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers’s only hope is New York lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), recruited by a CIA operative to negotiate his release. Donovan boards a plane to Berlin, hoping to win the young man’s freedom through a prisoner exchange. If all goes well, the Russians will get in return Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.

 

Day 16. Saturday, December 31, 2022, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to pouring rain today.  This pattern is getting monotonous.  We did a second load of washing and saw that the homeowners had returned from vacation.  Robyn fetched us again today to spend our day with them. The drive was interesting with the amount of rain on the roads. We kept hitting water dammed up on the road and causing huge waves of water to splash up. It turned out to rain quite hard all day.

 

We watched movies again. “Operation Mincemeat” is set in 1943 as the Allies are determined to launch an all-out assault on Fortress Europe. But they face an impossible challenge – to protect a massive invasion force from entrenched German firepower and avert a potential massacre.

 

While at Robyn’s house and as a family we decided to enjoy a movie, it is always essential that we find a movie that is age appropriate for the twins.  With that in mind, we watched “Along for the ride.”  The summer before college Auden meets the mysterious Eli, a fellow insomniac. While the seaside town of Colby sleeps, the two embark on a nightly quest to help Auden experience the fun, carefree teen life she never knew she wanted.” I found the movie to be slow-moving, but sweet.

Between movies, we played “Scattergories,” a game where you are required to think of fifteen categories based on the letter selected using alphabetized dice. One example: think of food beginning with the letter “L”. It was great for a laugh.  Isabel was able to show the adults up. 

 

Southwest resumed normal operations Friday after canceling more than 15,000 flights in just over a week, according to FlightAware, which tracks flight status in real time. “We appreciate the dedicated work of the Southwest team to restore our schedule, and we anticipate minimal disruptions for the weekend,” the airline said in a statement Friday. “We look forward to the opportunity to address any needs of our customers over the coming days as we strive to return to our previous level of Southwest hospitality and reliability.”

 

About 1% of Southwest’s flights are canceled on Friday, compared to two-thirds of flights on days prior, according to FlightAware. Many customers are still trying to track down luggage, rebook travel, or get money back for ruined trips.

 

Day 17. Sunday, January 1, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

Happy New Year.  We woke to dry and sunny skies.  The local news reported several rescue efforts caused by flooding and landslides last night.  The plan today is to go out for brunch. We had brunch at The Sideboard in Lafayette.  The restaurant was busy, and the line grew as we were leaving.  From where I sat, I could see a large Menorah on the far side of the park.  Robyn told us an interesting story.  All the “candles” or lights on the Menorah got destroyed. The immediate reaction was vandalism by antisemites.  They discovered later fierce winds had blown the lights to pieces.  So, no hate was encountered.

 

Darin and Robyn took us for a drive to the campus of the University of California at Berkeley.  We had two options to get there.  We selected the route via Shepard Canyon Road and returned using the interstate, a quicker route. 

 

The canyon road to me was reminiscent of the roads we drove in Italy between the hilltop villages, which were very narrow and winding.  It was no different on our way to Berkeley, except these roads had thousands of vehicles parked on both sides of the narrow road as the people parked and took to walking the many scenic paths along the way, celebrating the New Year in style.  If driving was not challenging enough, then consider the cyclists who exercise by climbing these steep roads with their twists and turns alongside the rolling hills.  It certainly makes for a terribly slow drive and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the views as you look down into the valley.

UC Berkeley is home to 45,000 students. The campus is spread out in a magnificent setting with parks and trees, interspersed with separate buildings.  Only 14% of students applying to this college are accepted.  It is rated as one of the most selective universities in the country.

After our campus tour, we drove to the downtown area of Berkeley.  It boasts many small quaint shops.  Berkeley has a population of 117,000.

