Monday, April 14, 2014

Publix Fast Pass?

I'd like to propose that Publix offer a Fast Pass for their check-out lines (both regular registers and (especially) the pharmacy. In the past 36 hours, I've lost about 30 minutes of my life waiting in lines at Publix (two different stores), both for ridiculous reasons. On both occasions, I was sure that Alan Funt (or one of his relatives) were going to pop out at any moment.

It all started yesterday morning when I did my weekly shopping. I rarely go to the "little" Publix anymore, because I find that the Atlantic store offers a much larger variety, much friendlier staff and much better service. Out of convenience, I opted for the store closest to my house. My Online Deli order was waiting for me (a miracle in itself) and my shopping experience wasn't bad overall...until it came time to check out. 

Only one regular lane (besides the Express Lane) was open. It was okay, because there was only one person ahead of me. I didn't notice (as I unpacked my entire cart) that the store manager, two cashiers and a packaging clerk were all at the register trying to help the customer ahead of me (who was wearing a shower cap and a fancy dress). From what I gathered, the customer was claiming that the cashier (who has worked at the store forever, but totally lacks enthusiasm) overcharged her. The manager had to go through her receipt and see what she bought. I believe that (after 10-15 minutes of arguing), the total was correct, but the woman didn't bring enough money with her, so they ended up taking a couple of items off her tab. She was in a hurry, because she was on her way to church. Interesting twist on an Easter bonnet, ma'am.

Today I had to pick up a prescription from the Atlantic Publix (which is a good thing, as I've vowed never to return to the "little" Publix ;)). As much as I love the Atlantic Publix, you seriously put your auto insurance to the test in the parking garage. I happened to wait for a space previously occupied by a car that was parked a good 9-12 inches over the line on one side and whose gas-brake-gas-brake-gas-brake maneuver to pull out of the spot reminded me of Farmer Ted driving Jake Ryan's Dad's Rolls. But, I got parked without a scratch (though my nerves were a little fried).

When I arrived at the Pharmacy, there were three people ahead of me. Not too bad, right? Except the guy at the front and the pharmacy tech seem to be doing some serious research on the computer. The older, very sweet foreign man (with very hairy ears) in front of me turned around after about 5-10 minutes and said "Blame Obamacare." I laughed and told him that I do. He replied, "Oh, you're in my camp?" We bonded. 

After getting nowhere, the guy at the front of the line left and the cashier helped the next person in line. When she was done, instead of helping the guy in front of me, she stepped out from behind the counter to wipe off the counter (which didn't appear to be dirty), oblivious to the fact that there was more to the line and people had been waiting for 15 minutes. Another pharmacy tech asked if she could help my buddy. The stray cashier returned and proceeded to have him swipe his credit card five times before realizing that the system was rejecting the card because there was no charge for his prescriptions. 

I was next, but they original guy in the front of the line ended up behind me with his prescription bottle for the drugs that the  pharmacy tech told him had no refills. Of course, she had to look into that, so I got to chatting with him about dogs (I was buying dog biscuits). She told him that he had transferred his prescription to another pharmacy. He denied it. He said that he had called Target for a price and they told him they couldn't fill his prescription, (but they had apparently transferred it to their pharmacy). (Don't you just love the quality of service these days?).

So 25 minutes after entering Publix, I finally had my prescription (and some dog biscuits). I had made a couple of new friends too. Sometimes you just have to shake your head and laugh. But, I decided to take the whole experience as a sign that this is NOT the week to give up my evening glass of wine. Hey, look at that! It's nearly 5:00. ;)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Things I Learned in California ~ 2014 Edition

I've already written quite a bit about my recent trip to California in my previous blog post, My Soul(o) Vacation. But my mini-vacation was just a small (albeit the best) part of a five-day jaunt through SoCal that was full of lessons. So, here we go. It's time for "Things I Learned in California ~ 2014 Edition"...

Fashion irony is still alive and well. Remember back a few years ago when track suits were "in" and women wore sweatpants with things like "JUICY" and "SEXY" written across their butts (even though the quality they "advertised" was questionable)? I didn't see any "hot" pants on my trip, but I did get to experience a little fashion irony at the Fort Lauderdale airport. 

