Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A visit to Paris in November

We had the privilege of traveling to Paris (France, must it be said) for a week in November.  There was really no special reason for choosing this time, except we had recently moved to Oceanside, California, and had been very busy getting organized and working on the new home.  We needed a break.

Our usual pattern, back when we lived in the Dallas area, was to drive ourselves back and forth to the airport, and park our car at an off-airport lot. But that was Dallas, and there is a daily non-stop flight between Paris and Dallas, which meant we were in okay shape by the time we got home.  From San Diego, there are no non-stop flights to/from Paris. There is only one non-stop from Los Angeles, which is at least a two hour drive from here, possibly more if there is a traffic calamity or wildfire.  So we elected to stay with the familiar, and booked on American Airlines, connecting at DFW.  But this meant we would return to San Diego after dark and after traveling for 15 or 16 hours, and driving ourselves didn’t seem attractive.

I recalled that the lady next door to us (“roofmates” is the local term) has a son who drives for Uber, so I asked her if he did airport runs.  She replied that he no longer drove for Uber, but would take us privately for $50 each way.  Initially that seemed high, but parking at San Diego is higher than in Dallas, and when we had used a car service to/from DFW it had been a lot more, so we decided to go with him.

Our flight to DFW was on a Friday morning at around 11 AM, and we figured we needed to be there well in advance, so we asked to be picked up at 7:30.  We were ready early, so I texted the driver that we were ready if he wanted to come early. He replied that he was out front. Great minds think alike.

So we got in a Ford Explorer and enjoyed having someone else take us to the airport.  Once there, we stopped at the Airspace Lounge (shared by American, British Air, and Japan Air) for some coffee and breakfast.

Our DFW flight was on time, but we were in coach on an A321 Airbus, and it had the worst seat pitch I have ever experienced. Seriously, there was no place for my knees.  It felt like when I sat in an elementary school chair while teaching ESL back in Texas. Fortunately, it’s not a very long flight.

Knees against seat back. I was sitting up straight.

At DFW we hung around in the Admiral’s Club in terminal D for a while. Our flight left at 6 PM, and was supposed to arrive in Paris at around 10 AM. We had booked extra legroom seats (Main Cabin Extra) to give us more space.  It worked – I could cross my legs unless the person ahead of me reclined.  That’s as good as it gets in coach. 

787 leg room

The 787 Dreamliner is a more pleasant experience than, for example, a 777. But it’s still nine across, 3-3-3, and you have to get up to let the window seat occupant out from time to time.  The flight to Paris was very smooth.  There is lots of nice in-flight entertainment (IFE) on the 787.

But, our flight out of DFW was delayed for quite some time, due to what the pilot described as a minor problem. By the time we took off, we were more than an hour behind schedule.  Service was fine. I watched a couple of French movies using the IFE.  I had not heard any French in a while and it helped to get back into the rhythm.  I tried my best to listen and not look at the subtitles.

Our plane landed in Paris on a foggy, rainy morning. I had my raincoat packed in my rollaboard, and wondered if we would be dumped out on the tarmac as is often the case at Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG). But no, we got a jetbridge.  A very long walk ensued to get to passport control, but once there the line was very short.  The walk felt good after so much sitting.

Upon arrival (we had carried on our bags) we went to the taxi line and hopped in a taxi.  The driver had no idea where our hotel was but they all use GPS. This guy’s GPS took him on some narrow, crowded streets that we had never seen before.  Dude, use a different program.  I think he was using Waze. We got to the Hotel Relais Bosquet at around noon, too late for a free meal in the breakfast room.  At least our room was ready.

We unpacked, and then went to lunch at the little crepe place, Ulysse en Gaulle, on Rue Cler. We generally go there on arrival for a simple, light meal. Unfortunately, our rustiness at French resulted in an erroneous order – my wife’s egg and cheese crepe had the same ingredients as my egg, cheese and ham crepe.  She doesn’t eat meat. They fixed it but were unhappy about it.It was a reminder – the French don’t really understand vegetarians, and you have to remind them every time, no exceptions, that you don’t want meat.  You almost have to be forceful about it.  Ulysse en Gaulle is in a shop that used to sell horsemeat, and the old sign remains carved into the building.  Their crepes are really good!
Ham, cheese, egg crepe