 

On returning to Robyn’s home, Linda and I had a much-needed walk before sunset.  After dinner, Robyn drove us back to our Airbnb.  Our movie entertainment for the evening was “All roads lead to Rome.” It is a romantic comedy and allowed Linda to determine how much Italian she could understand.  With our trip to Italy in May 2022, we were looking out for familiar sights. I recommend this lighthearted movie.

 

The movie is about Maggie, an anxious, single mother and college writing teacher from New York City. To reconnect with her troubled teen daughter Summer, she decides to embark on a journey to a Tuscan village that she frequented in her younger days. Upon arrival, Maggie runs into Luca, a handsome former lover who is still a bachelor and lives with his eighty-year-old mother, Carmen. Summer (missing her “bad boy” boyfriend in NYC) and Carmen (secretly planning a wedding against Luca’s wishes to Marcelino, her one true love in Rome) impulsively steal Luca’s car and race off to Rome. Maggie and Luca quickly pursue allowing the two mismatched couples to spend some time together and develop a new understanding of each other.

 

Day 18. Monday, January 2, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke today with the threat of rain.  It was a sad day for me, my iPhone died.  I had it on charge overnight and this morning, it was stone dead. The good news after a few Google searches I found a way to breathe life into this device.  Darin must take his car in for a service and small repair, so we are likely to be at our Airbnb for a longer period today.  An opportunity to catch up on reading and writing. 

 

Reviewing my notes, I see that there are a few outings that we had planned but needed to cancel due to all the rain.  Olivia and Isabel start school tomorrow, so this is the last day for them at home.  Isabel has a function at school today to help with rehearsals for a school play.  Isabel helps with lighting and sound duties.

 

Linda and I had a quick 50-minute walk, and near the end experienced a few drizzles, but Robyn had lent us umbrellas.  It was great to get out, now to wait until Robyn could fetch us.

 

One more time we watched a movie, “The Guilty.” A troubled police detective demoted to 911 operator duty scrambles to save a distressed caller during a harrowing day of revelations — and reckonings.

 

Day 19. Tuesday, January 3, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

We woke today with the sad news that my cousin Peter-Jon Barry died of a heart attack in Cape Town, South Africa.  PJ would have turned 60 in October this year.  He spent most of his career in the South African military. He was a bachelor.

 

Linda and I planned for a long walk with the rain forecast at only 5%.  However, the prediction is for another wave of heavy rain beginning this evening and over the next two days.  Our local TV news tells us that we have had up to ten inches of rain over the past seven days, varying by town and village.

 

Our hour-long walk took us through the local neighborhood, with us climbing 266 feet up the hill to homes with magnificent views. The homes are ranch-style single-family units with some two-story homes. We saw homes with two, three, and four-car garages. All had large lots, and the homes were mostly built in the 1950s.  Selling prices are in the $1.5 to $2 million range. I was amused to walk past three homes in a row, each with a Tesla in the driveway. 

 

As we were walking back on a path alongside a busy two-way road, I was fascinated to see a flashing sign warning motorists that pedestrians were walking on the path.  The path was hidden from motorists’ view, and if they were to make a right-hand turn, they needed to be aware that there were pedestrians present.  We were guarded by a railing but found this to be a thoughtful sign. 

We were fortunate not to encounter any rain, but we had warm jackets, hats, and gloves. I have made this comment previously, but I remain fascinated by the number of Teslas on the roads in California.  This is their biggest market for electric vehicles. I was eager to purchase one, but because of Elon Musk’s insane comments about his acquisition of Twitter, I would not be seen dead in one now.

 

We went for a second walk that took us one hour and covered 2.25 miles. With unrelenting rain due tomorrow and Thursday, we needed to stock up on provisions. Our first stop was a coffee shop for coffee and a donut.  Papillon Gourmet Coffee.  Then on to Trader Joe’s to purchase two days’ worth of lunch.  We passed dozens of small specialty shops and banks along the way.  What I find so attractive in California is the number of Asians and other so-called “minorities.” This is significantly more than we see at home.  Then too I saw a few white boys with hair longer than I have ever seen on girls.  What a fascinating multicultural society.

