Saturday, September 23, 2017

50 for 50: 22 - Play Carnival Games with Peggy

Peggy delayed in picking a 50 for 50 thing -- her husband and son signed right up, but she left it for later.  I guess she was just waiting for the perfect thing to magically appear.

So, a coupla weeks ago, she suggests we go to the LA County Fair and play all the carnival games.  Great!  I'm in!

We did not play ALL the carnival games at the Fair.  They have about 40 of them and the cheapest is $3.  (Although they do their best to hide that from you.  They sell you a bunch of tickets for 50 cents each-- Actually, they do their best to hide THAT from you, too -- never actually saying the tickets are 50 cents each, just offering 40 for $20 and various other "packages" of tickets, all at the same price ratio which they never actually STATE.  And it isn't even tickets -- you just get a single ticket with a bar code on it, and every game just scans the bar code to subtract the amount of tickets you're paying to play.  And the games are all 6 or 10 tickets.  Frequently 6 tickets for one try or 10 tickets for two.  ALL OF WHICH is a fantastic way for them to avoid saying, "This game is $5.")  ANYWAY.  There's 40 games at a minimum of $3 a pop; we weren't going to play all of them.  But there were a lot of duplicates, and we did make a pretty good effort at trying one of (most) everything.

I should back up for a moment and note that GETTING TO the LA County Fair, on the last weekend, is an exercise in ... well, given how far you have to hike from the parking lot, it's just an exercise.  They charge $15 for parking or $25 for "VIP" parking; the distinction only being how freakin' far from the Fair you're actually parking.  (There was a nearby hotel offering parking for $30, which was much closer to the Fair, but not really closer to the carnival games PART of the Fair, so I'm glad I was too cheap to park there.)  I was meeting Peggy (and family) there, so we weren't even sharing parking.  I ponied up my $15 and commenced walking toward the Fair.  About, I don't know, halfway there, I saw a line for the little tram to take you to the entrance.  A guy in a bright yellow traffic-directing vest told me it was only another 1/4-mile, so I figured I'd walk it.  I looked at the crowd around me and it dawned on me that this should probably a test.  Assuming you're an otherwise non-disabled individual, if your heart isn't able to walk the quarter-mile to the Fair, you probably shouldn't get that deep-fried Oreo once you get there.

As it turns out, Peggy got there just a few minutes after me, so parked in an only slightly-worse location.  We found each other just inside the gate.  Which was conveniently right where the carnival games were.  I bought a ton of tickets.  Seeing as there were three of Peggy, Sabing, and Jacob, they bought a megaton of tickets.

We.  Played.  Everything.  We stunk at the rebound-ball-against-angled-board-and-into-laundry-basket-below.  We also failed miserably at beer-pong-hold-the-beer.  I did poorly at shoot-out-the-star-without-enough-ammo-for-a-massive-prize-nobody-ever-wins.  But there were some upsides.  Jacob won a small prize at Skeeball, and a medium (I think) at pop-the-balloon-with-a-beanbag.  Working together, the three of them got a fidget spinner at shatter-plates-with-baseballs.  Our first real breakthrough was at roll-the-ball-to-move-your-horsey-across-and-there's-a-winner-every-game.  We joined a game of that and Sabing won!  And I discovered I have a knack for shoot-the-water-gun-at-the-tiny-target-and-there's-a-winner-every-game.  I won that one -- and was pretty pleased about it, because the prize on that one was a stuffed Groot.  And then later, Peggy noticed that one of the other stands with the same game had a stuffed Deadpool as a prize, so I played that one and won me a Deadpool!  

There was also a vast amount of teamwork at one of the more "play it enough and eventually you'll win" games.  That was one where there was a big flat board covered with divots your ball could land in, and you just pitched balls onto the board.  If you landed on a blue divot, you'd win a small prize, and a purple divot gave you a large prize.  There were lots of divots that didn't win you anything, but 20 tickets bought you 15 balls, so you had a lot of chances.  Jacob picked up two small prizes and a large one.  I picked up something like 6 small ones.  It took 9 small prizes to trade up for another large one, and we were one shy, so Peggy bought another set of balls and, on her very lastest try, nailed our 9th small prize -- so we were finally able to trade up.

(At this point, Peggy and I noted that we very likely could have stolen the 9th small prize.  While, at most games, the people running them are keeping custody of the prizes and have to hand them to you, this was not the case with the crappy small prizes at, let's call it toss-the-ball-into-the-blue-divot.  The crappy small prizes were kept in a tiny bin which was just over the railing right near where I was standing.  As I was playing the game, whenever I hit a blue square, one of the game attendants just told me to reach in the bin and grab a small prize.  This repeated.  A lot.  I tried to make eye contact with them so they'd verify I'd hit the blue divot before I reached into the bin, but lots of people were playing and they were not paying super close attention.  When the whole thing was done and they added up my crappy small prizes with Jacob's crappy small prizes and realized we had only 8, it was very clear to me and Peggy that we could've easily sneaked a 9th one in there and nobody would've noticed.  But we didn't, because it would've been, y'know, wrong.)  

When all was said and done, we'd actually obtained a reasonable quantity of prizes.

We stopped for some food -- I made some bad choices, but somehow managed to leave the Fair without partaking of anything deep fried (or "onna stick!"), so I'm putting that in the "draw" column, if not an actual "win."  (We also took a brief detour into the Zoo part of the Fair, and saw an ostrich, a zebra, and a giraffe -- sharing the same enclosure, for some damn reason -- but they didn't seem real happy to be there, and the part of me that thinks zoos are probably a really bad idea took over.  Peg shared the same thought, so we departed the zoo while some keeper was getting started on a monkey show.)

We must also include this photo of Peg holding a bunch of the prizes while Jacob and I were playing Skeeball, because she made the fantastic discovery that the donuts double as fancy hats.

Carnival Games was one of those "50 for 50" choices that wasn't exactly a "bucket list" item.  I mean, I've played carnival games before -- although generally in moderation, keenly aware of the conversion rate of tickets into money, the cheapness of the prizes, and the ways in which most of the games are (if not actually FIXED) designed to be harder than they look.  This time, approaching Carnival Games as an end unto itself -- kinda like if we had gone to a casino to blow some money at the tables -- it was just a few hours of silly fun.  We got to play together and encourage each other (and team up to get the second donut) and we ended up with a bunch of a fun stuff (including my adorable Deadpool!) to remember it by.  Utterly satisfying.

Friday, September 1, 2017

50 for 50: 21 - Walk a 5K with Cousin Roni

Cousin Roni likes fitness.  She also likes Disney.  She comes to Disneyland every year to run the races.  5K one day; 10K the next; Half-Marathon the following morning.  A couple years ago, I met her at Disneyland after the Half, and she tried to convince me to run it with her the next year.  I negotiated this down to "walk the 5K."

And I wasn't even able to do that.  I trained and practiced and got fit and then went for a trial walk in crappy shoes and did some bad thing to a ligament and next thing I knew I was waving a podiatrist's note and trying to get a refund from the runDisney people.  (You cannot get a refund from the runDisney people.)

We agreed to try again this year.  I trained and practiced somewhat less.  I started late and didn't really discover (until I tried training) that the injury had never really healed -- I'd just avoided it by the simple expedient of wearing comfortable shoes and not really, y'know, WALKING.  I got to the point where I could walk the distance, although not as fast as Disney's desired pace.  And my selected shoes for the adventure -- the only ones with the necessary combination of arch support and NOT irritating the ol' injured ligament -- were a pair of Ecco walking sandals I haven't exactly broken in.  But a week before the race, I took 'em out for a test run (walk) of the necessary distance.  Result:  finished, but too slow, and some blisters.  OK?  I'm ... ready?

Packed a bag for the weekend with a stack of blister wraps and a rainbow assortment of post-race theme-park-walking shoes to choose from, picked up Roni up at the airport and drove down to Disneyland.

Some day I will look back on this blog and not remember the experience, so let me add right here what is totally obvious to most of my friends reading this:  OMG, it is so hot.  It is triple-digit heat.  It is "walk slower and stay hydrated so's you don't fall down" hot.  I don't know whether they'll do it, but it's the sort of weather where I almost expect Disneyland to have free water stations in the parks (not just on the race) just for safety.  "Fuck, it's hot" is what I'm trying to say here.

We sign our waivers, pick up our race bibs, have some dinner, and attempt to engineer Roni's costume.

