Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Road Trip - Part 3

When I started working at USP Lompoc in 1986 my family (Pat and Christopher) and I lived in Santa Maria, California. Pat worked at the loal mall with a woman named Cathy. Cathy was married to Brad. They became some of our closest friends. We hung out together, went to dinner together, celebrated birthdays together, etc. (Cathy's main job was Guidance Counselor at a local high school. Brad worked at a grocery store where at the age of 25 he was already an assistant manager. He once offered to get me a job at the store to get me out of the prison. I turned him down and I'm glad I did.)

When we left Lompoc we stayed in touch for a while but as many of you know, moving around often interferes with friendships. I looked them up when I was in Lompoc in 1999 and we had dinner together. They had a 2 year old son. Brad had worked his way up to being manager of his own store then that store label had been purchased by a large chain. They kept him on and at the time he was still a store manager.

We lost touch after that and I couldn't find them until recently, through the wonders of Facebook. When our California trip became definite I began looking for Cathy and Brad. If it was possible I wanted to see them and get reacquainted, and introduce them to Arden. I searched for them on Google and also on Facebook. One day I got a hit on a familiar face. It was Brad.

They were no longer married. Brad lives in the L.A. area and Cathy lives North of Santa Maria. But since we were going to be in Lompoc and driving through L.A. I knew I could make it work. Brad gave me Cathy's contact information and by the time we began our vacation I had made plans to see them both.

Sunday morning, after leaving Liz and Roland, we drove the 20 miles up to Santa Maria. I wanted to see it again - see the places we had lived, the hospital where I had worked before joining the BOP. I had always liked Santa Maria. The weather was great. It was a quiet, peaceful town and people were friendly.

We drove up Broadway, the main North/South artery that goes through the center of town. Some things looked the same but after 24 years away most things looked different. The town had built up and spread out. New businesses were everywhere to the point that even when I saw a familiar one, like the old KMart store, it didn't look the same.

The Town Center Mall, on the corner of Main and Broadway, is now completely surrounded by office buildings. You can't see the mall from the street. I drove past one house we had rented and it actually looked good - except it had been painted a drab color. It had been a pale blue with white trim when we lived there and I thought it looked better blue.

We drove out to the other side of town where the hospital is and where our last home had been. The hospital, which used to sit on the edge of town surrounded mostly by farm fields, is now surrounded by medical office parks. The hospital itself has had a facelift and doesn't even look like the same building.

Then we headed North on Suey Road to find our old townhouse. Much to my surprise, the entire townhouse complex is gone and has been replaced with single family homes. Those were luxury townhomes. We paid $750 a month in rent in 1988 for ours! Tearing them down was no small or inexpensive project. But I guess there was more money to be made selling single family homes.

So much for Santa Maria. I didn't recognize it much anymore.

We drove North and met Cathy for lunch. She hasn't changed much. We are all older but I found Cathy pretty much the way I remembered her. We had a great visit in a nice little restaurant and talked for at least an hour. Toward the end of our visit she got a message from her sister that said she (her sister) was there at the restaurant. We went out to the patio and found them. I barely remembered her sister but she remembered Pat, my ex.

We said our good-byes and headed toward Santa Barbara for the rest of the afternoon. I have always loved Santa Barbara and wanted Arden to experience it. We drove up over San Marcos Pass on highway 154, a drive I've always loved. The drive goes by Lake Cachuma, a beautiful, man-made lake in the valley. Except due to the drought, Lake Cachuma is down to only 30% capacity. She is drying up. It's truly sad.

We came down the Santa Barbara side of the pass and things began to look familiar. Turning down State Street, we drove down until we saw the signs for the mission. I wanted Arden to see it even if we didn't park and get out. It's a beautiful sight. Of course, unknown to us there was an art festival going on across the street so it took nearly half an hour just to drive past it.

We went on down State Street through the center of town, past shops and restaurants of all kinds. We drove past the art museum, one of my favorites. And, of course, we enjoyed the sub-tropical greenery.

Eventually we made it down to Stern's Wharf. We got lucky and found a place to park only a couple of blocks away and walked out to one of the restaurants for an early dinner with a spectacular view.

