California, There I Went – and It Was a Blast!
California is freakin’ awesome! The weather, the people, the sights, the malls; all of it turned out to be fantastic! I just got back a few days ago from a vacation to San Francisco to be in my cousin’s wedding, and the trip was amazing. Worth every expense. I’ve come back with a ton of fond memories and an eagerness to go back some day.
Which is great, considering I may not have gone at all if my cousin Tyson and his fiancee Jessica hadn’t asked me to be a groomsman.
So apologies to any of my blog fans who stumbled upon my site about movie reviews and geeky news. It’s time to break the Fourth Wall a little with an entry about my real life and the trip I just took. It’s the only thing I’ve been up to for the past week anyway. We can get back to the other stuff soon enough. But first, let’s look into the Wild World of Sean.
Family History and a Bit of Background:
Tyson is my first cousin on my father’s side and we grew up together on our grandparents’ farm in Central New York, with my little brother filling in the third slot of our Three Amigos. Tyson was only a year ahead of me in school, so we’re very close age-wise. Close enough that we rode bikes together, played with He-Man toys together and got up to the usual kid mischief together. I’ve always considered Tyson to be the older brother I never had. I remember asking him once when we were young, as we walked across the yard to get the mail, why he hated me. I don’t remember why I thought he hated me, but Tyson explained that I was like a little brother to him, and big brothers always give their little brothers a hard time. I don’t recall if I carried this line of thought over to my own little brother.
But we all eventually grew up, moved away to college and I see Tyson only a few times a year – like I do most other family members.
So it was a surprise when I got the telephone call from Tyson out of the blue where has asked me to be in his wedding.
Tyson met Jessica in college (Harvard University, cough cough) almost 10 years ago, and the two have been together ever since. I forget the first time I met Jessica, or even heard about her. But pretty soon she was just a part of family visits, whenever she could make it out to Central New York from her home in San Francisco. She didn’t make it to our annual Christmas get-togethers, but she was there during summer visits and some other holidays. Nice girl, very friendly; she became a fixture and it was pretty clear after a few years that she and Tyson were getting quite serious. But they were both very career-minded. I regret now that I never spent much time getting to know Jessica during any of her visits, other than casual small talk. My loss.
But apparently I made enough of an impression that the two of them asked me to be in their wedding.
I didn’t expect it, considering how little I knew of Jessica and how little I saw of Tyson over the past few years. Tyson explained it to me over the phone that, in thinking back, he’d realized that he and I were probably each other’s first friends, considering we were likely playing together before we could speak. It was a nice thought, and one I’d never really considered. So of course I said I’d be honored to be a groomsman. Being something of a self-conscious guy, it’s always cool to learn I matter enough to someone that they’d consider me for something like this. I wanted to ask Tyson what went into picking me considering he had 5 other groomsmen, but it seemed far too selfish a thing to do during his wedding weekend. Maybe I’ll pick his brain someday, just out of curiosity.
I had wanted to attend their wedding anyway, but in hindsight, had I not been asked to be a groomsman, I probably would have politely declined the trip as just a regular guest. That sounds kind of mean to say, but it’s expensive to fly out to California, even for only a few days. And I can be kind of stingy and foolish like that. I probably would have looked into plane tickets and how to get there, saw the price, and turned it all down in the end.
Which would have been a dumb move. But I was in and eager to go!
San Francisco, Here I Come!
I left super-early on Wednesday, Aug. 10, taking an almost direct flight from Syracuse, NY to San Francisco, CA. The plan was to catch an early flight and sleep most of the way, and it worked! I was unconscious for most of the long flight, and those times when I was awake I read the latest Repairman Jack novel. Which is too bad, considering I’d loaded my carry-on bag with novels, comic books and video games for the long trip.
The wedding was to be on Friday, Aug. 12, and quite frankly, I did very little planning for this trip. I knew I’d be arriving around lunchtime on Wednesday, and my first plan was just to wing it. I sort of figured I’d take a cab from the airport to San Francisco, bum around the city all day Wednesday, randomly find a hotel for the night and then take a cab out to the site of the actual wedding a few miles away in Palo Alto the next morning. Dumb idea. What the Hell was I thinking? I have little to no actual experience traversing a big city, especially on my own. And I’ve never just randomly found a hotel for the night. Who knows what it could have cost?
Thankfully, Tyson and his bride-to-be were there to help me out.