We... didn't really think through costumes this year.  We'd toyed with this particular combination last year, and (in the absence of a workable blue hair spray that would have enabled us to go as Joy and Sadness) we fell back on it.  But we were doing this on the cheap, so we sort of engineered Roni's look out of some scarves and an old sarong.  Girlfriend was literally held together with safety pins.  Meantime, I looked amusing, but nobody knew who the hell I was dressed as.  (Although, once I told some racers we met, they were all, "Now that I see the Hamilton pin, I get it.")

Probably because of the heat, the races start at 5:00.  Which was FINE.  But they told you to get there at 4:00, which was substantially less fine; and we woke up at 3:15, which was just Hell No.  I am much more likely to see 3:15 from the "stay up late" side than the "wake up early" side, and the sad part is that -- despite efforts to go to bed early -- I kind of did.

Wake up; dress up; stretch; walk down to the start line; get in our corral (why does all this walking not count?) and ... wait.  We stood around for about a half hour listening to someone trying to entertain the crowd (we were in corral D; entertainment was near the start line at corral A -- the attempts to get us all pumped up did not travel all the way back to where we were).  Met some nice people in the corral, though.  Good costumes, too.

The best thing I can say about standing around for a half hour at 4:30 in the morning is that, by the time it's over, you actually WANT to start racing.

We here take a break for a small collection of phrases that came out of my mouth this morning, for what I can only assume is the first time in my life:
"Oh, it's 3:00.  Thank God."
"I've got beard on my hand."
"Is your skirt chafing?"
"For fuck's sake, start the race already!"

I was VERY worried about finishing on time.  Disney wants you to keep a 16 minute/mile pace (or 15, if you're actually going to stop for photos).  I've never walked a 16 minute/mile, much less 3.1 of them.  But they build in some level of a cushion before they sweep walkers.  The FIRST cushion is when you start.  They put the 16 minute/mile pace keepers at the back of the last corral.  I figured if we started in an earlier corral, that could buy us a few more minutes.  So we signed up to start with the 14 minute/mile crowd.  I had some visions of starting the race and immediately getting mowed down by racers who were solidly 5 minutes/mile faster than me.  This did not happen.  We started mid-pack and continued mid-pack.  Conclusion:  MOST PEOPLE in the corral lied about their pace.

But it was pretty clear that I'd finish this thing on time.  They say that they take video of the race from 5:00 to 6:20.  I didn't know how much after 6:20 they kept the finish line open, but I knew I could finish in an hour (a zippy 20 minute/mile pace).  Our corral started by 5:20, so I was confident I wouldn't get swept.  So, yay.

I concede a surprising amount of emotion at the race start and finish.  I'd been planning this for two years; got delayed by injury; was operating on no sleep; was getting strange looks for my costume; had blisters; had to pee since 4:00; really needed some tea; and, oh yeah, both me and Roni are fighting colds.  So I wasn't exactly my usual cool, collected, intellectual self.  In truth, I would've been hard-pressed to put together a compound sentence and remember where it started.  So, yeah, I got stupidly misty-eyed at the start and finish of the Disneyland 5K.  Don't tell Roni.

Because Disney was behind this, the whole race was very Disneyfied.  Through the parks.  California Adventure was lit up pretty; Fantasyland had a bunch of the rides going even though nobody was riding them (empty teacups spinning!  empty Dumbos flying!) and they had photo ops with many Pixar characters throughout.  (And race photographers taking pictures and telling you "Don't stop for selfies in the middle of the course" even though annoying people were stopping for selfies in the middle of the course.)  Roni kept stopping to take pictures of me (while I kept my steady pace going -- impulse power all the way) and then she'd jog to catch up.

But, also, along the way, lots of Disney employees and/or volunteers are cheering you on.  (At one point, the race gets kind of, er, smelly, as you walk in a "behind the magic" sort of area where the garbage is collected.  I had just started wondering why they walked us through the Disney Dump when I saw a cheerful sign encouraging us on from the Disney Custodial Staff and saw a couple of custodians, in uniform, waving at the racers.  And I totally did a 180 on it, thinking that it was genuinely cool that Disney included the custodial staff in the cheering-on-the-racers thing.)  Many of the Disney peeps were wearing Mickey gloves and offering the racers "High-Fours!" as we went by.  Spectators can also pay to be part of a ChEAR squad (see what they did there?) to stand along the race path and wave encouraging signs at you.  Found the nerds near the end, waving a sign that said "Basically, run!" with a little TARDIS next to it.  (Had a Harry Potter sign, too, but I couldn't read it.)  Love ya, nerds.

So, we finish the race.  (6:19 a.m. and 38 seconds.)

 The finishing area is where they give you all your free stuff, and I took one of everything.  (Free bottled water!  Free Powerade!  Free box o' treats!  Free cooling towel!  Free banana!)  Consumed Powerade and banana before we even left the finishing area/parking lot.  We weave through the crowds and back to Downtown Disney. ("I'm still walking.  Why am I still walking?") The race path takes you down Downtown Disney and we need to go back, so we're pretty much crossing the race path.  We have to wait for some racers to cross and, as it turns out, we are waiting for the Very Last Racer.  Big dude, just pushing himself as hard as he can.  Behind him ... RIGHT behind him ... is a golf cart carrying a few racers I can only assume were either swept or gave up.  Behind that is a golf cart with a Disney employee who has picked up all the cones along the race path.  The twenty or so of us waiting to cross the race path just let out a huge cheer for last racer guy.  Doing this race was no picnic for me, but it's unbelievably hard for him, and he's like 2 tenths of a mile away from finishing.  Roni and I are pleased that Disney is letting him finish.  (I check the clock to see how much time they really gave you.  Looks like they close the finish line right around 6:40.)

We stopped at the REAL happiest place on earth (the Disneyland Starbucks), filled up on tea, and came back to the hotel for, in no particular order:  bathroom, shower, blister-check, and utter crashing.

For me, the weekend is now a couple of a fun days at Disneyland with my cousin.  Cousin Roni has two more 5:00 a.m. races.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

50 for 50: 20 - Waterslide with Nicole

Upon leaving Knott's Soak City, I spotted the entrance sign that says you're not allowed in the pools if you're experiencing active diarrhea.  Now, call me crazy, but if I've got the runs, a six-storey gravity enema is not real high on my to-do list, but there's no figuring people, I guess.

Rewind a bit.  I met Nicole at her place, which is being packed up because she and her husband are moving to a house!  Much excitement!  (I also met her cats, and little Olive stole my heart -- don't tell Jasmine.  Well, it's ok.  We seem to have unlimited quantities of heart when it comes to the kitties.)

Drove over to Soak City, got easy parking....  I can't prove it, but it looks like they just took part of the Knott's parking lot and made it a water park.  (On the theory that they could make more money per square inch by charging $40+ admission per person rather than $18 per car.  They're probably right.)

Obligatory photo!

There are no further photos.  This (like Glen Ivy with Alice) is the second time where we followed website directions about cameras and cell phones only to discover there was rather more flexibility.  The website had been very particular about no loose items on the rides, but we saw a bunch of people who were told they couldn't wear their water shoes on the ride so just had to hold them all the way down.  I very likely could have kept my little plastic waterproof camera with me; hell, it had a rubber wristband (unlike the water shoes).  Sigh.

SO.  We got there when it was still early, and the park was still pretty empty.  I said I wanted to do at least one fun/scary one, and then we could just hang on the lazy river, or whatever.  (You'll note the 50 for 50 was actually "waterslide" not "water park.")

We're just trying to pick a slide at random.  The signage is less than helpful.  Nothing actually SAYS "enter here"; "grab inner tube here"; or "leave your damn shoes."  We sort of had to figure it out.  (And we went the wrong way trying to find the entrance for a slide on a little island.  "Where's the freakin' bridge?!")  But we finally found the entrance, grabbed, tubes, left shoes, and climbed the tower for the first water slide.  This one had three tubes heading down -- so we went down more or less simultaneously.  They were enclosed, and you didn't quite know what was happening; but along the journey, there were little openings in the top of the tube where water poured in on your head.  That was an attention-getter, but the ride wasn't particularly scary.

We decide that (despite them having called that one a 5 out of 5 action slide) these are not that big of a deal, so we'd ride another.  That one has 3 tubes, two closed and one open to the top.  We ride a closed one, and it's fun, so we go back to ride the open one.  Each is ridden with an inner tube.

