When Rich said he wanted to go to his 40-year high school reunion, my first thought was “Yuck.” How much fun could it be to visit with 58-year olds who graduated from Magnolia High School in Anaheim, California. Nevertheless, had Rich gone to one of my high school reunions, so I agreed to go to his.
It was a surprise to both of us when the invitation said the reunion would be held in Temecula. Temecula? Rich thought it was somewhere near San Diego. I’d never heard of it.
Temecula is bordered by the City of Murrieta, unincorporated areas of Riverside County, and the Pechanga Indian Reservation. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians lived in the Temecula area for more than 10,000 years. In Pechanga mythology, life on earth began in the Temecula Valley. They call it, “Exva Temeeku”, the place of the union of Sky— father, and Earth— mother (“Tuukumit’pi Tamaayowit”).
In 1904, Nova Scotia native Walter L. Vail started buying ranch land in the Temecula Valley. Forty-three years later, the Vail Ranch consisted of over 87,500 acres and was the center of activities in the area – primarily ranching and agriculture.
In 1964, the ranch was sold to Kaiser Land Development Company. With the completion of the I-15 corridor between Los Angeles County and San Diego in the early 1980s, the housing boom began.
Today, what was once ranch land is now neighborhoods with snazzy houses, shopping centers, schools, parks, two dozen wineries, 3,500 acres of vineyards, nine golf courses, and the Pechange Resort and Casino with 85,000-square feet of gambling nirvana, a 1,200-seat bingo hall, 522-room hotel, 1,200-seat showroom, seven restaurants, 2,000 slot machines, 60 card tables, and 15 poker tables. The resort and casino is also the largest employer in the area with about 7,500 employees. The total population of Temecula is slightly over 100,000 and shrinking as more-and-more overpriced houses go into foreclosure.
On our flight to Ontario from Seattle, Rich sat next to a woman who lives in Temecula. She said that they purchased a house in the area several years ago for $600,000, which was inexpensive compared to houses of similar sizes in Los Angeles and Riverside. Today, it’s worth half as much; she and her husband, a professional golfer, are in the midst of foreclosure proceedings.
Before I tell you any more about Temecula, I wanted to mention that we started our trip at 3:30 a.m. when Rich’s cell phone alarm went off. After getting dressed, Rich loaded up the car and made sure the cats’ food and water bowls were filled to the brim. We have a pet-sitter who comes once a day to feed them treats and empty their litter boxes.
While Rich scurrying around the house, I reluctantly climbed out of bed and went into the guest bedroom to put on my clothes, which I’d laid out the night before.
Twenty minutes later, we were ready to go, except, I needed to dash back into the guest bedroom to get my coat. I was sure no cats had gotten into the room, but Rich thought otherwise and we spent the first few days of our vacation trying to get a hold of the pet-sitter to have her check to make sure no cat snuck into the room.
By 6 a.m. we were in the air and heading for Ontario. I snoozed a little, but mostly read. Once we landed, we headed to Long Beach and San Pedro. I’m fascinated by the Port of Long Beach, one of the world’s largest shipping ports and the second busiest container port in the United States, handling nearly 6.7 million containers per year!
A container is the metal “box” that fits on the bed of a semi-trailer truck or railroad car. The containers handled in Long Beach arrive and leave via ships going to the Pacific Rim or freight lines provided by Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railroad. The Port of Long Beach occupies 3,200 acres of land and 25 miles of waterfront. It generates $100 billion dollars in trade and provides more than 316,000 jobs in Southern California.
Introduce Rich’s daughter, Stacey, to the mix. Stacey works on one of three commercial Crowley tugboats (right) in San Pedro, which provide harbor ship assist and tanker escort. These perky, red, white, and black tugs are available around the clock to guide, push, pull, and wish cargo and other ships into the Port so they can be loaded and unloaded. Her boat is on-call from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m., which I thought was a very strange time. However, Stacey explained that it’s very busy during this time because ships are arriving and leaving so they’re ready to be unloaded or heading out to open water by early morning.
During lunch, at a local Mexican restaurant, Stacey further elaborated on the workings of the boat and the challenges of “parallel parking” massive cargo ships against docks and then maneuvering them back into the main channels. Rich’s eyes went batty listening to Stacey talk.
Our next stop was to visit Rich’s brother Ralph, in Anaheim. We could only stay a short time because we had to take several freeways south to Temecula. Being Saturday, we expected light traffic. We’d obviously neglected to realize we were in Los Angles and traffic is only light during the wee hours of the morning!
Happily, we made it to our motel an hour and a half before the reunion! After a quick shower, we slipped on our snappy outfits. Rich wore a black, feather-weight wood sweater from Italy with black dress slacks (I can count on two hands the number of times Rich has worn “slacks” since we married).
I wore a sleeveless Jones New York dress with black pumps and hose. The latter were several years old; when I pulled them on, I thought “I bet the elastic has deteriorated.” Sure enough, the top of the hose got looser and looser as we walked from our car to the tasting room of the winery. By the time we got inside, I barked at Rich “No” when he asked if I wanted something to drink.
I wasn’t in any mood to drink anything! My hose had fallen below my butt and were surrendering to gravity. I expected at any minute their complete collapse around my ankles!
Fortunately, there was a bathroom nearby. I tied a knot in the waistband and yanked them back up, where they stayed the rest of the night!
The reunion was held at the Ponte Family Estate, which along with producing blends and varietals, has a large restaurant, ornate gardens, and several event areas. When we arrived, a wedding reception was in full swing in the tent pavilion. Another wedding was being set up in the barrel room and the reunion was held in the reserve room, an intimate setting that included a covered patio.
Rich thought they’d be serving dinner. I was pleased it was hardy appetizers, including a glorious selection of cheeses, nuts, dried fruits and crackers; trays of fresh fruits and vegetables; flavorful spreads; and several hot hors d’oeuvres like crab cakes, petite meatballs, mushroom caps stuff with sausage, spinach and pesto, and spring rolls. The piece résistance were the trays of delicate cakes and sweets. I won’t elaborate because writing about them would simply make me hungry and won’t want to reveal that Rich and I split a dozen or more of these scrumptious yummies.
After chatting with a few people – Rich insisted he was antisocial during high school and knew no one – and eating so much that my hose and Rich’s slacks were in no danger of falling, we headed back to our hotel. Rich tipped a coffee table over in our room and set our camera on top. Using a timer, we took a handful of pictures of ourselves in our fancy clothes.
We then changed into our bathing suits and eased into the hotel’s outdoor hot tub. While I stared at the stars, Rich tried to remember details about his high school days. He’s come a long ways from when he was a skinny dude, riding a motorcycle to school, barely studying (and ending up in the top 10% of his class), and working at a pizza joint in the evenings and weekends.