Day 8, Babysitting and Earthquakes Game:
The previous day was a long one. We slept in and it was glorious. Our trips tend to be a little busy (my fault) and Beth takes as much as time as I’ll give her to relax. That’s her preferred vacation style. If I wasn’t there she probably would have flown straight to California and just hung out, not doing anything for 11 of the 15 days. A lot of people vacation that way, it’s just not how I do things. That being said, sleeping in a bit every once and a while is great. Not every morning needs to be a rush to get out the door. This particular morning I had an appointment for a guy to come fix a chip in my windshield. A small rock flew off a truck somewhere in Nevada and chipped my windshield just right of dead center. With that kind of damage it is imperative to fill the chip as soon as possible to prevent further cracking. Fortunately, my car insurance covered the costs and hooked me up with the right technicians to come out to Elaine’s house. The guy didn’t speak the best English but he was polite and efficient. Twenty minutes later the chip was filled (but still noticeable) and we were free to continue with our day.
Just before noon we drove half an hour East to Beth’s cousin’s house in Oakley, CA. Justin and Lauren, Beth’s cousin and his wife, were helping a relative move that day and Justin’s dad (Beth’s uncle if you’re keeping track), Tom, was watching their girls (her second cousins). Beth started playing with Rosie and Eve, 4 and 3 years old respectively, while I chatted with Tom. We talked about a number of things including real estate, renovations, work, and California’s recent sandwich wars. There are far too many sandwich restaurant chains vying for dominance. The same thing is currently happening in the Twin Cities with fast food chicken restaurants. We used to be primarily a KFC town but now there are Popeyes and Chik-Fil-As moving in all over the place. Tom is Ken’s funny brother so conversation was easy (and yes, I just said that to get a rise out of Ken). After about an hour we went out to lunch at what Tom called the only place to eat in town, Black Bear Diner. He exaggerated, obviously, but the place was packed as though he was right.
We were given a corner booth and two booster seats for the girls. I ordered the fish and chips because I am addicted to fish and chips. Tom and Beth had tasty sandwiches of un-remembered type. I do remember them being quite large. The girls had mac and cheese and mini corn dogs. The girls got crayons to color with and us adults colored right along with them. Tom, Beth, and I are children at heart. I drew a Green Bay Packers helmet with a big red prohibition circle around it. I’m a huge Vikings fan and I didn’t have a purple crayon. I made do with the four colors available. My fish and chips were really good, not the best I’ve ever had but I’ve been to London (not a fair fight). The kids wanted dessert but Tom, being a responsible grandfather, told them yes (but only if they ate a couple more bites of their meals). Rosie wanted vanilla ice cream and Eve wanted huckleberry, a flavor more common on the West Coast. Rosie stated that she did not want huckleberry because it was too berry-y. She’s not wrong but I thought it was delicious (we all had some). That’s the kind of adorable statement only a child can make.
After lunch (thank you Tom for treating us), the five of us went to a playground nearby. The girls got right in but Eve was too nervous to go down the big slide. I had to climb up there once to help her back down to the lower levels. Rosie nailed the big slide and went back for more and more. The static from the plastic made her hair stand on end every time she popped out at the bottom. There were some spinning stools and a spinning ladder on which Tom spun them around. It was a lot of fun. After nearly 45 minutes playing we bid our adieu. Beth and I had plans for that evening and wanted to get back to Elaine’s to change and feed the dog. Speaking of the dog, I should mention that Elaine and Lou also have a dog, Charlie. Charlie is also an active little fetch-lover. Maeby, meanwhile, is not a big fan of other dogs. She’ll play nice for periods of time, of course, but she prefers being the center of attention. Maeby is highly protective of us and has a terrible sense of when we’re actually in danger. She assumes that any other dog coming up to us to politely say hello is trying to murder us. It hasn’t happened yet but that’s her mindset all the time. The two got along well enough with only the occasional spat over a tennis ball or close encounter. Back at Elaine’s we made sure Maeby was fed (Charlie’s food is always available as he’s a free eater) and then left for our evening entertainment.
When I was finding things to do in the Bay Area before our trip, I checked Ticketmaster. I’ve yet to see a concert on vacation but it’s always worth looking. If a band we liked was performing it would have been an awesome opportunity. While there weren’t any concerts of interest, there were a couple of home San Jose Earthquakes games during our visit. If you’ve followed my blog or know me personally you’ll know my wife’s family is heavily into soccer. While my attention is mostly on World Cup and Olympic level soccer, I have been introduced to Major League Soccer through Beth’s sister and brother-in-law, Val and Dave. We attended a couple of Houston Dynamo games while visiting them the past few years, That’s my go-to MLS team for now but our local club, the Minnesota United, were recently announced to be joining the MLS in 2017/2018. They’re currently in a second-tier league called the North American Soccer League. For their promotion, however, they’ll build a 22,000 seat soccer-specific stadium in St. Paul, MN. To get to know the MLS better, I thought it would be fun to see yet another franchise play in person. It also didn’t hurt that the Seattle Sounders were in town. Seattle has been one of the better and more popular teams in the league the last few years.
