I recently went to Southern California for a family event, and I made it into a mini-vacation that was very different than the life I live in Chicago. Even before the pandemic, I didn't travel much, so I wanted to be sure that the few days away would be enjoyable.
We (husband and I) had unused credit-card bonus points, so we decided to use them to get business-class plane tickets to LAX. It was easy to get through O'Hare because they were organized about checking documents, etc., and it wasn't as scary as I thought; most people were wearing masks, were polite, and were social distancing. There was no obnoxious behavior that I'd seen in viral stories about airports and airplanes.
When we got on the plane, we settled into our business-class seats. A flight attendant asked if I wanted champagne or water. The choice was clear: champagne of course. Everyone on the plane was great; again, no screaming passengers or people refusing to wear masks. Since it was early in the afternoon, I figured we'd get to California in time to see the beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean before joining the family later that night. But the plane just sat there. Then we heard an announcement saying that we had to wait until they made some repairs. No problem, got another champagne. Then they told us to get off the plane and wait for another one. I figured it wouldn't take long, but it took over six hours before we were on a fresh plane. So our vacation started out being stuck at the airport for seven hours. We got a free meal in the food court, but Day 1 of California was gone.
If you care about virus precautions in addition to good weather, beautiful scenery, and delicious food, Los Angeles County is the place for you. Most people at the airport wore masks, even at the car rental place, and I've heard the vaccination rate is more decent than other areas. Since we were traveling in January, there weren't a lot of tourists around, so the mindset of those around us seemed to be of people who were used to following public health measures.
By the time we got to Redondo Beach it was past midnight, and no one was outside. Since we rarely travel, we decided to make the trip more special by staying at a resort in a bay by the ocean. There were no ambulances or sirens that I usually hear in my neighborhood, just seals making noises on their lounging platform. I could see twinkling lights in the distant hills and smell the ocean, and I felt like I'd landed on another planet.
I only got a few hours sleep because we had to get to Rancho Palos Verdes in the morning, and I wanted to wake up early to enjoy what we'd missed the day before when we were stuck at O'Hare. Our room faced a small bay that opened up to the Pacific Ocean, and the seals were continuing their party on the platform, diving into the water as if they were also fluid. Birds kept their wings open as they glided onto the water, then turned in their wings to float neatly on top. I watched them whenever I could, and wanted to take a picture or video of their elegance, but I didn't. I decided to enjoy the animals and the sea in the moment to keep that feeling with me, because I knew I'd leave that planet and would want to retain its sparkle with no barriers.
Stand-up paddle boards, sailboats, and motor boats passed by, including the fire department and other water authorities. Even though I never took any pictures, I will never forget what I saw because it was so different than what I experience every day. I saw large, beautiful homes in the hills of RPV and neatly cultivated and grown flora in the area. The plants and flowers are different from the Midwest, adding to that otherwordly experience.
It was hard to leave all that nature behind to go to the City of Los Angeles. After we dropped off the rental car at LAX, we had to get a bus to Union Station to take the Amtrak sleeper back to Chicago. Even though I love cities, especially downtown areas, I wasn't expecting much from downtown LA because I'd been there before, and it seemed to be gritty desolation. Once I got there, though, I was pleasantly surprised. The Union Station building is incredible. I live in a fantastic architectural city, but there are no buildings like that one. In the front are beautiful flowers and trees, and it's located in the old part of town, pretty much where the city began.
And the area was lively. There was Mexican music in the historic area across the street (El Pueblo de Los Ángeles Historical Monument), and because our train wasn't leaving for a couple of hours, we walked over. Several people were dancing and listening to the music, and there were stalls selling handmade items and jewelry. I bought a colorful purse that I will definitely use once the weather in Chicago becomes warmer. The atmosphere was lively, and the historical buildings were well-preserved, which added to the quaintness of the square. The weather was perfect and I had a great time, especially because I didn't expect all that festive activity and cheerfulness.
Then we rode the Southwest Chief for a couple of days until we arrived at Union Station in Chicago. The pandemic had affected Amtrak staff and travelers, so the train was smaller than usual (I'd taken it a few times before) and there weren't as many people, so social distancing was possible (and most people were wearing masks). On the way to LA, Arizona is featured more during the day, but on the opposite trip the train goes through a lot of Arizona at night, so we ended up seeing more of New Mexico during the day. Both Arizona and New Mexico have awesome, in the true sense of the word, red rock formations that look like supernatural sculptures, making the desert look like a planet related to Mars. All the nature that I saw from the train was humbling. And a positive aspect of winter is that I could see more beauty beyond the leafless trees, whether in Colorado or Kansas. When I've taken the train in non-winter months, all I've seen was green and flatness in the Great Plains. But winter adds another dimension, and the snow that I usually see in patches in my area creates a borderless blanket in the countryside.
I got back a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still thinking about my vacation out West. It was probably one of the best trips I've taken in recent years. I was tempted to take pictures or videos, but I decided to totally live in the present in every moment, being a participant or real-time observer rather than removing myself to try to capture what is best seen as-is.