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.

Friday, November 10, 2017

50 for 50: 28 - See a Movie at the Snooty Theater with Debbie and Caroline

(Looks like I had two of the Watch Something And Stuff My Face things in a row.)

Debbie and Caroline picked today (a good choice, since it's a day off, at least for some of us) for the movie, without knowing what we'd see.  Earlier this week, we looked at the list of flicks playing the local snooty theater, and chose "Blade Runner 2049."

We exchanged a few more emails about parking and stuff, and then, just the other day, Caroline sends me and Debbie an email about parking which accidentally attaches the thread between the two of them where they're talking about treating me to the movie.

(My rule on 50 for 50 stuff is that I assume we pay for ourselves.  Gifts are not expected, but are gratefully accepted.  Debbie and Caroline had read the rules, because they're lawyers and stuff, so had been discussing details.  And accidentally sent it to me.)

This ... kind of made my day.  Everyone makes the mistake of sending someone an email they didn't mean to send, and, conveniently, this one happened to contain NICE info I wasn't supposed to see.  I start running through possibilities for a snarky response.  But, I mean, these are my FRIENDS and they're talking about TAKING ME OUT for my BIRTHDAY.  I decide to (shockingly) take the high road on this one and just pretend I never read it.  (I start rehearsing, "You guys?!  Are you sure?  That's so generous.  Thank you so much!")

Caroline meets me at my house and we drive over the movie place; Debbie is meeting us there.  We're just about pulling in the parking lot when she mentions the email snafu, assuming I read it.  Like, there is zero possibility that I didn't read it.  (I shelve my Academy Award performance.)  She and Debbie had been waiting for my snarky response, and were surprised they didn't get one.

We are already laughing about this when we get to the theater.  We meet Debbie in the lounge, enjoy pre-movie drinks, and laugh about all the amusing things we could have emailed each other yesterday.

The iPic theater in Pasadena is super snooty.  The seats are big, comfy suede recliners.  With pillows and blankies.  And a nice usher/server type who gives everyone a bag of warm popcorn, then takes food orders and brings you dinner during the movie.  Caroline likened it to flying first class.  "Blade Runner 2049" was so damn long, I was pretty sure we'd landed in New York by the time it was over.

We had a blast.  Caroline ordered some chicken strips and I ordered some fish and chips.  It wasn't until we'd each finished an entire strip of deep fried goodness that we realized we'd been served each other's plate.  Much laughter.  We got dessert (a big cookie) which we had to run back and forth between our two rows to share it amongst the three of us.  More laughter.  Once the movie ended, we tried to take our selfie and ended up with Worst Photo Ever.  (I had to promise to not put it up here, but, trust me, so much more laughter.)  We tried again outside the theater, and that one failed, too.  A nice couple walking by offered to take one for us if we'd take one for them, which finally resulted in this.

Which was not what we were hoping for and didn't even include the theater's marquee, but if you think I was overstating things about the failed selfie attempts, about the ONLY thing that came out right in this one WAS the marquee.

Which is somehow just a perfect representation of the whole thing.  Nothing seemed to go exactly according to plan, but that just made us laugh harder.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

50 for 50: 27 - Pizza and Binge-Watch a Show with Rusty

When I did the massive 50 for 50 sign-ups (with the list of things and the big open calendar), Rusty picked today for the binge, because there would be TONS of stuff available to watch.

A week or so ago, we talked about options and made our selection.  Because it would take pretty much all day, we agreed Rusty would arrive at 10:00 in the morning.

I want to be clear on this:  just the other day, I wasn't 100% positive we'd said 10:00.  We confirmed; it was totally 10:00.

Last night, I set the alarm for 8:30.  That would give me enough time to shower and be ready and still have some time to crap around with the cat on my lap.

So, the alarm goes off at 8:30 as planned.  I take a few minutes to get up.  Alexa gives me the news.  I get up.  It's now, like, 8:45.  Rather than shower first, I choose to start with the "crap around with the cat on my lap" part of the morning.  Sit on the sofa, cat comes in for a snuggle, and I start posting on Facebook about the "Thor" movie.  About 5 minutes in to this, I see Rusty walk up my walk.

