• I'm Jesse
      • My Birthday?
      • You Remembered!
• Pool? Animal Style!
      • Dumplings w/Neptune
• Sicilian Sculptor
• The Golden Years
• Human Hangers
• Just a Barista
• I Need to Dance
• Can't Stop Looking Up
• Be Careful What...
• The Collection
• Into the Light
• A Perfect Interview
• The Abbey
• Who You Know?
• What's This Life For?
• Unexpected Talent
• Just a Dog's Day
• Chester
• Darren
      • Darren and the Circus
• Voice of God
• Aaron
• 5350

Shorts
• Resurrection
• Private Dancer
• Eye Contact
• Bullying
• The Surreality of It All
• Sound of Silence
• 31 Days of Christmas
• Giant!
• Fear or Comfort?
• You're Different
• Another One Bites...
• Stroll with the Clouds
• Walking with Banshee

Dumplings with Neptune! (10/04/21)

The late lunch at Lorraine and Rodney’s estate had been a gastronomical adventure to remember, but as Nikolas and I got back to the hotel in Yountville, we realized that the high-end lunch, piled on top of In-N-Out burgers during the ladies ‘social hour,’ was still not as filling as we wanted.

I’d recommended a popular restaurant within walking distance from the hotel. Nikolas had tipped the concierge generously, which meant we had a table within the next hour, and off to dinner we went. It was a beautiful Autumn night in Napa Valley, warm without being uncomfortable, and a nice breeze carrying the sweet smells of newly picked grapes throughout the region.

During ‘crush,’ the time when all the wineries harvested and crushed their grapes, the air throughout the valley was always filled with the overpowering fragrance of new wine, especially as the day cooled in the evening, and again early in the morning just at dawn.

The walk to the restaurant was short, and the two of us reveled in the weather and the scents of the valley while we joked about some of the comic events we’d watched during our highbrow lunch.

“Lorraine really had that special ‘royalty’ hand motion down as she waved us to be seated and allowed us to eat.” Nikolas spouted as he laughed, surprisingly showing the effects of two quick glasses of wine he’d guzzled at the hotel before walking over to dinner.

We arrived at the restaurant, were quickly escorted to our table, and enjoyed another wonderful meal created by one of the star chefs of the Napa Valley. We spent more time continuing our conversation about those cherished moments of the day, and generally getting to know each other better—we had been complete strangers only hours earlier.

Though we felt we ordered everything on the menu, including dessert, we started the walk back to the hotel still feeling hungry—it was one of those feelings you get used to while eating at Napa and Sonoma valley restaurants. The food was always exceptional, but the amount always left you wanting more.

We noticed this small, hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant across the street that still had its lights on, and shouted in unison “Tacos!” We strolled across the street, opened the door and stepped in.

We’d seen similar stares at In-N-Out earlier in the day, both of us obviously being overdressed for this local Mexican establishment. After a few uncomfortable minutes, a friendly older lady came over and in a deep Spanish accent apologized for everybody staring, letting us know that ‘gringos’ normally didn’t come over to her restaurant to eat.

We explained where we had come from, and she knew immediately why we were there. “Todavía tienes hambre?” as she laughed with a couple of the guys seated near us. “Yes, we are still hungry!”

“Déjame adivinar, ¿tacos?” The corner of our room laughed again. “I’ll get you a dozen tacos, different meats, will that work? We make our tortillas fresh.”

We wondered how she knew we came there for tacos, but said yes, that would work. She came back a few minutes later with a giant plate full of tacos and assorted condiments, and sat down two bottles of La Lupulosa beer. “It’s the best beer to eat with our tacos.” She said with a giant smile on her face. “In this valley, even we pair our food with the right beverage.” Again, the room filled with laughter.

“And by the way, I was standing outside when the two of you were walking across the street and heard you both yelling ‘tacos’ as you saw my restaurant.” Her smile was definitely welcoming, as she explained how she had known about our craving for tacos.

We devoured our plates of tacos, and our beer, and laughed that the bill for the tacos and beer was less than one of the desserts at the restaurant we had just left—and was completely filling. There would be no need for more food that evening. We thanked our friendly hostess, and walked back to the hotel.

As we left, we got what we thought was her traditional parting comment “Te veo por la mañana, abrimos a las 6.” Yet thinking about it, maybe we would come back early in the morning, breakfast there was bound to be good, and filling.

Getting back to the hotel, I quickly showered and changed into comfortable shorts and t-shirt and came out to find Nikolas crashed on the corner of the bed in nothing but a pair of beautiful black and gold print boxers.

As I looked though, I commented “Are those Versace?” “Yes they are.” Nikolas laughed, “You have a good eye for underwear.”

Well, not really, I had actually seen those exact boxers on a model at a Versace runway show friends and I had been to several months earlier. “Aren’t those like $250 a pair?” I was amazed that anybody would spend that much on a pair of boxers. “Why would you spend that much on something that nobody sees?” I asked, and yes the tease was intentional.

“You noticed them.” Nikolas said laughing. “Has anybody else seen them?” I asked.

“Just the sales lady as she put them in the bag” was his answer, and proof of my point. They were nice boxers though—shiny, beautiful patter, and silk.

“I bet the tie you were wearing today cost just as much as these boxers.” Nikolas chuckled. “Well, yeah, but everybody got to see my tie.” I laughed back at him.

“Next time we go somewhere and I wear Versace boxers, I’ll make sure and not wear any pants so that everybody can see my boxers.” Nikolas retorted. “I’d put money on that Nik.”

All I could do was shake my head and tell him to stay on his side of the bed, and I tried to fall asleep without burping up any of the hot sauce I had poured all over my tacos. I needed to remember to ask about that hot sauce when we went back for breakfast.

I woke up early the next morning to see Nikolas asleep in the same spot on the corner of the bed he was at the night before—apparently he had simply fallen asleep without moving. I kicked his foot to make sure he was still alive, and got one eye opened up and looking at me. “I thought you’d throw water on me or something.” Damn, I wished I’d thought about that.

We both showered, and dressed down a bit preparing for the day of wine tasting that lay ahead, though I could not help but notice yet another pair of beautiful Versace boxers. “Really Nik?” I said looking at his shorts. He just laughed, “they match your tie.”

Yeah, that seemed way too coincidental, and I nonchalantly looked in my bag to check out my tie—damn, they were identical, and I knew my tie wasn’t a Versace. “These aren’t Versace.” Nik said, “I have no idea who made them, or where I bought them, I just liked the fabric.”

The fabric was a shimmering red silk with black geometric and organic patterns overlaid with stunningly beautiful gold printed characters. The characters were not of a language I recognized, but the fabric did match my tie. I looked at Nikolas questioningly, shook my head and decided I would pursue later.

We walked across the street and were greeted by our friendly restaurant owner, telling us she’d have breakfast ready for us in a few minutes. I guess we had no say in what we wanted, but once the food arrived at the table, we realized that was a good thing.