We arranged before I left that he and Jessica could pick me up at the airport since they’d be in the area. That meant I could go with Tyson and a few other groomsmen to pick up our tuxedos. Tyson and Jessica also knew a lot more about San Francisco than I did, so they were able to provide me with not only a map and a few key places to see in the city, but also an inexpensive way to get from Palo Alto to San Fran and a free place to stay Wednesday night.
I was rooming with the best man, Christopher McCormick, but the hotel reservations in Palo Alto weren’t until Thursday night. Somehow word made it through the grapevine that I had nowhere to stay Wednesday night, so Jessica’s parents offered me their house in San Francisco. Just like that! They were going to be in the hotel Wednesday night, so their house was open. I jumped at the offer. It also gave me the chance to meet Jessica’s brother Matt and his wife Kim, who would also be staying the night.
I gotta say, Jessica’s family were some of the nicest people ever. Her parents, Don and Kathy, were so nice, helpful and accommodating to offer me, a complete stranger, a place to stay. They were friendly at every turn, eager to just hang out and chat and get to know a schlub like me. And Matt and Kim were equally friendly, welcoming me into the home Wednesday night and setting me up with a bedroom and whatnot.
Not only that, but they were willing to leave a few hours earlier than planned Thursday morning just to take me to the grave of Emperor Norton I, the first and only Emperor of the United States.
I plan to do another blog post on Emperor Norton shortly, to give you all the full story. But in short, he was a somewhat crazy local legend in San Francisco in the mid-1800s who declared himself Emperor of the United States. And people indulged his insane hobo-ideas! It’s a wonderfully brilliant story of American history, and it’s all true.
So Matt and Kim took me to the grave Thursday morning. Matt, who was also a newspaper reporter once, had done a story on the Emperor, which I’ll include in my future Norton post. So he told me all about the guy, and we chatted about the works of novelist Christopher Moore, who used the Emperor as a character, as well as comparing tales of newspaper journalism. Again, very friendly people. Everyone I met from Jessica’s side of the family was super nice.
But before I get ahead of myself, you may like to hear about my actual visit to the City of San Francisco. I stayed with Matt and Kim Wednesday night, but Wednesday afternoon was spent wandering the streets of a city I only knew from Full House.
Like I said, Tyson and Jessica had given me a few ideal places to visit on my trip. I took the train from Palo Alto to San Fran, which let me off near Giants’ Stadium in the southern part of the city. Then I walked. Let me tell you, I am not a walker. I’m trying to do more of it, but I hadn’t even gotten close to my goal of preparation walking. Still, I was not to be deterred, and so I set out with my luggage on my back and map in hand to see the sights! I started walking past the stadium and around the southern edge of the bay. I cut through the city streets a bit to walk among the skyscrapers, and passed under the Bay Bridge.
I basically just did a lot of walking and wandering, seeing sights and taking a few pictures. I chatted with a nice lady who was visiting from New Jersey, and saw some people zip-lining over the city streets. I eventually caught a trolley from the bay to Chinatown in the central part of the city. It wasn’t the fun sort of jumping on a moving trolley, but by then my legs and feet were already too sore to try that sort of maneuver. I simply bought a ticket and went for a ride, ending up in Chintatown.
I’m not much of a tourist. I’m not a stop and smell the roses kind of guy. I spend most of my days on the computer or playing video games, and I like that life. But it’s good to get out and see the world every now and then, which was half the purpose of this trip. So yes I wandered around Chinatown, but I doubt I really witnessed the essence of it or anything. I just sort of wandered, looked at the pretty sights and thought it was kind of cool to be there. I enjoyed myself, but I know I probably barely skimmed the surface of what it had to offer. No backroom games of high-stakes poker with one-eyed Chinese immigrants for me!
Likewise with Fisherman’s Wharf. I took another trolley up to the northern tip of the city, and by then I was definitely dead on my feet. It was dark, so I couldn’t see much. So I just walked/zombie-shuffled to what appeared to be the main area and got a fish dinner at the Fisherman’s Grotto. I’ll take their word for it that they’ve been a staple of that location for decades. Seemed legit.