While we're going up the stairs to ride the second time, we notice some people climbing the stairs without inner tubes, and they're passing the entry to this ride to go up ANOTHER flight to another landing where there's another ride.  It just shares the stairs.  Okay then.  We'd glanced at it coming in, and I'd thought it looked fun, so we decide to try that one.  It has two open slides and one closed one.  I'd enjoyed the open one last time, while Nicole preferred the closed, so that decision was pretty much made for us.  I hadn't actually, um, looked very closely at the two open ones, so I hadn't really thought through which one of the two open ones I wanted to ride.  Woman at the top of the ride offered me one, so I went for it.

I may have gotten a little nervous when she explained, "cross your ankles; cross your arms across your chest; lean back all the way down."  (But those other dudes were doing it while holding their water shoes, so it's ok, right?)  Feet first, assume position, slide down, and...

Holy Kittens!

Gravity, gravity, gravity, gravity, WATER!

I looked back at it.  Looked like this:

I'd apparently taken that orange-yellow one in the center -- the straight shot down without any little bumps to slow you down.  Now THAT, kids, is a Waterslide.  Mission Accomplished!

Somehow the whole "one big slide and then the lazy river" plan was shot.  We thought we'd try more fun ones instead.  We did a "family" slide which wasn't super scary, but we rode it together; and then a head-first one where you slid down on mats (and they sent six people down at once, so we could race!)  It went well, but about partway down the one with the mat, I realized I did not have proper form -- was supposed to have my arms straight in front of me (holding the handles on the mat) but instead my elbows were bent and my head was closer to the front.  Couldn't really adjust myself so I figured I'd just deal, at which second my sled hit the big pool at the bottom and the massive splash hit me square in the face.  Which was how I got more wet on the, easy, category 4 slide than on the six-storey category 5 speed drop.

There was really only one other category 5 slide left at the park; but by now, the place was getting crowded and the lines for that one didn't seem worth it.  So, we rinsed off and bailed.  Lesson:  You can pretty much do all the action slides in this park in about an hour and a half -- if you start early enough.

Then we went out for burgers and shakes, which was pretty ideal for two near-drowned rats.

Along the way, I learned a bit more about Nicole -- we're coworkers, but haven't had tons of time (other than lunches) to actually socialize.  So I learned that she and her husband were college sweethearts (awwww), and that they got their first kitty right after they got married, and where they'd moved, and how they found the house, and all that other good stuff.

(Then I came home, took what Peggy amusingly called a "Silkwood shower," and crashed on the sofa.  These 50 for 50 things seem to end with crashing on the sofa more and more.  Worth it!)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

50 for 50: 19 - Kayaking with Laura

Laura, bless her, is largely what made me think the "50 for 50" could actually be accomplished.  I'm pretty sure Terry was the first one to actually agree to a thing, but when I threw the idea out there and Laura said she was up for kayaking, I thought, "yeah, maybe I actually CAN do this."

This 50 for 50 was accomplished in almost exactly 25 hours.

The clock started at 4:30 on Friday, when Laura picked me up from work, and we headed South for a quickie evening at Disneyland.  (To avoid getting stuck in Friday evening traffic all the way down to La Jolla.  Seriously.  That was my justification.  I'm sticking with it.)  We had both really wanted to check out the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" overlay to Tower of Terror, and I kept checking the wait time on the Disneyland app as we were driving down.  When she picked me up, it was under an hour.  As we neared the park, it was over two.  By the time we got ourselves there, parked, through security, and into the ol' Happiest Place on Earth, it had settled down to something like 90 minutes.  Armed with that data, our deep desire to ride the ride, our general understanding that Disneyland overstates line wait times, and a coupla hot dog platters for sustenance, we joined the queue.  We were pleasantly surprised by how fast the line actually moved, as well as all the cool stuff to look at.

And then we rode it, and it was awesome!

And then we rode the "Cars" cars ("Cars"-land is so beautiful at night!) and then we went over to Disneyland to see the fireworks (catching a bit of the Main Street Electrical Parade on the way) -- but it was too windy "at high altitudes" so they had to cancel the fireworks mid-show (although we did get to see Tinkerbell fly before they stopped, which was great, because who doesn't want to see Tink fly?), and then we got root beer floats, and then, and then...  (Geez, I really AM a 12-year-old with a credit card.)  Fortified by the sugar rush from the floats, we went back to the car and drove all the way down to La Jolla.

I'd booked a hotel on hotwire, and called the hotel to confirm we'd be there late.  I had guessed midnight.  We got there more like 12:30.  By the time we'd parked, found the Registration desk, pinged the little bell, and began check-in, it was pushing 1:00 a.m.  The nice man at the hotel upgraded us to the Executive Floor.  (Free breakfast!  Thanks, Christian!)

At some point during the day -- but not early enough to do anything about it, I realized I hadn't packed a toothbrush.  Christian said he'd send one up.  I waited a good 20 minutes, but then hung the "do not disturb" and crashed into bed, with great hopes of being visited by the Toothbrush Fairy overnight.

Six and a half hours later, I awoke refreshed and excited ... with my neurons firing enough for me to get creative with some floss picks and Q-Tips, as I was still toothbrushless.  A situation remedied by a nice lady from Housekeeping while Laura and I were enjoying our Executive Lounge free brekkie.  (I am grateful to the lady from Housekeeping for getting the toothbrush, because I partook of some lox and bagels at the breakfast, and I thought nobody -- except my cat -- really enjoys Salmon Breath.)

Having been alerted that parking at the kayaking place blows, we took a Lyft from the hotel.  And arrived at La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks right on time.

On time to sign the waiver, on time to change into kayaky clothes, on time to snap a pic, and on time to lock the rest of our stuff in their lockers.  (Their lockers, btw, work on the principle that everyone is honest.  They give you a zip tie to use to lock your locker, and when you get back, they give you pliers to snap off the zip tie.  And everyone in your group is just passing around the pliers -- you just hand them off to the next guy and assume that he's using them on his own locker, rather than to steal someone else's junk.  And while you were off kayaking, you were assuming that nobody in the shop was snapping zip ties off and stealing stuff.  BASICALLY, the zip ties were there to keep your stuff safe in the unlikely event everyone in the shop went on break and a thief with zero tools happened by.  But, really, we were trusting this shop with out LIVES, so maybe we could also trust them with our mobiles.)

Then, our group and two guides walked over to the beach, had a brief lesson ("this is your kayak paddle; this is This Side Up on your kayak paddle"), and a brief safety briefing ("when I say face the wave, TURN INTO THE WAVE or you'll capsize"), and then loaded up the kayaks and started paddling out.  There were a few small waves we had to get by, but we'd been well schooled in how to deal (lean way back in the kayak so the weight is toward the back and the tip flies up harmlessly over the whitecap), and we got out in the water pretty good.  Laura and I were, at this point, trying to figure out a good rhythm for paddling together in our two-person kayak.  At times, I thought we were doing poorly and we were the last kayak to catch up with our group, but there was at least one single paddler out there who seemed totally, well, at sea with the whole thing.

We saw much pretty scenery and wildlife, and thank you, Laura, for bringing a waterproof digital camera, because my pictures on the little plastic thing probably won't get developed until ... hey, does anyone still develop film?

Here's us, btw.  I am fairly easy to spot as the idiot with the plastic, film camera uselessly hanging 'round my neck.

We did, actually, go into a cave.  The entrance was a bit choppy, but the nice folks from the kayak shop handled it quite safely -- they sent us in one (kayak) at a time, with one of our guides standing in the water outside the cave and physically pushing each kayak around the corner and through the difficult waves at the entrace.  Small cave, two sea lions inside.  No photos from there as we were focussing on following all safety instructions and getting out without ramming the kayaks (from other shops) coming in from the other direction and the nice snorkellers who were bobbing in the water nearby.

At one point in the tour ... somewhere between that photo at the actual cave, Laura and I got genuinely good at paddling together.  Had to use Much Less Force to get moving at a good clip.  It's all about the synchronicity, and when you get it down, it's really pretty nifty.  We started confidently passing some of the solo paddlers, and I even tried some (slightly more) challenging maneuvering moves, and Laura was right there with me.  Very cool.  After the caves, though, we kind of lost that, because I was starting to get tired (afterward, we were told we paddled for 3 miles) and started losing my form, such as it was.  When I commented on this to Laura, she said that she was still trying to match me stroke for stroke, and I had a good laugh on that.  (You ever watch synchronized diving at the Olympics and see some pair go off where one of them blows the dive so the other one tries to blow it too, so at least they are BOTH doing, like, zero somersaults?  Yeah, that's Laura matching me paddle out to the last buoy.)

