October 8, 2007

A Contemporary Family Vacation: The End
nightshot from our hotel room

From our hotel room at the Fairmont. View larger image.

Our fifth and final stop on the 2007 Gates family vacation tour would take us to San Francisco for the wedding of my best-friend-from-the-first-grade’s daughter. First grade: back then Ron and I were members of a very exclusive club. Just the two of us, Ron was the president and I was the VP. Our official meetings were brief but boisterous. Uncontrollable laughter was high on the agenda. I remember one sleep over Ron made me laugh so hard I had an asthma attack in the middle of the night (which made him laugh even harder).

Our closeness led to the inevitable: our desire to elevate our friendship to blood-brother status. But when the time came to go under the knife we both chickened out. We decided becoming “hair brothers” would be just as good but not as deadly. Each of us pulled a lock from our scalps, exchanged follicles, and ceremoniously transplanted them onto our own heads. Today, Ron has a full head of my hair and I am bald.

The by-laws of our childhood club clearly stated that all members would attend the weddings of their respective children —someday. Once a hair brother, always a hair brother; the time had come.

The wedding was going to be held at the stately and historic Fairmont Hotel. After Motel 8 and other low-budget hostelries we’d been staying at since Las Vegas, this little bit a luxury would be the perfect end to our trip. In addition, this was going to be a reunion of sorts. Schoolmates I hadn’t seen since elementary school would be in attendance. And my wife was going to meet the girl I took to the prom.

But first, we had to get there. Gilroy is only about 80 miles from downtown San Francisco. But we’d learned on our last trip to the Bay Area that a Sunday drive up Highway 101 held no guarantees of an idyllic and easy passage. Eighty miles could seem like two hundred if we hit weekend traffic.

San Francisco Panorama

San Francisco and the bay looking north, taken at the wedding reception from the top of the Fairmont Hotel. View larger image.

The wedding was to begin at 4 o’clock. I had called to arrange for an early check-in at the hotel, but they couldn’t guarantee it. In fact, they told me check-in would be at 4, just when the nuptials were to begin. When we met my sister early that morning for a Goodbye Gilroy breakfast Susie and I were already dressed in our wedding finery.

Then there was the issue of the children. The wedding was to be adults-only. We arranged with the hotel for a babysitter. We had never left our girls with a stranger in a hotel. And this would either turn out to be a luxury we would never be able to live without again or make headline news when we came back to an empty room and a ransom note. We prepared the girls for the former (relieved that our oldest knew our cell phone numbers by heart).

Seeing long lost friends can be an upending experience. It feels like no time has passed at all and yet you know that each of our lives have taken trajectories none of us could ever have imagined back then. What would theirs be like? I had known them but I didn’t now.

After ten days traversing the West, we had survived the debauchery of Las Vegas, car sickness on the road to the Sierras, a near bear attack in Yosemite, the mixture of garlic and snakes in Gilroy, and finally a party that celebrated a couple’s future and reconnected me with my past.

I decided to top off the trip with a little bit of political photography just before checking out of the hotel. It felt good to be in the bastion of liberal bias but we were about to reenter the vortex of conservative politics. It was time to get back to the present.

It had been a great trip, one my girls will remember for a least a few more months.

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