Subtitled: “Why I Normally Travel Alone Nowadays!”
He planned a late summer vacation in California, and invited his girlfriend Morgane. I had met Morgane in Paris at the Cat Stevens concert in May. She’s a sweetheart, and a great influence in many ways on Tom. The two of them were both really looking forward to their vacation here together. So was I. We planned for a road trip or two: Tom wanted to show Morgane the sights of California. I relish each opportunity to explore the beautiful land that surrounds us here. We were all anticipating the couple’s visit with bated breath.
All hell broke loose!
We had arranged for the trip, and I had bought Tom’s ticket, about three months before he arrived. About a week before he arrived, his sole remaining grandfather passed away. Tom had never known his paternal grandfather, my dad, who was very kind, and he was not particularly attached to his maternal grandfather, who was not. But Gary was still his grandfather, and he died suddenly and unexpectedly in Montana, literally there one minute and gone the next, from a stroke. It was a shock for all the family. Gary’s principal home was in Santa Cruz, and the memorial service and funeral were to take place here.
Talking of shocks, Sunshine, Tom’s mother, then flew into town! Which makes perfect sense, of course: she wanted to pay her last respects to her father and to mourn him. But it added an extra dimension to Tom’s vacation. Sunshine still can’t stand the sight of me, 17 years after we split up the last time, to the point where Tom is even nervous about seeing me anywhere near her apartment in Paris. As he lives in that apartment, we can have challenges in meeting up with each other there!
Most of the beginning of Tom’s vacation thus involved juggling his parents and dealing with the numerous issues all of a sudden brought to the fore on his mother’s side of the family. There seemed to be a lot of them, all coinciding with this visit.
His first weekend in Santa Cruz was spent attending his grandfather’s memorial service. His Uncle John (his mother’s brother-in-law) and cousin Remy (John’s son) are also musicians, and they and Tom were asked to perform Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” at the memorial. That would have been something to see, despite the sadness of the moment. Cat Stevens had sung it himself for Tom and me (personally!!) in Paris in May. Of course, I couldn’t see Tom and his relatives perform, because Sunshine had requested that I not attend. Bet that made Tom feel great! I tried not to gripe.
Sunshine also continued some sort of ongoing dispute with her mother and sister almost the whole time that she was in California. I heard echoes of it from her sons. Not a lot of detail, but something bad had already been in the air among mother and daughters for a year or two. Its core is unclear to an outsider like me, but it has something to do with the mother’s estate planning. Tom was in the middle of that ongoing kerfuffle too, by association with his mother, of course, but also by association with his grandmother and aunt in Palo Alto. Both sides are his family.
Then there was the grandfather’s will. Sunshine had spent much of her adult life dreading being disinherited by her father, and hadn’t really noticed that with the passage of time something that looked like disinheritance was almost inevitable. Gary’s last marriage had endured for about 30 years, and his widow was significantly younger than him and responsible for his fourth child, now aged 24.
Logically enough, the surviving wife and her son inherited almost everything. Gary had had three children with Chrystie, his first wife and Tom’s grandmother, but the end of Chrystie’s marriage was 30 years in the past. One asset of the estate was left to the three children of Gary’s first brood, not a bad asset from my point of view. But feeling neglected is never easy for the early brood once the father has moved on.
Sunshine was obviously disappointed, although she had known pretty well her father’s history and recent circumstances. Did Tom care? I don’t think so. But he can be hard to read, and with his mom talking about feeling disinherited, he cannot have felt good. He likely shared his mother’s pain, as she lived through what probably felt like not being adequately loved by her own dad.
* * *
I am embarrassed to admit that there was also a money concern on my side of the family. Divorce is expensive at the best of times. After a run of car breakdowns and crowns for my teeth during the summer, I was short of funds for Tom’s visit. I’d told him to come with sufficient cash, but knew that the chances of his doing so were less than high. He himself had not managed to save as much as he wished before leaving Paris, and was short of funds himself almost as soon as he arrived.
So between us we had a bit of a problem. I invited him expecting to pay for a good part of his trip myself, but in the interim my free cash flow (love that phrase!) had dropped.
Then Morgane was added on, which I knew about well in advance.
And then she added on her friend Armandine! Yes, that’s right: one invitee became three!! Here’s roughly how Morgane explained it: “Thomas told me that he would spend a lot of time with his family while he was in California, hanging out with them and stuff. So I invited Armandine, so that I would not be alone when Tom was with his family.” That made three: my little temporary condo (until the house is sold) was going to be rather full!
I sort of see the logic, although Morgane could perfectly well have spent time with us when Tom did, with his family that is: we’re not entirely unpleasant!
The other factor which helped explain Armandine’s joining her friend and Tom was that she had a driving license. Neither Tom nor Morgane did (a symptom of living in Paris, where driving and especially parking are torture). Their plan was that Armandine would drive the three of them around the State for a week. But she did not speak English, and thus was not going to be independent for the rest of her time in California.
