Friday, October 9, 2009

And now, the rest of the story...

I know, I know, I haven't posted anything about the end of the San Diego trip. Well, I've been busy.

We got up Thursday morning, packed and loaded and checked out. We only managed to squeeze everything into the car, including Jeff, by putting a couple of suitcases in the back seat. It's amazing how much stuff we had to have for ten days' travel: on the way back I spoke with a couple from Illinois at a rest area in New Mexico. They had been in California for two weeks. They were driving a Saturn Sky. It has almost no trunk. They had three tiny duffel bags and two pairs of tennis shoes. (They also said it was a very comfortable car to ride in. Amazing.) And here we were, with a suitcase I could barely lift into the trunk, a second suitcase of the maximum carry-on dimensions, an ice chest, a computer, a camera bag, a tripod, seven audiobooks, half a dozen plastic bags containing purchases and dirty laundry, plus all the bags Nancy & Jeff took -- four, I think, plus computers and backpack. I don't really remember, but they had about as much as we did. Anyway, it was a lot. Almost too much. But we got it all in.

We went first to the Air & Space museum at Balboa Park. I found it disappointing. A not-very-extensive collection, and almost all of it reproductions, because a fire in 1988 destroyed almost their entire collection. They've spent millions reproducing as much of it as they could, probably enough to feed all the starving children in at least one third world country from 1988 to today, and they've ended up with an inventory of copies. I will file this away, along with the Teddy Roosevelt National Historic Site in Buffalo (see the July 3 entry in the September post, "The Trip to Maine"), for a future reflection on our unbridled willingness to preserve, regardless of cost, every trivial reminder of our glorious past. (I also thought the museum was not very well organized, and that their efforts at "interactive" exhibits was unimaginative and hackneyed. Maybe that's just another consequence of their spending all their money to reproduce a dozen burnt World War I airplanes. I don't know.)

That two-hour visit completed our planned whirlwind tour of San Diego, and we hopped back in the car ... well, okay, we crammed ourselves back in the car and headed up the road toward the Mouse Kingdom. We made one stop, for a tour of Mission San Juan de Capistrano. It seems much larger than the earlier Mission San Diego, and except for the great church, destroyed by a combination of earthquake and restoration efforts (involving gunpowder), this mission compound is in as good a state of (restored) repair.

Notice that I don't carp about the cost of it; I don't know how much it took to bring the old place back into presentable condition. It may have been worth the cost, and lacking evidence to the contrary, I will give the Mission the benefit of the doubt. Plus, they have not tried to completely restore the place to its original condition, which would undoubtedly have been a frightful expense. Instead, they have left parts in a state of decay, preserved to prevent further delapidation, and used models and descriptions to convey how it would have looked in the day. And frankly, the dramatic ruins of the great stone church, which rival anything I saw in Rome, convey a sense of grandeur beyond what a duplicate could achieve.

We checked into our hotel in Costa Mesa and spent a couple of hours decompressing before heading out to look for dinner. We thought we'd just head up Harbor Boulevard and pick a nice place for a margarita and a good meal, out of the many hundreds of such places that Orange County has to offer. After about ten miles of nothing but fast food and industrial wasteland, we finally called on Nancy's hand-held electronic device. Ah, technology! The first place it sent us to was closed; the next was out of business. We finally located a Coco's (sort of a West-Coast Shoney's) and had a thorougly mediocre meal, before crashing for the night. I was too tired, at that point, to write anything.

The next morning we were off to Disneyland. It had been well-established, by then, that Jeff and I were only along because Nancy and Sherry consider Disneyland to be the ultima thule of amusement parks, a sort of paradise: there is but one god, Disney, and Mickey is his prophet. Or profit. Their attitude toward the place is as inflexibly devout as that of any Waco mother of six Southern Baptists toward the literal Bible. I've never seen Nancy so animated, and while Sherry was a little more reserved, she was no less eager to attend the shrine. Jeff and I, by contrast, talked about the things we weren't seeing. Hollywood. Movie studios. Museums.

All the things that are so enjoyable at Disneyland are there. The Indiana Jones ride is still the best, though the Pirates of the Caribbean ride has been upgraded a lot to conform to the hit movies. Captain Jack Sparrow appears throughout, and there's a story loosely told that sort of makes sense in the context of the films. I guess I've finally outgrown the little cars ("Autopia"), especially now that you can't ram the car in front of you anymore. It's just no fun to ride anymore. And the Haunted Mansion -- what a disappointment that is, all revised to hawk the Tim Burton movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I never thought I wanted to see it; now I know that for sure. The big round exhibition in Tomorrowland is a joke: all the futuristic technology it shows is so Last-Century. But the Star Wars ride is as good as ever, and, surprisingly, Michael Jackson no longer appears in the Magic Kingdom ... I wonder why?

There was never any doubt that we would be at the park until the last Roman candle popped and sputtered away. I was done long before that, and spent the last two hours or so getting back to, and waiting in, the car. I came this close to not going back on Saturday for the California Adventure.

Buuuuuuut ... well, the next morning I was thinking, if I dropped them off at Disneyland and went off on my own, I know what'll happen: I'll spend all day in traffic, looking for someplace that'll turn out to be a bore, or I'll go around taking photographs that turn out overexposed or underexposed or blurry or just plain boring. So I went along to California Adventure.

