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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Life Speeds Up

Once again I sit behind a desk. However, things are a bit different from my former job in Atlanta. For starters, the stress level has decreased while the exposure to natural light has increased.

There are about 8 of us here. Pat comes in at the crack of dawn every morning. No, literally. She’s usually in by 6 a.m. But she leaves by noon, which ain’t too shabby. In the office across from Pat, Susan and My (her name is actually spelt “M-Y;” not to be mistaken with the possessive form of “me”) sit, their backs facing each other. Although Susan is here today, she only comes in a few times a week. Like me, she’s a part time employee. And My leaves by 3 p.m. every day to pick up her son from school. The office catty-corner from Susan and My is occupied by Olivia, a seasoned veteran. Olivia has been here for 4 years and assumes a manager role. And she assumes it quite well, indeed. Silent palm trees and ceaseless sunshine stare through Olivia’s large office window at the mountain of files atop her desk. Across the hall sits Janet and me. They don’t come much more knowledgeable than Janet. I’m preparing my 4nd tax return and have already managed to ask Janet nearly one-hundred questions. Calmly and with a smile, she answers every single one. I’m going to learn a lot these next two months.

I have a question for Mike, the boss man. I walk out of my office and hang a right. To my left is another office. “Hi George,” I say to the stout man with a grey Beatles-era hair style.

“Hi,” George mutters back, flipping his right hand in the air and not looking up from his computer screen.

A few steps more and I reach Mike’s office. An organized desk and a computer monitor larger than any television set I’ve ever owned rest against the side wall of this office.

Mike looks up from his time sheet and asks me if I got a haircut. Before I can respond he cracks a joke. Something about me having obviously had multiple haircuts. It’s a joke I don’t understand but I laugh anyway. Mike smiles. He then stands up and extends a knuckle towards me. I pound it. Standing at least 4 inches taller than me, Mike’s presence is noticeable wherever he goes. “How’s your third day going?” he asks.

“Well,” I say. “I actually have a question for you about this return I’m working on.”

We sit and chat. Mike effortlessly answers this nagging question which seemed impossible to me mere moments ago.

Back at my desk, I check the time: 3:30 p.m. Time to head home; Riley needs the car.

This is my new gig. 4 times a week, 7 hours a day I prepare tax returns. Individuals, partnerships, corporations and trusts. I get a taste of everything. When I have questions, and I have many, I ask Janet. When I complete a return I give it to Olivia to review. I learn more about tax in a day here than I did in 2 semesters in college. Less than a week of employment and my friends are already asking me tax advice.

After work I hand the car off to Riley, who spends the evenings tutoring little Anthony and attending yoga/pilates/barre/core/a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember workout classes. Generally, we’re both home by 7, at which time we cook dinner together and maybe have a glass of wine. By 10 Riley’s asleep. And by midnight, I join her.

I don’t work Mondays. I do this intentionally so I can have the car all to myself with no obligations. A permanent 3 day weekend. It’s the final Monday in February. The weather is still cool and the sun still shines bright. I sleep in, eat a hearty breakfast, grab my black suitcase containing my drone and head outside. I drive around town filming. I get home a quarter past three and upload the footage. A couple more days like this and I should have enough for my first demo reel.

The wooden gate creeks open and slams shut. The squeak of breaks signifies Riley’s arrival from work. She walks in drenched in sweat. I give her a kiss and ask about her day.

“Good,” she says. “I took the kids to the park this morning and made a new friend. She’s from Brazil.” Riley rushes into her room, cutting the conversation short. In 15 minutes she must leave for tutoring. Feeling much less frantic than my girlfriend, I lazily slip into my sneakers and prepare a smoothie. By 4:35 we’re speeding north on interstate 805, heading towards Rancho Santa Fe. While Riley tutors, I sneak a workout at the local LA Fitness (or “Louisiana Fitness,” as Waze [my GPS] calls it).

Wednesday rolls around and Riley’s mom, Anne, and dad, Mac, fly into San Diego. Riley’s grandfather, former South Carolina Governor and Secretary of Education Richard Riley, is receiving an award at the 150th annual AASA (American Association of School Administrators) conference in downtown San Diego tomorrow. A perfect opportunity for a miniature family reunion.

It’s Thursday morning and by 7 a.m. Riley has already dropped me off at work. I’m back in her car by two in the afternoon. I slip into my nicest (and only) suit and a handsome tie while my girlfriend cruises through the gradually swelling southbound traffic. We arrive at the Marriott Marquis in downtown San Diego and valet our vehicle for the inexpensive price of $12/hour. Might as well park illegally again and get another $60 parking ticket, I think to myself.

I exchange pleasantries with Riley’s mom and dad. Other family members roll in and interrogate us about our travels. “How lovely,” they all say. “I’m jealous,” they reaffirm. By 3 we’re walking the quarter mile from the hotel to the convention center. While Riley and her aunts, uncles and family friends trudge behind, Mac and I walk ahead, discussing my new favorite topic – taxes. “Oh yeah, you can totally deduct that,” I tell him.

The conference hall is grandiose. Of the 4,000 people packed in here, the Smith’s, Riley’s and I sit front row. When his time to receive the award arrives, Dick Riley does so humbly and elegantly. He then produces an exquisite speech; one that a hot-rod politician in the heat of a presidential election would be envious of. Yet, Mr. Riley does this at the ripe age of 82. The host comes back on stage and announces a few more awards and makes promises for a better future. Then steps in the guest speaker – Cal Ripken Jr. Rightfully cocky, Ripken delivers a funny speech with an undertone of conceitedness. You don’t become one of the all-time greatest athletes by being modest.

At night we eat Indian food. It’s my 2nd time tasting the spicy deliciousness since my 6 month long battle with Giardia following my backpacking endeavor in India in 2013. The cleanliness of the restaurant quiets my apprehension.

