Modesto & Concord
The previous night I had told Julia that we would be round early as we were always up before 8am in the US. So of course we woke up at 9:30am and didn’t get to theirs until 11am. We picked up Julia in the Mustang and drove to downtown Modesto. She gave us a big bag of stuff as a wedding gift. One of the best wedding gifts ever it was full of things we were yet to try. Root beer, Twinkies, homemade cookies. There was a Modesto baseball cap in there which has hardly left me head since I tried it on. One thing I have noticed about the sun here is that a cap is needed with the sunglasses as sunglasses aren’t sufficient on their own. I know that sounds silly to some but in England you can get away with one or the other. Since arriving in California I have often found myself using the sunshade as well as sunglasses and a cap.
A couple of days before I wanted to run a timelapse of the Yosemite night sky only to find my Takimeter (also known as a Velometer) was broken. It had been broken at our wedding a week before and when packing it away I hadn’t noticed the disconnected wiring. Where the hell am I going to find a cheap Takimeter in the US? But in Modesto there is a great camera shop. The name of it escapes me now (worst travel writer ever) and we went in. The girls behind the counter knew their stuff and in about 30 seconds she had the exact model I needed. She then spent 10 minutes on the phone to the credit card company trying to authorise it. Natwest in their infinite wisdom despite being told I was going to be in the USA still blocked my card. It was nothing a phone call couldn’t sort out but it is just inconvenient.
As we were finishing Carl joined us and the Modesto adventures began. Last year they got married a the museum in Modesto and we couldn’t make it. So that was our first port of call. It’s a lovely building with a surprising amount of history inside. There was a room that was decorated like a diner and had a huge working 1950′s fridge/freezer and a Coke machine. We walked to the park where they were married. The thing I dislike about marriage in the UK is the place has to have a licence. Which seriously limits where you can get married. Want to get married on a beach? Not so easy. Parents lovely backyard? Nope! If I was to obtain a licence to get married on my parents land so can anyone else. That’s how you can get married in castles like the royals. If they can get a licence so can you. From there we went onto the McHenry house. The McHenry family were big fish in Modesto for generations before moving away during the mid 20th century. The house was bought by a foundation and given back to the city so long as it was open to the public. It is a grand house from the 19th century with rooms restored back to their original layout and furniture.
We had a tour guide called Devon. She was young, new to the job and very sweet. She knew her stuff about the McHenry’s and the house and answered all the questions we offered up. The house had high ceilings and wood paneled rooms. The net curtains were too long and bunched up at the bottom. According to Devon this had a dual purpose. Firstly it was a sign of wealth that they could have bunches of expensive curtain piled on the floor. Secondly if it shrank in the wash it wouldn’t be noticeable. She was full of small snippets of information and being a QI fan I love that sort of thing.
The Screaming Banshee
The strangest bit of the day was when we were getting into the car outside the McHenry house. We heard this very loud and aggressive screaming. It got closer and eventually a woman appeared on a bicycle screaming at herself like a banshee. I have no idea how she wasn’t tearing vocal chords. The funniest thing about it was she stopped screaming to cross the intersection safely, then resumed the self abusing onslaught. The highlight of the afternoon (no offence to the museum or the McHenry house) was lunch at In N Out Burger. We had never had an In N Our Burger before and had heard such great things about it. There are only four things on the menu, it’s just so simple! The food was phenomenal and tasted so fresh. The chips are cut in house from potatoes and you can definitely tell the difference. I don;t know how these restaurants aren’t all over the world let alone the US. They are a western thing and we swore to try and cram in as many In N Outs before we reached the Midwest.
We dropped Carl back at work and said hi to his colleagues. We were awfully British which I am sure they loved. Then loaded up the car to get to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield which we never reached due to traffic. Sitting there stuck in traffic we binned the Jelly Belly factory as there is one in Wisconsin too and we will pass that in three weeks. On the evenings agenda was our first ever high school football game and there was no better place to attend it than De La Salle HS in Concord. De La Salle is one of the most famous high school teams in the whole country. California is a notoriously hard state to win football games in and hundreds of NFL players have been grown there. De La Salle is California’s top football team. They were led for over 30 years by Coach Bob Ladouceur until he semi retired last season. Between 1992 and 2004 they didn’t lose a game. Their record was 151-0. Their first lose came in the National Championship game against Bellevue from Washingston state. Among their alumni are 8 current NFL players including Maurice Jones-Drew. This is all from one school. There are 37,000 schools in the USA. So it is safe to say if you want to see a football game in California De La Salle is a good bet.
