Posts By A.B. Kelly

Long Live Henry Weinhard

Henry Weinhard is no more.

Pour one out.

So long, Henry, we hardly knew ya!

Except for me. I knew Henry very, very well.

For those who don’t know, Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve is a beer. If you aren’t familiar with their beer, you might recognize their sodas and root beers. It’s the good shit way down at the end of the soda aisle. None of that A&W bullshit. Six-packs only, bottles only.

Ironic, considering the beer was at the other end of the beer aisle. Hack, a six-pack of their root beer might cost the same as a twelve-pack of their beer.

Private Reserve got me through most of my twenties. While not my only go-to beer, it was part of the regular rotation. True, twentysomethings aren’t generally known to be concerned with the quality of beer. Bang for the buck was my maxim, so a steady supply of the Bud Lights and MGDs of the world were on order. And that was the good stuff. 

Never was a fan of Coors, which totally cuts against my west coast bias. Then again, I started drinking after they had nationwide distribution. Hard to believe it was a forbidden fruit, the In n’ Out of its day. If they remade Smokey and the Bandit today, he’d be smuggling double doubles.

Scratch that. The dumbass voters in my state passed a proposition to make bacon as difficult to come by in California as Coors was in 1970s Georgia. If that isn’t call for a reboot, I don’t know what is. They’re hungry in Fontana and there’s grease in Texarkana.

I also drank quality beer when I could get it on sale. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sam Adams Boston Lager. Microbrews, too. Nothing like a liter of Marzen from the local German-themed sausage restaurant, half-price on Thirsty Thursday or College Night or whatever the fuck night it was. 

Speaking of which, I recently looked up the Oktoberfest numbers in Munich, as it’s one of my dream destinations. In 2019, they had 6.3 million visitors and sold 7.3 million liters of beer. Am I the only one thinking there’s a lot of people not carrying their weight? That’s less than 1.2 per person. At a festival that pretty much exists only for drinking beer. 

Regardless, even if I drank my fair share of PBR, I knew what beer was supposed to taste like. 

Enter Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve. Flavor-wise, it was closer to Sierra Nevada, while price-wise, it was a Budweiser. Even in my twenties, I knew a perfect combination when I saw it.

You know those trendline graphs with individual plot points scattered around the average line? For instance, they’ll have percent of a state’s 2020 vote for Biden on the y-axis and COVID vaccination rate on the x-axis with an upward diagonal showing the average. We’d expect a state that voted 70-30 for Biden should have a 90% vaccination rate. But then there are the outliers, like New Hampshire, where Biden only took 52% of the vote but they’re, like, the most vaccinated state.

If you were to plot beers with price and quality on the axes, you’d see a similar trend. The higher the price, the better it tastes. Henry Weinhard’s would be the New Hampshire in that example. Priced down by PBR, quality up by Sam Adams.

Yes, I had these conversations while drunk in my twenties. I also once, while drunk in the red light district, opined that whatever the prostitutes were charging, it was above the quilibrium price for a Tuesday night in Sydney, because damn if there wasn’t a surplus of hookers on that strip of land. 

Some of y’all get drunk and get in fights. I sing karaoke and discuss social sciences. 

I don’t remember outgrowing Weinhard’s. There was never a time I proclaimed it no longer a go-to, but I certainly bought it less. Maybe I didn’t find myself strolling down that end of the aisle as often opting for craft six-packs instead of piss-water thirty-packs. But every once in a while, I’d see a Weinhard’s and have fond memories. If there was room in the fridge, maybe I’d buy a twelver as a palate cleanser. And every time I’d say, “Yeah, that’s still solid.” Then I’d forget about it for another eighteen months.

Not so with my other twenties go-to beer, Rolling Rock. I remember it being cheap and crisp. Then they were bought out by Anheuser-Busch, which promptly raised the price to be more in line with the craft brews. And I swear they changed the flavor, too. Maybe it’s psychosomatic and the $9.99 six-back doesn’t taste as good as it did at $5.99.

But man, over the past decade, every time I’ve tried a Rolling Rock, I’m flabbergasted I ever liked it. It barely even tastes like beer. It’s like bitter seltzer water. Whether that can be blamed on aging taste buds or Budweiser, I don’t know. Probably both. I also might have been duped by fun commercials, a distinctive bottle, and their fascination with the number 33.

Earlier this summer, while preparing libations for Camptathalon, I passed by the Henry’s and I equivocated. I didn’t want to be the asshole who brought lousy beer camping. One of the other guys busts out Miller High Life once every few years. It would be one thing if he sat in the proverbial corner and kept it to himself, but instead he always throws down with a “You know you want to see if it holds up.” To which I want to reply that Miller High Life never held any elevated position to which it might still “hold up” to. If he’d brought an MGD, maybe we could talk.

Incidentally, we all have fond memories of MGD. We have looked for it. It doesn’t exist anymore.

As for the High Life he brought camping. We all agreed it sucked and he had to finish the case by himself.

So I was gambling with the twelve-pack of Weinhard’s. If it was lousy, the most I’d be able to pawn off is one per person. 

The other campers’ reaction started the same as with Miller High Life: “Whoa, you brought Henry Weinhard’s?” But instead of segueing to “What the fuck were you thinking?”, the next line was along the lines of “Where the fuck did you find Weinhard’s?” As we talked about drinking it in our younger days, almost to a man, their reaction was the same as mine. The perfect intersection of price and quality. Everybody grabbed one. Willingly, unlike the High Life.

The verdict? It holds up. Bright, crisp, a little bit malty. Not “good” beer, but nothing you have to chase with an entire bottle of whiskey. Beforehand. If I had to choose between a Weinhard’s and a Sam Adams, I’d go Boston all the way. But up against every beer in its own price range, give me a Henry’s.

Although not anymore. Of course, right after I rediscover this gem of a cheap beer, they yank it from me. Did I mention it was bought out by Coors before being shut down? I can think of at least two other beers that Coors could stop producing instead of Weinhard’s. One is the champagne of beers and the other is the silver bullet. 

One Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve remained when I returned from Camptathalon. Now I’m faced with a dilemma. Like a Death Row inmate ordering his last meal, I know that the next time I drink a Weinhard’s will be the last time I drink a Weinhard’s. I ought to wait for a special occasion, a solemn occurrence.

But I shouldn’t wait too long.

After all, it’s a cheap beer. Those don’t tend to age well. 

Splash Mountain, Post-COVID but Pre-Remodel

During my long polemic last week about my latest trip to Disneyland, I briefly mentioned Splash Mountain. Despite rumors of it immediately shutting down for de-racisting, turns out it’s still open. And if it took close to a year for them to get rid of a couple of shrunken heads on the Jungle Cruise, I figure it’ll be a decade or two before they change Splash Mountain, since they’re redesigning the whole shebang

In fact, they just announced they’re closing Big Thunder for refurbishment, so Splash Mountain wasn’t even next in the queue. Let’s start a race: What comes first, the Harriet Tubman $20 bill or the Princess and the Frog Splash Mountain?

Calibrate your watches.

In the meantime, are there other ways to maybe de-racist it. And ideally keep “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

The problem with Splash Mountain, of course, is that it’s based off the racist 1946 movie Song of the South

Even when the ride was built back in the late 1980s, it felt an odd homage. We might not have been in the ultra-woke 2020s yet, but Song of the South was already the movie version of your racist uncle. I mean, one of it’s vignettes features tar babies, for Chrissakes! It wasn’t banned yet, but Disney was already downplaying its existence. There was talk they’d eventually pull it altogether, disavow it. The last thing one would expect them to do was build a brand new ride based on it.

The Little Mermaid came out the same year as Splash Mountain opened. I know the ride was likely planned long before the movie, but it seems a natural pairing, what with both entities containing water. Maybe Disney worried that movie would flop, seeing as it was the first of the new style musicals. But wouldn’t it be better to remind people of a minor failure of a film instead of a definitely racist one? People love Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride despite never seeing the movie it’s based on.

Still, Disney is profoundly slow to incorporate their movies into rides, as is evidenced by the fact that there are still no Frozen rides (in the U.S., at least), and that they think they’re being cutting edge by switching Splash Mountain to Princess and the Frog, a movie that came out in 2009. 

Sorry, *planning* to switch Splash Mountain. Because as of right now, it’s still Song of the South. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind it staying that way. If only they could separate it from its racist roots.

