Thursday, March 24, 2005

We are again in Livermore, staying at the Elks Lodge (map). Tomorrow morning we will go back to Les Schwab here in town to have the 9" steel inner wheels fitted on our drive axle. Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped by Danville this evening to have dinner with a friend.

We had a great visit in Monterey, even though it pretty much rained the whole time. As a bonus, our camp spot had a great view of turn 5 on the track, and we got to see two "track days" for sports car clubs, and two for motorcycles. Not the same as an actual race, but fun to watch anyway.

After we get the wheels finished, we will be on our way to the Sonoma Mission Inn, to cash in a certificate for one night's stay and a pair of massage treatments. As was the case with our visit to the Lick Observatory, this was something we bid on at a charity auction. If you've never been to one of these, let me take a moment to explain how they work:
  1. You enter the event venue, and a horde of charity staff members descend upon you, greeting you like an old friend who has been the lifeblood of the given charity since it's inception.
  2. You are handed a strong drink. Often this is in keeping with some sort of "theme" that the organizers have concocted for the event.
  3. You are issued a paddle and a card with your pre-assigned bidder number.
  4. You are told there is food. When you find it, you will realize that the food involved is carefully chosen so as not to interfere with the direct absorbtion of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  5. You are handed a strong drink. You are also shown the locations of all the various bars where other strong drinks are available, should the current one not be to your liking. Or should it be empty.
  6. You are turned loose on a room full of tables, containing "items" such as the aforementioned certificate. Bid sheets are in front of the items.
  7. You run from table to table, frantically adding your name, bidder number, and an amount higher than whatever the last inebriated person wrote down on the bid sheet for any particular item you might think you'd like. You do this irrespective of the fact that the last person has already bid more than the item would cost new, in a store.
  8. At some point, a staff member "closes" each table and removes the bid sheets to the inner sanctum, where they are tallied.
  9. At this point, the "live auction" portion of the event starts. By this time, you have consumed enough alcohol to fail a breathalyzer test.
  10. You spend the next twenty minutes frantically sticking your paddle in the air, hoping that the auctioneer is still working on an item that you carefully valued and selected for bidding sometime earlier in the evening, when you were sober.
  11. When the dust settles, a staff member cheerfully informs you what items you have "won", and then hands you a bill. Depending on exactly how much alcohol you have consumed, they may also cheerfully help you find your wallet, checkbook, etc.
  12. You wait nearly an hour for a cab, because (a) you were clever to arrive without a motor vehicle, because you already knew how much alcohol they serve at these things and (b) the event venue is always in a remote industrial area where cabs seldom venture, and it's now after midnight.
This is how, in a single evening, we ended up spending several thousand dollars on items we are now scrambling to use up. One year (I am not making this up), we paid $250 for a sock puppet.

In any case, items such as our upcoming stay in Sonoma are donated to the charity, often by the providers themselves. So even though we paid cash for this item, it is not considered a gift certificate (which, by law in California, can never expire), since it was donated by the hotel, and they can set limits on its use. In this particular case, it was set to expire in February, and I was able to wrangle an extension on it by phone.

Similarly, our Lick visit had a deadline of next month, and we have a pair of ticket vouchers on American Airlines that expire in early May. We just redeemed those for round trip tickets to Cancun, leaving out of Phoenix, and that is where we will spend our anniversary this year.

Nevertheless, we are really looking forward to our spa visit. I've always wanted to stay there, ever since I stopped by the grounds 15 or so years ago while visiting Sears Point raceway. And, while we pretty much paid retail for the stay, all that money went to a good cause.

Other things we "won" at the auction, such as our Lick visit, are priceless, since they represent opportunities not available in the marketplace. So it was definitely worthwhile. Especially if you count the free drinks.


  1. I somehow stumbled upon your website and then blog, and have been studiously avoiding getting any work done while following your journeys. I'm only up to February 1 (I skipped ahead to post this comment). Just wanted you to know that someone is thoroughly enjoying your humorous and refreshingly literate posts. We're in the countdown mode to retirement in about 18 months, and your experiences help us to frame our own plans. Keep it up! By the way, there's another excellent journal by a rather quirky fellow who also uses a Data Storm setup. You might check his site out as he has some information posted on the gear. -- JRC in L.A.

  2. Oops, I guess it would help if I gave you a link. His blog is "The Adventures of Tioga and George" and is found at


  3. Sean: This is your best post so far!


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