All those years when we were raising kids, there was never money nor any time off from my relentless day job to take a vacation. We mostly took long weekends for short road trips. I never expected to ever take another plane trip in my lifetime. But our son Sam wanted us to visit him where he’s stationed in the Navy, so over Father’s Day weekend we made that happen. And I’m glad we did. It was nice for Debbie and me and our daughter Flo to spend time with Sam. It was especially refreshing for me to see a different place.
I’m not a “vacation” person anyway. I’m not interested in tourism and blowing a bunch of money on fake attractions. And I don’t like to fly. I hate airports and being crammed like a sardine in a plane for hours. And I sure never expected to ever set foot in California again. I did spend a month in the Bay Area visiting my friend Lee while still a teenager. This established for me the indelible impression of California as “The Granola State” — everything that’s not fruits and nuts is flakes. To me, California always embodied the worst elements of America, from crass consumer culture to preachy celebrity elitists. So this trip was strictly intended to be a visit with our son, and I anticipated merely enduring the destination. So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed Southern California! Most everyone we encountered was very friendly. The landscape and the topography is stunning. I was especially impressed with the profusion of colorful plants, which will be discussed in detail in this blog post. So I now “get” the whole California thing.
LAX was much as I expected, a big crowd scene with the hustle and bustle of bodies newly freed from corona captivity jostling past each other. We connected with Sam and had to quickly jump into his car and vacate the airport. We rearranged our bags at the Carls Jr. restaurant down the road, which is where I saw this trumpet vine, the first of many colorful plants. We have these sorts of vines in Cleveland, but not in such vibrant and varied colors.
Since we had hours ahead before we could check into the hotel, we killed some time driving along the streets of LA. There appears to be no basic plan to this town, just a random collection of neighborhoods, nice areas with posh homes right next to run-down working class and low income areas. There was some very interesting architecture, adobe walls and spanish tile roofs — the sort of construction suited to the southwest but would not survive through very many northern winters. There seems to be no specific downtown area, rather an assorted collections of boxy buildings scattered here and there that do not amount to a coherent skyline. From my brief, first time visit, I got the impression that this patchwork town sprang up quickly and expanded in all directions at random. (Kind of like America itself.) So I had to laugh when I saw a quote online from British wit Aldous Huxley, who said in 1925 that Los Angeles is “nineteen suburbs in search of a metropolis.” After another century of growth that suburb count has to be in the dozens, if not hundreds.
Like all Americans of my generation, I grew up with Hollywood in my face. I spent my childhood in the 1960s with my eyes glued to the TV. In my teens in the 1970s, my ears were glued to the radio. In my 20s in the 1980s, I came to resent the influence of Hollywood on American life, and the increasingly patronizing attitude of LA toward its consumers in “Flyover Country.” In subsequent decades, I joined with so many other Americans who thumbed their noses at the smug celebrities who lectured us on politics and personal beliefs. But I can’t deny that pop entertainment emanating from Southern California has been a big part of my life, like everyone else I ever knew, and millions of other Americans besides. So it was nice to check out this area and observe places in real life known otherwise only from the screen.
My personal “jukebox of the mind” was playing several California songs over and over, including “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas, “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin, “Life Beyond L.A.” by Ambrosia (a really awesome and underrated song), and “California Girls,” both the Beach Boys and David Lee Roth versions. (Flo tells me that Katy Perry also did a cover in recent years, guess I missed that one.)
Eventually we ended up on Vine Street, and rode it in to the famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. So Sam parked the car and we took a stroll along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was just like the song Celluloid Heroes by the Kinks….
You can see all the stars as you walk along Hollywood Blvd, some that you recognize, some that you hardly even heard of.
They’re all there, all those stars from different eras, media and genres, all mish-mashed together, side by side, like a star-studded cemetery of tombstones without graves.
I listened to Celluloid Heroes again after returning home. I finally understand the lyrics like I never did back in the 70s. The sadness of the song sailed right past me as a kid. But the message is apparent as you’re looking at those stars, so many of them with cracked concrete, shabby and worn and dirty by decades of foot traffic. Quite an ignoble commemoration for the famous stars of the past — fleeting, like fame itself. Some great insights by Ray Davies, it’s worth giving this tune another listen if you haven’t done so lately.