Nothing against Princess and the Frog, but it’s hardly the movie that rolls off your tongue when asked to list Disney animated films. Part of that, I’m sure, is the systemic racism that they’re trying to combat, but I think it’s a general ho-hum movie. More in line with, say Tarzan or Hunchback of Notre Dame, as opposed to Frozen or Beauty and the Beast. I mean, the princess is a frog for a large portion of the movie. So maybe the color of her skin isn’t what causes low sales of her dolls? And Disney doubled down in Soul by turning their second Black lead into a white ghost for most of the movie. Can’t just make a character Black for the whole movie, huh? 

What’ll come first, Harriet Tubman, Splash Mountain, or Elsa coming out of the closet?

But it’s okay, because at some point in the next decade or two, they’re going to take Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah off one of their rides!

Except I kinda like Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. I hope that doesn’t make me racist. 

And while I’m asking, what about Br’er Rabbit?

I’m not being facetious here. I’m trying to figure out if there’s some way Splash Mountain, instead of being redesigned, could be made less racist.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Song of the South before, but it would’ve been forty years ago when I was only a child. The basic premise, if I remember correctly, was that an old African American man, named Uncle Remus, sat on a porch and told kids old folk tales about Br’er Rabbit and others. Those stories were animated, starting with Uncle Remus doing a voice-over introduction before the characters took over the narrative. Splash Mountain is based on one of those individual vignettes, not the movie as a whole.

The problem most people have with the movie, aside from the tar babies, is the character of Uncle Remus, who is little more than a stereotype of an “old Black dude.” Also, since the movie takes place in the Reconstruction Era, that makes Remus a former slave, but he seems like he’s in a good mood. I don’t know if the movie ever makes specific reference to slavery. Maybe he refers back to his youth but doesn’t specify he was a slave at the time? Personally, if I were a former slave, I don’t know if I’d want to constantly bring it up. I know many Holocaust survivors didn’t bring it up voluntarily.

I don’t think the lack of slavery references is what rubbed people the wrong way. I think it was that Remus was seen as uneducated, perhaps stupid. Comical? I feel like he was reminiscent of Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis, Jr. as they aged. White society wanted to see its Black men acting a certain way, as a docile minstrel. 

These racist portrayals of African Americans were inexcusable then and even moreso now. In one of the World War II era comics I use in my U.S. history class, there’s a character that, I shit you not, I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be a monkey or an African American. I think it’s a monkey, but it has pronounced white lips and talks similar to Uncle Remus. And he was supporting the “good guys” against the Nazis. It’s embarrassing. But at the same time, it’s a powerful demonstration of our nation’s sordid past.

But I’m not here to defend Uncle Remus as a museum to our past. That portrayal might very well belong in history’s trash bin. My real question is if he’s even necessary in the movie. 

Could they remake the movie, but leave out the narrator and make it “The Adventures of Br’er Rabbit”? I don’t think there’s anything inherently racist about the character. Is the fact that he uses wit to get out of jams a dog whistle for “shifty minorities”? If my understanding is correct, the stories of Br’er Rabbit weren’t made up by Disney, but were old folk tales told by southern Blacks, both before and after emancipation. I kinda feel like they could be presented in a more respectful manner here in the 21st century?

Okay, maybe not “respectful,” because somehow even He-Man causes social media vitriol. How about “contextually aware.”

This seems a much simpler task than shutting down Splash Mountain for a year or two to rebrand it. Bring back “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” but take away the stigma. Tell the story of a rabbit and a bear and their friends as they work their way through a world made difficult by systemic racism. Highlight them as symbols of African American resilience and perseverance when the deck is stacked against you. 

Seems like something we ought to be applauding and promoting, not ignoring because some racists appropriated it for themselves seventy years ago.

And maybe get rid of the tar babies this time around.

Disneyland 2021: The non-COVID Stuff

Welcome back to part three of my Disney recap. Last time I wrote about the changes most likely inspired by COVID. Today I’m focusing on the random Disney observations, regardless of origin.

New Lands and Rides

I was skeptical about Rise of the Resistance. I was skeptical about Star Wars Land as a whole. Sorry, we’re supposed to call it “Galaxy’s Edge.” Screw that, it’s Star Wars Land. 

To be fair, the land was a ho-hum. Both new ones were. Marvel Land (sorry, “Avengers Campus”) has more potential, as it’s not tied to any one movie or era. Star Wars Land is modeled after Episode VII (I think). The stores and stuff were cool. You can buy the blue milk from A New Hope and the green milk from The Last Jedi, although you can’t squeeze them out of an alien alpaca’s teat like Luke did. You gotta buy them from the Milk Bar, which totally sounds like the name of a topless club. Now served in jugs.

If you’re expecting Galaxy’s Edge to look like a space station, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t look like Tatooine, per se, but it’s that typical run-down, dirty, depressing kinda place. The dominant color is brown. They could’ve called this Casablanca Land and not changed a thing. Except making the Milk Bar into Rick’s. I know a lot of the spaceports in the movies had that look, and the theme tends to run along “broken down technology,” but c’mon. You could’ve gone with Endor. There’s the casino planet. It was over 90 degrees the day I was there, so I would’ve loved a Hoth theme.

The Rise of the Resistance, on the other hand, was fucking awesome. To call it a ride is demeaning. It’s a fully fleshed-out experience. You move from place to place, vehicle to vehicle, with the story emerging as you go. Only after ten minutes of “transports” and “detention cells,” you get the typical whirl-around ride.

It starts out like Star Tours. They put us all into a “transport ship” that magically lands in a battle between the First Order and the Resistance. Clearly Star Wars transport companies need to work on their routing options. Why is every damn commercial liner another Lusitania?

During this part of the ride, my skepticism only grew. Really? I had to wake up at 7:00 am to go on Star Tours 2.0? I can ride the original with only a five-minute wait. Even worse, this ride didn’t move much. It shimmied and grumbled, but we were standing the whole time, and you can only see the battle footage through a little window at the front, with fifty other passengers in the way. Boring.

Until the doors open. Holy crap! I didn’t even realize we had moved locations, but when the door opens, you’re on a fucking space ship. With rows of Storm Troopers and that giant window looking into space. This picture doesn’t do it justice because my camera was collecting blur from all the lights, but holy shit. Those Stormtroopers are human-sized, to give you an idea of the scope.

The Disney employees at this point are acting like First Order assholes, so they get to be rude. They still do the same rigmarole, how many are in your party, stand in this line, but they get to command it instead of request it. Instead of “follow me,” it’s “get out.” I’d wager that every employee wants to work this ride.

After being “forcefully” removed from the “captured” transport, we’re put into detention cells to be tortured until we reveal the location of the resistance base. Then someone with a lightsaber cuts a door in the side of the detention cell, at which we FINALLY get on the “ride.” It’s part Indiana Jones ride, part Star Tours now, where we and one other car are moving around on a magnetic track, swerving in and out of each other’s way. I took the ride twice and the path changed each time.

The set pieces our car went though were fucking awesome, with the same grandiosity of that spaceship hangar. You go through the feet of fucking AT-ATs! You also drive underneath cannons shooting lasers and the battle going on out the window correlates with their firing. The cohesion is absolutely phenomenal. At another point, an off-course space ship runs into ours, causing the hull to rupture and gusts of wind feeling like we’re being sucked out into space. I don’t know if the physics of it work, but allegedly lightsabers wouldn’t work either, so I guess I shouldn’t be relying on Star Wars for my hardcore sci-fi.

And remember that I’m a curmudgeon, y’all! Rise of the Resistance wasn’t a ride, it was an all-encompassing experience. It probably lasted a good fifteen to twenty minutes.

Webslingers, by comparison, is… also a new ride.

As I predicted when I heard about it, it’s basically the Ninjago ride at Legoland. Rise of the Resistance and a few other outliers aside, the trend in amusement park rides over the past few decades has been to make us shoot at things and give us a score at the end. If I wanted to play video games, I’d stay home.

Even worse, Webslingers is a workout! Instead of pulling a trigger, you have to shoot your arms out like Spiderman firing his webs. And there’s a lot of shit to shoot your webs at. Early on, they talked about how you could web an object, then whip your hand to pull the object across. I did that once or twice, but for the most part there are, like, fifty little spider bots on the screen at any time and you’re just flailing both arms out like you’re training on a boxing speed ball. If I wanted a workout… well, I didn’t want a fucking workout, okay?

