Of Pole-Vault, Petunias and A Hope for Spring!

by Debra Chappell

Weather today:  Sunny, warm, (spring has arrived, for a day anyway!)

View from the Stanford Shopping Center (Palo Alto, CA):

Mood Reading: ZZZZZ’s!!! (It’s a fiver – slept like a rock!)

The hubby and I took a little road trip this weekend over the Sierras to Palo Alto (a 4 hour drive — tops) and Stanford University for a track meet.  I always love these little get-aways — you don’t need an airline ticket or travel insurance and no one has to come water the houseplants or pick up the mail — but if you live in Nevada this time of year, it feels like a journey to a foreign country!

It was snowing here at home the night before we left – a blizzard actually with high winds and freezing temps.  We hopped in the SUV (with 18 pole vaulting poles strapped to the roof no less – when you’re married to a pole manufacturer, you never travel light) and headed over Hwy 88 through the mountains.  As soon as we dropped into  Amador County and the wine country, we entered another world — green rolling hills, shrubs already budding, cherry trees in full bloom and daffodils a’plenty. A world where spring has not only sprung, but has seemingly already got the party started!

The California landscape always has the same delusional effect on me this time of year – my own home visions of vibrant flower pots brimming, flourishing vines creeping over patio pergolas, lush lawns stretching out in thick green carpets and warm sunny mornings sipping coffee on the front porch and I’m overcome by a sudden urge to halt the vehicle and run in to the nearest Home Depot for new gardening gloves and 27 gallons of Miracle grow.

But then reality inserts itself and what it misses, the hubby makes up for — it is still winter in Nevada he reminded me when I pleaded with him to stop. There is snow on the patio, barren dirt in the flower beds, gale force winds and off and on freezing temperatures.  The poor little daffodils that summoned the courage to poke out their delicate little heads in March when we had that unseasonably warm spell, have now been beat to hell by the wind and cold and what remains, looks like pathetic shriveled yellow gum wrappers someone tossed out of moving car.  Whatever other tender little buds ventured out during the same period made a tasty appetizer for the winter-hungry deer and bunnies, and our “lawn” (if you can even call it that) is presently dried to a crispy crunch, nibbled down to the quick, and feels like one of those thick straw doormats you wipe your muddy feet on. THIS is Spring in Nevada!

So…you can imagine how the renewal of burgeoning blossoms and the revelation of nature unfolding in full splendor lifted my spirits and gave me hope for the season ahead, if still a few weeks away at home.  I sat back and enjoyed the ride, the emerging colors, the conversation and a bag of fruit-thin cookies we’d thrown in at the last minute.

When we arrived in Palo Alto, we dropped our bags at the hotel and as is Steve’s habit, headed straight for the track.  Now… dispersing eighteen pole vaulting poles (at approx. 14-16 feet long each) to a variety of different coaches, athletes, and a parent or two can be a bit of a challenge.  It’s not like you can march right into the bleachers with the things under your arm and start calling out names.  It can entail extensive pre-planning and in some cases, some pretty intricate choreography.  Meeting spots are usually in the parking lot or at landmarks around the track (think ‘under the flag-pole’ or ‘outside the ticket office’.)  So during our scenic drive, while I was taking in all the splendors of Spring and mentally planning my petunia patch, Steve was on the phone making arrangements to get poles to their rightful owners involving a variety of different times and pick-up and drop-off points with all the efficiency of a major drug dealer.

But then something wonderfully spontaneous and ever-so-efficient happened.  We pulled into the parking lot in front of the ticket office at Stanford track hoping to find a parking spot so Steve could start searching out people. We coincidentally pulled up right next to one of the coaches that was to pick up a pole as a few athletes were climbing into his vehicle.  When he saw our pole-laden SUV, he ordered one of his athletes to get out and transfer the designated pole onto his vehicle.  Steve helped him choose the right one and they tied it onto the coach’s car, catching up on the latest news in the process.

While they were chatting, another vehicle drove up, seeing all the poles on top of our SUV.  He also was one of the coaches picking up poles.  Great – what a coincidence – grab them now!  So again, the transfer from one car to the other went smoothly.  Again, as the chatting ensued and luck would have it, somebody else walked up who noticed our vehicle and was expecting a pole pick-up.  This coach was going right into the track and asked if he could just take them now and go check them in – they were being used in the upcoming pole vault event that was just a few hours away.  Perfect!

As we stood there, another parent drove up and picked up theirs, an athlete came and walked off with his and before we knew it, all the poles were dispersed to their rightful owners and Steve didn’t even have to move! At some point during this 30 minutes of V-trade (vehicle-commerce) someone jokingly asked what we were selling and if they bought one, would they get a free pole to take home too?  With our mission accomplished more quickly than we’d expected, we got our tickets and went on in to enjoy 4 hours of the high school boys and girls division. (With a glass of wine and some light pasta afterwards at Il Fornio, though a bit unconventional, it made for a wonderful ‘date’ after all!)

The next morning, both the college and open men’s and women’s pole vault divisions were scheduled so I planned accordingly with my 30+spf sun block, a bottle of water and my most comfortable shoes for standing for hours at the end of the track where the pole-vault is held and, for whatever reason, has no bleachers.  As we were preparing to leave the hotel for the track, Steve said, “you know Deb, it’s not like you haven’t seen this before, if you want to go browse around at Stanford Mall and meet me later…”

Out of courtesy and respect for his professional dignity and dedication, I considered his suggestion thoughtfully and weighed my response carefully…for all of about, um, 1.5 seconds before slugging down the last gulp of hotel-room coffee, grabbing the car keys, and bolting out the door.

After obligatory visits to Macy’s, Bloomingdales, Williams-Sonoma, PotteryBarn, J. Jill, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, a great little French bakery, and a fabulous California-fresh salad at a chi-chi sidewalk café, I wistfully migrated back to the track satiated both physically and mentally just in time for the women’s college pole vault event to get underway. Though Steve had already been standing there for the better part of five hours, I have to admit, I only felt a tad bit guilty.  After all, while I was enjoying some of my favorite past-times, he was in his element enjoying his. We’d have the whole ride home to share it all with each other and added to that, were meeting a friend for dinner in Sacramento along the way, at a fabulous Spanish Tapas restaurant recommended by my niece Megan.  We spent the night and even managed a little Easter breakfast with my sister the following morning before heading back over the mountains for home.

A wonderful weekend of track, food, fun, shopping, friends, family, some quality time together and a beautiful change of scenery adding to a spirit of renewal…it doesn’t get much better than that and we didn’t even need a passport!