I take Friday off of work to allow Riley to drive her family around town. Riley comes home around 4 p.m., giving me just enough time to say hi to my girlfriend before heading to Shabbat dinner with relatives, most of whom I’ve never met. The food is fantastic and the company is even better. Cousins, cousins and more cousins. I meet relatives ranging from barely 18 months old to nearly 90 years old. Of the 15 or so individuals feasting within this tall-ceilinged house in the hills, I’ve only met 2 – Gloria and Lee Redmon. Gloria is my grandfather’s first cousin. Lee is her husband. And everyone else attending the party is a product. As someone who is not particularly religious, it’s nice to be reminded of my Jewish roots every now and then. L’Chaim.

Saturday brunch is as good as it gets. If there’s one thing the Marriott Marquis has mastered it’s the restaurant buffet. A pair of sunny side eggs is prepared before me. I then load up my plate, and a few more, with lightly seasoned fingerling potatoes, crunchy strips of bacon, caramelized onions, perfectly browned toast with Irish butter and other morning goodies. Oh, I almost forgot the melt-in-your mouth French toast lathered in fresh chocolate chips. To cap off this breakfast of champions I have the softest pound cake in town with a cup of green tea.

After breakfast we pack the Acura with 7 friends and family members and drive back to our neighborhood. I coach tennis at the local North Park Recreational Center while Riley + Co. explore the world renowned San Diego Zoo. We cap off the night at a fine dinner at the Grant Grill with friends of Anne’s, Beegie and Bill. Men in tailored suits, speaking in foreign accents bring out tasters in shot-glass sized bowls. The table orders pricey, yet exquisitely delicious, entrees consisting of lamb, fish and complex salads. Wine pours like rain. Chatter and laughter fill the room.

Sunday marks the arrival of March and the departure of Riley’s many family members. This also marks the beginning of Riley’s cleanse. For the next month, Riley will only be able to eat, well, pretty much nothing. Vegetables are fine. Depending on how they are cooked, that is. Sugars and carbs are no-no’s. Poultry and fish are okay too. Again, depending on how they are cooked. And of course, diet-specific shakes compose a large portion of this regimen. I’m not sure what is in the shakes, but Riley seems to enjoy them.

A week passes and another one of Riley’s friends, Alana, shows up in San Diego. Along for the ride is Alana’s boyfriend, Will, who happens to be close friend with Grant, the guy I told y’all about a few entries ago. The newcomers commune with Grant and Rachel and decide to spend Saturday in Mexico. “We’re in,” we tell the quartet.

Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and lathered in sunscreen I plop in the driver’s seat next to Riley, who is donning beach attire and a bubble of excitement. We head towards the border. Grant drives like a maniac and I have to dig into my inner Jason Bourne to keep up with his crossing 4 lanes at once and 70 mile per hour turns. We slide $24 cash into the drive-thru insurance window, protecting our vehicles of any damage they may endure in Mexico and make the final 2 mile drive to the border. Getting into Mexico is uneventful. A $2.10 toll and a straight-faced, uninterested police officer.

We drive 45 minutes south to Rosarito Beach. Here we are escorted by a short, plump man with a mustache and a sombrero to a beautiful spot beneath an umbrella. Stimuli surround us. A man with a wheelbarrow full of melting gummy worms and chocolates walks by us, offering his products. In the stretch of 5 minutes, 7 women and children pass our table, selling sombreros and jewelry. Miniature ponies and cayenne covered fruits are scattered all around us. A thin man with a shy smile stands stealthily in my peripheral. He moves a Sharpie pen along a white piece of multi-purpose computer paper. A hairy-chested sketch of me later, I give this man a dollar. I turn to my left and Riley is lying face down on a towel in the sand. A tanned woman, appearing in her early 40’s hovers over my girlfriend rubbing lotion onto her back. For $4 Riley receives a fine 20 minute massage. Meanwhile, a large Mexican man in a Chicago Bears jersey comes sprinting towards Will blowing a referee whistle. He then grabs Will’s head and cocks it back with his paws. In one hand he snags a tequila bottle and in the other he holds a Corona. He shakes these sun-warmed Mexican beverages and shifts the neck of each bottle towards Will’s mouth. He releases his thumbs and two yellow streams erupt in Will’s mouth. A crowd gathers as Mexicans and tourists alike, cheer Will on. A full beer and a rough-night’s worth of tequila later, Mr. Chicago Bears lifts Will from his chair and swings his 200 pound frame onto his shoulder. He spins and spins and spins before dropping Will onto his feet. I catch it all on video.

After Rosarito we drive another 45 minutes south to Porto Nuevo. We walk into what appears to be a garage but turns out to be a restaurant overlooking the Pacific. Somehow, Grant and Rachel are friendly with the owner and convince him to sell each of us a meal consisting of 3 lobsters, a margarita, a shot of tequila and unlimited fresh tortillas, rice, beans, chips and salsa for $15/person, as compared to the usual $25/person. After this fulfilling meal we walk around the little Mexican shops scoping out good deals on local tequila, cigars and jewelry. I split a handle of homemade blue agave tequila and cigars with Grant and Will while purchasing matching friendship/love bracelets with Riley.

Crossing the border back into the United States takes some time. But at least the wait is entertaining. Everything from coffee and ice cream to life-size portraits of the Virgin Mary is being sold. Riley nearly purchases a puppy, no older than a handful of days, for $5. While I am objectively against the purchase, I must agree the half-palm-sized puppy is adorable.

