The Gosis’s Come to Town

Many of you may be wondering how Riley and my relationship has developed since we began this trip. It can’t be all roses, right? If you spend the majority of every second of 3 months together, there’s bound to be fights. Well, you’re right. As great as things are most of the time, we do occasionally bicker. For the most part, these are uneventful arguments that diffuse as quickly as they begin. A short debate about who should clean the dishes, perhaps. Or whether I need to drive more carefully. Nothing major. Around the beginning of March, the frequency of these small, meaningless arguments begins to increase. We just seem more irritable with each other. In the heat of the moment, this bothers me. But when calm, things are clear. For the first year and a half of our relationship, we’d see each other for a couple hours a day, a few times a week. Suddenly, we have no choice but to spend nearly every waking moment together. We don’t have our own apartment or our parent’s house to go back to where we can vent to the walls. If we want to be alone for a bit, well, we can’t.

After a week or so of discomfort, our pent up emotions culminate into a big fight. After the initial hours of anger and negativity pass, we talk. For the first time in a few weeks we REALLY talk. Riley tells me what’s been bothering her and I do the same. We hug and vow to be better. More importantly, we promise to talk to each other when we start feeling bothered by something. Thus, preventing a fight. Although uncomfortable at first, this is a necessary growing pain in a serious relationship. Things won’t always be wonderful. Even in the seemingly stress free environment of travel. Fights and disagreements are okay. It’s how you come out of them that define a healthy relationship.

On Thursday, March 19 my parents arrive in San Diego for their first time. Through the convenience of Air BNB they rent an apartment for $70 per day, less than a mile from Riley and my house. It’s too late for me to greet them tonight, but we make plans for the next day.

I roll into work at 9 a.m. on Friday. By noon I’m lying face down on a massage table receiving the deepest massage known to man. Oh, and did I mention this is my 3rd massage in as many weeks? Mike, the boss, treats his employees to Friday massages during tax season. Keith, with long, blonde surfer-kid hair and an envy-evoking bronze tan rolls in with his gear every Friday at noon and one by one we pile into the darkened conference room for 30 minutes of bliss.

Today, I’m having Keith work on my neck. While some people accumulate tension in their lower backs, shoulders or even stomachs, mine goes straight to the neck. “Tell me when I’m pressing too hard,” Keith says as he penetrates 2 inches deep into my neck muscles. “How’s that?” he asks.

“Fine,” I reply through mind-numbing pain.

Keith’s muscular fingers dig another inch deeper. “How about now?” he asks, excited for the challenge.

“You can’t marry him. I already called dibs,” Cathy, the fit woman working the front desk, says upon my exit from the conference room.

Feeling overly relaxed, I struggle being productive the next two hours. At 2:30 p.m. my phone rings. “We’re downstairs,” my dad says. I descend the one flight of stairs to my smiling parents and my too-cool-to-smile brother. One by one I hug them. My dad, excited about seeing his “hippie son,” storms me and kisses me on the cheek. I scan my family up and down. My mom and dad have been living a much healthier lifestyle these past few months and the results are noticeable. My dad’s beer belly has all but disappeared and my mom looks ready to run a half marathon. My brother, lingering in the background, seems to have gained an inch or two and maybe a tad bit of muscle, but aside from that appears the same. Still a little squirt who I’m going to crush in tennis.

And two hours later I do exactly that. 6 – 3, 6 – 2 is the score as big brother prevails.

Still tired from the previous night’s flight and from the emotional roller coaster of watching their two sons battle it out on the tennis court, my parents suggest we take it easy tonight. Upon arriving at home, I whip up some tasty tacos while my dad pops open a bottle of red. We watch sports and eat, just like the good ol’ days in South Florida. For desert we have a mouth-watering raspberry fruitcake. My mom, clearly not adjusted to west coast time, struggles to keep her eyes open so we call it a night.