It isn't even 9:00.

I go to turn off the alarm and let Rusty in, preparing to be pissed off about his massive earliness.  The alarm panel clock catches my eye.  It says 9:51.  It says WHAT?  I find another clock.  It is, in fact, just about 10:00.  Except in my bedroom, where my new clock is certain it's just 9:00.

Oh... fuck.  I have the date wrong on the bedroom clock, don't I?  (Click calendar button.)  Yep, it thinks it's tomorrow.  And it apparently changes automatically for Daylight Savings.

So, Rusty steps out for a bit while I shower, and we actually get started on the binging at 11:00.

Rusty is solidly prepared for a binge-fest.  He's brought muffins and snacks and beverages and popcorn.  And cozy bathrobes and bunny slippers.

Which explains why, about 10 hours later, we can proudly display this:

Oh yeah.  "Stranger Things," Season Two, accomplished in its entirety, with only pizza and potty breaks.

It wasn't quite as enthralling as the first season, but I enjoyed it.  Particularly all the brilliant 1980s details.  (About an hour in, I commented that I need to rethink all of my high school wardrobe choices.)  And I continue to appreciate the good acting they get out of the young cast.

A bit disappointed that there was so much Nancy in this thing.  Honestly, I'm pretty sure we all liked Barb so much last season because we all WERE Barb -- nobody was Nancy.  Well, I mean, I'm sure SOMEONE was Nancy; the popular girls who made bad choices probably grew up and got jobs and watch Netflix like everyone else.  But, surely, "Stranger Things" wasn't made for them; it was made for the nerds, the outsiders, the people who didn't know what the hell they were supposed to do at the party.  That's the Barbs and Dustins, not the Nancys.  Nancy was in the first season largely as the older sister while we watched her little brother and his friends do most of the heavy-lifting.  Season Two gave as much, or more, time to the teenagers.  And I honestly don't think "Stranger Things" would have been the pop culture phenomenon it was if it had come off as just another teen horror movie (albeit one amusingly set in the 80s).  It was special because it captured the kids-against-the-world-that-doesn't-believe-them ethos of movies like "Goonies," and there was none of that this season.

And FFS, when you put Sean Astin in this thing, and then send him off alone to save the day in a super-scary situation, give the man an asthma inhaler.

But, yeah, it was fun, and a good binge.

And I have the bunny slippers as a souvenir!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

50 for 50: 26 - World Series with Roz

I lie.  "World Series" was not on my 50 for 50 list.  I had no idea the Dodgers would make the World Series back when I put the list together.  The actual item on my list was "Go to a Dodger Game and Eat at the Stadium Club."  The fact that it happened to end up on a World Series game was, well, "bonus" may be an understatement.

(It almost didn't happen.  Roz and I had tickets for Game 6 of the World Series -- thank you, Roz, for buying those season tickets for so long and sharing the wealth with so many of us.  ANYWAY, we had the Game 6 tickets, and Dodger Stadium emailed everyone before the World Series to say, hey, MLB is taking over the Stadium Club during the World Series, so it's hot dogs out of a cardbox box on your lap for everyone.  But then, just a couple days ago, we got ANOTHER email that said, hey, turns out MLB doesn't need the Stadium Club for Game 6 after all.  It was, like, fate.)  The game starts at 5:20; we get pre-game reservations for 2:00.

Getting there was a bit exciting, because we were also told the gates to the parking lot opened at 2:00 (and that they'd only hold the Stadium Club reservation for ten minutes) but we joined the impressive queue of cars outside Dodger Stadium, and they actually let us in closer to 1:30, and when all was said and done, we were parked, through security, and standing in line for the Stadium Club at 1:57.

We are shown to our table out on the patio.  (Pause here.  When we were told the Stadium Club was available for Game 6, they said "but not the patio."  They seated us on the patio anyway.  I'm tellin' y'all:  Fate.)  We had a lovely table (reserved just for us for two whole hours) on the covered patio from which we could watch batting practice, stuff ourselves senseless from the yummy buffet (from shrimp and crab cocktail to carved lamb and ending rather happily on some Halloween brownie thing with an upside-down chocolate cone on it like a witch's hat), use the much nicer bathrooms, take many pictures, and get super excited about the fact that HOLY CRAP, WE'RE AT THE WORLD SERIES!!!

