Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Getty

The Getty – a fabulous world class museum: free! Well kind of free. Getting in is free. Parking? That's fifteen bucks. But never mind. This really is a world class museum, and one that Katherine had wanted to see. Apparently she learned about it in her museum studies class.

The Getty has some fancy architecture that makes it a beautiful complex standing out, sparkling white, high about the freeway below. Everything about it is steeped in art. Whether you think that's good or bad is up to you.

We parked our car, and took the elevator up to the tram station. We were informed the tram would not be running for another half hour. We were early. There was, however, a sculpture garden that we could make our way through. It was in a sculpture garden, just outside Winnipeg, I believe, back in 2006 that I first decided I did not hate art.

This one? It evoked a different feeling. The only thing this had going for it was the unique set up. While still outdoors, there were 'corridors' of paved stone, connecting 'rooms' of grass, on which the statues stood. The unique layout was far more impressive than any of the pieces collected.

The tram is supposed to make one feel as if they are being whisked up, up, and away from their daily life to this other realm. Apparently the wheels which moved us were to the side, rather than below. The guide claimed that we were being whisked away on a cushion of air. If that's the case, we must have hit some heavy turbulence.

Once arrived, we were still too early for the museum, but comforted ourselves with some breakfast at the outdoors cafe. The man working the counter must not have expected any eager tourists quite so early, and as such we were rewarded with the 30% off employee discount. It's like getting a whole breakfast burrito for free! I do recommend the breakfast burritos at The Getty, as well. It was delicious and filling.

Eventually we got in, and watched the ten minute introductory video. Then we hung around the gift shop for a half an hour, waiting for the gallery highlights tour to begin. The one object that stood out, and which I'll probably regret not having bought as time wears on? A stuffed Van Gogh. He had an ear which, through the magic of Velcro, could be removed – to be given to a cherished friend.

As we wandered the gallery in our group, connected with wireless head sets which allowed for our guide to talk at a reasonable volume, we stopped at statues, and tapestries, and paintings. None of the pieces really made much of an impact to me, though one of the first flower paintings stood out.

Our guide reminded me of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Cordelia Chase. Her look, mannerisms, the way she talked, and her curt nods after every point. What was most distressing was the way the head set changed the guides voice, making it an octave higher. For the most part I tried to keep it turned off. The jarring disconnect was slightly uneasing.

Our tour ended at a great big bed. It was all original, we were told, except for the fabric. Never you mind that the fabric is eighty percent of the bed. It's best not to question that.

After the tour we explored the photograph gallery where one exhibit detailed the Vietnam war, with captions describing the pictures. One of the most striking was a photo of a mother and baby seemingly hanging out with a solider. This shot was snapped only minutes before the two were killed by the same unit.

In another room was a gallery dedicated to the photographer behind Fast Forward and Girl Culture: Lauren Greenfield. These images are as striking now as they were when I considered buying the book years ago. Signed copies were available. The one thing that upset me was that the framing went over any signing and numbering on the print. I would like to have known how many were made, and if they were scarce. Perhaps photographers print up a new batch for the museum? I don't know.

Other wanderings took us past a picture of lilies by Van Gogh (I now regret not having visited his museum when I was in Amsterdam, although I doubt it would have meant as much as Doctor Who was yet to tell me why I should love him.) and out into the courtyard where the desert garden, and the central garden (mischievously placed off to the side, rather than in a central location) could be viewed.

We made our way to another tour – this time of the Jean-Leon Gerome gallery where his art was on display for the first time in thirty years. At the time, I was told, his work was considered pornographic. How this claim could be made when just about every painting every made with humans in it is a desperate attempt to hide the pornographic behind the veil of mythology is beyond me. But there it was. Critics hated his work because people liked it, and wanted prints. That sounds about right. The fact that it was so in demand must have made it terrible (though I should watch myself, normally mass appeal is a sure sign a novel isn't going to be good – I'm looking at you Dan Brown, Mr. Clancey.)

Some of the work? I dug. Others – m'eh. By this point my feet were hurting, and I was tired. Five hours in a gallery is far too long. We just had one more stop to make before heading back down to the real world on our cushion of air machine. The illuminated manuscripts.

These manuscripts were books for the fourteenth century and later. Each was hand written with illustrations complementing the text. Each tome must have been a life's work. There was great beauty, and understanding they were not simply mass produced made each quite the collection of ideas.

Though tired, and potentially cranky, these stood out to me. One was an instructional text teaching how to properly write the calligraphic characters. A reproduction could be found in the gift shop. Katherine quickly snatched it up.

Leaving I felt there was more to appreciate, but said appreciation would require more time that we did not have. Not without food. Fearing we would no longer be met as employees by the wait staff we headed out, grabbed a quick meal, and tried to find parking in Santa Monica. Easier said than done. Instead we just headed home, and watched terrible amounts of television. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (3-d cartoon.) It wasn't as awful as I thought it might be. I don't remember children shows dealing with the concept of war deserters when I was young.

Then there was Back to the Future – always a pleasure. Finally we threw in the DVD Clue. Why was I not informed of this movie earlier? Tim Curry looking younger, while looking younger, than when he was in Rocky Horror. made this a film to remember.

There are three endings to the film, a different one shown in each theater back in 1985. Now all three are played back to back. Just as I was ready to gush about how wonderful and fantastic this movie was I read a remake will soon be coming out. Lord why? Do these things ever work out (Dawn of the Dead? I'll give you that I actually did like the remake more, but that's because the first had pacing issues. Clue? It's damn near perfect.)

But we shall see. If they can pull off Monopoly: The movie, an Battleship The movie, well anything might be possible.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Twenty Miles to Santa Monica

Woke up in a haze. Groggy. Don't want to go anywhere. Exhausted.

Somehow that 'cold' that overtook me days ago is still present. Not yet defeated. So maybe it's not a cold – or maybe your mother was right, and the best way to deal with a cold is to relax and do absolutely nothing. Good luck finding a day where that's possible. Even getting some hot lemon tea seems an impossibility on the road.

So there I was, awake – but just barely – looking around our alcove. Couches had been turned to make the living room our room with a mattress in the middle, drapes blocking off the rest of the world all around as walls, and a spread of water bottles, green teas, and light snacks to rival any four star hotel.

Maybe it wasn't so much that I didn't want to leave because I was sick, as much as it was I didn't want to leave because this was the most amazing place I'd stayed in ages! We were with a host who went that one step beyond. Something to open my eyes; something which I'll have to strive for when people start shooting on up my way looking for a place to crash for a few nights.

I made my way to the shower, and then when all clean and squeaky started to pack up. Getting to and from the shower requires navigating the obsticle course that is the dogs. There's one small fuzzy weiner puppy, but then there are the two beasts. One, the mastiff/lab mix I called The Beast, from the Sandlot, the first moment I saw him. The other, nearly as big, is a mastiff/pit mix. Now you'd think these would be terrifying creatures, and in the beginning they were. But after a few moments, your brain registering that they're safe, and them wanting nothing more than attention, all was well. Now after a few days, I'd be sad to see them go.

My resolve to never have my own dog was weakening. Still – there's the fact that these monsters must cost thousands of dollars a year to feed. A great ferocious beast like the two big ones can't keep the scary people away without good full doggy tummies. Although, you wouldn't really know they were all that spooky had you seen the biggest in his “Top Gun” aviator costume, or dressed as Darth Vader.

Then there's the small one. This one, from the moment I saw him, looked like an alligator. I was reminded of Sparky from the old Sesame Street clip. More laid back than the others, this one was not free of the costuming. No, I'd seen him as a monkey, and a dragon/alligator, and a piggy.

Saying goodbye to these dogs before making my way out, packing the car, and locking the door behind me was a tragic moment.

Then we were off to the Flooring company to visit Jen and drop her keys off. Normal people have to work – it's what they do. So off we went. The second I stepped through the door the receptionist said, “you're for Jen – this way.” How was she described my looks, so as she knew right away, I wondered.

We said good-bye to Jen and her room mate, while I marveled at the size of their industrial sized printer which must have been six feet wide. If I worked there, I may have tried to sneak a few posters – or giant life sized picture of myself, specifically the one of me on the sand dune in Africa. But there are probably safe guards to prevent such misuse of company property. Probably.

With keys left behind, it was back to the car, and down the road to Santa Monica. All twenty miles of it. The transition didn't take long, and soon we were at another friend's place, grabbing keys from a mailbox, struggling to open a gate, and getting inside. A note and a cell phone I could use were waiting. We quickly dropped our bags then headed back out into L.A.

