Monday, May 21, 2012

What I Did on my Spring Vacation -- Day 5, Thursday, and Day 6, Friday

Note:  Sorry I didn't update this sooner.  Boring Personal Shit intervened.

Thursday was our free day.  We didn't really have a plan for what to do, we weren't doing anything at Disney, and we weren't leaving until Friday morning.  So Jean and I went hunting for breakfast while Ryan snoozed.  Jean found a place on Yelp that was nearby and got reasonably good reviews, so we set off and found it relatively easily.

I'll just say, if that's a 4-star breakfast place, then Southern California has really low standards for breakfast.

We then went wandering, first to The Pleasure Chest, where apparently Ryan once worked.  While there, I made a complete and utter ass of myself to Sex Nerd Sandra, who is a podcaster and my hero and I felt awful about slobbering all over her (virtually; I managed to avoid bodily fluids in reality).

From there, we went to In-N-Out again for lunch, and I once again ate more than I really should have, ordering off-menu and enjoying my final taste of heaven in burger form for the trip.  We toured around LA for a while, Ryan playing tour guide and telling us about the experience of living in LA when he was younger.  It made me want to hug him, and run very very fast in the Northern direction.

For dinner, we stopped at a grocery store for liquor, hit up a truly fabulous Mexican restaurant, and then retired to the room to booze it up, play with our lightsabers, and get to sleep early for our flight the next day.

A note on Mexican food:  I had not realized just how much I missed good Mexican, which you really can't get in Portland, until we ate at this little hole-in-the-wall place.  Once again, thanks to Yelp and customer reviews, we ate somewhere I wouldn't normally look twice at, and had a fabulous meal for a really reasonable amount.

We woke up early on Friday, and Jean and I went back to the Mexican place to get breakfast while Ryan ate his leftovers.  Then we packed up our stuff, made sure the room was empty of our things, checked out, and Ryan took us to the airport.  At LGB, it turns out there is an inside to the place, which was the TSA area and the check-in gates.  Getting into the airport was as easy as getting out of it, and we said goodbye to Ryan and boarded our plane back to PDX, me hopped up on muscle-relaxants to keep my back from seizing up in the airplane seats.  Two hours later, we were on the ground and a 20 minute train ride had us home and relaxing in time for an afternoon nap.

All together, it was a magnificent trip, and I'd love to do it again sometime, perhaps even next year.  Our fellow travelers were wonderful, and I found out that traveling with Jean makes me calm, a more effective mood-stabilizer than Xanax or Valium.

A note on drugs:  don't do them, kids!  (totally do them, kids).

So that's my vacation!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What I Did on my Spring Vacation -- Day 4, Wednesday

We woke up early on Wednesday, our second and final day at that park, and Jean and I were up and awake thanks to our normal weekday routine that we scooted out to let Ryan sleep a little later.  We went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.

A note about hotels restaurants:  I have joked on occasion that my idea of roughing it was when you had to leave the hotel to get to the bar.  So it was nice to be able to get a real breakfast, instead of some crappy stack of bagels and stale doughnuts.  If only the food had been better...

Jean had a mediocre eggs Benedict and I had something utterly forgettable and a fruit plate.  I had forgotten that California is where the fruit comes from, so it was a pleasant surprise, but not enough to make up for the rest of the meal.  As I said to Jean at the time, it was a breakfast, but it wasn't a $30 breakfast.  It reinforced my previous position that nowhere but Portland knows how to do breakfast properly.

We headed back up to the suite, and then Ryan and Jean and I walked over to Disneyland again to meet our friend Donna again, and Donna's dad most kindly signed us in again, this time to Disney's California Adventures, which we hadn't managed to cover the previous day.  A pleasant 30 minutes of strolling and then the park opened officially, and we headed over to California Screamin', which is in my opinion the only true roller coaster in the park (Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain are both technically coasters, but they're basically Steel Wild Mouse coasters, which are all about the small footprint and the fast turns, but rarely do anything exciting; Screamin' is in turn a Steel coaster, which uses tubular steel tracks which allow for things like the one, single loop).  The mid-ride linear launch was awesome, and Donna and I rode the coaster twice in quick succession while Jean and Ryan did some shopping and wandering.

We met up at Muppets 3D and enjoyed the show, and then we all headed over to the Tower of Terror, which was awesome as it was finally a ride we could all ride together, like Star Tours.  The wait was quite a while, which sort of made sense as it was Wednesday, which was busier than Tuesday, and it was a rather popular ride, and we hadn't bothered to grab fast passes.  It was pretty fun, as linear drop rides can be, especially as I learned that Jean has a SERIOUS set of lungs on her.  We ended up grabbing a photo of the ride, and it was noted that in all of the pictures taken of me on the several rides, I have a look that seems to be made mostly of bemusement.

