Wild Bison, Death and Angels (Part 2)

An Elantra, having seen many better days, pulls up to the curb outside its owners’ apartment building.

“What’s up bro?” Josh shouts, jumping out of his car.

“Hey,” I mumble, exhausted.

It’s past midnight, and Riley and I have been awake since the Catalina sunrise 17 hours prior.

Riley and I grab a few essentials out of the car before shuffling upstairs to the familiar 2nd-story apartment. We take turns showering, leaving a thick layer of grime on the bottom of Josh’s bathtub. Our skin appearing 8 shades lighter, Riley and I plop down on our inflated air mattress, centered in Josh’s living room, and shut our eyes for the night.

In the morning I get a chance to speak with the newest resident of Josh’s apartment, Buckwheat. Buckwheat, a fellow hip-hop artists, recently replaced Dustin as Josh’s roommate. While I try not to judge, I don’t get the greatest vibes from Buckwheat. Beside the fact that he hasn’t paid Josh a dime for rent, Buckwheat has been generously offering Josh’s apartment as a party and sleeping pad for all his “homies.”

Shortly after noon, Riley and I are back on the road. Our next stop is Death Valley National Park. After leaving the city, the roads free up significantly. We pass desert and more desert. The towns become smaller, as do the gas prices. As per usual, Riley’s eyes swiftly close and the sound of her breathing intensifies. This gives me time to relax and let my thoughts flow freely. Crap, I think to myself. Tonight’s the fight. While having had my phone on airplane mode for the past two days, I completely lost contact with the outside world. As a result, I nearly forgot about the Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather fight taking place tonight. This is the Fight of the Century, for goodness sake.

“We need to find a town between here and Death Valley,” I tell a newly awaken Riley.

After explaining the situation, I pull the car over and allow Riley to take the wheel while I search my phone for a sports bar televising the fight. Being nearly 200 miles away from Death Valley, you’d think it’d be a piece of cake to find a suitor, right? Wrong. Only two, somewhat prominent towns remain along this route. I call every bar within both towns to no avail. Half of these so-called-bar-employees don’t even know who Floyd Mayweather is. After exhausting nearly every option Google has to offer, I’m referred to Tommy T’s in Ridgecrest, CA.

We arrive a few hours before the fight. With time to kill, Riley and I meander through the streets of this tiny town. A Rite-aid and a closed-down Wendy’s make up the highlights. “Why don’t you get your hair cut here?” I ask Riley, pointing to a narrow building with the words “Hair Salon” hand-painted in an arch along the glass window. Riley had mentioned needing a haircut quite a few times over the past month or so.

“You think it’ll be good?” she asks.

I peer through the window at the upright woman with straight, black hair hovering over a young male with spikey hair. She snips at his mane with elegance and precision. “Yeah,” I reply. “It’s just a trim, right?”

$15 and 8 freak outs later, Riley has “the worst haircut of [her] life.”

We take our time walking the span of the town (2 blocks) from the hair salon to Tommy T’s. We take a seat at a high top table positioned in the center of the half-empty bar and attempt to track down a waitress. We finally get the attention of a woman, appearing in her early 40’s, with greasy highlighted hair, thick red lipstick pasted on her displeased facade, and a splash of belly protruding from beneath her Tommy T’s tanktop.

“Ya?” she asks, looking around the shop, as if she’d rather be anywhere rather than beside our table.

“Can we get a menu?” I ask.

Stranger words have never been uttered here. “A what?” the woman asks.

“A menu. For food,” I respond, confused by the confusion.

“We don’t have that,” the woman responds, smirking.

“Is there anything to eat here?”

“Nah,”: she says, taking a step away from the table. She stops mid stride and looks up to the ceiling, as if attempting to remember a long-forgotten lyric. “Actually, yeah. We got some food out back. We got wings, a cheeseburger and chicken fingers. Which ya want?”

An image of the feast ahead of us nearly makes me change my mind about dinner. But my rumbling stomach says otherwise. “I’ll take the chicken fingers,” I say. And Riley orders the wings. We also order a pitcher of Blue Moon for $4.95 (now that’s a deal)!

The fight is, well, not that great. Considering these guys are making hundreds of thousands of dollars for every second they stand in the ring, you’d expect a bit more. Pacquiao wins a round or two, but Mayweather is clearly the conqueror. The most entertaining part of the night is watching the crowd. The man sitting beside me, appearing in his 60’s (but likely only 40), ceaselessly curses at the television. “Fuck you, Tom Brady,” he shouts through his two remaining teeth. What Tom Brady has to do with this fight, aside from viewing it from the second row of the MGM Grand, I cannot tell you. The angered man begins to convulse manically as he slams the table with his fist and curses under his breath, “fucking Tom Brady.” His son, appearing to be a miniature version of his father, turns to face his ol’ man. Anger filling this young boy’s face, he harmonizes his fathers distaste, “I can’t stand that mother fucker. Get that fucker off the screen.” Just when I thought this family’s dynamic couldn’t get any more odd, the man’s daughter (who I had previously mistaken to be his wife), with wild eyes and maroon hair down to her hips, begins to openly flirt with the 40-something year old Native American man sitting at our table. With the fight having ended and Riley and I not wanting to witness what may or may not happen between these folk, we leave the bar.

