For years, I’ve been making friends on the internet and wishing that I could meet them in real life, but if you’d told 19-year-old Mary that, in ten years, she’d be doing exactly that, I never would have believed you. Meeting your internet friends in real life is dangerous! What if they’re not who they say they are? What if you actually hate each other when you have to spend constant in-person time together? What if, what if, what if, and yet. I went to California to meet one of my internet friends.
Lolllllllll, that makes it sound like I didn’t know Sara was 100% real beforehand, but hey, clickbait, and it is still true. Back in 2020, when it was very obvious that the pandemic was going nowhere, my best friend’s fiance asked if I wanted to be part of a virtual writing group with a few of his friends from school, whether that was primary or secondary, and I jumped on the chance. It sounded like a blast. I hadn’t been part of a writing group since I was in university, and only one person was currently reading my books, so I was very eager to get other eyes on them. Thus, the group was arranged, and the exchanging began.
I was a lot hesitant at first. This is going to sound very highbrow, but most of the other people in the group had never written a whole lot before, and it was kind of feeling like a waste of time. Whether they’d only ever written short stories before, or they were just trying out their first novel, the other people in the group were not at the same level of writing that I am. And I know how that sounds, I do, but when you’ve written and rewritten upwards of 15 novels, that’s a lot of practice, and the place you’re in, creatively, is much different than someone who is just writing the first draft of their first novel ever.
I won’t lie, I almost bowed out. After the first session, the person that we were working on just up and disappeared. I stuck it out for the next two, but one said that they planned on not doing anything with one of the pieces, and the other was just okay. It didn’t really seem like it was worth it for me to continue with people who weren’t working on novels and weren’t pursuing publication. My friend convinced me to stay on another week, and, after much huffing and puffing, I did, and my goodness, I’m so glad that I did. Later, I found out that that fateful fourth week, when we read the first 50 pages of Sara’s novel, was also Sara’s possible last week. She also wasn’t feeling the group and was ready to move on, but thought she’d give it one more shot, and that, right there, is the universe at work.
I can’t wait until all of you someday get to read Sara’s novel. That first page–oh man, I’ll never forget it. Even just the first paragraph. I knew right away. This was going to not only be a five star read, but something that I was going to need to continue reading no matter what. I sped through those first fifty pages like nobody’s business, and I know I was definitely obnoxious in our next group meeting, but I couldn’t get over how good it was. When I sent Sara my notes in a follow-up email, I also sent a list of book recommendations and asked her if she wanted to keep exchanging our work outside of the group. I admitted that I wasn’t really feeling the group and was likely going to step away from it, and she admitted to the same. But there was something there between our writing, and so, when the group inevitably dissolved a few weeks later, we parted ways with the others, but not with each other.
And the rest, as they say, is history. What began as talking occasionally about what we were working on in our books became, very quickly, good morning texts, lots of gifs of hugs, and exchanging Christmas and birthday presents. We started talking every day all day, and though we still talked about our writing a lot, it was far from the only thing we talked about. Just like that, I’d found a new best friend, and as the year went by, I started thinking about flying out to visit her.
I was already starting to think about when I could squeeze in a quick trip to California when everything fell wonderfully into place. Sara was planning a baby shower for October, and though it sounded wild to anyone I told why I was going to California, it was the perfect opportunity. Not only would I get to visit my friend, I’d also get to celebrate my favorite new baby boy.
Though Sara lives out in the desert, I ended up flying into John Wayne because it just made more sense for everyone involved, and I got to California around 4PM on Thursday. I texted Sara what I was wearing in case she caught sight of me first, and she did the same. We’d video chatted plenty, but this was the first time we were meeting each other in-person, and I’ll never forget coming around the corner to arrivals and seeing her there waiting. I started running toward her, and we crashed into a hug, shouting and laughing. We were almost in disbelief. We kept babbling, “You’re really real! You’re a real person!” It took us a while to get out of the airport because we were so amazed at the fact that this was really happening, that we were finally actually hugging each other in person. And even though I was exhausted from a day of travel and layovers and time zone changes, the traffic to get back to the desert flew by because there she was, and there was just so much to tell each other, even though we’d been talking every day for over a year.
We didn’t get into the desert until about 7PM, so all we did that first night was grab sushi, hang out a little, and then crash for the night. And then, it was time for the adventures to begin.
Friday was mostly about baby shower prep. We went to a French bakery for breakfast, which was divine, and then settled in for a morning of baking. I marveled at the mountains all around and kept shouting look at that! at the weird greenery–I mean, there was just succulents everywhere–which meant Sara was consistently laughing at me the entire time.
We paused for pizza for lunch, baked a bit more, and then it was off to Garden Grove, where we’d be staying at an Airbnb for the rest of my trip. We went to Sara’s parents’ house for dinner and to setup for the shower the next day, which meant that I had tamales for the first time ever. They were so good, and her mom was so excited to have me that she made sure to make a vegetarian option. We spent most of the afternoon and night at her parents’ house until we were all dragging our feet, and then it was back to the Airbnb. It was a slow, relaxing start to what was about to be a crazy busy few days, and it was so nice to just be in the same space as Sara and get to just look over and see her there at any time.
The baby shower was on Saturday, and it was so much fun! We got there early to put out all the tables and chairs, as well as finish prepping the food. Before long, people were arriving, and the shower was in full swing. It was a long day of getting to know Sara’s family and friends, of being called Massachusetts Mary in amazement every time they heard where I’d flown from, laughing with her goofy father and becoming fast friends with her husband. It was such a day of joy and love, and I’m so, so glad that I went out for it. I can’t wait to go back again to meet their little baby boy after he’s born.
