On the road with the Gehlkes

May 24, 2001

Farewell, old friends. We finally said goodbye to our expired Toyotas on May 7, donating them to the American Diabetes Association. Photo by Roni.
As has been typical of 2001 thus far, the past month has been filled with ups and downs at the Gehlke homestead. We apologize that our monthly missives have been arriving later and later, but we have been inundated with work at our respective jobs, which has not left a lot of time to play online. Fortunately, with May comes vacation, and we have managed to break away from deadlines and decision making for some family celebrations and fun in the southern California sun.

The month began with Ben's seventh birthday. We had planned what we hoped would be a simple and enjoyable party with a couple of his classmates at the Jelly Belly candy factory in Fairfield. As fate would have it, May 2 greeted us with gusty winds and a birthday boy who was suffering from what might best be described as a 24-hour stomach virus. The car trip to Fairfield was, shall we say, memorable. We'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that poor Ben was not at his best for the afternoon. His party guests, Camille and Andrew, were good sports and helped Ben make the best of the situation as they toured the candy factory and opened presents after a hamburger lunch and cupcakes. We opened family gifts at home that evening. It was the first birthday any of us could recall where the candles were blown out on the cake but no one ate any of it. After a doctor visit the following day, Ben was feeling well enough to enjoy some of his presents, including a portable CD player that has been getting a workout spinning Ben's favorite Pokémon tunes.

Glenn and Benji pose for a family photo with Glenn's grandparents Sorenson during a Mother's Day lunch at Mr. T's in Hemet. Photo by Roni.
The wind storm that visited us on Ben's birthday was only part of the story in a month of weird weather. We were generally spared the problems wrought by the wind, although it did manage to topple Roni's lawn swing. Many neighbors on our block lost portions of trees and fences. Less than a week after the gusts we were baking in triple-digit heat. 100-degree temps are not uncommon along the Delta in the summer, but for May they are more rare. The high heat was enough to put the hurt on California's overtaxed power reserves as folks cranked up air conditioners. The result was a round of rolling blackouts that, while not affecting our home, left other parts of our county in the dark including Glenn's office. A blackout shut down work at Glenn's newspaper for about an hour, then cost an additional hour as technicians worked to reboot the company's computer system. With predictions of more blackouts to come in the warm months ahead, it looks as though it will be a long dark summer.

Lack of electricity is not the only cause of darkness around Glenn's office these days. In January there was an unexpected downturn in advertising revenue that hit the newspaper business pretty hard. That coincided with a 20 percent increase in newsprint prices and higher costs for energy and gasoline that have left the big bosses looking for ways to cut expenses. This month we learned that Glenn's company will be trimming 7 percent of its workforce through buyouts and early retirements in hopes of avoiding outright layoffs. With nearly 13 years of seniority it is unlikely that Glenn will be out of a job, but the tension around the office is pretty thick as folks try to guess who will go and who will stay and what everyone will be doing once the restructuring efforts are done.

Glenn and Ben pass the Lego cornstalks (for about the fifth time) during a Legoland train ride. Photo by Roni.
The only "restructuring" that has been going on for Roni these days is the way she has to manage her time now that the work has been rolling in. April and May have seen phenomenal growth for R&G Promotions with two large newsletter jobs arriving along with a couple of Web site projects. The first of the newsletters is at the printer as this is written. The full-color proofs looked good and so should the final product -- all 10,000 copies of it.

Ben strikes his best magazine cover pose against a Pacific Ocean backdrop in Carlsbad. Photo by Roni.
With so much going on, the idea of a real vacation was starting to seem unlikely. Ben had most of May off of school, while Glenn's vacation ran May 12-21. For Roni, as always, any time off is a luxury. We made tentative plans for a five-day getaway -- somewhere. We had kicked around the idea of going to southern California for a few days, but lack of preparation seemed destined to put the idea on hold indefinitely. Compounding the situation was the mysterious lake that formed in Ben's sandbox the evening before our planned departure. Convinced that a sprinkler line had broken and that the problem must be repaired before our trip lest the water company reps be waiting on our doorstep upon our return, we resigned ourselves to a Saturday morning of digging trenches and fabricating repairs. After an hour or so of this and a series of pressure tests, Glenn determined that the lake had in fact not been caused by a leak, but rather by Ben playing with the garden hose for an hour and a half while Mom was on the phone.

Benji learns the rules of the road at the Legoland driving school. After this, he was ready to face L.A. freeway traffic. Photo by Roni.
Well, that brought us to 11 a.m., much too late to start the 350-mile trek down to L.A. -- or so we thought. The next thing we knew, we were tossing our gear into the back of the silver LE and hitting the road. The call of the the open highway had gotten the better of us and we decided it was now or never for our vacation travels. We put in a call to Glenn's grandparents Sorenson in Hemet to let them know we might be stopping by on Sunday, then we made the decision to visit Disneyland, which we had been discussing for a while.

Despite the late start from home and a couple of pit stops along the way down Highway 99, we managed to make Bakersfield by about 5 p.m. A few miles south of town we stopped at a truck stop mini mart for Baskin-Robbins ice cream and Ben discovered a small arcade where he bowled a quick 10 frames with Bart Simpson. Then it was over the Grapevine into the L.A. basin, where smoggy skies and bad drivers rule. Our goal was to find a motel somewhere between Anaheim and Hemet, allowing us easy access to the grandparents and the great bastion of animated excess. But of course we got turned around in rush-hour (on a Saturday?) traffic, then spent about half an hour wandering aimlessly through the streets of Glendale in the dark. Before we knew it we were taking in the spectacle of downtown L.A.'s skyscrapers all aglow while watching the natives fly past us at 85 mph in six lanes of heavy I-5 traffic and trying our best to stay out of their way. (As a little aside, we discovered a few days later that our auto insurance company, AAA, had "inadvertently" discontinued our policy prior to our L.A. trip. NOW they tell us!) We wound up at a Best Western in Norwalk, which is only about 9 miles outside of Anaheim -- and only 90 miles away from Hemet. So much for being centrally located.