“That sure was interesting,” I say to Riley a few minutes after getting into the car. No response. Riley’s asleep.

We whirl and twirl along pitch-dark roads for the next two hours. About 30 miles from our campsite, I pull the car over to use nature’s facilities. Holy hell, it’s hot, I think to myself the moment my body makes contact with the outside air. I return to my vehicle and check the thermometer. 98 degrees. And the time? 11:30 p.m. Welcome to Death Valley.

Shortly after midnight, we arrive in the accurately named, Furnace Creek Campsite. I set up the tent without the rain cover. A) it doesn’t rain here. And B) we need to keep things as cool as possible tonight. Not bothering to take our blanket out of the car, Riley and I attempt to sleep. We wake up constantly, drenched in sweat. Each time I wake up I take a sip of water from my gallon jug. By the time the sun rises, there’s barely any water left.

Today’s our one full day in Death Valley National Park. First matter of business is more water. We gather all the empty water bottles we can scavenge and fill them with tap water. We then purchase another gallon from the general store, for safe measure. We climb into our car and head to Badwater Basin. Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, with an elevation of 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. Interestingly enough, Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the north west.

Badwater Basin consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water,” formed by the accumulation of salts from the surrounding basin. The salts make this water undrinkable, thus giving it the name. Despite the seemingly unlivable environment, the pool has animal and plant life, including pickleweed, aquatic insects, and the Badwater snail. The most fascinating feature at this site are the hexagonal honeycomb-shaped patches of salt stretching as far as the eye can see. This massive field of white makes for a surreal visual.

With the 108 degree sun baking us alive, Riley and I hop back in the car and blast the A/C. Next stop is the natural bridge. We arrive to this site, surrounded by only jagged rock, which seem to stretch for light years. The bridge itself is a half mile hike awake. That’s a half mile too far for us. So we get back in the car and head to the Devil’s Golf Course. This site is named after a line in the 1934 Death Valley National Park Service guide book, stating that “Only the devil could play golf” on its surface. This title makes sense once we witness the large halite salt crystal formations encompassing this area.

We reenter the Acura and head north towards Artist’s Drive, which boasts a handful of miles of stunning rock formations and colors. These reds, pinks, yellows, greens and purples are formed by the oxidation of different metals, including iron, mica and manganese.

Our last two stops for the day are Zabriskie Point, containing miles upon miles of erosional landscape, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, having starred in many a Hollywood Movie (including the Star Wars series). We snap a few touristy photos at these locations and are well on our way for some much needed relaxation.

We pull into the Furnace Creek Resort and purchase a $5 pass to the natural spring swimming pool. We cool off in the 90 degree water, before drying off and heading back to our campsite to begin cooking dinner.

Not to toot my own horn, but damn – this dinner is absolutely sensational. Keeping steaks on ice for the previous 48 hours pays off, as we now lay these fresh slabs of meat out over the open fire and grill them to perfection. Throw in some grilled corn, broccoli and brown rice pasta and we have yourselves the tastiest meal of 2015. As if we need it, Riley and I pull out graham crackers, marshmallows and a Trader Joe’s dark chocolate bar and concoct mouthwatering s’mores.

Our energy levels expended and our stomachs content, we lie down in our tent and gaze at the full moon glimmering in the distance. Before long we are sound asleep.

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Happy Birthday to Me. Come on Down.

It feels like the days of old – when I was a teacher and Spring Break arrived. No babysitting, tutoring or teaching this week, just play and birthday celebrations.

It’s Saturday morning and my bags are packed for Temecula, a city an hour north of San Diego. Ainsley, Courtney, Patrick, Shane and I pile into Pat’s pickup truck and head north. Courtney, my teacher friend from Dunwoody Springs, is in town visiting her sister, Ainsley. In fact, Courtney is the reasons Ainsley and I met. And how thankful I am to her, as Ainsley has become my best friend in San Diego.

Today we are honoring Courtney’s arrival by going to the “Napa Valley” of Southern California. The large plots of land and spacious houses are a drastic change from North Park, where people practically live on top of each other. Ponte Winery (or as I heard it, “Poncho” Winery) is the first stop. Rose bushes, adequately watered grass and a lavish lake make Ponte the perfect venue for wine and fancy events. We each purchase tickets good for 6 samples of wine and select our first beverage. We then step outside to sip our drinks amid the spectacular landscape. Walking into the vineyard, we are pleased to find ourselves the only occupants of this area. We walk among the rows and rows of grapes, chatting about useless things and snapping photos.

