Sunday, April 22, 2018

50 for 50: 34 - Jump Off the Stratosphere with Heatherlynn

As I've gone along with the "50 for 50" project, I've made some modifications to the list on the fly.  I've eliminated some things that have been really problematic to book (I'm looking at you, Pan Am Experience) and added some things which I hadn't previously included because I'd figured there was lack of interest.  Which brings me around to Jumping Off the Stratosphere with Heatherlynn.  I was super excited to add this one to the list, both because of Jumping Off the Stratosphere and because of Heatherlynn.

It's hard to make friends as a grown-up.  I mean, it's easy when they're work colleagues, but it's kind of challenging when you just run across someone and think, "You're cool; I'd like to hang out with you."

I first met Heatherlynn when I was (co-)producing the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards Show one year.  We were having trouble finding someone to join our All Volunteer Crew as a stage manager (can't imagine why), and someone suggested we contact Heatherlynn.  Heatherlynn was a godsend (or a goddess-send).  I mean, just envision us desperate for someone to stage manage this show for free, and to contact Heatherlynn and have her not ONLY agree, but ask if we need an ASM, too.  She also had a spot operator.  And knew a bartender.  We felt like we hit the bloody jackpot.

But this was nothing compared to what happened day of show when shit went wrong.  (Because it's a show.  Shit goes wrong.)  As per usual, I'd planned a schedule of everything I had to do, and I was running behind schedule and people weren't doing what they needed to do to help and I was kind of overwhelmed by the sheer size of everything that wasn't getting done and very close to being paralyzed by not knowing what damn thing to do first and Heatherlynn -- whom I must have known in person for all of ten minutes -- just took control and said we're going to set up THESE TABLES over HERE and then we're going to unpack THOSE BAGS and THESE PEOPLE are going to PUT THE AUCTION on the tables and then YOU AND I are going to go over HERE and do this OTHER THING.  And I felt myself being managed and I felt myself LET THIS PERSON MANAGE ME.  And around this time she mentioned that she's also a court reporter and I took comfort in the fact that she knows lawyers and knows theatre and is intentionally oozing COMPETENCE because that is the one fucking thing that I will respond to.

Heatherlynn pretty much had my number within the first ten minutes of meeting me; and I like to think I'm pretty complicated and that this particular act of understanding is pretty  extraordinary.

And over the years since then, I've worked with her on a few more Awards shows, and seen her at others, and run into her at a social event, and every time it seems we've had more common interests and similar war stories; and she and her wife came to my Girly Holiday Tea, but it's still not like we grab dinner or actually Do Shit Together because, really, when you're of an age that you can't just ask if Heatherlynn can come out and play, starting friendship is hard.

And around this time, I'm commenting that, as much as I'd LIKE to jump of the Stratosphere, none of my friends or family want to jump off the Stratosphere with me.  And Heatherlynn comments that she's done it THREE DAMN TIMES already, and is willing to do a fourth, and I say that we should totally do that together, and she says yeah, and I'm thinking this is probably one of those things you just say but don't really do; but I'm all "fuck it, I really want to do this," so we start throwing around dates and pricing flights and next thing you know Heatherlynn and I are flying to Vegas for a quick weekend just to jump off the Stratosphere.  I'm kind of bouncy about the whole thing.

We meet at the airport after work on Friday and this is extremely easy because we somehow independently make it through security simultaneously, so she's standing on the escalator right in front of me on the way to the gates.  We got in to Vegas pretty late, checked in our hotel, and grabbed a late dinner.  It's all about Saturday.

Saturday morning, we grab a quick breakfast and head out to the Stratosphere for jumping off purposes.  Here's a picture of me, with the nice Jump Assisty Person, standing on the Jump Platform.

Now, Heatherlynn had done this plenty of times before, so she went first.  There's no picture of us together on the Jump Platform because they're VERY PARTICULAR about one customer at a time.  (And they're SUPER PARTICULAR about safety.  And if there's anything they're more particular about than your safety, it's that you have nothing loose on you which might -- unintentionally or otherwise -- separate from your person and ride gravity all the way down.  So it's one at a time out there and your cell phone is back in the locker and we need to check your shoeloaces again.)  So I'm outside the glass-walled booth and I watch Heatherlynn do the security checks and I throw her a thumbs-up and she's flying off the building, and I know she's landed because I see the cable slow and none of the Jump Assisty People are freaking out or calling 911 or saying, "clean-up on the bullseye" or anything, so I'm pretty sure it's all good.

And then it's my turn and I jump off the Stratosphere.

And they gave me a certificate to prove it, but I left it at lunch so you'll just have to believe me.

Ha ha, kidding.  Heatherlynn made me buy the video.

And THEN we visited a friend of hers who has a theatre out there.  And THEN we went to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival (because it's FUN) and went in the vendor room and I tried on a bunch of cute clothes and ended up buying a skirt from the bargain bin and some super cute shoes from the Not At All A Bargain bin.  And Heatherlynn bought a cute outfit and a really sweet purse.  So, the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Festival did pretty good by us.