The last time I was here I went to the laundromat where Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog was filmed. I wanted to buy mini-Tide's for people, but the machine was busted. Katherine, also a fan of the musical, came this time. The machine? Still broken. But – there was, at least, a quarter machine which we fed bill after bill into trying to get the last few state quarters we need: Colorado, Texas, Iowa, and there's another that defeats my grasp. We ended up one closer to completion when I pulled Vermont out of the beast, but then as Katherine fed all her money the machine stopped. We had emptied all the change from it. Oops. Time to make a quick escape, and leave the locals with their clothes, probably wondering why we were taking a video of ourselves singing. Strange that, I'll admit.

Mission failed, and succeeded, more or less we headed out to the last stop. I wanted to find Echo Lake. I spent a day wandering last time, not finding it. Instead I climbed a hill, ended up on a police shooting range, and seeing Dodger's Stadium. This time I was prepared. The GPS showed me the location, right beside the laundromat, but the opposite way I'd walked last time. We drove down, parked, and then wandered around the lake – more of a small pond really.

Families were picnicking, other couples seemed to be mid-stride in the process of creating families, while others were just running around the path – what a crazy fad, this running is. It was here that Captain Hammer took his solo paddle boat ride. The paddle boats were locked away in the boat house today, but the pond was still a good excursion. A secret centre bird-island was padlocked away from public access, and no swimming signs cut off the only other entrance. What privileged lives these fowl must live.

Dinner was a french dip sandwich, potato salad, chili, and macaroni salad at a place called Phillppe's 1001 N Alameda St. (the N Alameda St. in LA, not the one in Compton. It's probably best not to make that mistake.) Delicious, delicious, delicious.

And then back, once more, to Santa Monica.

When our host got in, she told us about a meet up down on the beach. There was a Beatles cover band playing, and a bunch of people were headed out. When we got there, a basket of goodies in hand, and blanket to throw down, a number of her friends had arrived – and thousands of people filled the sandy space, not for the band (they were playing on the pier) but just to be out together on a Thursday night.

There is no analogous event like this where I'm from. No large coming together just because. The closest I could think was Cherry Blossom festival in Japan.

The night stretched on with conversation, cupcakes, bricks of cheese, and of course bands. When the beach cleared, and we started to head back home I was shocked that it was only ten thirty. I'm getting old. I was ready for bed. I don't remember there being a time when I was sleepy at such a foolish hour. But there I was, unable to keep my eyes open as we laid down on the pull out couch. Darkness first, then sleep.

Laguna Beach

Today we were supposed to head down to The Getty and see what that was all about. A museum, or gallery, or – some building of great culture – however this was not to be. The Getty is claimed to be an all day event. We no longer had all day, on account of waking late, and getting ready to leave even later. But that was alright. It was near Santa Monica, and that's where we'd be off to tomorrow -

Today we set our giant pirate X on the city of Laguna Beach. Off we drove. I'm told there's a tv show about this place. Now that I think about it, I think it was a spin off from The Hills. But I can't be sure. I have not ever watched either of them. Stepping out of our car onto the streets of Laguna beach, I figured I might look up an episode or two when I get the chance and see what it's all about.

I will tell you this much - aw no rich people, and no fancy anythings. What I did see was mile after mile of art gallery. If I was an artist and I wanted to see my terrible pieces I would go where the money is, and the intellect is not. This seemed to make sense – some of the work wasn't bad, but one gallery just made me feel like I really do need to create my “How to Make Art.” spoof site. The entire gallery was just pictures of women terribly out of focus with high contrast. Clearly that is art worth spending hundreds of dollars on.

We started our experience at an outdoor restaurant where older, cosmetically enhanced, women gossiped three tables over from unwashed, deadlocked teenagers lost to their own deep thoughts and heavy concentration. The ruben sandwich? Put sauerkraut on anything and I'll be happy. Serve it with some bottomless, and well supplied root beer and it's golden.

After eating we left the main roads and headed, predictably enough, to the beach. This was not the beach the locals go to – of that I'm pretty sure. Everyone seemed to be travelling through, like we were. The beach itself was marked as a “no fun” zone. “Absolutely no shell collecting,” was signed everywhere. There was no body boarding, or surfing either. Those who attempted to break this rule were met with red swimsuit wearing baywatchers running – always running – to stop them an let them know what's wrong wth their current behaviour. Once modifications were made, the life guards ran back to their towers. Return jogs would be made by those who refused to learn.

Katherine found her fun by flipping over rocks with young children on a grand adventure to find tiny little crabs scuttling around in tidal pools. This, of course, would have been cracked down on – as there is no disturbing the rocks or bothering the local critters. This area was, as luck would have it, around the cliff edge, free from the red suited guardians of despair.

Despite only allowing sunbathing and reading, the beach was a beautiful sight. Still – it was one that couldn't entertain forever. After walking Laguna Beach we headed off for the mall at Laguna Hills hoping to find fancy stores. Once more we failed. The locals of Laguna Beach do not hang at the Main Beach, nor shop at the local mall. Stores were disappearing, the food court was nearly empty. The only thing of note was the Disney Store stocked with ever helpful staff giving us a complete breakdown of the Beauty and the Beast script, explaining the reason the teacup, Chip, had a chip in it (reason: he was once a little boy before being cursed, and this wee little boy had a chipped tooth.) What type of jerk curses a little child into a cup because they're mad at a prince – or whatever that monster was.

From the mall we headed back into the city, and made our way to Knott's Farm. Now don't be fooled into thinking this is where your groceries are grown, oh no – this place claims to be America's first theme park. But that's not why we were there. Roller coasters are a dime a dozen. What is far more rare is a good tube steak. The perfect hot dog. That's something that I've been on the lookout for – shall we say, all my life? As I've travelled the world I've eaten one hot dog after the next. Iceland had a good one, but few other countries measured up to what I had thought of as the best hot dog in the world: Toronto street meat. Here was the last challenger – Pink's Hot dogs.

Pink's is said to be the best dog in America, which isn't that large a hill to clamor up, but still. I've been told that if you're at the Hollywood location it takes over an hour in line to get in the door. Here, far away from the masses, we were able to grab a Pink's dog without any lines.

My choice? The twelve inch monster dog – sour cream, cheese, chili. The dog itself had bits of jalapeños stuffed right into the casing. The hot dog? Well, I was terrified to bite into it, for if anything was going to topple my hometown treat, it would be this one. With the first bite my fears were confirmed. This was the greatest dog of all time. The greatest hot dog in the, yes – I'll say it – world, nay universe. My lord – how could anything sold from the streets compete with something that has jalapeños built right into the casing? It wasn't a fair fight – and to be truthful, it was three and a half times the price of what I'd get back home – but good tasting is good tasting. The crown has been passed.

Slightly delighted by the nom, an slightly upset that I'll have to modify my term claiming Toronto has the best “street dog” rather than hot dog, I headed back home.

I crashed, we finished watching Penn and Teller's Bullshit, and were almost out when the floodgates (front door) opened, ushering in a flock of people. No longer was the night for kicking back to an early sleep. This night was one spent staying up taking for hours, about – whatever you'll have. Four hours in, I was met with a very American experience.

One of the guys collected guns, and was talking about how he had a pump action, 8 in the something 1 in the something, flash light fixed, laser sighted shot gun. I don't know much about guns – I don't know anything about guns – but I do know abount nonsense. And a laser sighted shotgun? Really? At some point I decide to say something that could have turned terribly bad, were we not dealing with professionals. “It's easy to make up any sort of gun if you don't have to prove it.”

And that's when the gun collection came out. A smaller automatic piece, and then the laser sighted shot gun which was straight out of Terminator. All unloaded of course, I was shocked by how light they were. And the feel? They ha the same texture and colour of a video game controller. It was easy to understand how some people can view them as toys. I've held toy guns that felt more, “real,” than these did.

I don't want to say they were 'cool' because that would be, I don't know, wrong? Being a Canadian the word gun rings as an evil to me. In the great white north we demonize guns more than we do drugs. Ohh Bobby was caught with an eight ball of coke? That crazy kid, always pushing. That we can shrug about. Bobby being caught with a shotgun? There is no hope for him! How could he have such a thing?!

To an American this is ridiculous. To me, well it should be ridiculous too, but it's hard to push aside all those years of forced thought.