Yeah, y'all don't care about our fine dining experience.  "Move on to what it's like to be at the World Series," you say.

What it's like to be at the World Series:

Everybody cares.

Look.  You go to a regular season game and they are trying to get you to care about the baseball game.  (Hell, they're very likely giving you a free hat or a bobblehead or something just as a "thank you" for showing up.)  There's people in the crowd batting around beach balls, or doing the wave, or doing whatever else has caught their attention other than paying attention to the baseball that's going on.  They're buying food or going back to the bar for another beer and easily missing an inning or two when they're up at the concession stands because the food and the beer are a vital part of the Dodger Stadium Experience and they're here to enjoy that as much as (or more than) the game.  There are annoyingly cheerful "pre-game hosts" encouraging you to post shit on social media and trying to get the crowd excited about the baseball that's going to happen.  And during the game, the organist and the giganto DodgerVision screen are regularly encouraging you to clap or cheer or chant "Let's Go Dodgers" or just to Make Some Noise.

And at the World Series everyone cares about the BASEBALL.  Not just scoring runs.  Not just making outs.  EVERYONE cares about EVERY PITCH.  You hang on it.  You cheer the strikes against the other team.  You cheer the balls when the Dodgers are at bat.  DodgerVision plays its usual "Make Some Noise" prompts, but it is generally behind the curve on this one, because we are already, organically, making quite a great deal of noise.  Everyone knows who Kenley Jansen is.  (And most everyone wonders if Dave Roberts is putting him in too early.  He wasn't.)  Hell, everyone knows who Yuli Gurriel is.  (And enthusiastically expresses their disappointment in him.)

But what attending the World Series is, when you get right down to it, is watching a game with 50,000 people who, like you, are holding their breath on every pitch.

Everyone is so happy to be there, they're super friendly.  When we sat down for the game, a peanut landed in my lap.  I'm looking around for the Peanut Fairy, and some guy about 8 rows back yells, "It was me."  He was aiming for his father, who was sitting two rows in front of me.  I aim the peanut at the father and hit him square in the back (I'm actually proud that I successfully executed that) but I fail to get his attention.  Later in the game, a foul ball comes flying into our section and the father catches it.  At the breaks between the action, he passes it around (someone immediately says, "yup, feels slicker" -- and I smile, because it's like we're sharing an inside joke with the whole section) and lets some kids take selfies with the World Series Baseball Actually Pitched By A World Series Pitcher and Struck By A World Series Bat.

There are some Astros fans two rows in front of us.  They're cheering their team -- whenever they get a hit, they High Five the Astros fans across the aisle.  We generally leave them to it, no fightin' words or anything, but when they try a "Let's Go, Altuve!" chant, we drown it out with "Let's Go, Dodgers!"  (We have the numbers; it isn't hard.)

The Astros were ahead by 1, but I wasn't worried.  Not in what had been a pretty high-scoring series to this point.  (Watching sports, I often have a thought ending with, "... then they deserve to lose."  At this game, it began with, "If the Dodgers can't manage to score one damn run, ....")  And, bless 'em, the Dodgers tied it up and got ahead with a rally in the sixth which had us standing, swinging those rally towels, and cheering till we were hoarse.  But it wasn't until the seventh when I thought, "We might actually win this thing 3-1."

I was so into the game -- so into how very much I wanted us to win this game -- I kinda forgot it was Game 6 of the World Series and that we were down three games to two.  Which is to say that the game, the MOMENT, felt so important itself, I forgot that it was actually a must-win situation or the Dodgers would be second-place finishers this year.  And right around when I remembered it, we were six outs away, and it seemed doable.  (And Jansen got three outs in the 8th on something like 8 pitches, and I thought, holy shit, just three more easily accomplishable outs and this thing goes to seven games!)