And then we went back to the hotel and changed for dinner, which was at a REALLY nice steakhouse in the Hard Rock.  So after jumping off a building like we were 12, we then sat down to a lovely dinner like we're grown-ups or something, and had spectacularly tasty steaks, with creamy mushroom grits, and good drinks, and TWO desserts (because we wanted the creme brulee, but the manager talked us into ordering the chocolate cake, so we ordered the chocolate cake, and he brought us the creme brulee, too, gratis -- and he was right, because the creme brulee was tasty, but OMG, THE CHOCOLATE CAKE WAS TOUCHED BY HEAVEN).  Seriously, man, Heatherlynn said she could envision herself driving out to Vegas some day JUST for the chocolate cake, and I couldn't entirely disagree.  Was pretty glad I wore the larger of my two dresses, because Holy Fuck, That Cake.

And we must have sat there for two hours just enjoying the eats and the conversation and really getting to know each other.  And I felt all validated that my suspicions that Heatherlynn is a genuinely cool individual were confirmed.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

50 for 50: 33 - Scavenger Hunt with Richard and Sarah

Two months?  Really?  It's been two months since my last 50 for 50?  DAMN.  I better get on this.

I put "City Scavenger Hunt" on the list, because this was something I've been wanting to do for months, if not years.  I keep seeing them on Groupon -- or, when I'm in a new city, TripAdvisor -- and they seem like a fun way to learn about someplace new.  Or to just solve fun clues and be competitive.  I'm flexible on that.

Sarah and Richard signed up to do this one together -- which was a great idea, because a team of three is way better than a team of two for one of these things.  Sarah and Richard are friends of mine from work.  Richard is retired now (lucky) but we still keep in touch -- usually giving each other theatre advice for upcoming Broadway trips.  Sarah is still at the office with me.  (We were comparing notes, and I've been there something like six months longer than she has.  We're still hoping we'll get parking in the building before it's time to retire.)  We used to work in the same Division, but I switched a few years ago after my boss died, so don't see her as often as I used to. 

(We ... we have a tradition, Sarah and I.  When one of us is having a SPECTACULARLY shitty day -- like, say, when my boss passed away -- we go out for lunch.  But not just any lunch.  We go to Big Man Bakes, order a dozen mini-cupcakes, and drown our sorrows in carbs and frosting.  And while I really, truly would be super happy if we never had to do THAT again, I know that if I ever drop her an "I need a cupcake lunch" e-mail, she'll be right there with me at Big Man Bakes, and I'd do the same for her, no questions asked.)

Where was I?  Oh, right, Scavenger Hunt.  We selected this weekend MONTHS ago, and Sarah booked us for a hunt, and we hadn't quite put together that this would be the March for Our Lives day.  So we sent our love and support to the marchers, and found ourselves on a scavenger hunt at the L.A. County Museum of Art (LACMA, to its friends).

We weren't entirely certain if we would be, like, the only people there that day -- or if there'd be, like, 100 people there.  Turns out there were about 5 teams, which seemed a pretty good number.  Particularly since they staggered us through the clue list.  (We started with Clue 1, another group started with Clue 6, and so forth.)  This meant that we shouldn't run into other groups in the museum, which would enable us to just talk out loud amongst our trio, and save us all of those Mind Games you play when you want to mislead another group that happens to be in the same gallery as you are.

At least, that's how it was SUPPOSED to go.  By the time we were on Clue 5, another team caught up with us.  (I think they had started at 21.  There were 22 clues.  So, I mean, they didn't have TOO many to make up to catch up to us.  But still.)  Clue 5 was a fucking BEAR.  (Not an actual fucking bear.  It wasn't that kind of museum.)  But, basically, each clue would give you an actual gallery number, and once you were in the gallery, the clue would describe one of the works of art (in a humorous, arch way which would not enable you to Google it), and once you figured out the art in question, you'd then have to answer a question about it.  (And once you got THAT answer, there would be two letters in it highlighted, and those two letters would be turned into a word, which was part of the "secret message," and once you figured out the secret message, you'd get another secret message, and ... whatever, just find the damn cocoa cups, OK?)  So, here was are, working Clue 5.  We'd gotten 1-4 and we knew they were correct, and we were getting nowhere on Clue 5.  We looked at every damn piece of art in the room and none of them were matching the description -- and, NOW, the other team caught up with us.  Shit, shit, shit.

To be fair, I probably would not have given up if the other team wasn't there.  But the other team WAS there, and we wanted to keep ahead, and we also wanted them to think we'd gotten it (even though we hadn't), so, hell, Mind Games on!  Let's pretend we got it and move on.

We moved on.  Somewhere around Clue 8, they caught up with us again.  Clue 8 was hard, and we hadn't solved it by the time they got there.  We had been pretty sure we knew what painting it was referring to, but we couldn't make any of the answers fit (they didn't correspond to words that made sense in the secret message), so we were just coming around to the idea that maybe we were looking at the wrong painting.  I decided to take a quick spin around the room and thought I saw a Second Candidate for the right painting, but it would require a lot of really obvious staring for me to figure out the answer to the question.  And there was Other Team, just entering the room, and I'll be damned if they're going to ride off my hard work on this one and see me staring at Second Candidate and get the answer right after I walked away.  So I go stand over by a THIRD painting, call Sarah and Richard over, and tell them to take a brief stroll around the room, including what I think they should look at on Second Painting, while I go back and stare and First (Wrong) Painting and pretend to have an epiphany.

This works!  They casually look at Second Painting, come back to me over by First Painting (where, I realize, I am standing oh-so-casually with my finger on my chin to simulate deep thought, and I wonder if I am actually fooling anyone with this), and they have the actual right answer from Second Painting, and we move on -- hopefully, leaving the other team none the wiser.