 

Day 20. Wednesday, January 4, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

From the San Francisco Chronicle.  “A bomb cyclone spinning up hundreds of miles off the California coast will deliver more rain to a soaked Bay Area starting Tuesday night. While the weather system will remain offshore, associated warm and cold fronts will bring heavy rains and fierce winds to Northern California on Wednesday. 

 

Bomb cyclones are storms that undergo rapid intensification — often seeing as much as a 24-millibar drop in pressure at their core. Once these systems reach their peak intensity, they quickly ramp up intense winds and intense rain- and snowfall. The California coast and most of the Sierra Nevada will host the lion’s share of these impacts as Wednesday’s cyclone approaches the West Coast. 

 

The National Weather Service Bay Area has issued a flood watch for Tuesday night through Thursday morning for the entire Bay Area and Central Coast, and a high wind warning is also in effect for the region from 4 a.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Thursday.” Quite frankly, as we woke up this morning this threat did not initially seem apparent.

 

Robyn returns to work today after the Christmas to New Year break.  The twins start a new semester at school today, but Darin had to work without a break due to year-end reporting for his company.  As of 9:00 am, the warning of storms has not materialized, and we are thinking of going for a walk.

 

Our Airbnb owner provided us with an unlimited amount of TV channels.  Scrolling through the hundreds of available choices makes me think, who watches all this stuff?  It is simply crazy to have so many choices.  I now understand why we don’t spend this much money on infinite channels at home.

 

We headed out for a walk ahead of the threats of heavy rain.  We chose the Lafayette Moraga Regional Trail.  We walked over two streams, each flowing with robust rivers of water. The homes we found along this trail boasted large properties, one with a tennis court and two homes we saw with large swimming pools. Sadly, most of the walkers, runners, those walking their dogs, and cyclists were not particularly friendly in that they were not interested in greeting us, despite our best efforts to be friendly. 

 

We walked past the middle school and saw the kids store their backpacks on hangers outside the buildings alongside the street. I could not help but think if this were South Africa those backpacks would be stolen in a heartbeat. We again passed three homes in a row that had a Tesla parked in their driveway.

 

Somewhat dehydrated from our three-mile walk we decided to head to the business district to get refreshments.  With a change in direction, we walked into a community with very much smaller lots and regular size homes. Our port of call was Papillon coffee that we visited yesterday.  Their friendliness deserved a second visit.  With the final few yards home, we did encounter much stronger winds.

 

We decided to have a doubleheader of TV movies to enjoy the evening.  The first was A Walk in the Woods.  “After spending two decades in England, Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) returns to the U.S., where he decides the best way to connect with his homeland is to hike the Appalachian Trail with one of his oldest friends, Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte).”  It is a comedy show about all the experiences they had on this 2,000-mile hike.  Linda and I kept wondering if we had not watched this movie years ago.  It was released in 2015.

 

The second movie was The Identical.  “Twin brothers are unknowingly separated at birth; one of them becomes an iconic rock n’ roll star, while the other struggles to balance his love for music and pleasing his father.” The idea germinated because Elvis Presley had a twin who was delivered stillborn.  The creators then speculated what might have happened if both boys became Rock n’ Roll stars.  An okay movie. I would not rush out and plead with everyone to see this movie.  January 12, 2023, update.  Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis Presley’s 54-year-old daughter, died of cardiac arrest. 

 

Day 21. Thursday, January 5, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to a light rainy day with a forecast for rain all day.  We had heavy rain overnight.  The good news is that despite the dire warnings, we could not see any damage in our immediate neighborhood.  This might be an inside day again, but we have plans to walk to the nearby stops to have lunch in a few hours.