The weekend is here and we’re on our way to Marina and Dima’s house. This married couple is a family friend of ours, who settled in SoCal over two decades ago. They live in San Marcos and know San Diego like the back of their hand. Today they’ll be taking my family, Riley and me on a tour of everything worth seeing in a day. We begin with a vintage Russian breakfast. Russian cottage cheese pancakes, fruits, cheeses and sweets go from table to mouth.

Riley, my brother and I slide into Dima’s car while my parents join Marina in hers. We drive through San Marcos and into Carlsbad, all the while listening to Dima describe the past and present of this scenic city. In Carlsbad we walk along the coast and admire our surroundings while drinking naturally alkaline water. Next stop, La Jolla. While I’ve been here many times, Marina and Dima’s tour encompasses the aspects I’ve yet to see. La Jolla Cove is filled with climbable rocks and sea lion fun. Children’s Beach is filled with more sea lions and their adorable offspring. The occasional sea lion, tired of basking in the San Diego sun, bounces on its tummy towards the water to cool off. Pelicans, Cormorants and gulls hang out with their mammalian friends in between flights in search of fish. We then walk through a serene coastal park before trudging through Prospect Street, lined with shops too expensive for my taste, and budget.

Back in the car, we drive south to Coronado, an island I’ve already spent a handful of days on. It’s not a trip to Coronado without a walk through Hotel Del. We feast on Mexican food, before getting back in the car and heading to Sea Breeze Village. After rising to the top floor of the Hyatt and snapping a stunning panorama picture, Riley, my brother and I depart from the crew and head home. A fantasy baseball draft needs attending to.

Sunday is my day to scout the San Diego Zoo. “Happy Birthday, mom,” I say, handing my mother a coupon for 50% off admission.

“My birthday gift is a coupon?” my mom asks, half laughing and half in shock.

We stalk the walkways filled with cages and animals. While seeing hippos and polar bears is awesome, I can’t help but feel sorry for these trapped animals. Nonetheless, the zoo lives up to its hype. The 4 hours we spend here is not enough to capture everything this place has to offer.

We shower, change and head to dinner in La Jolla where we meet with the very same relatives I met for the first time a few weeks earlier. Now it’s my family and Riley’s turn to meet them. The cuisine is Italian, and the bread and olive oil dip is to die for. Yet, the veal meatball pasta is even better.

After work on Monday, I take my parents to some of my favorite nature spots. A windy day results in skies filled with paragliders at Torrey Pines. We hike the half mile down to Black’s Beach while massive winged men and women fly above us. We stand around the beach for a while, talking and attempting not to stare at the swinging genitalia surrounding us. After three quarters of an hour standing in the sand and unable to convince my brother to play Frisbee with a particularly agile nude man, we decide to head back up.

The evening is capped off at Sunset Cliffs, where the sunset is as advertised.

Tonight, I cook. Steaks, potatoes and asparagus are on the menu. I recently mastered the art of frying steaks. And tonight I get to flaunt my skill. Taking a break from his beloved cell phone, my brother helps me prepare the food. After filling the apartment with just the right amount of smoke and flavor we sit down to eat. To my delight, the crew adores the meal.

Tuesday night is dedicated to exploring North Park. Exploring is a relative term. We walk slightly less than a mile to Underbelly, where we eat, and then another half mile to Mike Hess Brewing, where we drink. A complimentary beer glass in hand, I lead the family and girlfriend back to our apartment.

Wednesday morning my parents leave for Huntington Beach while I prepare tax returns. After work I head straight to Colina Del Sol park, where I face off against my tennis-foe, Nick, in the semi-finals of the San Diego Tennis League. Unlike our last matchup, I win, earning a spot in the finals. Thank you little brother for warming me up with a few practice matches this week.

