Apr 052006

Z had been wanting to take a road trip since T and I had a conversation romanticizing them back in November. Of course, I needed X’s permission for such a journey and it wasn’t easily given. I finally got permission to take Z on her first road trip in February, but the weekend we had it planned for coincided with the weekend she was in the hospital. Two weeks ago I got permission again and the trip finally happened this last weekend.

I did explain to Z that this wouldn’t be a genuine road trip as X insisted on knowing in advance where we would be spending each night. However, we only had two specific stops so it was kind of a road trip/vacation hybrid. She was still excited as all getout and my level of aniticipation came in a very close second.
The Plan-

1430hrs – Pick Y and Z up at school. Drop Y at home or babysitter, grab Z’s bags. Head South on PCH to enjoy the view.
1730hrs – Arrive in San Simeon in time to eat dinner before…
1850hrs – Take the Hearst Castle Living History tour which populates the castle with volunteers in period costume.
2100hrs – Crash at motel until dawn
0630hrs – Wake up, start hunting letterboxes in San Simeon then working our way South towards…
1930hrs – Arrive at motel in San Luis Obispo and check in
2000hrs – Watch Kids Choice Awards (Jack Black hosting, so there’d be something for me to enjoy too)
0730hrs – Wake up, start hunting letterboxes in SLO area
1700hrs – Head home
2000hrs – Arrive back in Gilroy in time for Z to get ready for school and be in bed on time.

The Reality –

1430hrs – Pick Y and Z up at school. Drop Y at home or babysitter, grab Z’s bags. Head South on PCH through poring rain that obliterates any semblance of scenery. Get call from X, upset that: “no one” knew I was picking up Y (one person didn’t know and they had just forgotten); she didn’t know where we were staying that night (I’d emailed her but she hadn’t read it since she’d been in the hospital); her mother had arrived in town for the weekend (without advance notice) and wouldn’t be able to see Z since we’d be gone all weekend (on a planned trip).
1630hrs – Stop at a turn out to look at the ocean and stretch our legs. Upon getting back in the car it won’t start. This has happened before, so we know we just need one jump and everything will be fine. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to buy jumper cables and none of the stopping cars had any. So, we called AAA and were told they’d be there within an hour. While I start to think that maybe X was right that both AAA and the cell phone were good ideas, both Z and I now realize there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to miss our Hearst Castle tour. I explain that while this is totally my fault (for not having cables) it’s also part and parcel of the adventure of road tripping. You just never know what’s going to happen.
1700hrs – AAA arrives and we’re on our way again. It’s poring rain and we know there’s going to be no opportunity for dinner, but luckily I packed road snacks so we aren’t totally out of luck. Z’s in very good spirits because the set-back is seen more as adventure then drama.
1815hrs – We’ve been counting down the miles to San Simeon while I drove too fast through the poring rain and we slowed to a crawl to work our way through small rockslides. At this point we’re 50 miles out and both confident that we’re going to miss our tour. Z’s still having a great time though until she says, “Do you smell something burning?”. I do, so we pull over to discover that one of the rocks we passed through a couple miles back apparently put a small hole in my tire, which has now caused it to go completely flat. About 10 yards in front of us is a highway sign reading: “Gorda 7, San Luis Obispo 77, Los Angeles 208, Hearst Castle 50”. It’s poring rain. There’s no cell service. And I don’t have a spare.
1930hrs – Still 7 miles from Gorda. We’re both staring to think that the nice British tourist who stopped briefly completely forgot about his promise to call a tow truck once he got to a spot with cell service.
2130hrs – Still 7 miles from Gorda. Z is scared, hungry, and no longer happy to be on a road trip. I’ve just presented her with our options: walk thru the dark and stormy night along a highway with no real border until we find someone with a phone or start getting cell service again or give up and settle in ’til morning with hopes that a cop or tow truck will happen by.
2135hrs – Still 7 miles from Gorda. A truck pulls over and informs me that there’s neither cell service or a public phone for at least 10 miles in each direction. There’s not even electricity out here, only generators. But he gives us a ride to his shack, calls a tow truck for us, and takes us back to the car.
2200hrs – Still 7 miles from Gorda. Once we got back to the car Z went into “happy little girl” mode once again. The rain finally stops, the stars are out in force, and we know help is on the way. Life is grand and every setback is just an adventure once again.
2230hrs – Brett the friendly tow driver pulls up, loads us up, and we head off towards San Simeon. As the lights of Hearst Castle come into sight Z has just fallen asleep. Brett drops us and the car off at the motel and informs us that we’ll need a tow into the next town, Cambria, in order to get a new tire. ::sigh::
0630hrs – Wake up, eat breakfast, call for a tow to Cambria to get a new tire.
0830hrs – Brett arrives and loads us up again. This will be my 3rd AAA call, essentially expiring my membership, so I pay for the tow ($55) and the new tire ($75) with cash I’ve set aside for the trip. The service station tells us it’ll be a couple hours before he can put the tire on, so we decide to explore Cambria.
1200hrs – We’ve both decided we want to move to Cambria. This tiny town on the beach has a skate park, a lawn bowling green, a rubber stamp store, a magic shop, a free trolley around town, and some of the nicest people either of us have met. It’s also got 3 letterboxes and at least one resident letterboxer. We’ve managed to find one of the boxes and head off in the now functioning car to find the others. We’re both loving life.
1900hrs – We arrive at the Motel 6 in San Luis Obispo having searched for half a dozen letterboxes, found three, seen numerous beautiful scenes, “met” some elephant seals, explored Z’s first farmer’s market, and simply had an amazing day. Unfortunately, this motel doesn’t have Nickelodeon, so we can’t watch the awards program. Still, Z tells me: “If we were to go home now this would still be the best weekend ever,” and I know I am (for the moment) SuperDad 😀 The rest of the evening is spent looking over the SLO map and plotting the next day’s letterboxing route.
0900hrs – Woke up, started hunting letterboxes in SLO area. We forgot it was DST day.
1600hrs – Headed home, checking for a couple more boxes along our route.
1940hrs – Arrived back in Gilroy in time for Z to get ready for school and be in bed on time having: had the most incredible weekend we could possibly have had; searched for more than a dozen letterboxes: found eight letterboxes; driven over 500 miles, had adventures aplenty, and made plans to head back to SLO and do it all (well, maybe not all) again.