There were a couple stars of which Deb and I are especially fond, like Jimmy Durante, the Great Schnozzola, famous not only as a musician and comedian but for his prominent proboscis. “That’s not a banana, that’s my schnozz.”
My father-in-law Rick always said that Lionel Barrymore was “my favorite character actor.” A member of the famous Barrymore acting family, he is sadly best remembered as Old Man Potter, the villain of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart But he had so many great roles where he played the good guy, including the hotel owner in the excellent “Key Largo” alongside the great Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Edward G. Robinson. Another memorable role was as the dad in “You Can’t Take It With You,” an early Capra film also starring a very young Jimmy Stewart, which won the Oscar for “Best Motion Picture” in 1938.
I was especially pleased to see that the crew of Apollo 11 was quadruply honored with, not stars, but moons, at each of the four corners of the intersection at Hollywood and Vine, one of the most famous intersections on Planet Earth,
Here’s my wife and kids looking good as they always do at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, with the famous Capitol Records Building in the background. A considerable amount of famous music was recorded in that building, including songs by Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and the Beach Boys and many artists since then.
I’m sorry to report that this famous corner contributed greatly to my negative impression of LA. It had an overall sense of being just another dirty corner in a big city, old and dilapidated, like so many of the sidewalk stars. There was a strong stench of urine in many places from the burgeoning homeless problem. There were two odors that were constant in LA — urine and marijuana. Many other populated areas in the Golden State stank like pot alone, a presaging of what we can expect the rest of America to smell like once marijuana becomes legal everywhere. I got the impression of LA as a city in decline, where they can’t even keep up their notable landmarks. It’s as if Cleveland and LA have traded places, where Cleveland is on the way up after decades of “The Cleveland Renaissance” and passing LA on its way down.
Ironically, LA was the birthplace of “The Cleveland Joke,” an albatross that continues to hang onto our town’s neck a half century after the fact. You know how it goes… “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the Titanic? Cleveland has a better orchestra!” *Bada-bing!* The Cleveland Joke was started by hometown hero Bob Hope, whose comedy routine always included good natured digs at the town of his birth. The Cleveland Joke was perpetuated by Cleveland expat actor/comedian Pat McCormick, who played Big Enos in “Smokey and the Bandit” and also was a gag writer for Johnny Carson. Ed McMahon laughed along as Carson made Cleveland the butt of every joke for decades, until our “Mistake on the Lake” persona became engrained. So in honor of LA trading places with Cleveland, allow this Clevelander to tell one of Carson’s California jokes…. “How many Californians does it take to change a lightbulb? Five: one to change the bulb and four to share in the experience.”
I was very surprised to see this sign on Vine Street in Hollywood. I agree with this message totally, there is a big difference between “Quality of Life” and “Standard of Living.” While there might be more raw cash in SoCal, life is sweet and uncomplicated in the Buckeye State. But who else but Ohio would brag about being #2?
Flo wanted to see the Hollywood sign. It was way over someplace far from where we were, and since we all wanted to eat lunch, this was as close as we got before turning around heading toward our destination. None of us could believe those narrow, winding streets, and how people pay top buck to live in such congestion.
Driving Up the Coast
We headed in the general direction of Oxnard, California, where Sam lives. We took the coastal road, CA 1, which straddles the ocean. It was a continuous traffic jam, where one hour of driving required two hours. It’s understandable that Californians are so worried about global warming, since the collective CO2 emissions from their tailpipes are contributing greatly to the situation. The carbon footprint of California must be a significant percentage of total human emissions. But you see the California love affair with the automobile, just like in that “totally 80s” song:
Walking in LA, walking in LA, nobody walks in LA.
We finally stopped for lunch in posh Malibu, home of many rich and famous celebrities. For most of my life I only knew Malibu as the name of a 60s Chevy muscle car, an El Camino without the truck bed. The large building in this pic (presumbaly a home) set up on a hill really draws the eye. It was as if Noah’s Ark was a cruise ship washed up from the Pacific onto Mount Ararat. It reminded me of Tony Stark’s cliffside pad from “Iron Man.” I wonder which millionaire celebrity lives there?