We went back into shore one kayak at a time.  The dudes from the shop were pretty happy that they had only one capsize event on the way back in.  Remembering my eyeglasses lost at the bottom of the Pacific from that time, a few years back, when *I* was the one who capsized (in Santa Barbara), I had all kinds of sympathy.

And, after lunch, drove back to work.  Through it all, we talked politics and protest,  working at (and retiring from) the court, friends and family, and how stuff is GREAT but people are even BETTER.

Arriving back at 5:30 and wondering how the hell we'd fit all that in 25 hours.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

50 for 50: 18 - Day Spa With Alice

Some time ago, I had a bunch of friends over, told them to bring their calendars, set up a big calendar for my next year, posted a list of the unclaimed 50 for 50 things, and let the magic happen.  Alice signed up for "Day Spa" and chose today.

Turns out today was a really good choice.  Hadn't expected the white supremacists to have been marching in Charlottesville yesterday.  Hadn't expected the nation to be demanding the freakin' President of the United States denounce actual neo-Nazis.  Hadn't expected to be so disappointed in so many of my countrymen.  (I can say that I expected, as a general rule, to be pretty disappointed President Trump, but I hadn't thought -- I really, truly hadn't -- that the whole damn country would be looking expectantly to him to condemn something as indisputably condemnation-worthy as a white supremacist driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, and yet...)  Nutshell:  I am depressed by shit I can do nothing about, which threatens long-term peace of mind.  So escaping for a day of indulgence is a really good plan.

Alice and I didn't want to do a standard day spa thing -- where you go and get a massage and get a facial and meet when you're passing in the locker room.  We decided something a little more destinationy:  one Glen Ivy Hot Springs.

Glen Ivy is a bit crowded on a summer Sunday.  By the time we got there (just after 11), we had to park in the "additional parking."  Made our way to reception (after some guy did the mandatory bag check -- and confided that he isn't really security; he does massages later in the day) and checked in.  We got directions on which things to do when, stopped at their little Starbucks (tea!) and made our way to the locker room.

There are a certain amount of, er, out of date statements on the Glen Ivy website.  One of them is the bit where they "respectfully request that you leave all electronic devices turned off.  We encourage a digital detox while at Glen Ivy and therefore we do not provide WiFi."  Much later in the day, we learned that there's WiFi in the Starbucks.  AND we saw damn near everyone had their phones with them.  And, upon getting home, I noticed the map they'd handed me upon check-in encourages you "Instagram your Hot Springs pictures using the hashtag #GLENIVY."  So, "digital detox" my butt, basically.

BUT, we hadn't figured any of this out when we checked in.  So when we got to the locker room, we did the obligatory selfie ...

... and then locked our phones in our lockers.  (I love how Alice is doing the total selfie-model pose, whereas I look like I'm plotting something.)

Glen Ivy recommends a three-step process:  (1)  Mineral Baths (for to open pores); (2)  Club Mud (for to draw impurities out of your skin); and (3) The Grotto (for to moisturize). Honestly, I don't know if any of that shit WORKS, but it's an experience and it's fun, so I'm in.

The Mineral Baths are a few small pools -- really small pools (most of them take a max of two people, and there was a larger one you could cram about 15 into) which smell like sulfur and tarnish your silver jewelry.  All the two-person ones were taken, so we joined the group in the 15-people one.  They had air jets going, so sulfurous water was bubbling up all around us, and the whole experience was part soothing and part ... toxic cleanup site?

We did not spend long in the mineral baths.

We moved on to "Club Mud."

(Another lie on the Glen Ivy website is the suggestion to bring your own towel.  There's towels everywhere.  In fact, you have to toss your (locker room) towel upon entry to Club Mud and use a special Club Mud towel.  Because Mud.)

Club Mud is an area of the spa where there's a pool of (muddy) water and, on a stand in the center, a big ol' pile of red clay mud.  You go in the water to get yourself wet, and then slather on the mud.  Cover pretty much everything not covered by your swimsuit.  (I avoided my face, because of the specs, but, yeah, that's an option.)  They then have a nice warm room (but not as toasty as outside) where you can sit and wait for your mud to dry. At this point, I speculated that there's people in the Glen Ivy Executive Dining Room, watching us on a secret webcam, adjusting their monocles, and heartily laughing, "Can you believe we got them to PAY US to cover themselves in mud?!!"

Now, there is one special thing we got to take part in.  Usually, you just shower off the mud, but they were offering a little treat called "Sudsy Mud."  Sudsy Mud involved some guy (probably the same dude doing security checks when he's not doing this) spraying you with a high pressure hose blasting soap.  We watched Sudsy Mud guy blast two women before us, and, when he was done, NOW they were covered with Mud AND white foam.  I wasn't really sure WHAT was in that hose, but I imagined it was akin to the stuff in a fire extinguisher.  We HAD to do that.

I again regret that our phones were in the locker.  (We later noticed, when he was spraying the people after us, he had the hose in one hand and their camera in the other.)  So you're just going to have to imagine what we looked like.  Soggy.  Giggling.  Foam everywhere.  Mud underneath it.  Imagine a gentle, skin-friendly version of tarring and feathering.

The only thing for it are the Club Mud showers and, yes, the sudsy soap made the mud removal pretty easy.

We had some time before our Grotto reservations, so went back to the Starbucks (more tea!) and then off to the Grotto.

Well, no, wait.  Actually, I had to take a bathroom break.  (I mentioned all the tea, right?)  I was wearing a one-piece swimsuit, so using the bathroom required, well, taking the whole damn thing off, and resulted in me very nearly saying aloud, "Holy Hell, how did mud get THERE?!"  The entire front of my swimsuit is lined with white fabric, and quite a bit of the inside lining was now brown in color.  Lovely.  Good thing I'd followed the website's directions and brought a swimsuit I didn't care very much about at all.

The Grotto is an underground experience taking place in four rooms.  In room one, you stand in a little alcove while a woman with a paint brush paints you front and back (wherever your swimsuit isn't) with some green moisturizing body masque.  Then she has you hold out your hands and pours the rest of the bowl of goo out into them, telling you to apply it wherever you want (except your forehead, so it doesn't drip in your eyes).  Then you move into room two, a darkish, peaceful, warm place with benches, where you're supposed to sit for 10 minutes and continue to massage that crap into your person.

I said "benches."  I lied.  The theme of the Grotto is an underground cavern, so the benches are stone and rough-hewn to seem like stalagmites that have gotten out of hand and connected themselves.  The problem is that they are sloped downward toward the floor.  And the backs of your thighs, I might have mentioned, are covered in slippery goo.  I sat on one of the benches and gingerly put my feet up on it.  In what HAD to be a badly-thought-out move, while massaging the masque into my legs, I also took some of my leftover goop and massaged it into my feet.  The bottoms of my feet.  So we're here for another 10 minutes, and while I'm having a nice chat with Alice, part of my brain is flashing back to High School Physics, mentally drawing vectors of all the forces working on me -- the tilt of the bench, the lack of friction between my feet and the bench... and the odds of me staying on the bench seem so slim, I have a vision of the alternate universe where I slide off the bench and end up a green-goop covered puddle on the floor.

As time passes and staying seated seems to be winning the day, we decide to (gingerly) move on to the third room, which is showering the goo off.  (Alice holds the door open for me.  How the hell they expect ANYONE to hold the door handle, after having had goo poured in their hands, is beyond me.)  Sufficiently de-gooed (the mud had actually been easier to remove), we moved on to the last room:  tranquil rest area.  (Even more tea!  And apples!)  I quite liked the tranquil rest area.  It was tranquil.  (And restive.  And an area.)  But Glen Ivy was very busy that day; we couldn't even find two open deck chairs in Club Mud.  Here it was nice and cool and peaceful and uncrowded and QUIET.  And we talked.  About Charlottesville.  About what good people CAN do about it.  About what some people are doing already.  And there, in the tranquil rest area of the underground grotto, it didn't seem so insurmountable anymore.

Yeah, then we got massages.  Because, fuck it, it's a day spa.  :)

Before leaving, there was, of course, the obligatory shower.  Upon stripping off the swimsuit I discovered that the brown stains on the lining were now joined by greenish stains on the lining.  My God, this swimsuit looks like I had a food poisoning incident of epic, EXPLOSIVE proportions.  I feel kind of bad for my lousy Costco swimsuit -- I never intended it to live longer than this, but what a way to go.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

And that's about it for Israel

"Get to the airport three hours before your flight," they advise.