The security guard scans our faces and then our passports. Not seeing anything suspicious about a pasty, twenty-something year old male with unkempt hair and a Hawaiian shirt sitting beside a tiny, freckle-faced girl with a nervous smile, the short woman waves us through. We’re back in the United States. As I cruise down the now empty highway towards our home, I reflect on the past quarter year spent traveling. It’s been exactly three months since we left Atlanta and 2 months since arriving in San Diego. Our first month living in SoCal was slow. Very slow. Enjoyably slow. At least for me. No job and lots of free time to do, well, whatever I wanted. Now the second month is a different story. We had at least one guest literally every weekend. When we weren’t entertaining guests we were working. Definitely a much faster paced month than I expected. Now having experienced both extremes, I wonder what our 3rd and final month in San Diego has in store for us.

Our First Visitor

I wake up in high spirits. It’s been slightly over a month since we arrived in San Diego and today our first out-of-state visitor arrives. Leslie has been my friend since we were little kids riding skateboards on our butts down my parent’s driveway. In a few hours she will complete her flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to San Diego International. Although I haven’t felt overly homesick, it’s still comforting to have a taste of home. After all, I spent the better part of the past 15 years living in Atlanta.

I check my phone frantically waiting for Leslie’s text, notifying me of her arrival. And there it is. I excitedly hop in my car and head to the airport, located 10 minutes from our house. Scanning the terminal entrance, I notice a tall thin figure waving her arms. I pull up to the curb, exit the car and embrace my old friend. Oh, how I’ve missed her!

“I’m so ready for the sun,” she exclaims. Leslie is in much need of a change from the dreary winter temperament in Atlanta.

We head back to my place and park along the street. I give a brief tour of my teensy home before preparing a pair of ham and cheese sandwiches. We scarf them down, eager to get out on the beach. Although Leslie has already been to San Diego a few times, she’s never been to Pacific Beach, or ‘PB’ as it’s known here. I decide this is the perfect place for some sunshine and relaxation after a long flight during the wee hours of the morning.

We arrive at the beach and approach the sand and water. Brr, I shiver. It seems Leslie brought the cold with her from Atlanta. Determined to get some sun, we lay flat on the sand attempting to escape the brisk wind. Luckily, the temperature increases slightly. Before we know it, Leslie and I are burned. Despite the redness spreading across her body, Leslie seems pleased with having gotten sun for the first time in weeks.

Leslie and I then vote to stop by La Jolla before picking Misha up from work. We snag a prime parking spot right by La Jolla Cove. As we walk approach the water, searching for sea lions, we are smacked in the nostrils with an almost unbearable stench. We look to our right and identify swarms of camouflaged sea lions sun bathing atop black rocks. All around them are various sea birds. The birds don’t travel far to do their business, as the rocks are lathered with fresh and aged droppings, causing the foul scent. We cautiously open the small gate separating the sidewalk from a small path leading down to the rocks. We walk towards the sea lions, attempting not to disturb them. Once close enough, we snap a photo. We then quickly turn around and hurry up the hill to escape the rancid smell. With it still being too early to head to Misha’s office, we decide to pick up a nutritious smoothie from Mr. Juice and fulfill our shopping fix on Prospect Street, a popular area for shoppers in search of luxurious brands. Our first stop is at a make-up boutique named Benefit, where we end up spending most of our time receiving free makeovers and getting talked into buying cosmetics we don’t need.

After picking up Misha from work, we head back to our home. We’re all starving. To Leslie and my pleasant surprise, Misha cooks us a divine meal of goat cheese and basil stuffed hamburgers and sliced red potatoes. Before we know it, Leslie and my first day has ended. We have the type of relationship where we don’t need to communicate regularly to fulfill our friendship. Whenever we see each other we simply pick up right where we last left off.

Prior to Leslie’s arrival, she and I planned out all the activities we wanted to do together. This list turned out quite lengthy. After an elongated night’s rest, Leslie and I hop out of bed Friday morning eager to check off a large fraction of this list. We first head to Old Town. Old Town is considered the “birth place of California” and the earliest indication of people living in San Diego, 9,000 years ago. The native Indians called themselves the Kumeyaay and when the Spanish explorer, Cabrillo, settled in San Diego he described them as “good natured and attractive people.” It doesn’t take Leslie and me long to figure out this gimmicky area is a tourist trap; however, it is still fun to explore the souvenir shops and entertain ourselves with the cultural attractions. The Mexican restaurant, Cafe Coyote, in itself makes the trip worth it. We sip on icy Margaritas and traditional Mexican food in a cultural and festive environment. There are colorful courtyards, splashing fountains, flower scented air and historic Mexican music adding to the authentic ambience.

Having eaten too much, we roll out of the restaurant and navigate to Coronado Island. Although Leslie and I have both been here, the beauty never gets old. We first stop at the Coronado Tidelands Park, located along the bay of San Diego near the Coronado Bridge. We sit atop a wall and let our feet dangle down towards the ever-blue water. We admire the skyline of downtown San Diego, positioned in front of us, while the intriguing architecture of the Coronado Bridge rests to our right. Directly below us sting rays meander in the clear water. The sky is overcast, but the scene is still elegant and peaceful. We take some time to simply talk and catch up as we’ve done on many occasions these past 16 years.

Feeling physically calm but mentally elated, we drive over to Hotel Del, a luxury hotel, open since 1888, with classic red and white wooden Victorian architecture. The hotel’s beach front view and unique history has lured many noble guests including presidents, royalty and celebrities. We circle the grounds admiring the herb gardens and greenhouses, stylish cottages and pools, and over-priced shopping area. Unable to control our sweet tooth we manage to add homemade ice cream to the cacophony forming in our stomachs.

Needing to exercise away the 10,000 calories we ate today, I suggest a hike down to Misha and my discovery from the weekend before: Black’s Beach. Always one for new experiences, Leslie agrees. We park at the Torrey Pines Glider Port and repeat the actions Misha and I had taken on Valentine’s Day: the forbidden scenic trail atop the narrow cliffs followed by the harsh decline along the stone and wooden steps leading to the Black’s Beach shore. With the weather chilly and murky, the beach is mostly deserted today. But sure enough, a handful of older men feel like liberating themselves. Still little girls at heart, it’s tough for Leslie and me to contain our laughter. “Will we ever mature?” I ask my friend.