 

The longer I stay here the more I learn.  I was reading a local newspaper Lamorinda that I picked up at the Papillon Coffee Shop.  I now understand that Lamorinda is a local term that embraces the towns of Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda. The paper listed twelve homes sold in Lafayette during December 2020 ranging in price from $800,000 for a tiny 828 square foot 2-bedroom home built in 2021, to a $7,750,000 5-bedroom, 5503 square foot mansion built in 2021. Seven home sales were listed for Moraga ranging from a tiny 678 square foot, one bedroom home built in 1966 for $399,000, to a $2.8 million 3-bedroom 2678 square foot home built in 1984.  Orinda had nine homes sold listed in a range from a $1 million 3-bedroom 1564 square foot home built in 1960, to a $3.345 million 6-bedroom, 4013 square foot home built in 1995.

 

To be honest, I was surprised by the editorial content in this newspaper. It contains 14 pages with a smaller 8-page insert.  The paper has been in print for sixteen years.  I saw an advertisement for nearby Walnut Creek.  As might be expected it carries many topics that are of interest to the local community, including sports, gardening information, school notices, deaths, and food recipes.  Naturally, there are multiple advertisements to help fund the employees and printing costs.

We took a walk in a light drizzle to a nearby Swad Indian Cuisine for lunch.  We had meat samosas, a rice bowl, lamb saag, and Gobi (curried vegetables).  We had enough to eat so we brought leftovers home for another meal.  We arrived a bit late for lunch and were the only patrons eating at the time.

 

In the late afternoon, we decided to do more laundry.  The washing machine and dryer are in the garage. As we entered it was an obstacle course.  After we loaded the washing machine, the homeowner Masha Rudendo came into the garage to apologize for the state of the place. As we learned, the driveway from the street to the garage is a downward slope. With all the rain, the garage had a few inches of water and consequently, they had to move items around to try and get everything dry. 

 

This encounter allowed us to learn more about Masha. She tells us that she relocated to San Francisco from Ukraine when her daughter was four years of age twelve years ago.  She is an accountant and worked for her Ukraine company in the Bay Area.  Once her daughter turned six years and started school, they did not want to return to Ukraine. A few years ago, they bought the home they now own and made substantial upgrades and improvements. 

 

With the war breaking out in Ukraine, Masha’s mother came to visit and has not returned home.  Masha said that her mother is terribly homesick and obviously cannot return home with a war in progress.  Masha speaks English, Ukrainian, and Russian.  Her daughter speaks English and Russian. 

 

Rain in the San Francisco area recently is the most severe over ten days since 1871.

 

We lost out on a walk today due to rain.  To make up for it we watched two movies in the evening again.  The first was The Magic of Belle IsleMonty Wildhorn, an alcoholic novelist of Westerns, has lost his drive. His nephew pushes him to summer in quiet Belle Isle. He begrudgingly befriends a newly single mom and her three girls who help him find the inspiration to write again. A cute story that is safe to watch for the whole family. 

 

The second was The Big Wedding, a long-divorced couple fakes being married as their family unites for a wedding. Very funny but not a kid’s movie. 

 

Day 22. Friday, January 6, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

We woke to a day that may only have a few drizzles, so we will be able to get out and walk again today.  We walked for 90 minutes along the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail again.  In the early 1970s Avon Wilson and Lynn Hiden advocated for safe off-street trail access for children to local schools. With the help of former Lafayette Mayor Donn Black with their city, the East Bay Regional Park District formed a nine-member Trail Advisory Committee to explore routes. All eyes turned toward the abandoned Sacramento-Northern Railroad line.

 

On July 4, 1976, the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail was dedicated to this location.  One of the first Rails-to-Trails projects in the country, this trail also spurred the Park District’s growing 250-mile system of paved, multi-use Regional Trails passing through communities for all to safely enjoy. 

On our walk today I saw my first Amazon delivery Rivian manufactured electric van one of 10,000 that Amazon has ordered.  San Francisco is one of the select cities to pilot these new green vehicles. On one of our walks, I also saw a Rivian SUV.  The Rivian truck has had a greater number of sales. Rivian vehicles are manufactured in Normal, Illinois, not too far from where we live.