The first security check ("For what purpose did you visit Israel?  Did anyone give you any packages to take back?  You understand why I'm asking this, right?") went by fairly quickly, and the check-in desk for my flight was not yet open, so there was quite a bit of standing in front of the desk, watching the British Airways shift-change, and trying to look bored, but not annoyed.

(There was a flight leaving 2 hours before mine.  Those folks could get immediately checked in, as they had to run.  A group of about 7 rush the desk, desperate to check in.  There was bad news:  the flight had already closed; there was worse news:  they had bypassed the security check, so couldn't even be moved to the later flight until they'd gone back and cleared security.  I am watching this unfold.  A few minutes later, the person politely waiting in line behind me quietly asks, "Did you clear security?"  (Yes.)  "Where is it?")

So, after they allowed me check in, I cleared passport control (automated) and the usual metal detector/carry-on screening.  (Which did not seem nearly as intense as what the TSA does.  Either they don't give a damn what you take OUT of the country, or the promised "security measures you never see" are going on behind the scenes.)  Made a brief tour through the Duty Free and the Judaica store, and ended up in the British Airways lounge (to the left of what looked like a Chabad ... recruitment desk?  tefillin loan station?  Honestly, I didn't ask) where I am the ONLY person (in the lounge, that is).  Am enjoying the free tea (and wifi) but am truly wondering Where The Fuck Everyone Is.

Back to yesterday:  we drove into Jerusalem for a tour of the Israeli Supreme Court.  The building was genuinely lovely (aside to my co-workers:  the Reagan building should be ashamed of itself).

We also got an introduction to the Israeli court system in which my court does not exactly have a counterpart. (Non-lawyers can just skip the rest of this paragraph.) They got their magistrate's courts (for low-value civil matters and low-exposure crimes -- but not as low as what we did in muni court); then district courts above that (unlimited civil and higher-value crimes; also handles appeals from magistrate court -- seems very like our superior court); and the Supreme Court is right above THAT.  They're a 15-member court, but never sit all together -- they sit in panels ranging from 1 (seriously) to 13, depending on the significance of the case.  I imagine that in 3-judge panels handing appeals from district court, they're rather like our court, and in larger panels rather like our Supreme Court -- but where things really get wacky is that they have original jurisdiction over any matter in which an individual (or organization, read: ACLU-type) brings a complaint against a governmental entity believing their rights have been violated.  (I expect that's when they get single judge panels most often.)  I tried to picture what it would be like in the U.S. if supreme court justices had to hear every single action under 42 USC 1983, and my brain kind of exploded.  (And while, yeah, totally impractical in a country of our size, and they'd never get any other work done, one wonders if resolution of those cases DAILY wouldn't have a positive effect on the justices themselves, getting them out of the ivory tower and making them more aware of the problems of the little guys.)

(And we pause for more tea.)

After the court, we drove over to a market.  (Imagine what you think a street market in Jerusalem looks like.  It looks like that.)  We weren't really there for the market, but for a nearby restaurant.  We were eventually directed to the restaurant, but we deemed it too loud for our last lunch together -- we wouldn't have been able to have any conversation over the music.  We looked for another place -- but it was hot as fuck and we just needed a place with food and air conditioning and we weren't too picky.

We saw a likely candidate across the street and stepped inside.  Turns out about 90% of their menu was a Syrian-Kurdish meat pie thingy called Shamburak.  (I googled it.  I hit this article which is actually about the restaurant we ate at.)

When we'd finished, we decided we needed to top this off with baklava from the market.  We went back to the market and found a baklava guy.  (It is not difficult to find a baklava guy at the market.)  We bought a plate of several different types, and Baklava Guy sent us over to Coffee Guy, so we could have some hot beverages and sit in the shade while enjoying our baklava.

The Coffee Guy, btw, is NOT what you expect in a street market in Jerusalem.  Off one of the side passageways, his shop is PRISTINE.  Wood panels on the walls, different types of coffee lining the place, various grinders, coffee presses, an espresso machine ... whatever the fuck people use to make coffee.  I'm a tea girl myself, and dude was able to brew me up a nice cup of Assam with a splash of milk.  (His shop would be at home with the avocado-toast eaters in the upscale market in Tel Aviv.)

Despite the Britishness of my tea, this seemed the most Israeli thing we did -- it was also special in its way.  Crowded around a little table, surrounded by shops in the market overflowing with goods, chowing down on some heavenly baklava, and sipping our hot beverages of choice -- this was in some way the epitome of my experience of Israel this trip -- Old World Middle Eastern intersecting with New World Western, with a big dose of family love.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Actual Touristy Stuff in Israel

When my aunt first told me she would be taking me to the "Bullet Museum," I didn't entirely know what she meant.

Actually, I entirely DIDN'T KNOW what she meant.  Thought she was talking about some dude name Bullitt who'd founded a museum.  Eh, whatever.  I'm not doing anything else today.

Bullet Museum.  AKA Bullet Factory.  AKA Ayalon Institute.  

Oversimplified history lesson:  Israel declared its independence in 1948, in the midst of, well, let's just say "tensions" with the Arab world.  There followed what Israelis refer to as their War of Independence (although Wikipedia would rather call it The 1948 Arab-Israeli War). 

Now, it's pretty obvious that militaries going to war need bullets, but when the British were controlling the place prior to independence, they prohibited the future-Israelis from owning guns or gun-making equipment.  Now, the folks who would eventually become Israel saw this as problematic, seeing full-blown war with the Arab world as somewhat inevitable.  So they needed a way to stockpile bullets without the British knowing it was happening.

Enter, in 1945, a clandestine, quite-literally-underground bullet factory.  Using equipment smuggled into the country in the 1930s (and hidden away for this eventuality).  The damn thing was built UNDER a Kibbutz, which served as a front for it (although about one-third of the Kibbutz population -- the ones who weren't actually working in the underground bullet factory -- did not know it was there).

About the size of a tennis court, made of reinforced concrete, totally underground -- with entrances hiding under the kibbutz bakery oven (to get the heavy equipment down there) and the kibbutz laundry (for the 45 workers).  It had all the risks of accidental explosion that come with any bullet factory, plus all the risks of arrest and punishment (including death) if caught making ammunition under the noses of the British, AND the added fun of spending 10 hours per day underground in a sunless bunker, with no A/C, incredibly loud machines, and breathing the chemical byproducts of bullet manufacture.

The tour starts with a short film.  Then you go into the laundry room and learn about how the kibbutz laundry ladies were so GOOD at doing laundry (as a cover) they actually ended up getting the cleaning business of some British soldiers.  Then your tour guide moves aside the (1940s era) commercial washing machine, revealing the ladder downstairs to where Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are mixing up the good stuff.

(I kid.)

Then you go into the bakery where they've (permanently) moved the oven aside and (bless 'em) added stairs, so you can make it down there in a somewhat more civilized manner.  And it's a bullet factory, with a row of the necessary machines side by side.

Even has its own indoor firing range for quality control.

I found the whole thing spectacularly interesting.  Even more that they had the plans ready for this thing (and the equipment in hand) as early as 1938 -- even though they didn't set about to build it until 1945 (when it only took a few weeks from groundbreaking to ready for business).  The foresight involved in this project, and how critical it was to surviving the early days of the war of independence, was truly impressive.

Now, my aunt had offered to take me to some other museums to see art and stuff, but, after years of museum-going, I've finally gotten it through my head that while, yes, there is SOME art which I quite like, I generally prefer artifacts to art.  Antiquities, especially.  So she changed plans somewhat and we next went to the Musuem Eretz Yisrael, which had all kinds of artifacts -- a room of just pottery, a room of just glass, one of copper, and so on.  (Also some more modern stuff -- an exhibit of art all made of paper by current Israeli artists.)  Very cool.  I particularly dug the pottery exhibit.  Mostly because with one tiny little display, it totally blew my mind on my (supposed) liberal college education.  

See, I took Art History 1A and 1B -- your standard History of Art survey course.  And it started with proto-geometric pot painting in Greece, and moved its way into a TON of pot-painting.  Proto-geometric, geometric, the occasional figure ... blink for a few hundred years and they're painting complex scenes of gods and goddesses in three colors on a curved surface.  And from Greek to Roman, and pots to walls.  And you think:  that's how it PROGRESSED.  You could draw a straight line from the proto-geometic stuff through the peak of pot-painting and, taken out far enough, that line would go right through the Renaissance.  And the line wouldn't be WRONG, exactly, either.