And they did it.  And it wasn't pandemonium -- that, I assume, comes if they win tomorrow -- but it was JOY.  Strangers high-fiving all over the place.  Everyone running into the aisle to try to get a picture with "Dodgers Win!" or "1 Game to Go!" on the ribbon screens behind them.  (Most of us failing, because the damn things were too bright.)

The Astros fans were muted, but good sports.  "Good win," I heard one say, "It'll be a great game tomorrow."

I bet it will.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

50 for 50: 25 - Maze with Susan and Jeff

When I was a kid, I liked solving mazes.  The paper ones you solve with a pencil.  I always used to solve them in my head first, tracing the path with my finger, before I'd bother picking up the pencil and making the line.  Wouldn't want to actually WRITE DOWN me making a mistake, going down a dead end.

This, I'm sure, is an insight into my personality.

I think life-sized mazes you get lost in are fun.  I've done a couple of mirror mazes and one hedge maze, and have come to the conclusion that I kind of suck at them, but they're fun.  I do get lost easily, though.  I'm pretty good at remembering where I am when I'm in a city -- make a left at the McDonald's, turn again just past the gelato shop, that sort of thing.  But in a mirror maze, about all you can see is ... you.  And in the hedge maze, it's all hedge.  Hard to find landmarks when it all looks the same.  Each time I've stepped in, I've gotten pretty disoriented shortly after entering, and have only made it out by luck (or, at that hedge maze in England, the assistance of some kid yelling to her Dad to "follow my voice!")

Jeff and Susan initially found an 11-acre corn maze out in Temecula, which is, like, 100 miles from here.  And while we first considered getting our 'Murica on (the maze is mown in the shape of the Statute of Liberty, with the text:  "America - Land of the Free Because of the Brave.  God Bless Our Military") we decided to take a pass on the place because it was so far away (and because I was a little cautious of whatever the hell "Show your Patriotism on our Wall of Freedom!" meant in the advertising), and we ultimately settled on a 4-acre job which was much closer (and the pattern of the maze was a little farmhouse with the farmer in front of it, so I was pretty sure they'd let us in without us having to prove ourselves on the Wall of Patriotism).

But we also picked this one because (1) it wasn't one of the scary Halloween ones; and (2) it had jokes to solve!

We were a little late arriving (because I'm slower getting started on the weekends (I can hear my coworkers say "riiiiight, just on the weekends") and also the cat is snuggly).  We arrived at the local farm (Forneris Farms) ponied up our cash (but, sadly, not for the pony rides -- they had a weight limit of "ha ha, no"), got our wristbands, and made our way toward the maze entrance.

They give you a postcard which has a map of the maze on one side -- and also a phone number to call in case you get super lost.  On the back, the jokes.  Seems there are 12 little visual puns on numbered posts hidden in the maze.  You've got to find all the posts, solve all the puns, and match the post number to the solution on the back of your postcard.  When you're done, plop your card in a box at the end.  (Randomly chosen winner gers $100 and a big pumpkin.)  OK, then, we're in.  But we're not using the map.  Maps are for wusses.  It's only four acres; we're gonna do this thing ourselves.

We walk in.  Turn, turn, and ... a choice.  Turn right, or go straight and turn right ... or, further down there are actually three right turn options.  Now, afterward, looking at the map, I see that those three right turns are actually the sides of two squares which plop you right back on the main path where you started.  But, in the maze, that was utterly lost to me.

It was not lost to Jeff.

We had not been in there that long when Susan pointed out that Jeff is an Eagle Scout.  It was all corn to me, but Jeff was noticing that broken stalk over there, or that pile of mud I'd stepped in, or that bit of green fence, or the Cheez-Its some kid had dropped (ok, to be fair, even I saw the Cheez-Its).  I guess if you know what nature looks like, and pay attention, the landmarks are as clear as the McDonald's and the gelato shop.  But, for me, I would've been hopelessly lost in what we'll safely call no time at all.

We found our first little joke on a signpost, except it was numbered 2, rather than 1.  We then found 3, and -- having confirmed the damn things are in order -- realized we had to go back for 1.  From that point, our plodding through the maze was not geared toward, "Hey, let's find the exit," but "let's cover this whole thing from start to finish, so we hit all the jokes."  And we did.  Every one.  In order.  