We poked around in Franprix, a not-so-supermarket on Rue du Champs de Mars, and got some wine and munchies. There was a huge line when we went to check out, and a lady carrying a dozen things (she should have had a basket) knocked some stuff off a shelf and just stood there not knowing what to do.  I said ‘pas de probleme, Madame’, and rescued her.  The French look amazed any time an American speaks to them in French, however badly, and they always know you're not French. (Interestingly, they cannot distinguish among accents and can't tell a Brit from a Yank.)  In France, you take your stuff out of the cart and put it where the checker can scan it, and then you deal with it afterward. The clerk does nothing except scan the items and take your payment. I remember back to when my parents lived in Oklahoma, and Mom would put her stuff in the basket and not have to touch it again until she got home. They unloaded the basket, bagged up the groceries, and carried them out to her car for her. Nothing like that happens in Paris.

That evening we did nothing fancy for dinner, but went to Tribeca (on Rue Cler) which is actually pretty nice.  It seemed the restaurant might have changed hands since our last visit. The wait staff had been black ladies from West Africa, and now it seemed to be white men from France. The service was still good, as was the food. We ate there several times during the week, because a) it’s easy, b) it’s cheap, c) there’s stuff for a vegetarian, and d) great pizza.

The next morning (Sunday) we were somewhat jet lagged and got up early. We got cleaned up and got to the breakfast room a few minutes after it was nominally open, but Sundays are different. The people there were not ready for anyone to be eating so early.  It was a bit of a struggle.  But they have wonderful food, once it gets there.

We decided, even though it was a bad weather day, to visit the Marmottan Monet museum.  This museum is not included in the Paris Museum Pass, which we planned to get, and is off in a relatively far away part of town.  I counted out the exact change for two carnets (10 count) of Metro tickets and went to the booth at the Ecole Militaire stop.  I asked for two carnets and proudly produced my exact amount, and the clerk recoiled in horror.  ‘No money’ he said, in English.  Oh.  ‘Credit Card’, he said.  I asked, American Credit Card?  He nodded.  Okay, that was different from our previous visits.  I slipped my card , which has a chip, into the reader and it worked.  I did have to sign a piece of paper, which would not have been the case if I had a chip-and-PIN card like a real European.

Getting to the museum was pretty easy.  We used the Metro app on my phone to navigate. This year we switched from AT&T to T-Mobile, with the idea of using our phones overseas.  AT&T will sell you a data plan, not cheap but not as expensive as four or five years ago, but T-Mobile charges nothing for international roaming for text and data. I used the phone basically the same way I would at home, where I have an unlimited data plan. It was a bit slow at times, but it really helped to improve the experience.  Getting to this museum required changing Metro lines. When we exited the station, the wind was howling and rain was pouring down. And it was cold! Whose idea was this? We’re not in California any more! 
Not in California any more!

The Marmottan Monet is one of our favorites, but they have never allowed photography. This is both a blessing and a curse, in that we don’t have selfie-popping visitors from Asia, and people shoving you out of the way to get a photo, but some of the paintings there would make a nice picture on the computer back home.  So I didn’t even bring my DSLR camera.  But when we got there this Sunday, there was a guy taking photos close up with a fancy (and noisy) camera, and then taking a photo of the placard next to each piece, identifying it.  I was annoyed.  Eventually, I realized they were not stopping anyone from taking photos.

I later asked one of the employees about it, in French, and learned (in English) that the museum had started allowing photos (without flash) a couple of moons earlier.  I have not heard time described in number of moons before – maybe she didn’t know how to say ‘months’.  But - damn!  I still didn’t have my camera.  Next time!

One of the themes of our trip was – we speak to them in French, and they speak to us in English. Sometimes their English was worse than our French, but they kept on, and so did we.  Only a few people we encountered did not speak English, all of them drivers of one sort or another.

The next four days we were Museum Pass people.  The Paris Museum Pass gets you into most of the major attractions in Paris (notably not the Eiffel Tower) and lets you avoid the ticket-buying line, which at some attractions is a huge deal.  So it’s saving you time and hassle, and if you go to enough attractions, it saves you money.  We purchased our passes at a tabac (tobacco store/newsstand) at the end of Rue Cler, having noticed it mentioned in Rick Steves’ Paris guide book.  This was great because sometimes you have to wait in line to buy a Museum Pass.