After finishing an extremely delicious, and filling, breakfast, we thanked our new friend, and walked over to the parking lot to get into Nik’s noticeably yellow Porsche Carrera GT. For just a second I thought maybe his car would be a bit too much for our valley journey, but shook the thought off as soon as he started the engine.

As we drove out I saw the Mexican lady from the restaurant standing outside waving at us, and shaking her head at the same time. I was extremely happy that both times we had eaten at her little hole in the wall restaurant we had left a really good tip. “Let’s find something special to bring back for her.” I said to Nikolas. He looked at me curiously, “Like?”

“Oh I don’t know, something will speak to us when we see it, just like the Pinot and cufflinks did yesterday.” I told him. As we continued down the street out of town, I could tell both of our minds were in gear trying to think what would make an extraordinary gift for her. I racked my brain going through visions of her restaurant and things I saw on the walls and shelves. I knew something would call to us when we saw it.

“So, where are we going first?” Nik asked. “North” I said, “Head for the castle!” And yes, we were headed to a medieval castle in the middle of the Napa Valley. Castello di Amorosa was our first stop, and quite the surprise for Nik. “Not exactly what I expected. But wow, it's a beautiful place.” Nik said. “The Morisoli-Borges and Sinalunga cabs are out of this world.” I replied back.

I bought a couple bottles of each and had the gift shop put them aside for us to pick up on our return trip. Remembering we had limited space in Nik’s car, I was not about to load it up with wine and have to sit with all of it between my legs for hours of winery hopping.

We drove across several of the valley’s crossroads and stopped at some of the smaller wineries I had remembered from my many years in the valley. That would offer not only a great winery experience, but also offered a wonderful selection of wines, and a great drive through the valley.

We zigzagged from Darioush in Napa, to Alpha Omega in St. Helena, then over to both Cardinale and Far Niente in Oakville. I knew that our hotel would be happy to ship anything we purchased, so as we collected more and more bottles, we would quickly dart back into Yountville for a quick stop at the hotel, handing off our purchases to the concierge.

This included a quick trip back to the castle to collect our reserve cabs and add them to the boxes we were collecting at the hotel.

Next on our adventure for the day would be lunch, then we’d venture over to Sonoma valley to get our fill of Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Nikolas decided anything he bought on the Sonoma valley side of wine country he’d simply have shipped so we didn’t need to try to fit into the car.

We hopped over the mountains between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley via Calistoga Road and headed straight over to St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa. They were renowned for having the ultimate tasting menus for their wines, and the experience definitely left us feeling better than we had from dinner the night before. The tasting menu was exquisite, as were their wines.

We proceeded to head up to Ferrari-Carano and J Winery in Healdsburg, then swung back down south to Ledson in Kenwood, and Ram’s Gate in Sonoma. As we pulled into Ledson, all I heard from Nik was “damn, another castle!” Yep, quite a bit smaller, but impressive none-the-less.

After a full day of wine tasting, it was now time to decide between two different locations for dinner. One of my all-time favorites was a place called Barndiva, located downtown Healdsburg.

Out of the blue, Nikolas asked if we could try SingleThread, also in Healdsburg. He said it had been recommended by one of the staff at St. Francis. I had heard of SingleThread, but it was one of those restaurants where a limited number of reservations were made, almost by lottery, a month in advance. Being a three star Michelin, it was not one of those places you just walked into on the day you wanted to go there.

Nik just shrugged and said we needed to be there at 6 pm. I never really knew how Nik got us into restaurants that had waiting lists months long, but I think it involved throwing a few names, or a few bills, or both, at the maitre d’.

We walked into the restaurant and my first reaction was at how ‘country chic’ the restaurant was. We were immediately escorted to our seats, and shortly after, our waiter came up to explain the 10 course tasting menu, along with the history of the restaurant. He then introduced us to the sommelier who asked us a few questions about our likes, and immediately went into his recommendations for wine for the dinner.

We were totally fine with his recommendations, which made the entire process much easier. Normally one of the most time consuming customs at a fancy restaurant was getting the right wine to match with the food. With a sommelier that knew the food and already had pairings ready to match, there was nothing to do but listen and approve.

The food, and wine, for the evening were extremely good, with the food itself being edible pieces of art—the chef and his crew were exceptional gastronomical artisans.

We were looking in awe at the last course of the evening, a beautiful dessert, when I felt a hand land on my shoulder. I turned to surprisingly see Lorraine standing next to me. Like she always did, she quickly said hello, hoped we’d had a wonderful dinner, and briskly headed out the door.

Waiting at the door was Rodney, with a giant smile on his face. He opened the door for Lorraine, and as she walked out, Rodney turned to us and raised both his hands with his thumbs up, still with the giant smile across his face!

Now I knew how we got into this restaurant so easily, and when I looked at Nik, he just smiled and exclaimed. “It really is about who you know.” I’d found out that he had run into Lorraine and Rodney leaving one of the wineries we had visited and asked if he could have Lorraine get the reservations for us.

We proceeded to drive back from Healdsburg over into Napa Valley and to our hotel in Yountville. Before we crashed for the night, we had one last task to take care of.

Nik parked his ‘pile of junk’ as he constantly referred to his Carrera GT, and we walked across the street back to the Mexican restaurant we’d eaten at the night before. As we walked in the door, we didn’t get as many stares as we had the previous night, and Carmela, the owner of the restaurant and the one who had made our experience there so special the night before, greeted us with a big, warm, inviting smile. “Another one of ‘those’ dinners?” She laughed.

We explained where we had eaten, and told her we were surprisingly full. I attributed it to our wonderful lunch at St. Francis more than the dinner, but regardless, neither of us were really looking to eat any further that evening.

We let her know how we appreciated her friendly nature the night before, and just wanted to give her a little something to show our appreciation.

The night before, while sitting eating our tacos, I noticed a picture of Marc Anthony behind the register. It seemed to hold a special place on the wall, and I thought maybe she was a Marc Anthony fan.

Then, as we were driving past one of the wineries that frequently had outdoor concerts, we noticed on the list of upcoming events, ‘An Evening With Marc Anthony.’ Like I had told Nik the day before, the perfect gift for Carmela would find us—and it did.

We had picked up 8 tickets for her to the concert, figuring that number would be enough for her and her husband, and her kids, who assisted her at the restaurant.

We handed her the envelope with the tickets and thanked her again for the wonderful customer service she and her family had provided the night before. I swear she just about fainted.

She started rambling in Spanish faster than either of us could translate or understand, and proceeded to give us long drawn-out hugs while kissing our faces over and over again.

After about 10 minutes of her excitement, she had settled down just enough to tell us Marc Anthony was her favorite singer, and though she had seen the advertisements for him being in concert at the winery, the cost was far more than she or her family could ever have afforded.

We made sure to let her know we had purchased the VIP tickets, so that her and her family not only had front row access, but also were going to meet Marc Anthony and have dinner with him prior to the show. She fell back into a chair and started fanning herself with a menu. We hoped she wasn’t going to faint!