 

Our second walk for the day was to Whole Foods just over 1.3 miles return from our Airbnb. I am puzzled about people desperate for exercise on electric bicycles.  I am sure that each time they are out for an hour, pedaling occasionally, they burn at least one or two calories.  It still makes them feel good for making the effort.

 

The next stop is Robyn’s home.  Darin fetched us and the girls from school at 3:00 pm.

Isabel and Olivia came home with their semester report, each getting all “A’s” and one “A+” each. To celebrate we went to Ristorante Amoroma, and if that is not obvious, an Italian restaurant in Moraga.  Aside from selections of Lasagna, Ravioli, Cannelloni, and Fettuccine, we also enjoyed a dessert including Tiramisu, Bread Pudding, and Crème Brûlée.  My only complaint was the noise level in the restaurant. Communication with our nearby family was impossible.

 

Getting back to our Airbnb we watched the movie Slipaway.  When a spirited elderly widow invites a homeless, drug-addicted musician to stay with her on her vintage sailboat, the two must overcome their differences and haunting pasts to realize that each holds the key to the other’s life dreams. Fall, a spirited elder living on a sailboat, encounters little companionship in this turbulent world. When she meets Adam, a young and hopeless street musician, she buys his keyboard under the pretense of wanting to learn piano. Suspicious and wary, Adam agrees and soon finds himself trapped in a floating home with an audacious lady.

 

From The San Francisco Chronicle: “The bomb cyclone left a trail of dangerous seas, coastal erosion, widespread flooding, and wind damage in its wake, but a break in the rain is going to give Bay Area residents a chance to pick up the pieces this morning. And while this break in the inclement weather is welcome, it’ll be only a tiny blip of blue skies before the strong jet stream sends another round of atmospheric rivers toward Northern California starting this evening.  A dry Friday morning will offer bursts of sunshine in parts of San Francisco and the wider Bay Area. It will also give residents along the coast a chance to assess damage from Thursday’s extreme coastal flooding. But this dry air will quickly moisten up by the afternoon as a narrow band of water vapor stemming from the Hawai’ian islands rushes toward Northern California. The stage is set for yet another pineapple express-type of the atmospheric river to impact the Golden State this weekend.”

 

Day 23. Saturday, January 7, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

We woke to more threats of rain today.  We will spend most of the day with Robyn and her family. Before Robyn’s arrival, we had a quick walk for 40 minutes and just over 2 miles. As we got to the Airbnb the slight drizzle started.

 

Robyn bought Lychees imported from South Africa today. They were delicious. She said it cost the equivalent of an air ticket to South Africa.  But they were wonderfully sweet.  An enjoyable treat.

Robyn and Darin took us for a drive to Benicia (buh-nee-shuh) about a 40-minute drive north of her home.  Founded in 1849, historic Benicia was the third city to incorporate in the State in 1851. It became the third State capital in 1853. After it was learned that the legislature was unhappy with muddy San Jose, Benicians rushed to erect the red brick capitol building. By making the bricks on site, the construction was finished in just 4 months. Benicia was the State Capital for 13 months before the legislature moved the capital to Sacramento.

 

The building is now a State Park and a historic landmark open for tours. Benicia is an attractive town in the Bay Area. It is a lovely place to raise a family: it has great schools, beautiful parks, and access to plenty of activities to keep you and your family busy.  The medium home income is $110,000 per annum.  After sightseeing, we enjoyed coffee and a treat at Old House Bakery. 

 

We had a special treat in watching the 2021 movie version of West Side Story. Love at first sight strikes when young Tony spots Maria at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks — two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.

