Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Notes From Our SoCal Vacation

Sunday, January 24
Plan a: 6 AM flight to Dallas, then to LA. Cancelled.
Plan b: 2 PM flight to Boston, then to LA. Cancelled.
Plan c: Rent car, drive to Boston, 4:30 PM flight to LA. Bingo.
After we cross the Massachusetts state line, we pass an actual Podunk Road. Evidence if you don’t believe me: https://goo.gl/maps/8oEqiVXa8hQ2. Hicksville, Yehupits, and Yenem’s Veldt must be nearby.
Make it to Logan Airport (never been there before) with plenty of time to spare, and our boys have never been to MA before, so they add two new states to their itineraries via this vacation. Our oldest will have 11 once we reach CA, more states than her age. Cool. I have 33.
While we wait for the plane, our oldest and youngest play in a Kidport. Our middlest hangs out with me watching the Patriots/Broncos game, and he cheers for the Broncos – the only one in New England to do so. I tell him I’m not getting into a bar fight on account of him. He’s on his own.
Six-hour flight is pretty breezy. Kids are manageable, and I spend the time going through all the samples on my Kindle, making decisions on whether to put them into the NYPL hold queue. It’s a process. Also listen to some Satriani off the plane’s entertainment. No movies worth seeing.
At baggage claim, I see a bag shoot out of the chute and actually attack a traveler. Never seen that before. My wife points out that it happened because it was put on the belt standing up. Nice job, Mensa Baggage Handlers.
Rental in hand, we drive out in search of food. We come across a street named Hill. That’s it. Hill. Interesting.
We also learn, via my quick calculations, that LA drivers are 3.4 times crazier than NY ones.
We pit-stop at our hotel to pick up my mother-in-law, a complete surprise for our kids. Our daughter’s eyes positively bug out of her head when she sees her gramma. Adorable.
Dinner is gottened at LA Burgers Bar, a delightfully aromatic place with some pretty good food. Another item I’d never seen before: a guy with a tattoo inside his ear. Ouch.
En route to the hotel, I tell the kids that in this town, people are famous, or want to be famous, and since I’m an expert face-recognizer, it is my mission to spot two celebrities before our vacation is through. More on that later.
We chow down our takeout at the hotel, and, saturated with the yummies, we hit the sack. Long, fun day on tap for tomorrow.
Monday, January 25
Do a fave vacation thing: go for a morning run, come back with breakfast supplies. This one is a 28:25 5k at 7 AM through LA, a straight line down Wilshire Boulevard and back, and concluding with stocking up at Ralph’s, after the CVS failed me with sparsely-stocked shelves.
LA has lots of homeless people, but they're very friendly. I guess the East and West coast conduct their business differently.
We pack up (actually, we didn't really unpack), have a hardy breakfast, and head out.
We drive through “Miracle Mile” – to preview the stretch to see what the kids ae interested in - to get to the Santa Monica Pier, via Santa Monica Boulevard – one of several places we encounter that are either the name of a song or a song lyric. I won’t insult anyone by naming the artist. I trust you to do that yourself.
Looks like, whereas NYC has Citibikes, LA has HULUbikes.
While taking a picture under the pier sign, I hear someone say "I got a real problem with you people." in my direction. Oh! I’m wearing my Festivus Virtual 5k t-shirt. Ha! It would be the first of many comments for the day. Quite the attention grabber.
I did not know the pier was the official end of Route 66! It starts in Chicago. Maybe I’ll drive it one day – or run it.
While I fetch a coffee on the pier at one of LA’s many Coffee Beans and Tea Leaves (what is the precise plural for that?), the fam explores the rest of the pier. My wife texts the following:
“Seal at the very end. And not the celebrity.” Ha! Also an inside joke, as Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel (can I google or what?) once refused me his autograph.
The aquarium is closed for the day, and the amusement park is a bust, so the fam heads down to the beach, and my big boy and I go in search of fishing lessons, which is supposed to be here, but isn’t. Boo!
We rejoin at Santa Monica Beach, and the kids have the free time of their lives (they seem to enjoy the free stuff the most). We let them frolic in their civvies until someone goes face first or the meter’s up, whichever comes first.