I had been waiting in the security line for about 15 minutes, listening to the woman behind 
me complain to her husband every time a member of the "Elite" status program got to skip the line and go ahead of us. (Hey, there are perks to flying a lot!) I was at the front of the line when an anxious young woman approached me and asked if she could please go ahead of me because her flight was leaving in 10 minutes. I know exactly how she felt, so I told her to go right ahead. Well, that completely pissed off the woman behind me, who immediately started (loudly) complaining and telling the woman that we all have flights to catch and she needs to wait in line like everyone else. When it was my turn, I was behind the young woman and I told her that I hope she made her flight. She thanked me and I could tell that she was crying. I felt SO bad for her. First of all, it's a HORRIBLE feeling to think you are going to miss your flight, but then to have someone just go off on you too?

So, "What's the fashion irony?" you may be wondering. Well, when I arrived at my gate, the woman who had been behind me in line, who also "had to hurry to catch her flight" was on the same flight as I was...which wasn't leaving for another hour. At that point, I also noticed that she was wearing a shirt that read, "I am love." I wanted so badly to go up to her and tell her, "Practice what you wear."

Musicians get perks on Virgin America flights. On my flight to LAX, I noticed that the flight attendant kept bringing one of my seatmates food and drinks. She also dropped by to talk to him...A LOT. At one point, he pulled a music magazine down from his bag in the overhead bin and autographed it for the flight attendant. Turns out an entire jazz band was on board. My seatmate, Joe, was the drummer (and a really nice guy). He asked the flight attendant for a cup of hot water. When she brought it to him, she took out a little vial (that she said she had gotten in Thailand) and poured it in the hot water. At this point, the entire plane started smelling like Vick's VapoRub. I asked Joe what it was and he told me that it was essential oil. The lady between us started complaining about the smell, so the flight attendant comped her some snacks and drinks too. Turns out, it pays to sit next to a musician (and complain?) on a flight. ;) 

Got a medical problem? There's an essential oil for that. I started talking to Joe about the essential oils because I was curious as to why you would need to inhale them on a flight and he told me that he always travels with them. He's had sinus problems for years and nothing (not even surgery) helped. His mom did some research and ordered the essential oils for him and he said he feels better than ever. He gave me a little booklet that's a guide to essential oils and tells which oil to use for any given ailment (and I mean ANY given ailment - It turns out that myrrh is a cure for jock itch! Who knew?). I'm thinking about trying a little lavender and chamomile oil for my insomnia. We'll see if it works.

There is SNOW on the mountains east of L.A. in March! Check it out!

If you rent an "Economy" car, you don't get satellite radio. Huh. Now, why did I think that was standard on rental cars? Clearly, Bob and his National Car Rental Executive Elite status has spoiled me! I was so disappointed to learn that I couldn't listen to "Next Wave" in my Nissan Versa. Which brings me to the next thing I learned (which really shouldn't have come as such a surprise)...

There are a ton of Spanish radio stations in California. Trying to find some decent music on Southern California radio is surprisingly challenging. I guess most people do have satellite radio, or just listen to their downloads now. All I know is that at least half of the stations that I scanned through hablaban espaƱol. Ironically, I heard the song "Low Rider" twice in the two days I had my car in L.A. All I could think of was George Lopez. 
My bad ride!

They also play a lot of classic rock in SoCal. I'm a fan of classic rock, so I thought I'd finally happened upon a couple of decent stations. Not necessarily. Maybe it was just timing, but it seemed like they played a whole lot of the same thing. Now, when you are reaching back 40 years for music, you should have a pretty diverse library, right? I heard a lot of AC/DC, The Scorpions and The Doors in those two days. Instead of "twofers", one station out there does "threefers", which is great if you LIKE the band. If not, you've got a good 10-30 minutes to avoid that station! Anyway, I had to resort to listening to Pandora on my phone a couple of times. 

Motorcycles are the only way to travel in L.A. Last summer, we saw a couple of motorcycles driving between lanes of traffic. We thought it was odd (not to mention dangerous as hell). When we were back at home, Rob was talking to a guy from California who told him that it is legal for bikers to drive between lanes! Crawling along in rush hour traffic on the 405 while motorcycles zipped past me, it finally dawned on me how smart these guys truly are. Forget the Nissan! Next time, I'm renting a Harley!

There is surprisingly a lot of free parking in California, but most of it is parallel. A lot of things are expensive in Southern California, but parking is generally not one of them. Here's the catch...many of those free spaces require you to parallel park on the highway. Do you know how much fun it is to do that at rush hour? Let's just say, I was very thankful for my economy car. (A motorcycle would have been even better.)