“Probably not,” she says.

After a brisk 20 minute walk along the beach, it’s time to pick up Misha from work. With the three of us sitting in the car, we discuss our plans for the evening. Despite our burning legs from the afternoon’s hike, Leslie and I agree to more exercise and breathtaking scenery. Misha steps on the gas and we’re off to the most popular hike in San Diego: Cowles Mountain. The busyness of the hike lives up to its reputation as we arrive to a full parking lot and cars lining the street for a half mile from the entrance. The hike is a mile and a half to the top. We step through the entrance confident we’ll master this journey.

“Are you sure this is only a mile and a half?” Leslie asks 8 steps into the hike.

I look up towards the peak, barely able to make out a series of specks moving up and down the trail. After a shaky-legged half mile climb up this rocky surface we make the decision to turn back.

“The sun is setting anyway,” I reason. “And we don’t have flashlights for the hike down.”

Walking towards the car, I think to myself how grateful I am to live in a place with a beautiful skyline, rolling hills and countless mountains enriched with the distinct nature of this dry climate.

The sun has set and our bellies are rumbling again. Misha, Leslie and I are craving seafood and thus head to The Fish Shop for dinner. This local restaurant was recommended to us by Grant and Rachel. The line for food extends well outside the restaurant doors, indicating the appeal of this food. We view the menu, which is set up for the customer to choose a type of fish and marinade and whether they want the meal in a taco, salad or entree. A perk here is that buyers can bring their own wine. A bottle of while, a fillet of Salmon, and lobster and crab tacos later, we head home and call it an early night in preparation for tomorrow’s big plans.

While the acclaimed San Diego Zoo is a convenient a half mile from our home, the lesser known San Diego Zoo Safari Park is located 45 minutes away from us, in Escondido. We arrive here at a quarter till 11. At the ticket booth, we gaze at the detailed map. The woman selling us our tickets points to a small parking area on the left side of the map. “The San Diego Zoo can fit inside our parking lot,” she says.

The three of us study the layout of the Park and determine the path we will take. The 70 degree forecast is in our favor. The animals are as active as I’ve seen at any zoo or safari. We walk by a roaring lion, admire a mommy gorilla caring for her baby, stare at hungry giraffes and laugh at bathing elephants before getting on the Africa Tram. This tour not only guides us through a variety of African animals in colossal habitats, but also offers a view of the almost extinct Northern White Rhino. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park boasts 1 of 4 remaining in the world.

On our way out we pass a sign signaling the Cheetah Run begins in 15 minutes. We decide to stay and capture this spectacle of speed. I watch in awe as a cheetah chases a toy at 70 miles per hour. Impressed by the Safari and thankful for having been lucky enough to be here on a day the animals were so active, we exit the park.

Leslie leaves tomorrow so tonight she treats Misha and me to sushi and sake at a recommended restaurant in North Park. As Leslie hadn’t spent time in our neighborhood yet, this is the perfect location for our meal. I feel so lucky to have a friend like Leslie come visit me all the way from Georgia. Beginning in 5th grade, while riding scooters around the neighborhood, our friendship continues to blossom. I feel a wave of sadness because I don’t know the next time I will see Leslie. One thing’s for sure – when I do, we’ll pick up right where we left off.

Love in San Diego

The weeks have been flying by. Has it really already been a month since we moved here? Misha and I are now both employed and are very grateful for the financial stability. I balance 3 jobs and work nearly full time. Well, when I chose to. I do have the option of taking the occasional day off, without repercussion.

On Mondays and Tuesdays I babysit for an 8 week old, 2 year old, and 4 year old. These toddlers are about the same amount of years apart as my 2 brothers, Pierce and Hugh, and me. Undeniably, I haven’t given my parents enough credit for raising us. By the end of the 8 hours, I am fully drained. This gig teaches me that raising 3 young children is often more arduous than a full time job as a Special Ed teacher.

On Monday and Wednesday evenings I tutor a hilarious 11-year old boy, and self proclaimed “Boss,” named Anthony. I got this engagement through Misha, who was about to tutor this boy himself, until he got a full time job and realized I’d probably do a better job tutoring than him. Anthony is learning 5th grade math, which is awfully more complex than it was in my day.

And lastly, Wednesday through Friday I substitute teach. While commuting the 30 miles to North County isn’t the most pleasant activity at 7 in the morning, I appreciate the opportunity to experience San Diego County schools. Solana Beach and Del Mar school districts have an extensive allocation of resources along with a small teacher-student ratio, making for a pleasant teaching experience. It no longer surprises me to find the teachers here carrying an endlessly content expression on their faces.

Friday, February 13 rolls around and I’m counting down the seconds until the weekend of love ahead. But first, Misha takes the car to LA to see his friend, Alex, who is in town for the weekend, leaving me stranded in North Park for the day. This calls for a girl’s night. I invite Ainsley over. We feast on my mom and my signature recipe, an enticing shrimp pasta and feta cheese dish, and crack open a bottle of wine. Or maybe two. We flick on the TV and fall into a trance watching trash television – some show about hookers and strippers. The show ends and Ainsley and I transition to some much needed girl talk. I’m beyond happy to have met Ainsley. Although Misha fulfills most of my needs, it’s refreshing to have a girl-friend I can vent to and relate to. And she’s only a twenty minute drive away!