When I finished dinner, my plan was to trolley deeper into Union Square and find a taxi cab. But I was too damn tired. So I waited around Fisherman’s Wharf until I found taxi to take me to Jessica’s parents’ house just south of the city. It was only a $20 cab ride, so I was grateful. I found the place easily, was greeted warmly by Matt and Kim and I had a good night’s sleep in Jessica’s old room. I woke up all achy and stuff, but that was to be expected. The house was wall-to-wall books, which was kind of awesome. I also saw a bunch of John Grisham novels in Jessica’s room. He’s one of my favorite authors, and the one that got me into reading adult novels back when I was a teen-ager. I meant to ask her about this link we had in common, but never remembered. Maybe next time.
So after visiting Norton’s grave, Matt, Kim and I arrived at the hotel Thursday morning with wedding plans coming and going left and right. There were luncheons and airport visits and arriving guests. I had to go back to the tux shop to get a bigger coat (I know, I’m fat), and I also bought Tyson and Jessica a wedding present. I hope they like it! I visited with the various other Mills family members that had arrived, and eventually saw my parents and sister when they checked into their hotel room. I’d been in touch with them over the phone a bit on Wednesday, but now I got to see them and say ‘hello’. They took a train ride in, and I later chatted with them about how it went. I still have to ask how the train ride home was, my dad was looking forward to it and I hope it was a good trip.
I also randomly learned, in visiting with my parents, that I would have the important duty of escorting my grandmother to her seat in the wedding. My grandparents raised Tyson from when he was a iddle widdle boy, so she was essentially ‘mother’ of the groom. Apparently this had been decided months ago, but I first heard about walking grandma down the aisle in that short visit with my parents. That’s another thing I want to ask Tyson about someday, how it got arranged that I’d have that honor of escorting grandma to her seat. It’s a pretty big deal, and again, I’m always a bit eager to find out I’m well-regarded enough to be given such an important task.
Anyway, once all the groomsmen and bridesmaids were around, we all loaded up and took off to the Thomas Fogerty Winery for the rehearsal Thursday afternoon.
Tyson and Jessica literally had their wedding on top of a mountain, overlooking possibly the entire state of California. The view was that impressive. The picture does not do it justice. They had a little yard/grove at the winery with an awe-inspiring view.
So rehearsal went well. I’d been a groomsman before in my friend Joe’s wedding, so it was cool to be doing it again. I got to walk grandma to her seat, and I was teamed up with a beautiful bridesmaid when it came to walking out arm-in-arm at the end of the ceremony – Tyson and Jessica’s hot college friend Valerie. Another groomsman, Tyson’s 13-year-old nephew Kyle, had quickly developed a crush on Valerie, so I teased him throughout the week that I got to walk with her at the wedding. He’s right at the age of noticing girls, but is still far too shy to admit anything of the sort.
The rehearsal dinner was at a restaurant called Zibibbo near the hotel, and everybody was invited. I sat at the table of Tyson and Jessica’s college friends, along with my other cousin Heather and Jessica’s god-sister Jamie. Again, another super-friendly member of Jessica’s family. We made small talk and became friends, I’d like to think, while also chatting with the college gang about how Tyson and Jessica met and other stories. It was fun, and the dinner was nice. It was the typical fancy sort of food you get at these things. Would it be wrong to serve cheeseburgers and french fries at my wedding?
At the end of the reception, they played a Tyson and Jessica slideshow with pictures of them growing up and then as a couple. I’ll gladly admit that I spent most of it looking for pictures of myself as a little kid with Tyson. There were a few. I was an adorable blonde baby, and skinny. What the Hell happened as I grew up!?
So the rehearsal went well, the rehearsal dinner was nice and afterwards a bunch of us hung out in the hotel bar just relaxing. I met one of Tyson’s co-workers who had flown in for the wedding, and his nice family. Some guy at the bar overheard us talking about my newspaper job in Rome, and he randomly introduced himself because he had gone to a nearby high school. He wasn’t there for a wedding, he was just a random hotel guest who even more randomly was from the same general neighborhood where I now live. Fun.
Jamie was there at the bar, as well as two other groomsmen: Chris and Tim Cobb. It was nice seeing those guys again, as I’m not sure the last time I’d ever seen them. They were childhood friends of Tyson’s, and I knew them back in school. Hard as it may be to believe, I was something of a dork throughout school. I’ve since embraced my dorkiness (hence the comic book-based blog at age 27), and can look back at my very dorky childhood as growing pains. Anyway, in fifth-grade I didn’t really have many friends of my own in my own grade, so I hung out with Tyson and his friends, specifically when finding a table to sit at during lunch. That’s where I got to know Chris and Tim, and then through various other times in and out of school when I hung out with Tyson. Tim was with us when we went skiing for a few years, and I joined Tyson and Chris for some community theater in high school.
