Elizabeth and I returned home late Tuesday night after a few days in California, visiting family. I still despise air travel, and the mask requirement only makes it worse, but a couple of our American Airlines crew members were happy to tell us it expires next month.

Using Doug and Jana's house in Sacramento as my home base — with Elizabeth and Natalia in Tahoe, skiing — I made a point to visit as many of my old stomping grounds I could think of from various phases of my life. I was trying to make this my Remember Tour, but not before Doug showed me all the projects he's got going on, which is a lot.

Buying cheap (or getting free) a wide variety of things, he fixes them and resells them for a profit. I had to compliment his entrepreneurial and mechanical skill and spirit. Jana's got gardens and trees growing almost any fruit or vegetable they might ever need.

They live along the same cross street — East Country Club Lane — which our childhood home on Edison Avenue also intersected, so I drove all around there checking out childhood friends' houses. When I dream about that time and place, where I tend to subconsciously insert hills, the streets actually have only a slight rise or descent. Either way, it was comforting to see all those old familiar street names. I said in my autobiography that, while this area named its major streets after famous inventors, they skipped Tesla. Turns out, I was wrong. Somewhere along Morse Avenue, I saw a Tesla Way. It was not a major road like those named for other inventors, though, so they're still disrespecting the world's greatest inventor, but I'll get over it. There are other streets nearby named after planets, including Vulcan, which made me laugh.

I thought about visiting the spot where it all began: my birthplace, Mercy Hospital in East Sacramento. I emailed Steve beforehand to see if we could get together — he and Sherry live in that general vicinity — but he never got back to me, and I never got over there. I meant to visit the old Surfside Way house in Greenhaven on the river, too, but never got there, either. Same with Folsom. I wasn't being especially frugal this trip, but the current price of gas ($6/gallon) might have had something to do with not driving all over the greater Sacramento area.

I returned to the Avis/Budget airport location to swap my Nissan Altima for a Ford Fusion. The Fusion was much better, but still had issues and, overall, the rental experience was not good. Here's what I said in response to their "How'd we do?" email:

The first car, Nissan Altima, passenger seat was too low and couldn't be raised, the "Service Required Now" light was on the entire time, and two of the tires' pressure was low. Don't you prepare your cars for rental ahead of time? Then you charged me over $328 for ONE DAY with that car. I called ahead to see about changing cars with minimal fuss, but the customer support man said I had to do it all on-site. Dropping it off I told the woman I was just switching to different car, but she didn't say you'd charge me 5 days' worth for one day's rental. The next car, Ford Fusion, had issues with its electronics, randomly starting the wipers once, several times in cruise control randomly telling me "driver rest suggested" before suddenly speeding up. Otherwise, it was a decent car, but not good enough to ever rent again. You charged me $412 for four days' rental, which is not as bad as the first one, but still ridiculous. I rented through the aa.com as a package thinking that would save me money. Instead you charged me over $700, which is about three times what it should have cost. So, no, I am not pleased with my experience. Also, on that first car, you charged me $18.99 "Fuel Service" presumably for not returning on a full tank. I filled the tank just FIVE MILES away from your location. There's no way it was NOT 99.9% full. I expect at least half of your charges refunded.

We'll see how that goes. I hope they don't think "half of your charges" only refers to the fuel. I expect several hundred dollars back.

Another old haunt was the harness racetrack at Cal-Expo. When I drove past, I was surprised to see horses in the stable area (shed row) next to the track. I assumed they were only temporarily housed there between "meets" elsewhere, but after I texted Jeannie asking which row her old boss Steve Desomer used to be in every year — most trainers try to keep the same row — she texted back "V" and said there would be racing the next day, Sunday. I asked if she wanted to go, and she did.

I had lunch at El Pollo Loco across the street. I loved that chain when I lived in L.A./Culver City decades ago, and it's still good, though difficult to eat in the car without making a mess. I then drove east on Arden Way to Fair Oaks Blvd and found the old Scientology mission location. Most of that old space is a bike shop now. I sat in the parking lot trying to picture what it used to look like when I attended, but couldn't. I remember things I did inside — you know, scary cult things, ha ha — but guess the outside never made an impression, so nothing rang a bell. Don't read too much into my visiting that, though. I also drove past and reminisced about St. Philomene Catholic Church — on El Camino, I think — which we attended and I hated with a passion as a kid.

