My Brother’s “13th Birthday” 

When we turn 13 in our family, tradition dictates that you get to have a big birthday celebration- one you won’t ever forget. This momentous occasion may or may not include naked hippies.
The year my brother turned 13, my mom planned a trip to the bay. San Francisco is only 3.5 hours away from us, and we grew up visiting the eclectic Crazy Street People City quite a lot.

You must know that my mom is quite thrifty. Before Expedia or Trivago were even a wild idea, my mom obsessively scoured the discount travel brochures and books. Part of what made all of our travel adventures so memorable is due largely in part to my mom’s awesome motel finds in her travel books (I’m saving her best find for the last post in this series).

My mom rocked the early 90s so hard.

My mom swore she found the hidden gem of all hidden gems in the heart of the city.

So, Mom, Dad, Brother, Grandma, and I packed into the car and schlepped over the hill.

The motel was a gem, alright. It was not only located in the center of the city, but it was smack dab in the middle of the worst neighborhood, on the worst street and it was the worst motel on said street. 

Because we are budget travelers through and through, we all slept in the same room-Grams and me in one bed, Dad and Brother in the other. My mom ordered a cot from the front desk, and slept with it right up against the door, because she was concerned the homeless man peeing right outside our room might try to come in to use an actual toilet.  

Throughout the night, we were serenaded with the sounds of men moaning, shrill female laughter, and the sound of a cat dying… or mating. And, it all sounded like it was right outside our window. 

It was sketchy with a capital how-did-we-not-get-bed-bugs. 

In the morning, on our way to see Alcatraz, there was a woman going absolutely bat-shit-crazy on top of a guy’s car. Like, she was on all fours on the hood, screaming and pounding her fists into his windowshield. The poor guy looked like he had no idea what to do as he was just sitting in the driver’s seat with his mouth agape. 

I would have just turned on my windshield wipers to try to wipe her off. 

Ain’t nobody got time for that. 

My Grandma was thinking, “Who are these crazy fuckers, and why did they bring me along for the Worst Side of San Francisco Tour?”

That same trip, we almost met our demise at the rest stop on top of the summit. 

The entire weekend was stormy and rainy. As we headed back home, the rain was immense. We felt like Noah’s ark as we parted the waters on the highway home. 

As we crested the summit over Donner Pass, it began to snow. Tradition dictates that we always stop at the rest stop on the top of the mountain. 

Forget that it was dark, snowing, and the rest stop was seemingly empty, no, we had to stop-it was TRADITION (someone probably really had to go: MOM). 

The vibe at the rest stop was bad. In hindsight, we should have just driven the hour more until home. 

My mom walked my brother and me into the main area, out of the snow. From there, we went our separate ways to the restrooms.

As my mom was waiting, she noticed two shady-looking men in the shadows. What normal, pure of heart and mind kind of person just lurks around an empty, freezing rest stop in the middle of nowhere, late at night? 

She said later that a ferocious chill went down her spine. Something just wasn’t right.

At this point, another vehicle pulls up, and my dad gets out of the car to retrieve something from the trunk.

As the lights from the car pulling up shine into the rest stop doorway, my mom glances over at the two men. From across the room, they give each other a “Not-this-one” look and they subtly shake their heads. 

They then disappear. 

She’s still convinced to this day that those two men were waiting around to do something bad. She thinks that they noticed that there were two other people in our car and then, when the other car pulled up, they figured whatever they had planned would not work on us. 
We all majorly had the creepies the whole way home. The entire car was silent as we counted our blessings/reevaluated our direction in life/cursed whoever’s idea it was to stop at the rest stop (MOM’s).

That, kids, is why you don’t go into rest stops-especially at night! Shady people try to do shady things at rest stops. Always find yourself a Starbucks restroom. Or a tree. Anything is better than an “empty” rest stop in the dark of night.

When we finally arrived home, exhausted, but grateful to all be in one piece, my brother says, “Next year, on my 13th birthday, can we just stay at home and do our usual thing?”

MY MOM FORGOT HOW OLD HER ONLY SON WAS. 

My mom felt pretty ridiculous having to admit that she miscalculated and thought he was turning 13, and thus, why he got such a big, super special Birthday. 

I think the next year for his birthday we did just what he wanted, and we were all pretty grateful.