This is what happens when you put nerds in a corn maze.

Slightly Type-A nerds.

(Shut up, all of you.)

The jokes -- or, actually, "CORNundrums" were things like a picture of a ducky on an office chair, which was "Sitting Duck."

I requested the 50 for 50 photo be taken in front of this one, figuring it wouldn't get better than this:

OK, you may have trouble making that out, what with the holy rays of sunlight beaming down on us, but that there is a deer in front of an outhouse (with a little green tractor behind it, just in case you need the extra hint).

Once we finished and dropped our completed cornundrum entry cards in the bin, we got some beverages and sat in the shade.  I got lemonade.  I don't even like lemonade.  I might drink lemonade, like, twice a year.  This was a lemonade sort of day.  You spend an hour walking in a corn maze, you drink some lemonade.  I shoulda prolly been pickin' my teeth with a piece of hay or something.

We talk more about mazes and getting lost.  Jeff concedes that he'd never looked at the map, and was just navigating us through that thing by mentally dividing the place into sectors and making sure we covered each one.  Rational.  Tactical.  If I even need a search party, I'm putting Jeff in charge of it.

We talk about families and growing up and how neighborhoods change (and how you're not going to find your way through the old neighborhood if the bookstore is gone and the McDonald's is now a Starbucks).  We talk about houses and HOAs and floods and plumbing problems and none of these things have anything to do with mazes, but are still things we have to navigate.

It's good to have friends to help you make your way through.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

50 for 50: 24 - Horse Races with Rashida

I have not been to the horse races since--

-- well, I was a first year associate at a law firm, and we went to Hollywood Park as a summer associate outing, but some of us were fantastically late to the races because we'd had to stay late to work on the final cite-checking on this brief.  And I'm pretty sure the brief was in the Boy Scouts case where they were trying to exclude an atheist scout.  And NOW I'm back at the horse races right after Boy Scouts announced they're letting in girls.  So, yeah, it was Some Time Ago.

I put it on my list because it was fun back in the early 90s, and also because I've lived this close to Santa Anita Park and HAVEN'T BEEN, and it was starting to feel a little wrong.  This was some sort of local culture experience that I felt I needed to suck up.

Rashida and I researched this greatly, and found a deal on package that gave us private(ish) box seats, race programs, lunch entrees, drinks, and souvenir pint glasses.  We showed up early because we didn't exactly know where to go.  This turned out to be a good idea.

We showed our tickets; we got hand stamped; we got in; we were directed to go up the ramp and to the right and someone would tell us where we had to go.  And even THIS astonishingly vague set of directions was soooo wrong.  We actually find the box seating -- and then learn that we have to go to Will Call to turn our package tickets into actual tickets and food vouchers and all that other crap.  Not at the entrance we went in; but the other entrance.  We finally make our way to Will Call (getting a decent tour of the club house in the process) and back to the box seats.  This time, now that we have tickets, we are directed to our box.  It's in the front row of boxes, against the rail.  There is a woman in it.  She actually belongs in the box next to us, but thought she'd spread out since there was nobody in our box.  She seemed polite enough about it -- gathered her stuff and moved back to her own damn box next to us, although her husband(?) was sort of "maybe stay out of other people's boxes?" about it.

We sit.  We enjoy our food voucher food and start looking at the racing program to figure out which horses we would bet on, were we betting.  There are nine races today, so we're in no hurry.  Particulary when the first race is a maiden claiming race and (to my great surprise, and Rashida's astonishment) I actually knew what that meant.  (Thank you, Dick Francis novels.)  First race was actually won by a longshot.  This was useful, in the sense that it proved, right up front, that the "Handicapper's Hints" in the racing program didn't really mean shit.  Our best under-educated guess was probably just as likely to be correct as Handicapper's Hints.  (Or as correct as the $100/bet gambler who had joined the folks in the box next to us, who, halfway through the afternoon, loudly regalled his friends -- and everyone in the vicinity -- with the tale of how he won $900 bucks on one race only because the "idiot" in the teller's booth accidentally placed his bet on the wrong horse.  So now he's up $500 on the day.  And while his takeaway was "Yay, $500!" my takeaway was, "So you were down $400 before that race and would have been down another hundred if she hadn't made a mistake.  So maybe we shouldn't listen to your brilliant racing wisdom?")