One of her sons brought her a glass of water, and profusely thanked us for the tickets. He told us she would probably be in shock from that moment all the way through the concert, and probably even a month after it! Carmela finally got up and started the entire process of hugs and kisses all over again, thanking us profusely for the gift.

“Any time you are in the neighborhood, come in, the meal is on us!” I looked at Nik and told him we needed to make a weekend journey up here a couple weeks after the concert, just to get more tacos, and hear about what a wonderful time they had.

Nik and I eventually made it back to our hotel room, changed, and crashed on a bed that was literally big enough for 4 of us comfortably. “What are we doing tomorrow David?” Nik asked. Nik’s reference to ‘David’ was a dig at Lorraine—she was the only one that called me David.

“I don’t know, we’ll figure it out in the morning, ‘Nikolas’.” I told him, knowing that he had no idea of the plans I had already made for the day. Little did I know, he had already made some plans of his own.

We both crashed as soon as we hit the pillows.

Early the next morning, Sunday, I got up and looked outside the front door to see the two mountain bikes and a box with helmets and other equipment for the day. I had remembered that Nik really was into mountain biking, and had made arrangements with the concierge for bikes, helmets, emergency kit and air pump.

On the first day we had met and were talking while waiting for our lunch at Lorraine's, Nik had made the comment “you think I can drive the Hell out of my car, you should see what I can do on a mountain bike.” I’d laughed the comment off, but added it to the index files in the back of my brain that kept track of others' likes. That kind of information always came in handy.

I showered and got ready and was just going to wake Nik up when there was a knock on the front door of our room, and Nik quickly jumped up out of bed and said he would get the door.

I didn’t want him to see the bikes, so it became a race to the door, a race which he won. He seemingly knew who was there, opened the door, and escorted room service in, rolling a cart with our breakfast on it. Nik beamed from side to side, and told me he had ordered a full breakfast from the French Bakery just down the street.

Though I would have been happy with breakfast again at the Mexican restaurant, I was open for a change and was really jazzed that Nik had made the plans ahead of time. He tipped the delivery guy, closed the door, and never even noticed the bikes sitting just outside the door. Cool!

After we finished breakfast, Nik got ready to go, mentioning that he noticed I was in extremely casual attire for the day. “Are you tired of dressing up for wine tasting?” He asked, laughing.

“Not exactly” I said as I motioned for him to come to the door and look outside. He caught a glimpse of the mountain bikes and was ecstatic. “How did you know I was a mountain biker?” Hmm, short term memory loss attributed to too much wine was my guess.

I reminded him he had told me on the day we had met while we were waiting for lunch. “Oh yeah, you were talking about my ‘pile of junk’ belonging in a museum.” Well, sort of, it was within an hour or so of that comment.

“Some of those roads we drove on Friday and Saturday will make rad spots for biking!” Nik said, obviously excited over the day’s activities.

We grabbed our backpacks, put in some supplies, including bottles of water and Gatorade that had been left for us by the hotel, adjusted the sizing on the bikes, and started off on a day’s long trek of the Napa and Sonoma valleys.

Thankfully both of us had experience on bikes, and had spent quite a bit of time biking, so the hills, mountains, and curves of the roads provided no obstacle to an enjoyable full day of riding. There was no stopping at wineries, only road after country road of biking through some of the most beautiful mountainous territory in California.

We noticed the small mom and pop restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and picked up cheese, bread and some meats for lunch. We found a spot on the top of one of the roads that overlooked all of Napa Valley, pulled over and devoured our food selection while checking out the scenery. Minutes later we enjoyed the breakneck speed of a beautiful downhill ride over into Sonoma valley.

After an extremely long day out biking, we eventually made it back to our hotel, turned the bikes into the concierge, thanking them for arranging everything for us, and settled back in our room—just sort of flopping onto the bed.

“We must have put in over a 100 miles today Davie.” Nik joked. He was right, it probably was over 100 miles, considering the territory we covered and the fact we barely stopped during the entire day’s adventure. “And don’t even call me Niky,” he said!

“Dinner?” Nik asked.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to venture out at all, and definitely was not in the spirit to get changed to go to a respectable restaurant. Nik picked up the phone, called the concierge, explained our situation, and simply told the person on the other end of the phone to ‘surprise us.’

About an hour later, we both woke up to a knock on the door, and another cart being rolled in by room service with dinner. I lifted up one of the larger silver domes and staring back at me was the most scrumptious looking and fragrant, ostrich steak, and a pile of delectable root veggies. Wow, this couldn’t have been more perfect.

“Yeah, I keep mental notes of what people like too.” Nik proudly proclaimed. Yep, he was correct, I had mentioned my favorite food in the valley while on our journey to In-N-Out.

Then I remembered he had told the concierge on the phone to surprise us. How did they know what I liked? Nik laughed. “I called them back when you were in the shower.”

This was only the second day of our adventure, and we had a 7-day trip down the coast of California planned. I could only imagine how many of these ‘surprises’ we would both try to arrange along the way, in a fun spirited competition to show how much we knew about each other.

Not wanting to let good ostrich steaks get cold, we both planted ourselves on the edge of the bed, turned on the TV to some senseless program, and devoured our dinners like we hadn’t eaten all day. Everything was exquisite, ostrich being perfectly cooked rare, sauce on the root veggie medley was incredible, almost with a curry tinge, and the tuxedo cake was out of this world.

I called the concierge to pick up the food cart, knowing that in this part of the world, the coyotes would have licked the plates clean if the cart was left outside. And again, both of us quickly crashed to sleep. If either of us snored, only the coyotes outside the patio would have known.

Waking up Monday morning, I realized I could barely walk. Even though I had experience on a mountain bike, it had been months since I was on one for any length of time, and my muscles and bones let me know that.

Nik was still asleep, and though I didn’t necessarily want to wake him, I decided to give him another morning kick and at least tell him where I was going. “You were going to the jacuzzi without me?” he asked, looking back at me with one eye open.

I did notice as he got up he moved a little slower than the day before. I was happy to know that someone half my age was also a little sore from an entire day mountain biking. There was justice in the world.

As we sat in the jacuzzi relaxing all the muscles we didn’t know we had, I told Nik I had made plans for breakfast, so we needed to get out of the valley, return my rental car, and get across the bay over into the city—San Francisco.

After showering and packing our backpacks, we headed to the hotel’s concierge to have all the boxes of wine that were purchased shipped for us. While there, the concierge gave us a message from Carmela with her phone number, saying she wanted to make sure we kept in touch.

Little did she know we had already planned a date for our return trip and would be happy to have another night filling ourselves with tacos!

After an hour’s drive south, I left the rental car at the airport, hopped into Nik’s bright yellow ‘pile of junk’ and we headed out over the Bay Bridge into the city. I let Nik know I also had plans for where we were going to stay for the night in the city.

Nik looked at me like he was a bit annoyed. “Do I have a say in anything?”

At first I thought he was serious. Crap, our first disagreement. Then he started laughing, telling me I knew the city far better than he did, and that he would be making the plans for the next couple of days, “If I can find a decent concierge?” Nik said laughing.