Sarah, Richard and I are a good team.  Sarah has a good eye and spots a lot of details I miss.  Richard, too, spots some things super-quickly -- once or twice making a beeline for the right work of art while I'm standing there in the middle of the room wondering where to begin.  (He also spots a HUGE error I made, in reading a clue too quickly.)  My contribution appears to be largely in solving pop culture references in the clues.  We run pretty well through the rest of the clues until 16.

Fuck Clue 16.  Honestly.  We are very nearly out of time, and we can't solve this.  We might have been idiots on Clue 5, but we're pretty sure Clue 16 is just wrong.  There are four possible candidates in the room which can be the painting they mean, and it is very clearly none of them.  And I mean, even though we can tell from the description that it's none of them, we try all the answers anyway, and none of them work.  Clue 16 is just wrong.  We're ticked that we can't solve it.  We are ESPECIALLY ticked that we can't solve it, because you know that second secret message which you need to solve the whole thing?  THAT is dependent on six of the clues, and 16 is the last of them.  We might be able to fake our way around 5, but not solving 16 means we lose.  We know this.  After we've gotten as far Clue 20, we have ten minutes left and two choices:  we can go to another building in the museum to solve 21 and 22, or go back and try for 16 again.  We go back and try for 16 again, because it is critically important.  We still can't solve it.

We go back to turn in our answer sheet, defeated.  On the way, I realize that we can solve 22 without looking at the painting at all -- THAT one can be reverse-engineered.  OK, we're missing 5, 16, and 21 -- that's three out of 22.  But if we had 16, we could solve the second message and get, like, 8 more points.  Did I say "Fuck 16" yet?  Fuck 16, man.

We get to the turn-in point and have five minutes left.  Clue 16 is supposed to give us the 6th character in a password we have to use on the internet.  Well, fuck it.  We've got four minutes (now), I whip out my phone and try to brute force it.  I try about half the alphabet before time runs out.  I do not get it.  (There are two reasons for this:  (1)  I didn't get to the right letter; (2)  in my rush, I had copied another letter wrong.  The amount I contributed to this team outweighed the amount of mistakes I made, but I was starting to feel like it was a close call.)

There was a free extra point for the best team name.  I thought we had a shot -- we went with "LACMAma, Can You Hear Me?" -- but the quizmaster gave the point to the team that came in last anyway.  Fair enough.  THEN the quizmaster told us that NOBODY solved it, so I started feeling a little better about our chances.  I mean, if nobody got any of those extra solving-it points, it really came down to how many of those 22 clues everyone got. 

Quizmaster runs through the scores from bottom to top, and eventually says that two teams got 18 and one team got 19, at which point I'm thinking, "well, we ANSWERED 19 -- did we actually get them right and win this fucking thing?" 

Why yes, yes we did.

Cheesy medals and everything.

We're psyched.

We're also still ticked about 5 and 16.  Quizmaster has given us an answer sheet (including the names of the paintings in question) and we're pretty sure those paintings weren't on the walls -- at least, not in the rooms they were supposed to be in.  We take the answers and go back into the museum to confirm this.

That's right.  We already WON, but we will still not be satisfied until we've either figured out where we went wrong or proven that the museum rotated the art out.  I point this out to Sarah and Richard.  They respond that it is precisely this quality which is why we all went to Law School.  (I also noted that the only thing that kept us from a three-way tie was that I'd reverse-engineered that last answer.  Which makes me feel better about the two things I'd really screwed up.)

Long story slightly less long:  Those paintings were not there.  I mean, now that we had the titles of the paintings, we could Google them, look at the pictures, and stand in the relevant galleries and go, "Nope.  That is not on these walls."  We text this fun fact to the quizmaster, who cheerfully responds that he knows the paintings were there because other teams got those answers right.  I roll my eyes and think, "Yeah, well, I figured out 22 without even walking into that BUILDING.  Doesn't prove the damn art is there."  We decide to just enjoy our medals and let it go.  Because we're gracious winners and all that.

Sarah and Richard took me out for Birthday Dinner afterward, which was really cool because we'd had a good time in the Scavenger Hunt, but we were so busy solving clues (and getting pissed off at 16), we didn't have time to chat much.  So we sat in a lovely restaurant attached to the museum, ate tasty food, gossiped a bit, and got caught up on each other's lives.

It was definitely a grown-up dinner (the menu had lots of words I didn't understand, and wine was involved); but I think what was the most fun about it was that we were proudly wearing our Scavenger Hunt medals while we ate.  I mean, we went right from doing the playful game into the adult dinner, and I love both things.  And I love that Sarah and Richard both enjoyed doing both things just as much.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

50 for 50: 32 - Learn Something with Merete

Yeah, this was one of those open to interpretation.  It was actually, "Teach me something or learn something with me."  I don't know what I was expecting.  Maybe we'd take a tap class with Janet Miller or something.

Merete suggested we either learn Reiki or go to a lecture at JPL.  We looked into Reiki (it seemed more outside my wheelhouse, so I was curious about experiencing something different) but it wasn't really something we could do together.  Which led us right back to the sciencey thing.

The lecture was at JPL at 7:00.  Now, Merete's husband wouldn't be able to watch her kids until 6:00, so that would give her an hour to drive to Pasadena, find parking, meet me, grab some dinner, and make our way to the auditorium.  Also, there were no assigned seats (or even reservations) so we'd probably want to get there earlyish.  Logistics were presenting a problem until Merete pointed out that they also live-stream these things on the internet.