On to the next winery – Wilson’s Creek. This location is even more stunning than the previous. The boys play bocce ball while the girls sit on the soft grass beneath a shadow-casting tree. Between the effects of the succulent wine and Courtney’s dry sense of humor, I find myself in tears with laughter.

All that wine makes us hungry, so we head to Public House, a restaurant in the town’s old-western style downtown. Between Pat’s family and our group of friends, we occupy the entirety of this massive, circular stone table. Hamburgers, sandwiches, salads and fries satisfy our tummies.

That night we relax and watch and the epic March Madness Semi-Final between Wisconsin and Kentucky. Well, not ALL of us watch – by half time Courtney, Ainsley and I are merrily snoring away. The boys seem to enjoy the game though. After a late night snack Misha and I head over to the guest house, which was graciously offered to us by Pat’s parents. We lay down and are soon staring at the backs of our eyelids.

Packed again, Misha and I are ready for another trip to L.A. Holding back the tears, I say goodbye to Courtney, unsure when I will see her again.

Seat belts on and hungry, Misha and I drive straight to Chinatown. We park and bee-line past the Chinese lanterns, cheap souvenirs and pet shops straight to Yang Chow restaurant. After our ungratifying experience in Chinatown – San Francisco, these dumplings, wonton soup, rice, green tea and sesame chicken far exceed my expectations.

With a few hours remaining before the arrival of my mom and her best friend, Vivian, Misha and I head to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). You may know this museum by the famous lamp posts constructed on its premises. While I’m not a connoisseur of art, I do find some of the contemporary works by Andy Warhol and his peers quite fascinating. To my pleasant surprise, I stumble upon a painting by my grandfather’s first cousin, Jasper Johns. Among the many buildings and hallways present here, Misha and I view exhibitions entailing German Horror Films, Faces of America and Tibetan Pottery.

As we pull into the arrivals terminal at LAX I think to myself how fortunate I am to have my mom fly over 2,000 miles to visit me…twice in two months. While I love San Diego, I do get homesick – and seeing my mom this often mitigates the sentiment. I am also looking forward to seeing Vivian. When my mom and Vivian get together, you never know what’s going to happen. One thing is guaranteed – things will get interesting.

LAX is not my favorite airport. I’ve had poor experiences here before and seeing the chaos unfolding here now isn’t doing much to change my mind. The traffic here is worse than Atlanta rush hour. People flock across the street, disregarding all signs and rules. Moody cops do little to control the situation other than yell at unsuspecting drivers (including one cop who called Misha an “idiot” for putting on his blinker and attempting to switch lanes). It’s an hour after their flight was supposed to arrive, yet neither my mom nor Vivian have received their baggage. Once again, welcome to L.A.

Tonight we have a late dinner. It’s after 11p.m. when we’re handed our menus. Despite it nearly being the next day, Bossa Nova Brazilian Restaurant is packed. This reminds me of the late nights I had in Rio de Janeiro, when my friends and I wouldn’t even begin getting ready for the disco until midnight.

The table next to us hosts two couples. Stylish haircuts, leather jackets, designer skinny jeans and high-rise sneakers make up their appearance. These kids, possibly a decade younger than me, speak in a nearly indistinguishable music-industry-esque accent, indigenous to Los Angeles. Misha and I heard similar speech from some of Josh’s peers last time we were here (see entry “The Final Leg”).

Feasting in a Brazilian restaurants reminds my mom and me of my brother, Pierce, who is currently teaching English to schoolchildren in Brazil. Pierce and I often discuss how genuine and friendly Brazilians are. Our waiter reinforces this opinion. He is almost too eager, with smiles and attentiveness, to make sure we are having an incredible experience at his restaurant. He even gives us a completely flan dessert for my approaching birthday (at midnight).

While brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed at the Comfort Inn, Misha escapes outside stating he left his toothbrush in the car. Moments later he knocks on the door, marking his return. In his hands he doesn’t hold a toothbrush; rather, he holds a large rectangular shape covered in wrapping paper. It’s past midnight, meaning I’m unofficially 26 years old. Feeling a mix of emotion and curiosity I clumsily rip apart the wrapping paper to discover a canvas upon which an image is drawn. Two faces, painted black and white with the exception of blue eyes and red lips, stare at each other affectionately. One is a man while the other is a woman. Between them is a wooden heart covered in pink construction paper and split into quadrants. The characters clearly represent Misha and me. I can’t help but crack up at the image of Misha’s blood-red, voluptuous lips, and perfectly chiseled face, making him appear a bit homosexual. While the painting is nice, the true gift lies within the heart (no pun intended). My job is to peel off a quadrant of the heart, revealing the name of a restaurant. Misha will then treat me to a meal at that restaurant. I then peel off the next quadrant and repeat the process until all 4 quadrants have resulted in tasty meals for us. This is a very thoughtful gift as I have often preached to Misha how I regret not having taken advantage of San Diego’s vibrant food scene. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

Not having slept nearly enough to function, Misha and I leave bright and early to pick up my mom and Vivian from the Lowles Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. No one loves seeing celebrities quite like my mom. And in not-surprising fashion, she finagles her way into obtaining free studio tickets to see The Price is Right, Ellen DeGeneres and Dr. Phil.