But.  In the museum's pottery room there was also some VERY EARLY pot painting from Kenya.  And when they started off in Kenya, they used a different style and different tools with their early geometric ceramic art, and I'm standing there in the middle of a museum in Tel Aviv faced with perfectly good evidence that the "History of Art" that I was taught was really just the "History of Western Art as We Know It" and there's whole other lines of art which didn't just MAGICALLY APPEAR in the 1980s when we started recognizing that African culture existed -- and, really, why did nobody bother to even mention, "Meanwhile, in Eastern Africa,..." every so often in Art History 1A?

After a stop in the museum gift shop (where I did not purchase the $350 Seder Plate because IT WAS $350 and also, I don't make Seders), we headed off to dinner in another section of Tel Aviv -- Sarona.

This is getting super long, so I'm just going to cut to the chase here:  Assuming you changed the language, you could plop Sarona down in any perfectly good First World Western Country and Millenials (or, at least, the ones with good jobs and disposable incomes) would flock to it.  People who shop at Whole Foods and eat avocado toast -- THOSE people would be totally happy at Sarona.  Our restaurant was "Farm to Table" and had Vegan options.  Put unusual things in the desserts.  (Our chocolate dessert had olive oil and sea salt, and a caramel mousse on the side and some sweet sesame thing on the other side.)  Also was pricey and EXTREMELY tasty.  I was not expecting to find this in Tel Aviv.  It was also not kosher.  I had pork.  Really, really good pork.

This was not the Israel I knew from 20 years ago.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Um, 51 for 50: 17 -- Stuff in Israel?

I clearly have a problem here.  When I set up the 50 for 50 plan, I didn't think I'd be going to Israel now.  And when we planned this trip, I hadn't actually thought I'd be able to squeeze in any 50 for 50-type activities.  Resulting in me never actually pitching the plan to my relatives here.  (I believe the very first thing I posted about it said:  Offer valid in U.S. only.)  Yeah, well, best laid plans.  Nobody here got dibs; nearly everything on the list has been claimed; and I get a day like today which is so solidly within the SPIRIT of 50 for 50 -- if not the rules I've set for myself -- that I'm just going to have to quietly strike something from the not-yet-done list and come up with something to call today and then happily cross it off.  It's a little late right now (and we're eating into sleeping time), so I'm just going to write this up now, and we'll deal with the Administrative Intricacies at a later date.

The logistics alone involved in today are really quite impressive.  I'm staying in a hotel in Ashkelon (read, for those unfamiliar with Israeli geography:  resort town on the Mediterranean).  My aunt and uncle live in a moshav (communal farm, not quite as communistic as a kibbutz) in the Negev (desert, south of here).  I can actually describe the distance quite easily -- Ashkelon is pretty much due North of the Gaza Strip; whereas, the other day, my uncle took me sightseeing from the Moshav, and we went down the road a bit to see the Southern border with Gaza (also, the wall separating Israel from Egypt).  So, this morning, my cousins Bentze and Elaine drove here from the moshav; picked me up; and we drove to an archeological site of a rather impressive synagogue from the Byzantine era.  (Maon Synagogue), where my aunt and uncle met us.  Actually, I don't know how impress the synagogue WAS, but as a ruin, it has a very spiffily-preserved mosaic floor, which we got a good look at.

Then my uncle led us around the area, showing us sights like the new high school for local moshav and kibbutz children.  Normally, I don't think of a high school as a tourist attraction, but this was very interesting due to the safety and security measures.  Protective perimeter fence; bullet-proof glass windows; heavy-protective roof; bomb shelters at every school bus bay....  You can't help but think about what it must be like to live in a place where the threat of war is so high these measures are necessary in all newly-built schools.  You may even think that it might be better for Palestinians and Israelis if they made a lasting peace which enabled them to invest school security money in improving the futures of ALL their kids.

Then we had lunch.  Also chocolates.

I pause at the memory of the chocolates.  Dude.  80%.

My uncle then took their car back to the moshav while my aunt joined me in Bentze & Elaine's car and tooled down to Be'er Sheva (largest City in the Negev, inland).  We wandered the city a bit and then did ... an Escape Room!  (Hee!)

They'd never done one before, but were (perhaps) persuaded by my enthusiasm.  Dungeon-themed room.  Pretty straightforward, but we needed some hints to escape.  To be honest, though, there were three technical malfunctions we also needed advice on.  (On one puzzle, we did what we thought was the puzzle solution, and nothing happened.  So we started rethinking whether there wasn't another solution we hadn't thought of, when the Voice of God came from above and said, "Try what you did before again."  But I think my favorite was when we called on the intercom to complain that a key wasn't turning a lock, and after we said we'd tried it for five minutes, the Hand of God opened the door to the whole room and threw a replacement key on the floor.)  I quite enjoyed the room -- it started with the four of us split up, but to get back together, there was a puzzle we had to work from both sides of our door -- real mandatory teamwork stuff.  Awesome.  All four of us contributed to getting out of the room, and I always like it when that happens.

Now, I've got another cousin that lives in Be'er Sheva, and he's got some little kids.  We dropped my aunt off at his house to watch the kids, so he was free for dinner.  And then ANOTHER one of my cousins drove in from the moshav (she could then drive my aunt/her mom back home after dinner) and the fourth drove in from Jerusalem, and we'd suddenly managed to get ALL FOUR of my Israeli cousins, plus two spouses, to dinner with me!

That.  That right there, man.  Me with cousin Bentze and cousin-in-law Elaine standing up; bottom row is Cousin Zev, cousin-in-law Yoram, cousin Tzipi, and cousin Rami.  The large empty plates in front of us are three desserts which were even-better-attacked than the Escape Room.  That's a 50 for 50 thing, somehow.  Watching the four siblings interact (with the in-laws added in there), chatting about travel and parents and kids (and Marvel movies, again).  They're good peeps, and it was amazing to be able to check-in with them without 150 other people around like at the Bar Mitzvah last night.  I'm beyond grateful that they all hauled in from all parts of the country, so we could make that happen.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

On Israel

I haven't written anything about Israel since I've gotten here.  This is mostly due to the fact that I've been wiped out, but also because I never really know what to say about Israel.  It's an odd place for me to visit.

There are some Jews who get off the plane in Israel and think, "I'm home."  I get off the plane and think, "That sign is in Hebrew; which way for international passport holders to clear Immigration?"

It isn't that I'm one of those Americans Abroad who expects the rest of the planet to speak English for them.  It's just that I *like* being independent and self-sufficient wherever I am, and, in Israel, the language barrier means that I either rely on someone to translate or am left missing a good 95% of what's going on.  I do not think, "I'm home."  I think, "I am an outsider."

But what makes Israel different from any other foreign country on the planet (with one small asterisk), is that it's the only country outside the U.S. where I actually have family.  My father's brother moved out here, with his family, when I was just a little kid.  That family has now grown to:  my aunt and uncle; four of my cousins (plus three cousins-in-law); and seven first-cousins-once-removed.  That's a lot of people I'm related to.  And nearly all of them live here.  (The aforementioned asterisk is that one cousin + wife just left Australia for a somewhat nomadic existence.)  Heck, my grandmother even moved out here, a couple months before she passed.

So, when I come to this place... this very politically-charged place... this astonishingly religiously relevant place... this place where I don't speak the language... this place where religious extremists of My Own Damn Faith have a home... this place where my hotel casually mentions its bomb shelter... this place where cutting edge farming innovations coax food out of the desert... this place of mind-blowing history... this place of seriously tasty kebabs...

... I push all of that aside (except maybe the bit about the kebabs), because, above all, this is the place where a big chunk of my family lives.  And I came here to see them.

There will be some touristing over the next few days.  So far, mostly, I've hung out at my aunt and uncle's house on a moshav, attended my cousin's kid's Bar Mitzvah, and basically reconnected with cousins I haven't seen for anything ranging from about a year to very near 20 years (based on when they've last made it to my part of the planet).  I met a handful of the first-cousins-once-removed for the first time.  Even the ones I'd met once before were met seven years ago, which isn't all that much time from my point of view, but when the eldest was, like, TEN, then, seven years is HUGE.  She's, like, a grown-up person now, and I'd pretty much missed it entirely.

