When Brooke and I were in middle school and the early years of high school, mom decided to start taking us on “day trips”. She realized that taking us out of school for a long period of time was now frowned upon once we were out of elementary school. So, we would take the first flight out to a good spot, tour around, then take the last flight home. Genius, really. We went on a variety of these vacations. I don’t recall if it was on a weekend, or just a random Wednesday, but we day tripped San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, San Jose, Austin, Philadelphia, and (possibly the craziest of the day trips) Anchorage.
In a few of these places we would rent a car and see a sight or two and then go home, in others we would simply walk around until we ran into a cool museum or restaurant. I have no idea how we managed to get on the flights we needed, avoiding all disaster (at least the way I remember it) but we did it. And have stories (and most importantly—pictures) to prove it. (Excuse some of the picture qualities, this was early digital camera days).
Our first one, I believe, was to Phoenix. You see, we have strange family ties to the Phoenix area—our great great aunt was brutally murdered there. She was killed, chopped up into pieces, shoved in a trunk (the scary kind that you used in the 1930s, you know, to put chunks of body in! that’s the only way I can imagine such a trunk, at least), and shipped off to Los Angeles. To make a long story short, my great great aunt Hedvig’s (yes, her name is quite ironic) murderess was arrested but got off by pleading insanity. She spent a decent part of her life in an insane asylum. You can google Winnie Ruth Judd (murderess) for full details. My great aunt (Hedvig’s niece) recently finished a book that her daughter dedicated her entire life to researching (copies will hopefully be in my Christmas stocking with any luck). So, obviously an awesome story there—us Larson girls hop on a plane in search of the house in which this gruesome murder took place, it still stands today. Since this was around 2004 (?) we plug some address we found in one of the many books written on this subject into MapQuest and head out. All we are armed with are our family stories, an address in a book, and one black and white photo. Needless to say, we did not find the house. We drove down the appropriate street and 402, 403, 404, 406…shoot. No dice. Now, the Larson girls are not ones to just simply give up on a task, but it was hot, and we were kind of bored. Would’ve been a great photo opp, but nothing else could be done since I’m sure people don’t appreciate you going door to door in downtown Phoenix searching for the “house in which your great great aunt was murdered…”
So, we took that rental car and headed to Sedona—Land of Enchantment. Get over it, New Mexico. The only thing I remember on our way to Sedona was that it was super hot (this was in July) and that cars were overheating on the side of the road. We were advised to turn on the heat (ACKK) so that we would not be one of those poor souls on the side, car smoking like a chimney. We made it to Sedona and saw the beautiful colors of the red rocks and even made a quick journey to Montezuma’s Castle! Which—obviously—was never occupied by the great Aztec king himself. Nor anyone of the Aztec Empire. Silly Americans. We stayed for sunset at Sedona, then drove back to Sky Harbor and flew home knowing more research needed to be done (on our end) in order to find the true slaughter shack.
I believe our next quick trip was to Austin, Texas for mom’s birthday lunch. This time Dad came along! Mom was joking one day about wanting to go to Austin for her birthday lunch. HAHA wouldn’t that be funny, Mom! Ok, next thing I knew we were actually headed to the airport on our way to Austin, Texas’s capital city. I don’t know why, I guess she had some Cajun restaurant in mind. At this point in my life I’m an extremely picky eater. I only accepted chicken or beef or the occasional fish stick, mashed potatoes, and corn or green beans or peas. That’s it. So, after being followed (or in my mind, “chased”) by a homeless man with no legs in a wheelchair, we end up at the restaurant everyone at her work has been raving about. Brooke and I are both freaking. The table had a sheet of paper as a table cloth, we were given plastic bibs, and when we ordered our food they simply threw it on the table. I literally mean they threw it. On the table. The only silverware they gave you was a mallet to crack the crab sitting in front of you in its entirety. Now, these days it would take a lot more to gross me out, but at the time I was mortified. Not only was there a whole crab sitting there (that I sure as hell wasn’t going to eat) the shrimp had all of their legs and, of course, their heads—eyeballs, antanea and everything. Well, I ate the potatoes. I may have starved to death that day, but looking back the experience was well worth it. Luckily that legless homeless man never found me again. Stay weird, Austin.