As a final note? Guns- terrifying and creepy... and kind of cool.

BUT – you should probably always leave them locked up, and not on the kitchen table. Even if they are unloaded, and thus less harmful than a kitchen knife. You see, that Canadian thinking: guns are bad, wrong, wrong, bad, wrong, bad, bad, wrong, bad. I do believe that second amendment allows you to store them wherever you want, even in the umbrella holder near your front door – though not a good idea, as these are for home defense only. You'd need faster access.

And with those confusing thoughts, I slipped off to bed.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chicken N Waffles and Aquatic Life

Chicken N' Waffles. Chicken and waffles. Together. No some people may scoff at this combination, but not Roscoe. No sir. Roscoe (Herb) worked to perfect the coming together of both these food items, and in so doing created a haven for a certain section of the California populars.

That section is the section of people whom also enjoy both chicken and waffles together, at the same time. Count me in.

Breakfast is a thing of beauty when it includes two plate-sized waffles with enough syrup to drown in and heaping scoops of butter. Now in many cases, the best waffles you've ever taste in your life would be enough – but no, on plate number two you get a quarter chicken smothered (literally, you can't see the plate, or the meat at this point) in thick wonderful gravy. The chicken, of course, is fried.

Yes, eating at Roscoe's House of Chicken n Waffles is a wonderful treat – and a LA cultural experience to be sure, but it's not all syrup and gravy there. First, you may stand out a little. I'm not going to say that Kath and I were the only white folks in there – because that wouldn't be true. Nope, one more came in an hour later, as we were preparing to leave. Now this wouldn't be so much of a thing, if not for the fact that being white is detrimental to your pocket book in this restaurant, in my experience.

Everyone around us was being offered free refills of drinks which “free re-fills don't really come with.” Everyone but us. Now I'm not saying it was because we were the only white people, but I paid attention – the last twenty minute, I'll get to that in a second, all we had to do was look around. We were the only white folks, we were the only folks not getting refills. Maybe they just missed us? Could be. I'll keep an open mind; mind you, I've heard some people say that they will not go there because of the colour of their skin – which is sad, because they really are missing out on some fantastic soul food.

So the last twenty minutes – we were one eating, and wanted to leave. There is no way to make this happen. No, you will leave when the staff are good and ready for you to leave, and who knows when this could be. Let me see if I can clean this up a bit... we were told they worked on, “island time.” Yes that sweet carefree time where things happen when they will. No one else looked like they were in a hurry to go – although this could have been because of all their free lemonaid, while we just peered at empty glasses of ice.

At one point we looked over, and there was our waitress chowing down on her own piece of gravy smothered chicken. For the next fifteen minutes she devoured it, catching my eye now and then. When she was done, good, and ready, she slowly ambled over to deliver us our check and our escape. During this time of nothing, we also noticed Toronto Blue Jays caps being worn. Though, I don't know how much the gentlemen actually care about my home town ball-team. Curious, that. When paying a good tip was still left – the food, it was just too delicious. Never has the combination of waffle, butter, and syrup been so good. And the chicken? Well – if you're in the area you must experience it.

Pulling ourselves, or rather being allowed escape from, the House of Chicken N Waffles we headed a street over to the Longbeach Aquarium.

There is nothing better than free tickets to something, and that's what one of Jen's friends hooked us up with. Free aquarium tickets. Sure we still had to pay the eight dollars for parking, but we saved 24.95 each getting in. A small price to pay.

The first thing we did was head to the gift shop and buy a little stuffed turtle to add to Jen's ever growing collection of the shelled beasts. Then we headed in to see what we could see. Oh the fish that there were – red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish... and sea lions too.

We didn't learn a thing. For four hours we wandered the aquarium just looking at things and being amazed by the foreign worlds which normally exist under water, made accessible through sheets of glass.

No this wasn't like in New Zealand where you get to walk the stairs down below the surface and view the ocean proper, but there you could never be guaranteed such sightings.

There were giant sea bass, and Nemos, as well as Dorys. And there were jellies. Some of them looked like they should have been harassing Farpoint Station. Oh the jelly fish that there were. The white moon jellies, set against the field of black, made brilliant through their lighting were unbelievable. Some of the pictures are frameable as abstract art.

Outside there were sea lions doing their things, and otters which seamed to shoot through the tank right next to the window, waving to us as they crossed. Katherine is now determined to own one of these tool using non-primates.

I don't want to talk about the puffins I saw. It made me too emotional.

The aquarium continues with tropical fish of all colours, as well as local favourites. Then there is the touch pool. Reach in and grab a shark. What could go wrong? With skin like sand paper, they were too small to do much harm – I still feel that they were looking at all the wee fingers sizing up a good meal when they saw it.

Rays were there to be pet as well, but I'd done enough touching of these crocodile hunting monsters when I was in the grand cayman, using Kath as a shield for protection.

Larger sharks were in a nearby tank, and were amazing to watch. There's something impressive about those few things which are inherently better than us. We love to watch lions, tigers, and other big cats. Wolves are impressive. Sharks have their own much-celebrated week. If we know they can kill us, then we love them by default – we just want at least an inch of protective glass separating.

The hammer head sharks were quite the sight – though small, their unique shape was peachy keen.

We watched sea horses propel themselves along with their speedy back fins, clinging for stability with tails. Then the sea dragons – a favourite of mine – took centre stage. Looking at all these things, so different and unique, I understand how evolution can be brought into question – how do these things manage to diverge and form? It's an incredible separation, yet here we are surrounded by so... much.

There was a movie about otters, and then a $4.00 4-D movie about cartoon sea turltles. After saving so much getting in, how could I resist this film? The answer? I could not. It was a joyful adventure of sea turtles travelling the world in nonsensical ways. At one point he questions our existence as men, “I was confused. On one hand, then men cutting down the tree saved my life – on the other, why would they want to destroy a beautiful forest?” right before questioning existence as a new baby being born looks around and asks, “what do I do now?” to be answered only with the, “just put one flipper in front of the other and everything else will fall into place.” These are big questions for such a small movie – but with the 4D splash of water from above, and wacky paper 3D glasses, I was sold.

Who knew the aquarium would be so much fun?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. Downtown Disney

Monday August 23rd, 2010. You have no idea how exciting it is to be writing this entry on the morning of the 24th. It means I have finally caught up with all my blogging and am back on track. No longer will I be haunted by past days begging for thousands of words – no, for the next little while all is right in the world once more.

Waking up in San Diego we had a dislike of the city from the night before – but that didn't mean we were not willing to give it a fair shake. Our first destination was the beach – Mission Beach to walk along the board walk, which is more of a cement walkway with bikers that want to run you down, not unlike on the sidewalks of Europe. There's a lot of people begging for money here – but well to do folks, begging not for food, but so they can put gas in their cars. Somehow I'm not as sympathetic.

There's also a roller coaster. Did not look safe. I avoided it.

It was hot, we weren't willing to get wet, the beach could only offer so much. Back in the car. I thought about the gaslamp district as I wanted to check that out – but then parking, and city traffic – we were already on the outskirts. It was ten in the morning, and we had a two hour drive ahead of us to meet up with a friend in Anaheim at four. How could we kill four hours? Lets get rid of thirty minutes for traffic we weren't expecting, and another thirty for eating. Three hours to kill.

Eating at IHOP (a welcome change of pace from the fast food that has become standard as of late) was a good start. Delicious treats for all. Then we hit up a mall – a mall with an AMC cinema in it.

Scott Pilgrim was playing, and since it was before noon tickets were only six bucks – if that's not good reason to be unemployed, I don't know what is. Welfare? That's a good reason too I guess.

So there we were, sitting down to watch Scott Pilgrim, when a guy came in behind us munch-munch-munching loudly on his popcorn. My, still sick, brain had a hard time with this and I tried to ignore, but it was like in a cartoon where each bite was represented by a jackhammer slamming the pavement. Luckily he was a fast eater and by the time the movie started, after twenty minutes of previews, he was done.

Opening with the 16-bit Universal Studios logo and sound was perfect. The credits of the movie showed this was not created for Scott Pilgrim, but rather it was made in 1997. What movie was it first used it? My ten seconds of Google reveal nothing.

The film was a streamlined version of the comics – with all the characters being much better than in the books. They made more sense, they seemed how they should be. All was right in the world. Now, sure, they didn't blow up Honest Eds, and Knive's dad was left out, but I was cool with that.

