Day 1: HNL to OAK. Arrive @ 9:45 PST. Meet family at hotel in Concord and prepare for my grandma’s 100th birthday celebration tomorrow.
Unlike most trips I take to and from California, I flew into Oakland with company, my cousin Brad. Managed to get the seat next to him, across the aisle. It was a typical, uneventful flight, but that’s a good thing when it comes to air travel considering the alternative: screaming, crashing, flames, and death. Instead, this one consisted of Sky Mall, sporadic naps, and most of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (my laptop died before the last scene). We arrived at Oakland Airport in the brisk, breezy night. My body covered with warm layers and a big smile, I was happy to be back in the Bay.
Day 2: Went straight from the airport to BART to a bar (and later a diner) with the cousins. Went to bed late, woke up early. Now, putting together a slideshow for my grandma’s 100th birthday celebration tonight.
Since all of our family was at a Hilton in the nearby city of Concord, Brad and I took a free shuttle from the airport to an Oakland BART station, and then took BART into Concord. I would have liked to say that our older siblings were there shortly afterward to pick us up, but somehow they got lost along the way, which is surprising since they’ve each lived in or near Concord at some point in their lives. It’s alright, they came bearing Taco Bell.
Instead of heading to the hotel where I could have dropped off my unnecessarily large, half-filled suitcase (only one I had), we drove straight to a downtown bar where a dozen of our cousins were already drinking. I’m not complaining; being a young traveler and a family-oriented man, this was a fantastic welcome! Although, it was weird seeing so many old, white people in a bar (you know, everybody but my family), but that’s what happens when you live in Hawaii for fifteen months. We capped the night at a 24-hour diner, overwhelming the other diners in sheer number and volume. Never put a drunk Filipino family in a public place with a jukebox.
I made it to the hotel in the wee hours of the night. My loving parents woke up just long enough to hug me hello before falling back asleep.
We woke up relatively early the next morning to start on preparations for that evening’s festivities. My main job was to put together a slideshow of my grandmother to play while people shuffled into the ballroom. Projects in hand, we all congregated in a top floor suite and buckled down to business for the next few hours. It almost felt like a busy campaign office before an election, except instead of fliers and buttons we had too much food and dozens of relatives to hug hello. Though we were all working hard for that one special someone: birthday girl Fausta Reyes Ramil.
Day 3: Crazy night with the family. 6 hours of celebration, including a 3-hour talent show and then dancefloor badness. After party included 50 tacos from Jack in the Box at 3 AM. Now, it’s time to fly to LA.
All the aunties, uncles, and cousins were dressed to the nines and down in the ballroom around 5 pm. Surrounding the stage and dancefloor were twenty-two linen-covered tables, a DJ, and a bustling catering crew. After some frantic family photos (with what seemed a less-than-enthusiastic photographer) we spread out to greet, organize, and mingle with the other guests: friends and family from grandma’s past and present. In all, attendance was around two hundred people.
Of course, my family just can’t say a few words, move to dinner, and mingle all night. Oh no, we had a well-scheduled, fourteen-act talent show filled with song, dance, skits, and my uncle’s version of “This Is Your Life!” I think the guests not as familiar with my family were pleasantly surprised by Polynesian and Filipino dances, the multiple duets, and the big show numbers. Either that, or they were too scared to move.
Dinner was served during the performances, and after all was digested and the last act took a bow, the party started. Everybody–young and old, family or friend, born into the craziness or witnessing it for the first time–took to the dancefloor and busted many a groove. During all three hours of this, my grandmother refused to go to bed. At one hundred years young, she stayed up ’til midnight to watch her legacy celebrate in her honor.
When the DJ announced the last song of the night, my sister–cousin number fourteen and that evening’s event coordinator–came up with one of her best ideas. After the song ended she had everybody make a huge circle on the dancefloor. My Auntie Gloria wheeled grandma to the center and the DJ started playing one last song: Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” a family favorite. Auntie Gloria spun grandma around slowly as we all sang to her. There was not a dry eye in that circle.
The old ones went to bed, while the young ones (and the old ones who still think they’re young) retreated to the common room for some debauchery and poker. After a while we got hungry, and since nobody was delivering pizza, my cousin’s husband Scott and I made a late night run to Jack in the Box for fifty (“Yes, five-zero”) tacos. We held up the drive-thru line long enough for some woman to get out of her car and yell at us and/or the graveshift workers. Scott and I thought we were returning to at least ten hungry men, but instead found a room of about four or five, with another passed out on the floor. We that remained did as much damage as we could to the greasy bags, but barely made it through twenty or so tacos. My limit, I found out, was four (not because I was full, but because my body couldn’t handle that much questionable meat).
The next day, after a hearty breakfast and many hugs goodbye, I went back to Oakland Airport for the So Cal leg of my trip.