Rashida and I ultimately placed wagers on, I think, two races -- including the California Distaff Handicap, the one stakes race on the program.  We each ended the day a few bucks up.  (Much less than the idiots next to us, but possibly better as a percentage of what we'd bet.)  Here's us, with our little wager tickets for the big race.

For which Rashida picked the winner.  Yay!

Here's what I learned about going to the races at Santa Anita.  It is very much (VERY MUCH) a class system.  You could get the $5 infield tickets where you can stand around the infield and buy hot dogs and cokes.  At the other end, terrace seats -- behind glass, table service, gotta dress nice.  We were solidly in second class.  Box seating with TV screens in each box, but open to the air; counter service, but higher quality food than the food court (I had a corned beef sandwich -- sorry, I had Santa Anita's Famous Corned Beef Sandwich, which was hand carved in front of me and really quite tasty; Rashida had fresh tacos).  Our beverage coupons were good for a wine or "craft beer."  That's the class we were in, Craft Beer Class.

You needed a hand stamp to get up to our level.  Because Class System.

We ran downstairs between races to grab our free pint glasses at the gift shop.  On the way, we had to stop because the horses were parading out to the starting gate, and actually going down a path we had to cross.  It was sort of neat watching them go by up close.  (The infield patrons don't have our nice seats in the shade, or access to the craft brews, but they definitely get to see the horses more up close and personal.  We made a note that if we ever go back, we should wander downstairs more just to see the horses between races.)  Grabbed the glasses, headed back upstairs.  Showed our hand stamps, went back to our seats.

Some tall pretty blond woman in front of us walks right in, doesn't show her hand stamp.  Not questioned.

Rashida and I discuss privilege, and tall pretty blond ladies who probably get in a lot of places without showing hand stamps.  You know how sometimes men tell women they should smile more, and women get offended by it?  This is a woman who is used to getting what she wants with that smile.  I decide to hate her, just on principle.

Rashida and her husband have a little girl -- a cute little 7-year-old.  We've taken her to tea.  She's sweet and quiet and likes princesses and reading.  I like her.  And here's me and Rashida, talking about Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and pretty blond privileged ladies.  And also rich kids who study dressage, and mothers who are as annoyingly clique-ish as teenagers.  And I think about the unlimited options a 7-year-old girl ought to have -- and how amazingly difficult parenting one must be.

Monday, October 9, 2017

50 for 50: 23 - House of Eternal Return with Bits and Karen

Thank you, Facebook.

Someone posted an article talking about Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return," which somehow ended up in my timeline, and in my consciousness, and, ultimately, on my 50 for 50 list.  Because this is my type of thing.  Here I am in front of it.  Inside it.  Whatever.

Yeah, OK, if you go to their website, you'll see a video where everyone says they can't describe wtf it is (beyond "immersive art installation") or compare it to anything.  I agree that it defies easy description, but I can come up with comparisons:  A Punchdrunk show.  The Beast.  The first time I played Myst.  I thought of all things while I was wandering the multiverse in the house in the bowling alley.  (And we now add THAT to the list of sentences I never thought I'd say.  Like, "Why is everyone going inside the ice machine?")  But, truly, at one point I thought you could do a Punchdrunk show in here and my brain kind of exploded.  Because, what with the interaction and the videos and the clues, it WAS a Punchdrunk show, except with the actors removed and us being allowed to talk and play and investigate and climb on everything.

I'm ... at the end.  The beginning is, yes, Meow Wolf is an immersive art installation in a converted bowling alley.  And when you walk in, you're faced with the exterior of a perfectly good Victorian house.  And you go inside the house and discover some shit went DOWN in the house.  High level paranormal shit.  "Little Girl Lost" shit.  (The "Twilight Zone" episode, not the TV movie nobody saw.)  Except it's a boy.  And maybe his whole family.  And he isn't in the wall.  But possibly the toilet.  And things have gone very, very wrong.