Shells CAN be found on California beaches. I covered this in my last blog post, but I was so excited about it, I thought I'd mention it again. ;) Out of all of the beautiful shells that I found, I only kept three of them. I left the rest of them at the base of the bluff, right where I had taken the photo.

Coconut oil is a great tar remover. After my walk on the beach, I noticed that the bottom of my feet felt sticky. Uh-oh! I had picked up a couple of clumps of tar. Naturally, I don't travel with mineral spirits, so I checked out my to travel kit to see if I had anything that might remove tar. I don't go anywhere without my coconut oil hair polish (which can be found in the ethnic hair care section of WalMart, in case you're wondering where to get some), so I figured I'd give it a shot. A little coconut oil and a disposable razor and my feet were clean, soft and sweet-smelling. ;)

A California breakfast burrito will fuel you for an entire day. San Diego is really close to Mexico. Maybe that's why restaurants there know their way around a burrito. California breakfast burritos are the best! I've had them at the Broken Yolk Cafe and my new favorite breakfast spot, Pipes Cafe. For me, eggs, cheese and avocado are the only "necessities", but a little bacon, sausage, and/or potatoes gives the meal a little extra "hang time." Eat one and you won't have to stop for food the rest of the day!

The GPS and I still don't get along. Frequent blog readers already know, our rivalry goes back a long way. I always assumed that my hatred of the GPS stemmed from a bizarre jealousy. My travel companions always seem to take the GPS's advice over mine. Well, on this trip, I was alone and the GPS was still out to get me. As I was desperately trying to get out of L.A. on my first day, she kept telling me to "take the exit toward the Long Beach Airport". I wasn't GOING to the Long Beach Airport! I was headed 73 miles south to Carlsbad, where I was trying to catch the 6:58 sunset! After about 20 minutes of "recalculating," she finally got the hint that I was ignoring her.

The next day, as I was on my way from visiting the seals in La Jolla to meet my friend for breakfast, the GPS powered down just as I was approaching the turn I needed to take. Worst timing ever! The road I was driving on continued for miles with no U-Turn and merged into I-5...NOT where I wanted to be at rush hour. I ended up going about 10 miles out of the way AND she lead me down another wrong route before getting me back on the PCH. The rest of the trip, she stayed in "Maps" mode. Thanks for nothin', GPS...I got this.

If you are the least bit claustrophobic, avoid Balboa Island. My family ventured over to Balboa Island on one of our previous trips to California. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed. We didn't get very far before we turned around and headed back to mainland O.C. Since it was Friday morning, I figured it would be far less crowded. I had some time to kill before the Huntington Beach Farmers Market opened, so I thought I'd stop by Balboa Island and maybe snap a few pictures. 

Turns out, Balboa Island is (or at least seems to me to be) crowded ALL the time. Streets are narrow and many are "one way." The main street through town reminded me of Las Olas Boulevard (only half as wide) with people attempting to (surprise) parallel park in traffic. After 10 minutes, I'd had enough of Balboa and decided to explore elsewhere. (Get it? Balboa? ;) ).

There really are (at least) two frozen banana stands on Balboa Island. If you watch Arrested Development, you know that it takes place in Newport Beach/Balboa Island and that the Bluth's own the "Original Frozen Banana Stand" on Balboa. I was amused to discover two "original" frozen banana places on the main drag through Balboa within 50 feet of each other. I can't believe I didn't get a picture! See, that goes to show how stressed out the place made me feel!

Vacancy at a motel that has color TV and TNT?
Must be my lucky day!
The Pacific Coast Highway is NOT like A1A everywhere in Southern California. I didn't have to return my rental car until 3, so I figured I'd take my time cruising up the PCH to LAX. I thought it would be a relaxing, beautiful drive up the coast through quaint little beach cities and surf towns. Not so. I really should have paid closer attention to the maps. Driving north, once you leave Orange County, you are not going to see the Pacific Ocean for quite some time. After about 45 minutes, I was convinced that I had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Compton (or maybe Tijuana? The McDonald's billboards were en espanol). Even the GPS was trying to tell me to "take the next right toward the freeway." Did I listen? Of course not! Fuel was reasonable (relatively speaking...we're talking less than $4 for regular), but there was NO WAY I was stopping. 

There are a lot of really scary motels in L.A. along the stretch of the PCH I was just telling you about. Note to self: "Just because the address says "Pacific Coast Highway" does NOT mean it is a cute little bungalow by the sea."