Misha and I drop my mom and Vivian off at Ellen before heading to The Price is Right. We stand in a long line only to find out that the morning episode is “16 year olds” and that we can’t get in. While Misha and my mom (via text) attempt to convince me to tie my hair in pig tails and feign being 16, I highly doubt I will appear a decade younger than my sincere age.

Turns out, my mom and Vivian arrived way too early for Ellen. So they grab an Uber and head our way. With time to kill, we cross the street to a farm-to-table restaurant and order eggs and mimosas. Bottomless mimosas, that is. The plan is to eat and drink and then head back to The Price is Right, in attempt to get onto the 12:30 p.m. episode – themed “Teachers.” Fittingly, I’m a teacher. Even Misha qualifies, since he’s technically a substitute teacher (despite him never having actually stepped foot into a classroom).

After a long wait, we are let in through the gates. Woohoo. We are first seated on bleachers in a large room resembling a storage garage. For the next hour or so, we sign waivers, receive name tags and have our photos taken (which will later cost us $40 a piece if we want to buy them). All the while, the 298 people surrounding us scream endlessly and jump for joy in attempt to be noticed. After all, only a handful will “Come on down.” Despite the mimosas, the atmosphere is a bit too enthusiastic for me.

About twenty of us are ushered into the next waiting area where casting directors select random people and ask them questions. Misha and I are both selected. I am asked two questions by the casting director and I intentionally give bland responses to avoid getting selected. Misha, on the other hand, is asked 3 questions. He jumps and pounds his fist with (what I believe to be fake) excitement.

We are escorted to yet another waiting area. This time we stand outside for about an hour before being guided into another room with more bleachers, TVs and excessive amounts of cheering. While waiting and munching on our overpriced quesadilla, Misha and I examine the self-made t-shirts and make guesses on which contestants will get called down.

After a combined 5 hours of waiting we are finally let inside the studio. Somehow Misha and I land front row seats and are right by the camera (hopefully, this means you’ll be seeing plenty of our faces on the September 8 airing of the episode). The show progresses mostly as expected. Certain audience members get called down while other cheer and applaud on command. After a few minutes my cheeks and hands begin to hurt from all the smiling and clapping. During commercial breaks Drew Carrey (host of the show) chats with the audience. To my surprise, he has a very dry and, dare I say, vulgar sense of humor. Some of the words that come out of this family-TV-person’s mouth truly surprise me (and outright offend a few of the unsuspecting teachers in the audience).

It’s after 6 p.m. when we finally get out. We need to be at my birthday dinner with my mom, Vivian, Beegie and her friend in negative 15 minutes. We rush to our car and head to Spago, an elite, celebrity-infested L.A. restaurant offering Wolfgang Puck’s luxurious menu and sleek decor. After valeting our car we rush inside to 3 familiar faces and Mike, Beegie’s friend and celebrity dogwalker, sipping on martinis. Before introductions are over, Mike orders me a lychee martini and informs me that, ironically, Drew Carrey is one of his clients. He modestly names a few other stars’ dogs he walks while sipping his Belvedere.

Eyeing the food choices presented on this 3-course menu, I salivate over the impending meal. Oysters, lobster pasta, cous cous and scallops are the first to arrive. Then the veal, seabass, meatballs and salmon show up. Dish after dish appear and soon disappear, as we indulge in these delicacies. Between the talk, the drink and the eating we manage to spend over 4 hours seated at this round table. The experience ends perfectly with the most delicious dessert I have ever witnessed. Just writing about it makes me melt with desire. This chocolate brownie is prepared from scratch in the kitchen and is immediately inserted into an air tight bag. The bag is only sliced open once it arrives at our table, emitting a mouthwatering fragrance which wafts 3 tables over. We cannot remove our eyes from the brown spectacle. Ice cream is placed beside the brownie. We all dig in simultaneously. And within an instant, the finest dessert known to man is consumed.

In the morning we are guided by Beegie on a hike to the Hollywood sign. Misha and I admire the multi-million dollar homes compressed along these sloping streets of Hollywood Hills. Beegie points out the homes occupied by celebrities, and there are many, including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Justin Timberlake, Tobey Maguire, Keanu Reeves, Ben Affleck and Selma Hayek. Oh, and of course, the home originally belonging to the Monkeys. My mom and Vivian spend the next 30 minutes singing Monkey’s songs I’ve never heard. After the hike, Misha takes off for home while my mom, Vivian and I head dinner.