Our first Museum under the Pass was the Louvre. It is open on Monday, when a lot of the other attractions are closed.  We had always gone in through the Carrousel du Louvre, an elaborate underground shopping mall.  There is a security entrance which usually had a short line.  The Museum Pass gets you out of the ticket line but everyone must go through security.  But our entrance had thousands of people waiting to get in.  We would have been in line for hours.  I approached one of the security people, showing her the Museum Pass, and she said outside by the Pyramid.

So we went outside by the Pyramid.  There was a short line for pass holders and we were inside the Louvre in a few seconds.  We spent a couple of hours at the Louvre, enough to observe something I had heard about but couldn’t imagine. The museum was about 60% filled by Asian visitors, and all they seem to do was take selfies. The usual scene could be found around the Mona Lisa, but instead of simply crowding to get the best view, they would crowd to the front, turn their backs on the Mona Lisa, and take a photo of themselves with the Mona Lisa in the background.  It detracted from the experience, and I remembered how Rick Steves had talked about taking his tour groups to different places so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by all the visitors from Asia.  The Asians have money and they want to see Europe, but the museums such as the Louvre contain nothing that relates to their cultural heritage, and they treat European culture with disrespect.  I think next time we would go to the Louvre on one of the nights it’s open late, in the hope of avoiding all that, but I’m not sure that would work, either.
Little tiny square at the rear is  . . .

the Mona Lisa
This scene was repeated in front of every major well-known work of art in the Louvre.

That afternoon, we went over to the Centre Pompidou, also open Mondays. We had an awful lunch in their little café – we had very good luck there in the past but we’ll never eat there again. The menu was promising but they had almost none of it available.  The Pompidou is the place for modern art in Paris, and they have always had the strangest stuff imaginable. This day it did not disappoint. One thing we noticed right away was no Chinese were there. It is a very interesting place to walk around and snap some photos.  Every time you turn a corner you will see something you’ve never seen before.  This one is a favorite, and I like it more the older I get.

The next day (Tuesday) we visited our favorite museum, the Musée d’Orsay, home of, among other things, the Impressionists.  The Orsay had a huge ticket line, and we almost felt guilty about walking past it to the Museum Pass line, which was short. The last time we had visited they had banned photography, but somebody saw the French Minister of Culture snapping photos and outed her, and the ban went away quickly. Selfie sticks, thankfully, are banned. This museum was redone a few years back, and the lighting is perfect, and paintings are shown against a dark grey background that makes them really pop. 

After Orsay, we went to Musee Rodin, which is not too far away. The Rodin had been problematic for us, because the floor was in such bad shape that you could easily trip and crash into some priceless work of art. We heard that the museum had been renovated, but really couldn’t tell much difference, except the rough flooring was repaired. I guess we are not sculpture fans, but this museum left me cold. There are an awful lot of fragments on display in addition to a few key pieces.  The museum has a beautiful garden and some exceptional sculptures are on display there. I think I would just go to the garden and ignore the building.  It was getting somewhat dark but I was shooting Raw so I had something to work with.
The Thinker.

Gates of Hell

The Burghers of Calais

Wednesday we had some fun. The adventure was a visit to Versailles. We followed the helpful instructions in the Rick Steves Paris book and purchased our tickets at the nearby Metro stop. At Les Invalides we took the very long walk and climb to the RER C line.  When we got there we learned there was a service interruption due to a fire. No trains. A helpful SNCF employee asked where we were going and we said the Chateau de Versailles. She said to take the Metro to Montparnasse (huge railway station) and ride the N line to Versailles.
Montparnasse has some signs for the N line but not enough. We finally asked for directions, but they were in French and broken English leaving us uncertain where to go. I saw on a status board a train with Versailles as a destination and we went for it and we barely caught it.  It was the right train, but . . . .
In the Rick Steves book it warns you there are two Versaiiles stations and you want the second. This train stopped at a Versailles station but the next one was not Versailles Rive Gauche as we expected, but something else. Merde! So we got off at the next stop and retraced our steps to the one Versailles stop.
Once there we had to use our tickets to exit through a turnstile. Jody’s worked but mine didn’t. I don’t know if it uses a time stamp or what. I got the clerk to let me through. Then a nice lady advised us to take bus B to the chateau. The bus driver collected 4 euro and off we went.
Except we didn’t know where to get off, and rode much, much too far. The driver told us to catch another bus in the opposite direction and where to get off.
I fired up Uber and had a driver in 4 minutes.  A few minutes later we were at the Chateau.  We had never used Uber before in France, but we heard some people talking about it in the breakfast room of the hotel and thought it worth a try.
We had a pretty good day at Versailles, once we got there, at least an hour later than we had hoped.  They have introduced free audioguides, which really help you to understand what you are looking at. Many of the rooms had items that were supposed to be there but were not. I assume they were removed for cleaning and maintenance, or possibly loaned to other museums, There were not a lot of people there, perhaps on account of the screwed up train situation.  The Hall of Mirrors was pretty crowded.  Imagine that, people were taking selfies.