I am sound asleep when I hear the bedroom door slowly creek open. My biological clock tells me it’s the middle of the night and Misha isn’t supposed to be home until tomorrow morning. I open my eyes to the sight of my boyfriend attempting to stealthily slide into bed without awakening me. Upon seeing me awake, Misha proceeds to disclose that his surprise plans for Valentine’s Day entail an early morning and he wanted to make sure he was home on time. Feeling blessed to have such a dedicated boyfriend, I fall back asleep and dream of what the next day will hold.

I wake up to the smell of Misha’s scrumptious signature breakfast: bacon, sunny-side-up eggs and toast. After loading our bodies with fuel for the day, we hop in the car to go to, well, I don’t know. Misha loves to be unpredictable on special occasions and this Valentine’s Day is no exception. We pull into a parking spot by one of the many stunning beaches in San Diego. As we walk along the coast, the sun glistens on my face and I soak in the salty breeze. A quarter mile into our walk, I notice a sign reading Torrey Pines State Reserve. Torrey Pines has been highly recommended to us by locals. The area is acclaimed for its spectacular golf course, hiking trails and stunning beach views from atop the coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Entering the reserve, we follow the lofty paved road towards the main hiking trails. We proceed to take the Beach Trail which leads us up towards a sensational view of water and city and then down to the shore. Having limited rainfall, the scenery is a drastic change from what I’m used to, in Atlanta. The dry dirt trail is surrounded by the rare and exquisite Torrey Pine trees, a plant community of sage shrubs, ferns, and cacti, and erect cliffs overpassing the endless ocean. The dirt ends and the sand begins. We kick off our shoes and feel the icy water touch our toes. We loop back along the shore until reaching our car, parked beside Life Guard Tower # 4. “Our Valentine’s Day adventure has just begun,” Misha announces.

We arrive at our next destination, Torrey Pines Glider Port, 15 minutes later. The scenery is similar to the State Reserve, with steep cliffs overlooking the ocean, but this time we are surrounded by thrill-seeking paragliders. The cliffs, ocean and a sky full of hanging individuals make for a peculiarly beautiful scene. We park the car and head towards the stairs leading down to Black’s Beach. “We’re not going there yet,” Misha says, veering to the left, away from the commonly traversed route. We approach a sign that says “Keep Out, Unstable Cliffs” attached to a chain linked fence blocking any further proceedings. Yellow diamond signs paint stick figures slipping off a cliff while loose rocks tumble below them. “We’re going this way,” Misha says pointing to a thin trail circling the outer left pole of the fence. “Is this legal? Is it safe?” I ask, worrying per usual. “I wouldn’t take you on here if it wasn’t,” Misha lies. So we go. We walk about a half mile along the frighteningly thin, yet relatively simple trail, leading to a renowned overlook. And boy, was it worth it. While Misha adventures to the very tippy toppy edge of the cliff, I stay back on flatter ground. Even here the view is as awe-inspiring as anything I’ve seen in this gorgeous city. Before me is blue. Just blue. A massive encompassing of sparkling water. And behind me grows a green and brown valley of shrubs, accommodating two mansions built almost entirely of glass. I peer down to Black’s Beach, seeming over a mile away. The appealing water reels us in. We head back along the narrow cliff towards the steps which lead us down to the sand and water. We carefully descend the large stone and wooden steps for 20 minutes, avoiding loose rocks and missteps. My calves burning, we reach the bottom. I waste no time finding a spot to plop down on my towel and pull out our packed lunch of grilled Rueben sandwiches. Before taking my first bite, I do a double take of the male figures moseying down the beach. It doesn’t take me long to comprehend that we’re on a nude beach. After a few minutes of acclimating, the innumerable amounts of nude older men no longer faze me. The flies, on the other hand, do. Shortly after we feast and catch a few final glimpses of unappealing male (and one female) genitalia, we head back up the daunting hill. Feeling instantly breathless, I motivate myself by thinking of what a great workout ascending 300 steps is.

Misha and I end our Valentine’s day with a home cooked meal. Steak, potatoes, asparagus and red wine is on the menu. Oh, and of course Misha and my absolute favorite dessert, Trader Joe’s Sublime chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Although Valentine’s Day is over, the adventures are only half over.

On Sunday we continue the trend of exploring recommended attractions in San Diego. Having been given so many suggestions, we often wonder whether 3 and a half months is even close to enough time to see it all. Around noon we head to Point Loma, a hilly peninsula that separates the San Diego Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Locals describe this place as “where California began.” We park and head into the Cabrillo National Monument museum. Climbing out of his boat and onto shore in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo stepped into history as the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. Having gotten our fill of history, we step outside the museum to admire a massive statue of Cabrillo, himself. He stands tall and overlooks the bay filled with sailboats and a seaside community. Misha and I let our legs hang over the bordering wall and cherish this magnificent view.

A mile walk down from the Cabrillo National Monument are the Point Loma tide pools. The road leading from the monument reminds me of a blue diamond ski slope. We easily coast down the paved road, knowing the way back up will be much more challenging. Now at sea level, we look atop the hill we just conquered and spot the Cabrillo National Monument and Old Point Loma lighthouse looking down at us. Misha climbs over the rocks and explores the tide pools eagerly searching for crabs and octopuses in the shallow water. I plant myself on a tilted rock set perfectly for a back rest and examine the daredevil children jumping from one mossy rock to the next. Frowning from not having found any sea life, Misha joins me and again we take a moment to be fully present with our surroundings. I take my mind away from the stress of money, work and uncertainty, and focus on what I came here to do: leave my comfort zone, open my mind and fulfill this segment of my life with long lasting memories and experiences.

