Once Bijou and her people hooked up with Elizabeth and her people, our first stop was a candy store called Candy Heaven (do not go to "candyheaven.com"!). As Michael noticed, there's almost nothing but candy stores there. And they were making money hand over fist. Michael was, as usual, smarter and more disciplined than I was, limiting his daughter to just $5 worth. I think Elizabeth cost me $12 in candy before we got out of there.
When Greg and June joined us, they wanted to stop for ice cream. Elizabeth got one, too. Like I've said, whatever she wanted, she pretty much got on this trip. Spoiled, I know, but she was actually very well behaved most of the time, and we were on vacation, so I didn't mind spoiling her a little.
For dinner, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant across the street from some sports bar. As we ate, I realized the sports bar across the way was the one in which a couple of innocent men were murdered. I just happened to read about it online while researching things to do in Sacramento. Being murdered was not on my list. What happened was some guy accidentally spilled his beer on a girl. The girl turned out to be a local gangster's girlfriend. An argument broke out, the bouncer stepped in, and at some later point two gangsters shot both the beer-spiller and the bouncer, dead. The story I'd read was about the conviction of the girlfriend, the one who insisted on the shooting. For spilling a beer! Psycho b****!
Anyway, I was in the middle of recounting that story, and had just said the words "...the guy spilled his beer ..." when Elizabeth next to me dumped her large raspberry fruit tea onto the floor. She mostly missed Bijou and herself. Everyone, Greg especially, was amazed at the timing of it all.
With the sun about to set, Michael said they "had a plane to catch," so everyone said their goodbyes. We ended up walking alongside each other for another block, though, feeling awkward because, like, we had already said our goodbyes, and yet, here we were just walking along. Eventually, it really was time to say goodbye, so Elizabeth and I walked back to Don's hotel to get Dad's car. Elizabeth wanted to go swimming and Don's hotel just happened to have a pool.
It was almost dark by the time we changed clothes back in our room and returned to the pool. Much too cool outside for swimming, but we swam, anyway. We should have first jumped into the main pool and gotten used to that. But, we hit the hot tub first, warmer than most baths, which made the main pool even harder to take. After all the walking I'd been doing all day, I really didn't want to get out of that whirlpool. It felt nice to just float a while. But Elizabeth was insistent. She was going swimming with or without me.
The main pool was heated, but not nearly enough. We did eventually get used to it, but I kept everything below my neck underwater to avoid the wind. Turns out, Elizabeth had learned more at last summer's YMCA swim lessons than I realized. She never got any sort of certificate, but in the pool now she was doing pretty well. She demonstrated, for example, how the "doggie paddle" only works for dogs. When a person does it, they sink. She did the American crawl, too, though she didn't know its name. She went underwater often, which I never like, but she said she needed to practice holding her breath. I was thinking she could do that in the tub at home, but I let her do it. I was right there to pull her out, if necessary.
Early Sunday morning, Doug drove me, Elizabeth, Milan and Natalia to the airport and just dumped us there. I don't know why! But seriously, that's where I picked up my rental car. From there, in a shiny new "mid-sized sedan" Chrysler 200, we drove 2½ hours north to Jeannie's ranch in Cottonwood.
By the time we got there, I was very happy to be pulling into Jeannie's driveway! She and her grandkids Shayden and Skyla were out in one of the paddocks preparing the horses and saddles. Tiffany was off at one of her other jobs. David was in the house, sick. Matt was around somewhere, probably lurking, waiting to sneak in to my rental car and smoke cigarettes! Inside joke. Milan had expressed concern that Matt might do that despite explicit instructions from the man behind the car rental counter that this was a non-smoking car.
We all rode horses. As I told Jeannie, I'm not a very good rider. I can see where it might take a while to get it right. All of the kids did much better, even Elizabeth, who hasn't ridden a horse in half a lifetime. She's a natural. Other than Shayden, who lives there, Natalia seemed to be the most accomplished rider. When it came time for "vaulting," Natalia showed them all how it was done. She had me take pictures and video of that with her own camera. Even Milan stood up on the horse's back this time.
Of course, Elizabeth had to outdo all of her cousins by switching from riding sidesaddle, to riding backwards, to riding normal again, spinning around in the special "saddle" while the horse was moving (with Jeannie walking the horse).
Before the vaulting, Elizabeth rode Linear (who she kept calling Lanier) most of the time and displayed great skill from the start. I was very proud. What made me even more proud came later when the horse, Girl, started trotting before Elizabeth (wearing a helmet) was ready. I was on Linear at the time, just behind them, and I somehow suddenly knew exactly how to ride a horse. I kicked Linear and got her into a lope to catch Elizabeth's "runaway" horse. Elizabeth was holding on tight with one hand on the saddle horn and the other hand on the back of the saddle, that ridge that keeps your butt in place, just as Jeannie had instructed. It was over pretty quickly as Girl stopped upon reaching the other horses tied to the rail, awaiting their turn to be ridden. It scared Elizabeth, making her cry, but she handled it very well.