The next day, us three ladies head to a filming of Dr. Phil. Prior to entering the studio, one of the producers hands me a yellow slip, instructing me to sit in the front row. Unbelieving of my luck of having gotten front row seats to two consecutive shows, I joyfully walk up to the front and take me seat. Soon after, my mom and Vivian enter the studio and stare jealously at me in the front. They proceed to complain to the producer about not being able to sit with me in the front row.

“Well, that yellow slip is for the entire party. She should have brought you with her,” the producer explains.

“Can we go now?” my mom inquires.

“Unfortunately, the seats are already taken,” he says.

With envy in their eyes, my mom and Vivian assume their seats in the 5th row.

The episode is about the Amish Mafia (I can disclose this information now as the episode aired last week). While the show is interesting we are more concerned whether the cameras are capturing us and whether our faces will be appearing on daytime television in a few weeks. Ironically, my mom and Vivian receive significantly more camera action than me.

That night I catch the Pacific Surfliner train from Los Angeles to Old Town Station in San Diego. I hop off the train and straight into the passenger seat of my Acura TSX; Misha sitting at the wheel. At home, I plop on the couch, ready to relax. Birthdays are always exhausting. Especially when traveling. And especially especially when you are constantly surrounded by family, friends and events. That being said, my 26th birthday was everything I could ask for and more.

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.

The Final Leg

After a warm night’s rest we wake up bright and early for a run. As Riley and I have said before, we believe that running is the best way to experience a city. When you walk you’re moving at an average speed of 1-3 mph. It would take nearly all the daylight a winter day has to offer to cover 10 miles. Driving is too fast. How much can you really see when you’re flying by structures too quick to distinguish their shapes and colors? Running is the perfect medium. You can cover a half-marathon’s distance in 2 to 3 hours, yet you’re moving slow enough to notice the agony on the face of the 40 something year old woman standing beside the hotdog stand and spilling ketchup onto her new pair of Steve Madden shoes.

Our jog begins at our car and heads South East towards the water. We run along the temperate shore for a few miles before turning onto State Street. This prominent road cuts through the heart of Santa Barbara, exposing the town’s finest restaurants, galleries and shops. Rainbow flags mark our entrance into the gay district. The familiar sizzle and delightful smell of a cooking burger catches my attention. We’ll be going there later, I think to myself as I jot a mental note of the restaurant’s name. After a few distracting miles, the jubilant stretch of road ends and we encounter the residential part of State Street. Quaint, 2-bedroom homes flood both sides of us. A man with tattooed arms bulging out of his undersized graphic t-shirt uses a leaf blower to reposition his freshly cut flowery shrubs. A retired woman with droopy bags beneath her eyes shuffles over to her mailbox in sweat pants and dark green slippers.

5 miles into our run we hang a left onto a road which should loop us back to our starting point. Upon passing a park and a golf course we are suddenly running along the shoulder of a freeway centered between two evergreen mountains. Minimal cars drive along this steep road. The excess oxygen being released mixed with my already overstimulated endorphins places me into a very happy state.

I think back to the map of Santa Barbara etched into my memory. Cliff Drive is where we turn next. With there being virtually no civilization on this road, and massive hills on either side of me, I start to fear the gradient of Cliff Drive. My fears are confirmed around mile 7 when we make our second to last left turn. The first mile of Cliff Drive is all uphill. With the ocean, only a few hundred feet to our right, teasing us with its flatness, Riley and I are tempted to end our run a few miles early. But we carry on. An excruciatingly slow 2 miles later we make our final left turn towards the car.

“How much farther?” Riley yells from behind me, as the road triples in steepness.

“1 mile,” I shout back.

100 feet later I no longer hear the elegant slap of Riley’s shoes against concrete. I look behind me and see mostly empty space. About a block and a half farther back I spot Riley, walking.

I turn around and jog over to my exhausted girlfriend. We walk the final half mile to our car.

After each of us inhales a quart of water, Riley and I hop in the car and head toward the burger joint I spotted earlier. I down a tasty charbroiled hamburger while Riley nibbles on her turkey burger. We split an order of sweet potato fries for good measure.

Next stop: Josh’s house.

Josh is a best friend of mine. He and I met in our first year as teenagers. We were at sleepaway camp. Actually, let’s backtrack. A few hours prior to arriving on the grounds of this sleepaway camp (dubbed French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts) I was at the New Ark airport. There were about 20 of us Florida teens who had just landed in this unfamiliar city up North, and we were anxiously standing by the conveyer belt, awaiting our luggage. One of the Floridians – a skinny boy with dark hair and Jewish features – got bored of waiting for his oversized suitcase so he hopped on the conveyer belt. Round and round he went, until security kicked him off. This was Josh.