Yeah, well, as we pulled into the Ritz Carlton San Francisco, we both looked at each other laughing and simultaneously said “the concierge here should be fine.”

I let Nik know that when thinking about where to stay, I felt the only place in the city where the parking would be acceptable for his car would be the Ritz. I didn’t tell him till later in the week that I had friends that worked for the Ritz chain and had them make the arrangements for the room.

He had the valet park the car, letting the guy know we had better not see his car driving around the city, then checked into our room. The first thing out of his mouth was “you didn’t get a room with two beds?” “Nik, it’s the Ritz, I’m not going to ask for a room with two beds, or worse, a fold out. I don’t even know if they offer that.” They actually did, but once again, the bed was big enough for four of us, I was sure we’d be fine!

As we headed out for a late breakfast, I told Nik that the only place we needed to stop during our trip down the coast was Hearst Castle—that was a non-negotiable must.

He gave me one of his predictable, questioning, raising of one eye-brow looks, and at that point I understood he more than likely already had made the reservations, and had probably put in the request to have the zebras lining the roadway for our arrival. I just said “thank you” and smiled.

“Pft, Hearst Castle? Whatever.” I knew that confirmed my suspicions. “The zebras aren’t necessary Nik.” That generated a look of curiosity. I could see him thinking, ‘zebras?’ During our hours of driving through the valleys I had mentioned Hearst Castle, but never brought up the zebras. I hoped he didn’t call Hearst Castle and ask about zebras.

Actually, it would be funnier if he did.

I again just laughed, knowing this was going to be one Hell of an adventure.

By now we were at Yang Xing, walked in, got our table, and the carts of dim sum began to roll by. Yes, Nik had mentioned a really good dim sum restaurant in Los Angeles, but I knew for sure even the restaurant In Los Angeles had nothing on Yang Xing.

Known for so many different types of dim sum that no one person could eat them all in one single sitting, we left the restaurant amazed, and full. That would hold us through the day until our planned dinner at the Slanted Door, another one of my favorites. Vietnamese French fusion at its best.

We spent the day wandering around the city, checking out a lot of the touristy things that Nik had never seen, rode the cable cars, bought a ton of gifts in ChinaTown, and ate fresh seafood from several of the stalls along Fisherman’s Wharf.

Dinner at the Slanted Door was, as expected, phenomenal, and since we nearly ordered one of everything from the menu, was also filling. We slowly walked back to the hotel and as usual, quickly crashed and were asleep.

The next morning, Tuesday of our adventure, we walked a short distance to one of the best bakeries in the city to get pastries and what was the best coffee either of us had ever had. Then we noticed on the menu that this bakery offered Turkish coffee—who would have known, but we had to try, and it was delish!

Wired with several cups of extremely strong coffee in us, we quickly returned to the hotel and hopped into the car, and started heading out for a day of ‘Nik’s planned adventures.’ I was not sure what that was going to mean, but I had no doubt it would be a blast.

I thought Hearst Castle was more than likely our Wednesday location, so I really had no idea where we would be stopping once we got outside of San Francisco, but figured we had Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur all along the drive down the coast—any of those spots would suffice.

As we pulled into the spectacular Ritz-Carlton, in Half Moon Bay, I thought it was way too early in the day to be staying at the Ritz. Hell, at this rate, it would be a 30-day drive back down to LA.

Nik parked his car outside the entrance, telling the valet we would only be a few minutes. We literally walked in, looked around, and got back into the car to continue our journey.

“What was that about Nik?” He replied he’d never been there and just wanted to see how nice it was. He had heard it was ‘pretty nice,’ and it did hold up to that rating.

Driving down the coast was a beautiful adventure. The weather was stunning, no fog to be seen, and Nik’s car, under control of his driving, handled the road, which literally hung on the side of the mountain cliffs, superbly.

“Santa Cruz? Or do we just continue on to Monterey and Carmel?” Nik asked. Though I had fond memories of Santa Cruz and playing volleyball on the beach next to the boardwalk when I was younger, neither of us got any excitement about heading that direction, so we continued along the coast of Monterey Bay and pulled into Monterey just in time for lunch.

Seafood it would be, and simply plied our way around the numerous fresh fish stands and restaurants along the wharf. I had not been in Monterey for several years, and was happy to see it really hadn’t changed much. After several hours of literally eating our way through town, we headed back on the road and continued south.

As we came up to Carmel, Nik looked at me with that inquisitive look once again, and I let him know that, though Carmel and Carmel Highlands were extremely nice, there was nothing of special interest for me.

“Agreed!” We both said simultaneously once again. We seemed to do that a lot.

Knowing that the drive from Carmel down to San Simeon and Hearst Castle was within the range for the remainder of the afternoon, I just assumed we would be staying in San Simeon. Normally, that is what one does when visiting Hearst Castle, since it gives a stress free overnight accommodations with easy access to the Castle parking lot.

But as we veered off Highway 1, I realized that Nik had something completely different in store for the night. “I should have figured.” I said to Nik. “Really, Alila Ventana? Are we going to ‘glamp’ for the evening” I said laughing.

“Well not exactly.” Nik said, “But I think I’d like to stay in a cottage with a hot tub.”

Crud! The best ‘room’ at this 5-star luxury hotel is actually the Cottage House, a stunning space with a hot tub on the deck overlooking the ocean, and hammocks to nap in on the balcony. I just shook my head and knew Nik had done his research—or had spent a few minutes with the concierge at the San Francisco Ritz.

The restaurant at the hotel is one of the best, and offers a spectacular menu of fresh, locally grown, organic produce, from their expansive garden. Dinner included some of the finest rack of lamb I ever had.

I was a little disappointed at the dessert menu, and as Nik and I looked at each other trying to decide what we would order for dessert, we decided to simply get a few decadent drinks and go hang in the hammocks on the balcony of our room.

Over the last few days, we had already had our share of out-of-this-world desserts, so missing one this evening was nothing to be concerned with. I did feel a bit of snobbery come over me regarding the dessert selection, which must have been obvious to the waiter.

As we grabbed our drinks and headed to our room, we were handed a box. “We hope you enjoy this.” the maitre d’ said. We could smell the sweet scent of chocolate as we got into our room, and opened the box to this custom chocolate decadence creation that apparently had been created specifically for us.

I thought I had tempered my disappointment at the dessert menu, but the waiter was good—he knew ordering nothing meant there was nothing we wanted to order on the menu, which is never a good thing at a fine restaurant.

Again, the room contained one extremely large bed, we each took our side, and crashed asleep for the night!

Waking up early the next morning, Wednesday, was difficult, with the waves crashing along the coast in the distance, and the warmth of the hot tub calling us to stay, but we still had a little bit of a drive to San Simeon in order to make the first tour.

“Make sure you are wearing your board shorts today.” Nik said. Board shorts? Hey, maybe we are going to stop at one of the beautiful coastal beaches and get in a quick swim. That might be interesting, but I’m not quite a fan of salt water—at least I’d get my feet in the water.