There was this trendy open air mall in Mailibu with many fashional shops, no doubt intended as a strainer to catch all the tourist riff-raff and thereby insulate the famous residents from having to actually interact with their fans. My family laughed when I proclaimed that I was no doubt dragging down the property values just by being there. We ordered lunch at this foo-foo eatery and paid sit-down dining prices for a carryout meal. (I mean really, 70 bucks for four sandwiches in plastic boxes?)
I’d been texting the whole weekend with our friend Wendy from San Diego. We’d hoped to meet up with her on that trip. But she stayed close to home since her close friend Reid was on his death bed. (Sadly, Reid passed the next day, but thankfully his kids all got to see him and visit with him before the end.) So I was telling Wendy about all these crazy bird noises that were squawking in Malibu while we ate. It sounded like a Tarzan movie. She explained that there are huge flocks of escaped parrots in LA which make a lot of noise. Yet another “first world problem” of SoCal. Several birds came begging while we ate, including ordinary pigeons and sparrows like you see everywhere. But one beggar was a red-wing blackbird, a familiar variety from Ohio. I was happy to throw him some crumbs, never saw one so close before.
We stopped at this location along the coast to the northwest of Malibu. Really amazing, that Pacific Ocean. The waves have such long wavelengths and amplitudes (i.e., high waves spaced far apart). You really don’t see them like that on the Atlantic. But the Pacific alone is 1/3 the surface of the entire Earth, and you really get a sense of that size while looking at it from the coast.
So we finally made it into Ventura County, where Sam lives. Sam is stationed at the Navy Base at Port Hueneme (pronounced “why-knee-me.”) His mom and I had some fun with that by ad libbing a new verse to the classic children’s song:
A sailor when to Hueneme, to see what he could Hueneme, but all that he could Hueneme, was the bottom of the deep blue Hueneme.
(Wonder how many times that wheel has been reinvented?)
Port Hueneme is near Oxnard, CA, which is not as famous as other nearby towns as Simi Valley or Thousand Oaks. But it does have a Hollywood claim to fame as the location of the final destruction of Doc Brown’s time-travelling Delorean from the end of “Back to the Future III.” (The original “Back to the Future” is yet another of my all time favorite movies.) You recall the scene, or you might want to watch this YouTube clip to jog your memory. The Delorean time travels back to 1985 just in time to be destroyed by an oncoming train.
You can see 30 years of tree growth and changes to the buildings from then to now. Note especially the nearby trees right along the tracks. In the mass hypnosis of Hollywood, the train trestle was painted in, it’s not really there. There is no gorge off in the distance but instead that’s the general direction to the coast and the end of the line. The movie creates quite an illusion and there’s no way anyone would suspect that that is an oceanside location and not a dusty canyon. Funny how the most ordinary location looks glamorous on the big screen.
The rail line is abandoned. The rails are rusty and no longer lie straight. Sam says they longer run trains to the docks on the coast. Yet the rail crossing is still there as it was in 1990 when the movie was filmed, perhaps maintained for old times sake.
Sam showed us the nearby California agricultural areas where fruit is grown. There is a wonderful smell of strawberries in the air as you drive along. We stopped the next day at a roadside stand to buy some berries, but there are no bargains, the berries were just as expensive as in the grocery store.
We finally made it to the Mandalay Beach Resort where Sam put us up for the weekend. I had never been to a resort before. These tree-lined boulevards are a common thing in SoCal. You see a lot of them in LA, which reminds you of Jed Clampett driving his jalopy in the opening of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
The resort was very nice but kind of artificial. The central area had these concrete painted rocks, done up to look like “Gilligan’s Island” or something, which struck me as corny. The place had a great breakfast buffet. It was a very nice present from Sam to his parents to put us up in such a fancy place. The pool area stunk like weed every time we walked past. But not the natural weed odor I recall from the 70s but the fake, hybridized, skunk-stench of today’s “cannabis” that Californians and other potheads smoke nowadays.
Here’s the view from the patio off our room, with a wonderful view of the ocean. I was looking forward to watching sunsets over the Pacific like we regularly do over Lake Erie. Unfortunately that never happened. We brought our Cleveland weather with us! Our visit coincided with a seasonal phenomenon which Wendy informed us is called “The June Gloom” (which follows “The May Grey.”) There is a tight band of cloud and fog that hugs the coast during this season, producing perpetual cloudy skies and chilly temps in the low to mid-60s. That suited me fine, I like the cold, but it was not welcome by Debbie and Flo. Turns out to be strictly a coastal phenomenon and it is sunny and considerably warmer when you drive only a few miles inland, which we experienced the next day. (Naturally, the clouds parted after we went home.)
