I recently returned from a weeklong sojourn in Los Angeles to visit family. I spent most of that time lounging around the pool, sipping iced espresso on a Starbucks patio, conversing with my parents, and walking around Valencia, an upscale town located about thirty miles northwest of central L.A. I hadn't seen my parents and in-laws since April 2010 when I was on a military "hot mission" in the San Francisco area and managed to drive down to L.A. for a few days. People on the street were friendly, the weather was superb, and the urban landscape was beautiful. On Sunday I went wine-tasting in the Santa Barbara area with my sister, brother, and my brother's significant other, Allison. Once you reach Santa Barbara you take California State Route 154 eastward over the mountains toward the vineyards. On a side note, I highly recommend a white BMW stocked with plenty of David Bowie and George Michael tunes. Anyway, we stopped along the way at Cold Spring Tavern, a rustic stopping post located at a bend in the old stagecoach route. The tavern dates back to the late 19th century and now attracts motorcycle clubs and tourists. After a delicious chicken barbecue sandwich and alcoholic beverage, we made our way to the town of Los Olivos to enjoy some excellent wine samples at one of the tasting rooms. We also checked out an art gallery and hung out at the local coffeehouse. Next stop was Solvang, "the Danish capital of America," where we visited Mission Santa Ynez and a couple of wineries in the vicinity: Sunstone and Kalyra—the latter providing one of the film locations for the 2004 movie Sideways. Though I grew up in Southern California, I had never been to Solvang before. Overall, the wine and olive oil selections we tried were to die for. Before heading south on the 101 back to Valencia, we ate a fine meal at Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant in Montecito and ruminated on the day's wine-tasting experience.
Well, so far I’ve given you a straightforward narrative of what we did, but you don’t get any notion of who we are. I don’t see my siblings too often, but it seems that each of us is rather independently minded, strong-willed, and more or less non-partisan in our politics. Since our temperaments are different, I guess I’ll have to chalk these similar traits up to nurture, not nature. I don’t know what it was about growing up in Santa Clarita, California, but we picked up a similar outlook on life. Yet the differences are clear. Linda has an infectious joie de vivre, speaking a mile a minute about the many books she’s read, the art exhibits she’s visited, the exotic countries she's traveled to, or the documentaries she’s viewed. Rob, on the other hand, is laid back, thoughtful, deliberative in his comments, and a musician at heart. For my part, Der Viator, I’m dark, self-absorbed, and, admittedly, often reeking of whiskey (unless I’m doing some serious wine tasting in Santa Barbara!). This combination seemed to work well during our junket to Santa Barbara. There was once an eldest daughter, but she passed away in the flower of her youth. I can only guess what she would have been like in this dynamic, but that's a story that will never be told. It was great getting to know Allison, and I'm sure Rob is drawn to her kindness and easy-going nature. I think he's lucky to have her in his life. In sum, the six days in sunny California were just what the doctor ordered: rest, relaxation, good conversation, and plenty of wine.