Friday, December 16, 2005

More LA Stories: 2005 (Prologue)

A little travellin’ music, please…
There are a lot of ways one can spend money. Unfortunately for people like me, when you don’t do a good job of choosing priorities, you often spend too much, and find yourself in a hole before you know it. Having fought for years through all of that, it’s pretty cool to see things from the opposite side of the equation. Not that we’re now rollin’ in the dough by any means, but in recent years Michelle and I have been in a decidedly more positive financial circumstance than had been the case for the vast majority of our lives together. It’s actually taken a little getting used to.

There are obviously a lot of nice things about being unencumbered by debt. However I was surprised to find that one of the best of those benefits was something I had never really thought about all that much while we were on the opposite side of the issue. It wasn’t exactly on the list of things I pined for in the old days; the years when I wondered what it would be like to experience 24 hours without my phone ringing off the hook, an endless parade of bill collectors waiting on the other end of the line, either to extract their pound of flesh or inject a ton of guilt into my already beleaguered psyche. Back in that godforsaken time in my life, when just looking forward to the day that junkmail would once again out-draw the number of bills in my mailbox seemed like the Impossible Dream.

No, for me, I’m happy to say, perhaps the most enjoyable perk of being essentially debt-free is the fact that I now finally have the means (relatively speaking) to travel more than once in a blue moon. Not that I necessarily wish to become some kind of globetrotter; I’m more than happy to just be able to see my family and my friends on a semi-regular basis.

The passing of my Step mom, Maxine, in 2000 slapped me in the face like a wet glove. The realization that my parents had actually become mortal, seemingly overnight caused me to see things from a much more proactive perspective. That impetus became even more pronounced two years later when my Dad, who had never even been diagnosed with high cholesterol before, suffered a minor, yet near-fatal heart attack, resulting in quintuple bypass heart surgery at the age of eighty.

At that point it became abundantly clear that it was time for me to wake up and smell the reality; my Dad was not going to be around forever, and seeing him once every two or three years was no longer acceptable. I decided that seeing him as often as is feasible was something I needed to make a priority in my life.

Michelle’s parents live relatively nearby in Florida, and she has always made seeing them a priority. Either she travels there or they come to spend a week or so with us, at least once a year. I figured it was time I did the same with my Dad.

My plan finally took flight in early 2004, when Michelle surprised me by saying she wanted to take a trip to SoCal as a belated celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary (in March). It would be the first time she’d been back to SoCal (or indicated that she even wanted to go) since we’d moved to Tennessee. I of course had been back several times on business, and most recently for Maxine’s funeral. But at that point it had been more than three years since I’d seen Dad and over two years since his heart attack). Needless to say I was eager to go.

That summer was also my 30th High School Class Reunion, and I had already been planning to attend that as well. So as it turned out I made two trips; one in May and the other in August, giving me the rare opportunity to see my Dad and his wife Helen twice in less than three months time.

I decided that twice a year would be my goal from that point forward. If I couldn’t pull it off, so be it, but I really wanted to try.

This past year I made only the single trip to California that is the subject of this series. Nonetheless I was able to see my Dad twice in 2005 because of the trip we together had taken in February, to Dallas to spend a few days with my brother Alex (something I haven’t written about but may at a later time). So now the pattern is somewhat in place. Twice a year, some way, somehow, I’m going to try to find a way to see my Pop twice a year, and I’ll continue to do so for as long as I have the opportunity.

But for as much as I love seeing my Dad, these frequent visits back to the SoCal homestead have provided an additional bonus. They’ve allowed me to reestablish familiarities with a few old and dear friends from my high school and college days, in addition to further cementing friendships with a couple more recent pals from Blogsville. A lot has changed since I lived in Southern California, but thanks to my friends, I really do feel as though I can go home again.

The title of this series is merely an update of the original from the 2004 trip, for which I owe a tip of the cap to Michael, who first gave me the idea. But I really need to offer my most special thanks to Aimee, who I had the extreme pleasure of meeting for the first time on this trip, and without whom much of this story would quite literally have never been written.

And I’ll explain that a bit later.

Next: Day One — Friday: Buddy, can ya spare a ride?
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