This sounded a LOT better -- we could watch from my living room, while enjoying some carry out.  I signed up for this plan immediately.

(And then had to make all sort of disclaimers and apologies, because, OMG, the house hasn't been cleaned in two weeks, and is COVERED with cat fur.)

Merete (who has two small children, so probably does not live in the world's most pristine environment) insisted that she was down with that.

So, that's what happened.  On the way home, I picked up some eats at the kebab place, then took an objective look at the living room and figured that I should defur at least half of the sofa.  And, yes, dust those paw-prints off the coffee table.  I cranked up YouTube on the TV and got the NASA-JPL streaming channel all hooked up and was just about ready for Merete when I heard the dulcet tones of my cat barfing up her dinner.

Seriously?  I'm trying to get the worst of the fur cleaned up and now there's about a 50/50 chance that my guest will ring my doorbell when I'm holding a bag of fresh cat puke?  I quickly dispose of the evidence before Merete pulls up, which itself occurs about a minute before the livestream starts.  We have just enough time to open a couple bottles of cider and plop down in front of the TV with our food.

The presentation was "Explorer 1 and Sixty Years of Space Science."  It was basically a two-parter.  The Explorer 1 bit was a quick intro to how the US got its very firstest satellite in the sky (from a team I politely referred to as "Nazis and Nerds"), and what that satellite discovered ("Hey, that nerd is named Van Allen.  Wonder if that's who the Van Allen Belts are named-- Ohhhh").  It was also nifty to learn that satellites were originally contemplated as simply a military tool, and how the purpose of gathering scientific information came to be a goal.

The second presentation was about what currently orbiting satellites are telling us now about how the planet is doing.  (Hint:  words like "climate change" and "unprecedented" featured prominently.  Words like "Holy crap!" followed from my sofa.)

The presenter for the historical bit was a man; the presenters for the current data bit were women.  It was fun watching smart female scientists discuss their data-gathering and what it tells us about the planet's future.  But we also couldn't help but notice that the first part was about a lot of white men launching their phallic symbol into the sky to conquer the heavens and put them Russkies in their place, while the second part was the nice ladies talking about protecting Mother Earth.

At the end of the presentation, they took questions from the audience.  And a lot of people left before the questions.  A LOT.  We didn't know why everyone was leaving until the questions started.  The first "question" was really some guy telling us his life story.  The presenters kind of thanked him and applauded him and HE STILL KEPT TALKING.  At around this point, I started watching a woman who was on camera slightly to the side of the mic where the questioners stood.  She was trying not to laugh, and failing miserably.  The next questioner got up there and started off dangerously close to mansplaining climate change to the two climate change scientist ladies ("I hear people talk about climate change a lot, but the one piece of data nobody every talks about is...") but then it just veered off into him wanting to confirm everything they were saying by pointing to his own personal favorite data point.  By now, Merete and I were wondering if anyone would ask an actual question.  (One of the scientists sounded Russian, but she mentioned that she grew up in Panama.  I still thought she sounded Russian, though.  Whenever someone would come to the mic with a non-question question, Merete and I yelled for them to "ask where her parents are from!")  Partway through Frustrating Non-Question Time, I see that Laughing Woman in the audience say something to her companion, and you can very clearly read her lips saying, "Let's go."  The camera cuts to the panel, and when it goes back to the questioners, there is now an empty seat where she used to be.  Merete and I pretty much lose it at this point.  (And then, the one time someone in line asks an ACTUAL QUESTION, the panel gives a non-answer answer.)


Also, Merete did not believe my house had been as messy as I'd represented.  To prove I was not exaggerating, I left one couch cushion untouched.  Here ya go.

One of the scientists had majored in Theoretical Math and then went into Physics when she'd figured out the applications of Theoretical Math are ... minimal.  I'd taken the Law path at a similar point, and the whole thing got Merete and I talking about college and learning and transferring skills from one topic to another.  I mentioned I was annoyed by how many people think learning even basic Algebra is a waste, because they don't use it.  (I figure that if more people knew how to compound interest, they wouldn't be suckered into getting mortgages they can't afford.)  But, I mean, even if you don't use Algebra, you were learning how to learn.  Merete thinks you were learning how to think objectively, and analyze data in an unbiased manner.  I think that sounds better.

The lecture very briefly touched on the National Defense Education Act -- where, following the launch of Sputnik and Explorer 1, the U.S. poured money into math and science education so that we'd be competitive with the Russians.  And I got a little depressed when I think of those in politics who would never do such a thing, because they think science is the enemy of religion, or their economic agenda.  The idea that 60 years ago, increasing math and science education was considered a matter of national defense-- just DAMN.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

50 for 50: 31 -- Surprise Me, with Dinh

Yeah.  I put a "Dealer's Choice" option on my 50 for 50 list.  Dinh picked it.  After we had a couple of false starts with scheduling, we ended up going to the Downtown L.A. Art Walk.

This was actually pretty cool as Art Walk has been happening regularly for something like 13 years, and neither one of us has ever gone.  Even though it goes down pretty near our office.  (More on this later.)