It was another day of beautiful weather, and the drive to the parking area for the tours of Hearst Castle was a fun drive. As usual, Nik parked his car as far away from anybody else, and we made the journey to the ‘bus station’ to pick up our tickets and wait for the first bus up the hill.

“Why are we both wearing board shorts?” I asked Nik. He replied that he must have got his days wrong, and laughed. Yeah, Nik didn’t let things like that slip, something was up.

As we got to the counter, the lady getting our tickets said “You’re the one that asked about the availability of the zebras!” At first I cringed from embarrassment, then realized I had been played. Nik, and the lady at the counter had a good laugh, at my expense. “I hope you guys enjoy your day at the Castle.” She said, smiling from ear to ear.

‘Day’ at the Castle? Did that mean every tour? Were we going to have to ride the bus up and down the mountain between each tour, equating to four round-trips? I like Hearst Castle, really like it, but was not sure I wanted to spend the day on a bus—though we’d probably see plenty of zebras at that rate.

We got on the bus for the first drive up the mountain, and seeing no animals at all, the drive was uneventful, though as usual, comical due to the numerous twists and turns in the road. Once we arrived at the top of the ride, we were gently pulled aside, given special badges, and told that since we had booked all four tours, and booked lunch and swimming at the Neptune pool, we would not have to get back on the bus until the end of the day.

“Enjoy your day at the Castle, gentlemen!”

Wait, swimming in the Neptune pool. That was something I had dreamed about since I was a 10 year kid on my first trip to Hearst Castle with my parents. I had even thought about pretending to trip and ending up in the pool just for the experience—but understood the water was extremely cold, and my parents would have disowned me, so that never came to fruition.

“Nik?”

“You didn’t know about the new special fundraising opportunity they now offer? Lunch and swimming in the Neptune Pool. It’s only limited to 40 per day, but I managed to get us tickets for today. Haven’t you ever dreamt of swimming in that incredible pool?”

Nik was looking at me like maybe he’d decided on something I didn’t want to do. No Nik, just didn’t know that was now a legitimate option. Did I dare ask how much those tickets were?

No. Like the price of the marble pool ball chairs at Lorraine’s house, just don’t ask how much.

And so the day proceeded. We not only went on all four of the normal tours during the course of the day, but at the assigned time, went to the Neptune pool, disrobed down to our board shorts, and got quite a bit of time swimming and floating around in the Neptune pool, astounded that this was a real way of life back in the 1920s and 30s. Though the water was a little chilly, it was bearable, and in the afternoon sun, a totally spectacular experience.

After our swim, wrapped in Hearst Castle robes we got to keep, we enjoyed an extremely good selection of finger foods, and wines from several of the surrounding Paso Robles wineries.

We finished the day after our last castle tour, boarded the bus, and headed back down the hill. As the bus turned around one of the corners, to everybody’s excitement, there was the herd of zebras in all their glory. They were mixed with a couple gazelles and a few other hoofed animals I couldn’t identify, but we got to see the zebras. The trip was truly worth it!

“I had the girl at the counter make sure the zebras were out,” we both spouted in unison, and laughed.

As we drove out of the parking lot, Nik told me we would have to ‘rough it’ tonight, and would be staying at a hotel near Cambria. It was nothing special, but the room did have two beds.

The semantics of that never made sense to me—expensive room, one bed, inexpensive room, two beds. It didn’t matter, both of us were exhausted anyway after our many miles of walking through Hearst Castle—and floating in the Neptune pool was an exhaustion experience.

We got to our room, again not trying to be snobs, we looked around in amusement. All Nik could say was “this is definitely not the Ritz.” But it was clean and comfortable, that was really all that mattered.

We both showered, and had just got into our comfortable clothes, when there was a knock at the door. I knew that meant dinner, which was perfect, I was famished.

And I should have figured out what would be delivered, Nik’s absolute favorite of all foods—container after container of Chinese food. And it would turn out to be the best Chinese food you could imagine, though a day of touring may have elevated the appetite.

Owned by a family that came directly from China, dinner was the most authentic Chinese food possible—as the father of the family said to Nik when he placed the order, “this is not American Chinese food, this is true Chinese food as we cooked it in China.” And it was damn good!

Once again, after what was an exciting yet exhausting day, we crashed in our beds and were asleep within minutes. I dreamt all night of floating in the beautiful waters of the Hearst Castle Neptune pool, with Venus and Neptune looking down as I floated by eating a sticky bun.

The following morning, Thursday, we started out early and were back on the road before 7. Just a few miles south of the hotel we passed a Mexican food truck on the side of the road and thought, could it be as good as the little place in Yountville? We had to find out.

After we finished breakfast on the side of the road overlooking the Pacific ocean, we thought maybe Carmela from Yountillve had rented a food truck and was following us down to Los Angeles. Just like the restaurant up north, the food was authentic, and wonderful, only made better by the salt in the air from a brisk ocean breeze.

“Who needs the Salt Bae?” Nik said laughing. At first I was a bit lost in the reference, until Nik struck the silly pose that looked like dropping salt off his arms—I got it, and no, we definitely didn’t need Salt Bae, nor edible gold leaf on our Huevos Rancheros.

Leaving the side of the road, I wondered if ‘going off road’ voided the warranty on Nik’s car. Nik made the decision to head inland at Harmony, along the beautifully scenic route 46, and off to Paso Robles we went, for a day of winery hopping.

The rivalry between Napa and Paso Robles wineries is well known, yet to me there was really no comparison. The wines of Paso Robles and the mountainous roads in the area were stellar—and the crowds were non-existent—making the experience far superior to that of Napa or Sonoma valleys.

And we knew if we needed it, there was an In-N-Out nearby in the town of Atascadero. You always have to keep your priorities in order and options available.

As we turned towards Paso Robles, Nik looked at me with that inquisitive raising of the brow, and I knew exactly what he was wondering. “Yes Nik, I have been to Paso Robles before and know exactly which wineries we should go to—and you will love driving the mountain roads going to them.”

Still not saying a word, Nik gave me the double eye-brow, double raise, which meant he was looking for a good time.

We headed up into the mountains to several wineries, each one more beautiful than the last, and with stellar wines, including several of the wine selections that had been offered during our ‘float’ at Hearst Castle. The entire circuit kept us to the west of the city of Paso Robles, with only a short jaunt along highway 101 as we visited the lower section of wineries in the area.

As the evening approached, we eventually left the winery region of Paso Robles, and pulled into Pismo Beach and The Cliffs hotel. An absolutely gorgeous hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Sunset Suite ended up being this lavish, stunning set of rooms surrounded by glass overlooking the ocean.

We had to laugh—as we expected one bed, but damn, this particular bed could hold 6 of us. Was there really a reason for making beds that big? It didn’t matter, as we got into the room I walked over and bounced onto the bed and nearly immediately fell asleep. The bed was really comfortable, and the view so soothing—a vast expanse of ocean blue, with the sun setting off the horizon.