And you spend a good deal of time -- perhaps too much time -- reading the clues and looking at the photos and deciphering the symbols and trying to figure out what melted the chandelier (and the, um, wall), until such time as you realize this place is much MUCH bigger than you thought because there's a portal or two (or six) into another dimension or ten (or fifty) in the house.

And when you're walking through what we'll politely call the very bizarre rooms of this here multiverse (my favorite was a room in utter black and white -- with a convenient mirror on the wall for selfies!)

ANYWAY (hey, what's that green E doing in my picture?), when you're walking through the different dimensions you think, "the whole mystery of the house is bullshit; this is just about giving the Meow Wolf artists a bunch of rooms to design totally crazy stuff in."  And EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU THINK IT (seriously, it is timed to the second), you stumble upon another clue to the puzzle and you get interested in the mystery again.  And it's insanely well done and pitched right at the point where you can spend a good four hours in the place and feel satisfied that you understand some of the broad outlines of what went down; but still curious enough to want to come back again and play in it some more.  Because there are more puzzles than you think there are.  Hell, just when we got ready to leave, we started to realize that WE might not be on the side of this that we thought we were.  (And what the hell was going on with Not Morgan's Bedroom?)

Probably the coolest thing about Meow Wolf is that Karen and Bits agreed to go to this thing to humor me, but ultimately ended up enjoying it.  (Bits more than Karen; Karen got a bit of vertigo and had to leave the house -- me and Bits stayed inside and we ... you guys, we Found Out Where The Socks Go. (!) This, alone, was worth the price of admission.)

But, of course, the 50 for 50 part of this is that I was enjoying it with friends -- and the whole day was full of that.  The time I spent in Meow Wolf with Bits was fun because we were both into the mystery and really trying to piece it together.  And afterward, we came back to the hotel where Karen is refurbishing an old (1888) quilt.  Well, refurbish isn't the word.  She's tidying it up, but having friends and family add stitches and things that have significance for them.  So, back in the room, we're sitting on the sofa -- I'm adding some (easy) stitching around a little field of velvet on the quilt, while Karen is sewing something else, and we're talking about family and life and it's probably very similar to how things went back when ladies worked on quilts in the late 19th Century.  And THEN, I suggested Karen put the Yale Law School shield in the little blue velvet field I'd sewed around -- for to represent where we met and became friends. Which she's doing as we speak.  :)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

50 for 50: Pre-23. New Mexico with Karen and Bits

I'm gonna say right off that although the ACTUAL 50 for 50 thing is tomorrow, I'm going to just broaden the event out to the whole two days we're here, because damn.

The morning started at 5:00, when we drove to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  There was a lot of stop and slow traffic for the last coupla miles, and a near miss at the parking lot we were directed to, but somehow we ended up at the balloon fiesta JUST IN TIME for the Dawn Patrol, which is a small series of balloons they send up in the darkness.

I took very, very few photos of Dawn Patrol.  This was due, in part, to the fact that I'm really big on EXPERIENCING a thing and not taking anything away from it to watch it on a screen.  And also, in part, to it being too damn cold for me to take off my gloves to operate my camera phone.  Here's, like, my one picture of balloons before dawn.

But my friends, Karen and Bits, wanted to take lots of pictures, so we were walking out on the field to find more balloons and better views, and eventually dawn well and truly happened.  And we looked around -- really looked around where we had walked in the darkness -- and discovered we'd walked nearly all the way to the other end of the balloon field.  (Which is something like 54 football fields in size.)  Balloons were starting to inflate around us.  We asked a nearby dude with a big camera (who looked like he knew what he was doing -- when it comes to zoom lenses, apparently size DOES matter) where we should stand for the upcoming mass ascension, and he suggested that we could stay pretty much where we were.  Because being there on the field, we would be SURROUNDED by balloons.  I did not necessarily believe this.  I probably should have.