Dinh is one of those friends whom I can't entirely remember how we met.  (I mean, at work, obviously.  But I don't recall being introduced, or going through the usual sets of questions you cover when you're first meeting someone.  We'd just kind of been in the same circle, and somehow I ended up at a Clinton Fundraiser/Debate Watching Party at her house.  And whenever we talk, we discover we have even more things in common.  I've had a few friendships like this -- where you pretty much start out in the middle of the friendship -- they're very convenient.)

We decided to start with a little pre-Art Walk Happy Hour at a bottle shop/bar down the street.  We had selected this one because they had hard cider -- although I actually couldn't pass up the hard grape soda.  Tasty.  And the first of several Bad Food Choices I'd make all night.  Here's the pre-walk selfie!

Suitably lubricated, we headed out to properly walk amongst the art. 

We knew there were lots of galleries and stuff, but we hadn't anticipated all the little craft tables lining the streets.  It was the sort of thing you get every day in Times Square -- but, apparently, only once a month in downtown L.A.

Art Walk has an information space set up in The Last Bookstore, which seemed a good place for us to start.  Dinh was surprised I'd never been there.  It's a pretty nifty space.  The bookstore part has actual photo ops in it.  Here's one.

The Last Bookstore also has some art space in it -- a few shops/gallery spaces, ending with a particularly wacky one which was steampunk surrealism.  Along the way, Dinh and I were both taken with a series of paintings which were beautiful at first glace, but disturbing at second.

We picked up our Art Walk maps.  We had looked at the Art Walk website which told us the Food Trucks were two blocks further down the street, and the maps didn't tell us anything different, so we figured we'd head down to the food trucks and stop at some galleries on the way.

The food trucks weren't there.  I know what food trucks look like, and they were clearly not there.  (Well, one lone taco truck.  But we'd been promised trucks.  Plural.)

On the other hand, we DID see a restaurant serving all kinds of french fries, so decided that this would be a fine Bad Food Choice for the day.  We split some gyro fries (tasty, but a little spicy).  Actually, the place was more memorable for the restroom.  To your left, a sink.  To your right, a urinal.  In front of you, a toilet.  When you then stand in front of the sink to wash your hands, you notice two things:  (1)  the world's tiniest mirror over the sink (seriously, it's like someone took the mirror off a make-up compact and mounted it over the sink); and (2)  the urinal has a sensor which is activated by your presence, and it flushes behind you.  Somehow, this seemed the total right bathroom to experience as part of Art Walk.

We went another block and checked out three galleries of very different quality.  The one in the middle had some really nifty stuff in it, which we appreciated in the "this is really cool art" way, and not the "yeah, let me get out my checkbook" way.  There was one room of sculptures an artist did, sort of mixed media stuff that was part tribal and part modern and just really feminine and powerful -- and then she also had gorgeous pictures of people wearing the very same wearable sculptures.  And I had this (very unusual, for me) moment where I was digging the fact that I was seeing and appreciating this with another woman.  I usually don't pay much ... any ... attention to who I'm with when I'm seeing art or enjoying theatre or what have you.  But this art was particularly female, and when Dinh and I made appreciative noises over it, it felt like we were "ooooh"ing over the same qualities in the imagery, without having to say anything, because we were coming at it from the same place.

And then we went for dessert.  (Bad Food Choice The Third.)  A waffle joint -- Dinh had fruit and whipped cream on hers; I had fruit and ice cream on mine.  Red velvet ice cream.  Onna waffle.  That, my friends, is art.

As we walked back toward the office, pushing past crowds looking at the craft tables, past the guys offering free hugs, past more dessert places and coffee places and restaurants I didn't know were there-- through all of that, I was just marvelling at how this existed.  Most nights, the neighborhood is a little creepy and deserted after work, but somehow, once a month, there's all this life out here.  This is what OTHER major cities have at night, but Los Angeles hadn't really managed.  On our doorstep.

Oh, sonofabitch, on our ACTUAL doorstep.  Right there -- right across the street from the office -- a corner parking lot full of food trucks.  Big ass trucks.  High class stuff -- many with flat-screen monitors advertising their treats.  And live music.  And more craft tables.  Forget the art, they got the Lobster Roll truck!  And the Grilled Cheese truck!  It's a freakin' street party, on a Thursday in January, a half-block from where we park.

Dinh and I aren't sure if we'll ever do Art Walk again, but we are totally in for the Food Truck fest next month.

Friday, December 15, 2017

50 for 50: 29 (part two) -- See a Star Wars Movie on Opening Day with Ric and Lisa

After my visit to the Star Wars line on Saturday, I came back for the main event tonight -- the (what the hell was it called?) Opening Night Fan Event at the Chinese.  Here, I have a pass on a lanyard, so you know it's legit.

I left work early, because Doors Open at 4:00.  I left at 3:00 (because Driving To Hollywood).  Partway there, Google Maps told me there was a road closure ahead and kept trying to reroute me.  But I really couldn't see what road was actually closed.  I kept flicking the screen -- everything between me and Hollywood & Highland looked clear.  Although ... wait ... it looked like the block in front of the theater itself was closed, at least in one direction.  OK, fine.  I took a small detour to come 'round the back into the parking, walked out to Hollywood Boulevard and... Oh.  There's an Imperial Walker in the middle of the street.  Got it.  