“I’m guessing that is why they call it the Sunset Suite?” Nik chuckled. Yeah, I was thinking that was why. No matter where you were in the room you could see the sunset.

I heard what sounded like water running, and there was Nik, preparing his bath. Before I could even say anything, I realized it was one of the largest and most lavish bathtubs I had seen, and from it, Nik lounged in the fragrant water looking out through the floor to ceiling windows, watching the sun set.

“Are we stealing the robes from here too?” Nik asked. Stealing the robes from the luxury hotels was really not a ‘we’ thing, that was a ‘Nik’ thing, and he had quite the collection. The robes from this hotel also had matching slippers. “Will they fit in the car?” I asked.

“I’ll have the hotel ship new ones to me.” Nik said, again with the double eye-brow double raise!

After a wonderfully comfortable night’s sleep, I woke up to the sound of water running, again, and Nik plopping himself back into the tub. “Are you getting in? It’s really not a tub, it's a 4-person jacuzzi.” Nik said.

And it really was, that damn tub was huge, and was built on a giant granite plinth surrounded by marble tile floors, sitting right smack in the middle of the suite. The entire space just screamed ‘style!’

Just as we both settled into the hot water and turned on the jets, there was a knock on the door. “Room service. I have your laundry.” I quickly got out of the tub, put on a robe, answered the door to grab our laundry, and realized I had no cash for a tip. “No need to tip!” the guy said with a big smile on his face. That was another benefit of each of the ‘luxury’ hotels we stayed in—they always had our laundry done overnight, which was a very good thing.

After leaving the hotel, we drove a short distance to a parking area that was the trail head to what turned out to be an arduous, yet incredible hike along the mountains that skirted the coastal road along Avila and Pismo beach. To our surprise, even though it was a Friday, there were quite a few people out hiking along this trail.

I would have loved to have heard ‘their’ stories about how they ended up on this trail! I knew they could not top our story!

After most of the day hiking, we were completely famished, and hopped back into the car and ventured off coastal Highway 1, and headed inland through Santa Maria and surrounding communities.

“I have ‘step-family’ that live in Santa Maria,” I told Nik.

As we continued driving through the area, all I got was an “OK” from Nik as he raised his eyebrows up. And no, the last time I had been to Santa Maria was when I was a kid—it had grown quite a bit since then, so there was no way I would remember where my step-brother’s family lived.

After a couple hours we cruised into the cute, quaint little town of Solvang, looking forward to a meal at one of the interesting Danish restaurants in the city, and ventured into Bit o’Denmark.

The food was really good, and though we had decided we were going to order the most authentic Danish food they had, our mouths were watering as their rack of lamb passed by our table. It must have been for some locals, why else would you not try all the different Danish food available.

Since we had skipped lunch, we actually ordered three different entrees, including the roast pork, breaded veal, and roast duck, and all the fixin’s that came with them, and proceeded to eat like we hadn’t eaten for a week.

“I would have never guessed that the two of you would have finished all that food.” said the waiter, surprisingly in a bit of a Danish accent.

“Mange tak.” Nik spit out. The waiter, looking a bit surprised, replied back “Du er meget velkommen.” and walked away smiling.

“You speak Danish?” I asked Nik, once again surprised by his, well, ability to constantly surprise me. “No, I just saw the plaque on the wall and hoped I got the pronunciation correct.” Nik said, looking at me with that ‘would you expect anything else from me?’

Surprises, surprises, that had been the mission of the entire trip.

As we approached Nik’s car, an older gentleman that appeared to be with his wife and three of their grand kids, ran up and asked us if we would take a picture of all of them and the “gorgeous yellow piece of German engineering” that they stood next to?

I chuckled, said yes, and was handed his phone to take a shot of the family, obviously not from the area, and obviously not used to seeing a $600,000 car. After a couple shots, I handed the phone back to the older guy, and noticed one of the grand daughters staring at Nik.

“Hey Nik, I think you have a fan.” He looked at me, gave me that ‘going to have fun’ look, and said “Wait a few seconds.” He clicked his key fob, the alarm on the car chirped, startling the family standing next to it, but got a very excited response from the young girl.

“I’m not walking home Nik,” I said as I noticed the young girl was walking in our direction with a huge smile on her face. Suddenly, her grandfather gently jerked her back to the group and all we could hear as they walked away was “I don’t think so. How would I explain that to your father?”

We got into the car, waving to the group as we drove by, with Nik purposely waiting a little longer than he should have to shift gears, letting the purr of the engine whine just a bit.

It was a quick trip down the coast and into Santa Barbara. As we got closer to town, Nik turned and looked at me, with that look of his “We are staying where?” he asked.

Oh yeah, I guess I should have mentioned it, and I guided him to the Ritz Carlton, Bacara in northern Santa Barbara. “Only the best Nik.” Double eyebrows and a smile—I was getting used to that response.

We pulled into the hotel as the sun was just setting, which provided quite a stunning backdrop to what is an absolutely gorgeous hotel. All in white mission style, with a country chic decor, the rooms did absolutely nothing for me, just not my style, but it provided another luxury location to sleep the night away—and get our laundry done.

I always had a challenge with luxury hotels. If you are only there to sleep for the night, do they need to be so luxurious? My eternal dilemma! Nik did like the robes!

Once on the road early Saturday morning, we found another one of those roadside food trucks, this time emphasizing seafood dishes. At first I found it surprising there was a food truck in Santa Barbara, until I said that phrase one more time—a seafood food truck in Santa Barbara. What would you expect?

From Santa Barbara south, once you get near Ventura, you basically are in the Los Angeles basin—one extremely large and populated region of California. Though there are many wonderful sites to be seen in SoCal, nothing truly compares to the coastal highway and the vistas of the beach and ocean, with the lack of population and human habitation that comes with the coastal cities of SoCal.

As the traffic backed up on the 405 coming into Los Angeles, even on a Saturday morning, we decided a day in the museums of Los Angeles would be fitting, as we looked up at our first stop, and headed over to the fabulous—did I say fabulous?—Getty Center.

The Getty Center is by far my favorite art spot in the Los Angeles basin, but there were so many more for us to venture off to. While in LA, one has to stop at The Broad, LACMA, MOCALA, and so many more it is a challenge to list them all. We visited The Broad and LACMA, and drove over to the Petersen Automotive Museum, just for kicks.

“Hey Nik, this is the place I thought your car should be in!”

Nik just replied “It has a lot of relatives here.” Nik drove to a specific spot in front of the museum and parked, and quickly got out and took a selfie with his car and the Petersen behind him. “I’ve been in the museum so many times, do you mind if we just head to our hotel and dinner?”

I had no problem with that. I’d also been to the Petersen more times than I could count, though I did enjoy just staring at all those beautiful cars. But what was I thinking, I had just spent a week traveling the wine country and coastal roads of California in one of the most stunning cars made—reality Dave, reality!

We headed from downtown LA south to the beach communities near Newport and jumped on Highway 1, traveling south down towards Laguna, finally arriving in the area, and stopping for dinner at a wonderful Japanese cuisine and sushi bar, Bluefin, just south of Corona del Mar.

