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A Day Out

This past weekend I was fortunate to drive to the picturesque Napa Valley town of Calistoga to take in the sights, smells and colors of a Northern California fall day. Accompanying me was my nine year old daughter and her good friend. The girls were excited about the journey, but they didn’t really realize how far it really was.  Fortunately the satellite radio in my car saved them both from sure boredom that would have been my oratory had there not been tunes to enjoy.  As a treat I told them that I was going to take them both to the hot springs pool that I had enjoyed with my father and brother as a child. This made them both giddy, as they had never been in an entire pool filled with 100 degree water.

Well the day was pretty; orange, yellow, green and salmon colored leaves on grape vines and trees lined our drive all the way up into the heart of the wine country. I don’t get up here that often as I don’t drink wine, having polluted myself with that spirit long ago, so this trip was much more about memories and getting out with my daughter for a day of fun. What we didn’t expect this November 14th was the 85 degree temperature, and the crowds.  As I said, I hadn’t been up here in a while, and my memory was one of the occasional vineyard, with their quaint, if disheveled, tasting rooms and the more stately established vineyards with their grand stone encased front gates. What I also didn’t expect was thousands of cars, the Disneyland-like atmosphere of the hundreds of wineries, and gobs and gobs of tourists everywhere.

We made it to St. Helena, a short seven miles to our final destination of Calistoga, only to find that this former farm town (and a nice one at that) had been turned into a boutique filled hell.  Just like any other mall which you can find anywhere in America, this town had fully embraced their kitsch: Wine ‘n’ Stuff. Yuck.  What a waste of a great location, a great place. You know things have gone wrong when you see over-coiffed, over-dressed, high heeled, dolled-up women in stilettos on a Sunday in a small country town. I say again, Yuck.

Things just kept getting better for me… I reached Calistoga only to find that I had in fact not been back to this town in a lot longer than I had thought.  Apparently it was 1986 when I had last been here, to take in the warm healing Calistoga spring waters.  The old Roman outdoor pool of my youth had been long been torn down, and replaced with a newer facility that catered to the European spa set, and not the high-end set, but the kind of creepier set. It’s great that they decided to remodel in 1986, it’s not great that they also decided to perform zero upgrades in the last 24 years!

Although I was dissapointed in the “new Napa Valley” I had discovered, my daughter and her friend were enchanted by the colors, the smells, the people, the limousines, and most of all by the giant pools of hot water. Our picnic lunch poolside was an adventure for them. They got to wear special green armbands that showed that they were important paying guests. They loved the fact that these same armbands let us come and go from the facility and go downtown for a tour and an icecream.  The lobby was filled with black and white pictures of the former old facility, which the kids found fascinating, and which contextualized their presence in new facility. I told them that one of the black and white’s was from a period of time right when I was a kid , they both said, “come on, you’re not that old !”. Actually, I guess I am.

It was a strange day, seeing the changes that had happened which affected my memories of this area, but it was also a great day, for my daughter and for me. She now has her own memories of a day out with her Dad. A day at the hot springs in Calistoga.

The girls sang all the way home to satellite hip hop and r+b. This was a day of change, a memorable day of fun.

Posted on November 16, 2010

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