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California, New Zealand. Two passports, two homelands. And detours.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chocolate milk. Buttermilk donuts. R Country Store

Every time I come back to my hometown I bring a list.

I'm a geek, lists relax me, so when I come back to Los Olivos, California there is a scrap of paper I've written on feverishly while sitting in an airport terminal.

Next to each bullet points are direct orders to myself about favourite roads to run on at dusk, pieces of outdoor furniture I plan to sit all day in with Lompoc tortilla chips and Cowboy Caviar from El Rancho; there are Midland School fencelines with No Tresspassing signs I need to squirrel through, highways up the coast that Cristi Silva and I will be driving in her husband's pickup truck, and MP3 playlists for jumping on the trampoline at night in my parents' backyard under walnut trees.

The list is amended and re-prioritized every few years; new strategies are sometimes called for (i.e. Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn & Spa has put a door-sized board across it's gated pool entrance. Lame. But not impossible.) and as Los Olivos has grown wealthier and lost some its grime and soul, there are now winecountry restaurants to spend a whole paycheck at and vineyards to explore and sometimes I'll read or hear about these places and add them in.

But there one item on the hometown list that is always at the top, unmoved, and marked in stars.

Chocolate milk. Buttermilk donuts. R Country Store.

I used to love running errands with Dad on Saturday mornings. It was my first experience of having 'time to yourself' with someone else and it was where I got my love of jumping into a car and driving away with the radio on. Morning errands were an escape, a reward for completed yardwork (if you rake enough leaves, they fill up the back of a truck, and then that truck has to be taken to the landfill). Easy logic. The quicker you get it done, the quicker you can hit the road, roll down the windows, pass a Capri Sun juice back and forth and tune into the Padres game.

Some Saturday mornings we'd cross the highway and drive down Foxen Canyon Road, past the dusty corrals and oak trees on the hillsides, the mist rising off them as the heat of the day began to burn through; past the cattle on the bare, brown hills and up the winding road to the landfill entrance.

Some years it was weekend softball games and I would ride shotgun with the glove in my lap down Refugio Road to Santa Ynez, then be really scared to get out of the car and be a team player. I wanted to stay in the car with Dad and his John Fogerty cassette tapes.

When I had horses we'd take the blue tarp in the backyard by the walnuts, and cover the floor of the minivan and drive down to the end of Baseline and pick up bales of alfalfa then take the long road back to Los Olivos. I remember rolling down the window and resting my chin on my arms, pushing the flyaway hair from my ponytail out of my nose and eyes and looking hard at the rearview mirror, trying to figure out if I liked my face.

Then I got older and got a license and inherited a car and pretty soon I had my own errands to run, and places of my own I would drive to listening to my favourite mixed tapes.

At some point in my early years as an errand sidekick, Dad and I would stop at R Country Store on a corner of Grand Ave. He'd grab a chocolate milk and the weekend paper and I'd get a buttermilk donut.

Dad would hold open the door and I'd walk under his arm and there was a great feeling of a Saturday morning just beginning, with the Lone Ranger on at noon on channel 32 and then my horse to ride all afternoon and then maybe a sleepover at Jenny Anderson's (Jenny had the best sleepovers) and Xanadu to watch and a lot of interpretive dancing on rollerskates in her driveway until it got dark and her mom called us in.

Whenever I come back, Dad is always ready to take a car out and get his chocolate milk and the Saturday paper. And in all of my wanderings I have just never found a better place to get a buttermilk donut. We'll drive up in his Austin Mini Cooper and get the mail. You can't really talk because the engine is so loud. So he and I will just shake our head and mouth 'tourists' when we can't get a park in town.

We'll pull in at R Country and the tri tip will be smoking on the grill outside and all the neighbors will be sitting outside in plastic chairs with coffee in to go cups and Jim with his baseball hat pulled low will always say 'well I always know your daughter's home when I hear the trampoline at night'. And I'll head for the donuts and dad, the chocolate milk and we'll meet at the counter with the weekend paper and fight over who's paying.

Driving with my father somewhere really normal and familiar is one of my favourite things about coming home. I feel young and taken care of and loved for who I am no matter what I do because I'm his kid.

And when Dad opens the door of R Country and I duck under his arm with my buttermilk donut I feel like life is one long Saturday morning that's just beginning.

I will miss these small, simple drives down the road, for nothing in particular, more than anything.

Love you so much Dad. Happy Father's Day.


  1. Have you figured out if you like your face yet? Great post!

  2. I read this while sitting in my mom's kitchen. The only light comes from the laptop monitor. I forget how many "little" brownies I've eaten. I think to myself,'I used to love putting my head on my arm in the car window', and 'I like your face', and "Mmm, tri tip'. Great post, G. Take care.

  3. OMG....you have me in tears.... YOU are the raddest!!!

    (PS i am stoked i got to make it on your list!)