“Don’t you have friends in Corona del Mar?” Nik asked.

“Yeah, I think they are still mad at me for breaking their rabbit.” I laughed. “Or it could have been my drunken stupor, or a combination of both. Though we could just drive by and honk, I’d get a good laugh out of that.”

Nik just shook his head and kept driving. We pulled into the parking lot of Bluefin, parking next to several cars that were almost as pricey as Nik’s ‘pile of junk,’ and proceeded to walk in, get quickly seated, and have another wonderful dining experience.

There wasn’t even a need for a menu, Bluefin’s Chef’s Omakase was the choice, and it was stellar. All the best of a sushi bar, without having to think!

“Since I picked the hotel tonight, you have to get dinner.” Nik said. I was fine with that, even though it was quite expensive. Considering where we were, and that it was the last night we would be ‘on the road,’ I could only imagine what hotel Nik had selected.

After dinner, and just a few minutes down Highway 1, we pulled into Montage Laguna Beach.

Damn, yet another robe!

The villas at Montage, specifically the Villa Du Soleil, is like entering a country-chic inspired dream world. Not exactly my style of decor, but still nice and comfy. I say that laughing—comfy is a wild understatement. And more specifically, the villas contain full chef-quality kitchens.

As I wandered around the suite, I was looking at the kitchen, fully equipped and ready to go, wondering why anybody would need a kitchen in this part of the world? But it was nice.

I started to get comfortable, thought this ‘villa’ was extremely big for the two of us, and caught a glimpse of Nik on his phone texting. One of my favorite things about Nik was the total absence of his phone during the entire trip. He was not one who lived on his phone, and would only check at the end of the day, or first thing in the morning—with only one selfie with his car in front of the Petersen museum.

Usually he was settled in bed before he checked to see if he had missed anything during the day, and this night, he had literally just walked into the villa.

No sooner than I started to ask him if there was a problem or something, I heard the door of the villa click, and in came a parade of our friends. That explained the text, that explained the villa—I mean it could sleep 8, easily, 16 if everybody got a little cozy!

Following our group of friends were several wait staff from room service, and carts full of some of the coolest looking desserts you could imagine. Nik had arranged for all of us to have a ‘welcome back to LA’ party with our friends, and we got to enjoy some delicious sugar filled delicacies, along with some excellent Belgian beer, and sparkling wine from Sonoma Valley J Winery! My favorite!

And everyone was staying the night—and it was a really late night. That was fine though, it was our last night, we were in a spectacular hotel villa, and among our best friends. All was good. And not to mention we had just ended an incredible week's journey down from northern California.

“Nik, do you know how many cases of wine you bought?” I had lost count early in the adventure. Nik just shrugged. “It should be at my condo when I get back tomorrow.”

Sunday morning came, and we all were quite the motley crew waking up. After showers, dips in the spa, and packing everything up from the night before, we checked out of our 'villa' and drove over to the Cliff restaurant for brunch. “Two Cliffs in one trip.” I thought that was quite funny, but nobody else seemed to find the humor in it.

Sitting down at the restaurant, the first thing out of my mouth was “a dozen scallops for each of us!” I probably should have asked everybody whether they wanted raw scallops or not, but I knew the crowd, and knew all of them, like me, always had a craving for the Cliffs scallops.

A raw scallop on its shell, topped with seaweed, wasabi cream, and ginger, they are to die for, and a must have every time we'd visit the restaurant.

After eating our scallops, and pretty much everything else on the menu, I noticed Nik talking to our waiter just before we left the restaurant. I just shrugged knowing I shouldn’t ask about these things, and we all sauntered into the adorable town of Laguna, stopping in every gallery we could find.

Several of the guys had to make a stop in one of the surf shops in town, and the ritual of finding the perfect board shorts commenced. How many shorts can one person try on before finally buying the first ones they saw! Each time we came down to Laguna, this ritual was a part of the trip, and had been for over a decade.

The first time I had experienced this ritual was with my friend Graeme on the first day the two of us came to Laguna. That in itself, was an entire story!

And each of us already owned several dozen pairs!

As we walked back towards the Cliffs parking lot, I felt a bit sad that the wine country and coastal trip Nik and I had just taken was over, and as we walked towards our group of vehicles, I once again caught Nik quickly texting.

“OK Nik, what now?” I asked. At this point, we were standing in front of this really cool vacant storefront space. Empty storefronts in this location of Laguna were not usual, so I had to look through the glass to see what the space looked like inside.

For a quick second, I thought I saw Lorraine—from Sonoma valley Lorraine, inside the space.

I looked over at Nik and his eyes were wider than I’d ever seen. “Nik, was that Lorraine inside the space?” “Lorraine? From Sonoma?” he said with a childlike ‘I just ate all the cookies in the cookie jar’ look on his face. “What would she be doing in Laguna? Maybe you should go inside and see who it was.”

At this point I knew something was up. I mean why on earth would Lorraine be down in Laguna, and why on earth would she be hiding in a vacant storefront? Then I started to think wild thoughts piecing all of this together. I mean Nik knew how to pull off a surprise.

I walked into the space, headed towards the back of the store, and there to my surprise were Lorraine, her husband Rodney, and a guy in a suit that I didn’t know.

Lorraine looked at me with her arrogant yet coy look “David, I think this space would make a stunning gallery! And it's in the perfect location. It would be just the excuse I need for coming down to Laguna more often.”

“And thank you for the wonderful scallops! They are always our favorites!”

There on a highboy table off to the side, were several dishes with empty scallop shells—the exact thing we had just had at the Cliff. Along with it, several bottles of Sonoma sparkling wine, from J Winery, also a favorite of Lorraine.

I could not believe that in a very short period of time, exactly one week, Nik, Lorraine, and Rodney had made all the arrangements, and had finalized arrangements for what would become my new art gallery in Laguna. I knew when people have money, they can quickly move mountains, and I would hear all about the mountains they had moved as we popped open the sparkling wine and poured glasses for everybody.

While at the party at Lorraine's a week prior, one of her friends had mentioned there was a vacant storefront in a prime location in Laguna, that would make a wonderful gallery.

That had started the wheels turning, and Lorraine had talked to Nik after she found out how well the two of us had hit it off.

“I knew I would have a new gallery to visit in Laguna as soon as I heard you and Nik were driving down the coast together to get back to Los Angeles. And as I heard you were taking the entire week to do so, I realized we could easily pull this off.” Lorraine said, putting her hand on Nik’s shoulder.

“Lorraine texted me the first day of our trip, saying there was the perfect space for a new gallery for you, and that Rodney and her would like to do what was necessary to make it happen.” Nik laughed.

“I texted my attorney and asked if it was possible to finalize everything in a week. I ‘had a few extra bucks in my wallet,’ so I just purchased the space outright. It was easier that way.” It was apparent Nik was extremely proud of what he had done.