Good times, and good guys. So it was fun throughout the week catching up and chatting with them.
But eventually we had to go to sleep, with Tyson crashing in Chris and mine’s room on the night before his wedding. They took the ‘don’t see the bride on the day of your wedding’ tradition very seriously. Which is cool.
The Day of the Wedding!
So if you’re still reading after all this, good for you. We’ve finally reached the day of the wedding! As far as I know, everything went off perfectly. It was a beautiful wedding, the reception was perfect and the dance party was a blast.
I dragged myself out of bed at about 9 a.m. and joined Tyson and Chris for some breakfast by the pool. The Sheraton in Palo Alto had a nice pool, with a good lounge area right near both the bar and the restaurant. I didn’t have anything to do that day, so I tagged along with the two of them to a nearby mall for last minute buying of things. While the girls went through all the stressful hair, makeup and dress stuff, the men just went to the mall. And what a mall! You’ll find no better example of how great the weather is in California than the fact that they had an outdoor mall! It wasn’t an outlet mall like we’re used to here in Central New York, where you walk from shop to shop. This was a real mall with an inside and an outside, with hallways and branches and wings and the like. But there was no roof. It was all open, with a nice breeze, and the sun shining and the perfect weather.
With shopping done, we head back to the hotel for more general hanging out. I met some more of Tyson’s co-workers and college friends because we all just had some time to kill hanging out around the pool before the wedding. It was nice. I had a banana for lunch. Then at about 3 p.m., we groomsmen and other VIPs gathered together with our tuxes and hopped into a van to be taken up to the winery. We changed up there, did our best to avoid seeing the girls and basically hung out for awhile as we waited, joined by the male members of Jessica’s family. A few pre-wedding pictures were taken of Tyson and his groomsmen. There was even a short comedic break where the guys raided the winery lodge for something, anything that would open the beer bottles they brought us. I think they settled on a metal shoe horn after the tightly rolled paper towel didn’t work.
Then it was wedding time!
There ceremony was pretty damn awesome. Matt, Jessica’s other brother Sean and mine and Tyson’s Aunt Dawn all read nice pieces about love and relationships for the wedding. The weather was absolutely perfect. The judge did a great job officiating. The best part, of course, were the vows. Tyson and Jessica wrote their own vows, and both were filled with heart and character. As I said earlier, I never go to know Jessica all that well, let alone about her and Tyson’s relationship, but this was a nice little window into their love. I’ve known Tyson my whole life, and now I got to hear, in his own words, how his life was gloriously altered by his new wife.
They were adorable vows. Tyson’s was full of humor, about the trips they’d been on together, about how she made his days better and other stuff. I’m blanking on the details. I’m sure the vows were video-taped. Jessica also wrote a great set of vows, and she’d been worried about them earlier. I learned how Tyson convinced her to go on wild adventures, like zip-lining and snorkeling. So pretty cool stuff. There was a crow cawing during some parts of the wedding, but it wasn’t too much of annoyance (I hope) and the wedding planner eventually chased it off. So other than that, the wedding went off without a hitch!
And like I said, I got to walk in with grandma:
And walk out with Valerie:
So lucky me!
Also, the bride and groom looked pretty amazing too.
So I would declare it to be an awesome wedding! Afterwards we posed for the various pictures that they like to take at these sorts of events. Lots of family pictures of varying degrees and groups. I didn’t mind. It was nice to get in the shade after standing out in the hot sun while lined up. Not that it was too hot, what with the nice weather. Still, a breeze came along once the wedding was over that helped things out nicely. We took a lot of pictures and eventually everybody moved down a level to get cocktails at the winery lodge, and then moved into the dinner area for the reception.
At one point I went back up to the wedding site to grab the gift I’d brought for the couple – only to be recruited by the wedding planner to help carrying the wedding arch down to place behind Tyson and Jessica’s dinner table. So me and a bunch of waiters carried the various pieces of the arch down several flights of stairs. Just sort of a weird interlude during the festivities.
Dinner was great. I forget what I’d ordered on the invitation, but I decided on a whim to ask the waiters for the kids’ meal. They were serving chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese for the kids, and I wanted some of that. In hindsight, that was a very silly thing to do, since the beef and mashed potatoes looked really good. Still, the chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese was good too! So there.