Immediately, I knew Josh was cool. My assumptions were reaffirmed as I’d often see Josh walking around the camp grounds with the “ruffian crowd.” These were the kids who had no respect for the laws of camp. They snuck into the skate park after hours, rode down the steepest hills on their Razor scooters and skipped the evening activities to play basketball in the gym or poker in their bunk. Mind you, we’re talking about a sleepaway camp for rich, Jewish kids who sing, dance and act. Josh’s crew was BAD. Camp ended and a few years passed. I was now 15 and waiting in line at the Fall Out Boy concert in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Who else is standing in line, wearing a pink studded belt? Josh freaking Zelcer.

“You’re the kid who rode around the conveyer belt in the New Ark airport,” I said to the gnarly kid leaning ever-so-cool against the concrete wall.

“Yup. And you hung out with Ben, right?” Josh asked me, referring to the only thing I had going for me back then (Ben was one of the cooler kids at camp).

The rest is history.

Now we’re 25, almost 26, and our friendship remains strong despite not having seen each other in nearly 3 years.

I park our car along a curb in Universal City. Before Riley and I can open our car doors, a manic man with long black hair tied in a man-bun, intentionally ragged facial hair and a leather jacket worn over his wife-beater comes sprinting at us.

“Joshhhh!” I yell, spreading my arms.

We embrace for an awkwardly long while.

Josh then introduces himself to Riley before helping us carry our luggage upstairs to his apartment. Josh’s abode is surprisingly clean and even more surprisingly empty.

“Where’s all your stuff?” I ask my old friend as I frantically search for a glass for water.

“We don’t have any,” Josh replies.

“You don’t have drinking glasses?”

“Not that I know of.”

“What about plates and stuff to cook with?”

“I don’t think so.”

After some heavy duty searching, I locate a single drinking capsule. “We’re going to have to get creative with cooking dinner this week,” I tell my girlfriend as I step out of the barren kitchen.

Still recovering from our run earlier in the day, Riley and I request a relaxed evening. No argument from Josh. We gather in the living room, Riley sitting on an ergonomic office chair extracted from the roommates room, Josh resting on a backless rocking chair and me cross-legged on the hardwood living room floor (as the only other item in the living room was a bicycle). Josh fills us in on his past 3 years of life, since moving to Los Angeles. He came out here to pursue a music career. I’ve always considered Josh to be the most musically talented individual I knew. As an aspiring rock star in my late teens I would call Josh nearly every day to tune my guitar over the phone. And he’d tune it to perfection every time.

“Unfortunately, talent only gets you so far,” Josh explains. He goes on to describe the difficulties and frustrations of being an aspiring artist in this city of aspiring artists. Backstabbing and self-interest is the name of the game out here. Every word spoken to you needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as it’s difficult to know someone’s true intentions. Josh has made and lost countless friends in this city. People who seemed interested in helping him but only ended up hurting him. Josh plays us some of his recordings.

“Damn, that one’s awesome,” I say during one particularly grand song. “How much did you get for writing that beat?”

“Zero. I kinda got screwed by the artist and producer.”

That seems to be the trend.

We listen to more of Josh’s songs. “I’ve probably written over 800 songs since getting here,” Josh tells us.

I do the math in my head – that’s about 1 song per day. “Wow,” I say.

Our stomach’s craving carbs and protein, we transition to the kitchen. Using a metal salad bowl, Riley cooks black and white rice and Brussels sprouts while I prepare curry chicken on a handle-less skillet. We gobble our tasty dinner down before heading to Josh’s room. I pull my guitar out of my heavy duty guitar case before resting the smooth wood on my thigh. Josh stands beside his keyboard, lips pressed against the mic. Reminiscent of our high school days in an emo pop-punk band, Josh and I jam. Riley lies beside me listening.

Josh abruptly stops singing. “Want to meet the girl I’m talking to?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say.

The 3 of us head to a nearby apartment complex where Josh’s lady-friend and 3 of her friends are enjoying drinks. I watch my old buddy fall in love before my eyes.

Morning comes and we decide to continue our active streak. Riley, Josh and I jump into Josh’s Elantra, now displaying over 100,000 miles, and drive to Runyon Canyon. The steepness of this hike isn’t overly welcoming after yesterday’s challenging run.

“This is my spot,” Josh says, upon reaching an opening beside a leafless tree.

We turn around and admire the foggy view of Los Angeles. We catch our breath for about 15 minutes before beginning our descent. This being a popular hike, we encounter well over 100 people. And nearly every one of them possesses a fit body, bronze tan and stylish attire.

“Does everyone look like this in L.A.?” I ask Josh.

“Yup.”

We get back to our car and drive a few blocks closer to Hollywood. We park and walk the famous streets full of fortune and fame. I read the names etched into the stars below me, counting how many I recognize.

“Are you wearing Ray-Ban’s?” a man asks me, awakening me from my celebrity-name-game.

“Yeah,” I say.

“Can we interview you?”

“Sure.”

The man asks Riley if she is also wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses, to which she replies affirmatively. I put my arm around my girlfriend as the cameras start rolling. One man holds a boom mic to my face, while two others point massive cameras at us and a 4th man asks us questions about why we wear Ray-Ban’s.