Let me hasten to clarify that of course there was nothing wrong with Armandine. She is a gendarme, or federal French police officer, in a French overseas territory, and clearly enjoyed her first visit to California. She was easy to live with, and appreciated seeing the sights she was shown. She was also a reassuringly good driver.
But this cobbled together little threesome inevitably had its consequences. Morgane was torn two ways, the regrettable result of being the focal point of the trio. She is very fond of Tom, and of Armandine. Armandine did not always feel for Tom. That became clear very quickly. The two of them were discussing something on the couch in my condo, in front of me, not two days after her arrival. Armandine grimaced and made fists of her hands in frustration with his position in the dialog. There was nothing as extreme in the banal position that he was taking as there was in her clenched-fisted reaction to it.
All that is the framework of Tom’s and Morgane’s holiday together in California.
Which is not to say that they did not have a good time, together and apart. Most of the time they did, despite all the surrounding issues. They spent a couple of nights at a hostel in San Francisco, exploring some of what is on offer in the city by the bay. They all made it across to the island of Alcatraz, a tourist spot I’d love to visit but somehow haven’t made it to in 18 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area. After another few days in Santa Cruz, they drove down the Coast on Highway 1 for a few days of beautiful scenery, stopped in Los Angeles for one day and then stayed with Tom’s friend Daniel in San Diego for a few days. Not a bad vacation itinerary!
I didn’t join in with them as much as I would have liked, mostly because of not feeling able to miss work. That’s what a tight few months does to me. But I did come up with a fun plan that fitted their goals in with mine. I figured out that I could take an Amtrak train from San Jose down to Los Angeles to meet up with them, and that we could begin our planned road trip together down there. I’ve always wanted to take that train, called the “Coast Starlight,” and here was a great opportunity!
The plan is coming to fruition, and I’m on the train somewhere around Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Santa Barbara when the phone rings. It’s Morgane, almost hysterical. The problem was Tom, she sobbed, she just couldn’t take him anymore, it was awful.
“Whoa!!” I thought, trying to interrupt her flow of sobs. “What did he do?” I kept asking her on and off for several hours. She was barely able to calm herself and explain.
The bottom line, which took all those several hours to elicit, was that Tom’s friend Daniel had picked a fight with the girls when Armandine appeared interested in another guy at a bar in San Diego. This was during their last evening there. Daniel must have liked Armandine himself, I suppose. I kept fishing for more in the story after they picked me up at the Van Nuys Amtrak station and we began our drive out to the Mojave desert for the first night of the road trip. The extent of Tom’s involvement never varied: it was basically that Daniel had been mean and was Tom’s friend! That was it, that was why Morgane couldn’t take Tom any more!
In retrospect, my guess is that the early part of the vacation had been too much of a pressure cooker for the couple. Morgane had been very understanding and supportive of Tom as his family issues swirled around his grandfather’s funeral, and she had done a good job of balancing Armandine and Tom throughout the vacation.
But she is a sensitive soul, and I think that it had all become a bit too much.
Or maybe I’m projecting!
We drove through the Mojave desert the next morning after a night in a motel across the street from the railroad tracks in Mojave, and all was calm in the car. Turning north on US 395 to follow the east side of the Sierra Nevada, we made it to Bodie State Park, established around a bona fide ghost town just north of Mono Lake, that afternoon. It was fascinating, and we wandered around the abandoned houses, cars and mining tools. Being a tourist there was strange. They are all gone, the people who made Bodie live. Yet you can view the insides of their homes as they were when the Park opened around 1960, with their layers of wallpaper and memories and junk. Oddly moving.
On to Yosemite Valley, where we had reservations in a luxury tent cabin. Yes, that’s a bit of a contradiction! Not entirely sure that it was a success for the younger set, but I was thrilled with the electric heat in the tent. Camping in Yosemite, even in the Valley, can be pretty chilly. The showers weren’t bad, and the food great at dinner in Camp Curry.
We split into two pairs for the next day in the park, with Tom and I hiking and the girls taking a motorized valley tour. I had hoped that we could do a short hike (less than three hours) together, up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, and back down to the Valley floor, but they didn’t feel up to it.
This short road trip was almost over already. On the way back to Santa Cruz, we stopped at dusk at an In’n’Out burger place in Manteca. Magic happens in the strangest places! The turbulence of the funeral and the threesome in San Diego disappeared in a wave of warmth and honesty. We shared a lovely feeling in the parking lot after the burgers, the young people smoking, the lights glaring around us as if we were on a film set, and the air among us clearing until it was almost as clear as the night sky.
Two days later, Tom and Morgane were gone, back in Paris, Armandine was on her way back to Guyane, and my little condo felt so empty again.