After the riding, we all went down to the creek just to get wet. Natalia was kicking herself for not bringing a swimsuit, but no one actually swam. Elizabeth and Skyla stripped down to their underwear to play in the water. Shayden couldn't because he wasn't wearing underwear, and nobody wants to see that.
Back at the house, I helped Jeannie get her main computer back online. We had more of those deli sandwiches Michael and Evelyn had donated to Jeannie. Jeannie and Matt were fantastic hosts. We had to leave much too soon.
Back in Sacramento
We were all hanging out in Dad's room when Doug arrived to pick up his kids. Milan asked to borrow my rental car keys to retrieve the things he'd left in the trunk. With Doug promising to accompany them, I relinquished my keys to Elizabeth. She wanted to unlock the car. She's got a thing for keys. With just me and Dad left in the room, I was trying to print my boarding passes for the next morning when I heard a car alarm go off. I guessed it was my rental car. When it didn't shut off soon enough, I set my computer down, muttered under my breath, and went to see what the matter was. Doug was with them, and if even he couldn't shut it off, there must be a problem.
By the time I got down there, the alarm had stopped and only Doug and Milan remained. Doug stood next to the driver's door, the opposite side from which I was coming. His body language and position made it look like he was trying to break into the car; as if using a coat hanger to unlock the door. I'm thinking, "Oh great, they've locked the keys in the car!" But no, he was simply putting the key in the lock. It just looked weird, for some reason.
I learned later that while I was in one elevator going down, Elizabeth and Natalia were in the other elevator going up. I also learned that it was Elizabeth who set off the alarm. I still don't understand how she did it because all she did was try to unlock the door with the key in instead of the remote. What made me laugh was when I heard that as soon as the alarm went off, Elizabeth took off running ... with the keys! Doug couldn't shut off the alarm because Elizabeth had the keys!
We said goodbye to Dad before bedtime because we would be waking up so early for our 6:15 flight. I set the alarm clock for 4:15 but the trash collectors in the alley the next morning thought 3:30 would be even better. I let Elizabeth sleep another half hour.
Once awake, I suggested she take a shower because she hadn't taken one the night before. She instead opted to keep sleeping, and I let her. We'd been riding horses and in the creek the day before, but she never got particularly dirty.
We had a three-hour layover in L.A. Our first stop at LAX was the Mattel Store. I didn't let her buy anything, insisting that she can find all that stuff for half those prices in a regular toy store.
We walked all over not just our terminal, but the two neighboring terminals, killing time. I was getting a workout because, other than a brief ride on one of those passenger-carrier golf carts, I was carrying all of our luggage everywhere. During this wandering, we passed by a particularly busy security checkpoint. I noticed that the only people I saw selected for "enhanced" screening just happened to be attractive young females. Just a coincidence, I'm sure. :)
Once we had retired to the waiting area at our gate, a flustered, agitated, gray-haired man and his self-absorbed teenage son practically pushed Elizabeth out of her seat as they sat next to her (I had remained standing) to plug in and recharge their iPads and iPhones. Feeling a bit hurried, pushed and prodded myself throughout this weekend's airport experiences, I said to Elizabeth while making sure the man and his son heard me, "You just sit where you are, Elizabeth. Don't let these people push you out of your seat." The man apologized without hesitation, as if he's used to apologizing: "I'm sorry if we seemed pushy, it was not our intent."
I soon realized why he seemed so used to apologizing. His son was apparently autistic or somehow otherwise "challenged." The poor man had his hands full. I felt like an ass for reacting the way I did, but by then we had moved to another spot to get away from the sun shining through the skylight, making us both hot and causing a glare on Elizabeth's player's screen as she tried to play a game.
In the Nashville airport, we had to kill more time because Tara was unable to leave work early to pick us up. I told her not to worry; Elizabeth and I were now experts at killing time in airports. At one point Elizabeth wanted to buy, with her own money, a guitar-shaped alarm clock in one of the gift shops. "Elizabeth," I said, "do you really need a guitar-shaped alarm clock?" She reluctantly agreed, and set it back down.
We stopped at a Wendy's in the food court. At the table next to us, with a huge trophy on the floor standing almost as tall as me, there were several kids watching two of their friends engaged in an impromptu chess match. Among their group was that autistic kid from LAX. He's in a chess club? I guess he's some sort of savant.
To sum up: It was great to see everyone again; I love my daughter, but hate airports; my Dad is amazing and has been for 94 years; and Elizabeth is brilliant and sure to be a huge success whatever she does. I think that about says it all.
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