“We’ve been here less than a day and we’re already famous,” I say to Riley after receiving commemorative Ray-Ban notebooks.

Upon arriving back at the car we find a parking ticket wedged under Josh’s windshield wiper. Our bad luck with parking continues.

We head home and eat another home-cooked dinner before getting back in the car towards Santa Monica. Riley, Josh and I walk quietly along the boardwalk, listening to the sound of the dark waves splash against the equally as dark shore. We arrive at the well-known pier which we proceed to walk upon. Not much is happening on the pier at this hour but from the darkened carnival games, the towering Ferris wheel and the disinterested expression on the man standing behind the “Balloon Animals $1 – $5” stand I am reminded of an outdated fair that stopped being cool 20 years ago. Yet, it still exists.

On the way home that night, Josh gets a call from a producer – Beau Billionaire.

“Just a heads up – Beau talks a lot,” Josh says, as we approach the producer’s tiny, expensive studio. “Mark my words – he’s going to talk about being Jewish, heavy metal and how he’s the best producer in the world.”

And that’s exactly what he talks about. Among, many, many other things. Riley and my excitement and curiosity of being in a real live studio is quickly diffused once we learn that Beau is incapable of allowing a second to pass without him talking. Every time Josh, Riley or I open our mouths to speak we are easily overpowered by Beau’s tongue. Genuinely angry at the amount of verbiage coming out of this blonde-haired man’s mouth, I kick Josh in the leg amid one of Beau’s countless monologues. I mouth the words “Let’s go.”

Josh nods his head in agreement.

We wake up later than planned. By the time the eggs begin sizzling it’s already the afternoon. We slam the cholesterol-rich foods down our throats and rush out the door. Today’s first stop is the Getty Center, as recommended by my grandma and grandpa, Ella and Isaac. The Getty Center is a large plot of land housing $1.3 Billion worth of architecture and gardens overlooking Los Angeles. The Center is most famous for the Getty Museum, which features 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Century paintings, sculptures and other arts from North America and Europe.

In attempt to bypass paying $20 for Getty Center parking, I pull into the nearby synagogue. “Synagogue member parking only,” reads a large sign. I park in one of the many open parking spots and approach the two men standing at the security office.

“Good afternoon,” I say to the two plump men donning silver badges above their left pectoral.

“How can we help you?” one of the men asks in New York-Jew accent.

“I have a favor to ask,” I tell them. “My friend and I are Jewish. We’re not members of this specific temple, but we do celebrate the high holidays. Would we be able to park here for a few hours while we check out the Getty?”

The two men exchange humored glances. They turn back to face me, neither speaking as they wait for the other to talk first.

“Sure,” says the man who had thus far been silent.

“We won’t get towed or ticketed or anything?” I ask.

“Nope, you’re good.”

“Thank you, guys. We really appreciate it.”

I get my friends from the car and we cross the street to the Getty. We arrive at the museum just in time for a tour of the Louis XIV and Louis XV exhibition. The prominence and riches of these French rulers is represented throughout the spotless white halls. Portraits twice the scale of actual humans, hand crafted tables and ornately decorated dressers survived for centuries and now stand before me. One particular item catches my attention. It’s called a Planisphere Clock. This incredible chunk of 18th Century technology contains multiple dials. The main dial has three overlapping circular plates and multiple hands to indicate the time, the months of the year and their zodiacal signs, the days of the lunar month and the local time in various cities and parts of the world. The four smaller dials above the main dial show the phases of the moon, a tidal calendar, the days of the week and the times of the eclipses of Jupiter’s first moon, Io. And atop this astronomical concoction the relative positions and motions of bodies in the solar system are shown. How this was created 300 years ago is beyond me.

After the exhibit Riley and I take a brief stroll through the gardens, admiring the well-irrigated flowers and trees before us and the modern architecture around us.

We arrive back at our vehicle with the sun still shining bright. Next stop, Venice Beach.

We park and walk straight towards the water. The sound of bearings spinning and polyurethane wheels sliding across concrete resonate in our ears as we approach a skate park. Josh borrows a skateboard from an unsuspecting pre-teen and rushes over to one of the larger obstacles. A small crowd of supporters gather to watch. Josh drops in on the steeply angled ramp like a pro, gaining enough speed to ride across the flat portion of the ramp towards the three stairs, each 1.5 feet in height and length. About a foot from the edge of the first step, Josh pushes his hind foot against the back of the skateboard causing it to rise to a 45 degree angle and slides his front foot across the black sandpaper top of the board. He and the board are airborne. Mouths gape open as Josh has enough speed and air to clear the jump.

Wham. Josh slams against the concrete, his skateboard slamming to the ground a few feet to his left. Not yet feeling the pain he jumps right up, grabs the board and runs back to the top of the ramp.