I wake up bright and early Thursday with one thought on my mind. Drone. Today marks a monumental day in the history of Sky Vision Studios – our first 4 figure client engagement. I hop in Riley’s car and drive the 2 hours northeast to Idyllwild. I cruise along scenic, curving mountain roads passing cacti and succulents. By 9 a.m. I’m filming. Our client, Jay, has asked me to film his creek, which he intends to sell to the government. The intention is for the government to transform this 2 mile stretch of flowing water into a hiking/walking trail for the elderly and young. I spend the next 7 hours crawling through shrubs, walking through shallow water and avoiding mounds of poison ivy while filming Strawberry Creek, the surrounding town and county parks. Aside from slipping and slamming my shin against a rock, I come out mostly unscathed.

In typical Misha fashion I arrive home later than planned. I have 20 minutes to pack, drive to the train station and catch the Pacific Surfliner heading to Santa Ana. This is where Riley, my savior, gets clutch. She prepares dinner for me, purchases and prints my train ticket and damn near packs my bags for me. All I have to do is throw in a couple random items into my backpack and hop in the car. Riley drops me off at the Old Town Train station with 3 minutes to spare. Burrito still dripping from the corners of my mouth I hop on the train. That wasn’t stressful or anything.

I’m greeted by my parents in Santa Ana. The next day we head to Los Angeles, a city I don’t particularly like. It’s just, the three times I’ve been to this City of Angels, I didn’t get the greatest vibe. People seemed distant and self-interested. The streets seemed dirty and uncared for. Something just felt…off. However, this time the day starts off pretty good. We walk through Chinatown and then Koreatown. We eat some scrumptious Korean lunch and feel refreshed. We leave the restaurant and head to the car…

…It’s gone. No freaking way. No way did another vehicle I was acquainted with get towed. How were four people who had never seen a parking lot with less than 100 available spots supposed to know that when a meter reads “meter parking until 4 p.m.” it means that all cars parked after 4 p.m. will be towed. Riley and I saw a very similar sign in San Diego which signified free parking after 4 p.m. That’s L.A. for ya.

A Lyft ride and a $400 tow charge later we head to Hollywood. The walk among the stars does us some good and our moods are elevated. 2 hours later we arrive at Borya’s house. Borya and my dad have been friends since their births. A mere 6 months apart in age, they’ve spent many a day together back in Russia and a few more here in the States. But now they live far away. In fact, this is their first reunion in nearly 6 years. Borya’s 8 year old son, named Misha like me, and Borya’s beautiful wife, Anastasia, greet us. We chat for a bit while dinner is being prepared. A wine connoisseur and a courteous host, Borya whips out 4 of his finest bottles of wine. “Now you must try this 3rd wine with the New York Strip,” he says as my dad forks a one and half inch thick slab of meat onto his plate.

“I will. Let me just finish this glass,” my dad says, motioning to the ‘2nd wine’ he’s been sipping on. “It’s delicious.”

Borya reaches over the table, snags my dad’s glass of wine by the stem and makes a thrusting motion to his right. The blood-red liquid splatters all over the patio wall and grass. He then calmly reaches for the 3rd bottle of wine and pours my dad a glass. “Now try it,” he says.

The walkie talkie sitting beside Anastasia begins to whimper. The whimper soon becomes a full blown cry. The caring mother rushes to a bedroom and soon walks out with a 2 month old baby in her arms. This is Sasha, the new born. This adorable bundle of joy has the same name as my brother.

The next morning we munch on eggs and pack our bags. My family and I load up the rental car while Borya and his son hop into Borya’s sports car. Off we go to Beverly Hills. We traverse the hilly streets boasting affluent homes, before parking and exploring the Graystone Manor. We transition to Rodeo Drive, where we walk among the richest in the country. Rolls-Royces are the norm here, with a handful of Lamborghini’s and Ferraris speckled throughout. Gucci and Rolex are of the most inexpensive brands in the area. My wide-eyed brother envisions a lifestyle in which he can afford such riches.

