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California, How Do I Love Thee?

My wife and I dropped down into the Sacramento airport Thursday, May 2, at 8:00 p.m.  When you fly as much as we do, you get to experience a wide range of customer service on Delta, our airline of choice. We’ve seen it all, from barely edible airline food to surly, unmotivated flight attendants to pilots that abort multiple landings at our home airport when the fog is too thick and then fly us back to Atlanta where we are told we can spend the night sleeping at the gate while waiting for a flight the next morning but instead of sleeping in chairs we decide to book a room and then get scammed by a fake Uber driver who charges us $60 for a one-minute ride to a fleabag airport hotel where we get three hours of sleep before heading back to the airport at 6:00 o’clock the next morning. (I guess that’s better than crashing nose first into the tarmac.)

On our flight from Minneapolis to Sacramento, we hit the customer service jackpot! We had two of the happiest, funniest, most attentive flight attendants we’ve ever seen, one male and one female. As an added bonus, the meal in 1st Class, a chicken/cheese ravioli, was more than just edible. It was delicious! We had great service from wheels up to wheels down. All the people in our section were laughing and joking with these two throughout the flight. As we were about to deplane, the male flight attendant named Roman handed each of us a handwritten card thanking us for flying in his section. Everyone walked off the plane smiling. Great beginning to a two week trip! California, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

 

It’s not because of the traffic. Traffic out here is awful. The Interstate 80/580/680 corridors that crisscross Northern California from the Bay Area to Sacramento can be a nightmare, especially on weekends. Even with four and five-lane roads, going north on 680 through Walnut Creek and then heading north on 80 toward Lake Tahoe you might as well be sitting in a parking lot. The volume of traffic defies description. Why can’t some of these people just stay home already? It’s legal for motorcycles to split lanes, so not only do you have to watch out for vehicles of all shapes and sizes ripping around at 85 m.p.h., you have to watch for motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. It’s a miracle more of those helmetless riders don’t get sandwiched between vehicles.

It’s not because of the gas prices. Gas prices out here are ridiculous. I had rented a midsize car for this trip. Think Toyota Corolla. 15-day car rentals aren’t cheap. On the way to the car rental building my son texted me. “Hey, dad, did you get a car with a third row?  If not, we’re going to have to take two vehicles everywhere we go.”

 

I got to the Enterprise counter. First thing I said to the guy was, “I gotta say, over the past few years, your company’s customer service has been nothing short of outstanding.”

 

He looked up, smiled and said, “Well, thanks! They hire good people.”

 

Then I got to the heart of the matter. “Do you have any bigger cars? Something with a third row?”

 

He clickity-clacked on his keyboard and said, “We have a bunch of minivans and a 2024 Ford Expedition.”

 

“How much for the Expedition?” I asked.

 

He clickity-clacked some more. “It would be $234 extra.”

 

At first I thought he meant $234 extra per day. But then he said, “That’s for the entire length of the trip.”

 

“Are you serious?” I said. “Book it!”

 

That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: Gas costs $5.69 a gallon here in Northern California. We drove 160 miles round trip on Saturday to watch our granddaughter play volleyball. Burned half a tank of gas. Cost me $79.52 to fill ‘er back up. Sunday, we drove 240 miles round trip to Chico to celebrate Easter with our extended Greek by marriage family. Cost me $93.50 to fill ‘er back up. Monday my wife and I drove 398 miles round trip to a little town in central Cali called Selma for a business event. This fill ‘er up is really going to sting. Come on! I remember when gas used to be 24 cents a gallon!



It’s not because of the high taxes or the politicians or the threat of wildfires and earthquakes.Well, what brings you to California then?” one might ask.

 

“It’s the people who live here,” I would answer.

 

My youngest brother, Pete, moved to California in 1998. He graduated from Mankato State University in 1997 with a degree in education. He had a stellar college career, and by stellar I mean he never opened a book. One night he called me at 11:30 p.m.. He sounded panicky. “What’s going on?” I said.

 

“Well, I have a 10-page paper due at 8:00 o’clock tomorrow morning and I haven’t started writing it! I don’t even have a topic!”

 

“You’re a knucklehead," I said. "It’s almost midnight. I’m going to bed. You might have to find an old encyclopedia and copy something. Good luck.”

 

Somehow he managed to graduate. The market for teachers in Minnesota the next year was tight and he was unable to find a job. He spent a year as a substitute teacher, which is a wretched way to make a living. His college roommate was from Northern California. The next summer he called Pete and said, “Why don’t you come out to Cali? There are plenty of teaching jobs out here.”

 

With nothing to lose, Pete packed a suitcase and put all his other earthly belongings in a few boxes and loaded his car. He drove out to Norseland to say goodbye to mom and dad and headed west like some giddy prospector looking for gold. On the drive out, he called a couple of contacts in the school district of Hayward, just outside the beautiful metropolis of Oakland. By the time he got to California, he had a job teaching elementary physical education to kids in grades 1-6 and coaching high school basketball, the perfect job for somebody who’s never read a book. He’s been there now for 26 years, and as he likes to say, “I play kickball for a living.”



Our oldest son, Jonathan, was 27 years old, enjoying the single life. He had moved to Austin, Texas, and was living with a high school buddy of his while working in the restaurant industry. We had friends in Fairfield, CA, who had a daughter named Jorgi. She had gone through a divorce and was raising two daughters by herself. Our daughter thought that she and Jonathan would be a good match and told him as much. When he found out she had two kids, he pushed back. His sister railed on him saying, “You love kids! You know you’d be a great dad!” When he saw some pictures of her, he had a quick change of heart. They connected via Facebook and fell in love over the phone.

 

We were on a company trip at the time. My wife and Jorgi’s mom were giddy with excitement. “They’re going to get married, I just know it!” they’d both say.

 

“You do realize they haven’t even met yet, right?” I calmly reminded them.

 

“Oh, they’re going to get married!” was the reply in stereo.

 

Long story short, they were right. They met shortly thereafter and got married the next spring. They still live in Vacaville and are raising three beautiful daughters. It remains the primary reason we make multiple trips out here.

California, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

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Liz Nitardy
Liz Nitardy
09 de mai.

You had me at the delicious run-on sentence in the first paragraph. I love your writing style, Dan. It's good. And real. ❤️

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