Gas stations are scarce as you approach LAX As mentioned above, my rental car was in need of a fill-up. I thought that surely there would be plenty of gas stations once I returned to an area where I didn't think I was taking my life in my hands just to get a tank of fuel. Ummmm...not necessarily true. There are (strategically?) very few gas stations on the PCH as you approach LAX. (Gee, there were PLENTY of them further south!) So, yes, I had to rely on the GPS to help me find a gas station. Naturally, it told me there was one right up ahead in .2 miles, on the LEFT side of the road, when I was in the far RIGHT lane!

You better carry cash (or have a debit card) in Los Angeles. So, I finally get to the gas station, only to discover that they don't take credit cards. I wait in line behind seven people to tell the guy I want to fill up. He tells me that I need to give him the cash first and come back for my change. He asks me how much it will take to fill up the car. I have NO clue, so I go with what it costs to fill my car up with Premium at home and give him $55. (He kind of looks at me like I'm crazy.) I head back to the car and realize that I have no idea how to open the fuel door. I look on the driver's side door. No button. I look on the floor by the driver's side door. Nothing. I get out and start pushing the fuel door, hoping it will pop open. Nope. Initiate meltdown. I call Rob and as he's Googling how to open the fuel door on a Nissan Versa, I discover the button on the dash. It takes a whopping $37 to fill up my Versa. (Yep, I was waaaay off.) Not bad for two days of driving all over Southern California! 

Driving past the international airlines arrivals at LAX is like riding "It's a Small World". Back at LAX, after dropping off my rental car (I was SO done with driving in L.A.), I caught the Super Shuttle to the convention center. We had to stop at the various terminals to pick up passengers. At the international arrivals area, I was so intrigued by the fact that you could tell where the visitors were from by the airline's sign they were standing under - I saw people from Japan, China, Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and yes, even Malaysia (gulp). 

If you question a cabbie, your fare may get raised. I had never ridden in a cab by myself until I had to take one from the convention center to my hotel. I had read on TripAdvisor to be wary of cabbies in Downtown Los Angeles, as some have a habit of taking you a "roundabout" way, to raise your fare. First of all, when I caught the cab, it was waiting for the previous passenger to go get cash (Red flag #1 - doesn't take credit cards).  The cab smelled like incense (Red flag #2 - although it could have smelled worse, like deodorant failure). As we were driving down Olive Street (where my hotel was located), I thought I remembered the number being 701. We had driven past the 700-block, so I asked my cabbie if we had passed the hotel. BIG mistake! He says, "What, do you think I don't know where I'm going?" My fare went from $7 to $12 in 2.5 seconds (I watched  him physically bump it up on the meter). :/ He did know where he was going. I had the address wrong. Oops.

Walking alone in Downtown L.A. is less scary than riding in a cab. Missing Persons says nobody walks in L.A. Well, I did (and I lived to tell about it). I knew that if I settled into my hotel room too early, I'd be asleep by 7:00, so I decided to take a walk. OK...confession time, I decided to walk to Rite Aid to buy a bottle of Yellow Tail Cabernet after discovering a corkscrew in the mini-bar. (And, yes, there was wine in the mini-bar, but even though I wasn't paying for it, I refused to drink a tiny $15 bottle of're welcome, John.) ;)

The drug store was farther than I thought, so I ended up walking about a mile in total. Walking in the city always blows my mind. It makes me feel so tiny. I discovered that there is some really cool architecture (both old and new) in Downtown L.A. I really wasn't afraid at all (except for rarely knowing when I could cross the street because a giant double-bus would invariably block the intersection every time the WALK sign was list). Nobody bothered me or even tried to mug me for my $5 bottle of wine (which I had to carry in a paper bag #classy). I actually felt far more comfortable walking around the city than I felt in the cab. 

I will most likely never become a vegan. I had dinner at The Farm of Beverly Hills (at L.A. Live - not in Beverly Hills) on the recommendation of a friend (thanks, Brittany!). The menu featured many healthy-options, and I figured since I was in health-conscious California, I'd try my first vegan meal - Runner Bean Cassoulet. We also ordered roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash for an appetizer. Now THAT was delicious (and I thought it was healthy too until our waiter informed us that the chef tosses the veggies in butter and brown sugar before roasting them). The cassoulet? Meh. It wasn't bad. It TASTED healthy. As Rob would say, "I wouldn't crawl through a mile of glass for it." I think I'll remain an omnivore.