I was due on a red eye back to MA Monday night, so we planned two jam-packed days of fun for Sunday & Monday. We woke up early on Sunday to head out to grab brunch in Long Beach before spending most of the day in San Marino. And the food, my goodness. I had caprese eggs benedict, and it was out of this world. I never order benedict when I’m out getting breakfast, but it was truly out of this world. And because Creme de la Crêpe was a French restaurant, they had au gratin potatoes instead of hash browns, and we ended up splitting a peach, honey, and almond crêpe that just about did us in. It was truly one of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever had, and I’m going to be thinking about it for a long time.
After that, we were off to the Huntington! This was truly one of the most majestic places I’ve ever been, and I don’t even really know how to describe it. They label it as a series of gardens, but that’s just doing it a disservice. We started on a long, paved path that was tucked between towering trees. There were little alcoves of stone benches hidden away, and when we finally came out into the gardens proper, it was back into the desert. Just miles of wacky cacti, an abundance of succulents, and the weirdest looking landscape I’ve ever seen. The desert truly looks like it belongs on another planet, and it was so interesting to see it cultivated into a garden.
Eventually, though, we came out of the gardens and into a bamboo forest, which led us to Asian-inspired gardens, and I just?? I mean, look at it!
It’s wild to me that those two could coexist next to each other. I’d never seen anything like the Asian gardens before, and Sara had never explored deep enough into the Huntington to see it, either, so it was new for both of us. There was a koi pond, we took adorable pictures framed by circular arches, and there was a plant that smelled like peaches, but we think it was a fruitless olive tree? It was amazing.
After that, it was a brief stop in a tropical rainforest before heading into Rome. The rainforest was contained within a massive greenhouse, and something truly hilarious happened inside. The desert has about 15-20% humidity at any given time, which is just bonkers to me. In New England, the lowest you’re ever going to get is about 70%. Sara & her husband, Jon, were just dying with the sudden humidity, and I’m over there like, yes, finally, I can breathe again! We didn’t stay long in there, though, both because of the high humidity and because there was so much else to do!
In the Roman gardens, there was a long, sloping grass of marble statues representing different allegories, though I did find it odd that only Poseidon, Mars, and Diana were named figures of the pantheon. I thought they’d at least have Zeus if they had Poseidon, but alas. However, the Diana statue was just marvelous to witness, and it definitely made me want to rewatch season one of A Discovery of Witches before I finally dive into season two. The Roman gardens quickly bled into the Shakespearean garden, which ya girl was very hyped about. I immediately started talking to the bust of the bard because that’s who I am, and I probably would have carried on if the sudden burst of roses hadn’t drifted across the gardens.
The real treat at the Huntington is definitely the rose garden, which has well over 100 different variations, and it’s just a wonder to behold. We spent some time wandering through the different roses, laughing over the names of the variants, and oohing at the rose-covered archways. Sara & I ended up sitting down under a tree for a bit, just looking around, before we decided it was time to head back home. We trailed back through the roses, said farewell to Will, and made our way out again. It was like magic walking through the different gardens, and it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the weekend.
What’s this, you say? An episode of Worth It suddenly in the middle of a travel post? Well, Jon quickly found out that I was a huge fan of Worth It and took us to one of the winners, Pasta Sisters. Hands down the best pasta I’ve ever had, made even better by the fact that we got four deserts to try, two of which were absolutely amazing pies (lemon & apricot). After that, it was home for a slow night where we watched King Arthur: Legend of the Sword because it’s amazing, and I needed Sara to witness it.
And then, it was time for my last day! We kicked things off with the Van Gogh Experience in LA, which I’ve been wanting to see for ages now, but couldn’t find anyone to go with. And wow. I don’t even know how to put it into words. Van Gogh is my favorite artist, and I never thought I’d experience his paintings in any way but seeing them on a screen, and I certainly never thought to experience it quite the way that this traveling show has done them. I’m just going to leave the pictures here to speak for themselves:
We ended up doing the Van Gogh experience pretty early in the day, and my flight wasn’t until 9PM, so we went to Grand Central Market for lunch, and wow. We ended up taking a lap of the entire place because there was just so much to see! There was literally something for everyone. I ended up with vegan ramen, Sara had pupusas, and Jon had a shrimp ceviche burger. There were just so many options, plus an entire wall of Jarrito’s, and donuts! We had so much fun in the Market. There were so many amazing smells, and I would have loved to just go there once a day for a week.
After that, we headed over to the Last Bookstore because it’s got some fantastic photo ops–check my new Insta default–and I, uhhhhh, may have bought a book that I already have three copies of, whoops! Look, it was Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and it had gold-edged pages, it can’t be helped. Two of the copies I have of La’commedia are pretty old, so I don’t like to take them anywhere. I can’t remember what year the individual volumes copy is from, but I have one of the whole Comedy together from 1901. And then my third copy is just the standard Penguin editions, so this fancy gold-edged one with all three volumes together and artwork was just too good to pass on.
To round out the day, we hopped back in the car and drove up to Anaheim, where we spent a couple hours walking around downtown Disney, which just made me want to go to actual Disney so much more. Someday! It was a slow, leisurely end to a wonderfully chaotic weekend, and I’m so glad that I was able to do it.
It was such a joy to be able to not only hug Sara in person, but to be able to just turn and there she was, right next to me. I’m so happy that I went out to see her, and I can’t wait to go again next year to see the baby after he’s born. I’m so blessed to have Sara in my life, and so grateful to her & Jon for hosting me this weekend. She’s been such a light this past year, and I’m so lucky that she let me come visit and love her as much as possible in five days so I can maybe survive until next time.