The beach looks familiar. Yes, Baywatch was filmed here, and there’s a picture of me, my sis, and my dad on the beach here, from 1981 or thereabouts. I recreate the pic with my kids for kicks.
For a quick bite, we sit down on benches surrounding what looks like a bocce court, but the gravel is thicker. Google to the rescue: it’s a Pétanque court. Differences? Pétanque: French, tossing, standing still, palm down throw. Bocce: Italian, rolling, running start, palm up. Interesting.
Satisfied, we head out for official lunch back in LA, and find ourselves at Nagila Pizza. Good food, big pies.
While the ladies use the facilities, I introduce my boys to Ms. Pac-Man (fast version! Woohoo!) and Donkey Kong. A waiter passes by and brags that the high score is his. Pfft, given time, I woulda beat that on my first life.
The children have decided which museums they wish to visit. The boys will go with my wife and her mom to the La Brea Tar Pits. I’ll go with our daughter to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Babydoll and I have a lovely time, and admire some seriously interesting installations, and I learn that she and I both appreciate - and have no appreciation for - the same forms of art. Namely, we enjoy items that evince talent, effort, vision, ingenuity, and creativity in realistic, metaphoric, abstract, or surreal representation. We don’t like modern art tendencies like shapes with different colors on canvas. Meh-ronic. Both of us are blown away by the Frank Gehry exhibit.
She also impresses me when I marvel at a marble statue possessed of incredible detail, which I show her. She, in turn, shows me some detail that’s missing! How about that!
Speaking of noticing detail, from a 3rd floor perch, I spot the Hollywood Hills (another popular song lyric for ya), and mention to Babydoll that the Hollywood sign should be somewhere in the – and she spots it. Good lookin’ out!
Item of note: many of the urinals in CA are waterless, because as you may have heard, they have a bit of a water shortage issue, and hey, necessity is the mother of invention. At LACMA, there’s a plaque bragging about the water they save, but guess what? The faucets at their sinks are manual. So any time someone accidentally leaves one on and running, pfft, there goes your water savings. Gotta be consistent!
After closing time, Babydoll and I head back to the La Brea Tar Pits to meet up with the rest of the fam, who had a devil of a time here (when I asked everyone after our vacay what their favorite stop was, my wife said this one). The grounds are visitable after hours for free, and what I see is fascinating times a million.
As we could have predicted, our big boy goes and gets tar on his hands somehow.
Off to the Hollywood Walk of Fame (we pass by The Hotel California to get there - this trend is getting crazy), which the kids find interesting despite not knowing any of the stars memorialized, save for some cartoon characters.
Here’s some of the many things we encounter while browsing:
  • A Charlie Chaplin impersonator and Marilyn Monroe dead ringer discussing their upcoming gigs.
  • Various iterations of Johnny Depp.
  • Michael Jackson himself, “Bad” era.
  • A pot-bellied Wolverine.
  • Various drug deals swirling all around us. Not as amusing as you might think.
  • Street performers with serious skills, who bypass the talking-up-the-crowd-to-milk-them part, and just get right down to it. What did I say about the coasts conducting business differently?
  • Plenty stars with various versions of our big boy’s first name, who gets down for a pic of himself next to one, his face positively beaming.
  • Plenty stars with my name, but I pass on a pic.
  • What I came for: a crowd has gathered to ogle at a premiere event for The Finest Hours at Grauman's Chinese Theater. I spot Eric Bana and Chris Pine across the street and snap a clear pic of them. My two in one blow. Perfect. I didn’t have to meet them for it to count. This’ll do.
Having gotten our proper fill of the experience, it’s time for dinner. We head over to Shanghai Diamond Garden for some – can you guess? – Chinese. The boys completely pass out on the bench they’re sitting on. The rest of us dine.
With our proper fill of food, we load the car up with caffeine and hit the road. San Diego or bust. 1.5 hours in, my wife can’t stay conscious. I had napped for her part of the drive. We switch, I Coke up, and continue on the way. At one point, I swear, I pass 40 exits that contain no English words whatsoever (i.e. Escondido, La Jolla, Del Mar, San Clemente…)
We arrive at San Diego – Population 1,355,896, Elevation 11 feet – and pull in to our hotel. A few minutes later, it’s lights out.