One of our craziest adventures was our quick trip to Anchorage, Alaska. Mom was working the red eye up there (so I guess this is kind of cheating because we did have a hotel room) so she was our flight attendant. Brooke and I tried to sleep on the way, and we succeeded a bit, but then mom made some cookies…I’m pretty sure I had about six warm chocolate chip cookies on that flight. Yum. During the flight, I saw some people looking out their window (it’s the dead of night…I thought there would be nothing to see) yet I peek over and much to my astonishment the Northern Lights were like golden tubes of light, suspended in the air. It was amazing. Not many people get to say they’ve seen the Northern Lights, let alone from the darkness of flight. The Earth is so beautiful. *sigh*. Once we got to Anchorage we slept for a little bit, and then rented a car and hit the road. We stopped along the way for some photos, as the scenery was breathtaking. Mountains coming straight up out of the water and the road winding along, hanging on to each curve. We made our way to a nature reserve where we got to see black bears and moose as well as some caribou. Our surroundings were beautiful, but it was a bit sad to see the animals fenced in, when they should have all of Alaska to roam. We also went on a ferry boat to a glacier! We waited for a bit on the boat to see if any part of the glacier would fall off into the water, but no luck. After a quick day, we headed back to the airport to take the 5 hour flight home.
San Francisco was next on our list of quick visits. We had gone there for the day once before (brought only shorts and tank tops, learning quickly that San Francisco is not like the rest of warm California–or wasn’t at that time–so we had to buy new jackets, hoodies, the works) but this time we were better prepared and ready to see some more history. We had one major attraction that we could not miss this time—Alcatraz. Getting tickets to Alcatraz is no easy task (lol) but we stood in a lengthy line and it paid off. Taking the ferry over to the island they briefly tell you about the history of the prison as well as famous inmates who stayed there. We paid for the audio tour (highly recommended) and learned a great deal about one of America’s toughest prisons. The history behind the island is fascinating, well worth the almost full day journey it takes up. Of course we then stopped by Pier 39 and laughed at the seals jumping on and off the platforms in the harbor, and had some ice cream in Ghirardelli’s Square. Young Brynn and Brooke still wouldn’t dare touch seafood…which is too bad because San Francisco has some of the best.
One of the more interesting of our day trips happened because mom felt that Brooke and I were being unappreciative. We, I’m sure, were being brats one day so mom told us she was going to take us to Mexico. I’m not sure how she thought that would upset us (we had no idea) but she said we needed a reality check. So I got excited about this up and coming “Mexican vacation” and I tell my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Pigeon, “Guess what?? Mom’s taking us to Mexico this weekend! To Tijuana!” I didn’t understand why Mrs. Pigeon gave me such a face once “Tijuana” came out of my mouth. So here we go, on a flight headed to San Diego. Mom’s genius idea was to fly in and then just walk across the border. It was about 10AM and that’s exactly what we did. Through the turnstile and viola! Mexico. We started walking around and Brooke and I became uncomfortable with people yelling at us from their stores and children begging us for money on the streets. I want to say we lasted about 30 minutes before Brooke and I started asking if we could go back to San Diego. Mom’s favorite part of the story is when she stops us in the middle of lovely Tijuana, Mexico and asks “I have two questions for you before we go back. Are you thankful for what you have?? Are you ever going to complain about what you don’t have?? Because look around. You are very lucky”. It was definitely a good lesson learned, and a great new perspective on the fortunate life mom and dad had given us. As an American I am incredibly blessed for what life has dealt me, and I think a lot of us take that for granted. On our way back to the states (this was pre-passport needing days) you needed to pass through extensive security. We put all our stuff on the x-ray belt and stood behind mom as she showed the Border Protection Agent her ID. He looks at us and asks if we’re with her. Of course. He looks at my mom’s driver’s license as if he was going to be tested on it in an hour. Tested on every single detail of the piece of plastic. The grumpy man (they always are…) looks up at us and says “you’re from Denver, yes?” and me, being 14 and sassy as all get out says back “NO, we’re from ELIZABETH”. Well, his attention to detail and my quick response must’ve done the trick because he replied with “Well, tell your mom that even girls from Elizabeth need to bring an ID with them across the border!” I suppose more than one lesson was learned that day. Back in the U S of A we walked around La Jolla and the waterfront of San Diego before heading back home with a new outlook on life. I’m not sure if Mrs. Pigeon asked me how my trip to Tijuana was, but I’m sure she saw it in my eyes.