He continued “I let Lorraine and Rodney know everything would be complete, I’d make sure we took a few extra days to get back to LA so we could put everything in place. And here we are.”

Lorraine came over and gave me a hug, and Rodney came over to shake my hand, and also give me a giant bear hug.

I was literally speechless. I had just gotten a hug from Lorraine!

And the reality of what happened started to sink in. Wow! I had thought the very first day I met Nik that we had hit it off really well—just had no idea how well.

I had been slightly suspicious of Nik’s activity during the trip, but had simply thought he was making plans for the next stage of our journey. I was doing the same thing. Each of us were making arrangements for upcoming legs of the trip while the other was in the shower!!

I didn’t realize Nik’s arrangements were more significant.

During my week-long drive down the coast with Nik, I had learned more and more about how much wealth his family actually had, more about how much wealth Nik had, why he tended to spend his family money before his own—besides out of spite—and how much philanthropy Nik actually was involved in.

I also found out that Nik was missing one thing that he wanted more than anything else—a friend he could trust. A friend that didn’t want Nik around for his money, but for Nik himself—something he never had.

Nik had realized that is what I was to him on the first day we met. I found his wealth entertaining, but I found Nik was a wonderful, caring, awesome human being. I didn’t understand at that time why others didn’t see him that way, but I realized others saw dollar signs, while Nik saw fake attention and attraction.

Nik quickly found in me a true friend that couldn’t have cared less about his money, instead found him to be an interesting, intriguing, genuinely caring human being—who just happened to be extremely rich.

All these thoughts were spinning through my head as we all talked, and drank our sparkling wine. Lorraine and Rodney had already polished off the trays of scallops!

Then to top this off, out of the corner of my eyes, I caught sight of something that completely floored me. I looked at Lorraine, and without thinking just broke down exclaiming “Are you kidding me?”

Lorraine was actually more excited than I was, and strutted over to a beautiful, solid black marble eight ball chair, one from the set in her house. “It was traveling down from our house at the same time you were, though I don’t think it took quite as long, or had quite as exciting a journey.” Lorraine was beaming with pride.

“I think being able to tell my friends that in order to see the full set they have to come down to your beautiful gallery in Laguna is divine.” she proclaimed, still beaming from pride in her choice of gifts.

I walked over to the giant black marble eight ball, and had to feel the cool smooth marble finish. It was such a mesmerizing piece of stone furniture. I walked around to take a seat, and had to move a beautiful, perfectly wrapped box sitting on the seat of the chair.

“Open it, ‘David’” Nik said, in a moment of mocking Lorraine. Nik had never called me David—more times than not, it had become Davie. I guess that was his way of showing affection.

Thankfully Lorraine did not pick up on the naming convention snipe.

I carefully started to unwrap the beautiful wrapping, only to get scolded by Nik, “just rip the paper and open the box!”

I opened the box, folded back the gold foiled tissue paper, and in all their glory, were four pairs of Versace boxers—and they were gorgeous boxers, and unlike any that Nik had.

“You know what I had to do to find four that are not like any of mine?” Nik asked.

“Text your attorney?” It just came out of my mouth without me thinking about it.

“Well yeah, moving on from that. You know what he had to do?” Nik said, showing a slight bit of frustration, which quickly turned to the same show of pride that Lorraine had shown over the black marble chair.

Then I looked up, and was again stunned by what I saw—a sculpture by the esteemed artist Stewart Caldero. Though I was never a fan of his art, Nik was, and had made arrangements for the purchase and installation of one of his pieces in my new gallery.

Consisting of a beautiful base of black marble, that coincidently matched the marble chair, punctuated with 5 gleaming, polished copper poles, on top of which sat 5 bleached human skulls. At different levels on the copper poles were precious metal rings of gold, silver, platinum, and bronze at varying heights and levels.

Caldero's sculptures always consisted of the exact same materials, just the height of the skulls on their poles and the number of poles and combination of metal rings would differ. His pieces ranged from a minimum of 3 poles to one that was rumored to be 100 poles long.

No single piece of his sculpture was identical.

And each sculpture was said to tell a story, depending on which direction the skulls were facing, and the number and order of the metal rings on the copper poles.

Though nobody, other than Caldero, knew what the story was, he had become a massively popular and collectible artist, though was ultra elusive with a home and studio on the hills of Laguna. He was rarely even seen, not even a photo of him available, and rarely made an appearance at his own gallery.

Yet his works sold for many thousands—the one now in my new gallery had to be well over $25,000.

I looked at Nik shaking my head. He was beaming, "beautiful piece isn't it?" "Do you know the story behind this one Nik?" I asked. "No, that is the allure of Caldero's work." Nik replied. "And yes, we have the 5 bottles of exclusive Caldero Cabernet that came with the sculpture."

That was another feature of a Caldero sculpture—a bottle of Cabernet from his select vineyards and winery for every skull on the sculpture. Nobody knew the story behind that aspect either, but everybody agreed the Cabernet was some of the best in the world.

Looking at both Lorraine and Nik, it was like the purchase of the gallery space was secondary to what they had selected for their gifts! I was beyond words for quite some time.

I gave Lorraine another hug—she really was human. I gave Rodney a big hug, and whispered in his ear an apology for not having any beer available. He started laughing from deep down inside, and then sort of auto-corrected before Lorraine asked what he was laughing about.

I looked at Nik, not sure how to thank him. “I don’t get a hug?” he asked.

I walked over to him, and hugged him tighter than I’d ever hugged anybody else before, as the tears streamed down my face.

“Nik, I don’t know what to say other than ‘thank you!’ The boxers are beautiful!”

Nik pulled back a bit, tussled my hair like he had done on the first day we met.

“Dave, what you have given to me over the last week is worth more than any monetary thing I could ever do for you. I have something I have never had before—a true friend. There is no dollar amount that can be placed on that.”

I hugged Nik again, not wanting to let go. Looking over his shoulder I saw Lorraine was wiping away a few tears. I whispered to Nik that Lorraine was crying. We both quickly turned and looked at her in complete surprise.

Putting her handkerchief quickly in her satchel, “You say anything to anybody and I’ll take my chair back.” There was the Lorraine we all knew. But we could see the slight smile cracking on her face.

I looked at everybody and before I could stop myself I just spit out “M&M!” Only a few of the group got the reference, and grinned to themselves.

Though there was paperwork to sign, many details to finalize, and quite a bit of work in the coming weeks to get the space ready, I now had a gallery space on a busy tourist thoroughfare in the middle of Laguna, and was giddy with excitement.

As the day came to a close, we walked out of the space, I was handed the keys by the attorney that had been there the entire time, I locked the doors, and could only imagine where I would begin on this new adventure.

As Lorraine was leaving, I got another hug. “I do love M&Ms,” she whispered, “but don’t tell anybody that either!” This time, her smile was from ear to ear. It was the first smile I had ever seen on Lorraine. I would see many more in the years to come, and would have many more incredible adventures with my new friend Nik.


 

#Napa #Sonoma #Nikolas #Rodney #Lorraine #coast #Hearst #Caldero