Tuesday, January 26
7:20 AM 35:24 3.6-mile AM run under a setting moon and rising sun. I encounter the friendliest motorists and pedestrians ever. One of them spots me and says "Eye of the tiger, sir, eye of the tiger." However, a liquor store and a 7/11 are not as kind to me concerning my bathroom needs. Starbucks to the rescue. They’re always there for me – but only during business hours.
I get some more breakfast supplies before getting back to hotel, where we breakfast up, load up, and hit the road for the San Diego Zoo.
Complication: we hear news of a shooting at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, whose facility is part of the park complex in which the zoo is situated. My wife and I furiously plow through Twitter until we're confident it's safe. In the final analysis, it was a false alarm. Crazy world we live in. Onward to the zoo.
The place is indeed world class, and deserves its reputation as far as I'm concerned. They have good transportation systems, proper landmarks, an astonishing variety of animals, and a cable car system that properly connects the extreme ends of the park. Only complaint: the map is not properly topographical, so you can go astray just a bit.
The zoo contains things I have never seen before with my own eyes or generally experienced, and also has animals I've never heard of. To wit:
  • A homeless Orangutan. No seriously, this guy has dreads, and is dragging around canvas bags on his legs. What is up with that?
  • Pandas! While viewing them, I realize this was the first time I'd ever seen one! Makes sense, as only four zoos in the U.S. have them. The rest pretty much belong to China.
  • ROUSes. The place is filled with them. I don't think I've seen a peccary (okay, fine, technically an SOUS) before, or an actual tasmanian devil.
  • Takins! What on earth is a Takin? How can a mammal exist that I've never heard of? Humbling to say the least.
  • Bonteboks! See line above.
  • A bonobo enclosure. Never seen one. I've seen chimp, mandrill, baboon, gorilla, capuchin, and many more, but never bonobos. A wild Planet of the Apes scene occurs. One of them flings a stick, and starts hootin' and hollerin'. Another slams right into the glass, followed by others. My wife asks me what's going on. I'm only thrilled to tell her exactly what, and to serve as narrator, having seen enough shows on Animal Planet and Discovery to understand the behaviors. See, what happened was - nah, I won't bore you with it. You can ask me.
  • A wild hummingbird. He isn't a park resident. I spot him among the flowers out in the open, sucking nectar, doing his flapping thing. I take a slo-mo film of him. Still looks like he is in regular motion. What a find.
  • A coffee shop with no milk. What in the hell?
  • A baby hippo (so cute!).
  • A baby giraffe. "Only" 6'3". Giraffes blow my mind.
We use the park to its fullest, and we are all very tired from all the walking. Get all of our money's worth.
At the entrance are several mindanao gum trees, which my wife and I first experienced in Hawaii. These aren't so colorful. Perhaps it's off-season, but they're beautiful nonethless. in full bloom, they're astonishing. One can't believe they're real. Go ahead and google. Lovely, no?
And hey, seems like, whereas NY has Citibikes, and LA has HULUbikes, San Diego has Decobikes.
We head back to the hotel, where my wife and mother-in-law muster up an ingeniously improvisational good meal (LA: 500 kosher restaurants, SD: squat), after which, we're all out like lights at 9 PM. Long, fun day.
Wednesday, January 27
6:30 AM 42:51 4.5 mile run under a moon-setting, sun-rising purple and blue sky with clouds like crashing waves. I make it to the Pacific this time, and it is gorgeous. No supplies needed this morning, or a bathroom stop, so I head straight back to the hotel. We pack up everything and we're on the road again, northward bound along the coast.
We pit-stop in La Jolla ("The Jewel" - aptly named) and visit Seal Beach, where - you guessed it - seals luxuriate under the protection of a sea wall. 'Twas originally designed for children, but once the seals got wind of the place, they were given exclusive rights to it. The waves crashing into the wall are violent, scary, and beautiful. Can't venture too far, or you'll get drenched, which one tourist does willingly and gleefully.
We spot a Häagen-Dazs, and pop in. They're not open yet, but the counterlady is nice enough to understand our kids will rip us apart if they don't get ice cream, now, and she serves us happily.
