Literally two days after I came back from my Cuba trip, I boarded a plane (well, 3 planes if you want to get technical) towards California: it was the holidays, and as my parents grow older I wanted to spend Christmas with my entire family. As the years go on, I feel that pessimistic side of me growing, and I don’t want to ultimately be regretful that I didn’t spend enough time with them; I’m fully aware of the notion that they won’t be around forever. Seeing my loving family brings an indescribable joy and warmth in my life that I can’t get here – over 2,700 miles away – in New York. Granted, I saw them recently on Thanksgiving, but I looked forward to the extended vacation and the time I would have devoted to them. Not only would I be with my family, but also I wouldn’t have to worry about work, maintaining social obligations, or even my dog. I could actually fucking relax.
My older brother picked me up at Ontario airport in the afternoon, about two days from Christmas Eve, and I pondered what exactly I should get my family as a present. I wanted to give them something utilitarian, something that they’d actually use. Furthermore, I wanted to give them something they’d all enjoy, but my family has accrued almost everything that could make them technologically savvy. My gift would have to be affordable, so a laptop was out of the question. I ended up giving my parents and my brother a Spotify Premium Family Account, because if there’s one thing I know that my family likes as a whole, it’s listening to music. They’d also get the option to listen to anything they want, and a paid Spotify account gives them the freedom to pick and choose any artist or genre of music.
Jesus, I sound like a marketing ad.
On Christmas Eve, my aunts, uncle, and cousin came over to our house. I managed to cook nearly the entire dinner, including: a roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing, bourbon-honey ham, and mashed potatoes. My traditional Filipino family enjoyed what was a traditional American meal, and I’m happy that they were to stomach my cooking without vomiting or having spastic seizures. For the rest of the night, we all played poker, and I managed to happily take over eighty dollars from my relatives through my sheer sense of cunningness.
The next day — on actual Christmas — my parents, brother, and I drove to Las Vegas. It was on a whim, as my mom and dad agreed we should do something fun while I’m in California. We went last year, exactly on Christmas Day too, and I suppose this has or will become an annual tradition. The usual 3-hour drive across the barren deserts of California and Nevada was a little boring, save for the few moments I was captivated by the empty yet beautiful scenery around me. Inspired by the environment, a part of me got a brilliant idea of making a video where I’d be crawling around the desert and my dog Nico would give me water. Kind of like Jesus. Still, on a logistical level, I guess I should have been concerned about snakes or poisonous insects.
I booked a room at the Excalibur, as it was an affordable hotel immediately adjacent to The Strip. Just like last year, nearly all the casinos were packed with people wanting to spend the holidays gambling away their Christmas money or winter bonuses. It was quite a spectacle to see entire families – clad in Santa hats and red-and-green scarves pulling slot machine levers, smoking cigarettes, and carrying around obscenely large daiquiris in plastic tubes. Even though the casinos were open, a lot of restaurants in Vegas were not. The only place open was Denny’s, so my family and I had Grand Slams and Moons Over My Hammy for Christmas Day dinner.
Overall, Vegas was a lucrative learning experience: I used to love playing the “Lobstermania” and “Walking Dead” penny slots, but the gaming commission updated both those machines into “Lobstermania 3” and “Walking Dead 2”, and these new iterations didn’t have many fun bonuses to win at. In fact, I initially lost $80 in a span of 15 minutes. Undeterred at my losses, I instead turned to roulette and played a slow game: for several hours, I played the same numbers (all derivatives of my lucky numbers of 7 and 3), and I managed to profit about $300. I know I’m certainly going to use that money towards either a PS4 or expensive dog costumes.
On my last few days in California, I wanted to explore Los Angeles proper a little. My brother and I drove as close as we could to the Hollywood sign, but since that area is closed off I enjoyed the sight of the mansions and rich enclaves of Mulholland Drive. I wondered what celebrities lived on these winding streets of the Hollywood Hills and if I could manage to get a glimpse of one of them scooping up their dog’s shit or carrying out organic groceries from their cars. I suppose they have assistants to do that.
Afterwards, I once again went to LACMA. Above all else, I wanted to see The Rain Room, but it appears to have been sold out for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, I paid the tickets to actually enter the museum and capture the sights of yet another James Turrell exhibit, Japanese folk art, and some of LA’s contemporary artists. My brother stated that he was “able to feel cultured.”
The nine days I spent in Southern California was what I needed: I was able to not worry about anything – especially any responsibilities I had back in New York – and I got to spend some quality time with my entire family. A vacation that lasts longer than a week is what I need to revitalize my headspace, and I couldn’t have been more satisfied to spend it with the people that I love.