I shouldn't have to tell anyone who knows me that I was prepared to hate the place. We Texans, let's be honest, are jealous of California, which is the only state that can really compare with our own. Every state has beautiful spots, even Nebraska -- I know, I saw one there once, about 20 years ago. Maybe it was Kansas; hard to tell the difference. And some individual places are drop-dead gorgeous, like Yellowstone and Grand Tetons and the Shenendoah and the Adirondacks and Katahdin. And of course the most beautiful countryside in the entire nation, probably in the entire world, is that largely-empty slab of ground between I-40 and I-70, in Arizona and Utah: Escalante-Grand Staircase, Zion, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches National Monument, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, Wupatki ... and that other place, what's it called? Oh, yeah, the Grand Canyon. But on a state-wide scale, only California can really best Texas for scenic beauty and variety. The drawback in each case is, that California is full of Californians, and Texas is full of Texans. I know my own preference in the matter, but not all will agree. So be it.

To return to my point, I was prepared to dislike a place that celebrated California unabashedly. I was pleasantly surprised, and yes, relieved, to find that I actually enjoyed it. First of all, there's this ride called Soarin', where you get strapped into a gigantic row of seats that mimics a hang-glider, and you're treated to a seven- or eight-minute-long film, with music and scents added, that appears to have been filmed from an actual hang-glider. You're close enough to the ground to see the kayaker flip you the bird as you whoosh by overhead. You get to see fabulous views of Napa Valley and the northern coast and the Golden Gate and Palm Springs and all kinds of other beautiful places, mountains and desert and forest and fields and waters, and you pretty much feel like you're actually there. (Try to sit in the front row; otherwise the dangling feet of other park-goers can be a distraction). It actually made me want to try hang-gliding. A moment's reflection at the appropriate juncture about my fear of heights should prevent that actually happening.

But that set the stage for the day, and put me in an infinitely lighter mood. Plus, California Adventure wasn't nearly as crowded as Disneyland, and the weather was a little nicer that day than the day before. We went to see the Alladin show -- a live-action version of the movie, but well done in a large, comfortable theater, and every bit as enjoyable, especially since they just summarized all that dreary part near the end when the evil Vizier has the lamp.
I won't go through all the details; sufficient to say that we did everything there was to do, and I enjoyed every minute of it, especially since the lines weren't very long and I didn't puke after the roller coaster. (Not that I've ever puked after a roller coaster, but I've wanted to.)

We shut the place down, even enjoying the fireworks show from across the plaza in Disneyland, without having to put up with the crowds in there.
But, now, having said how much I enjoyed California Adventure, I will also say -- listen to this, Sherry -- that was my last trip to Disneyland. I've done it twice now, and that's enough for me. I'm not going back. Ever.

Up next morning, pack and load and zip down to San Diego to drop people off at the airport. I'd intended to drop off Nancy & Jeff, then have lunch with Sherry before she flew out a couple of hours later; but she wanted to spend that time with her sister -- I don't know why, she sees her at least once a year -- so I dropped her off too and headed up to Las Vegas. (Turns out that, once they got into the airport, they were in different "pods" and couldn't sit with each other, so Sherry felt that she had not chosen wisely.)

Meanwhile, I drove up and had dinner with my former law partner Curtis and his wife at one of those all-you-can-eat uberbuffets on the Strip in Las Vegas, then crashed for the night in a disappointingly ordinary room at one of those over-the-top hotels where you have to walk like a mile from the parking lot, or pay some pimply-faced valet twenty bucks. Me, I don't like paying twenty bucks for a hotel room. Up early and off for my Lincoln County diversion, thinking how useless this County Quest of mine is, and quelle surprise, Lincoln County is in the Great Basin, which, it turns out, is not an empty arid desert devoid of beauty, but an empty arid desert throbbing with beauty.

But it's nothing, compared to the beauty of southern Utah, from Zion to Glen Canyon and beyond. It just killed me to be driving a well-paved winding mountain road through some of the most stunning scenery in the land, in a sedan, but it was better than not driving it at all. I suppose. I stopped a half a dozen times to take pictures, at a small stream crossing, a cliff face, Zion Overlook, Glen Canyon, and across the Little Colorado River as you come down out of the mountains, and to linger, enjoying the sights and sounds.

After three days in Paradise (well, okay, Disneyland and Las Vegas) I was entitled to one night in Hell, so I checked into the Days Inn Flagstaff West in Flagstaff, Arizona. The next night, in Plainview, Texas, I couldn't wait to write a review of that experience for Travelocity. I had planned to link to that review, but it's not posted yet. Anyway, the place sucked: couldn't get on line, lousy service, no lights, the toilet seat wouldn't stay up, everything was unplugged (and I wasn't about to move the furniture), the heater didn't heat, the electronic door lock was finicky... the place sucked.

From there it was out across New Mexico and down through Texas, listening to a couple of really good audiobooks (Jeffrey Archer's latest, Paths of Glory, and an amusing little murder mystery called Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, by Donna Anderson).
I call the picture above "unintended irony."

And so, I am home.

A selection from the pictures for this last part of the trip is here.