After that, we made our way to the best corndog in Disney, which is the Corn Dog Castle.  And there was a line for that.

A note about lines:  I don't know why I was so surprised at lines at Disney; I knew they were going to be there, Jean and Ryan and Donna and everyone who had ever been had warned me, and I thought I had expected them.  But it turns out, I wasn't ready for them all.  I'm glad we went on a Tuesday, since even the lines on Wednesday were too long and annoying, and it only gets worse the closer to Saturday you get.

We did finally get our corndogs and chips and soda, and as we were eating, the Phineas and Ferb float wafted by, blasting music.  We took pictures, and then Ryan and I went to ride on Mickey's Fun Wheel while Donna and Jean went hat-shopping.  I had deliberately picked the "swinging" cage, and we were in the line for nearly 45 minutes, but what the heck, it was a ferris wheel, right?  I had forgotten something important since moving to Portland:  I'm afraid of heights.  This was not the best place to remember this fact, but since they lock you in a cage, it's not like I could bail out.

So after taking a moment to live down the jitters, and admiring the fabulous hats Jean and Donna had found, we got in line for Toy Story Midway Mania.

Which, after an hour in line, just as we got to the front of the line, broke down.

We were given free passes to other rides, but it was pretty frustrating, and I was getting very, very tired from the crowds, the noise, and the constant over-stimulation.  So we took a moment in the Disneyland Spa lobby to relax and chill, and then headed back over to Disneyland proper to hit Space Mountain again (and again) as well as Star Tours another couple of times.  At this point, the park becomes a serious blur, because I was entirely zoned out, so we bailed out and went to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner, mostly to avoid fried food.  It was pretty good.

I went back to the hotel to crash, while Jean and Ryan and Donna went back to the park to do some last-chance shopping and ride Star Tours again (and again).  Then everyone met up again in the bar, and we spent the evening decompressing and drinking.

Monday, May 07, 2012

What I did on my Spring Vacation -- Day 3, Tuesday

We arose on Tuesday morning quite early, as we needed to get across town from Hollywood to Anaheim.

Note on geography in LA:  I have no mental map of anything that has to do with Southern California.  I only know that every time we got in a car, it took two hours to get where we were going.  That was as true of the 100-mile drive on Monday as it was for the 1 mile drive from the hotel to the nearest In N Out on Thursday.  So no idea what that was about.

We had tea and coffee with Damon, waiting for Ryan and his friend Megan to arrive, which they did around 7:30.  From there, we said a teary goodbye to Damon and headed out to Disneyland!

A note on Disneyland:  I'd never been before.  This was my first trip and I was not exactly expecting anything special.  However, everyone around me (including Jean, Ryan, and our friend Donna) was very excited, so I was ready to be happy but underwhelmed.  Boy, was I wrong.

We reached the parking lot just before 9 AM, and there was plenty of parking available, which bode well for a low turnout, since I don't do well with crowds.  Also, Tuesday is the least-popular day, and the first week in May is the lowest-traffic week in the park, so it was practically perfect for me.  We rode the tram from the parking lot, and met our friend Donna at the front gate along with her adorable dad, who works for Disney at the park.

A note on Donna's Dad:  Donna's dad was amazingly generous to Ryan, Jean, and me, signing in all of us in lieu of us purchasing tickets, which saved us an enormous amount of cash and making the park experience that much more awesome.

Since Donna's birthday was Tuesday, and Jean's birthday was Monday, we went to City Hall and got them both Birthday Buttons.  This means that every "cast member" had to say "Happy Birthday, Your Name Here" to them, the whole time.  It was awesome and hugely amusing.  From City Hall, we grabbed a small breakfast snack on Main Street, and then we made our way to the first ride, which was Ryan's favourite:  Star Tours.  It was cheezy and vaguely cartoonish, but you know what?  It was an awesome ride.  It's fun, and engaging, and the various video bits that you see are randomized and all of them are very, very cool.  We eventually ended up riding Star Tours six times (Jean and Ryan went seven), and it became my favourite ride.

From there, we went over to Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, which is a combo ride / shooting game.  I had a brilliant time and outscored Jean by an order of magnitude.  We went shopping for our friend Daniel, who is a huge Phineas and Ferb fan, and found lots of nifty kitsch to purchase and ship, and took a picture of the tiny, tiny castle in the center.  We caught the Haunted Mansion ride, and then from there we went to Big Thunder Mountain for a roller-coaster experience, and then hit Mister Toad's Wild Ride before grabbing the Monorail to Downtown Disney for lunch.