One place we had not seen was a huge gallery of paintings, large format paintings,  depicting dozens of battles in the long and bloody history of France. 

These paintings were not of recent history, but of times when the French came out on top.  One of interest was a painting of Yorktown, Virginia, where the French and Americans joined forces to defeat the British and secured American independence. The big tall guy is General Washington.  

I spent a very unpleasant 19 weeks in Yorktown, VA, back in the early 1970's. But afterwards I got to go to sea for a while. 

We poked around the gardens for a while, but it is fall and it was a bit cold. After the difficulty we had getting there, we decided to allow extra time for the return trip, in case we had to go to that other train station.

After leaving the Chateau, we had to find Versailles Rive Gauche, since we hadn’t come that way. It was a bit longer walk than we expected, but the trains were restoring service, and after waiting half an hour or so, we were on our way back to Paris.

The Chateau is on the Paris Museum Pass.  Lines were short on a Wednesday in mid-November, but I could see the pass saving you time during the busier seasons.

Day 4 of our Museum Pass (you can buy 2, 4, or 6 days) we went to L’Orangerie, home of Monet’s famous Water Lily series. There were almost no people there, which is really nice.  
The ban has been lifted.  We enjoyed the quiet in the Monet rooms.  The displays in the basement were as expected.  They had a special exhibition about the Dada movement, which to my taste belonged over in the Centre Pompidou with the rest of the weird stuff. On one of our prior visits, there were so many people using flash photography that it was no surprise that on the next visit photography was not allowed.

Our next stop (we used a bunch of Metro tickets) was the Picasso Museum. We had not been there since a major renovation had taken place. I was glad we had the use of GPS to find the place, because it wasn’t obvious. The museum is in a former mansion, and the rooms are kind of small, so sometimes it is hard to see the works because there are people in the way. I gather that on busy days they must limit access for people until somebody leaves.  We are not big Picasso fans, but this museum is very interesting, and they had a showing of one year’s (1932) worth of work on Picasso’s part, laid out month by month. I enjoyed the museum but am still not a Picasso fan.  I have to say the guy worked his butt off. It was interesting to learn about his problems with the Spanish government (under Franco) which led to him living in France.

After leaving the Picasso Museum we decided to find our old favorite place at Place du Marché Ste Catherine. Jody loves the goat cheese salad (chevre chaud) at Au Bistro de la Place, a tiny restaurant we have been going to since 2003. 
Chevre chaud makes Jody smile
The chevre chaud was really good, and I can still, barely, manage the teeny tiny chairs and tables.   We then poked around the Monoprix on Rue St Antoine, drooling on the stuff we couldn’t bring home.  And then we rode the #69 bus back to Rue Cler. Always a fascinating ride, cutting across four lanes of traffic on Rue de Rivoli, and going through the archway to the Louvre with a couple of inches clearance on each side of the bus.  Parisian bus drivers are incredible.

Thursday was my birthday, and we went to La Fontaine de Mars, a traditional French restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. This place is crazy busy and things move really quickly. I had some foie gras and half of Jody’s vegetables.  It’s really good.  My dessert was chocolate mousse.  Good time.  You need to make a reservation if you want to go there. Our hotel took care of it for us, and we weren’t shunted upstairs the way they do to most tourists.

Friday was, very sadly, our last full day in Paris, and it started out raining. We decided to visit the Jacquemart-Andre museum, which is not on the Museum Pass. There is nearly always a special exhibition, and this one was a collection by a couple called the Hansens, and it had a variety of beautiful Impessionsist works.  The special exhibition spaces were very crowded but the regular apartments that make up the rest of the museum were not.  The museum offers an excellent audioguide, which makes for pleasant viewing.  Afterwards we had lunch in the museum café, which is an incredible place to eat and a destination in itself. Lots of salads, but a beautiful setting with wonderful service.