So that's why I'm here.  To tease a Republican cousin about how that possibly could have happened growing up in his liberal home.  To argue the relative merits of "Wonder Woman" and "Spider-Man" with my peers.  To enjoy that surprisingly tasty mango-flavored dessert thing my cousin's kid whipped up.  To make silly faces at one of the two-year-olds from across the table and try to get a giggle.  To give the Bar Mitzvah Boy a tangible gift, so that maybe, when he uses it, he'll remember he's got a distant cousin off in California who cares about him.  To put a stone on my grandmother's grave.

Monday, July 17, 2017

50 for 50: 16 -- Hot Air Ballooning with Sam

Once Jacob signed up for Berry Picking, I realized that Alice and Daryl's kid, Sam, could also sign up for a 50 for 50 activity.  He seemed pretty excited about the idea of Hot Air Ballooning, and his dad signed him up.  (Alice would not be going with us as heights aren't her thing.  But Daryl's mom was planning a visit which coincided with Sam's 5th birthday, and Daryl thought they might be able to work it so she could come, too.)

Which is why the day after D23 with Terry, I found myself driving down to Encinitas (which is in North San Diego County).  The drive was largely boring, although I kinda freaked out when I saw Google Maps was taking me on the toll roads and I don't have one those FasTrak transponder thingies.  But the sign said I could make a one-time payment on their website, as long as I did it five days.  (There followed about twenty minutes of me mentally repeating to 133... 241 to 133.  And, in fact, it wasn't until just now that I remembered to pay them.  And I'm about 80% certain I properly told it my route.)  The drive got even more exciting near the end.  I'd vaguely looked ahead on Google Maps, and knew that there were about two turns I'd have to make once I got off the freeway to get to the balloon place.  But, right when I got off the freeway, Google Maps ended and asked if I was happy with my navigation.  No!  I'm not happy!  I'm not there yet!  What the hell do I do at the end of this offramp?

Make a wrong turn is what I did.  Until I got far enough way that Google Maps was able to create a route for me on surface roads.  So I follow my new and improved route ... which ends me pretty near the freeway at ... absolutely nothing?  I mean, there's this Park 'N' Ride lot, but Google Maps has the balloon place right after that and there is nothing there; just the chain link fence separating the sidewalk from the side of the freeway.  I circle around a few times.  I get gas.  I see if Waze is smarter than Google Maps on this.  I finally just park in the Park 'N' Ride, and call the balloon place to see if, in fact, their meeting place IS the Park 'N' Ride lot, and there's no actual office I should be looking for.  I confirm that this is the case.  I also confirm that the restroom for our use is at the gas station.  And that the nearest Starbucks is back down the road I'd made the wrong turn on.  So I go to Starbucks, get a beverage, use their probably-better-than-a-gas-station restroom, and head back (for, like, the third time) to the Park 'N' Ride lot.

Daryl, Sam, and Daryl's mom show up, shortly followed by the balloon people and the other four passengers.  There was a big guy with tattoos on his arms, and his girlfriend/wife/I didn't ask -- they were friendly enough when directly brought into conversation, but otherwise kept to themselves.  And there was a couple from Canada whose son had gifted them the balloon ride.  (More on them later.)  We were told the balloon basket had three compartments -- one for the pilot and two four-person passenger zones.  So the four of us would take one compartment, and the two couples would get friendly in their compartment.  OK.

We drive out to the balloon take-off area.  This wouldn't be notable except one of the balloon guys was questioning Canadian dude about the Canadian government.  For the duration of the ride.  ("Do you have a President?" "How does a Prime Minister get elected?" "Does you guys have, like, a Prince or something?")  Canadian Guy answered every question totally patiently; I wondered if he gets this regularly in the States.  I was sorta growing impatient during the van ride, but Canadian Guy (correctly) approached this with an attitude of "Hey, anytime someone wants to be less ignorant, it's a good thing."  And it isn't like balloon guy was completely on top of American government either.  ("So, the prime minister can't just declare war like our president can?")

Canadian Political lesson ended and we got to the lot.  There were three other balloons there, all unrolled in the lot, awaiting inflation and takeoff.
Even though we were the fourth balloon there, we were the first ones off.  After the Safety Briefing where I was a total smartass.  (Pilot:  As soon as the basket goes vertical, I want you to get into the balloon.  Don't stand around waiting; just climb onboard.  OK, test: as soon as the basket goes vertical, you...?  Me:  We all rush to the balloon and jump in!  Pushing people out of the way!  Climbing over bodies!  Pilot:  OK, now we don't want that happening either.  What did you say, climbing something?  Me:  [looking down]  climbing... over... bodies?)

So, we climbed in the balloon at a reasonable pace where nobody got injured, and the guys who didn't know shit about our neighbor to the North came around the basket snapping picks with everyone's camera for them.
And they released the lines and we were off!  Nice and smooth and riding the currents up over some crazy expensive houses.  We waved at some folks in their swimming pool.  (We also waved at the folks in the other balloons.  And some dude in a powered paraglider.  Basically, we waved a lot.  We're in a balloon!)

The flight is not bumpy at all.  Indeed, as the pilot pointed out, you don't even feel the wind, because you're pretty much moving with it.  It's a very quiet calm ride, and isn't scary at all.

Excepting when we, er, parked.  Experience in airplanes tells your body that you can continue flying in the air as long as you're MOVING, but if you stop, you're going to drop like Wile E. Coyote having just discovered he's run out of cliff.  Now, when the balloon stops, there's SCIENCE holding you in place.  (Some sort of equilibrium between the force of the hot air on the inside of the balloon against gravity.  I don't know what's going on exactly, but I'm pretty sure I drew it out with vectors in High School Physics.)  Our pilot kept throwing a little flame in there any time we needed it to maintain height, but we pretty much just sat at 3000 feet, just above the clouds, and admired the view.

Sam, as befits a five-year-old, was alternating between being bored and saying this was the best day ever.  I particular liked the time when he started yelling, "Mom!" as though she could hear him from 3000 feet up (and about 15 miles away).  (And then "Alice!" because, clearly, he didn't need a response from all Moms in a 15-mile radius.)

During the ride, our pilot kept talking with the chase team on the walkie, trying to plan the location of our landing.  It was not going well.  He'd named a general area, and then we heard him say things like, "the large rectangular field after the white fence."  And then the chase crew responded, and he'd say, "it's a field that looks like a large rectangle."  I questioned if maybe this was a new chase crew.

Since the crew couldn't quite place the rectangular field, we landed in a tiny little valley off an access road (which they COULD place).  The landing was a little bumpy.  Our pilot (who had not shown a massive sense of humor to this point) came up with, "Don't worry; those rocks will break our fall."  We bounced on the rocks a couple times, but ended up nicely landed ON the access road.  Which made loading the balloon and basket back on the trailer a lot easier.  The guys did the loading (after deflating the balloon -- which first covered the entire basket while we were still in it -- and totally reminded me of when we were in kindergarten and played under a giant parachute.  

The pilot opened the Traditional Balloon Champagne (and offered to mix it with the Not Very Traditional Sprite) and we enjoyed our beverages (I had about a half cup of Champagne/Sprite, and two cups of water) while the crew rolled up the balloon.  We drove back to the Park 'N' Ride, where it dawned on me that maybe I shouldn't have had all that water because the Gas Station Bathroom seemed Even Less Appetizing after dark.

I drove those 110 miles home very quickly indeed.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

50 for 50: 15 -- Go to a Con with Terry

Con going is actually one of the few things on my 50 for 50 list which is almost bucket-listy.  I can't say I've NEVER been to a Con before, but my Con going history stopped somewhere in the early 1990s (if I could find the T-shirt, I could pin that date down exactly), and I'm pretty sure the whole Con experience has changed dramatically in the intervening 20+ years.  So this is basically a new thing for me.

When I posed the possibility of going to the D23 Expo, Terry volunteered.  We bought tickets for just one day of the three-day All Things Disney fest -- sort of just dipping a toe in the D23 Experience -- rather than a full-scale dive.

And while most people we met there were friendly, a lot of the other attendees were, um, kinda Hard Cord Disnerds who didn't want to waste time with posers.  (Some folks were EXTREMELY committed to their cosplay.)

But let me back that monorail up and start at the beginning.

