This year, my mother insisted that we come home to Ohio for Christmas. After checking flight prices for the three of us, and hearing about the virtual strip-searching going on at airports across the US, Frank suggested that we drive from Palo Alto to Ohio. I was worried about the weather in the Rockies and the plains states, but Frank had another idea: a trip south and across historic Route 66. Alex and I both have two weeks off, so we said, "Why not?" and started planning our reverse-Joads-across-America tour, with stops in Barstow, Kingman, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Branson, and St. Louis, en route to Indiana and Ohio to see the family.
After a frantic last day at work yesterday, we loaded up the car with presents, snacks and clothing for all kinds of weather and headed out. The most difficult part seemed to be getting out of the driveway, after running back in time and again to get some other essential item we had forgotten.
Finally, I said, "We've got our wallets and our kid. We have everything we need. We're in America. Whatever we forgot, we'll buy."
That is, after all, the American way.
For me, no southbound trip can begin without a stop at the Casa de Fruta in Hollister, about an hour from hour house. It's a legendary roadside complex that started as a farm fruitstand and has grown over the years to include a restaurant (Casa de Restaurant), candy store (Casa de Sweets), wine story (Casa de Wine) and a mini-train ride for the kiddies (Casa de Choo Choo). For some reason, I love this place. Maybe because it has been the launching point for some really fun roadtrips to Los Angeles and Disneyland in the past. Maybe I just like dried fruit. Who knows?
Stopping at Casa de Fruta is like a talismanic ritual for me; in my mind, I have associated purchasing over-priced dried fruit with sunny skies, no traffic, and no grumps in the car. I was devastated to find that by the time we arrived at 8:30 pm, the fruit stand was closed. We had to settle for the Casa de Restaurant, and got some hearty, down-home grub to sustain us on the long drive ahead.
The forecast for the Bay Area called for rain, but Frank assured me that we would be heading away from the storm, so we were good. He was obsessively checking the Weather Underground app on his phone to see when we would get out of the drizzle. The annoying drizzle didn't stop until we reached Colinga, unfortunately. Couple that with spells of the infamous tule fog on I-5, and you have less than ideal conditions. If only that fruit stand had been open...
It was actually not a bad drive, and we crept into Barstow at 2:30 am. We didn't have a hotel reservation, so we pulled in to a well-lit Quality Inn, crossed our fingers, and lucked into a room at a super-cheap midnight walk-in rate of $59. The price included a full breakfast (not the usual coffee and stale donuts affair) and free Wifi (hey Marriott Hilton, take note of that).
So, we're off, on what I am calling our "Christmas Across America Tour," where our intrepid little family will be seeing some natural landmarks, historic sites, goofy roadside attractions, and lots and lots of highway for the next two weeks. We plan to wind up at my parents' house in time for Christmas Eve.
Check back here and follow me on Twitter (@glennia) for updates and photos.
Road Trip Tip of the Day: Don't reserve rooms for every night of your trip. Many fine motels have cheaper rates for walk-ins to fill unused space.