That afternoon we decided to visit the grand magazins (department stores) on Boulevard Hausmann.  The French go nuts over window displays, and the Christmas windows are insane.  We had hoped to find some Christmas cards but the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are above such banalities. 
Galeries Lafayette dome
Eventually, we headed over to BHV, sort of like the Sears of Paris, where we found some Christmas cards but very, very few. They do New Year’s cards in France rather than Christmas cards.  We bought all the Christmas cars they had, and it wasn’t a lot.

That evening we basically just packed. We had to leave early for the airport in the morning, and the recommendation is three hours prior to departure.  (The recommendation in this case was overkill.)  We ate at Café Central, a brasserie on Rue Cler, and we had burgers. Jody had a veggie burger.  Mine was really good, and we washed it down with some Cote du Rhone. They were pushing Beaujolais Nouveau but we passed on it.

Our return trip was through DFW.  The flight from Paris was over ten hours, and we knew that our flight to San Diego would be in a different terminal. Getting through customs was a breeze, using Global Entry. We had received upgrades to first class – which we learned of in Paris – and we just went to our gate. The A321 has less leg room in first class than the 787-9 does in Main Cabin Extra.  But the seats were wider.  I was sitting next to an old lady who was on supplemental oxygen. She was on her way to San Diego for some medical procedure at the University of California. It was sort of a return to reality for me.
Flying into the setting sun

San Diego

We had texted our driver when we got to Dallas to let him know we were on schedule, and he was waiting in the cell phone lot at San Diego International Airport (formerly Lindbergh Field, but Lindy is not politically correct any more).  I was really glad not to have to drive home after so long a day of travel.

The cats seemed happy to see us.

We’ll probably not endure so long a trip for a just week’s stay again.  It was quite a bit easier from DFW.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Chapter 9 - California Dreaming becomes reality

After we decided to move to Oceanside, our lives entered chaos from which they have not yet recovered.

The reverse mortgage thing was really complicated.  The lender rep we worked with was very nice but was a bit scatterbrained, and would forget that I had sent him the information he was requesting earlier in the day, sometimes multiple times.  The escrow company (in most places we would call this a title company) was chosen by the seller, and they must not have had experience with either a) a remote client, such as us, and b) a reverse mortgage.  They were always behind the eight ball.  And they never got us anything on time.

Our purchase agreement for the house in Oceanside was signed, finally, on February 20.  California law says closing should happen within 30 days. February has 28 days this year, so the closing target date was March 22.  But the buyer’s agent insisted on March 20; evidently they didn’t teach her about February in school.  In the meantime, we had to work with Fidelity to get the very, very large down payment organized and had to learn what was needed to do a wire transfer to a California bank. 

And, oh, by the way, we had to get our house in Richardson, Texas ready to sell.  There were some problems with it that, in our opinion, would turn off a prospective buyer.  We did NOT understand what the market was like, and how the house would literally have to be on fire not to sell quickly in our neighborhood, and for some buyers that might be an advantage.

We had been working with a realtor in our area, actually a mother and son (Sandy and Jeff Wolfe, highly recommended) who worked together quite well, and they were not pushing us to make a move before we were ready.  They did a very good job of explaining the process.  We would list the house, someone would make an offer, we would accept, have a home inspection, and then the negotiations would begin, over what repairs would be made and what we would do to offset what could not be repaired, and how much of it could we stand.  My good friend Roy, whose wife works in real estate, said be prepared to hear lots of things you don’t want to hear.

We had a very hard time finding someone to do some of the minor repairs we knew about – we had some stonework in the front steps that had gotten messed up during the long drought we had in Texas a couple of years back, and we had some decayed and rotted boards under the gutters that somebody never cleaned.  After a while, our realtor recommended a handyman who could make all the required repairs.  He came right around and gave us an estimate. Then we didn’t hear from him again, until I got back with our realtor and told her what happened.  The handyman then called and made an appointment.  It turned out that he was very talented and worked very quickly. He cleaned up our problem areas in a day or two. His name, for anyone in the area, is Trace Ivey.  If you live in Plano/Richardson/Garland and need a handyman, let me know and I will send you his contact info.

