I drove from work up the California coast on Thursday night, on my way to my birth family's reunion at the 100th annual California Rodeo (pronounced "row-DAY-oh") Salinas. I had two planned detours on this trip; The first was to visit my friends Marciano and Alana in Solvang, and the second was to spend Thursday night at the family beach house. Marciano and Alana greeted me with hugs and pork chops, and we had a great visit before I took off for Morro Bay.
The rest of that night's drive was fairly uneventful, and I slept very well on the couch.Friday morning came far too quickly, and nearly passed me by before I had gotten a shower and returned to the road. I had initially planned to drive Pacific Coast Highway up to Salinas, but the late start necessitated a more expeditious route, the 101. I arrived at my aunt Brigid's house just after 4 PM, and was greeted by her husband Dan, who gave me the nickel tour of their house. It was, I must say, a beautiful house that could only come from either immense wealth or being a general contractor (Dan falls into the latter category). What was once clearly the master suite was now a guest bedroom and bathroom; a new wing of the house included a cavernous new master suite a walk-in closet that is larger than some apartments I've seen and a bathroom with a sunken spa tub and separate shower room. Another new wing next to the guest bedroom housed the den/private theatre with a phenomenal sound system and six leather recliners in two tiered rows, each with a built-in cupholder. Brigid arrived shortly after the tour, and we sat in their gorgeous tropical backyard discussing the rodeo, the drive up, and work until their daughter Andrea arrived. As the post-rodeo party was happening at the house, we set to decorating the entry, living room, dining room and kitchen with a strange mix of cowboy stuff and enough red, white and blue paraphrenalia to run a campaign for Congress.
When all were satisfied that the area could stand no more kitsch, we went to dinner at Olive Garden, where conversation vacillated between general silliness and a deep conversation on the nature of family. Returning home, I learned that Dan was originally from England and had only recently become an American citizen, and that he loved the film "Master and Commander," with Russel Crowe. At this point, nothing could be done but to watch the film and experience the theatre's sound system (quite immersive, but we had to stop the film after the neighbors complained that they thought the street was exploding). The night ended in the family reading room, where I learned more about my brother Tommy from Andrea.
On Saturday morning, I realized that while I had jeans, the shirts that I'd brought on this trip were completely inappropriate for the rodeo, they being a t-shirt with a Green Man on it, and another with the phrase "When catapults are outlawed, only outlaws will have catapults" in Latin. Brigid, Andrea and I did some shopping at K-Mart, where I found a fantastic red button-down short-sleeved cotton shirt that was perfect for the venue. Sufficiently hickified, Andrea and I arrived at the rodeo, there to rendezvous with aunt Mary, aunt Michael, grandmother Ruby, and some of Michael's friends from San Francisco. While we were waiting, we visited the shops, and soon coined the catch phrase of the trip. "Nothin' says rodeo like X," where X was whatever bizarre incongruity we came across (such as teriyaki bowls, Beyonce, Italian garlic chicken sandwiches, and Lucha Libre masks). That last one really threw me for a loop, as not only were they for sale in at least two booths, but there were a notable number of people wearing them as well.
The wait continued as we watched some of the early festivities, and found out that among the three headliners at this shindig was none other than "the international superstar of stage and screen, Wilford Brimley!" His presence at the rodeo was so random, and the announcer's hype so sincere, that I made it my personal mission to get a photo with Mr. Brimley that day. When the aunts arrived, I led a contingent to try to find and photograph him, to no avail. Later, I found out that my uncle KC was chauffeuring the three headlining stars, but ol' Wilford was having a bad day, so photos were pretty much out of the question.
At the rodeo, I finally met my aunt Michael. She's a hard, cynical type with an apparant fondness for wordplay. I liked her immediately. The rodeo itself was pretty fun, but not quite my venue, and soon enough we'd all returned to Brigid and Dan's house for dinner. Dinner was a blast! Leaving the rodeo, Mary decided that she needed to have this cute 1' tall furry donkey for her very own, and at dinner every single "ass" double-entendre was made (They can't let a joke die. My people!) Also during dinner, gambling was mentioned, so after everyone headed home, and I helped clean up and take down decorations, I introduced Brigid, Dan and Andrea to "Loot," the card game of preference at the Crimson Spade. They took to it fairly well, and it was interesting to be able to track the flow of winnings through poker chips, rather than trying to track by memory as baubles change hands and get placed into boxes.
Sunday morning saw the completion of "Master and Commander," followed by a particularly revealing discussion on the dynamics of the family. I learned a lot about Tommy, and about Maggie's upbringing. I was out the door by noon, and started a long and leisurely drive down PCH to Morro Bay. And here I sit, writing this journal post, interrupted only to take a midnight run and dip at the shoreline. This post won't be up until Monday as there is no internet at the house. Reflections on my new understanding of the family will come in a later post, and will most likely be locked.