Blue Skies and 70 Degree Weather

By the end of our first weekend in San Diego, Riley and I have impressively gathered just about everything we will need for the next three and a half months. My teal colored Schwinn road/mountain bike hybrid rests lazily beside Riley’s classic Bianchi on our porch. Beside our green, yellow and red striped couch a new printer (costing $5 on Craigslist) spits out paper like the first Pulitzer Press. And by the front door a used grey tennis basket filled with 80 or so tennis balls and a red agility ladder lean against the pale white wall. Oh, and we even have 2 new friends: Samantha and Jordan, who we got in contact with through Riley and Samantha’s mutual friend, Abbey. And of course, I’ve made time to play a round of disc golf at Balboa Park, the number one most played disc golf course in the world.

Our second week in this city of never-ending blue skies and an eerily minute temperature range (between 68 degrees and 76 degrees Fahrenheit) begins with work-related errands. Riley spends hours driving back and forth from various school districts, handing in her substitute-teacher application while I travel to all parts of San Diego and the surrounding towns interviewing for tennis positions and privately coaching aspiring tennis stars. In my free time I coordinate with our handyman, Hank, and our landlord, Ed, in attempt to fix the door which won’t close and internet which won’t work. “Миша?  вы говорите по руски?” were the first words spoken to me by Ed, meaning “Misha? Do you speak Russian?” Turns out, he’s Russian and Jewish, like me.

It’s been barely over a week since we’ve arrived here and due to Riley’s endless network of friends we have another double date tonight. This time with Ainsley and Patrick. Ainsley is the sister of Riley’s good friend and former coworker at Dunwoody Springs Charter School, Courtney. Riley and I park our car down a dark street about a quarter mile away from this hopping brewery/restaurant. Ballast Point is the name, home to the unreasonably expensive Grapefruit Sculpin IPA beer. We arrive at the doorstep of this intricately designed boat-themed building. Another couple arrives simultaneously. Although I have never seen or heard a description of our soon-to-be companions tonight, my gut tells me these two are who we will be dining with tonight. Tall, blonde-haired and blue eyed, Ainsley is a beautiful woman, appearing about the same age as us. Her lover, Patrick, bears similar tall and handsome features. With long, fashionably imperfect hairstyles and wide, carefree smiles, both look like they belong at the beach. Probably why they reside, well, on the beach. The four of us spend a lovely night together drinking, eating and talking. I am instantly drawn to this couple and foresee many friendly times together in the future.

Our second weekend arrives before we even remember the first one ending. I play my first tennis league match and win. In the process I make a friend, Freeman, who invites Riley and me to his Super Bowl party in a few weeks. With few obligations and a bit more free time Riley and I spend a lot of quality time together. We bike together before the sun sets, take leisurely trips to the grocery store, and sit on our porch reading and writing. This form of time consumption passes just as quickly as when we were frantically driving everywhere within a 35 mile radius of our home, attempting to capture jobs and household items. Before I know it, it’s Sunday night and I’m staring at my computer screen, the mouse-arrow resting atop the “Submit Payment” button. After weeks, actually months, of contemplation this is the closest I’ve been to finally purchasing a drone. With the $2,700 commitment staring me straight in the face, a few beads of sweat form atop my shivering hand. I press down on the mousepad. The order has been placed. In two days I will receive my drone allowing Steven and my business, dubbed Sky Vision Studios, to take flight.

Monday, January 25 rolls around marking Riley’s first day of work. She bikes the 2 plus miles to the home of the woman whose three kids need a nanny. The oldest is 4 years old. The youngest is 5 weeks old. Monday also marks the day I find out if I passed the CBEST. For those who forgot or who missed it, the CBEST is the exam I took in San Francisco on January 10 in attempt to become a certified substitute teacher. The exam during which I illegally blocked an inch of a woman’s driveway with Riley’s car, resulting in the vehicle being towed and me paying $700 to liberate it. A bittersweet moment as I read my passing scores, wondering if it was worth all the trouble.

To put it bluntly, I spend the next few days bumming around. I ride my bike a good bit, exploring the local farmers market and some of the local shops. I run nearly every day and play tennis whenever I find a willing opponent. I spend way too much time cleaning our home of things that don’t need to be cleaned. And I get a fair amount of reading and writing done. On Thursday Riley and I attend the substitute orientation for La Mesa Spring Valley School District. In a few weeks we’ll be able to start subbing in this district located about 10 miles east of our residence. The next day we run 10 miles along the coast, from Mission Beach to Pacific Beach to La Jolla and back the way we came.

On Friday night my drone arrives. I spend all of Saturday piecing it together and watching countless hours of YouTube tutorials. Riley goes to Pacific Beach with Ainsley and Patrick while I continue working on my new obsession. Antsy beyond belief, around midnight I’m ready to take my baby on her first flight. That was my first mistake – flying at night. Not quite following the tutorials, I approach an area only moderately well lit. But to compensate, I ensure there’s minimal obstructions in the sky. I’ll merely start her up, fly her 5-6 feet in the air for a minute or so, land her, and call it a night, I tell myself. I turn the remote controller on, followed by the drone battery. So far so good. I place the controller in GPS mode and calibrate the drone, connecting it to the 7 nearest satellites. I then press the joysticks down and towards each other to start the motors and propellers. Wonderful. Slowly but surely I press the left joystick towards the sky, instructing the drone to elevate. And that’s exactly what she does. I stop at about 3 feet. Suddenly the drone begins to drift to the right towards a fence. That’s not supposed to happen, I panic. I zoom the drone to the left, but she begins to inch downwards towards the ground. I zoom the drone up. Again, she drifts to the right towards the fence. Panic blinding me, I’m unable to save the drone from hitting the chain-linked fence. Down she falls onto her side before bouncing up wildly and hitting the fence again. With the propellers flaying I have no option but to turn the remote controller off. Big mistake. Once the controller is turned off, the drone loses connection and shoots up into the sky at an unimaginable speed, slicing my leg in multiple places with its carbon propellers. Just as the drone is about to fly away into the pitch black sky forever, I manage to slap it down with my left hand. The propeller slices a chunk of my left thumb off, hovers in place for a second and then shoots up into the sky again. There goes $2,700 I think to myself holding back tears of pain and sadness. Just then, a miracle happens and the drone slams into the only thin sliver of telephone wire in the area. A spark of current as the two conduits of electricity merge and the drone comes toppling down before slamming against the top of a wooden fence and tumbling into a stranger’s fenced in yard. Silence. I climb the fence, smearing blood on the unvarnished wood, and jump into the yard retrieving my lifeless piece of technology. All 4 propellers have snapped in half and a bloody thumbprint resides on the drone body. Feeling agonizingly numb, I gather the shards, climb back over the fence and head home.