We had a sign in front of the house saying ‘Coming Soon’ and we decided on when to let it appear in MLS.  But first we had a photographer come, and we had to de-clutter the house so her photos would show the house at its best.  This was not easy.  Our house had almost thirty years of clutter. 

One problem was the kitties.  We have two cats, Smilo and Trillie, and they needed to be kept out of the way.  We had cat carriers, which we used to take the critters to the vet for their infrequent visits, but, thinking ahead, we needed a way to transport the kitties to California, and the cat carriers were too small for so long a confinement.  We found some crates in Petsmart, designed for small dogs. They were perfect, and even fit in the back of  our hatchback Toyota Prius automobiles. But two of them would barely fit in one car, and there would scarcely be room for anything else.  It was looking like two cars would make the trip.  I had hoped to ship one.

But the crates worked for confining the cats during showings.  We started showings on a Thursday afternoon, in advance of the house being in MLS, and had showings all day Friday, and someone asked for a showing at 8 PM but we said no.  We received two offers above our asking price, one by $10K and the other by a little less.  The lesser offer was cash, an investor looking to flip the property. 

In the meantime, our California property did not close on time, and stumbled along slowly with incredibly stupid questions from the loan underwriter.  For example, they wanted a payment history on our Texas homeowner’s association.  In California, HOA’s rule the roost, but in our neighborhood in Texas our association was really just a social organization, completely voluntary, with a fee of $15 a year.  We had to send them a link to a web page describing it.

We had a home inspection done on the Oceanside house, but the home inspection business is something of a racket, in my opinion, where they check certain things on their list, but don’t actually look around as you would as a homeowner.  We had only seen the Oceanside property two times, and really didn’t remember it well. The home inspection looked at about 5% of what I had hoped for. We had big problems when we moved in, some of them still hanging on.  We could not be there for the inspection, but our realtor was.  She later admitted she hadn’t watched what he was doing.  I'm still pissed.

Back to Richardson. We decided to go with the cash offer, because the process did not depend on a home sale in another state.  The buyer asked for a two-week closing (!).  Fortunately, he also said we could stay on in a no-cost leaseback for two more weeks, giving us a month to get out.  But our California house still had not closed.  We had a one-week period where the buyer had the option to back out, depending on the outcome of the home inspection.  The buyer asked for some small repairs to the house, but also asked for significant concessions for the pool.  We had known we would get whacked over the pool.  We made an offer to cover all repairs, and our realtors thought it was reasonable.  So did the buyer.  Now we had three weeks to get out.

We had some moving companies come in to give us estimates.  It really is kind of awkward, because the person who comes is sort of like a scout. You never see that person again, but they are the ones whom you interact with up to the time you make a decision. Afterwards, we worked with a guy at the warehouse in Carrollton, and with the van driver.

We got lots and lots of moving boxes from Atlantic Moving Services, and bought more locally from U-Haul.  We got lots of boxes from Total Wine and More. Those we filled with books, and donated somewhere around 35 boxes of books, and still had a heck of a lot of books left to move.  We donated our vinyl records and a lot of clothes and many other items to St Vincent de Paul. 

Richardson has twice-weekly trash pickup, and once-weekly recycle pickup. You can request bulk and brushy item pickup every Friday, and they will take just about anything except nuclear waste.  Richardson has the greatest garbagemen in the world.  We gave them plenty to do, but we should have given them more.

We were not moving everything – our Texas house was 2540 square feet, and our California house is 1800 square feet.  The rooms are all smaller, although more open. We did not move the furniture in our guest bedroom – the bed got sold.  The TV table was donated.  We disposed of our sofa, loveseat, and side chairs from our living room, because they were badly scratched by the cats and we couldn’t even give them away. I paid our lawn guys $50 to carry them out to the curb. We donated the convertible sofa from our den to a family who desperately needed it and didn’t care about the cat scratches.  Basically we moved our bedroom set, our kitchen table and chairs, and the dining table, chairs, and sideboard.  We moved the TV table, my desk and two office chairs.  We got rid of two old computer tables, a side chair, and gave away a recliner.  We also sold our washer and dryer, and gave away our plasma TV.  We did go do some shopping when we got to California.