Old Rides, New Experiences

We took Daughter to Disneyland once before when she was on the cusp of turning five. This time she was seven and, more importantly, over forty-eight inches, which is the last barrier to entry. 

Disney’s actually better than most amusement parks about rides for short stacks. The only two rides that were off limits last time were Incredi-coaster and Indiana Jones. 

If you haven’t been to Disneyland in the last three or four years, the Incredi-coaster used to be known as California Screamin’. It’s the giant wooden roller coaster in California Adventure with a Mickey Mouse face on it. But that wasn’t cross-promoting enough Disney properties (they don’t, technically, own California yet, although it’s only a matter of time), so they painted it red to coincide with the release of “Incredibles 2.”

Daughter loved it. She’s a daredevil. The faster the ride, the more curves and loop-de-loops, the happier she is. She also loves Big Thunder and Space Mountain, the latter of which was closed for remodeling last time we were there, so she finally got to experience her dad’s favorite ride. Not sure how they refurbish a ride that’s all in the dark, but whatever.

Indiana Jones, she wasn’t such a fan of. The motion, she was fine with. The visuals, on the other hand, forced her to put her head down in her lap, hands over ears, for the majority of the ride. I remembered and prepared her for the “arrows” flying past you at the, I remembered the famous bolder rolling toward you. Kinda forgot about all the skulls and demon tribes and whatnot. Oops. Bad dad. 

She’s less enamored with scary storylines. She wasn’t a fan of the revamped yeti on Matterhorn, nor most of Rise of the Resistance. Pirates of the Caribbean freaked her out a little this time. Even Haunted Mansion was one and done this time.

The last one surprised me. When she was four, Haunted Mansion was a hoot. Stretching photos, cartoonish ghosts, singing gravestones, what’s not to love? And you get to take home a hitchhiker! We rode it four times over two days last time.

This time, she was quiet when we left the ride. Same as at Pirates. It was only when we asked if she wanted to ride again later in the day, with less than a 15 minute wait, that she revealed her less-than-enamoration with the ride. 

“Do the ghosts scare you?” I asked.

“No, it’s not really the ghosts,” she answered. “It’s just that they want us to die.”

You see, when she was four years old, the “story” didn’t resonate with her. Now she has an imagination. And the ghosts were the same as Kylo Ren cutting into our escape pod. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy ride, meanwhile, she’s fine with. Because the monsters are fighting the Guardians, not going after us, I guess. And Rocket Raccoon is helping us escape. 

She wants to hurtle through a loop-de-loop at 60 mph., as long as nobody’s chasing after her. Thrills are fine, storylines and visuals are a no.

This might play into my long-term plans. I was never a big Disneyland guy. My favorite amusement park was Magic Mountain. All thrill rides, no plot. Might be right up her alley. I just need to wait until she hits 54 inches.

The App

Everything’s on the app now. Disneyland was trending that way before the closure and it’s only been exacerbated. Food, ride photos, virtual queues. There’s an app for that.

There’s also an app to play games in line. Not the same app, mind you. You’ve got to download two apps if you want to enjoy your experience. No surcharge to yell at your kids for being annoying in line.

In the line for Space Mountain, for example, it’s a bunch of “pass the phone” games, like Guess the Character or “hold the phone in between you” games, like Pong. But they’re made to seem like you’re in space cadet training, and after each game, you “upgrade” your ship. Then every 15 minutes or so, everybody in line who is playing races their upgraded ship against each other. Kinda fun.

There are “hidden” codes written on the walls throughout the line, also used to upgrade your ship. The problem was sometimes we walked past them while playing pong. The Indiana Jones line moved so fast, I only saw one set of runes and couldn’t stand there long enough to copy it down. But I guess they’re there for when the park returns to full capacity with no FastPass.

The problem is you have to give the app access to your location. Fine, whatever, I set the app to access my location only while the app is open.

Then I saw they have badges. Badges are my great weakness. Gamify my life and I am putty in your hands. Have I mentioned this multi-part, 10,000+ word blog series was written on 4thewords, where I defeated monsters by writing? Damn you, Disney, how can I get more badges?

You get badges by, of course, riding the rides. Not sure how it triggers. When we stood in line, got on the Matterhorn, were released to the edge of the mountain, then taken off, I didn’t get the badge. You also don’t get the badge if you close down the app. 

Unless… Go ahead, the app tells you, give me access to your location ALL THE TIME!!!

So my options are to leave the app open throughout every line and ride or have it access my GPS constantly. Both of which suck battery like you wouldn’t believe. And I need my battery if I want to make it to my virtual queue. Or, you know, eat some time over the next twelve hours.

Not a problem, my app tells me. When my phone dropped below 30%, the app popped up to inform me of, I shit you not, where I could go in the park to purchase a recharge.

At least you can use the Play App to get your fortune from Esmerelda. In fact, you must use the app to get your fortune from Esmerelda. She doesn’t take quarters anymore. Disney doesn’t waste time with chump change when they can get the essence of your existence.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. Use the app, give them access to your entire life, waste your battery and then give Disney more money to keep your phone working. Well ha ha, Disney, I brought my own portable battery! You don’t get my money. You only get all my micro-data. My credit card number, location, sperm sample. I wonder if Bill Gates gave Disney access to the 5G in my COVID vaccine.

Booze

Odds and Ends

The last thing they said when we got off the raft onto Tom Sayer Island was “Stay on the trail, no climbing.” Isn’t climbing the entire point of going to Tom Sawyer Island? Daughter loved it, by the way. Amazing, huh? No computerized graphics, no thrills, just scrambling through rock caves and across rope bridges. As if it was 1955. Unfortunately, she wanted us to follow all of her tunnels but, man, them weren’t made for 21st century adults. 

The line for Rise of the Resistance featured three types of people. Those wearing Star Wars merch, staring around in wide-eyed wonder. Others, like me, wearing regular gear and doing our best to enjoy the scenery, hoping for the best. Then there are the little girls dressed up like princesses, every one of which had a look of abject torture on their face. And no, I don’t think they were reenacting Princess Leia’s time upon the destroyer. Or Amidala’s exile. Or Rey’s time in the cave. Man, marginally royal ladies have it rough in the Star Wars universe. Maybe they ought to stop having democratically-elected monarchies.

If you’re interested in keeping your teeth, don’t order any ice cream from the carts. Holy crap, that shit’s kept close to absolute zero. Takes about ten minutes to thaw enough to chisel away with your canines. Unfortunately, by then the chocolate chip cookie “sandwich bread” is soggy. And it all tastes vaguely of dry ice. 

Most places I go, I’m the dorky one. Shocking, I know! So imagine how out of place I felt in California Adventure when I was, like, the only guy not wearing some sort of Marvel gear. I felt like I needed to walk up to strangers and share my thoughts comparing and contrasting the negatives of Spiderman’s “Clone Saga” versus “One More Day.” Can I gain back some credibility if I remember the original Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring 31st century Vance Astro instead of Rocket and Groot? Seriously, y’all, I know I’m repping a brewery on my t-shirt, but I have the entire Mr. Fixit run in Incredible Hulk, bags and backboards, back home.

Speaking of Marvel, they had some great cup holders in the shape of Iron Man’s forearm, complete with Infinity Stones in the knuckles. On the plus side, the holder literally goes up to your elbow, so it’s his whole forearm. On the negative side, the hand portion can’t be flexed or tightened. There was a plastic cup in the hand that worked like a koozie. Another major drawback was the price. Thirty bucks! That included a drink, but to quote Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, they don’t put bourbon in that or nothin’.

I spent most of the day seeing them on people’s arms, the angel on my shoulder saying it’s a lousy deal for some cheap plastic that probably won’t last the plane ride home. The devil on my shoulder opined it would be fun to take camping, before doing a spit-take. “Holy shit, thirty bucks? I’m with the angel on this one.” So I decided to skip it. Then, right before closing, I saw that the motherfucking Infinity Stones light up. So shut the fuck up, devil and angel, I’m pulling out my plastic and running back to the… closed down drink cart. Well, shit. Maybe eBay has some? Eighty bucks? All of a sudden, that thirty doesn’t sound so bad.

Story of my life. I shoulda bought Bitcoin at $5, too.

Finally, booze.