“He’s messin’ wit’ us,” says a local boy with dreaded hair and denim overalls. “No one is stupid enough to attempt that jump unless they know how to land it.”

The surrounding posse agrees.

Josh drops in again, this time going faster. He takes off at roughly the same spot as last time and lands with a thud on the concrete. His ankle didn’t fare as well this time, and contorts below Josh’s 140 pound frame.

The onlookers have doubled in size. Three of the more skilled skaters stop their routine and gather along the edge of the skate park. One points at Josh and says something to his two talented friends. Disbelief in their eyes, all three boys turn to watch the brave soul attempt an impossible trick.

Despite his soon-to-be-throbbing ankle, Josh makes a third, a fourth and even a fifth attempt at jumping over the staircase. Each fall looks and sounds worse than the previous. Eventually, he gives up, snagging the skateboard in his left hand and walking it over to its rightful owner. Light applause and whistles are heard as the daredevil retires for the day.

With an hour until sunset, Riley, Josh and I walk along the famous boardwalk past monstrosities working out at the outdoor Muscle Beach gym, lively athletes filling the paddle tennis courts and street entertainers of all shapes, sizes and religions (including a man donning roller skates and a turban while playing heavy metal rock music). A few blocks after passing our 30th marijuana vendor, we hang a left and walk through a quiet residential area. We reach a bridge beneath which a river runs. The bank is lined with canoes.

“There is an entire series of rivers here. That’s why the city is named Venice,” Josh explains.

We return to the boardwalk just in time for the sunset. Josh and I sit atop a patch of rocks extending into the ocean as the sun concludes its reign for the day. The sky goes from blue, to yellow, to orange to red prior to transforming into various shades of pink and then going black.

It’s our last night in L.A. and we’re exhausted. Josh and I split a 6 pack of beer while Riley sips on some 2 Buck Chuck. We later use that same bottle of wine to film a music video for Josh’s next single, Perf. If I figure out how to post music videos to this blog, I’ll be more than happy to share the video with y’all.

We wake up late again. Josh, Riley and I each fill our arms with bags and walk down to the Acura. We pack the car and prepare our goodbyes. Josh and I embrace for a full minute. These few days in Los Angeles were beneficial to both of us. It was nice seeing an old friend. Especially, one as kind and genuine as Josh. Having a friend like that always cleanses the soul a bit. And I’m sure Josh appreciated the Industry-detox Riley and I put him through. I climb in the car and put it in drive. Out of the side view mirror Josh waves us goodbye. A wave of sentiment hits me. I’ve known this kid for half my life. It seems like just yesterday that a 15 year old Josh, with a massive Jew-fro, was standing in my parent’s dining room, wearing stolen bowling shoes and pajama pants and holding an acoustic guitar in his hands. It was my brother’s 7th birthday and Josh was improvising inappropriate children’s songs for the kids.

“Is he the clown?” one of the kids asked.

He’s still a clown. But a decade has passed and now he plays the guitar and sings for a living.

An hour and a half later Riley and I turn onto a pothole ridden road in Huntington Beach. To our right are a series of corporate buildings.

“That’s the one,” I say aloud upon spotting a sign bearing the name of an aerospace equipment and systems company.

We circle the parking lot until spotting a fit looking man wearing glasses, a striped blue and white button down shirt and navy blue slacks. A bead of sweat originates on his forehead and drips down the side of his face as he boils beneath the 80 degree winter sun. This is Borya, a lifelong friend of my father’s.

“I’ll drive. You guys can park in my spot,” he suggests as he approaches the driver’s seat of his vehicle.

Borya drives us to one of his favorite lunch spots in the area, a Pho restaurant serving massive bowls of boiled broth and your choice of Vietnamese meats and vegetables. I order chicken in my soup while Borya and Riley order rare steak in theirs. It’s been many a year since I’ve seen Borya and we have a lot to catch up on. He and I exchange enthusiastic stories about life, work and adventure in between massive slurps of burning hot liquid. Having historically been viewed as my father’s son, I greatly enjoy this rare opportunity to converse with Borya as a friend. Lunch ends too quickly, and our companion needs to return to work. We agree to meet up at Big Bear Mountain in the coming months for some mountain biking adventures.

Upon entering the beloved Acura yet again, Riley and I set off for the final leg of our road trip. With lunch resting comfortably in Riley’s stomach, it doesn’t take long for my girlfriend to fall asleep. A silent hour and a half and 8 highways later I turn onto Boundary Street in San Diego, California. The street is quiet and there is a surplus of parking spots. Thank God, I think to myself, recalling the grand we spent on parking tickets in the past month.

We pull up beside a dirt alley. Our realtor, Cathy-Ann, shows up two minutes later. She walks us towards the first house in the alley and unlocks the wooden gate. Then the front door. 34 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes and 5,498 miles later we’ve completed the journey from Atlanta, Georgia to San Diego, California.