Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Surprise 78th Birthday Trip

We flew to San Francisco for Lunch
Although she loved geography,  my mother hadn't traveled much until I began to take her on trips whenever I could in the 1980s. I wanted every birthday to be special for her.
~Daughter, Morgan St. James

On her 78th birthday I told her I was taking her to lunch, but we had to leave early.

She questioned why that was necessary, and I came up with some BS excuse because I had a very special lunch planned for her. Little did she know that we were flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco for lunch at Fisherman's Wharf. I knew she loved Chinatown, too, so after that I planned to go from the Wharf to Chinatown, do some shopping,  finish with and early sushi dinner at Yamato's Restaurant on California Street in Chinatown, then fly back to L.A. 

Yes, I know sushi and Yamato's are Japanese, but the restaurant actually was in Chinatown right across from a McDonald's restaurant I'd decorated. Because I made several trips to San Francisco related to decorating McDonald's restaurants back then, I'd become friends with the sushi chef. No matter how much time went by between visits, he always greeted me as "Decorator Lady from McDonald's" and made special dishes for me. I thought she would enjoy that.

As we headed for LAX, she asked where we were going, and when I pulled into the airport she said, "Honey, are we going to the Theme Restaurant?" That was a big Space Age looking restaurant at the entrance to LAX.

I shook my head and said, "Good guess, but no. I know you've only been to San Francisco a few times and loved it, so I thought it would be the perfect place to have lunch."

Her eyes widened. "Lunch? We're going to fly to San Francisco for lunch? I can't believe it."

"Believe it!"

In her circle of friends it would have been a rare occurrence for someone to fly to San Francisco just for lunch and I knew she'd really have something to talk about at the Senior Center. Tears filled her eyes and she told me how special I'd made her birthdays. Her 75th was a weekend spent in Las Vegas with VIP treatment from the general manager of the Flamingo Hotel, 76 was New Orleans where she was up on stage dancing with the club owner (see the chapter in "Can We Come In and Laugh, Too?" for that story).

We caught a cab to the Wharf and  walked around, watched the seals and walruses on their platform in the bay, peeked in shops and generally had a great time. Then it was time for our Crab Louis at Alioto's on the world renowned Fisherman's Wharf. I joked that the restaurant was almost as old as she was--not quite, but almost. Mom was born in 1909 and  Alioto's had opened in 1925. She was in "seventh heaven." With lunch finished, we walked to the cablecar stop and I helped her hop on a cablecar, Destination: Chinatown.

After an afternoon of walking around--she was a great walker, better at 78 than me at 48--we went to Yamato's where I hoped my friend the chef would offer his normal greeting. The minute we appeared in the entrance he called out, "Greetings pretty decorator lady from McDonalds. And, who this beautiful lady?" (referring to Rosetta). I introduced her as my mother and he raved about how much he liked making special dishes for me. Mom was beaming.

She'd never had sushi but was ready to try it and he prepared a feast. After that day she asked if we could have sushi on several occasions. It didn't matter how old Rosetta got, she was always game to try something new. Maybe that's where I get the spirit of always being willing to  try new things. However, if she didn't like something, she didn't forget, either. Once I recommended a restaurant and she said she'd eaten there twenty years before and wouldn't go back because the service was awful. 

After being catered to by my friend, the sushi chef, we took a cab to the airport, and that's when I got a big surprise. Our return tickets were gone! I dumped the contents of my purse on a counter, but there were no tickets and the flight we'd planned to take was sold out. I told them we had reservations, and the agent actually saw the bookings, but without the tickets we were out of luck. I had no idea what had happened, unless I'd somehow dropped them and perhaps two people were enjoying a free flight to L.A.

We had the agent check other airlines and found we could buy tickets for a flight that was leaving shortly on the old commuter airline Air Cal. Mom and I hustled to their terminal only to discover a long line waiting to check in or buy tickets. We begged people to let us through the line so we could buy tickets for the flight in time to board it. Mom smiled sweetly as I pleaded.

Maybe it was her snow white hair or her captivating smile, but whatever it was, everyone let us get in front of them until we reached the front of the line. We just made it onto the flight and when we landed in L.A. she gave me a hug and said, "I can always count on you for something unexpected for my birthday. I love you, honey." That was worth everything! 

CAN WE COME IN AND LAUGH, TOO? is filled with humor and inspiration -- stories covering everything from growing up in as the youngest of ten children in a zany, early 1900s family to using laughter to get through some of the curves life threw her way. Thousands of copies have delighted people all over the globe. Why not get your own copy or give it as a gift. Available in Kindle and paperback. Amazon Select members borrow it FREE.