Abuelo Al with granddaughter Lila.
The last time we saw our Santa Barbara friends on their own turf was in late 2019, when we flew down for the wedding of their daughter Nicole to a wonderful young man named Andrew.
Nearly 3 1/2 years later, Lori and I made a return visit. And, wow, things have changed.
The newlywed couple have become parents to a beautiful little girl named Lila, and our friends, Al and Elizabeth, have been serving as regular caretakers for their 17-month-old granddaughter.
The Lee-Rodriguez residence has transformed into a day care center for one, with Lila tottering around the house when she isn’t inside her playpen, a structure that’s big enough to accommodate her and her abuelo Al at the same time. There’s a dog crate, too, because there’s a new pet that joined the household after the death of their elderly cat. That would be Parker, a 4-year-old cattle dog/pit bull mix, who’s become fast friends with Lila.
All in all, the “grandunits” (as they call themselves) are enjoying the fruits of retirement along with the bonus of having their only child and her family living just a few miles away. It’s obvious to see they love having Lila in their cozy home three days a week while the parents work.
Lori and I arrived on Saturday, exactly a week ago today, and spent four nights, returning Wednesday. We knew that one of these “atmospheric rivers” we’ve been seeing in the news was forecast during our stay, so we braced ourselves for a Biblical downpour. But, really, it wasn’t all that had.
Yes, it rained all day and all night Tuesday, but never approached “torrential.” It was light and steady and did cause me and at least a few drivers on the U.S. 101 freeway to slow down a bit (others, definitely not).
City streets, meanwhile, were easy enough to navigate.
The only issue is that while water flows efficiently down Santa Barbara’s many hills toward the ocean, it tends to accumulate in low-lying areas. Street corners flood easily, and water collects in V-shaped depressions to ankle-deep levels, making it impossible to cross an intersection on foot without getting your shoes soaked.
We were out on our own on Tuesday, attempting to window shop on the city’s main street, when we decided it made more sense to get out of the rain and grab lunch. We found a bakery that Nicole had recommended but we had to wade through a few inches of water to get to the entrance. Seriously, there was no way to avoid sloshing our way to the front door.
Oh, but that was just a single wet day during an otherwise dry, comfortably warm visit.
We stayed at a retro-style Airbnb in the south end of the city, not far from a revitalized commercial district known as the Funk Zone. There was a free little library on the property and, fittingly, Lori snagged a children’s picture book for Lila. (Remember the Caldecott-winning “Blueberries for Sal” published in 1949? We used to read it to our kids.)
On Sunday, we toured the city’s Arts & Crafts Show, held year-round every Sunday near the wharf. There’s a nice mix of original drawings, paintings, graphics, sculpture, jewelry, and photography, and Lori came away with a pair of earrings and a cool kaleidoscope.
On Monday, Al drove us along the coast, through the beach town of Carpinteria, and then inland to Ojai. The green hills and occasional views of reservoirs made for lovely scenery as we followed a narrow, curving two-lane highway that Al has ridden more than once as an avid cyclist.
We ate well during our stay, including an outdoor seafood lunch in Ojai, a shared-plates dinner in the Funk Zone that included Nicole and Andrew, and an Aussie-style breakfast at a charming cafe not far from our Airbnb.
We watched the Oscars on Sunday with Al and Elizabeth and Nicole, and we made them sopa de albóndigas (Mexican meatball soup) as a token of our appreciation.
On our final day, we made the most of a Wednesday morning by heading back to State Street so Lori could do a second round of shopping while Al and I visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. The highlight was seeing Portrait of Mexico Today, a massive mural painted by the famed artist David Alfaro Siqueiros. I learned of Siqueiros when I took a college class on Mexican muralism a year ago and was excited to see more.
Unfortunately, I misunderstood that the museum only had this one piece. Still, it was pretty astounding to see this piece that Siqueiros had done while he was a political exile in Los Angeles in 1932. The 91-year-old artwork, contained within a structure weighing 25 tons, was moved intact from a private residence to the museum in 2001. It now sits on a terrace facing State Street.
A four-day visit was just right. We flew home late afternoon Wednesday, rested and relaxed, charmed by Lila, and feeling fortunate to have such good friends.
After two driving trips to see family in southern Oregon and this quick visit to Santa Barbara, all since the first of the year, we are happy to be settled again and have no travel planned for several months.
And, finally, a burst of pictures from dinner at The Lark with my best friend since high school.