National Lampoon’s Bay Area Vacation (Ch 1-4)

Chapter 1: Relaxation Needed

Working as a VIP Concierge at Las Vegas’ hottest new resort is an exhilarating experience. I mean, my job is to literally make people happy on their vacation. How awesome is that? Needless to say my frustration was never with my job or my guests. No matter how much you love what you’re doing mental fatigue and a requirement to relax always becomes a factor eventually.

I was burned out completely and my performance was starting to show it. My phone voice became lifeless, my feet were constantly aching from wearing dress shoes and I hadn’t a decent amount of down time in weeks. Though I have a comfortable bed, Xbox 360 and Netflix, a few days at home just wouldn’t suffice this time as the fatigue was beginning to attack my sanity. It was time for a vacation.

It had been well over 18 months since my last excursion outside of Las Vegas. While I know that a Caribbean cruise or a Hawaiian getaway was certainly out of the question, perhaps 2-3 days in California would temporarily quench my thirst for relaxation. Coincidentally, my girl’s cousin was also getting married in Modesto, which is located Northern California. I’ve never been there before, but I did know that it was close to the infamous Bay Area, home of the 49ers, Raiders and several pieces of untapped nightlife and cuisine options.

I’ve actually gone to San Francisco three times; once for leisure which turned out to be a fiasco with my ex wife, and twice more for business when I used to work for Lexus. The first time I visited the adventurous tourist in me hadn’t emerged nor did my forcefully outgoing personality. I found myself with one mere day of sightseeing and then the rest of the time cooped up in the suburban home of her best friend’s family playing Playstation with her kids.

As for my Lexus trips, they were all business. Fly in, sit through 8 hour seminars and fly out. I hadn’t the liberty to actually do anything sociable during those nights in Frisco outside of room service and a friendly Mai Tai in the lobby bar.

With those past trips in mind, I made it a personal goal to visit the Bay Area get my relaxation on and some exploring done. Right way, I began putting an itinerary together.

My company’s affiliation with Marriott allowed for heavily discounted rates for me as well as friends and family. I knew Modesto was a good hour outside of San Francisco and about 45 minutes from where we’d stay in Oakland. After reviewing the rates including the discount in Frisco, I knew that staying in the city was not going to happen, budget wise. Instead, we found a deal in Downtown Oakland at City Center Marriott. I snatched it up without hesitation to cover the first two nights.

Shortly thereafter, I booked a third night, but in Modesto, where the wedding would take place. Courtyard Marriott would become our home for the final night of our stay. The Courtyard was a convenient pick considering it was only 3.1 miles away from the Doubletree where the Saturday afternoon ceremony and reception would commence.

Things were going swimmingly, now it was just a matter of obtaining transportation. I’ve heard horror stories of driving to the Bay Area from several parties. Between the traditionally bad California drivers and two lane mountainous highways to the possibility of the Earth opening up from under us in a disastrous earthquake, I had my reservations about a road trip up north so I hit up the good people at Bing to check on airline flights.

My uusual sets of airlines were a complete fail. $200 round trip for two people wasn’t bad. $300 for three people however was unexpected. I guess it wasn’t their fault that this was my first experience with traveling with little ones. I used to work for the bus company in town where kids under 5 years old were free, which is not the case when it comes to toddlers on a plane. My three year old soon to be step daughter would indeed be charged as if she was a grown ass woman. Determined not to be completely frustrated, I remained optimistic for a flight deal.

August wrapped up and it was getting on to September. We were about a month away from our first weekend in October plans. It had become a glaring fact that a flight to SFO or OAK was not going to be possible for the three of us financially. In addition to our October plans, the Nevada DMV (which I’m totally convinced stands for Department of Motherfucking Vampires) was standing in our way. My car registration would become due at the end of September; something I was NOT looking forward to.

Flight plans were officially canceled at this point. I told my love, Kia about the situation and she sympathized with the fact that though we wouldn’t make the Bay Area, I definitely still needed a recharge of energies and vacation was still required. Enter Los Angeles.

The L.A. area is cheaper to visit and a much more desirable driving scenario. Instead of having to fly, rent a car and hotel, the flight monies would become spending monies and we would be able to really chill and enjoy ourselves. L.A. also had points of interest that were in my viewfinder that I had never encountered. Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for instance… I’d never been there. I also had never been to Kia’s favorite hangout, Manhattan Beach.

To help kick the relaxation to an even higher level, Kia also arranged to have her mom take the baby with them to Frisco, as they originally planned to road trip in a minivan anyway and would have the space to do so. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time as a complete family, future step daughter and all, but a childless weekend of beach activity sounded WONDERFUL! So after a couple of changes, we had our heading and it was time to move forward to southern California.

 Chapter 2: F*ck this car!