The beginning was buying the tickets when they went on sale last year.  The middle was when we later actually LEARNED stuff about the D23 Expo and started realizing that this was a super-crowded affair with plenty of lines and the only way you can end up actually seeing the panels that you want to see WITHOUT a massive wait is if you pay way more money (and get a time machine, because you need to have paid the way more money months ago).  The more we learned ... like that there are three speciality shops inside the convention hall selling cool Disney stuff and that THE SHOPS had three-to-four hour waits in previous years ... the more we thought we might be in over our heads.

But, the day arrived and we gamely started our trip to the Anaheim Convention Center.  The Con opened at 9:00 today.  We toyed with arriving at 9:00 too, but figured everyone would do that, so we figured we'd wait out the crowds and aim for something more 10ish.

"Wait out the crowds."  Ha!

We got to the Convention Center around 10 and were simultaneously hit with two signs that we maybe guessed wrong.  The first was the sign telling us to park over at the Honda Center because Convention Center parking was full.  The second was the long line of people.  The looooooong line of people.  Down the block.  Past the hotel.  And turning around and doubling all the way the back.  At 10.

By the time we got to the Honda Center, parked, and caught the shuttle back to the Convention Center, I could not actually tell you whether the line was longer or shorter.  There were two reasons for this.  The first was that they had decided to move the line from the sidewalk to a set of switchbacks they'd taped on the ground on the premises of the convention center itself (but still out in the hot son).  The second was that the D23 Employee helpfully holding the "End of Queue" sign was not, in fact, at the end of the queue, but rather surrounded by a mob of people.  We found her and asked where to join the line.  Since she was mid-line-move, the most she could say was, "You're fine right there," while crowds of people swirled around us -- either moving in their preset line patterns or, like us, slowly spinning around wondering where the hell we were supposed to go.  We eventually found some people who seemed to be near the end of the line, and stood behind them expectantly.

45 minutes later -- including one little line move in which we feared we were being either booted back on the street or (worse) aimed back toward the "End of Queue" lady -- and we made it into the air conditioned glory of the Convention Center.

Yay!  We made it.

We aim to go inside the actual Con, but are stopped by...

OK, I'm not sure whether this is a Good Idea or a Bad Idea, but it's a Damn Frustrating One for the rest of us.  There's a big hall where all the exciting panels are held at one end of the convention center.  They've decided to use ANOTHER big hall as a holding pen/waiting room for that hall.  And the holding pen hall is at the opposite end of the convention center.  So, when we finally get in the convention center, we can't actually get into the convention, because we're stopped by the parade of several thousand people being transferred from waiting room to big hall.

So THEN we get in.  And our first plan is to wait in another line.  Apparently, the four-hour-lines-for-shops thing last time was considered something of a fiasco, so the D23 people decide to create a "StorePass" -- you pick up a StorePass and this gets you in the store later in the day at a designated time.  Great!  Let's get those!

There's a long line.  The End of Queue person somehow sends us to the wrong line (WTF is wrong with these people?!  They have ONE JOB) but we come back and stand in the right one.  It looks to be about 45 minutes.

About 15 minutes in, they run out of passes for the store we want to get into.  (We later hear, from some pin-trading peeps who share our table at lunch, that they waited SIX HOURS to get into that store yesterday.  So, we're thinking maybe without StorePasses, we're just going to take a Pass on that Store.  We later see one of the OTHER stores -- the one we don't really want to go to anyway, has a standby wait time of over two hours.  Yeah, we're not seeing a lot of Disney shopping in our future today.)

We walk around a few of the NOT Disney-owned tables.  The standard con stuff where people sell their collectibles and memorabilia and licensed merchandise and stuff I'm sure isn't licensed (and don't entirely know how it got in there).  We see some dude selling framed posters and cels, and (I am not making this up) a framed square of carpet from Walt's office.  For $2000.  There is also a U.S. post office selling Disney Villain stamps.  There are something like 5 or 6 windows.  The line is longer than your regular post office on tax day.

We move into another section of the Con -- here's the rather more official stuff.  There's a HUGE Marvel area (many, many switchbacks -- there's something Avengersy going on, but apparently you had to get a wristband for it between 9:00 and 9:30.  I think back to the helpful couple we met when we walked in who said they were in line outside the Convention Center from 6:00 a.m. and didn't get in until after 9:30.  I imagine that if they were Marvel fans, they were pretty ticked).  There's a huge area showing off the model of the planned Star Wars land expansion -- the line to GET IN AND LOOK AT THE MODEL looks to be over an hour.

There's a ... thing.  A Pirates of the Caribbean thing.  It's walled off and you can't tell what's going on in there.  You can't tell if it's about the movies or the ride or a wench auction or ... I don't know, an upcoming video game?  It doesn't really say.  There's a line of people waiting for it in a huge set of switchbacks across the way.  We decide to ask them what they're waiting for.  They DON'T KNOW.  We randomly pull over two different guests at various points in the line, and they just say it's the Pirates thing.  We ask if they know what it is, but they don't.  I think about the stories I heard from Communist Russia -- where if you saw a line on the street, you'd just stand in it, on the theory that you needed whatever product they had at the front of it.  We did not join the line.  Wonder if it was toilet paper.

There was a "Lion King" thing -- they had VR Goggles (and headphones) and you sat down and saw about 90 seconds from "Circle of Life" which they'd recorded in 360 degree VR from the Broadway production.  The line for that looked to be less than 20 minutes, and I figured we should do it largely because WE HADN'T REALLY DONE SHIT and I was getting pretty annoyed.  At amusement parks, I think of the "line to ride" ratio -- how much fun do you get for how much time in line.  At this con, all we'd bloody DONE was wait in line, and I was wanting some fun, even if it was just 90 seconds of VR of a show I've seen live quite a few times.  We waited.  We VR'd.  We got little "Lion King" pins.  I felt a measure of victory, but the con still owed us a great deal more fun if they were going to be worth the wait of getting in.

BTW, here is my huuuuuge souvenir Lion King pin (next to a quarter for scale).

I demanded a photo.  Terry and I would, at the very least, have to get a good picture for my 50 for 50 collection.  There were lots of photo opps around the con -- props ("Lola" from "Agents of SHIELD") and promotional-type things (a Lego BB-8) -- but Terry and I eventually settled on this one.

I found its very existence kind of hilarious.  I mean, it isn't like it's THE ACTUAL BOAT from "Moana."  But we lined up for our photo op on the full-scale outrigger created to look exactly like the one from an animated movie because that's how we roll.

Somewhere in our adventures we had to stop walking entirely for the parade.  NOT the next parade of audience from the holding pen to the main hall, but an ACTUAL PARADE down the middle of the convention hall.  With balloons.  And dancers.  And guests standing about three-people deep on each side, all holding their cell phone in the air to catch a glimpse of what they couldn't see.  They had (allegedly) left a path BEHIND the parade-viewers for guests to squeeze past and just move through the convention hall, but someone about three people in front of us was using a wheelchair and unable to fit into the, oh, 12 or so inches we had to sidle through to get to the clearing on the other side.  So we weren't going anywhere, and while our single-file line of people stopped progressing, we stood there NOT watching the parade.  Dude in front of me got genuinely excited when the "grand marshal" came by, but as it was an actor I'd never heard of from a show I don't watch, I didn't feel bad that my only view of him was through someone's cell phone screen in the air.

(Earlier, Terry had glimpsed Jon Favreau being whisked through the crowds -- probably shuttling between something Lion King-y and something Marvel-y.  I toyed with yelling, "Hey!  Happy!  Why were such a dick to Spider-Man?" but he was already gone, and it probably would have been wrong anyway.)

We went back into the questionably-licensed merchandise.  I bought a crocheted tissue box cover with the SHIELD and Hydra logos on it (for the Geeky Guest Room!) and nearly bought a (totally licensed) "Deadpool" handbag.  Terry and I looked at a bunch of pins someone was selling, and I amused myself by asking for a pin which they knew existed, but had never owned -- a Chip & Dale eating apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah.  (I owned one at one time, but may have lost it during the burglary.)

We left.  The fact that we were leaving early dawned on me-- well, it dawned on Terry when we first drove up and saw the line around the building.  But it dawned on me when we sat down for a rest/snack at a table and sat there for over an hour talking about books we'd read.  And as I sucked back my overpriced Italian Ice and chatted about authors who had disappointed us, I started to think, "we could probably have this conversation someplace else."

As we got home, I told Terry I'd had fun and thanked him for joining me on this adventure.  And, we heartily agreed, we're never going back.