I think I mentioned this last time I went, but they serve alcohol in California Adventure, but not in (the public areas of) Disneyland. I feel like they might be missing out on a goldmine. The first time I saw booze at an amusement park was Universal Studios in Florida. They sold beer in the fucking lines. Brilliant! So I figured it was a state law thing, since the nanny state I live in loves nothing more than protecting us from ourselves. In my state’s defense, if that Iron Man cup holder had been $30 with soda or $40 with beer, I wouldn’t have spent the day equivocating. But I don’t think my wallet is the part of me that California is concerned I might damage. California does plenty of damage to my wallet.

And honestly, whether it’s Disneyland or the state of California that’s trying to limit the sale of alcohol to maintain a “family-friendly” environment, the prices they were charging should be enough. Anybody who’s likely to abuse their alcohol ain’t gonna do it at $15 a pop in addition to the $150 it took to get into the park. I didn’t see people sloshing all over the place at Universal in Florida. If you buy one in line, you’re still waiting an hour before your next one. If you wanna buy three watered-down light beers to the tune of $45, be my guest. But are you going to double-down for $90 in the next line? You know there are bars outside the park, right?

And the Disney quandary makes even less sense when you consider they serve booze in one park but not the other. It isn’t just beer and wine, either. They’ve got legit booze, leading to this exchange between my wife and I when ordering coffee from the app.

Her : “Do you want Bailey’s in your coffee?”

Me, blinking… processing… “What the fuck kind of question is that?”

Way better than the Starbucks I had in Disneyland. Is California Adventure less family friendly? I didn’t see a PG-13 rating as I entered the park. And I didn’t see any fewer kids. Nor did I see any lushes. So add booze to Disneyland. Preferably in an Iron Man holder.

Post-COVID Disney Trip: The Changes

As I wrote last time, our last Disneyland visit was scheduled for the week after the whole world shut down. We returned this summer.

After an adventurous first day around the hotel and Downtown Disney (complete with 3:00 AM projectile vomiting!), we finally made our way into Disneyland proper. On Day Two, we went to California Adventure, and then back to what Floridians call the “Magic Kingdom” on day three. What follows are some of my observations. Today will be mostly COVID-related, while later this week I’ll post general “old curmudgeon in the Land of Forced Happiness” thoughts.

Openings and Closings and Maskings, oh my!

We went to Disney the last day of June and first of July, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. It seems to be in constant flux as they expand capacity. Rides that were closed one day were open the next. There weren’t going to be fireworks, but whatta ya know, at 9:00 on June 30, ka-BOOM! Too bad we weren’t in good position to see them. The next night, we made sure we could see the fireworks and then, wouldn’t ya know it, no Ka-Boom 😦

So if you’re coming here for guidance on what is open and closed, or where to find the best deals on… ha ha, just kidding, there are no good deals at Disneyland. But if your search engine sent you here because I referenced Disneyland COVID restrictions (I assume I must be within the top three results when googling Disney), then I apologize. But welcome! 

If, on the other hand, you’re here for snarky explanations of what it was like a couple weeks ago, then welcome back.

Nobody’s saying what the current capacity is. Before June 15, they were limited to 25%. After, they said they were “lifting all restrictions.” But they’re still not at 100%. Nowhere close. They have to hire back all the staff they’ve fired, for one thing. July 1 seemed a little more crowded than June 30, which might be based on a monthly payroll issues. Even so, I’d guess they were between 50-60% capacity when we were there. 

Many rides were damn close to walk-right-on. Most were in the 15-25 minute range, and even the biggies rarely popped above 45. As a result, even the longer lines were almost constantly moving. Forty minutes might seem a long time to wait, but the Space Mountain line is made to house a two-hour wait, so you don’t have those moments where you wait five minutes only to take two steps. Daughter will be forever ruined for future Disneyland visits.

Except for the Monsters, Inc ride, which strangely, is one of the slowest moving lines in either park.

Let’s see, what else? Monorail was closed. Lotta germy, germy spreading there, what with the five people riding it at a time. Or all day long. 

All the shows were closed down. Even shows that nobody ever goes to like the Hall of Presidents. 

The fireworks and water shows and parades were all down to prevent crowds. Except for when they shot off the fireworks. But if they don’t tell us it’s going to happen, we won’t congregate. 

Unless it’s the Matterhorn.

Almost all the rides were open. The ones that were closed seemed not for COVID reasons, but for regular “updating.” Sure, the park’s been closed for fifteen months, why not spend the first month after reopening to close down a major attraction like the Matterhorn. Can’t imagine some other time they coulda done that.

The good news is that the Matterhorn did a soft reopen our last day there. In the morning, it was still listed as closed for refurbishment, but when we hit Alice in Wonderland, we noticed it was running. Checked the app and, wouldn’t you know it, a 40 minute wait. Obviously we weren’t the only people who discovered it opened.

We stood in one of the longer lines, got all the way to the front, got IN the damn ride, were already released from the boarding station and were stopped right before we went into the mountain. Ride broken. Sixteen months well spent. At least we weren’t in the middle of the ride. About five minutes after we were taken out, they were still announcing for people stuck on the ride to wait patiently and they’d get them out. 

They were nice enough to scan a FastPass onto our ticket (the technology is still there) that we could use to go to the front of one ride, including the Matterhorn if it ever reopened, but at the rate the last reopening took, that would be October of 2022. Unfortunately, none of the FastPass entrances were open, so we were told to hunt down a ride employee to get to the front. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to stand in line to find one. Still, better to be us than those poor schlubs who were next in line, who had waited just as long as us, but didn’t get a FastPass scan out of it. 

In the end, the Matterhorn was only closed for a couple hours, so we used our FastPass on it, because ten minutes after it reopened, the wait was back up to 40 minutes. The Yeti’s been updated. Way more realistic, looks like he’s grabbing for you. Pretty solid, but I don’t know if it represents sixteen months of progress.

The only other ride that was closed was Jungle Cruise, but that’s racism, which might take more than a week or two to fix. Splash Mountain, however, was still open and still featuring Song of the South. I mean, we can’t expect Disney to close ALL its racist rides at the same time, can we? They’ve got a Yeti to upgrade! Even after they eventually change Splash Mountain, the recordings on the train and steamboat still reference “Indian shamans” and “savage natives,” and the train was closed while Star Wars land was being built, so they could’ve updated that within the past five years, but chose to keep the recording.

Most of the eateries were open. They encourage mobile ordering, but it’s not a requirement as long as you’re willing to wait an hour for your food. Most places had 3 or 4 mobile pickup spots and only one line, so the line stretched somewhere into the neighboring land. 

They seem to be on limited menus, too. For instance, I remember Cafe New Orleans serving a Monte Cristo sandwich, but it wasn’t on their menu. The Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland once had an extensive menu, but this visit it was pretty much burger or fried chicken sandwich. 

The limited menu helps, as nothing needs to be made to order. When the app tells you your order’s ready, that doesn’t mean it’s waiting for you. When you get to the employee, they look up your order, then go collect the disparate parts from various bins with dozens of the similar product. So I’m not sure why I needed to pick a specific time and then wait to be told it was ready. 

They had mobile orders for the Dole Whips, for chrissake! They serve one damn thing there. After the App told me my food was ready, I still had to stand in a line full of people whose orders were also ready. When I got to the front of the line, they asked for my order number, then handed me one of the twenty or so Dole Whips that were ready to go. I don’t have a problem with the mobile ordering. It’s so much easier than exchanging money at the sale sight. What I have a problem with is the ten minutes I had to wait before the app told me my food was ready if it’s going to be assembly line anyway.

Their mobile order system comes from the same laboratory as their…

Virtual Queues

The two new rides in the two new lands (Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars Land and Web Slingers in Marvel Land) use virtual queues. As I mentioned in my last post, I feel like Disney should’ve used most of the pandemic to implement virtual queues throughout the park. People could use virtual queues to pick a time to go on the ride, then go eat some food or buy some merch, sit for a spell, meet the characters. You know, enjoy the experience instead of spending the whole damn day with somebody else’s elbow up your ass. 

Instead of using the pandemic to go universal FastPass, Disney opted to to remove FastPass, which allegedly is going to be replaced by a pay-to-play system with surge pricing. Because of course.

Instead, Disney uses the virtual queues to drum up demand sounded the same as the Nanjago ride at Legoland. But if we DON’T drag our asses out of bed at 7:00 am, we’ll never know. 