 

Day 24. Sunday, January 8, 2023, Airbnb 864 Moraga Road Lafayette, California

 

Well, we had a night like no other.  We were woken at 1:17 am, 2:17 am, 2:48 am, 4:48 am, 4:53 am, and 5:10 am, at which time I got up to shower and take on the day.  The problem was a smoke detector that kept going off.  It was too high for me to reach and disable it.  My suspicion is that the battery needed replacing.  We had a few more pings after we woke, then for the rest of the day total silence. 

 

The recommendation in America is that with Daylight saving, the second Sunday in March, or the return to Standard Time, the first Sunday in November, you change the batteries in all your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  And yes, after I was up and about, we got additional alerts.  The good news is that we could hear the owls hooting in the early morning.

 

We took time in the morning to pack while we waited for Robyn to fetch us.  This will make getting ready to travel in the morning much quicker.

After Robyn, Darin, Olivia, and Isabel met us, we visited the Farmers Market, one that is significantly larger than the one we have at home.  For a treat, after a drive, we had coffee and a treat at Si Si Caffe in Moraga.  The weather was pleasant enough that we could sit outside. 

 

Back at Robyn’s home, we were sharing stories with the twins about our youth.  Tales of how we were treated at school including corporal punishment, reflecting on good and bad teachers, and some of the mischief that we got up to as kids.  More important was the infrequent relationship I had with my grandparents compared to the constant interaction we have with our granddaughters. 

 

Surprise, surprise.  The smoke alarm had a sequel.  Robyn dropped us off at 7:30 pm so that we could have an early night to get ready for our trip in the morning.  As soon as we walked into our Airbnb, we heard the alarm, but this time in the lounge.  Masha came in and removed both units so that we could get a good night’s sleep.  She did tell us that all the alarms were on the same circuit, and they had a problem in their home as well.  Masha is a very independent lady.  She arrived with a ladder that was not tall enough to reach the lofty ceilings, climbed the ladder stood on the very top, stretched to reach the ceiling, and unscrewed the two alarms, and we were guaranteed a peaceful night’s sleep.

 

Day 25. Monday, January 9, 2023, New Berlin, Wisconsin

 

I woke early at 4:00 am to Beethoven’s Fifth playing on my alarm clock.  The good news is that it was preparing me for home as this is the equivalent of 6:00 am Central Time, my normal waking time.  We woke to pouring rain, with Robyn meeting us for the ride to Oakland Airport.  The warning is that today will be the start of a new severe wave of weather hitting California over the next several days. 

 

We were up bright and early with Robyn getting us at 5:00 am for our drive to Oakland airport for our departure on Southwest Airlines.

 

The drive to the airport was a challenge for Robyn in that it was pouring with rain as the weather system took hold in the Bay area. I was surprised by the volume of traffic on the roads at 5:30 am. We arrived at the airport on time, checked in quickly, through customs speedily, and enjoyed a toasted avocado toast sandwich and cappuccino at Farley’s Cafe alongside our departure gate. Currently, our flight is on time.

I struck it unlucky on my flight from Oakland to Denver. I had the center seat, Linda using the window seat, with a young 200-pound woman on the aisle seat. This poor woman had hardly any space between her and the seat back in front of her. The flight was a little late in taking off, only 10 minutes, but a 90-minute layover in Denver should not make a difference.

 

Our plane was a 737-800 and a full flight. As we climbed through the clouds, we encountered turbulence that lasted a full thirty minutes. Had I not flown so much this might have been a very scary experience. I thought Linda was waking me from my sleep. Wrong side. It was this large girl elbowing me. With the rough flight, they did not serve refreshments. The turbulence started again later.

 

The pilot said that he would try a different altitude to see if he could find less turbulence, but a refreshment service was unlikely. Captain reporting 25 minutes to Denver and turbulence preventing a refreshment service. Flying over snow-covered Rocky Mountains. We landed in Denver 15 minutes early.