The only thing that bothers me about the movie is that I feel its existence led to book 6 being chopped up from what it was originally supposed to be to fit the plot of the film. I have a hard time accepting Kim being totally cut out of book six, and all her material ret conned. This wasn't a problem in the film, as she was – more or less – left out for the whole thing. She played a good role, and was what she needed to be.

Big cheers for the movie. Sure it cost 100-million (who thought that would be a good idea? Honestly – that's a damn lot of money to spend on an indy comic.) and sure it only made 10-million opening week, so kind of a flop, but I loved it, and I'm glad it was made. I would say this will set a bad precedent for other movies like this ever having a chance to be born, but really – there are no others like this, and this is already made. Take that world, it's out. Victory is ours.

Now go back to canceling all the great tv shows before their time.

The critics are mixed – some digging it for what it is, others not quite getting the importance and impact of the video game references (but times, they are a changing, and these peoples parents probably didn't understand “that crazy rock an' roll with the wee Elvaaaas boy wiggling his no no bits” so move on.) nor appreciate that the music was supposed to be terrible – they're not a good band. That's the joke. But many seemed happy with it.

I didn't care either way, for me this was the comic brought to life and made better. And it was a window of home.

I have not seen home in a long time, but watching this movie, I saw the C.N. Tower on the Toronto Skyline, and Casa loma where I went with a friend to a wedding not all that long before leaving. There was bloor street, Lee's palace, the good ol' hated TTC (prices adjusted from the comic for the rate increase in Toronto since I've been gone.) And Honest Ed's. More important than that, the greatest Pizza in the world – Pizza Pizza (everyone disagrees, but I love it.) Scott and friends were eating it at the place I used to pick it up after work when i was walking Bloor. Now this was a mistake on their part, as that store is the worst Pizza Pizza in the city, giving you burnt crust, and bad service – but it was home, and it was my place.

Watching the movie took me closer to there than I was now. Closer than I'd been in a long time. Even looking at Canada across Niagara Falls didn't show me My Canada. But this did.

And it hit me – I think I'm just about ready to go back.

I didn't travel to escape. I wasn't running from anything. It's not that there's nothing back there for me. I left a lot of good things behind, good people, friends, and family. Back in the city are a lot of people, places, and things that I love.

I'm not going to rush these next three weeks, but the sun is setting on my year long adventure and when it does, I won't be sad. Back there, in Toronto, there's a whole new adventure waiting – and while people have changed, moved, and grown just as I have... Well, I just can't wait to get back and hear all about it.

Cue credits, wait til they pass, cue 16 bit Scott beating up the words The End, and we were off to Anaheim.

When we rolled up i was met by Jen, a girl I'd met in Auckland – see the city wasn't all bad. She would be offering us a place to stay for the next three nights. We got in, saw she had rearranged her living room for us – a mattress on the floors, and couches moved to block the one small dog, and two giant ones from getting to us – and then were whisked away.

We were headed out to Downtown Disney.

I'd heard of this place – this land of shopping – but never seen it. We had no time for it in Florida, back in December, but here there was light to kill. In downtown Disney there are all number of shops to see an experience. Most will make you giggle and laugh. There's a Lego store too – which is all sorts of fun, holding up the boxes to their crazy augmented reality camera, and seeing the set pop up to life and move around on the screen. I also had a good chuckle looking at the new Star Wars set that included a Mon Calamari Jedi. Now that is a trap. And then there's the Build a Bear. I've mocked this before, but secretly I've always wanted on. I've just wanted one that looks like me.

They do not make beards for the bears – but what they do, apparently, make is Star Wars clothes. I saw a Jedi outfit. I saw a monkey. I knew I must match the two together. Unfortunately by the time I had done that, I knew that I must now buy the creature. Who could turn down a Jedi monkey? Honestly – ask yourself, could you turn it down? It was only thirty three dollars. A stuffed animal, nay, a stuffed Jedi animal at that price is a bargain.

Luckily for my wallet, Katherine saw me with the thing and declared that we were so cute. She would have ended extra o's on the word so. That's how I choose to remember it anyhow, and as such she decided to buy me the creature. Success.

Build a bear is a weird thing. First you grab the skin – limp and lifeless – then you get it stuffed by stepping on a foot pedal. Next you pick out a heart from a pile of them (creepy. I choose the checkered one, as my Jedi has dabbled with light and dark, just like Yoda.) Just may think it ends there, but there is a heart-ritual. You must rub it on your arm for strength, head for jedi wisdom, hands so it won't drop the light saber (yes it does come with a plush jedi-monkey light saber) and all sorts of other things. Then inside the heart goes, and the whole thing is sewn up by the staff.

I had my plush monkey, with a barcode inside. But why a barcode inside? At the computers I filled in information, and set up a birth certificate for Jedi Monkey, then listed personal information. Should the animal go off on any adventures and get lost, much like a dog's microchip it can be returned – should someone be so kind as to return it to a build a bear store.

I also received a code to let me play with the monkey online. Which terrified me. How many of these people online are happy bear hugging kids, and how many predators?

Even though it was a monkey – I still couldn't help calling it a bear. It's my Jedi Monkey Bear.

In the car out of Disney (after checking out their awesome mini-marvel t-shirts... so coo') I dressed it up proper in its new outfit. I was pleased. Far more than I should have been.

But the night wasn't over there. No. We headed to Fuddruckers where Jen bought us all burgers. Katherine had Bison, and I continued on my quest to eat new animals by having an Elk burger. This place was great. Good for you fancy burger joint, good for you.

As the night grew on we sat in the courtyard talking with all her neighbours, and it struck me what a lovely little community they had here. Knowing your neighbours. It's a great thing.

And with that – blogs, up to date. Official. Stamped it. No reversals. Success!

Quirky Califonia: Salvation Mountain

As lovely as Barstow was, we quickly hit the road once more, putting distance between it and us. There was a lot of ground to cover, and not much time to cover it in – not if I wanted the sun to be in the right spot for all the potential photographic opportunities.

Once more I wondered just what life would be like, free of the photographic addiction. Probably a lot more fun in the moment, and a lot more depressing, “for the rest of your life.” I'll take the forever good over the momentary, thank you very much.

We would make five stops today: Pioneertown, Dinosaurs, Palm Springs, Salvation Mountain, and San Diego. I can tell you in order of awesome to not Salvation Mountain squeaks just in front of the Dinosaurs. Pioneertown is way ahead of Palm Springs, and San Diego can just go screw itself (It's a lovely city, more time needed – but our experience was one of anger and rage – rage and anger.)

Pioneertown.

This is a city – a real city, not some wacky re-creationists dream, where people live out their lives, and do their thing. They just all happen to look like they live in a place built one hundred years ago.

The city was constructed by the good ol' movie people who are always willing to do what it takes to cut costs. Why build sets for Westerns, they thought, when you can just build a town and reuse it?

The bank here looks like an old bank, the bar is a Saloon, and the Sheriff's office is just what you'd expect. There's a general store, and a livery. This is a town you'd expect to see gunfights in (and for the fans, one day a month you will.) But it is a real town. With real people. The outsides may deceive, for there are real buildings inside. A modern post office exists behind a wooden exterior. Even the people who live here have houses for the time – their insides, I can't speak to, but I would expect them to keep with the theme. After all, it must take a certain type of person to move to Pioneertown, California.

Looking down Mane Street (cute) you see the OK Corral. You may also notice the hitching posts for horses, bullet holes in signs, and their unique stop signs. Rather than red with four letters on them, they're brown with the sentence, “It's your choice.” I chose to stop.

There are art pieces here – circles of rocks where passers by leave items, statues, trinkets behind. A number of old typewriters stand resting on old desks, turning to rust. Perhaps a commentary on the western itself? So many machines – once greatly used, now nothing but dust in the waiting. Ignored, unloved.


Cabazon Dinosaurs.

“Calllllli-foooooooornia.” This one word has cycled through my mind for decades, since seeing what is arguably the longest commercial for a video game of all times, The Wizard. In this movie an autistic boy is on a quest to put a lunch pail in a dinosaur for his dead twin. Along the way he plays Mario 3, and becomes the greatest video gamer of them all. Also it tells us all that we should, “Love the power glove.” Why you ask? Because, “it's so bad.” Thanks Lucas.

