Old Tony's on the Redondo Beach Pier

Zip and LuLu

Darrell and Ellen

Over the past few years, my family’s annual holiday excursion to Old Tony’s on the Redondo Beach Pier has become a thing of legend. This sweetly ramshackle institution serves a dangerously tart concoction called a Fire Chief, whose power has catapulted us into laughable adventures.

(For those not in the know, a Fire Chief is a mai tai made with 151.)

The Fire Chief, a time-honored drink

Still recovering from pneumonia, I proudly made it through two rounds at Old Tony’s on Christmas Eve with enough energy to continue on to The Bull Pen, whose kitsch has assured it a permanent place in our future outings. (If nothing else, it’s a step above Pat’s II…)

As we drove home with cheer in our hearts and bellies –and souvenir 60th anniversary glasses– I felt deeply thankful for the bond that has always surrounded my aunt, uncle, cousins, and me. Despite being part of an emotionally far-flung family and becoming strangers for many years ourselves, we’ve managed to retain the depth of what we forged during my teenage years.

I realized that this is what it means to be a real family: no matter where you live, it’s the one place you can go home to. Even if crowded, and preferably so, there’s always a place to sleep. (Thanks again, Alix, for letting me crash…)

Today, while sniffling through a cold on my couch in Seattle, I smiled to see text messages from Zipper and Ellen as I struggled uncharacteristically with my New Year’s resolutions. It was then that I remembered an exchange with a janitor at SeaTac the day I flew out to Los Angeles to join them.

He wiped my table as I finished my latte, wishing me a merry Christmas. I smiled politely and wished him the same, not expecting anything more. “Are you going home to see family?” he asked.

“Yep, I am.” I smiled again and went back to reading my New Yorker.

“It’s good to have family,” he continued. “A lot of people don’t. I see a lot of sad people here, especially around Christmas. They don’t have anyone. My mom lives here, so I go to her house. I don’t have to travel.”

The pretty young woman at the next table, who was waiting for her husband to return from the bathroom, flinched at our exchange. He was mentally disabled and talked with a slight lilt to his voice. She pretended to look away, watching us out of the corner of her eye; she hoped he wouldn’t come over to clean her table.

“Do you make New Year’s resolutions?” he asked, cleaning the other side of my table.

I put down my magazine and gave him my attention. “Yeah, usually. Do you?”

“Nope, never.” He paused then told me, “I don’t make resolutions; I just have faith. People like me, we just have to have faith that we’re going to do the best that we can do. That’s what I do – not try to be as good as someone else or make up rules that I never know if I can keep.”

When he was done, he wished me a happy holiday and moved onto the next table, asking similar questions and wishing similar wishes to the man next to me.

In struggling to encapsulate my goals for 2012, I realized that simply having faith that I’m going to do the best I can do is the only resolution I need to make this year. Starting out the New Year this way means that outdated thoughts –the fear of my own failure or that of my partners– suddenly hold little weight.

With that, I’m pleased to announce my selection as one of 12 writers chosen to take part in the 2012 Jack Straw Writers Program. Over the next year, I’ll receive voice instruction and training in equipment and software to create podcasts, which will accompany a series of essays as part of my next project, Hidden City Diaries.

Many new experiences lay ahead: a website redesign, a Kickstarter campaign, public presentations, tackling audio craft — and, of course, traveling across the US in search of adventure and inspiration. The future is a minefield of opportunity and chance — one that I’m excited to traverse, even if it means a misstep or two… and perhaps because such things will be unavoidable.

With this newfound mantra in hand, I move forward armed with the faith that I will indeed strive to do my best. It’s all that any of us can do, really. Somehow, I get the feeling that it will be more than enough.