There are only two times during the day you can sign up, 7:00 and noon. Obviously, the park isn’t open for the first one, but we’d heard a rumor you’re supposed to be near the park to be allowed in. Can’t confirm that, but the two times we stepped outside our hotel room (across the street), we got in. The day we didn’t, we didn’t. It’s okay. We got in at noon that day.

In fact, noon now has a distinct feel inside the Disney parks. People who missed the first virtual queue won’t get in any real-life line after 11:30. They all hover about, staring at their phones, waiting for 11:59 to turn over. A woman near the bathroom said it felt like the longest minute in her life. Then, precisely at noon, you hear whoops and cheers from far and near, like being in a sports bar when the home team wins. Followed ten seconds later by the groans of the vanquished.

One of the days we got the 7:00 am queue, I tried to double dip at noon. The app told me it was only one ride per person per day.

Once your virtual place comes up, though, it’s not like you walk right onto the ride. Far from it. This ain’t FastPass. The virtual queue only gets you past the bouncer, after which you get to stand in the normal ride line. Huzzah! Doncha feel lucky, punk?

To be fair, the Rise of the Resistance line still moved pretty fast. We zoomed right past benches and fancy decorations that were built to be enjoyed. So I assume at some point they’ll do away with virtual queueing and go to the standard American “line.” Why the hell did we switch to British when we went all fancy and “virtual”?

The Webslinger line after the virtual queue was still brutal. Well over a half-hour. Reminded me of the Monsters, Inc ride.

Reviews of both rides forthcoming.

Character “Meet-ups”

You’ve likely heard that character interactions have changed post-COVID. You can’t run up and give them hugs. No sneezing on them. No groping the princesses, although technically that was frowned upon before the plague, too. 

The “no hugging” isn’t only a suggestion, it’s a physical impossibility. No fistbumps or patting them on the shoulder. You can’t even stand next to them, much less breathe your nasty vaccinated breath upon them. They’re hermetically sealed like bubble boys.

They’re always behind fencing with a Disney employee acting as bouncer. The more popular the character, the more children aren’t able to control themselves, the farther they are removed from the populace like 1970s Elvis. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy were only available on the landing behind the Main Street train station, twenty feet in the air, waving from afar.

The other characters, the Chips and Dales and Plutos that nobody gives a shit about, are behind a smallish barrier. Ironically enough, the characters we got closest to, maybe only three feet away from, were Jasmine and Moana, two characters who don’t have the added barrier of a mascot uniform to protect them from our bad mojo. Then again, I’m guessing those clunky costumes have shitty air circulation, so they’re probably sitting in a cesspool under normal conditions. 

Since they can’t interact with the public, their job includes a lot of waving and posing. They do a marginal job of posing seven feet behind the barricade while you yell at your child, “Just look at the camera and pretend he’s right behind you. No, don’t look at the character! Look happy, dammit!”

But overall, the characters look bored. There’s only so many ways you can wave. If you can’t pat a kid on the head or point to their shirt or, gasp!, give them a hug, then what are you going to do? At one point, Jasmine and Genie looked at each other, shrugged, and then started dancing either the hand jive or the Macarena together.

I feel sorry for the Disney employees. I grew up in Orange County, where being hired by Disney was basically a five-and-a-half month prison sentence. You won’t see your friends, they’ll work you to the bone, then they’ll fire you right before you start getting six-month benefits like reduced-price tickets. Add in the fact that it’s often ninety degrees and those characters are freaking saints. So maybe a little boredom is good for them? Or maybe it makes a tediously long day longer. I hope it’s the former.

Opening Times

The last change I can presumably tie to the COVID opening was the actual opening. By which I mean when we first entered the park.

I feel like when I was growing up, Disneyland always had the same hours of operation. Whether it was a Tuesday in November or a Saturday in July, it was open till midnight. There were fireworks at 9:00 and the electrical parade at 11:00. Or maybe those two were reversed?

Nowadays you need an advanced degree in abacussing to figure out if there’s enough time to get on one more ride, much less when you’re allowed to come back tomorrow. 

The first two days we were there, the park opened at 9:00, the third day at 8:00. It’s okay if you can’t keep track, though, because on Disneyland time, 8:00 and 9:00 openings are the same thing. 

Let me explain. 

Both of the 9:00 am days, they let people into the park before 9:00. Not sure how early, but I’m guessing 8:00 because by the time we got there at 8:30, people were meandering down Main Street 

This isn’t uncommon. Disney’s always let people onto Main Street early. Better to get some early shopping done. Our first long line of the day was the “coffee shop.” I put that in quotes because, despite looking all olde tyme signs denoting “roastery,” it’s a fucking Starbucks. Good thing, too cause I wouldn’t trust some 1950s soda jerker to make my upside down triple latte.

In the past, though, you couldn’t go beyond Main Street before the official opening time, leading to body-crushing mobs against the rope barriers and doors into the various lands.  But this time, when we finally made it past the Coffee Ride to the end of Main Street, nothing prevented us from getting into the lands. I guess letting us stroll in promotes social distancing. Better than the mad Black-Friday-esque stampede that one normally experiences at Disneyland opening. Less chance of COVID and less chance of trampling.

Of course, once the masses are allowed into the various lands, what’s the first thing they’re going to do? Get in line for the rides, of course. So it stood as no surprise that there were already twenty minutes or so of people in line at Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland when Daughter decided to veer toward Fantasyland instead of our pre-draft strategy of Adventureland. In her defense, the Castle was closed off last time we were there.

When we finally joined the line at Alice in Wonderland, which seems to have an hour wait anytime of the day so might as well pull off the band-aid early, it was maybe 8:55 and the ride was already running. Did my eyes deceive me? Did they shit-can the “Magic Morning,” where people paid to get in an hour early, then do it on the down low and not charge extra money for it? That seems very un-Disneylike.

The next day, the same thing was happening at California Adventure, so we made a beeline for Radiator Springs, a ride that normally requires either a FastPass or really, really strong bladder. You can watch the entire “Cars” movie while in line. Maybe the sequel, too. 

They didn’t let people into the Radiator Springs line until 8:40, but we figured even if they didn’t start the ride until 9:00, that’s only a twenty minute wait. Barely enough time for the coming attractions. But they actually put us on the ride. I think we were off the ride before the park was even open. We pressed our luck, heading over to the Toy Story ride, which also usually has an hour-plus wait. Walked right on, then doubled back and did the same for Incredi-coaster.

It was 9:30 and we had already ridden three of the longest lines. At this point, we were on borrowed time. We could’ve gone back to the hotel and called it a day, and nobody would’ve faulted us. Or we could go ride Guardians of the Galaxy three times in a row. Not the most step-economical course through the park, but who the hell cares when the lines are all ten minutes long?

Me. That’s “who the hell cares.” Or would care when I was on my third straight day of 24,000 steps. But at the time…

Our third day, the park opened at 8:00. Fortunately, we were back at Disneyland where we’d already ridden most of the rides, because we didn’t want to get there at 7:00 am after closing the park two nights in a row. Good thing, because when we walked up at 7:50, nobody was allowed in the park. Not even onto Main Street. They were holding everyone at the ticket stands.

Starbucks would have to wait. 

So whether the park opens at 8:00 or 9:00, it seems to open at 8:00. Not sure how long that’ll continue, but use that as my one guide, your one reward for muddling through my 10,000 words of Disney drivel.

Don’t fuck with closing time, however. I tried to go back and buy that Iron Man drink holder at 9:02 pm and things were closed up tighter than a nun’s coochie.

I’ll be back on Friday with some non-COVID reflections on Disney 2021.

Post-COVID Disney Trip: Downtown Disney

Last March, we were scheduled to go to Disneyland. Daughter’s Spring Break doesn’t line up with mine, so we’d already signed her up for a week of complicated kindergarten independent study, with tasks like “look for sight words” and, I don’t know, color inside the lines of the kid’s menus? 

Then the whole fucking world shut down. Disneyland and the NBA shut down on Wednesday and Daughter’s school followed suit on Friday. She’s now at the end of first grade and still technically has perfect attendance, because there’s nothing easier than attending a Zoom call, despite what my own high school students would lead you to believe.