It was amazing how geographically close everything is. So many old haunts within just a five or so mile radius. Mira Loma high school on Edison Avenue was just a couple blocks from my junior high (middle school), Arcade. They seemed farther apart in my memory. I pulled into a couple of Arcade parking lots and, seeing my wood shop class on the east side of the building, laughed remembering the bowl-shaped wooden ashtray I made, even though nobody in the family smoked. Yes, our stepmom Pauline smoked, but I'm pretty sure she had already left by that point. At Mira Loma, I again pulled into parking lots before stopping in the middle of Edison Avenue — there was no traffic — and seeing the quad. As usual, it seemed smaller and shallower than I remembered. Doug said they'd renovated it since our time there, so that might've had something to do with it. Of course, Pope Avenue Elementary in the opposite direction is not there anymore, demolished years ago in favor of a new neighborhood.

From there, I drove north on Watt Avenue through North Highlands to look at McClellan Air Force Base where my Pop Warner football team, the North Highlands Chargers, was based. It's now a business park, no longer an AFB, with all the hangars turned into separate businesses. Next came Highlands High where we played our home games. I couldn't see the actual football field without getting out of the car, and didn't feel like it, so no memories came to me.

I thought about heading east on I-80 to Roseville — where I once stayed with Lucy and Michael for several months — but got no further than Calvary Cemetery where Mom and Dad are buried. I looked all over the section where I was sure their shared plaque was. I texted all of my siblings while onsite — assuming I had their numbers right — but no one seemed to know. If they did, they weren't talking, so I never found it.

All of a sudden, I had to pee. Immediately. It sucks getting old. The chapel (and its bathroom) on the cemetery grounds was closed, so I drove back toward Greenback Lane, past the building construction along the frontage road, and looked for a port-a-potty. There's never one of those when you need one, so I crossed over Greenback to the movie theater. I told the ticket man at the entrance I was waiting for someone and asked if I could use the bathroom while waiting. I'm such a con artist. Luckily, he said yes. I could've stayed and watched a movie, but didn't. There was nothing playing that was worth the price of guilt.

Earlier while Elizabeth and Natalia were driving to Tahoe, I looked them up on that tracking app, Life 360, to make sure they made it to Kirkwood. They had. Not until noon, but they had several hours of daylight left to ski. A couple times, 360 said she was "driving" near such-and-such street in the Kirkwood area. I thought, what are they doing driving anywhere? Why aren't they skiing? Turns out, they were skiing. 360 could not figure out how she was moving so fast. Too fast to be walking, so she must be driving. Computers/phones come in handy, but are awfully stupid. I look forward to AI (artificial "intelligence") trying to take over and people rebelling at the sheer stupidity of it all. Probably shouldn't hold my breath on any rebellion, though.

The next day, Elizabeth and I drove to Yosemite. Doug loaned me their national park free pass. Thanks, Doug! I looked it up on my phone while Elizabeth slept. It said it was a six-hour drive, even though she looked it up the day before and said it was two and a half. I told her we had to cancel the trip because there was not enough time. She woke up immediately — rare for her — and corrected me. If properly motivated, such as proving me wrong about something, she will wake up.

Her phone still said 2-1/2 hours, and we agreed my phone is retarded. It does not like to be away from home. Its location services were screwed up the entire trip. It was nice to see Yosemite again, despite Elizabeth's obnoxious complaining once there — to put it mildly — about my not being a good photographer. She actually complained about one photo where the wind had blown her hair into her face. That's my fault? Just delete that one, I said. Teenagers.

When stopping for gas in Copperopolis before reaching Yosemite, I bought one Mega Millions and one Power Ball lottery ticket. Seems like lottery winners are always from out of state, so I thought, "I'm out of state, I should buy a ticket." One of them was a loser, the other one got the Mega number right, which gives me a free ticket. Woo-hoo.

After Yosemite, we met Lucy in Livingston for early dinner at a Mexican restaurant she likes. It was good to see her. She told us about her trip with Michael and Robin last year to New York City, took a picture of me and Elizabeth outside the restaurant, and we then very rudely left to meet Jeannie, Tiffany and Skyla at Cal-Expo where they'd been waiting at least an hour by that point.