I have trouble sleeping that night. And early the next morning I have a tennis match in Coronado. My finger still bleeds and I can’t hold the racquet in my left hand, causing me to lose the match badly. The only redeeming aspect of the morning is meeting my tennis opponent, Ted. Ted is in his 50’s and a very skilled tennis player. After hearing about Steven and my start-up he offers me the names of 3 realtors in the area with whom I should network. He also informs me that his girlfriend works for a local CPA firm that may be interested in taking me on as a part time employee. I thank Ted for the offer but tell him I’m not interested.

The following week Riley begins substitute teaching in North County. These schools are a ways away (about 25-30 miles) and are attended by mostly affluent students. “The school lobby looked fancier than some of the nicest hotels I’ve been in,” Riley illustrates to me after her first day subbing in Encinitas.

Realizing it’s been nearly a week since I’ve spoken to my mom, I give her a ring. We shoot the shit and catch up on our lives, now separated by thousands of miles. Upon informing her about my encounter with Ted this past weekend (leaving out the missing chunk of finger), my mom’s tone of voice becomes very serious: “Misha, that’s an amazing opportunity. You can earn money, gain experience doing taxes and still have plenty of free time to explore. You need to speak to that man again and at least look into the job he’s suggesting.” And I do exactly that. I shoot Ted an email requesting the contact info for the owner of the firm. Ted gets back to me within a few hours with a name and an email address. “Shoot him your resume,” he tells me. So I do, along with a narrative explaining my desire to travel the country while avoiding going broke. The next day I hear back from the company’s secretary. She informs me that the owner, Mike, would like to have a phone interview with me the next day. The next day (Thursday) I speak with Mike and we seem to connect quite well. The secretary then calls me again informing me that Mike would like to meet me in person the following Monday, February 9. The farther along I get in this process the more I desire this job. Although I have zero experience doing taxes (I’m an auditor by trade), I believe this will be a wonderful skill to learn. Plus, some financial peace of mind.

The following night Riley and I have yet another double date. This time the victims are Rachel and Grant, close friends of another couple, Alana and Will, with whom Riley was close with in Atlanta. We meet at Rachel and Grant’s house on the border of La Jolla and Pacific Beach and chat for a bit over a Heineken before walking over to a nearby Italian restaurant. It’s a tradition of ours to eat pasta the night before a big race. Oh, I don’t think I mentioned the race yet. I’ll get there in a minute. So Rachel, Grant, Riley and I eat and converse. I am mesmerized by Grant’s epic tales of living on a pirate ship for nearly 2 years and his adventurous hobbies of spear fishing, paddle boarding and exploring the depths of Mexico.

“We need to hang out with them more often,” I tell Riley after our meal. “They are so cool!”

Riley and I go to bed early that night knowing that we have a big race in the morning. Riley set a goal about a half decade ago to run a half marathon in every state. The Mermaid Series San Diego Half Marathon will be run in her 10th state. If you haven’t gathered by the name of the race, the Mermaid Series is an all-women’s race. Unfazed by the pink website background, the pictures of women all over the website and the survey questions asking which women’s magazine she would like to subscribe to, Riley registered for this race thinking it was your typical co-ed half-marathon. But it wasn’t. I was one of 8 male racers. Not that I’m complaining about running along the gorgeous coast of Mission Bay on a perfect morning with over 1000 fit women scrambling all around me, but I certainly didn’t fit in with my fellow racers. Excited by the estrogen around me, I run my fastest half marathon time of 1:46:37 (an 8:08/mile pace). Riley finishes with an impressive time of 1:56:50. Exhausted yet happy, Riley and I drive home, eat a large lunch and head to Coronado Beach, where we meet up with Ainsley and Patrick. We sunbathe and talk on the pure, white sand to the background sound of waves splashing against the shore. A beautiful, yet moderately populated beach, I find much appeal to this place.

After a surprisingly energetic half hour of Frisbee toss, the 4 of us pack our cars and drive over to Coronado Brewing. The beer is delicious. I down 2 tasty IPAs while munching a glorious bratwurst burger while Riley and our companions enjoy quesadillas. Our bellies feeling content, we exit the brewery and part ways. Soon after arriving home, a coma sets in and we call it an early night.

I sleep way too many hours and wake up Sunday morning with renewed purpose in life. As I had been sporadically for the past week, I commit to spending most of today filming with my drone. I drive around all of San Diego, from Balboa Park to PetCo Park to Coronado Beach and film anything and everything that may appear impressive from the sky. As we do nearly every night, Riley and I cook again tonight. A mouth-watering trout, asparagus and rice meal is on the menu tonight.

While Riley babysits Monday afternoon, I prep for my interview. Glad I brought a suit and ties, I think to myself. Dressed in my fanciest attire, I print 3 copies of my most updated resume and hop in the car at 20 minutes past 1. My interview is at 2:00pm, but I get there fifteen minutes early. I take my time adjusting my unusually long hair and wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead. I enter the building and ascend to the second floor, where Mike’s office is situated. A woman with shoulder length black hair and a contagiously wide smile welcomes me in and seats me in the lobby. Soon after, a tall, wiry man in his 50’s with the friendliest of eyes and an equally pleasant smile comes out of the hallway. “Misha?” he asks.