We went to Rainforest Cafe for lunch, which turned out to be a mistake, as the wait for putting in our order took longer than any of the ride waits, and the food just wasn't that good.  We then made a double-entendre joke via photo, and headed back into the park for Space Mountain, the Mad Tea Party (aka, spinning teacups), building lightsabers, and various other ways of spending money.

We bailed around 6:15 or so, checked into our hotel, Hotel Menage, and changed out our clothes for something nicer for the birthday dinner for our friend Donna.

A note about Hotel Menage:  this is a great hotel, and we got a terrific rate on the room.  Big king-size bed plus a pullout couch for Ryan, and a really good bar and a nice pool area (when it's not overrun by stupid f*****g kids).  It's about a 5 minute walk from the entrance of Disneyland, so it's a great place to stay.  Two thumbs up, will stay again!

Dinner at 7 was at Benihana, and if you've been to Benihana you know what it was like.  A great time was had by all and we went back to the hotel to digest, spend some time in the hot tub, and sleep (in that order).

What I did on my Spring Vacation -- Day 2, Monday

We got up Monday morning pretty late, and Jean's family was kind enough to supply us with breakfast, and then we headed back south again into LA to meet up and celebrate Jean's birthday with her friend Damon and our friend Ryan.  This involved driving through late-morning LA traffic, which resembles rush hour in PDX; rush-hour LA traffic closely resembles the parking lot of a Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

A note on traffic:  I do not understand how people in LA stand sitting in their cars for so amazingly long.  It's terrible.

Ryan was driving down from San Francisco, so we went to lunch at Berth 55 Seafood Deli in Long Beach.  Jean had seen good reviews, and we knew driving up to it (it's a real hole in the wall sort of place) that it was going to be delicious.  So we had fresh clam chowder in sourdough bowls and honestly, we should've split one rather than getting two of them.  It was amazingly good.  From there we drove down the Long Beach main drag and got a great view of Catalina Island, as well as seeing a beautiful house that I wouldn't mind owning if I had 15 million or so to spare.  We walked down to the beach and touched the ocean, and then Ryan called to tell us he was in town so we left to meet up with him at the airport.

A note on cars:  I admit it, I'm a petrolHead.  I watch Top Gear, I read magazines, I like racing games, and I really, really like cars.  They're fun.  That said, I don't actually own one, so I automatically assume I'm superior to anyone who does own one.

We returned the rental car and piled into Ryan's Subaru Impreza to kill some time before meeting up with Damon.  So we headed through various smaller municipalities to Hollywood and other parts of LA-proper.  One of the places I wanted to visit while I was in LA was Meltdown Comics, AKA Nerdist HQ.  So we did, since, why the hell not?  Along the way we stopped for water and a pee break at a Chevron at La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevard.  This is where I found out that LA is, in fact, another country, because at the Chevron was a guy with an Audi R8.  Not a celebrity or a pro athlete or anything, just some guy with board shorts and a popped collar, driving $100,000 worth of car to the Chevron for Rockstar Energy Drink and a Snickers.  Then, on the way out, I spotted a Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG (models start at $210,000).  Seriously, a strange, strange place.  Just down Santa Monica was Meltdown, where I didn't spot anyone famous but did end up forced to listen to the local Comic Book Guy and restrained myself from stabbing him.  Jean bought dice, I bought a T-Shirt and a sticker for my helmet, and Jean got a free James Kirk card for her birthday.

By that time, Damon was ready for us, so we made our way up into the Hollywood Hills to Damon's amazingly beautiful, totally charming, utterly endearing little home.  We had drinks on his astoundingly gorgeous patio, and then made our way back down the mountain to go to a place called La Poubelle, a french bistro quite literally next door to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.  The meal was a-frikin'-mazing, and entirely fitting for Jean's birthday meal.  I'd never met Damon before, but I fell instantly in love with him, and I hope we can find a way to visit (or have him and his husband visit us) more often.  We went back to Damon's place to get hammered on the patio, and then turned in for the night.

A note on Damon's house:  I'm serious guys, I cannot convey how amazing this place is.  From the moment you step through the front gate and hear the small fountain in the garden, through the amazing open plan of the house, to the gorgeous back patio, it's an oasis of beauty and calm in the wilderness that's 2 minutes from the center of LA.

A note on Damon:  He's got the coolest job ever.  And I want to be him when I grow up.

What I did on my Spring Vacation -- Day 1, Sunday

Having had some PTO I needed to burn off, and having spoken to my girlfriend Jean about the time, and to my friend Ryan about what to do, it was decided that we'd take a week off, and go to Southern California, and visit Disneyland.

A note about Disneyland:  I've never been to Disneyland.  I did spend a slight amount of time in the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, but mostly locating it so as to go around.

A note about these notes:  there are a lot of them.  You should just expect it at this point.