That first evening, we visited with Sam’s landlady, Terri, and her parents, Bob and Helen. Really nice folks, so glad that our son has great people in his life while serving our country on the other side of the continent. Terri did a “totally awesome” Valley Girl impression for us!
Plants and Flora of Southern California
One thing I love about travelling is observing the differences from home, especially the plants and animals, the landscape and the architecture. Southern California is very interesting in this regard. It’s actually the Anti-Ohio, opposite to us in many ways. I was very intrigued by the plant life. There are flowering bushes everywhere in a riotous profusion of vivid reds and pinks, a color pallette conspicuously absent in the native flora of Ohio. I saw this bush everywhere, full of fuscia/hot pink flowers similar to our azaleas or the crepe myrtles I’ve seen growing in Georgia. Terri’s dad Bob informed me that this is bougainvillea (pronounced “bogen-via.”)
I texted my Aunt Gloria who lived abroad for many years with her family in the US Foreign Service, and she says that bougainvillea is all over Haiti and Kenya. The flowers are not quite like regular petals but look like pink leaves, sort of the way poinsettia “flowers” look like leaves. I’m told this plant dies with a single frost and that’s why we’ll never see along the ice-encrusted shores of the Great Lakes.
This flowering bush is called Lantana, from Terri’s garden.
This flowering bush was at the resort, with sort of a pitcher plant structure around the petals.
I saw this wildflower growing in a crack in the curb, next to a busy street.
There are a LOT of succulents everywhere in SoCal. These are hens and chicks from Terri’s garden. We had these growing in our yard but they fizzled out after a couple seasons. They must require more care than I’m willing to give. But our Ohio varieties are small, maybe the diameter of a silver dollar and smaller. But Terri’s are huge! They are frisbee-size! I had no idea they came in such a large variety!
Sammy pointed out this succulent that he says grows everywhere. It’s like a weed and seems to be pretty invasive. It grows in sand and covers the beach area away from the water. By the way, there are some interesting natural dunes along the shore but I apparently did not snap any pix. The dunes go considerably inland and it’s sad that they flatten then out to put in new development. I’m sure this area was incredible before humans overpopulated the landscape.
I was also interested in the trees that grow in this zone. Aside from the ubiquitous palm trees, there is a large variety of deciduous and coniferous trees. I was calling these “tube arborvitaes” because they look like compact, perfectly cyllindrical versions of the common shrub trees that you see all over the neighborhoods of Cleveland, all planted neatly in rows. I’m nursing along a row of arborvitaes in our backyard. Wendy informs me that these are junipers. We have some hardy varieties of juniper that grow in Ohio, but they are short, prickly shrubs and nothing tall and towering. I’d love to have these tall junipers in my backyard instead, if only they’d grow in our climate.
I called these “pipe cleaner trees,” these thin, skimpy Charlie Brown Christmas trees. They look really hilarious, naturally decrepit-looking plants.
This appears to be a different variety of pipe cleaner tree, with more pipe cleaner bristles than the other type.
These are the “windblown trees.” They really are leaning away from the direction to the shore, so it really does seem that they grow distorted by the wind. I saw these in the Bay Area when I was there in 41 years ago. There was a notable specimen on the campus at UC Berkeley that looked like it was frozen in a hurricane. I was actually hoping to see trees like this again. But I did not see very many in SoCal, perhaps they prefer a more northern California climate.
Hike in the Mountains
On Saturday we took a nice little drive into the mountains. There is a such a variety of landscape and topography in Southern California, not to mention climate. From the flat, damp, cloudiness along the coast, a short drive took us out of the mist and into the famous California sunshine. The temperatures went up considerably. As we ascended into the mountains, the temps became downright hot, like when you’re standing over a motor with heat blowing in your face. Sam estimated that it was at least 100 degrees. But it was a nice dry heat, lacking the miserable humidity of a “muggy” summer day in Ohio.
