Smiling about rocks in Portland

14203305_10155274339786632_312131353204661656_nTravel is at its best when it’s serendipitous—when magical coincidences make seemingly ordinary happenings feel extraordinary.

Such was the case this weekend when I traveled to Portland with my biggest girl, L.

We were in town for a number of reasons: 1) To attend the bar mitzvah of a cousin, 2) To see one of my closest pals, 4) To report a story in Washington Park, and 4) To poke around one of the weirdest and coolest cities in the West. But the best part of our trip happened when both of us least expected it.

It was mere hours after we landed. L and I had checked into our room at the Hotel Lucia downtown and were on our way to find a place to eat lunch. L spotted some steps and sat down so I could take her picture. After the snap, she looked to her left and spotted a silver dollar-sized white rock painted with a cute design. The rest is a part of history we’ll remember forever.

There on the rock was a cartoon drawing of a kitty cat. Normally this would be just another detail. But for L, who is cat-obsessed, it was a HUGE DEAL. Immediately I started thinking of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca waxing poetic about how there were all the public steps in the city, and we had to find a cat rock on that one. Even L was skeptical at the serendipity of it all. She kept asking me if I had put the rock there. She kept wondering aloud whether “somebody” knew how much she loved cats. At one point I think she convinced herself SAR was her grandmother.

Of course the artist had no idea who’d be finding the rock after he or she put it there. We found an Instagram address on the back of the rock, and three minutes on that page made it clear that the artist—a person who goes by the name Smiling About Rocks, or SAR—painted dozens of these rocks and placed them all over the city. (FWIW, our rock had the number 221 on it, which probably meant the artist has made at least 221 of these things.)

Instructions on the Instagram page were simple: “If you found a rock, take a picture of it and send it direct to me. I will post it on my feed.”

So we did. I had L pose holding the rock and snapped the shot you see atop this page. We sent it to SAR. SAR reposted our image the following day with full caption (and note that spoke directly to my kid). For my daughter, this only made the experience seem more serendipitous. Upon seeing the repost she exclaimed: “It’s like a fairy tale!”

Would we have had fun in Portland without our run-in with SAR? Of course. But this run-in made the trip even richer, and provided us with an instant memory I’m sure we both will have for many years to come.

The experience also served as an inspiration. When we got back to our hometown L reached out to a friend about doing a similar project here. The two have been talking about painting rocks all week. To be honest, I hope they follow-through. It’d be nice to pay the serendipity forward for a change.

What is the most serendipitous experience you’ve had on the road?

Dividing and conquering a San Francisco staycation

Our suite (but not us)

Our suite (but not us)

Most of the time, we Villanos prefer to travel as a complete pod—all for one and one for all, wherever our wanderlust (or my assignment) takes us.

Sometimes, however, we also like to try out different permutations of our family for particular trips.

I did this earlier this month (click here and here) on a weekend in San Francisco with L and R. We’ll be doing it again this coming weekend—only this time L will be with her grandparents and my partners in crime will be Powerwoman, R, and Baby G.

Our plan is simple. We’ll crash at the fabulous Napoleon Suite at the Fairmont San Francisco, one of my favorite family-friendly hotels in town. We’ll ride the cable cars to Fisherman’s Wharf, where I have to report a story. We’ll meet up with my sister- and brother-in-law for dinner in North Beach. We’ll Uber over to the recently re-opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where I have to report another (and completely unrelated) story. At some point we’ll grab drinks at the Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar, the iconic hotel-pool-turned-tiki-bar (where it “rains” periodically throughout each night). For the rest of the time, we’ll just hang.

R says she’ll be happy so long as she can have a milkshake every day. G is always happy. As for my wife and me, well, we notched our 12th wedding anniversary this week, so I guarantee we’ll make some time to celebrate that.

While I’m sure we’ll miss L (she’s often the person in our family around whom the action gravitates), it will be fun to experience the dynamic of our two younger daughters on the road; since G was born in November, the two of them haven’t been away together. As always, it also will be a treat to expose our kids to different parts of their “hometown” city.

The more they get to know San Francisco, the more they love it, and the more they love urban life in general. This is just another part of their education. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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