When I was in Drumheller I pretended the T-Rex there was the real deal, but I knew it wasn't. Now though, the beasts were before me. Much photography ensued, and the repeating of the droned out name of the state we were currently in.

There is just difference between then, in the movie, and now – in real life. The statues have changed hands. Up inside the brontosaurus it's obvious what has happened.

The dinosaurs have been bought by a ultra religious group, and they're here to save your souls through the wisdom of the bible. Look – if you love your Jesus, very well. Continue to do so just don't go and kill in his name, or abuse your kids, or make them fear for their lives or anything like that and we'll be cool. But – if you're one of those The World is 6000 years old folks – you'll probably want to stop reading now. I'll try to stay polite, but it's a little tricky to not laugh, you know – a lot – when dealing with this sort of absurdity.

So these folks have signs that want to explain to you how the world is, obviously, only six thousand years old and that dinosaurs hung out with man. They're even mentioned in the bible. Now they died out because Noah ran out of room – of course he did, one of the dinosaurs would be bigger than his whole boat. Good job on the specifications God.

Now it's hard to imagine why all the underwater dinosaurs died, seeing as how the flood would have just increased their food supply, but never mind that – this is a place for faith, not for science. “It's easier to believe in God, the creator, then that we all came from a lightening bolt hitting a pool of mud,” it may be easier – but it's also easier for me to believe that if I stay home, don't work, and play video games all day, I'll have a fun-filled rewarding life. Odds are this is not going to happen.

So all the dinosaurs died, but six thousand years ago man was hanging out with them. Again – I'm not sure how this could have worked, because man still gets his butt handed to him by tigers and lions. Even when we have guns. A wooden spear, and some rocks against a dinosaur? That wouldn't end well. Not in my mind. Still, I loved the Sliders episode where they tried it out.

So up you go, learning about why you're stupid, and why Darwin is an idiot, “the simplest proof that there is no evolution is that no one has seen evolution.” Really? Do you think it works like Pokemon, you hit the level cap and there's an instant change? All of a sudden something morphs before your eyes? You don't think it's millions of years of chance (by the way, look in the red forest where nuclear radiation made a mess of things and you do see some instant change, but ignore that because it doesn't stay on message.) If you're taking your logical advice from Pokemon, you've got a few surprises coming. But go on, continue to use your splash attack in the face of science.

So we have trees that we can date back to five thousand years old by counting the rings. We know the earth is that old for sure. FOR SURE. Now you need to assume that there is nothing more existing a thousand years before that tree – you may think carbon dating would prove something, but no that's all a lie. Obviously. A hoax to keep you from god, your savior.

Don't listen to the devils C14 claims. Apparently a cowboy boot was found with a petrified human leg in it – this proves to the creationists that all fossils must be recent. It is interesting that a leg could petrify in fifty years – but personally I'd give the edge to this proving time travel is real, before allowing that it indicates God. Still – interesting. It's just unfortunate that people are willing to deny an entire science because of one aberration. An aberration which may have been caused by the awesomeness of time travel!

There was another thing they point at, though, which seemed interesting. Soft Tissue was recently found in a T-Rex bone. Therefore the world is only 6000 years old. Look – it's neat and all, but wouldn't this just indicate we don't know how fossilization works? Maybe it was just from Mokele-mbembe or Nessy, something like that. There you go – problem solved.

Now you may think my time travel and monster solutions are quick fixes with no basis in reality - but they're just as scientific as what goes on in this place – facts are for fools. Love your god, question nothing, Jesus is king. Good for Jesus.

I'm willing to hear out these theories – and willing to take their side, with Katherine screaming at me all the way, just to play with the possibilities - but none of it ever holds up. I really wanted to buy the Dinosaurs: By Design, not by Chance t-shirt and wear it everywhere. It was only 9.99 (two for 20 dollars! What value! Pay more for less – and thus I can no longer trust any of what I've read here today, if this is the logic they use) but did not fit. Katherine rejoices.

I had to take solace in the greatest children's book of all time. The Worlds Biggest Dinosaurs: By Design, not By Chance. In it, the two statues come to life and explain how god created them, and why scientists are stupid. It really is one of the best things I've seen all year.

As a final note – checking the name of the book on the website, I discovered that it's one of those pages that meets you with loud un-muteable sounds. You want to talk about Intelligent Design? Go ahead all you want – just try to put some of it into your HTML code next time, alright?


Palm Springs

Palm Springs. you always hear about it. maybe it's awesome, yeah? Nope. it's not. It's just a few streets. Nothing to get excited about. Move on.


Salvation Mountain

I may have seen pretty anti-religion back there, but it's not the case. I'm all for religion when it's not screwing with peoples heads, or making them want to kill others. Or making them want to wake me up to spread their love and knowledge with me early in the morning.

For years I have wanted to see Salvation Mountain. I first heard about it in some documentary. I never thought I would get the chance to see it in real life. It was almost forgotten until watching Into the Wild in Australia. There it came back to the forefront of my mind. And it hit me – I'm going to drive through America. I can see this place if I so choose. Salvation Mountain – I choose you!

Four hours out of our way we drove. And it was worth it. Even Katherine, who I feared may not be as stoked as myself, really enjoyed it. It's hard not to. It's Folk Art in the grandest way.

This is a testament to the love of god and Jesus. Leonard Knight, the creator, was not on hand, but visitors were all talking about him. Some hoped he'd be by to give tours, others wanted to see him work. No stayed for two hours, more or less, but there was no sign of him. Eventually we saw all we thought we could, and the heat as too much.

Kath returned to the air conditioned car far sooner than I – this was, after all, a place I' always wanted to see and I knew I would probably never again return.

When you drive up to Salvation Mountain, you're greeted with a large heart informing you that God loves everyone. Over the years people have tried to get Leonard to change his message by offering help, or money. He refuses. This is the type of Christian I can get behind.

More than 100 000 gallons of paint have been used here. But there is nary a souvenir shop to be found. This place is about spreading a message, not about getting rich. Leonard has turned the mountain into something more, as well. Bales of hay are used to form walls, and rooms, and an entire city. Rooms now surround the mountain, with new ones being formed all the time. The outline for another section has been laid out on the ground, but who knows when work on that area will be finished – if any work here can ever be finished.

Secret rooms offer glimpses of trophies, mirrors, books – my favourite section was a recliner situated beside a ladder.

There are places to sit, think, contemplate. Shirtless three lovers of faith find room in an alcove to contemplate their faith. Others climb to the top and pose near the cross.

Everyone is welcome here, an all are hoped to find comfort. Free water is placed for those to drink, and hammocks, chairs, and mattresses welcome people to rest for a while.

This is a place of beauty, a work of art. Even for those who care nothing for God whatsoever, there's something here to amaze.

Standing on top, looking off a quarter of a mile there are two concrete structures. They too are art, to a lesser degree. Both are covered in graffiti – one a modern kama sutra – the other, political in nature. Everything is art here – and it goes to show that each of us can be an artist if only we have a goal, and stick to it no matter what.

This will be Leonard's life work, and it may not long survive him. It is, after all, made only of paint and hay. There are also those who deem it a hazard, and for a while in 2002 it was feared it would be torn down. Today it is protected, and for that? I am glad.


San Diego
“It means Whales Vagina.” / “There's not way that's right.”

Look, it's a nice city – a good lookin' one, and the gaslamp area could be so much fun. But it was a long day, and we needed a place to stay. We had our room saver, but there was no joy. Place one listed at 34 bucks turned out to be 45, and was way too far from the city centre to be worth it. Not when there was a place in the city for that price. Of course that place was now 57 bucks – there was a “misprint” in the room saver. Yeah, one that has lasted the last three issues right? The next place was full due to a convention in town. The other fifty dollar place was full – but there were sister properties for only eighty bucks near by. Ugh – for an hour we circled the city in hopes of a place to sleep.

Finally we went back to the scamming hotel with the “wrong price in the book” and accepted that it would be fifty seven. I sent Katherine in as I'd been there before. She came out fuming that it was now seventy eight dollars. Forget that.

I grabbed the book, walked in, and asked for a room – wondering how it could have gone from forty five, to fifty seven to seventy eight.

I was told this was the two person price. Oh really? The coupon says one to two people. But that was a misprint I was told – see the reprint from months back that says the new price? Fine – give me the fifty seven dollars. Oh but that's just one person.