De La Salle
We got there about 40 minutes before kickoff and were directed by police to a multi story car park at the school across the road. Lets just recap that sentence. These are high school kids playing American football. They need the local police for crowd control and parking for their games, and people park in a school multi story. Am I the only one that finds that insane in the membrane?
We followed the crowds across the road to De La Salle and paid $8 each to get in. I think that is the first time I have ever paid to attend a high school anything. The stadium itself was smaller than I expected. It had bleachers on 3 sides of the field. The home school endzone had a huge scoreboard in place of a bleacher. This had a countdown to kickoff ticking away as we walked around. We got a hot dog and a coffee which were rank but being hungry and thirsty we squeezed it down. I had earlier in the week been told I could shadow the coaches for the game but as I was on my honeymoon and it would have left Emma with nothing to do I just enjoyed the game. I did however manage to grab a photo and a chat with Coach Ladouceur which was fleeting but pleasant. The book about his team when they were on their undefeated run is called ‘When the game stands tall’ and is a great read for football lovers and non-lovers alike. My favourite piece of De La Salle you can find on the web is a speech given by Coach Ladouceur and it can apply not just to football or sport but to all things you do in life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwvfKVHD9B8
De La Salle is on another unbeaten run. It is currently 26 games. The team they were facing was Del Oro from Loomis. The junior varsity game has just finished when we got there and surprisingly Del Oro had won by a score. The junior varsity team is made up of the younger students at the school. Almost like a reserve team for an American Football team. Schools with good JV teams normally perform well at the full varsity level. Well……. De La Salle had just lost and it showed. The mood was a bit muted. We stood right by the entrance to the field when the two teams come out the changing rooms. Del Oro was fired up. For students up to 18 they had some big guys. Much bigger than me and quite athletic. De La Salle come out in its customary slow quiet fashion of two rows of players each holding hands with the player beside them. It is an odd sight to be honest. Guys ready to break bones full of tension and aggression holding hands. It’s a strong sign of unity but it is still odd. Next to us was an older lady sitting on a camping chair, she seemed bothered by our presence but this only made me want to stand closer to her and maybe breathe in her ear. One of the staff for the game came over to chat to her. He was convinced the stream was going to end and Del Oro was going to win easy.
“Del Oro is pumped up and our guys looked scared, you can see it in their eyes.”
It is then I realised not all Americans know the psychology of football, or sport for that matter. I find that the player/team being vocal a long time before the start of the match is often the most scared. The noise and bravado is to convince themselves they are going to win and to try to scare the other team into thinking so as well. I find the best players/teams are often quiet. This is because they do not need to convince anyone they are the best. They just know it. When De La Salle walked out I didn’t see fear I saw confidence. I won’t drone on too much about It expect to say that Del Oro didn’t have a chance. De La Salle won 41-3 with their reserves on at the end of the game. They’ve since won their next game as well and haven’t lost since 2011.
Emma’s favourite bit of the game was the band. Nothing adds to the atmosphere of a sporting fixture more than a band. They weren’t Ohio State but they were good and before the game added to the excitement. One thing I did notice is that most of the young people there didn’t care much for the game. I barely saw anyone under 16 near the sideline or watching it at least. It was a social event, a chance to see their friends and chat to the opposite sex. We left in the third quarter as we needed to shift down the coast for the night.
I grabbed a couple of hours in a rest area on US 101 before arriving around 4am at the Travelodge in San Luis Obispo. We ran the doorbell and phoned for around 10 minutes before a sleeping guard came out and let us in. I was not happy what’s the point of having a 24hr front desk is the guy is in a pair of boxer shorts asleep in some back room? Anyway I made sure to talk really loudly and dragged a tired wife to a comfy bed.