I reached over the passenger seat to roll down the window in our two-door Chevy with the dubious crack in the windshield. Trying to cool off in the Oakland airport rental car parking lot, we waited for our mini-van. I pulled up my heavy hair in a tangled bundle on the headrest to cool off my neck. What is keeping Kevin and Sam so long?
A jet black Mercedes SUV pulled in to the parking spot next to us.
A dark-tinted window lowered down, purring in my right ear. I turned my head, looking over my sunglasses.
“Fuck you. No, you did not,” I said.
Kevin’s big blue eyes seemed to twinkle even bluer from the driver’s seat. The Merecedes-Benz SUV was newly rented for our day in wine country and weekend road trip to Monterey and Los Angeles. I could not believe my eyes.
Apparently, Kevin showed his US military ID and flashed his baby blues at the car rental attendant.
She said, in a hush-hush, I’m-not-supposed-to-do-this tone, “Do you want a Mercedes?”
Is that a hypothetical question? Um, YEAH, I imagined they said in unison.
Rental car lady said it would cost $35 per day, about the same price that we were preparing to lay down for a mini-van. Yeah, I said it. MINI-VAN. Sam had spent some time in the morning trying to Priceline negotiate a deal on an SUV online with her phone, but failed, and decided that settling for a mini-van would be the better option for our money. Of course, Sam thought that the car rental attendant meant that the Mercedes would cost $35 extra per day, on top of the $35 of the mini-van base rental price – which still would have been a great price for a luxury vehicle of this caliber. But, oh, we rolled off the lot with a Mercedes SUV for a total cost $35 a day for a car that’s sticker priced at $62,000 to start. Thank you, US Coast Guard. Thank you very, very much.
Whoever said “Getting there is half the fun” must have been talking about getting there in a Mercedes. I mean, I love my ’98 Toyota Camry, but this thing is sick. All black leather interior, tinted windows, two sun roofs, climate control for front and back seats, satellite radio, blind spot detection and alert system, rear view camera-slash-CD/DVD player. Buttons EVERYWHERE. Its manual is like a leather-bound bible. It has a “Never Lost” GPS that rewards you with a pleasant sound when you make the correct turn, and doesn’t scold when you stray from its suggested path. It calmly recalculates and carries on. Kevin insisted that the way the GPS lady enunciated the various highway route numbers, street and town names constituted flirting and so named her Sheila. Highway One Zero One in zero-point-five miles. Ah, Sheila.
Fortunately for us, I was not put in charge of finding a rental car for us. Because if I had been, we’d be driving a minivan down PCH that I would have reserved and researched weeks in advance. Oooh, minivan sexy! Slide open that door, why dontcha?
You can’t plan everything. Wait, wait – I should have written, I can’t plan everything. I can’t always get the best deal or the lowest price. I can’t research everything online. And that is sometimes (maybe, many times?) a good thing.
I realized at the moment Kevin’s window purred down that I had been acting like a complete control freak: internet research, guide book scanning, iPhone app downloading for a few weeks leading up to this trip. I was stressing myself out because I took on the responsibility for the complete vacation happiness of my travel companions: my best friend, Samantha; her siblings, Shannon and Kevin; and their mother, Tracy. I mean, I’m the travel blogger and I’ve been to San Francisco and LA a few times already. Surely I can ensure that we have the best vacation ever!?! What kind of travel expert would I amount to if I couldn’t do the job? Seems like a little pride goes a long, long way on the road to neurotic.
Mix this with my Type A personality, and you have the main ingredients to a Molotov cocktail. Being a Type A has come in handy during this trip a few times: getting the best airline tickets at a discount; setting up the pre-flight email and text alerts so I know that there’s a three-hour delay in takeoff time, bringing extra layers for the twenty degree drop in temperature when the fog rolls in and covers up that California sunshine. I brought the free maps I picked up from AAA. But I’m starting to think the stress is just not worth it.
First, I’m pissing everyone off. I realize this “fun” personality characteristic can be annoying to others who just want to relax on their vacations. Relax, why do you want to relax? Shower and get out of the house, chop chop! We gotta get it done! I need new stuff to write about! I have to do this blogging thing on a daily basis! I’m a writer, for chrissakes! And when a travel blogger travels, she is working! Oh yeah, you’re not working. You’re on vacation. Oh yeah, and I’m supposed to be having fun anyway even though I’m “working.” Working your last nerve, I see.
We dropped off Kevin’s car and got in the Mercedes. We took ridiculous pictures. Facebook was immediately updated. Phone calls came in from incredulous friends. As we drove into downtown, Sam, usually the Queen of Road Rage, drove markedly calmer when more than a few cars were waving us through, slowing down for us to get into their lanes. Parking spaces just materialized out of thin air. Much respect and love was shown to the Mercedes. The whole time we drove up to Sonoma we were talking and laughing about how amazing we were in our shiny new toy. The words Mercedes Ess-You-Vee, we worked that out like overtime. We suddenly realized we were going to have this car for today and for the whole weekend: our drive down to Los Angeles across hundreds of miles of beautiful coast and country, and then around LA. Tracy came up with the amazing suggestion of driving down Rodeo Drive in our Mercedes SUV. We will look like we belong. We were buggin’ out.
I couldn’t have planned the rest of the day any better. We drove through San Francisco, and on the Golden Gate bridge, up through the hairpin turns in the ear-popping mountains on the way to the magnificent Muir Woods. Escaping the rush hour traffic north on 101, we popped over to Sonoma County, just in time to take in two wineries, many glasses of wine and several bottles of the same for home. We figured it would be great to get a taste of the California cuisine and put some food down for the lovely fermented grape juice now in our bellies. The ladies at the second tasting room suggested their favorite restaurant in downtown Sonoma called the girl and the fig. They mentioned we might not get in because we’d be walk-ins sans reservation. Luckily the restuarant accomodated us in the bar area, which was better for the five of us, since on the couches we felt more at home. All meal long, my jovial companions and I enjoyed ourselves with wholehearted laughter, passing the plates around at our taste buds’ delight. Course one for me was an arugula salad, lightly dressed, with chevre, walnuts, figs and pork belly. Course two was sweetbreads with fennel, carrot and pork belly bits and reduction. Dessert was a flight of ice cream: fig and port, toasted marshmallow and caramel sea salt. Dear Jesus, it was one of the best meals of my life. Amen.
“The best laid plans of mice and men,” Tracy reminded me with a smile.
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