Carefully research a hotel's neighborhood before booking. I am a TripAdvisor freak. When I'm going on a trip, I research the heck out of the places I'll be staying. I was a little leery of the Omni when I discovered how close it was to Skid Row (yes, there really is a place). I was even MORE worried when Bob accidentally cancelled my reservation at the Omni and I had to make another one at the only available downtown hotel, the Doubletree, which was even closer to Skid Row. Fortunately, Bob was able to get my Omni reservation back, and the hotel was in a decent neighborhood. The shuttle that took us to and from the convention also served the Doubletree. When I saw the neighborhood surrounding the Doubletree, I was thanking the good Lord above that I was able to get back into the Omni. The Doubletree itself was beautiful, but it was on the edge of one of the seediest urban areas I've ever seen. A couple blocks from the hotel, I saw a sign that read "Sexy Yoga Butt Massage." 'Nuff said.

Downtown sunrises and sunsets are not quite as pretty as coastal ones, but they're pretty darn cool.

I just may be a force of nature. You may have hear that "it never rains in Southern California." Well, maybe not...unless I go for a visit! ;) It rained last summer when I was there and it also rained (for the first time in MONTHS) a few days before I headed out this year. Fortunately, it did not rain during my trip, BUT the earth did move.

My last morning in town, I had the TV tuned to KTLA as I was catching up on email and Facebook on my computer. I glanced over at the TV and saw on the ticker that a 4.4 magnitude earthquake had just struck Los Angeles. Whaaaaaaaaat?! I'm in Los Angeles. I didn't feel a thing. The epicenter was just 12 miles from my hotel, too. When I saw the news footage, I couldn't believe it! 

Naturally, you start to wonder if this could be a precursor to "The Big One." I was definitely ready to get away from downtown and I wasn't thrilled to be riding through tunnels and under overpasses on my way to the airport later that day, but nothing else happened. I can just tell people that I survived "The Shamrock Shake" of 2014. (It was St. Patrick's Day.) Later that day, my friend, Eric (who is a geologist) teased me that I brought rain to SoCal last year and this time, I managed to bring an earthquake with me. California might pay me to stay away! ;)

Never book a window seat on a five-hour flight. A direct flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale is a beautiful thing (especially on Virgin America). You don't have to worry about missing a connection or losing your luggage. On both flights, I booked a window seat (so that I could take pictures, of course!). I hadn't really considered the fact that I drink A LOT of water and five hours is a long time. I was fine on the flight out, but on my flight back to Fort Lauderdale, my seatmate fell asleep shortly after takeoff and slept through the flight. That was NOT fun. 
My photo on @surfcityusa's

I might actually be pretty good at something I truly enjoy! :) A few days ago, I was going through the photos I had taken, looking at them on the television. Rob said to me, "You took over 900 pictures?!" Does he KNOW me? Of course I did! Many of them didn't turn out, but some of them were absolutely beautiful. I shared my favorite photos with Visit San Diego, who posted them on their Facebook page for "Fan Foto Friday". Yeah, I know they'll post pictures from anyone, but my pictures actually got a lot of likes! I also tagged @surfcityusa (Huntington Beach) in several of my Instagram photos. They shared one of my photos on their Instagram and it got nearly 800 likes! That really meant a lot to me. :) I love sharing my photos and I'm thrilled that other people like them. Now I'm trying to win The Flower Fields and Canon Photo Contest. I've entered a bunch of photos that I took when I visited. Regardless of whether or not I win, I thoroughly enjoyed taking every single shot! 

And the most important things I learned in California this year:

I love my family even more than I thought I did (and that's a lot). Yes, I loved having a day to myself to do what I wanted, when I wanted. It was nice to feel a sense of independence and to have a day where nobody needed anything from me. I quickly realized, though, that it's kind of nice to be needed. Although my family is always in my heart, I really felt our 2,700-mile separation on this trip. I've never been so excited to get back home. Yes, I will go back to California; but I'll be bringing my family with me. :)

I'm stronger than I thought I was. I went into this trip a little nervous about traveling on my own. Fortunately, my excitement trumped my anxiety. Sure, I did have a couple of emotional mini-meltdowns, but overall I believe that I got everything out of the trip that I had hoped I would, plus a little more. I learned a lot of lessons - many of which are detailed above, but some lessons that I learned are just for me and I'm thankful for each and every one of them.

Thanks for reading (I know this was a long one)!

With Love and Aloha ~ Nancy