The next, and my favorite, 24 hour trip was to Philadelphia! This one was sparked because my sister and I became obsessed (and still are) with Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure. We lived and breathed that movie. We had been to Washington DC quite a few times (you can never go there too many times, always new things to find!) we wanted to go everywhere Ben, Riley and Abigail went. We took a red eye flight to Philly and when we arrived, the weather was quite awful. It was raining pretty hard and it was rather cold. We were not getting a hotel since we were leaving that night so after a scary experience in our first Dunkin Donuts we decided to head to the Liberty Bell. At the visitor center there, they play a short 30 minute movie about the history of what you’re about to see. This is where we saw our first opportunity for a nap. I believe we slept on those benches through 3 showings. Nap well deserved! After we woke up, watched the movie for real, we headed to see the Liberty Bell. Once you see the Liberty Bell you’re next move is always Independence Hall. Unfortunately for us, no one would let us onto the roof right at 2:22 so we could steal Benjamin Franklin’s glasses…Philadelphia has so much early American history, it is easy to stay occupied there and immerse yourself in your own culture’s past. From Independence Hall we went to Betsy Ross’s house. We saw where she made the first flag, or one of our first flags, whatever researchers are saying these days. Either way, the reenactment characters sold the whole scene very well. After Betsy Ross’s house, we were still thirsty for history. Walking down the street, I happened to look up at a sign outside of a building and it read “Benjamin Franklin Museum” Yes. Yes yes yes. My man, B Frank. We stepped inside, and an incredibly modest museum was like a hidden pearl inside. Instead of a dusty old museum, it was more of a visual representation of the man Benjamin Franklin was. The first room was all mirrors, with only a neon sign flashing “inventor” “politician” “writer” all of the hats he wore throughout his life (unfortunately, I don’t think “nudist” was on there…bummer). Another room was full of telephones. Old style, with the rotating dial pad and cord. You would pick up a phone and you could hear facts about the interesting man the museum was named after. I could go on and on about the museum, it truly left a lasting impression on young Brynn. I’d like to say this is when my passion for history began, but I think it was already in full swing at this point of my life.
The last day trip we went on was to San Jose, California. Mom thought she would share another clip of history with us by visiting the Winchester Mystery house there just outside of San Jose. The house was built by Sarah Winchester, the daughter of the famous William Wirt Winchester, of Winchester guns. They started building the house in 1884 and seem to have no particular building plan in mind. There are staircases that lead to no where, doors that open and just drop off the side of the house, and decorative outdoor windows on the inside of the building. It is also said to be incredibly haunted by Sarah as well as some of the builders. The tour we went on was very educational and worth while. We spent a lot of time around the gardens mocking statues and hiding behind silly shaped bushes. We spent a whole day at that mansion, and it was worth every second. The internet says it would be fun to go to on Halloween…so, mark it in your calendars, people!
I’m hoping that once our lives become more scheduled (so NOT like a Larson) we can continue with these day trips! Oh, where in the world will we end up next….
❤ Big B