Hello Friends and Family,

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Road Trip

One of the benefits of retirement is the luxury of spontaneity. For instance, last week Mizuki said she wanted to go shopping. Not thinking ahead, I said "Sure". Then she said, "In Los Angeles". Hmmm. I told her that it was not a good idea for her to go to LA alone so I would be happy to go with her. She wanted to go to a Dolce & Gabbana boutique (note that when you charge "designer" prices in your store, your store becomes a "boutique") because they were having a sale. And since she was already a customer (via mail order), she could shop prior to the actual sale but still get the 40%-off sale prices. For long-term readers of these little essays, you may recall a pair of designer ("simulated old") jeans that Mizuki saw at Neiman Marcus that cost $2,500. Guess what — they were Dolce & Gabbana. Oops, I think I overcommitted.

So I quickly stopped by AAA for maps and Costco for gasoline. I checked the air pressure in the tires and cleaned the car windows. Checked Google maps for locations of the Dolce & Gabbana boutiques — and printed off a few. Reserved a room at a Hampton Inn near LAX — which is not too far from Beverly Hills and our destination, Rodeo Drive. Also I suggested going to San Diego after LA since Mizuki had never been there — and so made a reservation there too.

So off we went last Monday morning — a straight shot west on Interstate 10 — Phoenix to Los Angeles. Not much but desert along the freeway but we did plan a stop in route because Google had told me that there was an outlet for Dolce & Gabbana just west of Palm Springs. Perhaps discounts on designer clothes might make this trip less painful financially. Well, it turns out that this boutique (maybe you don't have to call it a "boutique" if it is an outlet store) is in a designer outlet mall which also offers Coach, Escada, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, MaxMara, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Miu Miu, Salvatore Ferragamo, Yves St. Laurent and on and on. Mizuki was in heaven — but my mind drifted back to Santa Fe and the workshop with Neil and Susan where we went to an outlet mall for a photo shoot. So while Mizuki shopped, I practiced taking photographs — it was late in the day so maybe there would be some interesting light.

Mizuki decided she wanted to live here but I convinced her that we had to get to our hotel since we had guaranteed it with our credit card. I could tell that her mind was churning with the desire to come back. We pressed on — the drive to LA is not too bad — of course, it goes without saying that the drive through LA is awful. Fortunately, we were at the tail end of the rush hour so I kept telling myself, "It could have been worse".

As we were approaching LA, I spotted a billboard that told me that we were definitely in Southern California. It advertised breast augmentation surgery for $3500. We went by too fast for me to determine if that was the total price or the price per breast. Later (now I'm getting ahead of the story) I noticed that many of the mannequins in the windows of the clothing stores were rather well endowed. Naturally, one might put the two data points together and conclude that the Plastic Surgeons of Southern California must be paying for or, at least, subsidizing those mannequins.

We arrived safely about 8:30 — starving, so we got something to eat at a restaurant recommended by the hotel staff. I understand why they are working the front desk of a Hampton Inn and not writing restaurant reviews. The food was sub-Denny's quality, the people at the next table (actually several tables away but the restaurant was nearly empty) were quite loud, the service was slow and eventually missing in action. The only good thing to say about "The Proud Bird" was the well-done aviation theme with photos of aircraft and pilots inside plus numerous WWI and WWII aircraft outside.

Change of plans — scratch San Diego — another night in LA — I changed the reservations. The next morning we headed to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. In case you don't know, Rodeo Drive is one of the most celebrated and exclusive shopping streets in the world (or so they claim). This was my first visit. We parked and went straight to Hermès. This was the largest Hermès boutique I've ever visited — but, of course, my sample size is rather small. Mizuki was delighted.

We were hungry and again asked for a recommendation for a place to have lunch. We asked a Japanese clerk in Hermès since I figured she would recommend a place that might please Mizuki. Well, her directions were not really precise and we ended up at Nate 'n Al's Deli, one block over from Rodeo Drive. More bad luck with the food and service — plus we didn't even see any stars.

Mizuki was really anxious to go to a particular Dolce & Gabbana store which was in a different location. We obtained directions and off we went. It turns out that this store is in the Beverly Center — which, curiously is a shopping mall built on top of a parking garage. The interior of the shopping center looks like a typical suburban mall — except the stores are on the sixth, seventh and eighth floors instead of first, second and third.

We found the Dolce & Gabbana store (oops, I mean boutique) only to find it closed with paper taped to the windows. We were totally confused since Mizuki had just ordered an item from them a few days previous to our trip. We called only to be told that a pipe had burst and flooded the store. They were closed until they could clean up, refurbish and restock. You mean we came all the way from Phoenix to shop at a store that was closed due to flooding?

Fortunately, the manager (with whom Mizuki had placed her previous order) came out to talk to us. It turns out that they have another store in the Hollywood Hills with much the same inventory. She gave us a card for one sales clerk from her store who was temporarily working at the other store. She promised to call ahead and make sure that we were well taken care of. So we trundled off to the Hollywood Hills and found the store. This one was open — we found the clerk and as promised, he was quite helpful — Mizuki found a few items that she could not live without. They had to be held until the sale was officially on — so they were to be shipped back to Arizona at that time.

Having found Beverly Center, Mizuki wanted to go back and shop some more. It was getting late so we had dinner at a bar and grill in the middle of the Mall. She also wanted to come back the next day. But she also wanted to visit the designer brand outlet mall outside Palm Springs again. So when we got back to the hotel, I reserved a room in the Palm Springs area for the following night.

The next day more shopping at the Beverly Center. By then I was quite bored but discovered that they had a six-plex movie theater. I enjoyed a private showing of US v. John Lennon — no one else in the theater and I enjoyed the documentary. It was getting late in the afternoon and so we wanted to get going to avoid the worst of LA's infamous rush-hour traffic. Unfortunately, Mizuki was having difficulties making a purchase and arranging for shipping at one of the stores. Eventually, we headed out into heavy traffic and east on Interstate 10 using the carpool lane toward Palm Springs and the discount outlet mall. By the time we got there, Mizuki decided she only wanted to buy one item and it was for a friend. Fatigue had set in for both of us.

After dinner and a good night's sleep we were ready to go again. However, she decided that she was finished shopping and would join me in what I planned to do. I had learned of and was intrigued by an aerial tramway that goes from the base in the valley up to 8,500 feet into San Jacinto State Park. The cars have floors that rotate slowly so you get a different view every few seconds.

At the top you find the usual gift shop and snack bar but also a fairly nice restaurant. It's ironic that we had to travel to the top of a mountain to get one of the best meals during our trip. There are also hiking trails but since it was getting late, we didn't go far — mostly enjoying the panoramic (albeit hazy) views from the upper station. By the way, am I the only one who did not know about the forest of windmills just west of Palm Springs? It seems like there are thousands of them.

Well, time to ride back down from the mountaintop and head home.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com