The crew drives to Pasadena where they stride through the center of the city while I await a Lyft ride to the Glendale train station. Once again I arrive at the station with less than a handful of minutes to spare. I recline in my comfy Pacific Surfliner seat and read my book of the week, Replay, while hopeful party-goers en route to San Diego load onto the train at various stations. A March full of new jobs, cleanses, fights and family members has come to an end. Onto April.

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Bridges, Hills and Towed Vehicles – San Francisco

I’m amid a wonderful dream about cookie dough when the upwards tilt of the car suddenly jolts me awake. I open my eyes to the sight of an endlessly steep hill, upon which our car is ascending. Before me, all I see is black asphalt and blue sky. We must be in San Francisco, I conclude.

Misha sits behind the wheel, calmly staring ahead of him He casually turns his head to the right, in the direction of a frantically pedaling biker riding alongside. After letting the biker pass the intersection, Misha turns right. Sparkling blue water is within view. We continue straight on the road, until turning onto another road, running along the coast. To the right are piers. We search for Pier 33. Not willing to pay the $25 parking, we backtrack a few blocks. We park our car beside Pier 19/21 and walk the quarter mile to Pier 33, where our tour commences. At 1pm, we follow the crowd loading onto the ferry. Minutes later, our boat departs to Alcatraz Island. A brief 1.5 mile sail later, we dock on the island, often known as “the rock.” Alcatraz Island was initially developed for military purposes, housing, among other things, a lighthouse and a military prison. More than half a century later, the facility evolved into a federal penitentiary, holding some of the most notorious criminals in American history, including Al Capone, Robert Stroud (known as the Birdman of Alcatraz), and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

We descend the 2 story ferry onto the island’s shore. Above us stands a massive rectangular prison, made completely of rock. Misha and I decide to take an audio tour. The creepy voices of former prison guards and prisoners, the obnoxious slamming of cell doors and the deafening screeches during food riots fill our headphones as the narrators details what life was like in the prison. I listen in awe to tales of escape from this impenetrable prison. The chillness of the air and somber lightening cast a creepy ambiance. I am thankful that Misha is beside me to quiet my fears. After exiting the prison, Misha and I explore the rest of the island, including a nature trail and a scenic view of the foggy San Francisco skyline. A quarter after four we board the ferry and position ourselves at the head of the boat, in perfect view of the sun setting on the city.

With rumbling stomachs, we decide to have a cultural meal in Chinatown.. The voyage to get there consists of steep hills and even steeper stairs. After a 2 mile walk, I am relieved to see Chinese lanterns and foreign symbols hanging from buildings. The recognizable English chatter is replaced with a language I can’t understand. We pass markets filled with large amounts of meat, unique fruits and cheap souvenirs. We select one of many restaurants and fill up on tea, sweet and sour soup, dumplings, egg rolls, rice, chicken and unappetizing beef. As we are about to exit this ethnic area, a tea shop catches our eye. We splurge on bags full of Puerh and Blue tea, famous for their digestive and relaxant benefits, and a tea pot. Our wallets a few bills lighter, Misha and I continue strolling through Chinatown, where we encounter some, well, interesting characters. One man stands on a deserted staircase, eyes closed and singing to no one in particular. His broomstick serves as a microphone. Across the street a man laughs wildly to himself, before huffing and puffing like a tired dog. We walk another block, where we encounter a woman screaming at her cheating lover, loud enough for the next city’s Chinatown to hear. We pass strip clubs with large bouncers and hefty dancers and entire pig carcasses roasting in windows. Ready for some normalcy, Misha and I walk back to our car. Key in the ignition and we’re off to Sunnyvale, where Misha’s friend, Laxman, lives. This will be our home for the next 3 nights.

