EchindaQuest 2006, part I

My youngest son is insanely obsessive about echidnas. They are his favorite animals. He can tell you all about them. Where they live (Australia and New Guinea), what climate they like (temperate), how they give birth (leathery eggs like reptiles, then the young stay in a pocket like marsupials), which ones are endangered (long-nosed) and which ones are not (short-nosed) and how long they live in captivity (over fifty years).

We’re not quite sure why he became so obsessed, since an echidna looks pretty much like a porcupine or hedgehog. Sure, they lay eggs, but so do platypi, and those are seriously trippy animals. Part of it may be that he can say “I just love echidnas!” and quite a number of people — kids and adults — will say “What’s an echidna?”

Not every zoo has echidnas. They’re not common, like giraffes or lions. So, at some point this fall, it was decided that during the break we would drive to Los Angeles to see the echidna at the L.A. Zoo, since K. had never seen one. (Neither had anyone else in the family except my husband, but the rest of us didn’t really care.)

Oops. We found out, a week or two before we were to go, that the echidna from the L.A. Zoo is on loan for breeding purposes. It looked like the pilgrimage was over before it was begun!

But then there was Victor. Victor is the echidna at the San Diego Zoo, and we decided that, what the hell, we were driving the five hours to L.A., might as well drive the additional three to San Diego. I wept a small inner tear for Santa Monica and Hollywood, as well as the La Brea Tar Pits, but it did seem like the best solution. Especially since we could also hit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum for my train-freak middle child, and go to Harris Ranch for the teenage carnivore. (The last was miffed because he could only order an eight-ounce steak for breakfast — we wouldn’t let him order two — instead of a sixteen-ounce. We made up for it be also eating dinner there on the way back, much to the annoyance of his two younger brothers, who decided early in November that they were going to be vegetarians for ethical reasons.)

So we loaded up the van and headed off. The weather was not fun — nasty wind gusts, intermittent showers, dropping temperatures — but we had gotten an early start and made very good time and was looking to pull into our hotel at about 4:00 p.m. We stopped for a late picnic lunch at a park just off the freeway in Pasadena, that my husband knows about because it is on the way to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he often goes for business. As we were leaving, the van died.*

My husband went with the van and the tow truck (in spite of our instructions to the tow-truck company, they sent a tow truck which could carry only one passenger), leaving me and the boys stranded in the park, with nothing to do, and with rapidly dropping temperatures. We would end up sitting there for two-and-a-half hours. Attempts to get a cab failed when the cab company refused to send a car out because I did not know the address of the park.

Anyone who thinks it does not get cold in Southern California has never been stranded outdoors in Pasadena in late December, in a relatively light fleece jacket. By the time my husband came to get us with a rental car, it was close to freezing, and getting dark. The boys had been running around (thanks to the inspired efforts of the eldest, who organized games for the other two)and so were pretty warm, but I had been sitting down and was chilled bordering on hypothermia.

After getting hot drinks from Starbucks (which only warmed me up a little — I stayed cold most of the night), we fought rush hour traffic through L.A. and made it down to our motel about 8:30. The friend who was meeting us there had already checked in, which was good, so I could simply veg out while the other adults went out for pizza.

The next day had originally been planned for the zoo. Change of plans — my husband had to go back to Pasadena to pick up the van and drop off the rental car, and I was going to go with him so he could take advantage of the car pool lanes and so I could drive back. So we went to the Model Train Museum in the morning — my husband and I, our friend, and the two younger children. (The eldest spent the entire day in the hotel room vomiting uncontrollably.) Then the van rescuers left, leaving our friend to take the kids around Balboa Park for the afternoon (they had a marvelous time — well, except for the eldest, who was back at the hotel). We picked up the van, fought more traffic, rolled back into San Diego at about 8:30 — fortunately missing the Holiday Bowl traffic — having spent a good seven hours driving back and forth from San Diego to L.A.

The next day was the Zoo. And Victor.

[To Be Continued ….]

*This is the same van that died in the Central Valley on our way back from San Diego in June, and that conked out in October — and it is less than three years and 70K miles old. It has led to two things: it is the last vehicle we will buy from Ford, and it may be the last time we drive to San Diego, at least for a little while, until the curse wears off.

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