In the meantime, our California house dragged on.  I had been sure, when we first started on all of this, that we would be stuck with two houses for a significant amount of time, but we reached the closing date on our Richardson house and the California house had not closed – part of the delay was a holiday honoring Cesar Chavez, which caused all the government offices to be closed the day the deed was supposed to be recorded.  Texas doesn’t take that day, needless to say. 

After March 31, we were technically homeless, although we had the leaseback period.  The closing at Chicago Title was a snap. Very professional.  The California house closed a couple of days later, but the closing documents were mailed to Oceanside, and we were in Richardson. One of the documents was a refund check, because the escrow company had overestimated our required deposit by more than $25,000.  I asked them to stop the check and do a wire transfer to our bank, which, to their credit, they did.

We were kind of in a tight spot, though, because the movers were coming on a Wednesday, and after that we had no place to sleep.  The movers did a fine job, carefully packing some artwork that we were unwilling to attempt to pack.  (Smilo attacked it a couple of weeks later, breaking the glass shielding.) We had some school volunteers coming on Thursday to pick up our (huge) refrigerator, bound for a teacher's lounge (we threw in our remaining Diet Coke) and our cleaning lady was coming one last time to try to clean up the mess, and on Friday we planned to take the last scraps out to bulk collection.  The cats stayed in the house, and we stayed at the Hyatt House a little ways down the street.  It was bittersweet.  We had lived in Richardson for nearly thirty years, and now we were leaving for a new life in California.  It was probably the third hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

Whatever was left had to go by car.  That included two cats, some clothes in suitcases, and some unopened wine bottles, a couple of jars of pennies we had long since forgotten about, dirty laundry, and other stuff that got missed.  Laptops and iPads came along as well.  We left Richardson at 7:25 AM on April 13, and did not stop again until we had covered 304 miles in 4 hours 34 minutes, finding ourselves a bit hungry in Big Spring, Texas.  We used Siri to find a Taco Bell.  We did not want to leave the cats in the car for any length of time, and in fact had to leave the windows open while parked because the weather, while nice, was too warm to leave them closed, so we were pretty well committed to fast food for lunch.   The cats each yelled for a while in the car, but after a while they got tired and went to sleep.  But if we went over a bump, or if the pavement got a bit rough, they started yelling again.  I told Smilo I agreed with him, it was a miserable experience.  The problem we had was we had two cars and two drivers and no relief drivers, and we needed to get there. We thought the movers were coming on Monday, so there was no time to lollygag.  Another problem is that the Prius has incredible range.  At 50+ miles per gallon, with an almost 11 gallon tank, you can easily go 450 miles without stopping for gas or even getting on the low side.  Except your bladder can’t go that long.  Or at least my bladder can’t.

From Big Spring we drove to Van Horn, 221 miles. We were now getting to the 80 mph speed limit part of Texas.  We refueled there, and after a brief pit stop in Fabens, Texas, we made it completely out of Texas.  Driving through El Paso late Friday afternoon was not exactly fun.  The speed limit is low, and traffic is pretty heavy.  Then there’s still some more Texas after you get through El Paso, but there is a definite feeling of accomplishment when you cross over to New Mexico.  You can drive from Dallas to El Paso and beyond in a day, but it is one long damn day.

Jody and I communicated by phone while driving.  I had my (built-in) GPS going and in general did the navigation, but I would check on her and Trillie once in a while.  We didn’t hit any serious gaps in cellular service.  We both have hands-free Bluetooth connections.  Our drive was helped by the fact that we were heading into the sun, with the days fairly long, and each day we crossed into another time zone, and fell back an hour.

Our next stop was at rest stop in Deming, NM, 152 miles after Fabens.  As we got tired, the stops were becoming a little more frequent.  Finally, we got to our goal for day 1, Lordsburg, NM.  It is pretty much the last place you can stop prior to Arizona, and there’s a whole lot of nothing once you get to Arizona, so you might as well stop for the night at Lordsburg.  There are a bunch of motels, and we ended up at a nice Quality Inn just off the interstate.  We unloaded the car and let the cats out of their cages in the hotel room. They were a bit shook up, although Smilo promptly ate some chow and used the litter box.  We were told there was a restaurant nearby, but we failed to find it. Since it was Good Friday, it’s possible that it was closed.  We got something to take out at McDonald’s.  We had last been in a McDonald’s in Chartres, France.  It’s a long story.  At least we had some nice Pinot Noir to wash down a Big Mac and an Egg McMuffin (no bacon) and some fries.