As much as I love my 2007 Ford Focus hatchback, it had put in 5 good years of service and was now on the tail end of its value to me. While still a reliable vehicle, it was no longer holding its value and the fact that I traded in my beat up $4500 upside down Grand Am for it in 2006 didn’t actually HELP me on the payment end. Don’t get me wrong, the Pontiac HAD to die back then. It needed close to $3000 in repairs, the upholstery was a wrap and it had a constant check engine light that nobody could seem to tell me what the problem was without a $90 hit for  diagnosis. After the third bad diagnosis for $90 I was at wits end with that car. Luckily at the time I worked for Ford Credit, so I had a little pull in that department. Bad marriage credit aside, they got me that car for $1000 down and $437 a month… let’s think about that for a moment. I got that ride for 3% under invoice, so it was worth about $13K, and aside from a sunroof, which they didn’t come with from the plant, it was fully loaded. They gave me a $1000 rebate to match my $1000 down which got me from $6500 owed on the Pontiac to $4500… rolled it into my new contract which makes me still essentially overpay for the Focus. It was great then given my mechanical issues with the Grand Am, but the collector in me knew that that simple interest contract would bite me in the ass if I ever fell behind; and fall behind I did.

Between being homeless twice after leaving my ex, changing jobs three times and two surgeries, me and the Ford collections department we’re best friends. I never let it get crazy, as you will never find a 60 day delinquency on my credit report, but I’ve had challenges throughout the tenure. We’re not going to go into detail however on my payment history because it’s beside the point.

Basically, falling behind on a simple interest contract is the worst thing known to man, because not only do late charges and shit run up each time you’re past due but a daily fee is assessed that is tacked on to the end of your contract. For instance, I once saw a customer who was locked into a high interest loan and had been past due by over 30 days more than 40 times during the term. Subsequently he was getting charged close to $13 a day for every day that he was late on his loan. By the end of his 60 month term, including the 8 months of extensions he was given, in order to get the title, he would need to rewrite the final balloon payment into another 48 month term, essentially paying for his vehicle TWICE, just because he had some hard times.

When the BEAST wants to eat you, the BEAST will eat you. Payment extensions sound great on paper and they may help you in the short term, but in the long run, banks don’t want to help anyone financially but themselves.

I never agreed with this type of loan but I understand why they were created. It s a cheap move by banks to destroy the little guy and keep them for an eternity within THE BEAST, but they ARE in business to make money, so I don’t fault them. I mean, aside from slavery, war, and thievery this country was built on capitalism, right? 

That was the very boat I found myself in. While my daily interest is only $3 as opposed to $13, right now I’m in the hole to the good people of Dearborn for about $7500. Mind you, Kelly Blue Book on my car is like $3500 and that’s if it was in pristine condition, which it is not. Other than a couple batteries and an alternator, I’ve been blessed not to have had any significant mechanical failures in my Focus but that does not help that the carpeting and tire that needs replacing, the armrest that is broken, or the 90,000 mile service which is due on it, like right now. It also doesn’t explain why it sounds like a radio flyer wagon rolling through gravel when I hit high speeds. Needless to say, to have to reregister this piece was something I did NOT want to do.

I foresaw what I was up against back in June and I actually tried to get rid of my Focus back them. I could have been successful too had I any desire to drive a truck and forgo any possibility of driving my future kids around in it. I called my buddy Pete up for assistance. Pistol Pete is what he was known as in the professional field, but I’ve only known him as Tweet Pete.   He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not Facebook Freddy, nor is he MySpace Mike. He’s Tweet Pete, because Pete Tweets. The dude is like one of Las Vegas’ biggest twitter users. He was also the homey I went to high school with is by far the best car sales person I know.

He surprisingly got the deal done in June; my Focus was being paid off and I would have been the owner of a brand new Nissan Frontier Truck BUT I turned the deal down. You see, I didn’t want a truck. I love trucks, but I also love the concept of having a family. Back then, I had no idea I had a baby on the way, but I did know I would want one soon. In the event that I could not trade that bad boy in on demand, I feared that I would be stuck in that truck for 6 years with no recourse for child transportation.

So why was the deal done for a truck, you may ask? Well, the Frontier was the only model available with rebate money. I originally walked in looking at Nissan Altimas, but in that case I would need to come with $4000 down to make that happen. Combined with the $1500 I could put down the $3000 cash back offered on the Frontier would have got me close enough to eliminating the negative equity on my Focus thus making it acceptable to the banks.

In addition to the back seat situation, a $619 monthly payment was a bitch to have to deal with; and an ugly bitch to boot. I had to consider that I was moving clear across town from work and gas would become a huge factor. The truck had like a 21 gallon tank and got 17 miles to the gallon.