At this I had no more patience. I was either getting that price or we were flipping the bird at this city and moving on. I was ready to snap, and doing everything I could not to. I grabbed the sign with the BS three month old reprint, and pointed: “Look, even in your reprint it says one to two people. Just give me that price, and let us be done with it! Alright?”

Finally he stepped back, recomposed, and – as if doing me the worlds greatest favour – accepted. We had a place to sleep. Great. Good. Sorry San Diego, but I hate you... Hopefully I'll be back in the future and you can try and change my mind.

Good night, and god bless.

Five Hours in Death Valley

Five hours in Death Valley. This may not seem like much in the winter months, but in the summer? It is not the most delightful of times.

Waking up, covered in gross, we both headed out of the tent into the somewhat cooled morning. Now when I say somewhat cooled, it was still hotter than most summer days in Toronto, but being six aye em, I knew this was as good as it was going to get.

Around the camp, with room for over one hundred sites, only ourselves and a couple of French women, walking around in their underwear – an attempt to beat the heat – could be found. I think this may be the only place not in “high tourist season” in the USA. Travel to Death Valley in these summer months will greet you with discounted prices across the board. Come in the fall and winter? Good luck finding a place to camp.

In the washing up sink behind the bathrooms I shoved my head under the tap. Shampoo and conditioner applied, I was somewhat cleaner, feeling better, and ready to meet the day on my own terms. Within moments my wet hair was attracting the dust particles from everywhere around me.

Katherine got ready, we broke down the tent, shoved everything into the car, and made ready to head out into this killer desert for some light hearted exploration.

Our second stop was the visitor's centre to pick up a map and learn what places we should check out. Stop one? We followed the signs to “Bad Water.” This is a section of Death Valley where a small pool bubbles up to the surface. A potential oasis for all those in need of a quick sip in the early days of exploration. But this pool was one with a deadly secret – it was full of salt, full of it. A sip from this pool would do nothing to help, only hinder.

The great salt flats spread out in front of us. We walked as far as the mountains shadow would allow, not nearly far enough to the full white coverings. But I was sick, it was hot, and there was zero ability to press on. I will normally head out, telling my body to suck it up, to see whatever it is I feel I can see - but here? Now? Without shade I could barely stand. As the rising sun ever shortened the peaks reach, I hustled back under cover of cool.

In the visitor's centre we were told about a number of different sites, and made ready to head on out to them. First, though, we would need to fuel up the car. Running out of gas here? It didn't seem like an acceptable option. There is one gas station in Death Valley. It's price? 4.43/G. Now this is about 1.16 a Liter, prices back home being about 1.00 – 1.04 a liter, but we're in a world where expensive gas is 3.30 (86/L) is expensive. This made us cringe a little. That and the realization of what we'd be paying once we crossed over the boarder.

It was originally thought that we might head to Canada on the fifth to celebrate my One Year out of the country, but looking at the added costs of Canadian fuel prices, and the uncertainty that magical Room Saver books existed (that we didn't have one for California was bothering me to no end.) will keep us out until the last second.

Ankles gripped, tank fueled, we were good to do. Our first stop was the sand dunes. I've seen sand dunes in a number of places around the world now, but seeing them here was strange. I wasn't expecting such perfect sand, and such beautiful shapes to make themselves at home in this part of the world. And yet there they were.

I was torn between my desire to run up and jump/skip down them (one of the most fun things a person can do on their own two feet) and my desire to stay near the car so that when I passed out, I would not be lost to the elements.

Many people set out to hike the sands. Once more I had to make the smart call. Curse you virus floating around our car, no doubt being shared, spread, and multiplied by the communal water bottles.

Forty five minutes later we were arriving at our next site. This was not, as you might think, forty five minutes of walking. No – that would be terrible. This was all in the air conditioned car. There is no way to see America, or her National Parks without the aid of motorized vehicular transportation. It is a big country; it is a big park.

This site would see us climbing up a slight incline to view rock formations that go beyond my description, “the look like giant's toes,” some called out. Others were too busy trying not to die, guzzling water, sitting on the provided benches. Another more adventurous group left the path to go climbing all throughout them. Hats of to their intrepid nature. There are few ways to actually hurt the things we see out here. They have existed for thousands of years, and will keep on existing until they become the new Dune Sea.

We drove through “Artists Road” a twenty minute loop that travels between some of the most colourful formations. They're best seen at sunset, when the light explodes off of them in a rainbow of shimmering amazement. But we could not stay that long and had to make due with what we had.

I will somewhat obscurely say this, when we stopped for our second view on this path I found Harley barely clinging to the top of the trunk, having already lost grip on the roof where she/it was forgotten. Terrible things could have transpired were we to have not stopped exactly when we did.

A few other areas like The Devil's Golf Course, and Natural Bridge went unseen. We may have taken the car on dirt roads in Nevada, but pressing our luck here didn't seem the thing to do. And the day was not getting younger. On we pressed to he final spot – Dante's Lookout.

It was hard not to feel bad for the personified car as we pushed it up the steep grades to the top of the mountain, five thousand feet above where we started.

With accelerator pushed all the way to the floor, we climbed at a speed of twenty miles an hour. Or continuous hope, we would not start to slide backwards into the cars behind us – and that the one in front of us would continue its steady ascent as well. Radiator water stops existed along the way, doing nothing to fill me with confidence.

But all was well, and when we finally flattened out, parked, removed ourselves from the car it was a wonderful thing – at this altitude the world was not a steamy oven of terrible. No it was manageable up here. Comfortable even. Bounding down the trails we looked out over the entire park – my only regret, that it was noon and the high sun washed away much of the detail.

Still, this was a beautiful site, and quite the thing to see.

Death Valley – it may be terrible, and awful, and the worst thing I've even been through. But it's also fantastically beautiful, and well worth the momentary discomfort.

And then we'd seen all that we could see, left the park, and headed out into California with our sights set on L.A.

This would not be a straight shot, but we would get there eventually. Just not tonight. Tonight we still had a mission – find a roomsaver magazine. Driving down the empty highway we came upon a double digit village (less than one hundred people) but it had a visitor centre. While no roomsaver existed, I did get a map of California which pointed out the real welcome centres and rest stops. An hour later, the rest stop provided me with what I needed.

Like an addict getting his fix, a wave of calm rushed over me when that green and white newsprint entered my solid grip. Now we had information. We could find a place to sleep. And off we went to good ol' Barstow, California. A perfect place to rest our heads for the night, relax, and enjoy the sweet sweet joy of conditioned air.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Truth is Out There: Area 51, Nevada

Strange things happen in this desert. Lights are seen at night, strange craft flies over head. At times it's just madness from the sun, but might there be something more to it?

I'll level with you – I don't really care if there are spaceships at Area 51 or not, but since I was a child headed to a Florida X-Files convention with my mother when I was just a wee little one, midway through the first season, I had wanted to see Area 51. I read books on it in the pre-internet days, and found much more after than time. I was a wee bit obsessed. I'm not sayin' I think there are aliens there, but there are UFOs. During the first Desert Storm they flew their triangular stealth craft from there leading to all sorts of sightings. It is a secret military base with so much history – and I needed to see it.

The only problem? It's in the middle of nowhere. And it's not exactly open to the public.

We left Vegas in the morning and headed on down the Extraterrestrial Highway. Oh yes, that is its real name. There are signs and everything. This highway leads along the eastern side of the base, hitting absolutely nothing for miles (gas up early and often) except for the town of Rachel. Now I've been familiar with Rachel, and the Little A'Le'Inn since Mulder headed out that way in the X-Files. Never did I think I would walk through those doors.

Yet there I was, in the very place Mulder had used as a base to discover the truth at work around him. I was there. A diner, mostly, it also sells a number of tacky treasures. The one thing I was interested in was a map. The map to Area 51. It sells for thirty five cents and comes with warnings, and detailed instructions. It's worth the purchase if you want to head on out to the limits of legality.

We thought about getting a room, but the base was twenty miles back the way we came. Driving there and driving back? It seemed a bit much. So off we went, back down the Extraterrestrial Highway to Mailbox Road.

Mailbox Road (also on maps) gets its name from the black mailbox that used to be situated there, all mysterious like. Now the mailbox isn't actually black these days – it was replaced with a white one a decade and a half ago. Probably a PR move by the government to seem less sneaky, or by the guy who owns it – tired of people breaking into it looking through his mail for alien secrets.