 

We bought ourselves a lunchtime snack at the airport in Denver at Woody’s Creek to last us for the rest of the day. Walking into the men’s restroom I saw something that made me smile. A black man ahead of me wearing a black mask, while I was wearing a white one. Seemed appropriate. Our flight to Milwaukee was on time for departure at 1:00 pm.

 

Denver to Milwaukee on a Boeing 737-700. What I find crazy is that on the flight from Oakland to Denver, Wi-Fi was free. However, on the Denver to Milwaukee leg, the cost is $8. This time I was lucky to have a normal size woman sitting next to me. She amused me in that when she was examining photographs in her Facebook feed, she would expand each one and closely examine the people one at a time. We pulled away from the gate 20 minutes late.

 

The way seat assignments work in Southwest is dependent on the type of ticket you have purchased. We fly using the cheapest airfare “Want to get Away.” When we logged on to the website 24 hours before the flight, we were allocated a boarding position with the B group. The more expensive the ticket, it is probable that you get assigned to the A group.

 

Each boarding sequence letter A, B, and C, goes from 1 to 60. Southwest gives you the option to get a better choice if you pay a fee of $12 per passenger per flying leg. All seating is open, so the nearer you are to the front for seat selection, the better the seat you can choose. Those arriving near the back of the line may find that only middle seats are available, and a place to store your overhead luggage is a challenge as you may encounter full bins, in which case you need to check your hand luggage. 

 

This is not always preferable if you are traveling with a partner. The woman next to me had her husband sitting on the other side of the plane a few rows back. Then too you have the challenge of overhead luggage. The later you board the less likely you will find an available overhead bin that can force you to take a seat near the back of the plane. The disadvantage of being at the rear of the aircraft is that deplaning takes forever as everyone departs a row at a time from the front of the plane.

 

Southwest makes an exception for families traveling with small children or members of the armed services who must provide an identity. They can check on early.  Handicapped people in wheelchairs are also permitted to board early. On this flight, without any turbulence, we are in row seventeen.

 

On this second leg, they are taking drink orders. Linda and I each had a Coke. They always provide pretzels. Soda is free. Wine, beer, or liquor is $6 or $7 depending on the selection. Cash is not accepted, so credit card purchases only.

 

If all things were equal, we would always choose to fly Delta. However, their internal flights in America are two to three times the price of Southwest. But Southwest does not fly to Europe or South Africa and that is when we select Delta.

 

Flying over Minnesota and Wisconsin it is amazing to see how many lakes each state has. There was no sign of snow in either state. Lake Michigan is always an awesome and remarkable sight. We landed on time.

 

This flight was quite a change after the Christmas and New Year debacle when due to weather conditions and poor computer systems 15,000 flights on Southwest Airlines were delayed or canceled with lost luggage all over the country.

 

Update February 9, 2023.  Southwest apologizes for holiday travel meltdown: ‘We messed up.’  Andrew Watterson, the airline’s chief operating officer, acknowledged operational failures in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee. The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing Thursday on the operational meltdown that caused Southwest Airlines to cancel more than 16,000 flights in late December. Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s chief operating officer, apologized for the cancellations, which affected travel plans for about 2 million customers during a busy holiday season. “Let me be clear: We messed up,” Watterson said during his testimony, adding that the company is undergoing “a system-wide review of our preparedness for winter operations” to ensure such a meltdown does not happen again. Casey Murray, president of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said that “a cascade of events” contributed to a company-wide failure. “It was a failure, epically, from top to bottom,” Murray said in his testimony. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating whether Southwest engaged in “unrealistic scheduling of flights.” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who was not at the hearing, called the cancellations “unacceptable.”

 

Sean met us at the airport for our ride back to our condominium.  Overall, we had a great vacation.  In all honesty, it took us a few days to get over the time zone difference, and back into our normal ritual at home.

 

The good news is that our next trip to Hawaii takes place in April, with a stay in the San Francisco East Bay area again.  I have a trip to Cape Town, South Africa for a high school reunion at the beginning of March.