After waiting sixteen months for Disney to come back, we jumped on it. They were still at 25% capacity when we booked it, but we knew that wouldn’t last because our trip would be after Herr Kommandant Newsom’s magical 8-ball date of June 15. Good news is we were able to use our old tickets, so that saved us a year of Disney Inflation (significantly higher than regular inflation, which has been bad enough). Bad news is we’d paid for the FastPass, but that’s currently not operating. One would think things like FastPass would help facilitate the whole social distancing thing. If only they had been closed for 15 months recently when they could’ve implemented virtual queues for all their rides. I mean, I’m no Disney executive, but it seems to me the less we’re standing in line, the more we’re buying their overpriced food and tchotchkes. Of course, many of their eateries and shops are on limited capacity. Don’t be surprised if 2022 rolls around and, voila!, virtual queues everywhere. 

Downtown Disney

We tried to plan an off-day in the middle of the three-day parks adventure, but since they were at 25% capacity when we booked, we took what we could damn well get. So our nice and relaxing day ended up being the first day of our trip, when we didn’t really need nice and/or relaxing. Then again, going to the pool twice with a seven-year old who is marginally “water safe” but nowhere near a swimmer is neither nice nor particularly relaxing. 

Then there were the two trips into Downtown Disney, a purgatory where the unfortunate souls denied entry into Disneyland can still pay the company our indulgences. Downtown Disney is a strip mall with only two types of business: shops, mostly owned by Disney, and restaurants, which presumably only pay rent. But if the hour-long wait to eat on a Monday night is any indication, the rent they’re paying is exorbitant. There used to be an ESPN Zone restaurant there that went out of business. I’m not sure how any restaurant could go out of business there. Even settling for our third and fifth choices for dinner necessitated a fifteen minute wait.

Too bad. The ESPN Zone had the best chocolate chip cookie sundae in existence. Put the Pizookie to shame.

Daughter, of course, wants to buy the entire Disney store in preparation and/or celebration. Stuffies and t-shirts and mouse ears, oh my! 

Have you seen the selection of mouse ears? Oh my! They’ve got glitter ears and sequin ears, rainbow ears and unicorn ears, Captain America ears and Homer Simpson ears. Okay, the Simpson ones weren’t official (one of the few intellectual properties left unowned by the Mouse), but the pink sprinkled donut ears are a pretty obvious homage. 

You could get your rainbow ears in the Pride or non-Pride variety. Disney has a horrible track record with LGBTQ representation. But boy howdy, if there’s a buck to be made off of it, then they’re the most gay-friendly company in history. As long as you’re not wearing a knock-off rainbow flag. Then they’ll whitewash you into straightness worse than Elsa and Grenda.

The good news about the ears was that Daughter was content to purchase just one. As opposed to the…

Pins, Pins, and more Pins

Whichever exec came up with this racket deserves a gold star and a private parking space. Maybe a lifetime supply of cocaine.

The variety of ears pales in comparison to the pin selection. What’s your favorite property? Rapunzel? She has four or five poses. Snow White? Ditto. What’s your favorite ride? Because Space Mountain and Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion each have rows of pins to choose from. Don’t even ask about Frozen or Marvel. Every property, every character, every quote is ripe for pinification, no matter how obscure. Shit, there are Star Wars references on pins that even a dork like me doesn’t understand.

We bought pins last time we were here. My lanyard had four, Wife’s close to ten. Daughter’s weighs close to her own body weight. And of course, she bought five new ones on day one this time around. At the price of roughly a remortgage each.

“Why don’t you buy any pins?” Daughter asked.

“I’ll buy some pins. I just don’t want to buy a pin and find a better one later.”

“But what if it’s sold out by then?”

“I doubt they’ll sell out. There are a lot here.”

“Yeah! They must really be worried we won’t get one. ‘

“I think they want to make sure they get our money.”

“We don’t want Disneyland to go out of business!”

A lot to unpack there. Good to know, I suppose, that her penchant to purchase every item she sees comes more from a fear of missing out than from straight up American consumerism. Although who can tell  where the latter ends and the former begins. There’s a reason Amazon always tells me, “Last one at this price!”

I ran a little test along the lines of that old adage of offering a kid a cookie today or five cookies tomorrow. When Daughter whined that she wanted to shop in our hotel gift shop as we were checking in, long before Downtown Disney and the pins, I told her she could, but she’d get no others gifts the rest of the trip. She opted to wait. A bird in the hand ain’t worth three days of birds in two parks and twenty different shops.

Maybe those kids who take one cookie instead of five are skeptical of the actual delivery of said cookies tomorrow. “Let me keep this cookie now and, trust me, you’ll get more tomorrow” sounds an awful lot like paying you Tuesday for a hamburger today. 

Speaking of Gift Store Purchases

I saw these shirts in the Star Wars store. 

My friends thought they were a perfectly fine pairing. Cute and obvious enough to avoid any awkward explanations. So maybe I’m reading too much into this, conjecturing into semantics (or is that semanticking into conjecture?), but I’m getting a serious “I’m with Stupid” vibe.

The “I’m with stupid” t-shirts go back at least a generation. They were a hilarious gag back when Reagan (Carter?) was president, but it wasn’t long before people found themselves separated from “Stupid.” And when you’re “with stupid,” but alone…

So sure, if Han shirt and Leia shirt are walking beside each other, it might make sense. Even if 90% of the “Han”s in this situation can’t summon the amount of manliness in Harrison Ford’s pinkie. As a general rule, when a woman tells you she loves you for the first time, your response shouldn’t be, “I Know” unless you are both a) as cool as Harrison Ford and b) about to be frozen in Carbonite. In any other situations, a simple “thank you” will suffice. 

But again, it isn’t when these two shirt-wearers are nearby that concerns me, it’s when they’re (non-Han) solo. Then you’re either the lady who loves everyone she encounters (we all know one, right?), or you’re telling people who didn’t say or ask a damn thing, “I know.” As a high school teacher, I could probably get away with it, because I for sure know everything they’re going to say before they say it. Yes, I’m sure that if you were in a Nazi concentration camp, you would’ve grabbed the guard’s gun and escape. And yes, I know what the game of “Quarters” is. And 69 and 420. I know. I know. I know.

Beyond a few settings, though, randomly walking up to people saying “I know” seems psychotic. But whatever. My friends overruled me, said those t-shirts were fine. 

But we all agreed on this bubble wand: 

Sure, that’s only Mickey’s hand at the base. And it doesn’t need to be held at that angle. And for God’s sake, it’s a children’s toy, get my fucking mind out of the gutter.

But in my defense, almost every kid WAS holding it at precisely this angle. Right in front of their midriff. Shooting fucking bubbles out of the fucking tip.

So yeah, I’m a giant man child with a sophomoric sense of humor. But how is it possible there are no giant man children with sophomoric senses of humor in the vast empire that is Big Disney? No free cocaine for the exec who came up with that.

Flavored Churros 

Did you know churros came in flavors other than cinnamon? It makes sense, because they don’t roll it in the cinnamon sugar until the end of the process. In theory, how hard can it be to swap out the cinnamon for some other delicacy? Yet it’s never been done. 

Until now. 

The churros inside the park are still, as God intended, cinnamon. But outside the park, in the wild, wild west that is Downtown Disney, there are carts that sell such monstrosities as strawberry churros and salted caramel churros and, gasp, key lime churros! 

The last one freaked me out and enticed me the most. I had to try it! I laugh at little kids’ wiener wands, so I’m going to hell anyway. Might as well throw a churro crime against nature into the mix. 

Oh my goodness, y’all! This abomination was a little slice of heaven. I expected tartness but, let’s be honest, if churro is in the title, sugar is the number-one ingredient. So it was sweet, no pucker factor whatsoever. But sweet lime was distinct enough, like a Sprite or virgin margarita, tingling taste buds on both sides on my tongue. 

We returned on subsequent days, and I ended up trying the salted caramel and apple pie flavors, as well. Both were meh. Nothing to write home about and, more importantly, not better than cinnamon. But that key lime, man. I’d order that one again in a heartbeat.

Although maybe we shouldn’t have been plying the child with late-night churros while on vacation.

First Night Vomit

Who can really say what triggers an oh-dark regurgitation?

I think perhaps it was that very churro. It was only cinnamon, Daughter not being a food adventurer, but it was after 9:00 at night, which is usually her bedtime. And after a walk across the street back to the hotel, she went to sleep. There’s a reason you don’t jam yourself full of sugar and carbs that late at night. I had trouble falling asleep, needing to prop myself up and take a couple Zantac to avoid the bile, and still woke up multiple times in the first couple hours. I didn’t vomit, but I might’ve felt better if I did. I have in previous situations where my heartburn was that bad.