While munching, we spot a National Geographic Gallery, which looks inviting on the outside and stunning on the inside. It's the first in the world, with more to come. Fascinating. This is it: http://natgeofineart.com/ My favorite is "Hidden Hunter."
When we step out of the store, we spot a truck with Hawaii plates, something the kids have never seen. Yes, we play the License Plate game on the road, and this is the Holy Grail.
With La Jolla nicely enjoyed, we're on the road again. We pass a sign, the likes of which I've never seen: "Possible dust clouds, next 11 miles." Okeydokey!
We pass Camp Pendleton, a famous marine base, and we watch, dazzled, as a series of choppers lifts cargo off a boat, stationed well offshore, and drops them into the camp.
Another stop on our northward travel: Dana Point, AKA Whale Watching Capital of the West. We hop aboard the Dana Pride and head out into the pacific, for a 2-hour tour (a 2-hour tour), where we spot 374 whales. Actually, no, we spot the same 2 whales 187 times. That'd be more accurate. They're no less spectacular, and the full-on Pacific Life breach by a grey whale is itself worth the price of admission. As a bonus, we also get to see bounding dolphins and sporting seals. We also sea wild pelicans (never seen one!) gracefully gliding over the waves. They look like Pterodactyls to me.
Happily bedazzled by the experience, it's onward north!
We pass Telegraph Road (song!) once we're back in LA.
We arrive at our destination: Griffith Observatory, in Griffith Park, named for Griffith J. Griffith (not kidding). The Hollywood sign is this close, and the views of LA are breathtaking. Oh, and the observatory is very neat too, and very educational, and my kids eat it up. I now know the kind of moon I've been seeing every morning: a waxing gibbous. I note that the zodiac display isn't properly lined up with the months of the year (like daughter, like father), but our stay is too short for me to show off to management.
We enjoy a planetarium film called Flight of the Valkyries, which explains the Northern Lights, which my wife and I have placed on our bucket list to experience, wherever in the world we can get our eyes on them.
After witnessing a gasp-worthy sunset, we head out for dinner.
Pit-stop: the Chandelier Tree. A nut in LA decided to decorate the tree in front of his property with dozens of chandeliers. It's weird, but pretty interesting-looking. The kids are flat-out amazed. What did I say about the kids enjoying free stuff the most?
We land at Ta-Eem Grill, where we've got another surprise for the kids: my dad, mum, and twin sisters, who completed the Miami Marathon this past Sunday (proud!). The kids are shocked. Heh. I tell my dad I saw a couple celebrities. He says he met Michael Douglas and chatted with him for 40 minutes. Always one-upping me. The food was fresh, delicious, and filling.
Once our bellies are full, it's off to our next hotel, downtown, for the night.
Thursday, January 28
7:20 AM 33:16 3.8-mile run through downtown LA, looping around MacArthur Park (song!), which is frightening in the light too, with the highest homeless per capita rate I've ever seen - but still, friendly.
My mother-in-law had taken a flight out at 8:30 AM, and my fam packs up and heads out for one last meal in LA. We choose Pico Café. Fresh, good food (mmm...hash browns, and frothy OJ), and very nice service - except they won't give us bagels to go, because they can't justify the expense or something? Oh come on!
Before heading to the airport, we go for one last thrill: a self-guided tour of Beverly Hills. My daughter has to see Taylor Swift's house, so we get us a peek, and she's delighted. We locate Sylvester Stallone's house, and Bruce Springsteen's, and a million others, but it's time to head back home.
"Hotel California" plays on the radio as we approach the airport. Apropos.
We depart during daylight, and I spend the first several hours of the flight goggling at the sights below: The Salton Sea, state lines, irrigation circles, half-mile-wide solar farms, and other astonishments, then I watch the sun set over new Mexico, and I turn to listening to Satriani again, and plow further through my Kindle (I don't sleep on planes, ever, can't).
We land at 11:06 PM. My online Jeopardy! test was scheduled for 11 PM, but snowstorm Jonas bumped everything up. Oh well. Another time.
We Uber home, and it's expensive, but my football rotisserie winnings are in the mailbox, and they just about cover the cost of the ride! Sweet!
Friday, January 29
Back to work.