My Focus has a 14 gallon tank and when optimized by good maintenance, gets between 34-36 miles per gallon. After doing the math based on mileage I put on the car for work alone as well as insurance that Frontier would have cost me about $1100 a month. Imagine falling behind on THAT simple interest loan which was, by the way set at 15% as opposed to the 8% I got with Ford Credit. Yeah, totally not cool.

This brings me back to the problem at hand. I had a car I did not want to afford and it was due for registration at the end of September. Meanwhile, Capital One aka THE BEAST that approved the original deal with Nissan still wanted me into their fold. I kept getting pre-approval notices from them following my decision to walk away from Nissan. Each one indicated that I was pre-approved for a loan up to $30,000.

Excuse my language, but that Capitol One deal was bullshit. If I was REALLY pre-approved, then it shouldn’t be an issue to buy a $14,000 new ride and for them to pay off my old loan. Last time I checked if I got a credit card that told me I was pre-approved for a limit of $30,000, the same day I received it, I could go and charge $30,000 to it. That’s the way it should work.

Remember though, this is THE BEAST we’re talking about. $30,000 is WAY too good to be true. I even researched it twice with three different vendors. Two wanted $3000 down to complete the deal and one wanted $2000 down to do it; mind you these deals were for pre-owned models, not new cars. In both instances they would have been slightly older vehicles with fewer miles as well. You see where this is heading? Like I said, THE BEAST wants to eat off you FOREVER.

My Focus has realistically $1000 worth of maintenance I have to do to it; $1500 if I decide to re-upholster it. If I had that kind of money, given the circumstances, it would be better for me I would fix everything and just keep paying on it. Thing is, I didn’t have that money and the novelty of getting out of my Grand Am all of five years later was a complete non factor. 

In the movie Baby Boy, Ving Rhames’ character Melvin said it best. Life is about guns and butter. The guns were the things like artwork and property; things that appreciate over time. The butter is shit like jewelry, clothes and cars; things that don’t mean shit after you buy it. Touché Melvin…lesson learned. In my case, my butter had already melted and been consumed and all I have now is a clogged artery.

Back to the DMV situation, it was bad enough I didn’t want to register my Focus again, but nobody told me it was illegal to cancel your insurance for a day to change providers. As much as I liked Progressive, they must have been pissed to report a 14 hour lapse when I switched to State Farm back in July. This change saved me on my monthly payments, but the DMV wanted $250 due to the “lapse”. I found out about the fine by getting pulled over by a bored North Las Vegas police officer, who also thought the fine was bullshit and allowed me to drive off without even issuing me a full warning. Good to see that not all police officers are assholes.

Before the rest of the melted butter settled into my arteries, I started selling things. I got rid of my gold chain that my ex bought me a few Christmases ago, I sold my old 8 bit Nintendo and the games that I’ve been holding onto and took pictures of my wall units in storage with the intention of putting them on eBay. If I would cancel my vacation due to money/car problems, I wouldn’t go to cancel like a bitch. I was going to cancel defiantly, selling shit and fighting my ass off before I succumbed to the pressure.

I eventually got all the money to pay the fine for the insurance lapse. The registration however, would have still killed me. Instead, I decided to get a 10 day moving permit which would delay my having to pay the extra cash on registration until the next pay check, after my vacation. 

Paying a fine of $250 unexpectedly low-key depressed me. Granted, the moving permit plan certified that I would be able to have some kind of vacation I was still uneasy going to California short of what I should be going with. Knowing that I needed to pay the Department of Motherfucking Vampires again when I got back was the elephant in the room that I didn’t want to address. Suddenly, I felt the concept of frivolously renting a car going sour. At that time I reluctantly started researching locations in town for a Staycation, ERRRR a vacation for broke people. That way we could stay in a nice hotel at a cheap rate and at least pretend to escape reality.

Chapter 3: One Way or Another

 I had all but booked my Staycation here in Las Vegas and was about to break the news to Kia that her boyfriend had failed on his vacation campaign. My back was against the wall financially and it was going to be difficult thing to suck up the loss and just stay in town. Hell, at that point I event considered saying forget it and just stayed on the schedule at work, canceling everything. I didn’t though. One way or another, I was determined to go on a vacation.

 As I frantically researched ways to get around the financial difficulty of trip planning, Kia came up with a brilliant idea. Grandma was still planning a trip to the Northern California wedding. She had already rented a car, but had anxiety about driving that far on the solo tip. The idea that we would set in motion would be to combine trips.  This way, we would accompany Grandma on the long haul road trip, getting us out of town and to the wedding as originally planned and that the only thing we’d have to worry about financially would be feeding ourselves, gas money and the hotel. That, my friends, was a win-win situation in my book.