There were sea lions frolicking in the water (Yes, I said frolicking) and pelicans dive bombing fish. Our meal cost us at least three times what it was worth (it really was good) but we enjoyed sitting there watching the activity in and on the water.

We had a two-hour limit on our parking space so after looking around as long as we dared we headed back to the van. I drove down Cabrillo Boulevard toward the 101 to continue our trip. My plan was to spend the night somewhere on the road between Santa Barbara and L.A.

When we got to Summerland I pulled off the 101. This was another familiar area. We used to go to the beach in Summerland. They've changed it all now, building a park at the top of the hill and an actual walking trail that goes down the hill, but the beach still looks the same.

Time to move on. We drove to Ventura and found a nice hotel just off the road. We needed to go to the grocery store for a few things and wanted to get to bed early so we could get on the road early the next morning. We accomplished both.

In the morning we drove to the beach community of Ventura and had breakfast at Denny's. Denny's is good no matter where you are. (California is the only place I have ever seen a Denny's restaurant with a bar. Just a bit of trivia.) 

We continued down the 101 freeway toward L.A. In Simi Valley I saw a sign that said "Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. I knew we had to stop. I crossed a couple of lanes of traffic and got off at the exit. The Reagan Library was something I have always wanted to see and I forgot we were going to be close to it.

We drove nearly 5 miles off the highway before we finally reached the library. It sits on top of a low mountain overlooking the valley. As you approach there are pictures of every President, beginning with Washington, on the street light posts. They lead you to the parking lots.

Outside the building is park-like landscaping. It is very inviting. There is a large bronze statue of President Reagan just outside the entrance doors.

In the lobby is a portrait of the man himself.

As you walk through the museum there are numerous photographs and personal artifacts that belonged to the President. Some were on his desk in the oval office and others were personal items that have been preserved. Among those were his mother's Bible - the very Bible he used to swear his oath of office both times.

They have the Boeing 707 aircraft that was Reagan's Air Force One in one wing of the building, along with Marine One and his presidential limousine. As you come out of the museum display into the hallway that goes to the Air Force One exhibit you see this:

It's larger than life. He's about 8 feet tall in this picture. But I think it's one of the best pictures of hi there is. Standing in front of it gave me goosebumps.

We headed to the Air Force One exhibit. The hallway comes out on the third floor, above everything, and the plane is right there in front of you. Looking down over the railing you see the limo and Marine One. (I didn't get a picture of Marine One - probably because it looks exactly like the current version.)

They allow you to walk through both aircraft although photography is not allowed inside Air Force One. I don't know why.

The 707, being much smaller than the 747 used today, had a communications center (where "the football" was kept), a meeting room, private rooms for the President and the First Lady, a galley, and seating in the back for a limited number of the press corps. (Or as President Obama would say - the press corpse.)

The only part of that exhibit I didn't like was that they take your picture at the entrance to Air Force One and again at Marine One so they can sell you a very expensive copy. They make you pretend like you're the President and First Lady and make you wave for the picture. It's a bit annoying. But we did it.

The tour moved on. We went past a portrait of the President that was made of his favorite candy - Jelly Bellies.

There was a picture of Medal of Honor winner, MSgt Roy Benavidez, with President Reagan. I took a picture of it for my friend and brother, Chuck Grammont, Sr., and all the other Vietnam vets who might see this.

And finally, toward the end, we saw what I felt was the most poignant photo in the display - Ron Jr. and Patti Davis consoling their mother at the funeral of her beloved Ronnie.

Finally, outside the building in the back, was a piece of history that was directly accredited to the great President Reagan - an actual piece of the Berlin Wall. It is on display just as it was cut from the wall.

The Reagan Library was a powerful place. Arguably one of the greatest presidents ever, the man himself was a legend. It was an honor to finally be able to tour his library and to feel like a part of history for a little while. Thank you, Mr. President, for everything you did for our country and its citizens. You will not be forgotten - at least not by my generation.

Next stop...  the City of Angels.

To be continued...

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