No, that's not Glenn in the middle. Despite the uncanny resemblance, this dude is rendered entirely from Lego building bricks. Photo by Glenn.
On Sunday morning, Day 2 of our adventure, we picked up where we had left off the previous evening -- searching for the road that would lead us to Hemet. We thought we might stop for a nice breakfast at Denny's, but this being Mother's Day and one of the biggest eat-out days in America we were skeptical of the 10-minute wait quoted by our greeter. It was Glenn's grandma who convinced us not to bother with breakfast as we were less than an hour away from her house and we'd all go out for an early dinner once we got there. OK, so early dinner meant lunch, but we'd manage. Well, Ben couldn't manage on an empty stomach, so after a mid-morning snack at Carl's Jr. and another couple of hours on the road, we finally arrived at Hemet around 1 p.m. Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson were delighted both to see us as well as receive the bouquet of fresh flowers Ben presented to Grandma for her Mother's Day vase. Our visit was pleasant and seemingly all too brief. It was good to see Grandpa again, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday. It had been five years since we had been down to their place. We dined at Mr. T's, their favored local restaurant, where many a photo was taken. Then we were off for...

Did we mention Legoland? Well, during the drive to Hemet we revisited the question of where to go for our Monday fun. After weighing the pros and cons of Disneyland and Legoland, we left the decision up to Ben who said Legoland sounded new and exciting. We had our doubts, fearing the reality wouldn't live up to the hype. But we felt adventurous and so set our course for Carlsbad instead of Anaheim. We arrived at the Fairfield Inn with time to relax before dinner. We even got in a little drive around Carlsbad and enjoyed the colors of a beautiful sunset. We couldn't agree on where to eat dinner so we did the next best thing: We stopped in at Ralph's supermarket and cobbled together an eclectic meal of a la carte salad, stuffed potatoes, a frozen TV dinner and sushi. Imagine that Malox moment.

We left our hearts in San Francisco after viewing this spectacular creation in the Lego mini land area. We're looking at Chinatown in the foreground, with the landmark Transamerica pyramid and other skyscrapers in the distance. Everything you see, except the trees and "grass," is made from Legos. Photo by Roni.
Monday, Day 3, was chilly and overcast. We arrived at Legoland just before the gates opened at 10 a.m. and were pleased to discover the crowd was small. We were also pleasantly surprised with the park itself. While the rides are geared mostly toward kids Ben's age or younger, there was still plenty to keep the adults engaged. We especially enjoyed the Lego mini land display that features such places as San Francisco, New Orleans, New York City and Washington, D.C., rendered in 1/20 scale using close to 69 million Lego bricks. Glenn, being the garden railroading enthusiast that he is, was very impressed with the miniatures and the attention to detail that went into the scenes. Roni, a native New Yorker, easily pointed out the sights of the Manhattan skyline. One highlight of the day was a play about fire safety in which one of the characters picked Glenn out of the crowd and sat on his lap. Roni, unfortunately, had just put away her camera so there are no blackmail photos. There was much to see and little time to see it, although Ben did his best to hurry us along; he literally was running from one attraction to the next. The day ended all too quickly. But by 5 p.m. we were all pretty beat. We fattened the coffers of the souvenir shop before heading back to the car and dinner at Marie Callenders.

At least they have entertainment on this flight! Ben dozes off while listening to his CD player during the drive back from L.A. Photo by Roni.
Tuesday morning, Day 4, we departed our motel in Carlsbad for what was supposed to be a liesurely drive up the California coast toward home. Our first stop was nearby Oceanside, where we spent about an hour playing on one of the public beaches. It was overcast again, and thus a little too cool for a dip in the waves, but that didn't stop Ben and Roni from waging a playful water fight that left both of them thoroughly soaked. Our pockets stuffed with shells and the floormats of the silver LE lined with beach sand, we continued on I-5 until we hit L.A. again and made the decision to head home that day rather than spend another night in a motel. As fun as the trip had been, four days was about our limit for being away from home where our cat, turtle and hermit crabs were fending for themselves in our absence. We shot straight up I-5 through the Central Valley, where we caught our first real heat of the journey. The sun came out to push the temperature up to 92 degrees, and we had balmy skies and a pleasant evening for the drive through Tracy and back home around 9 p.m. Ben obviously had gotten into the hotel culture as he tried to convince us when we were about an hour from home that we should call it quits and camp out at the Best Western in Westley. Nonetheless, he slept better in his own bed that night.

A long day's journey into night. Roni does her best to manage a tired smile following our 11-hour trek back home from southern California. Photo by Benji.
The remainder of Glenn's time off was spent getting Roni's garden in shape. On Wednesday, May 16, we pulled weeds and raked out dirt clods. On Thursday, we constructed a new "gopher-proof" planter box and put some veggies in the ground. On Friday, we fixed some erosion problems next to the garden stairs and finished the planting. On Saturday, Glenn said to heck with any more garden work for a while and spent the afternoon watching NASCAR races on TV.

We've run on quite a bit this month, so we'll close out this newsletter and try to get back on track with earlier updates for June. Until next time, we'll keep a candle lit for you even if PG&E won't let us leave the light on.

Glenn, Roni and Benji

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