The new plan formulated quickly. I canceled all Los Angeles/Las Vegas plans and rebooked a room in Milpitas, a suburb of San Jose, which is technically a suburb of San Francisco. The Courtyard by Marriott in Milpitas seemed to be a perfect situation. It was outside the city, low priced with my discount and accessible to the bus lines that we could transfer to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit – which is like a cleaner version of the L trains in Chicago) to get into San Francisco with ease. The fact that the hotel was across the street from the Great Mall of California was a bonus as well. If there’s one thing that I love on vacation its new shopping experiences, even if it would be of the window shopping variety.

The first two nights would be in Milpitas and the last would still be in Modesto. Grandma would drop us off at the suburban hotel and continue the extra 45 minutes into the city to stay with her sister until Saturday, where we would rendezvous in Frisco and roll to Modesto, sharing the room with her on the wedding night. 

I plotted our trajectory on AT&T Navigator and compared all routes. It would take 8 hours and 22 minutes from my house to the Courtyard in Milpitas. The plan was to get out as early as we could but not to create a rushing situation. Taking a cue from the Johnson Family Vacation, I declared that we should be on the I-15 by 11:15. This way, we would cruise into Milpitas just after nightfall, and still have time to enjoy ourselves for the night before hitting the sheets for an early start the following morning.

Since Grandma planned on traveling alone, she originally booked a compact car with Enterprise Rent A Car. With this in mind, I kept one part of my original trip intact. I’m a tall guy, so I reserved a full sized model through Thrifty, and since I’m an American Express Gold member, I got a nice discount.  The final part of our new vacation plan would be to switch the Thrifty vehicle from my name into Grandma’s and be on our way.

Chapter 4: I-15 by 3:37…Grrr!!!

The day prior to our trip, Kia and I made a gallant effort to firm up our pre-trip errands. We visited the DMV and took care of the moving permit plan, and hit the store for random trip supplies such as snacks and last minute toiletries. We even picked up a stroller for our toddler, as we had learned just a few weeks earlier at the Vegas StrEATS festival that three year olds and walking through places that didn’t involve Disney theme parks was not a good mix

I left my love rather early that night, as I had to pack and finish some laundry before bedtime. That night, I hit the sheets just before 2am. Though I forgot a couple small items, I made a plan to wake up even earlier than expected to complete one final trip to Wal-Mart before hitting the road.

 7:30am came very fast. I hopped up and adrenaline pushed me through the morning chores. I hit Wal-Mart and grabbed kitty litter and a new large water bowl for Kat; also picked up some more mouthwash and grabbed a box of Slim Jims and rice cakes for the trip.

 After feeding the animal for the weekend and leaving plenty of water, I loaded up the Focus and made my way across town to meet Kia and Grandma so that we could get the rental car on time. The plan was to get the rental, separate so that we could pick the baby up from her father while Grandma bought a new cell phone, then meet at the parental’s house to drop off hotel room discount forms for Mom and Dad (they were actually staying in Oakland, separate from us) before heading to Muke’s house to drop off my car, then hit the road… all by 11:15am.

Well, that didn’t happen. I was late getting to Kia and Grandma’s house by about 40 minutes which set us back on picking up the car until 11:00am. We separated close to 12:00pm and Kia and I picked Sira up from her father across town later than expected.

During that trip I also remembered that I failed to grab my personal Marriott employee discount card off my stereo at home.  I-15 by 1:30pm was looking like a reality at that time.

I felt my morning adrenaline wearing off, so before heading to my house, we made a quick detour to the gas station where I would pull my ace card for road trips, an extra strength 5 Hour Energy shot. After the gas station we sped to my house and grabbed the discount card, then headed to the parents house to meet Grandma and drop off the forms. Grandma advised however that traffic had a slow up and she was off schedule by a little bit, so we made the call to just meet at Muke’s house instead so we could just hit the road after dropping my car off.

Upon arrival at Mom and Dad’s I found that I made yet another error. I never granted a discount to family before so I wasn’t familiar with the policies. I thought the accepting hotel manager fills out the form upon arrival. Not so. Actually, I had to get it pre-authorized by my management before turning it over to the staying guests.

By this time I -15 by 3:15pm was looking like a new reality; so much for nightlife after arrival. Since it was also starting to rain, I expected another couple delays. I counted on a midnight or later arrival to our hotel. I sighed aloud at myself for another delay as I rushed to my office to get a couple signatures on the discount forms. On our way over, Grandma called who was ready to say forget it and let’s start the next day. At that point, I channeled my inner Clark Griswold and declared that no; we would NOT wait until tomorrow. At that particular time a day, the room had already been confirmed and charged to my credit card. The Bay Area on Friday afternoon wasn’t an option and if I had to drive the entire time myself, we were getting to California. This was no longer a mere vacation, this was full on QUEST for Cali and I would not be denied victory!

After as many mishaps that we’ve had getting it together, it was then my personal goal to make it to Milpitas, regardless of the arrival hour and that was the end of that discussion.

 We made it to I-15 by 3:37pm. For fuck’s sake!

To be continued…

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