I drove the hour plus from Concord to San Jose, CA. Traffic was passable, certainly better than what we had experienced trying to get into San Francisco. Beth and I didn’t buy tickets online so we could avoid transaction fees. We were able to purchase standing room only tickets but that’s all they had left. Considering our tickets were the same price as the ones I saw online, it would have been nice to have a chair. Avaya Stadium where the Earthquakes play is very near the San Jose International Airport. It was pretty cool to see planes and helicopters coming and going. We had an hour before the game so we got to explore. Soccer specific stadiums are nice because they aren’t nearly as big as pro football ones. There was a grassy field behind the large, double-sided scoreboard on the East end. In the open area there were half a dozen food trucks, promo tents, and a kids activity area. There were several groups of people sitting on blankets in the field. They were in the way of the food truck lines, in fact. Apparently some people with standing room only tickets like us were content to watch the game on a big screen. I don’t quite understand that thinking. Why pay $30 each to get into a stadium and then stare at a scoreboard? Under the scoreboard was a long, double-sided bar. I don’t drink but it was a stylish bar.
We walked around until we saw our section behind the Western goal. Despite no actual seating, we did have access to a specific area where we could stand and not be in the way. The section was five rows deep with railings in between. We found a good spot in the fourth row just outside the goalie box on the right side. Beth went to buy a hot pretzel (all the food trucks had ridiculously long lines). The teams warmed up on the field and our section filled up slowly. I thought we would be crowded but by kickoff there was still plenty of elbow room. It was awesome to be so close to the field! I’m not entirely sure why they don’t just put a few more rows of actual seats in there and charge more money. The game finally started and the Earthquakes’ fan section was loud behind and above us. There was a significant injury to one of the Sounders players (he was immediately subbed from the game and taken off on a stretcher). Other than that, the first half was pretty uneventful. We did see Clint Dempsey of the U.S Men’s National Team. He plays for Seattle. There’s another National Player on San Jose but I had never heard of him.
We decided to walk around at halftime and switch ends for the second half. That way the Earthquakes would still be kicking on the nearest goal. We didn’t have any loyalty to either team so we rooted for the home team/underdog. The lines for the food trucks were still quite long and a couple had signs announcing they were out of several menu items. We decided to hold off for food until after the game. I did, however, get my own hot pretzel. The opposite end’s standing room only area was grass instead of concrete. It was more crowded so we ended up near the corner of the field. From there we could see that the Sounders actually had a fan section as well. Called “The Away Boys”, the group of Seattle fans was so large they had an entire section to themselves. They even had their own team flag. Who let them bring that inside?
The Earthquakes scored to take a 1-0 lead in the 70th minute. It looked like the home team was going to cruise to a win but Seattle tied the game for good in the 82nd minute. It was an entertaining time and we each got a free bobblehead to boot! It’s a player we’ve never heard of but hey, now Dave and Ken have some neat MLS memorabilia. It took us half an hour to get out of the parking lot but then we went to the nearest El Pollo Loco for a late dinner around 9pm. I had a chicken tostada salad while Beth had chicken tacos. I had no idea what a tostada was before ordering it, for the record. The drive back home was tough as I was incredibly tired. My contacts like to dry out when it’s late and I’ve had them in so long. I was less prepared to speed along with the Californians this time, for sure. Bombens are night owls so Elaine was up waiting for us to make it back. It was another gorgeous night so I left the window open while we slept. I wish we could get away with that longer in Minnesota but that damn Winter keeps coming back every year. End of day eight.
Day 9, Family Dinner:
I slept in Sunday because my itinerary was basically empty. Beth, however, woke up really early to run a 5K with Debbie. Both my wife and her aunt have become more active in the past year. Debbie runs a lot, and with nice California weather she can continue running throughout the year. Beth, inspired in part by her aunt, has been working out a couple times a week with a personal trainer. We tried that together a couple years ago but she is a lot more motivated now. I can happily report that as of writing this, she has lost 40 pounds in the past year! She’s got a few more pounds to get to her goal of 50 pounds but if I had to bet, I’d say she’ll just set another one when she’s done. I’ve never seen her this motivated. It’s (she’s) awesome.