We wake up and get dressed for our first full day in the city on the bay. Thinking we’d save a few bucks on gas, Misha and I take the train to San Francisco. Unexpectedly, the commute takes 2 hours. And even then, we’re 5 miles from where we want to be – Golden Gate Park. Desiring some exercise, I don’t mind making this walk. Plus, walking is an awesome way to explore a city. We pass palm trees, ascend and descend hills, and admire various forms of architecture. Midway through our trek, we arrive at the city hall and take a few minutes to admire its tall arched ceilings and long hallways before continuing. Over an hour after departing on this walk, or should I say trek, we arrive at the colorful intersection of Haight and Ashbury. Barefoot individuals boasting dreads and appearing not to have showered in weeks flood the sidewalks. The first man we encounter offers us weed, as he holds the leash of his curious dog.

“No, thank you,” we tell him.

The street is lined with every tie-dye item imaginable, smoking devices of all shapes and sizes, and replicated Tibetan clothing At the end of this street rests Golden Gate Park. It only took 90% of the day’s sunlight, but we’ve arrived. Given the soon approaching darkness, Misha and I go on a short walk through the park, aiming for the De Young museum. We walk on green grass, pass numerous sports fields and trails and encounter more hippies, before arriving at the museum, only to find out that the exhibit is closed for the day. Needless to say, we’ll be taking our car tomorrow.

Tomorrow comes and we head to Twin Peaks, a pair of hills measuring 925 feet in elevation. We climb to the top of one of the hills, not knowing if it’s the South or North peak, and snap a few photos of the city off in the distance. Satisfied, we drive to the world famous, Golden Gate Bridge. We hike to a pier to eat lunch and admire this impressive 2-mile long masterpiece. After snapping nearly 100 photos, I understand why this is the most photographed bridge in the world. I even convince unusually brave birds to take photos with me and the bridge by bribing them with bread crumbs.. Not having gotten our bridge fix for the day, we head to the Bay Bridge, connecting San Francisco and Oakland. This bridge is one of the longest in the United States and utilizes a double suspension and two decks. We cross the lower deck and arrive at Treasure Island to watch the sunset over the city. Since Misha is taking the California Basic Educational Skills (CBEST) Exam at 7:30 the next morning, we smartly agree to conclude our adventure for the day. We cross the bridge again, this time along the more scenic upper deck, before heading back to Sunnyvale.

After an unusual, good night’s rest, I wake up refreshed. Misha is already in the city taking his exam so I hop on the train to meet him once he’s done. After an hour of anxiously waiting to hear from Misha, I receive a text from an unfamiliar phone number. It’s Misha, informing me that the car got towed, and that his phone is inside the car. While Misha retrieves our vehicle, I do a bit of shopping on Market Street. Shortly after 3 pm he grumpily picks me up. As it turns out, Misha parked the car along a curb, with about two inches of the front bumper leaning into a driveway. The grumpy old lady living in the house took it upon herself to call the tow company. Misha knocked on the door to inquire why the woman felt the need to have the car towed. Her response was short and rude. She proceeded to close the door in Misha’s face. This resulted in a 2 hour bus ride, a 45 minute walk, and a $700 ticket.

My heart wants to stop by the woman’s house and yell at her. But my mind knows not to. So instead we head to the Land’s End National park; a windy and rocky shoreline at the mouth of the Golden Gate straight. We sit along the edge of the Sutro bath ruins and peaceful watch another graceful sunset while listening to crashing waves below us. Our moods are lifted as we soak in the beauty.

Tonight we’re going to celebrate Laxman’s birthday. But first, some grub. We stop at Fisherman’s Wharf, a flashy tourist trap, near Pier 39. We purchase some delicious crab, and stop by Gharidella Square for some free chocolate before heading to the party. We meet Laxman at his friend’s apartment, where the festivities are just beginning. We are surrounded by intelligence and enjoyable conversation as most of Laxman’s friends work for Google and Apple. We discuss careers and travels before singing Happy Birthday to a stumbling birthday boy and heading to the bars. We bar-hop along Poke street before heading back to Sunnyvale. A good night’s rest is in the works in preparation for tomorrow’s drive.