Chris read a great toast as best man, as did Jessica’s sister Rachel as Matron of Honor. Everybody’s toasts and vows were pretty awesome. I sat with my dad, Larry, Dawn and Kyle at the reception after a few of us switched seats. Nice meal, nice reception, all well and good. I took a seat in the photobooth they’d set up, and gave them to my grandmother and mother because grandma had requested the photobooth shots. If I had a copy, I’d post them here. I think they turned out well.
Then on to the dancing!
First they cut the cake, and both Jessica and her parents gave a toast. They thanked my grandmother for raising such a wonderful Tyson, and it was great seeing grandma glowing with pride. Then they had the first dance between husband and wife, which was nice. Then Jessica and her father really cut a rug to some swing music. Bride/Father swing-dancing is one of my favorite wedding moments. Anyone gutsy enough to pull it off is awesome, and Jessica and her dad were fantastic.
I danced with Jamie a few times, the god-sister I met at the reception dinner, so I get to say I wasn’t a wallflower and slow-danced with a pretty girl. And I spent some time continuing to tease Kyle that he was too shy to ask Valerie for a dance. Good times. Unfortunately, since everybody took a shuttle up to the wedding, we all had to take a shuttle back to the hotel. And the only shuttles left at 10 p.m. So there was only about an hour and a half left in the evening to dance. That turned out to be plenty of time, but still it seemed to cut the party short. Those kids could have danced all night long!
The wedding ended with all the guests lining one of the winery’s walkways with super long sparklers, and then the bride and groom running through the tunnel of sparklers. Then the photographers made them walk back down through the tunnel of sparklers, then run back up the path again. Way to stretch out the moment, photogs.
So everybody piled into the shuttles and we rode back down to the hotel. Tyson announced an after-party at the hotel bar again, and a lot of people just hung out chatting, drinking, smoking cigars and unwinding after a long day. It was pretty cool. Tyson’s co-workers from his Boston law firm convince him to go swimming at about midnight, and he does – though the 6 or so of us other guys who agreed to jump in with him did not go swimming too. I still had my tux on, after all. My feet were killing me so I just sat down and chilled during all the festivities. And eventually everyone went to sleep.
For reasons that remain strange to me, I booked a 6 a.m. flight the following morning back to New York. I think my plan was to get home at a reasonable hour Saturday night, and that worked out since I’ve had the past two days off to finish out my vacation with some relaxation. But that meant I had to miss the 11 a.m. family BBQ at the hotel Saturday morning, and getting about three hours of sleep after the wedding, taking no shower in the morning and then paying $50 to take a 4 a.m. shuttle to the airport. I would have liked to have been at the BBQ, and had Saturday to relax instead of in airports all day. Oh well. I made it through the lines and got on my plane – then thankfully slept for the entire 5-hour flight to Philadelphia. Then I slept on the one-hour delay on the runway, and the one-hour flight home to Syracuse.
Only to find out that my car had died.
I think I may have left an overhead light on in my car, and it was dead as a stone in the airport parking garage. It was so dead that the automatic door unlock button on my key didn’t work, and the car’s clock had reset to 12:00. So here I was, having slept for the past 7 or 8 hours in an airplane, hadn’t showered since before the wedding and was aching all over from all the physical activity of the week, and I can’t go home. I can’t do anything, I have no car. Panic starts to set in, so I call AAA and they send out a guy. Thank the stars that he’s able to jump-start the car. It was just a dead battery. The car starts and I drive home, two hours later than I’d planned because of airplane delays and a dead car.
But I make it home, I kick up my feet and I relax. I upload all of my photos from my camera for the week and get them off to Tyson and Jessica Saturday night so they and everyone else can enjoy them before they leave on their honeymoon.
It was an awesome trip! California was great, with perfect weather. San Francisco was a fun place to wander around in, seeing a few sites and people. It was a blast to spend time with Tyson and my family, and getting to meet Jessica’s family was a real treat. Enough nice words can not be said for how awesome and friendly the Stannard-Friels were. It’s a shame that I probably have no reason to ever see them again. But cool for Tyson that he has awesome in-laws. I can try to Facebook a few of them at least.
The wedding was great, the bride was beautiful and the groom was Tyson. What more needs to be said?
Awesome, awesome vacation.