When I finally did wake up, all I had to do was set my fantasy football team lineups and settle in to watch week one of the NFL season. I normally have seven fantasy teams every year but this year, due to planning the trip, I only ended up with six. People often question how I could possibly have time to manage that many teams but on average I probably spend an hour a week on it. It doesn’t consume my time like it once did. I’ve got house projects and a travel blog to write now. I still like it but I don’t let it bother me as much when I lose (except when I lose to certain people, of course). I don’t recall what game was on TV but it was nice to kick my legs up and relax. It was our last morning staying with Elaine. One of Lou’s golfing buddies was coming into town and needed the guest room that evening. Lou and his friends were leaving early the next day for a week of golfing. He works really hard and golf trips are his way of relaxing. Around 2pm, Beth and I packed up our stuff (and Maeby’s, she’s useless at packing her own stuff) and left for Debbie’s house fifteen minutes away in Benicia, CA.
At Debbie’s we crossed paths with one of Jack’s kids whom I had never met previously. The wedding had gone off without a hitch the day before and now everyone was returning home. That conveniently left Debbie’s guest room available for us. Jack was watching football so naturally I sat down to watch too. Debbie and Beth were both wearing the t-shirts they got for running the 5K. Jack was also going on a golf trip the next day. Apparently, he and his friends were going to the same area to golf that Lou was visiting but they weren’t going ‘together’. It was for his birthday (I didn’t ask how old he was turning as that would be impolite). I’m sure Lou and Jack met up and golfed together a bit even if they weren’t on the trip together. Their wives are sisters, after all. Anyway, Jack went out to the garage to load some supplies and gear for his trip and came back inside after only a couple minutes. Debbie made a joke about how he couldn’t possibly be done packing already and he told us a pretty funny/scary story.
He was grabbing something from the area behind the garage and his foot snagged on something. He tripped and hit his eye on a trailer hitch. A trailer hitch! Can you imagine? I can but I don’t want to. He said he doesn’t remember what he did with his arms but they didn’t break his fall. I joked that he couldn’t remember what his arms did because he hit his head on a trailer hitch! He pointed out, and he was right, that he was actually quite lucky. If the hitch hit him just half an inch in any direction, he would have smashed his nose, crushed his forehead, caved in his temple, or broken his cheekbone. It hurt like hell but he was in one piece. I should also mention that at 6’7″, Jack’s fall was a long one. Debbie put him through a couple concussion tests but he appeared to be fine.
A bit later, Debbie drove us back over to Elaine’s for dinner. Since we don’t visit as often as we’d like, Elaine got as many of Beth’s relatives to come to dinner as possible. Elaine and Lou were there (duh), Beth’s uncle Tom, his son Justin and his wife Lauren. their children Rosie and Eve (of playground fame), Beth’s uncle Nick and his longtime girlfriend Nancy (whom I had not met previously), and of course Debbie and Jack (he drove himself having to actually pack his stuff eventually). Lou’s golfing buddy was there too. It was a large Bomben and Bomben/spouse contingent. There was a lot of delicious food. Lou grilled chicken on the barbecue out back. Tom brought an entire cookie platter from Costco despite Elaine telling him not to bring so many. Justin brought a peach pie, which he pre-prepared but needed to bake. He joked that if it was delicious, he made it, but if it wasn’t, Lauren did. The girls played fetched with Charlie and Maeby. Lou taught them to throw the ball through an open window on the porch and the dogs joyfully jumped up and over it repeatedly. Thankfully, the window was only about eight inches off the ground.
The dinner party was a hit. Beth’s family is a lot of fun. They kid each other about things long past relevant. If Ken were there we’d likely hear the entire history of the Funny Brother Awards. I’ve heard it a couple times now but it is only brought up with them all present. Tom has dominated the category most years but that’s because he created it. It was good to see Justin and Lauren again, too. They’re a lot of fun to hang out with. As my friend Erik branded them at our wedding, they’re a “power couple”. I kid because Erik had a man-crush on Justin because of his excellent beard. After a couple rounds of dessert (yes, I had two pieces of Justin’s peach pie) everyone went home to their respective homes. We didn’t get to see most of them again the rest of our time in the Bay Area so it was good to catch up while it lasted.
Debbie’s night wasn’t quite over. Jack had her bring him to the Urgent Care to have his eye checked at 11pm. The clinic they went to has an optimologist but they’re not on duty that late at night. They had to wait an hour and a half for someone to drive in and look at Jack. That’s what he gets for waiting so long to get looked at. It’s all WebMD’s fault. If he hadn’t spent twenty minutes reading about random eye conditions he wouldn’t have scared himself into needing an urgent care visit. Beth and I got to sleep with the window open again. Maeby reacted to the occasional nighttime noise but it was worth it. End of day nine.