Home now, but I suppose I shouldn’t have signed off before I got to the bits of the travel that actually instigated the whole roadtrip south. I suppose travelogues are always like that, aren’t they? 95% of the tale is onward, onward against insuperable odds, breathtaking sights and revelations, and at most 5% – if the writer even bothers – is “Oh yeah, and then we went back home.” I mean, Tolkien spends three books outbound across distances unthinkable to his protagonists, and then pretty much says, “Then they got carried back by giant, magic eagles.”
Anyhow, most of the impetus for this trip was that both of our kids were going to be in the LA area early this week for very different reasons, and we figured it would be fun to see them. (Also an opportunity to spend time with my always amazing mother, who was going to be in LA because, well, she lives there.)
Many of you know that Jeremy/Jeremiah/Jer/Jem/Hey-Is-Something-On-Fire is a Metallurgy undergrad at Missouri Institute of Science and Technology, and has been obsessively blacksmithing and bladesmithing since he was old enough to burn himself. As a freshman, back in the pre-COVID beforetimes, he got yanked onto the MST team that was building a sword for the competition at the biennial TMS (which inexplicably stands for “The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society”) conference.
By dint of his experience and enthusiasm (and, like his dad, gullibility), he ended up doing most of the actual metalworking and helped produce a gorgeous swept-hilt arming sword. Top honors went to a team from Florida, but J’s work ensured that he got thrust into leading MST’s team this time around. And well, short story, they built a dragon-hilted Damascus German hunting saber that, last night, was awarded the conference’s Grand Prize. (Note: video showing construction of the sword is here, but make sure you’ve got your volume adjusted – it’s…loud)
So, grand prize is pretty nice, but what really warmed my heart was seeing all the competitors together, swapping anecdotes and genuine admiration for each others’ craft. The next display case over from the MST blade was a gorgeous dagger from Arizona State, fabricated starting with black sand by a team that, four months ago, had never even swung a hammer. All the other young swordsmiths listened and winced and applauded as they told their tale of trial by fire. And after the awards were announced, all the teams went out together for sushi and alcohol.
But we were long gone by that time – our job was just to drop in at the beginning, meet the team, lay on some parental encouragement and get the heck out. Besides, at that very moment, our other offspring was halfway down I-5 on their way to new digs on the other side of LA.
Most of you know that after graduating from Hampshire (during a very different kind of “interesting time”) Andy landed a research assistant position at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They grew up incessantly hearing my stories of how amazing Cambridge was, and we were so excited that they were going to get to experience it themselves, mixing with Harvard and MIT students and professors, and even better, working on a project so close to their undergrad thesis.
…and they arrived at Harvard just a few days before the March 2020 COVID lockdown, and spent the next year and a half coding from the living room of their shared flat in Somerville. Suboptimal much? They retreated back to the family homestead a few months ago to regroup.
Now, with it looking like we’re starting to see past the pandemic, they’re ready to sally out again. With freshly-honed coding skills and tech contacts in the Pasadena area, Andy’s making the leap south, moving into a house in Glendale with three friends.
Andy was a late driver, only deciding right before the move to Cambridge that it would probably be a good idea to have a license, and pretty much taught themselves to drive in a couple of weeks, with me hanging out in the passenger seat. Andy does things like this: I assume there’s a lot of internal struggle, but from the outside, it always looks like, once they decide to do something, you blink and it’s done, apparently with minimal sweat involved (I need to remember to ask them if they might turn their attentions to settling the war in Ukraine, or reversing climate collapse).
So with mom and dad on the road, Andy cleaned out their old room, packed the car up with books – yes, some clothing, but really, mostly books – and drove the 350-odd mile stretch down to LA, apparently stopping only for french fries.
We got to the new place probably an hour after they did. Helped unpack the car, ooh’ed and ahh’ed over the new place and met the first of the new housemates. (Both of our kids seem to have inexplicably impeccable taste in friends.) Made the obligatory run to IKEA to scope out things that didn’t fit in a Prius stuffed to the gills with books. You know, ancillary items like a bed frame, and towels.
But as with Jem, once everything was moved in, our job was to administer hugs and a little help, then get out of the way and let them bask in their new lives. We were on the road, northbound, by the time it was dark.
Oh, right – that “homeward bound” part that I was complaining about giving short shrift to. Camped at the Coalinga rest stop, halfway up I-5 and were rolling north by full light. Repacked my bag in Palo Alto and Devon dropped me off for the flight to SeaTac on the Alaska Airlines version of “carried home by giant magical eagles”. Then north and west across the water and finally back at the farm as the sky turned deep blue.
So there – that’s the end of the road trip.