The box is covered in stickers and graffiti – ufo seekers hang out here for camp outs, and gatherings. Apparently many UFOs are seen here. Group mentality? Flairs for night practices? Spy planes? Alien craft? You decide. But this is where you turn. Head nine miles own the bouncy dirt road, and turn, then you're headed on a much larger dirt road – worn down by the bus that brings workers in in the morning, and out in the afternoon – towards the gate.

It seems as if we're fifteen years too late. I'm not the same paranoid I used to be, Area 51 hasn't been the same since Google Maps showed it off, and the government copped to it existing, and the signs at the boarder were replaced, no longer the terrifying threats they once were.

Also the mountain view point that once allowed legal peeks into the secret base (how did they miss that?) has been taken away through re-zoning. I'm also now at the age where I understand why the military would take away and keep secret aspects of their planning. I no longer assume it's nefarious.

But – standing on the gravel, near the Groom Lake boundaries, I felt a great thrill. This was a childhood dream realized. There's nothing else to say – it was amazing to finally achieve something I'd wanted to for the better part of my life. I didn't think I'd ever get here. I didn't even think it was real, in the sense that tables, chairs, and the country of Australia are real.

But there I was, with the guards in their grey trucks keeping a watchful eye from the hills above. Were I to step across the line I would be instantly arrested, and fined hundreds of dollars.

Katherine may not have been as excited, the fear of arrest strong in her, as I stepped closer and closer to the line. But as we turned, and started to drive out, even she had to admit how cool it was to come this close to THE Area 51. Americana at its best.

It was a thing of beauty.

Another security truck passed us as we drove out. I wonder what they think, having to remain out in the desert heat watching as tourists flock in and out and in and out. I wonder what they think the tourists think they'll see. I don't know what I thought I would see? I saw more at the A-Bomb site then here, but this was different. It was special. It was such an important spot, my own personal Mecca.

I may not be the same type who thinks the government and military are evil and out to get us – but the importance of this place in pop cultural lore, and my own inner self... well this was a pilgrimage through the desert, and I was not disapointed.

Heading forever away from the site, we returned to Vegas, stopping in at the Pinball Hall of Fame. Here over one hundred machines recount the living history of the game. And you can play them all – proceeds going to charity. You can play games, and feel good about it too.

None of them matched up to the Pirates machine I spent time with in Vegas, but looking over decades of them was something unique. I also played Mario as an arcade machine. Strange thing, that – if it was originally designed for the arcades, that makes sense why the warp zones are so easy to get to.

I changed many a bill for quarters, coming a few steps closer to completing our American State quarter collection. That seven have eluded us this long is ridiculous. Especially with Virginia, and Connecticut haunting every handful of change. Where are you Texas? Where are you.

With that behind us we set out on our final drive of the day, which soon took us into night. We were off to Death Valley, California. A national park with an eerie name. Also home to WWE's The Undertaker. In fiction, if not real life.

By the time we rolled in the night had fallen, allowing for some beautiful pictures of the moon, the sky, the stars, and the mountains in the foreground. But what the night had not brough was cool air. It was hot, and terrible, and awful.

Lying in the tent we sweat and sweat. it was the most uncomfortable I'd been in some time. Triple digit nights are no ones friends. I had the tent aligned with the wind, but Kath thought otherwise, so turned it, with much effort. Minutes later the tent was nearly blown away with us in it. Clearly mistakes had been made. Once more we turned it.

I was not doing well. Sickness had hit me hard, and it was all I could do to stay awake long enough to drink water.

Soon I would pass out for the night.

Apparently the sickness helped me here. I was sick so I sweat more. The wind cooled the sweat, and I was comfortable enough to sleep. Katherine did not sweat, was not cooled, and got – at most – two hours of sleep during the long disgusting night.

Death Valley. Well, what did we expect?

A Final Night in Vegas

Waking up early I tried to catch up on my blogging. Why did I think that writing at least one blog a day was the way to go? And why couldn't I be like most people who just throw down a paragraph before making their merry way across the interweblands? No – I decided that I had to log everything. A small entry for me is one thousand words. Taking about half an hour to write one of those, catching up once I had fallen behind was proving to be an issue.

Take into account the failing keyboard (the D key still not working very well at all – see if you can spot all the places where it should be, but is for some reason vacant. An instead of And is a big one.) and this was not going great. Still, I tried this morning [authors note: this entry is for the 19th of August, and is being written on the 22nd. Clearly catch up methods have not been going well.]

When Katherine woke up I thought my blogging would be at an end, and I would have to go out into the world. Now it's not that I don't like going out into the world – I do. It's just since I'd started I just wanted to catch up and let the world become a good and normal place again. Writing a day or two late – a week in some cases – leads to so many things being forgotten – and the tone is more rushed, as I'm trying to work through a great many rather than focusing on just one.

My time was not yet over, however, as she suggested she would go get breakfast. Having someone bring you breakfast? It's a wonderful thing. Perhaps this is how she felt in Florida – always waking up to a ready meal?

As all things do, however, this ended and it was once more away from the computer and into the scary bear infested world out of doors. I'm told there are no bears in the desert, but this is Vegas. Who knows what monsters lurk here?

When we headed out we first made our way to the Tix4Tonight booth. This is where you can pick up discounted tickets for shows, and all that good stuff. We wandered down and stood in line trying to figure out what we should see. In my mind it was down to two: Holly Madison – Peep Show (because is there a more Vegas show than something of that nature? It would have been a cultural experience) or some Cirque de Soleil. You know – the French Canadians who suspend themselves from ropes and wear strange costumes?

But even still – what one. It seemed every casino had one of these shows going – there was Ka, which looked pretty cool. There was one, O, with ex-olympians. There was Zumanity which was a sexualized show – merging culture with the Vegas flair. Even the Chris Angel show was one of them. Eventually we settled on the one playing across the street at the Mirage: Love.

That would be showing at seven at night. It was still early – after winning a few bucks on slots (lucky 7 with five lines, five credits a line being the way to success here... betting more than five credits would have won me more, but I fear the losing of money) I was about to leave the Mirage, after picking up our newly purchased tickets. But Katherine was in a jealous mood. She could not stand to see me win. So once more, in her now famous fashion, she bet some money – managed to get ahead, but failing to stop reduced it all to nothing. Again, we only play with a buck or two so the losses aren't great – only the damage to the pride.

Next up? Treasure Island. You need to take a tram to this place, and it's a pretty good looking casino. Inside there is a carved mammoth tusk. I'd seen these before (always assuming they were elephant in the past) but I'm never less than impressed. To see all the intricate carvings, all the many figures so perfectly sculpted – all without breaking the piece? It's incredible. Give me a time machine, and I'd love to be able to look into the past, watching as it was formed.

There was also a neat-o motorcycle custom job thingy that I'm sure car and bike people would be into – but, you know... I don't know about that stuff, except for it had a siren face with cool light up blue eyes.

Getting to Treasure Island was no problem but leaving was. To cross the street we had to walk a bridge west, then a bridge north, then one east. All this took thirty minutes, and with no water – the sun hot – this was not a good situation. We then failed to navigate our way from the Venetian (I've seen that bridge before – in Venice) and all looked lost, until the welcoming golden arch appeared before us.

Love it or hate it, but a 32oz refillable drink for only a buck, full of Poweraid, Light Lemonaid, soda, or just plain water? That's as near perfection as I've ever seen.

Figuring we'd take the rest of the day easy we went back to the hotel and headed off to the pool. It was before six, so it would be open. Of this we were sure. We changed, headed out, and saw the great watery expanse before us. Hopping in we were quickly told to get out – someone puked in it. It was closed. Swim fail two. Going in the hot tub instead, it was soon discovered that hot water under the hot sun is not a good combination.

Back to the room. We decided our next action? The Buffet. Our hotel had the cheapest of the local buffets at only nineteen dollars. Now while we assumed it would not be good, were we to avoid this Vegas experience we would think back with regret. It was – I don't want to say terrible, but for that price, I'd not do it again. I think you were supposed to tip – but it was confusing as we paid our bill before we could eat. All I know is I did my best to eat for an hour, and then tapped out.

There was nothing that stood out.

On the TV Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was playing. It may be surprising to learn that I love these movies, despite knowing nothing about cars. I still like to see them all flashy and wonderful. And Tokyo – I like that. And Drifting (like Initial D without all the unnecessary, “it's Japanese!” incest, and long unending character development.) I watched an hour, before we had to go. Part of me, only mostly kidding, suggested we blow off Love – which we each spent one hundred dollars on. But no, off to Mirage to watch the show. I'd never seen a Cirque show before, and was pretty excited. Not Penn and Teller excited, but I was into it.