At the track, Elizabeth's and my first bet was $5 to win on number 3, whoever that was. Elizabeth astutely pointed out after reading the program (past performances), it was the only horse who'd won its previous race. It had decent odds, too, which I had to explain to her, along with everything else on the "tote board" (totalisator). Jeannie won earlier with one of her friends' horses — got her picture taken in the winners circle, too — and was betting on number 4 this race, I think. My number 3 finished third. I forget where number 4 ended up. It occurred to me it was probably good that we lost right away. That'll teach Elizabeth that gambling is stupid, not that that stopped me from placing a few more bets.

Next race, Elizabeth and I bet $2 each on two different horses. We both lost. For our third and final race — there were a few more races to be run, but it was a school night, getting late, and we had a 2-1/2 hour drive to Cottonwood ahead of us — Elizabeth picked two for me to bet on while Jeannie also bet on one of those two because it was another friend's horse. At the top of the stretch, our horses were 1-2 and looking good before Jeannie's ran out of gas. Luckily, Elizabeth's top pick kept going and won. So, the night ended on a win. Overall, Elizabeth and I broke even, minus twenty cents, and Jeannie and family got to stand in the winners circle. Not a bad night.

In Cottonwood, I slept on Tiffany's new couch while Elizabeth slept with Skyla. From that couch, I could see Dad and Eleanor's old family room painting — an old house and tree surrounded by fields — on Tiffany's living room wall. In the bathroom was their old macrame/stitching of a butt-naked blonde girl, which I always liked, especially as a teenage boy.

The next day, Elizabeth did a lot of horseback riding while Skyla was in school. When the latter got home, she, her friend Jocelyn, and Elizabeth all rode some more. As we watched on the sidelines, Matt told me about the time he'd been shot. I told him about the time I'd been shot. Okay, I've never been shot, but could've been at some point. Nobody knows the troubles I've seen. Come to think of it, I have had a gun pointed at me. Yes, it was real. It was in Hollywood after being pulled over for speeding. The male cop approached me while the woman cop stayed by the car, pointing her gun at me.

The next morning at our hotel in Red Bluff, Elizabeth had another hissy fit because she left her eyebrow brush behind at Jeannie's. Did you know it's physically impossible for a teenage girl to go out in public without eyebrow makeup? Yeah, news to me, too. I went to the nearest Walmart to find one for her while she stayed at the hotel getting otherwise ready. At the store, being helped by an extremely nice Asian woman, Elizabeth called to say we had to return to Jeannie's, anyway, because she'd left her Air Pods (fancy ear phones) behind, too. So, we saw Jeannie and Matt one more time, then left. Passing back through Red Bluff, we had enough to time — flight didn't leave until that afternoon — to stop and shop at a Western store (Reynolds Ranch & Farm Supply) she'd visited on a previous trip and really liked. There was another one she liked even more, but it was closed.

At the Sacramento Airport, waiting for our flight to Dallas, I told Elizabeth I decided to treat myself, after all the aggravation from the trip, to upgrade our seats to business class, which supposedly gives you more room. It did have more leg room, but not more elbow room, and not enough padding on the seat, so it still wasn't very comfortable. Not worth the added fee. She asked, "What aggravation?" and I just had to look at her and say, "You. Screaming and yelling several times. That aggravation." She was oblivious, but is well within "normal" range for a teenager. That's a low bar, I know, and not much consolation in the middle of a tantrum, but it could be a lot worse.

It was wonderful to finally land and get back to my car. Have I mentioned how much I hate flying? Then there was the sticker shock of my parking garage bill when we tried to leave. $120-something! Then Elizabeth wanted to stop for dinner (even though it was about midnight). We were going to stop at Wendy's but they were closed, so we did the drive-thru at Taco Bell next door. The girl behind the speaker spoke fast-speed gibberish, to which I said, "Excuse me?" It wouldn't normally matter if I didn't understand her, but it sounded like she was asking me a question, so I asked her to repeat it. She did, in slow motion, "Thank. You. For. Choosing. Taco. Bell. How. May. I. Serve. You?" This pissed off Elizabeth, who leaned over from her side, and did the rest of the talking. And, the girl stopped being a bitch, thanks to Elizabeth coming to my rescue.

Once home, Elizabeth released Cleo from her crate and they went upstairs to her room. I got into bed with my sleeping wife. She rolled over toward me and said, "Oh, Pedro, it's not safe. I told you my husband is almost home!"

Just kidding.

The End

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