On our first day, according to the Automatic app, we drove 823 miles.  Some of that was extra, looking around for a place to eat. 

The next day, after breakfast at the hotel, we lost Trillie.  She had managed to get past the barriers that Jody built to prevent her getting under the bed.  The bed was on something like a pedestal, and she got under there.  I started packing the car while Jody tried to entice her out from under the bed, with no success.  I saw a guy from the hotel in the hallway and explained our predicament.  He came in the room and promptly moved the mattress and box spring, and Trillie fled from her hiding spot.  I managed to grab her and put her in the carrier.  But we didn’t hit the road until after 8:30, an hour later than I had hoped. 

Arizona was, for the most part, very pretty to drive through.  The first part of the drive we had very light traffic. The hardest part was driving from Tucson towards Phoenix to where I-8 starts up.  There was lots of traffic and lots of huge trucks in the left lane going 75 mph.  We stopped at Wilcox, about 73 miles, for gas and bathroom, and did not stop again until Gila Bend, another 200 miles west.  Gila Bend has a Taco Bell!  After refueling at Gila Bend, we drove to El Centro, CA, 178 miles west, where we took a break and refueled. From El Centro we did not stop again until we reached Oceanside, 136 miles, including a bit of a wild ride on I-8 through many 4000+ foot passes in California, straining the poor 4-cylinder Prius to its limits. When we got to Oceanside, we ended up on the wrong side of Ocean Hills Country Club, at a gate where you can’t get in unless you have a transponder.  At that point I was on the phone to our realtor, and she said drive around the corner.  It was that easy, but we had only been there a couple of times.  We got in past the guard station but didn’t have a key to the house, so we waited for Nancie to arrive.  She and her husband brought us a large welcome basket.  And we came on in.  The furniture, we learned, was on a truck heading to New Orleans.  That’s right – the wrong direction. 

The house we saw on April 15 was not the house I had in my memory.  It was smaller, had much less storage, and was not as updated as I recalled.  I can’t explain it – memory is just not that reliable, we took no photos of our own, and we saw lots of houses and they all blended together.

We left the cats in the house, and went on to the hotel I had reserved in Oceanside.  On the second day, I drove exactly 600 miles, including to the hotel and out to eat that night.  Drivng all day in a Prius is not exactly a good time. The car is very flexible, holds a lot of stuff, gets fabulous mileage, but it is not that comfortable to sit in for all of that time, and it is not blessed with a lot of power.  

Our movers came on Thursday, early, and unloaded the truck in a couple of hours. There was some minor damage but nothing worth fighting over.  That night Judith, our next door neighbor, had us over for dinner.  Judith, who emigrated to the US from Hungary after the uprising in 1956,  went to Boston College for her masters degree.  I went there quite a bit earlier than she did.

Since getting here, we have replaced the washer and dryer that were already here but hardly worked, and we are replacing the microwave and stovetop/oven, which are pretty old.  We bought a new 56” Sony TV to replace the plasma we gave away.  We bought new living room furniture (sofa, loveseat, two chairs) and found a new product called Furniture Defender, which protects the corners that cats love to tear up.  It works.  We are still struggling with the lack of storage and have donated a lot of stuff to a local charity. 

Oceanside has trash and recycle pickup once a week.  They provide rolling bins to hold the stuff, but the ones in the house were so small they couldn’t hold a regular trash bag. We ordered larger ones – most people do.  We got rid of most of our moving boxes through the Nextdoor website, but some we had to take to the dump, dodging the heavy garbage trucks in a Prius.  We think we have the trash under control, but we miss the world’s greatest garbagemen, found in Richardson, Texas.

The weather has been nice.  We had a big storm one Sunday, and some sprinkles, and we experience the marine layer because we are close to the ocean.  One day we did some shopping in Vista, a little more inland, and the car got pretty hot, but back in Oceanside we kept the house windows closed.  We have turned the air conditioning on one time, to see if it worked. We have used the heat a couple of mornings, but that’s it.  We are 3.5 miles from the Pacific as the crow flies, although to drive there is quite a bit more.  So far it has not been anything close to hot.

I got my driver's license the other day, and the automated system allowed me to register to vote. So it's pretty much official.