Balloons are everywhere.  There were set spaces on the field for each balloon crew -- they come in a truck, unload the balloon, stretch it out, fill it up, light it up, and take off.  Then the truck leaves (doubling as the chase vehicle).  We found an open space -- either a crew didn't show, or it was a balloon that already left in dawn patrol -- and we stood there looking at the balloons around us.  Until some dude starts inflating on my left and another is inflating on my right and I have to run forward to not get squashed because THERE ARE SO MANY BALLOONS THEY CANNOT INFLATE WITHOUT PRESSING AGAINST EACH OTHER.  Holy fuck, that's a lot of balloons.

Seriously.  Don't get distracted by all the balloons in the air in that picture -- look at the field of balloons on the ground, pressing against each other, just waiting to go.

Here's us, grinning like idiots, with a bunch of balloons behind us.

(I just like this picture.)

Also, they had lots of balloons shaped like ... things that aren't balloons.  I got a really good picture of the Yoda balloon.  Also, I got pictures of the Boba Fett guarding the Darth Vader and Yoda balloon inflation -- with a lot of lens flare, which somehow seems appropriate.

We had paid a lot of money for access to the snooty area at Balloon Fiesta, which gave us the good parking, a breakfast buffet, and non-porta-john-toilets.  (I had sorta wanted this from the start, but didn't know if Karen and Bits would be interested in upgrading to the pricey tickets.  Said Karen, "You had me at bathrooms.")  So, after we watched all the ascending, we went back to the snooty area, had our breakfast, used our toilets, got our free lapel pins, and ... realized we had too much to do the rest of the day, so headed out of there.

Back to the hotel to change, then off to Kasha-Katuwe National Monument.  It was crowded.  It was so crowded, cars were being held at the entrance because the parking lot was full.  We waited our turn, ponied up our five bucks, and--  OK, while we were waiting our turn, the ranger gave us a little booklet about the Monument, and that's when Karen read about the two hikes or the "spectacular overlook" you could drive up to.  I'm all for seeing nature without the hike, so we drove up to the overlook and we were ALONE up there.  (Does nobody else read the little booklet?  Karen's the sort who always reads the booklet, so she always finds the stuff everybody misses.)

Overlook selfie!

And then we got in the car and drove PAST Santa Fe (that's for tomorrow) to Los Alamos.

It was pretty cool to have someone TAKE the obligatory photo for us, so we weren't trying to somehow get our three faces and that giant sign in there for the selfie, but Random Sweaty Man Going For A Run might have gone a little too distant on this shot.

We stopped at the Starbucks and I was totally annoyed that they only sold a New Mexico Starbucks mug, because I really wanted a Los Alamos Starbucks mug.  Like maybe with a little mushroom cloud or something?

We... couldn't find the Los Alamos History Museum.  Google Maps helpfully took us down a dead end, and we eventually parked at the Los Alamos Senior Center and wandered around a bunch of buildings which looked vaguely like the image Google was showing us until we found it.  (The dead end was actually the start of a path you should walk down -- it was a coupla buildings away and didn't front on the road.)  Felt like idiots.  Way too many advanced degrees among the three of us to not be able to find a damn museum.

I really dug the museum.  A bit of stuff about it before the Manhattan Project days, but, of course, the whole BUILDING AND TESTING A NUCLEAR BOMB bit was front and center.  (And the post-war Cold War Era stuff, too.)  Had a very ... ambivalent message.  They tried to be thought provoking about nuclear bombs and asked visitors to write down their answer to the question of whether scientists should be responsible for making weapons that kill.  They posted a few answers on the wall in the form of a silent dialogue.  Very interesting.

(Also had cool artifacts from the era, including a plastic mug which said "Los Alamos" and had a mushroom cloud on it and I was all, "See?  This is what Starbucks needed.")

On the way back, we stopped at a rock what looked like E.T. from one angle, but it's actually called Camel Rock.  In a surprising burst of respect, I decided to take the selfie from an angle which confirms its camelishness.

Driving back, we talked about family history and preserving it and ancestry and connections to the past and (for some damn reason) the National Anthem protests.  Got a little heated there on that last one, but, hey, we've been friends for almost 30 years -- not gonna let anything like that get in our way.

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!)