Daughter points the finger at the meal she had before the churro. Despite chicken tenders and burgers being on the kids’ menu, she opted for fish and chips, then was upset when she got, well, fish and chips. I guess she was expecting something closer to fish sticks, but she got some legitimate deep-fried fish in a doughy beer batter. “What is this?” she asked, aghast and appalled. Maybe I should’ve sent it back for chicken tenders, but I was in one of those “fuck you, you ordered it, eat it” father moods, so we asked for some ranch to dip it in and she was much more agreeable. Not sure why they would serve fish & chips, particularly a kids’ version, without tartar sauce. No malt vinegar, either, although I doubt I could’ve used this time to teach Daughter the proper way to eat them. In all honesty, even had they included the usual accoutrements, she still would’ve opted for ranch. Processed plastic mayonnaise hides the flavor of anything.

Our third potential criminal in this regurgitative whodunit, discovered by Gumshoe Wife, was the pool. Specifically the fact that Daughter seemed to have swallowed five or six poolfuls of it during our two forays. It’s not that she can’t swim. I mean, she can’t swim, but that’s not the entirety of the problem. After years and countless dollars, she’s at least borderline “water safe.” She can float, she can surface, she can get to the sides. Good enough. The problem is when she isn’t focusing on survival, when she’s in the part of the pool where she can touch, she’s got her damn mouth open the whole time. Laughing and yelling and explaining the constantly evolving rules to a game that only she is playing. So while she doesn’t inhale the water (which would be drowning), she’s gulping it down like it’s a college keg party. Anything that’s equal parts chlorine and urine, with maybe a splash or two of water thrown in for appearance sake, can’t do great on your insides.

Who really knows the culprit. Churro, fish & chips, chlorine? In all likelihood, they all merged together. Throw in the excitement and nerves before the “Happiest Place on Earth,” too.  Regardless, just after 3:00 AM, our darling treasure woke us up with a phenomenal reenactment of The Exorcist all over the floor of the hotel room. At least she made it out of the bed first. In her defense, it’s tough to make it to the toilet under the best of conditions. Add in the fact that it’s dark and you’re in a room where the bed and toilet are unusually positioned and I’m pretty impressed with where it landed.

It was still dark when the second round came. I was scrambling to turn on the lights while Wife headed toward the bathroom for towels. I think she puked and farted at the same time, a juicy, squirty kinda flatulence followed by the sound of a few more plops upon the floor and I swear I thought she had just shit the floor. Is this Disneyland or one of my male-bonding camping trips? I finally got the lights on. Good news, only vomit upon the floor. Bad news, lots of vomit on the floor.  I could hear her stomach gurgling from across the room. Poor girl, that fish & chips and ranch and churro and pool water must’ve been havoc on her system. 

How about we add some sleep to the pre-Disneyland equation?

Last little post-COVID caveat: the hotel wasn’t doing maid service for the entirety of our stay (five days!). Not sure if it’s a shared space thing or a small workforce thing. But now our floors were sticky with cleaned up vomit, our trash can was full, and every towel in the room was sitting, puke-soaked, in our shower. 

In the morning, on our way to Disneyland, hotel management relented and decided we could, in fact, get a special housekeeping for the day. And it wouldn’t even cost us nothin! Except maybe some COVID towels left behind like a Bubonic Plague victim’s remains by an overworked understaff. Omega variant, here we come.

With an opening day like that, what magic would the actual House of Mouse portend?

I’m planning on posting at least twice next week about our ventures inside the actual parks. They’re all written, just need a little editing. Hope to see you back here then.

Stop Calling Hazy Beers IPAs

That’s it. That’s all I have to say. Thanks for reading my blog.

Okay, okay. I’ll expound a little.

The latest beer craze has been Hazy IPAs. They’re, as you might guess, hazy in color. Opaque. Like Metamucil on a cloudy day. So the name of it totally fits.

Except for the fact that it’s not an IPA.

IPA, for those who don’t know, stands for India Pale Ale. It originally got this designation because it was the beer English sailors took on the long trek to India. In order to avoid spoilage, they put a shit-ton of hops in it. Medieval preservatives. Hence the hop-forward flavor profile of your typical IPA. Except not hazies.

When you remember that the I stands for India, the extra classifications sound silly. An IIPA is an Imperial India Pale Ale. Kinda redundant. When else were the Brits going to India? By the time India gained it’s independence, the Suez Canal existed, making the extra hops unnecessary. To say nothing of refrigeration.

A Double IPA? Triple? Is there more than one India? The British were known for fomenting differences between the various religions and ethnicities on the subcontinent, so maybe you could have a Triple India, but they wouldn’t all be drinking the same beer. And at least one of the three wouldn’t drink beer.

Maybe the Double and the Triple IPAs were extra hopped for multiple trips to and from? But couldn’t they refill their keg in between trips? In reality, the double and triple just refers to the extra level of douchiness of the hipsters who drink that swill. Maybe the D doesn’t really stand for Double, after all. You can go to a barbecue with a Triple Douchbag IPA, even if there isn’t a beer in sight.

In case it isn’t obvious, I’m not a huge fan of IPAs. Unfortunately, this means the selection of beers I could buy over the past decade was sparse. In a typical liquor store, the IPA section took up about seventy percent. Twenty percent went to the piss-water, your Budweisers and Pabsts, remnants of my father’s and grandfather’s era when they didn’t know beer was supposed to have flavor, leaving maybe ten percent of the shelf space for the Pales and the Browns and the Reds and the Stouts and the Pilsners and the Wheats.

Actually, fuck the Wheats. If I have to add fruit, it ain’t a beer.

By the time I was of legal drinking age, my grandpa was dead and my dad was an alcoholic. So I never really got a chance to sit and have a brewski with them. I wonder how they would have reacted if I busted out a Sierra Nevada Pale, or even a Newcastle Brown. Would they have oohed and aahed at the brave new world  I’d opened for them? Or would they have wondered why my generation had to go fuck something up as simple and wonderful as beer? Kinda like I do when a Millennial waxes lyrical about his 100 IBU IPA.

IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit. The bitterness comes from the hops and the closer it gets to triple-digits, the more it tastes and feels like cotton. Budweiser and its ilk have IBUs in the single digits. Creamy ales and brown ales are in the low double-digits. The major microbrews, like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada, are in the thirties range, which I also call the happy range.

Hazies, on the other hand, have IBUs in the twenties or the teens. I’ve seen some as low as ten, maybe eight. That’s porter territory, no residual bitterness whatsoever. Calling a Hazy an IPA is like calling yourself an international coffee company but basing yourself on froo-froo caramel Frappuccinos and having baristas who look at the customer funny when they just want some fucking coffee, is that too fucking hard to do?

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the Hazy IPA is more or less on the opposite end of the beer spectrum from a standard IPA. Opposite side of the Earth, even, since they were once called New England IPA and nothing says India like Boston.

The hazy people claim that it’s still an IPA because of the amount of hops they put in it. But they put the hops in at the end of the process, after the boil, so (and they’ll admit this), the hoppiness doesn’t become infused into the flavor. A genuine IPA is like percolated coffee or a French Press, whereas a Hazy IPA is instant coffee being stirred into hot water. 

It’s the equivalent of sprinkling a little garlic powder over your store-bought pasta sauce instead of cooking up chopped garlic in the oil before adding the sauce. You can call both of them garlic sauce, but they’re not going to taste the same. The Hazy IPAs end up more citrusy and, with tasting notes similar to a sauvignon blanc. “Hints of pineapple,” “Mango forward.” Who would have guessed hops had nuance when you don’t boil the shit out of them? Maybe that cottony bitterness is a defense mechanism, like when a lobster thrown into already boiling water ends up tasting like shit. Maybe nobody outside of 18th-century sailors and douchebag hipsters was ever supposed to pretend to like overly hoppy beer. The first because they were out at sea for six months straight and any port’ll do. The latter because, ugh, you’re so bourgeois if he has to explain it to you.

Restaurants are even worse than liquor stores. Twenty taps? Ten IPAs, two DIPAs, a triple, and an Imperial. Plus maybe a Double Imperial. It’s maybe gotten a little bit better, with porters coming back into vogue recently. Plus hazies which, I hope I’m establishing, aren’t IPAs. But it’s still rough. I was recently at two different eateries in Yosemite. Each had three taps, two of which were IPAs, but different IPAs. The third tap was either Coors Light or Michelob Ultra. I guess I’ll have a Sprite.