Apr 042006

The REALLY Hard Financial Decisions

Sometimes I feel like I should just stop reading other pf blogs. Every day I read about these people having to make tough finance decisions (the green or the black Mini Cooper, fund the 401K or the Roth, to invest their latest $15,000 0% APY balance transfer into t-bonds, or stash it at HSBC) that I simply can’t relate to.

Today, I had to make one of the toughest financial decisions I’ve faced in quite some time: whether or not to continue paying my scarecrow. You see, after the third time in three months that I was robbed at gunpoint while working in my neighborhood liquor store, I was a nervous wreck. I HAD to go to work though, because the bills weren’t going to pay themselves and the debt wasn’t going away on its own. So I came up with a plan. I hired a local indigent to act as a “scarecrow”. His job is simply to sit in front of the store while I’m working. He can do whatever he wants (read, listen to the radio, etc) while he sits there as long as doesn’t drink while working, panhandle, or bother my customers. For this service I pay him between $12 and $20 per night (depending on how long after dark I work). We haven’t been robbed since I hired him over a year ago.
But I’ve cut all the expenses I can find, and still can’t afford to save, so today I had to cut back on his hours. Now he’ll only be “guarding” me two nights a week. This will save me $36/week, $144/month, $1728/year. Not too bad. Of course, it does mean I’m more likely to get shot for the couple of hundred bucks of my boss’ money in the register, but I guess that’s just the price I gotta pay.
The sad thing is that my safety wasn’t what made this such a hard decision to make. I’ll be saving almost 50% of my weekly security expenses, but it’s only a savings of less than 5% of my total weekly expenses. However, to him, it’s a loss of nearly 40% of his entire income. This is going to hurt him a lot more than it’s going to help me, but I feel I owe it to my daughter to do all I can to get some money set aside for her future needs.

Poverty sucks.