Other people take their out-of-town guests to Sea World. My wife takes ours to Kobo. The place is a shrine to California casual, the style they crave back East but haven't quite perfected in New York or Philadelphia.
Bag the Zoo. We go to El Corral Pottery. All that terra cotta and Mexican pottery, displayed neatly in front of the store and on miles of shelves inside. Find that in Providence.
You see, we're from the Northeast. We get a lot of visitors. A lot of repeat visitors, to be specific. They come in winter, when they can't stand the cold, and again in summer for a cheap vacation. And when we've done Disneyland, the Wild Animal Park and the beach, we've got to take them somewhere. Our house is too small.
So we've perfected the shopping-as-tourism routine. Near our North County home, that means the little shops of Carlsbad Village and downtown Carlsbad, where they naturally gravitate to the beach and border stuff that is hard to come by in their pinstriped environment.
There are actually three Kobos--two in Del Mar and one in Carlsbad. One Del Mar store specializes in pricey T-shirts and sweat shirts that we buy for my younger brother's birthday every year. The other is full of dressier casual chic that the Easterners are drawn to but never seem to buy. My wife and her sister spend hours there each summer trying it all on without buying anything. I know a woman who calls this "clothes bulimia."
But, when it's time to dump the kids on the husbands and flex some serious plastic, it's Kobo Carlsbad. They have the T-shirts and sweat shirts, the beachwear and that all-cotton, trendy, summer casual stuff. One visitor who wears colorless sacks from the clothing equivalent of the Whole Earth Catalog always leaves looking like Shari Belafonte.
We're lobbying the owners for a sales commission.
El Corral is our ace in the hole. About a week before the guests arrive, we wander through there and pick out a few things we like. Then we take the tourists back. They love it and, more important, they always insist on a small gift to thank us for holding our tongues when their 3-year-old spilled barbecue sauce on the new carpet. My parents have bought us most of a set of dishes this way.
We still need the gravy boat. My folks are due in April.