I stand up and stick my hand forward. “Nice to meet you in person, Mike,” I say, looking my potential future boss directly in the eyes, as I was taught as a teenager.

We walk into Mike’s office and talk for about an hour. I come out desiring the job even more than before. I then am guided to the conference room where one by one I meet Olivia and Janet, two of the company’s managers. Some expected and some unexpected interview questions and discussions later the interview process is concluded. “I’m going to interview the final candidate today and you’ll know if you get the job by tomorrow night,” Mike explains before ushering me out. Feeling stressed from 2 hours of exhibiting professionalism yet elated from the prospect of working for these wonderful individuals, I descend the stairs and head back to my car. The following evening I have an employment offer in my inbox. A sense of relief encompasses me as for the next 2 months I will have financial security.

Our New Home

We follow the sidewalk running along the one way road dubbed Boundary Street for about 100 feet before veering to the right onto a dirt alley barely wide enough to fit a Mini-Cooper. Another 50 feet and we stop at a wooden fence, about a foot and a half taller than me. My body tingles with anticipation as our realtor, Cathy-Ann, fidgets with the stubborn lock as she attempts to insert a key into the heavy-duty lock securing the fence closed.

This past month of traveling has been an incredible experience, and the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect, but I’m now ready to have a place to call home. There are joys that can only be attained traveling, but a girl like me eventually needs the stability of her own bed, clean bathroom, and organized closet. Seemingly ages later, the gate swings opens. We are exposed to a short, rectangular cottage separately fenced in from a larger unit in which our landlord and his fiance reside in. immediately before us rests a round metal table and four white, cushioned chairs under a spacious cloth umbrella. Beside it, a small, leafless tree and potted plants chatter among themselves A hummingbird, half the size of my palm, sweeps past my frizzling hair. With clear blue skies and a 75 degree forecast, I already foresee many afternoons spent reading and relaxing on this veranda.

As we approach the front door I notice “Shalom” written on a decoration hanging by the front door. As we later learn, the owner of the home is both Russian and Jewish, not unlike Misha. With a little less trouble, Cathy-Ann cracks open the front door. We are welcomed by a comfortably quaint room embodied by tile floors, wooden cabinets and jubilant decorations. It only takes a few seconds to identify everything in this charming living room and kitchen. Beside the door resides a small round kitchen table covered in a flowery table cloth. Almost pressed against it is a massive stainless-steel refrigerator large enough to house 2 family’s worth of food. To the right of the fridge are granite counter tops, an oven and stove and a washer and dryer. Opposite the kitchen sleeps a petite brightly striped couch, a wooden coffee table and a modest sized television atop a wooden TV-stand.

This room has everything one would need. It’s small, but not too small. It’s the perfect size for a couple with limited possessions. Our short tour continues into the bathroom, located beside the washer/dryer. My eyes brighten as (in my opinion) the most important room in the house sparkles with beauty. The spacious, tile-floored shower bears a tile-seat and a glass door. The porcelain toilet and shiny sink fit comfortably beside it.

Cathy-Ann, Misha and I then migrate to the bedroom, located on the opposite side of the house. Again, my expectations are exceeded. A queen sized bed screaming my name, a 3 drawer IKEA-esque dresser screaming Misha’s, a tall white wardrobe for my excessive supply of dresses, and a large wooden book shelf filled with months’ worth of books and games is more than we could have asked for.

I look over and see Misha grinning at me.

“Our first home together,” he says as he walks over and embraces me in a big bear hug.

We spend the bulk of the evening unpacking, only taking a break to watch an obnoxiously vibrant red, pink and purple sunset. We then ride over to the local Trader Joe’s for some groceries. Misha and I cook a delightful steak meal and down it with some celebratory red wine. We have successfully journeyed from Atlanta, Georgia to San Diego, California. This marks the end of a wonderful chapter in our lives and the beginning of the next.

I wake up my first day in San Diego to another perfect morning. Before starting my to-do list, I decide to go on a run through our neighborhood known as North Park. We chose to live in North Park as we had been informed by many that this up-and-coming neighborhood is the hip area for young people like ourselves. I begin my run. A half mile from our cottage lies University Avenue, a street boasting the neighborhood’s downtown. This diverse area provides a plethora of cafes , restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, and microbreweries. A theatre and weekly farmer’s market also add to the variety. As I observe the countless happy youth and adults flood these eccentric streets and shops I already feel myself falling in love. There is already an overwhelming amount of things and places I’m ready to experience here.

The hours begin to fly by as Misha and I continue getting settled into our new home. Misha spends most of his time on Craigslist finding us deals on road bikes, a bike rack, impenetrable bike locks, a wine rack, and other essential items we weren’t able to squeeze into my compacted car. He also begins coordinating with potential tennis clients he’s gathered through various online and offline outlets. I spend my hours doing research on the required paperwork for substitute teaching. The process is a lot more complicated than I thought. Unlike Fulton County in Atlanta, San Diego County is divided into 42 separate districts each with unique requirements. Scheduling an appointment for fingerprints and teacher credentialing at the San Diego County Education Office is only the first step. Feeling the stress already rolling in I take a deep breath and continue on with my productivity.

Needing a break from filling out substitute teacher applications and attempting to master the art of scanning documents on our newly acquired (for $5), fresh-out-of-the-box printer, I check my email. I’m pleased to find an email from a woman I had been communicating with on http://www.care.com. She asks if I’d be interested in babysitting her 3 young children. I give her a call and after a 30 minute conversation, I am invited to come meet the kids the following Monday. Misha and I eat dinner that night with a sense of accomplishment. We both got an unprecedented amount of work accomplished today.

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.