So we drove up to CA 33 to Ojai, California (pronounced like the first two syllables of “Ohio” but without needing to “buy a vowel” at the end). We stopped in a market in Ojai, which was an interesting experience in itself, since it was very different from our stores. Apparently a lot of celebrities live in Ojai, but we didn’t see any. Ojai was more my idea of a “normal” town, had a blue-collar vibe, at least in the area around that market.
We passed through Casitas Springs along Rt. 33. As indicated on the sign, Johnny Cash lived here with his first wife back in the 60s. It had a very “southern” feel since the main road was lined with trailer parks, the most “redneck” location we saw in California.
Before long we were away from the towns and into the mountains. It looked like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon. I expected to see a pile of birdseed with a 100 ton ACME anvil hanging from a string above.
The California landscape is so bleak. So dry and brown and dead. Mountains of rock with little or no greenery, as if PA or West Virginia got nuked. I found those mountains to be very unsettling to my Ohio sensibilities. Californians may think they have it made with continual sunshine and no snow or rain. But our moist, damp Ohio climate is the reason why we have such a thick, lush carpet of greenery covering every surface. I consider that to be well worth a few gloomy days every year.
Our destination was the Rose Valley Waterfall. The road was a crazy, circuitous route, weaving up and around through the mountains. I was amazed that any road engineers were able to find a level path through those hills. We saw signs indicating the changing elevation — first 1000 feet, then 2000 and then 3000, passing in quick succession. Sam was concerned whether his Cleveland “beater” car could handle the climb in that heat while carrying four bodies.
On the return trip, we stopped along a ledge next to that spaghetti loop of roads. You could look down hundreds of feet below and see several layers of roadway clinging to the mountainside, with cars winding their way up and down. (But it would not have made a good picture, too wide a panorama.) A young woman driver noticed Sam’s Cuyahoga County, Ohio plates and she stopped to say hi, being a Cleveland expat bumming around the west coast. You literally run into Clevelanders everywhere, including the dusty, sunbaked mountains of California!
Soon we reached our destination, the Rose Valley Waterfall, within the Los Padres National Forest.
The waterfall itself was mostly dry, but it probably roars during the rainy season. We saw some gorgeous countryside along the hike. It looked like a John Wayne movie, that Apaches were about to come around those mountains any minute and attack our hacienda.
There were a great many scorched trees on this site, evidence of the infamous wildfires that make the news every year. Once back home, I googled and read that this area had fires in 2019 and 2020. If so, it’s amazing that the brush rejuvenates so quickly. I’ve heard that the Spanish never heavily settled California because 1) the ground shook from time to time, 2) the landscape bursts into flames every year, and 3) mud slides down the hills during the rainy season. So naturally, leave it to the American gringos to settle in the tens of millions and build multimillion dollar mansions up on stilts along these same hillsides.
The waterfall itself was visible from off in the distance, but appeared as a dry stone wall along the side of the mountain. But up close, there was a nice trickle where we washed our hands and I washed my head. (It’s generally very dusty in SoCal compared to the general dampness of Northeast Ohio and my skin felt dry and gritty most of the time.)
On the ride back, we could see the coastal cloud layer from off in the distance. Then we drove back into the “June gloom” again and the temp dropped 40 degrees. It was interesting to experience such extremes in climate and topography over such short distances.
That evening, Sam and Flo went into the ocean and Mom and I watched. I waded out a short distance into the surf but my shorts got soaked from the bigger waves. And the undertow almost pulled me off my feet. I’m not too fond of oceans — nice to look at but not for going in. Give me the Great Lakes instead, “unsalted and shark-free”! I was happy that Flo finally got her first experience with the ocean. And she discovered what I learned many years ago, that the sand ends up EVERYWHERE!
The Car Show
Sunday was Father’s Day and I wanted to check out the car show that we saw advertised. So I let the family play in the waves again, borrowed Sam’s bike, and rode around by myself to find the cars. There were many cool cars on the roads and at the show. Like this “charp” low rider, a classic Lincoln Continental from the JFK era, complete with suicide doors.
The plate said “61 suicide” so I surmised that to be the model year, the same year I was born. Except that classy ride is holding up a lot better than me after six decades!