So it was with moderate trepidation that we planned our week of travelling.  Jean and I have been dating for nearly a year, and have been living together for over six months, but we hadn't traveled together yet, and I am notoriously unpleasant to be around while traveling -- I'm cranky, anxious, nervous, and usually in a moderate amount of pain due to back and leg problems -- so it was going to be interesting for our relationship, at least.  We spent the night before travelling, Saturday night, at a concert with some friends, so we probably stayed up too late for my mind, but whatever, it was a great time.  On Sunday morning, we got up early, returned the rental car we'd gotten for the weekend, and got in the security line at PDX airport.

A note about PDX:  there is no better airport.  It's pretty, it's cozy, it's not terribly large but not overly small, it's got free wifi everywhere, the prices are fixed (by law) to the prices outside of the airport, and the employees of the airport itself, the various airlines, and especially the TSA are all good-natured, pleasant, and friendly.  If the TSA was managed as well elsewhere as it was in PDX, well, it'd still be a multi-billion-dollar boondoggle, but it would at least be a nice multi-billion-dollar boondoggle.

Once through the PDX security line, which took about as long as I expected, we grabbed a bagel for breakfast and relaxed for a bit before flying JetBlue to the Long Beach Airport.

A note about JetBlue:  It's a Southwest knockoff, certainly.  They operate only second-hand Airbuses (A320s and A230s), they operate to only limited areas, and mostly to secondary or tertiary airports.  That said, the seats are pleasantly large, the rows have a very pleasant amount of legroom, they don't charge for checked bags, and they are only slightly more expensive than the other Greyhound-in-the-Sky airlines.  Two thumbs up; will fly again!

A note about LGB (Long Beach):  if PDX is the best airport ever, then LGB comes in a close second.  It's a VERY small airport -- it doesn't have gates, just places where they park the planes and roll up stairs to get people off -- and almost all of it is outside.  When we landed, I kept expecting to enter some sort of building, but since it's apparently always nice in LA, there wasn't any inside.

After a two-hour flight, the bright sunlight and fresh air was actually quite refreshing.  We got out and picked up our rental car extremely easily, and I was introduced again to the perfidious, insidious, regressive pain-in-the-ass that is sales tax.  It was late morning on a Sunday, so Jean and I were naturally inclined to find brunch before the long-ass drive ahead of us, but living in Portland has spoiled me in two ways.  The first is in brunch; as I would come to learn, nowhere in Southern California does brunch correctly.  The second is parking; for a city where EVERYONE OWNS A CAR, finding a parking spot is a forced game of "how many right turns can I make" that no one ever wins.  We faffed about trying to find somewhere that wouldn't kill us with hunger while waiting, which brought us to 10:30, which is when In N Out opens, so we gave up and had an early lunch.

A note about In N Out:  If you don't know what INO is, then I am excited for you to experience it for the first time.  It's a burger joint, kinda like Burgerville (in that they're moderately local, careful to use fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and they have a good word-of-mouth relationship with their customers), but whereas Burgerville has a one-of-everything sort of menu, INO has a very, very limited menu.  On the board, anyway.  They also have an unwritten, secret, never discussed unofficial menu passed from person to person via word of mouth.  And the secret menu is the best part of INO.

I haven't had INO is more than a decade, since they don't have it in either Dallas, Chicago, or Portland, and had seriously considered a road trip from Portland to Redding, CA (the nearest INO, an 11-hour drive one way) to get some.  Thankfully, I didn't do that, because having a 3x3 animal-style, protein-style was EXACTLY what I wanted to eat for the first time (for the uninitiated: 3 patties, 3 slices of cheese, with extra tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and pickles, no bun, wrapped in fresh lettuce leaves) and I consumed it in less than 90 seconds.  I also filched some fries from Jean and her much more reasonable double-double and fries.

Then, we departed for Points North.  Specifically, I took Jean to see her mom and stepdad for the first time in a couple years, who own a house somewhere in the wilds north of LA.  And when I say north, I mean a hundred miles from the airport.  Thankfully, it was Sunday morning, so we didn't have too much trouble with traffic, but still, 100 miles.  Thankfully, we got a pretty nice rental car, the Ford Fiesta, and it was actually a pretty fun drive.

A note about the Ford Fiesta:  introduced in 2008 in Europe as a replacement for the Ford Focus Hot-Hatch, and introduced in the US in 2010, it's a sporty, spacious, roller-skate-style car with a high-revving engine and really responsive handling.  It's a great car, and I'm as shocked as you are that I'm saying something nice about a Ford car, but there you are.  If you've got 17 grand, you could do worse than a Fiesta.

Once there, we met up with Jean's family, and had a nice sushi dinner at a local sushi joint.  We visited for a while, and then went to bed.