No time for that, though; I was trying to find Ric & Lisa in the crowd in front of the Chinese.  Right as I got there, they were sending everyone OUT of the courtyard in front of the theater, to actually line up on the sidewalk.  (Not sure why, but someone was filming the "line.")  I watch everyone pour out of the courtyard and while I don't immediately see Ric & Lisa, I do see Val, so I pretend to wait in line with Val and her guests for a bit.  We text Ric and find him in the front of the line, so I run up to be a "plus one" with my actual hosts.

Ric looks a little like George Lucas.  Of course, Lucas is 73.  And would not be waiting in line to get in to a fan screening at the Chinese.  (Also, not a regular kilt-wearer.)  None of this stops some dude from taking a selfie with Ric, thinking he's Lucas.  A bunch of us have a laugh over this, but Ric says it happens quite a bit.

We are eventually let in the theater.  (We pass through security.  Weapons not allowed.  Lightsabers ok.)

There are people from Sideshow giving away Star Wars collectibles.  It isn't going well.  They've put stickers under random seats for the winners, but nobody is in their seats.  Lots of people sitting vaguely near the marked seats are walking off with the goodies.  I think half the audience is still in the lobby, or in front of the theater, taking pictures or something.  

They miss the "special guest" giving away one of the collectibles.  Rian freakin' Johnson.  I'm pretty sure the winner of that one was happier to get the handshake and selfie with Rian Johnson than whatever thingy he happened to win.  (While Johnson is saying the standard things about how the mega-fans are the bestest audiences ever, I hear some people walk in from the lobby and say, "Is that--?  No WAY!")  

It gets closer to 6:00 and I get my (free) popcorn and settle in for the movie.  First, there is a moment of silence for Carrie Fisher.  People hold their lightsabers in the air in tribute.  It's beautiful.  It reminds of the crowds at Universal raising their wands in tribute to Alan Rickman.  (This, I guess, is what my people do.)

The curtain opens and we get the first movie preview.  And the second.  And the third.  And fourth.  I'm watching the audience more than the previews.  We've run out of patience pretty much after the second one.  There's a groan when the next, "This following preview is approved for all audiences" comes on screen (and someone yells for "Star Wars"), but the annoyance is instantly replaced by cheers when we realize the preview is for something we want to see.  Man, this crowd is amped up... and we'll turn on a dime.

We've been told Disney has a little something for us to watch pre-movie.  We don't know what it is.  It's a little featurette (I assume it will be a DVD extra someday) about John Williams scoring these things for 40 years.  It's a good choice; everybody loves John Williams, and it's fun watching the old clips next to the new ones.

And finally, the movie.  We cheer the beginning (of course) and then get down the serious business of watching.  

A few scenes in, I realize I am going back and forth between being utterly sucked into this film and observing the opening night crowd o' fans respond to it.  We laugh; we applaud; we cheer; we see shit coming the MOMENT we're supposed to see it coming and react in anticipation.  We even miss stuff we're supposed to miss, and react audibly when we catch on.  I don't know how this will play on video in your living room; I don't even know how it will play to a bored audience a couple weeks in -- but it played fantastically well to us.  If Rian Johnson stuck around, he would have been gratified to see his audience of mega-fans respond exactly as his movie wanted us to.  

In the interests of telling you how good this movie is, without anything particularly spoilery, I will say two things:  1.  There is an explanation of the Force in which the word "midichlorians" gloriously fails to appear.  2.  (And this one is intentionally vague.)  There was a lot I didn't like about "Force Awakens," and this fixed the absolute worst of them.  I'm not sure what sort of hopes I had for this movie -- but it certainly exceeded expectations in that regard.

When it was over, we took our little wristbands and headed over the Lining Up post-movie party.  (Soooo many pizzas.)  It was about 50% the Line People celebrating their Job Well Done and 50% saying goodbye until the next line.  And some dudes brought an R2-D2 and a BB-8 which they were (somewhat subtly) operating remotely.  We took a picture with the R2 and I said my own goodbyes, thinking I'd definitely sign up to be a full-fledged part of this group the next time ( permitting).

Sunday, December 10, 2017

50 for 50: 30 - Brunch with Mimi and Debbie

After I'd done a bunch of the 50 for 50 trips, I had a party where a bunch of my friends were invited to bring their calendars and sign up for the more local 50 for 50 things.  With some of the things, I had some vague guesses as to who might like them.  (For others, I had no clue at all.)  Most of the time, I was wrong anyway.

Not gonna lie, "brunch" is an easy one.  I didn't really think of anyone as NOT a brunch person, but I'd sort of expected one of my gay friends to pick this one up. 

(Thank you, internet.)

So, going against stereotype, Mimi picked this one.  (Debbie came along, too -- although, technically, her 50 for 50 was the Snooty Movie Theater.)  Yes!  Straight women can have brunch too!  Brunch equality!

Mimi's husband's friend (orientation unknown) recommended the place, which was just a couple blocks from work and I'd never heard of it.  But we were able to park at the office and just walk it.  (Even *I* thought it was within walking distance, and I have a VERY narrow definition of walking distance.)  Redbird.  It's located inside what was once a cathedral (and is now an event space), and it is really just lovely.  The building feels historic but the decor and menu feel very modern.  Menu ventured into occasional things I didn't understand, but I sure as hell understood Waffle With Creme Fraiche and Apple Compote (and the universe owed me a waffle after I was very good and took a pass on the waffle dessert after dinner last night).  Warm and carby, sweet and tart -- a good choice.