Love is a show set to the music, time, and vague-ish story of The Beatles. Everyone knows the Beatles, and everyone loves the Beatles – those who say otherwise are liars. Now, I may not have known much of their music until five years ago when a friend at the time played me most of their albums back to back, but even before then I knew they were something special. That album, you know, where they all walk across the street? That's a goodie.

The performance started with the bombing of Liverpool in the forties, which then led to the Eggman (coo coo cachoo) trying to retain control of a country looking to change. A “tea man” pouring smoke and water from his silver pot moved across the stage providing for all. A loosely veiled metaphor for LSD. Soon colours were rippling, people were descending from above, and madness was taking hold. For one number a sheet covered the crowd, and only us in the cheap seat could see. The others were trapped in the world below.

They even worked in Octopuses Garden (my favourite Beatles song – despite protests of just about everyone who learns this fact.)

For an hour and a half there was action, acrobatics, and music – beautiful, beautiful music played from speakers worked into each and every chair in the house. It was an event, and one that I was glad to have seen.

Katherine would later recount how it made her feel like a child – looking in awe, not caring about anything but the spectacle. I envied this, almost embracing this mind set the night before, but still feeling somewhat removed. Still – it was a fantastic show, and one that I would recommend to just about anyone.

For one hundred and fifty dollars (the asking original price) it would still be a thing to witness.

With show ended we made out way back. There was a desire to dance it up, and buy a five foot tall drink that can only be worn around one's neck – but it was late, tomorrow would be an early day, and – though I hate to say it, I was becoming sick. I could feel it – in my bones.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Penn and Teller: Live in Las Vegas

Woke up late. Sleep was needed. Too much camping on rocks does not a body do good.

At the same time as I wanted sleep, I also didn't want to let the day get away from me. I mean, how often will I be in Vegas? So up I got, showered, and then woke Katherine. She was not as eager as I, but as it was almost noon it was a justifiable waking, I felt.

We headed out, grabbed some McGrub, and then caught the shuttle from Harrah's down to the Rio. There is nothing like a free shuttle bus. Vegas would be a perfect place to vacation – you fly in (just make sure you fly into Las Vegas, Nevada – not Las Vegas, New Mexico... I wonder how many people have done that?) then grab your shuttle from the airport to your hotel. Once you're there everything is in walking distance. Well, everything you're liable to want to see.

In the Rio we picked up the tickets for Penn and Teller that we ordered way back in Florida. Katherine was over stimulated looking at all the pretty colours – me, I was hyperactive knowing that soon I'd see Penn and Teller's live show. And afterwards, maybe ever get to meet them!

Giddy giddy, we headed through the floor. So many slot machines, all looking the same. I had no desire to play any, and joked about how they were all the same, except the faceplate. Then I saw an Aliens slot machine. Yes, yes, they're all the same – but Aliens. With the annoying cat, and the chest bursters, and the monsters from nightmares.

I proceeded to lose my dollar. In went another. It was lost – but I cashed out with one cent left. The awarded me a slip labeled Rio, with my one cent winnings. Scrap book material? I think so.

On our way out, I saw a Deal or No Deal machine – I tossed in a dollar, pressed the spin button and chose some cases. A few seconds later my one dollar had transformed into sixteen and change. I can see the appeal of this whole gambling thing.

Katherine wanted to win too, and so she slipped in some money, pressed spin – and nothing. No cases. Apparently I got a lucky spin first off, while she got nothing. It was sad, and tragic – but I had some money, and was feeling pretty good. I know, I know, fifteen dollars – still it would cover all my gambling losses for the next few days, and that was something.

It should be noted that I'm not a big gambler.

Is it obvious?

We played a few more slots – I won another dollar on video black jack, and then we caught the shuttle back to The Strip and explored some more. This day would take us into Bally's to see their giant fake insects – a garden full of small things made of large flowers that you can walk through and ohh and awe over. Then we'd pass the Bellagio – shooting its fountains into the air. And then would come Caesars Palace.

This is a monster of a Casino. It's more of a small town. It takes up a full city block, and has a hotel, restaurants, an arcade for children, an art museum, and a huge mall with all the designer labels.

When I thought of Vegas this is what I thought of – though just in small casino form. Back in the days of the green and black screened Game Boy I had the Caesars palace game. Even back then I wasn't much on gambling – I would just head to roulette, place the bet on black, and hope to double up. I kept leaving in a taxi cab, rather than the limo.

I wish I'd paid more attention to the rules of the games. Craps looked fun, but I didn't know how to play. Roulette, I'll stay away from until I know the odds. Black Jack was too much at the tables, with a five dollar minimum (remember, I'm still a poor traveller here.) Video Black Jack once more.

After watching for a bit and seeing me win a whole seventy five cents, Katherine decided to get in on the action. She played for a good ten to fifteen minutes on her dollars – at times more than doubling her play price, but each time wanting more – more – more. Ultimately she lost everything, claiming, “I could play this all day.”

There's a terrible monster – I call him GAMBLOR!

Betting with only dollar bills, a loss was never all that bad. It was worth the moments of fun – far more enjoyment than out of a quick arcade game... except skee ball. Nothing beats that sport of kings. Unfortunately there was none to be found.

Near the art gallery there was a pin ball machine, which got me three games for a quarter (one and a half credits already existing in the machine, and winning a third game with the game over Match.) The game? Pirates of the Caribbean. By far my favourite pin ball game. I wonder if there's a way to make it mine? E-Bay perhaps? [note: it exists – for six thousand dollars. No thanks.]

The mall offered another extreme. It was designed just like one I'd seen in Tokyo years back – to look like you're outside in Europe. I wonder what the connection, if any, is. In the mall there are two fountains that come to life for a show – one is about Atlantis where fire and water are used as weapons. The other is supposed to depend on projected images on the ceiling, but the projectors were down. When the statues talked about how amazing something looked we were all left wondering what it might have been. Kath and I bailed on this to check out the Apple Store. She has a new love of iPads and was introduced to PvZ (so much time I wasted in Sydney playing that.)

Wandering back to our hotel at six, we figured on a quick dip in the pool before Penn and Teller. This was not to be, however – as (complaint number two) the Imperial Palace closes their pool at six p.m. In Vegas? Really? Apparently so.

No swimming. Just a moment or so crashing in the room before heading back to The Rio.

We had bought VIP seats – nine dollars more than regular seats, but it got you in the first few rows, and came with a free 30 page book. The book was the program – and it sold for ten bucks. Really we made money, had we wanted the program, which we would have, as it is awesome.

Inside Penn tells the tale of Tellers life, and Teller of Penn. Who knew Teller used to teach Latin? And who knew of the hardships they worked through to reach their fame. Both are straight edge. There's also a comic where they show some tricks. And, they bash Chris Angel. What more could you ask for? This was quality work.

Before the show started I also picked up a deck of cards for sale at the gift shop, in hopes of getting them to sign it after the show.

The show was as fantastic as I hoped. Their comedy with a purpose educates as it entertains. In one moment they explain tricks, while adding their own elements so that what you have revealed is not the same as the trick they're running. They also hid a phone in a fish – using the phone to video the whole thing. Youtube will show you this if you search for penn and teller fish phone.

One of their final bits, the burning of the Flag is a powerful moment, and followed by their double bullet catching trick. There's a desire to want to know the answers, while at the same time I just wanted to enjoy – and that's the stance I took this night. Who cares how it's done – just be amazed.

By the time the show ended, I wanted nothing more but for it to continue. I wanted to see it another night. Each night they add and take away different bits, so seeing it again could be a very different experience.

But it had come to an end. We were all shuffling out of the theatre, only to meet with throngs of people in circles. The two were signing autographs. Teller signed my program and my cards. His voice was not at all what I was expecting. He sounded much more gruff than I would have thought – a real Jersey boy. Apparently it's not all terrible that comes from there.

Then there was Penn, calling everyone Boss. He too signed my book and my cards.

On the shuttle back home, I thought about how super ultra cool it all was. Giddy like a child I told myself I'd learn a card trick or two. Now that I have cards signed by them, I almost feel like I have to. On a trip with few souvenirs this was an excellent one.

Still filled with excitement and glee I passed off into sleep. Tomorrow would be our final full day in this city of potential Sin.
 
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