I was laughing at all the crazy cars, partly out of nostalgia, partly by how they looked and sounded, and partly because the vehicles themselves were so ridiculous, like this one, parked on the street outside the show.
We have car shows around Cleveland, like the ones on summer Sundays at Quaker Steak on Canal Road. But this was the real deal, a genu-wine California car show! There were all manner of classic cars — hot rods and muscle cars and low riders, all tricked out with garish colors and absurd accessories. (I hadn’t seen curb feelers since the pimped-out Cadillacs of Cleveland back in the 1970s!) I wondered whether it would be “politically incorrect” according to “woke” Californian sensibilities to be guility of the “thoughtcrime” of laughing at these low riders, stereotypically customized according to the outrageous tastes of the SoCal Latinx community. Some of these low riders were actually resting on the ground, which happens when the air shocks are turned off. That would NOT work out on the wet surfaces of Ohio. So many “bitchin'” rods and “cherry” rides, according to the local vernacular. I refrained from snapping pictures since no one else was. I figured there was either a policy against photography or else it was poor etiquette. So I was content to just feast my eyeballs.
I walked through the crowd laughing my head off. People were looking at me like I was the crazy one! But I couldn’t help but to laugh. Everything about California is so extreme, so over the top. It bombards your eyeballs every direction you turn your head, until it becomes a sensory overload. So I texted Wendy that “California is the Dolly Parton of American states,” which she thought was funny.
I was leaving the show when I came across this unlikely vendor booth, selling Trump flags and other patriotic and right-wing paraphernalia. I didn’t know such things existed in this bluest of blue states. It was the busiest booth at the show. So I went up to the vendor and told him, “I’m visiting from Ohio and it’s nice to see that there are actually some Americans in California.” I suddenly found myself engaged in a series of conversations where I was repeatedly assured that conservatives were the “silent majority” of Californians. I hung out there for a while and was very enlightened. I fit right in because I was wearing my “Make Orwell Fiction Again” t-shirt, which had already previously garnered a lot of favorable comments from a surprisingly diverse cross-section of Californians.
You could tell who the stereotypical California liberals were since they stood apart at a distance glaring disapprovingly. But no one challenged the vendor or made a scene. But I sensed that (like everything else in the Golden State) California conservatives are very extreme. In addition to your basic “Trump 2024” banners, the booth was festooned with confederate flags and banners that read “F***BIDEN” and “F**** NEWSOM,” an obnoxious, juvenile and unproductive manner of indicating dissent. I got a laugh at one point by remarking that I, as an Ohioan, was under the impression that the f-word was the official state word of California. But it was clear that some Californians are just as passionate about their right-wing politics as other Californians are about their wack-doodle liberalism.
It was great to be at this show and experience California car culture first hand. I told that vendor booth owner Chris that “American Graffiti” was one of my all-time favorite movies. which showcased the California drag racing scene of the early 1960s. Chris picked right up on that point and mentioned that there would never have been a “Star Wars” if there was never an “American Graffiti.” He also mentioned all the big stars that got their break in that first film by George Lucas. That was one of the few times I ever met someone else who was aware of those facts and also appreciated this flick.
I saw this old bus upon leaving the car show, an old schoolbus that, 50+ years ago, might have been a “Magic Bus” that carried hippies like the Merry Pranksters or maybe the Partridge Family. Imagine my surprise to see it decorated with Republican and Trump stickers. Maybe this is what happens to 60s hippie types when they get old? Maybe right-wingers really are the silent majority in California? If so, they need to start winning some elections!
It was just a short weekend visit with our son so we were on our way home Monday morning. We went back to LAX via the Ventura Freeway. I was trying to figure out if this is the same road as the “Ventura Highway” of the 70s song. But it was just another freeway, seen one, seen them all. But in Southern California, ordinary freeways get cool songs named after them. No one ever made a cool song about Interstate 480! And no “alligator lizards in the air” over that Cleveland area freeway. Here’s yet another dry and dusty rockpile mountain as seen from the Ventura Freeway.
Here’s the closest we ever got to the distinctive “space age” theme building at LAX, which I had seen on shows like “The Brady Bunch” since I was a kid. I read that this was also built in 1961, and it is also holding up much better than me after six decades. We had a pleasant flight home and a head full of memories from our excellent visit with Sam!