We're work friends -- although that's going to change in a number of days, as Debbie is inches from retirement.  I'm a single-digit number of years away; Mimi is far enough that she hasn't even counted.  Conversation settled on aging -- whether our parents, our bosses, or ourselves.  Getting the right care, and getting the right timing for it, are big, life-changing decisions you don't want to screw up (or see people you care about screw them up). 

'course it wasn't all Depressing Brunch Chat.  We talked about puppies and kitties and how they affect the eternal Shoes On Or Off In The House debate.  (I am a Shoes On person; my cat is a slob.  Mimi is Shoes Off, but she has nicer floors.)

I actually didn't want to leave.  The restaurant was a little oasis in the middle of downtown; and although I was with so-called "work friends," brunch had nothing to do with work.  It was like we'd taken a break from life outside the door, and I was in no hurry to go back to it.

Almost forgot to take the picture.  Debbie had to remind me, and then I thought, "But, once we take the picture, we'll have to leave."

And back to reality.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

50 for 50: 29 (part one) -- The Star Wars Line with Ric & Lisa


I was just about 9 when "Star Wars" came out.  We waited in line to see it, because that was the only way to get in.  Pre-buying tickets was unheard of.  And reserved seats?  No sir.  You're lining your ass up pretty early if you want a decent seat.

I was a kid; I went with my parents.  They liked the movie well enough, but were not overwhelmed.  "I don't get what the big deal is," my mom said, "It was just like the serials we had growing up."

Yeah, mom.  But this one was OURS.

I was prime movie-going age for the original trilogy.  By the time "Return of the Jedi" came out, I was pushing 15.  This time, I waited in line without my parents.  (But my mom will ALWAYS get points for taking me out of school for that "orthodontist appointment" and then dropping me off at the mall to meet my friend in line.)

I couldn't tell you how many times I saw those movies.  And when I wasn't watching them, my friends and I were obsessing over them.  We did a scene from "Star Wars" in Drama class.  (I made an exceptional trash compactor monster.)  I wrote an erudite paper on how "Star Wars" was really about the power of an individual to bring down a tyrannical government.  (A common theme in science fiction, to be sure, but I supported my thesis with parallel quotes from "A New Hope" and Machiavelli's "The Prince."  In retrospect, my High School Social Institutions teacher put up with a lot.)  When my friends and I passed notes in class, they were generally Star Wars quizzes where the answers would be quotes from the movies.  It was our thing.  Our shared language.  Our inside jokes.   ("I'm a sadist, not a mathematician."  Anyone?)  It was dominant in our lives.  

When the movies were re-released in 1997, I was an adult.  I waited in line.  Partly out of respect to the originals, partly out of nostalgia, and partly because, by then, I'd discovered that an opening night audience makes any movie better.  The crowd is involved -- the jokes get bigger laughs; the tense bits are ... well, it's pretty cool holding your breath with 600 other people just as caught up in the moment as you are.  (Groupthink can be a good thing.)  So, yeah, I lined up for the re-releases.

But, 20 years on, something had changed.  I wasn't the 9-year-old any more; there was a new crop of 9-year-olds.  People were bringing their kids to introduce them to OUR movies.  And we were excited to share with them.  We kept telling the kids how lucky they were to be experiencing these movies for the first time -- thinking about how cool it had been for us, but also initiating them into the club.  If pop culture is my generation's culture, taking kids to Star Wars is sitting around the campfire and telling the next generation the myths of our people.  Look, we'd had VHS for a decade by then -- and I'm sure we all had copies of the trilogy on tape -- but people felt duty-bound to bring their kids to see Star Wars in a theater as a rite of passage.  It isn't enough just to watch Star Wars on your living room TV, you have to see it with the community if you're really going to be part of our club.

Skip ahead past some years (I'm still in denial about Jar Jar Binks) and I'm invited to a Halloween party by Val, who, at this point, I barely know.  When guests ask me how I know her, I mumble something about "Internet message board" because I'm too embarrassed to actually say, "Doctor Who message board."  When I ask how they know her, most people respond, "The Line."  As if I know what that means.

I do not know what that means.

I finally ask someone what that means.

They had lined up for the Star Wars prequels.  ("Oh thank goodness," I thought happily, "they're geeks!")

Most of them are younger than I am.  The prequels were their only chance to get the lining up experience with a newly released Star Wars movie.  I get that.  (And I also feel a little bad that they didn't have better movies at the end of their wait.)  They REALLY lined up, though.  Sleeping-on-the-street lined up.  They didn't just bond over the Star Wars line experience; they survived shared adversity.  Of course they've remained friends.  I understood THAT immediately.

And then ... "The Force Awakens."  Now you don't need to line up at all.  Now you prebook your ticket on the internet and pick your seat in advance like civilized people.  (If you have any sense, you still go as close to the opening as possible, because you want to be in a crowd that lets out a huge cheer when the Lucasfilm logo comes up.  And a massive one when the main title theme starts.)  But it's not the same -- getting excited about the movie in the comfort of your living room, when you wait for the day to arrive.  

So "The Line" gang lines up anyway.  They raise money for charity.  The theater is happy they're there -- and is now supportive of the line.  (They can use the restrooms in the theater, validate their parking....)  The tickets have been prebooked for the group -- the line is now ONLY about the  EXPERIENCE -- the shared excitement about the movie, the reconnecting with friends, the passing it on to their kids. -- check it out.

I put it on my 50 for 50 list.


The takers are Ric and Lisa.  Part of the Halloween party crowd -- although I got to know them, and their then-infant daughter, when a group of us would get together to watch "Doctor Who," back when you'd have to *cough* use technology *cough* if you wanted to watch the new episodes shortly after they came out in Britain.  We'd get together at Matt & Val's every two weeks and bring food and watch the episodes and talk sci fi and-- crap, all of that was gone once BBC America got its shit together and started airing "Doctor Who" promptly on THIS side of the Atlantic and we'd all just watch it at our respective homes.  Sumbitch, it's the same damn thing.  Communal viewing as a basis of friendship -- and it utterly went away when the viewing became easier.

Kept up with Ric and Lisa on Facebook, though.  Nice peeps.  And I love how they're raising Eliza.  She's, like, nine now.  (The time, it flies.)  She likes hockey and dancing and STEM and Lego and BB-8 and hiking and "Mythbusters" and Girl Scouts.  She's a girl who isn't just being TOLD that girls can do anything, she's LIVING it.  She's a good kid.  I know this because she told her parents that she didn't want to miss school for the movie next week.  (Lisa said the note is going to say that she has to go to a "family event."  Which is actually, y'know, true.)

I planned to meet them at the line at around 2:00 -- but driving to Hollywood is more art than science, so we were both quite late. 

I get there maybe 2:20.  The line is in the forecourt at the Chinese theater.  That's a tourist attraction, which means that, to get there, I have to walk through some loud people carrying "Repent!" signs and being very pushy with the Jesus pamphlets.  There is also someone selling bottled water, with a recording endlessly playing a little song, the chorus of which is "Ice cold water, for just one dollar."  That may be the verse, too.  It isn't a very creative tune.  But catchy.  Wayyyy too catchy.  "Ice cold water, for just one dollar."  (My non-SoCal friends may be unaware that it was over 80 degrees today.)

I enter the forecourt -- it's where all the handprints are.  The line itself is more of a small crowd (in non-linear form) off in a corner.  There are rules about letting the tourists access the handprints -- so the line has their sleeping bags and suitcases all piled up off to the side.  It isn't a large group.  The line has a minimal time commitment (6 hours gets you the ability to buy two tickets) and you can do your hours at any time over the week of the line.  (Stay longer and you get better seats.)  It isn't really standing in a LINE and holding a place in it; it's just about BEING THERE for your hours.  So there aren't a ton of people there when I get there.

I know some of them.  There are several others I don't know.  A handful I put in the category of "don't know if I know them or not."  (Were they at Val's Halloween parties?)  It literally does not matter.  I drop Ric's name at the sign-in table and am welcomed.  I talk to strangers, knowing that we have, at least, THIS in common.  Someone gives me a chair.  We talk.  Every so often, someone starts quietly singing along to "Ice cold water, for just one dollar."  I'm not even sure they're aware of it. 

We are sitting in a tourist attraction.  The "Repent" people cross by every hour or so.  A parade of, say, 40 Santas goes by.  A drunk female Santa in a (very) mini-skirt leans down into a set of handprints and I'm pretty sure she's going to throw up on someone's signature, but she's trying to take a sexy picture.  She leans forward and gives the assembled an accidental show. 

I'm told the line is actually the first group allowed to camp in the forecourt -- they have to be packed up in the mornings, but they get to spread out and sleep on the handprints.  One woman jokes, "I woke up on a rock hard Jack Nicholson."  I concede that this is an added bonus to the whole line thing which I had not considered.  (Which is good, because "Ice cold water, for just one dollar" is definitely an unanticipated downside.)

Ric and Lisa (and Eliza, and grandma) arrive.  More sitting, more talking.  Lisa is an English teacher; she's brought papers to grade.  The whole thing is very laid back.  Someone made little headbands with Leia buns and hands them out to a bunch of the women and girls there.  Super cute.  Someone else put together giant saran wrap balls full of Star Wars trinkets and groups play the unwrap-the-saran-wrap-ball game.  (She has one for kids and one for adults.  The adults are just as happy to win little toys as the kids were.)  As it gets dark, a light saber duel breaks out.  It looks really cool in front of the lit-up theater.

The theater does a light show on its walls at night.  My first reaction is a cynical one, but I realize the people around me are all appreciating the light, the colors, the artistry.  I am reminded of the first time I enjoyed fireworks as an adult -- I'd spent so much time in grumpy teenager mode responding with an underwhelmed "Ooo.  Ahh.  Wow." that I'd actually forgotten I genuinely like fireworks.  I go with the groupthink and enjoy the light show.  "This is important," I think, "This is who the Line people really are."  Optimistic.  Unabashedly enjoying life's experiences.  Indeed, the Line is one they sought out.

I start feeling thirsty.  Perhaps there is a reason for this. 

"Ice cold water, for just one dollar."

Ric, Lisa and Eliza log out of the line and we go over to Johnny Rockets for dinner.  I realize I've sat in the line for half the time it would've taken me the earn the right to buy a pair of tickets myself.  It was easy and fun -- just hanging out on a beautiful December day with a nice bunch of people. 

We come back to the theater and they log back in.  I pick up my T-shirt (proceeds go to charity -- Starlight Children's Foundation), take advantage of the line's access to the lovely restrooms inside the theater, and head off home, leaving the campers to sleep on their movie stars.

To be continued next Thursday.