Disneyland was the same. California Adventure, really, because Disney has somehow decided to only offer alcohol at one of its parks. One of their stands had a wheat, a pilsner, an IPA, a double IPA, and a hazy IPA.

Good thing I’ve learned that hazies aren’t IPAs, because I wasn’t in the mood for a pilsner.

I think hazies took on the IPA moniker because of this very oversaturation. If you wanted your beer to hit the market in 2015, it must have the word “India” in the flavor. Like how in 2010, if you wanted to make a new movie or TV show, it had to feature zombies.

I assume a handful of hipsters realized belatedly that they didn’t like the taste, but didn’t know they could order . Here’s how I imagine the conversation went:

“Hey bartender, do you have any beers that don’t taste like ass?”

“I’ve got plenty. What flavor?”

“Anything that doesn’t taste like someone swiped a cotton-flavored brillo pad across my tonsils.”

“Not a hops fan, huh? Maybe you’d like a malty amber ale?”

“An Amber IPA?”

“It’s not an IPA.”

“I must have an IPA or I’ll be laughed out of the bar.”

“Let me get this straight. You want an IPA, but you don’t like hop flavors?”

“It’s not that I dislike hops. It’s just certain kinds. Like Galaxy and Cascade and Mosaic. Oh, and I’ve also ruled out Saaz and Sterling and Simcoe. Better avoid all the “s” hops. Do you have a type of hop that doesn’t taste like ass?”

Bartender, fiddling with the new beer that he can’t seem to move, “Here, try this. It’s an IPA, but it’s hazy.”

The classification hurts in both directions, though. Mythical dude-bro aside, most IPA fans don’t really like hazies. I took a flight with an IPA fan who ordered a hazy because the menu said IPA. He thought it was terrible. He almost sent it back, but I took it from him and, although it wouldn’t have been my top choice, I’d take it over a shitty-ass IPA any day.

I can’t be the only person who avoided hazies for a long while due to their designation. I know I was in the minority in my IPA-aversion, but I can’t be the only person. Furthermore, I should’ve been the target audience for a beer that tastes nothing like an IPA. You were never going to win over my airplane friend, you’re only going to make him distrust real IPAs from said brand. 

The glut of IPAs in all their forms seems to be hurting the beer industry in general. The Total Wine by my house used to be roughly 40% beer. Now it’s closer to 25%. Some of that space has been taken up by the new kids on the block, those ciders and seltzers, but even including all of those drinks on the beer shelves, they’ve still lost market share. 

My guess is we’re losing out on the next generation of beer drinkers. It’s not exactly “entry level,” and if it’s the only beer you can find, you’re not going to enter. Let’s say I decided I wanted my first beer at Yosemite, and my only three options were two IPAs and a Michelob Ultra. Let’s say, to give it that old college try, I sample all three. Two taste like cotton and the third like water. Guess I’ll stick to whiskey.

Here’s a thought: Call them Hazy Ales. Seems easy enough, distinct and descriptive. Nary an India in sight.

You’re welcome, Beer Industry. You know where to send my residuals.

To Mask or Not to Mask

Greetings all from the Wild West, a lawless frontier where you can take your own life in your hands by walking into your local saloon or general store. 

Every day, I meet perfect strangers on the street. Our eyes squint as our hands hover near our waist, waiting for the other to flinch before we pull out our instrument of death.

I like in California. The weapon at my waist is the mask in my pocket.

It sounds like we’re behind the curve when it comes to the reopening. But in many ways that makes it worse. 

In California, we like to “follow the science” whenever the science agrees with our preconceived notions. For instance, the science said that masks helped prevent the spread of disease, so we wore masks inside. Science also told us that the virus doesn’t spread outdoors, so we closed the beaches and parks. Oh, and the outdoor dining, which forced everyone indoors where they were more likely to catch said virus. See? SCIENCE!

Well, the science told us about three months ago that vaccinated people are safe. One might even call them “vaccinated.” But because there was no way to know who was vaccinated or not, and because our Herr Kommandant Governor REALLY likes his emergency powers, we decided it was best to make everyone wear masks. For, I guess, solidarity with the people who don’t give a shit about the virus.

Our Herr Kommandant graciously gave us a random date back in early April at which point COVID would be over and the masks could come off. Because SCIENCE! And when the CDC made the same ruling a month or so before Herr Kommandant’s random dart-throw of a date, well, we better not listen to those crazy health officials. June 15 was the date he picked out of his ass and June 15 was the date we could take our masks off. Not a moment before! SCIENCE!

I’m pretty sure dude would’ve extended the date even further if he wasn’t already facing a recall. In the weeks leading up to his Magic Day, we heard scarce information from the government. The only thing that stopped his reneging and moving the goalposts for the seventy-fifth time in the past year, is that fact that minor establishments like Disneyland and the five major league baseball teams in California had taken him at his word and started selling tickets for full-capacity after June 15. And if I was a voter who was leaning toward voting no on Newsom’s recall, but then Disneyland called me up to tell me that my June 16 ticket was no longer valid, I might be changing my vote. Psychology is SCIENCE, right?

Herr Kommandant did say that, although he was begrudgingly sticking by his earlier promise about June 15, he was at the very least going to hold onto his emergency power until, I shit you not, the virus is eradicated. Eradicated as in completely extinct. As in, no new cases, presumably in California but possibly the world. You know, just like all those other viruses we’ve completely removed from the human condition. Like… um… hold on a second….

When June 15 arrived, we were given very little guidance as to how to proceed. Employees, we were told, still had to wear masks. Something about Herr Kommandant couldn’t control Cal-OSHA, he could only make suggestions. Except when he was implementing the stay-at-home order in the first place. Somehow his emergency powers only allow him to make things more restrictive, not less restrictive. He can make new laws but not do away with old ones? Even if they were implemented via emergency powers in the first place? Sounds like some shitty emergency powers. I assume he keeps his primae noctis rights.

So most of the places I’ve frequented the last week, the employees are still masked up. The customers have been a crapshoot. It’s about what you’d expect. Nobody in line at the donut shop wore a mask. Maybe they’re not buying donuts for their health? At the Whole Foods, everyone still wore them. The comic book store was an anomaly, with almost all the customers wearing masks but a few maskless employees. The customers are adults buying comics, so probably aren’t the best with change, but they’re probably conspiracy theorists who won’t rat out the employees to the government. 

Most of the places frequented by the masses, grocery stores and sandwich shops and the like, seem to be split right down the 50/50 range. It’s here where I go back and forth, where I find myself grabbing for the mask in my pocket out of courtesy to the other customer, even though I’ve already been there for five minutes or more. What makes the exchange even more awkward is that I’m relatively certain that masked person is vaccinated, as am I. So each of us are masking up to signal to the other person that we don’t need masks.

SCIENCE!

I know a few weeks ago I said I wouldn’t wear masks longer than I needed to. The unvaccinated aren’t masking up, why should I? Especially considering the masks are best at preventing my globules from getting out, not from stopping the globules already floating around in the air from coming into my mouth. They’re condoms, not diaphragms. Since I’m vaccinated, my globules are great (too bad I’m not still single, that would be a great pick-up line). There’ve been a ton of studies on if we’re acting as conduits from unvaccinated to unvaccinated and it turns out, in over 99% of scenarios, we are not.

So why am I now playing along with the mask wearing? I mean, aside from the fact that now that it’s voluntary, I can damned well do what I please? Part of it is the whole social contract thing. I know we are a dying bunch, but some of us still believe you shouldn’t be a dick to other people just for the sake of being a dick. So fine, other person in the store, if you’re still afraid of people not wearing masks, then I don’t mind a couple minutes of discomfort. I mean, y’all might want to get over that shit and look up on the research, because they’re really unnecessary if you’re vaccinated. When the school year starts up again and I have to wear a mask eight hours a day (in a high school where most of the students will be vaccinated, because SCIENCE!), those extra five minutes of face freedom are mine, not yours!

And if you’re not vaccinated, then fuck you. The social contract means nothing to you. You’re not smarter than the rest of us, you’re just a dick. Quit saying government regulations ruin everything then whine that the government didn’t regulate the vaccine enough. Isn’t it the anti-vaxxers who usually say to trust the free market? Well guess what, Pfizer and Moderna are private companies. Let the free market work its magic.  Although I’ve been vaccinated for close to three months now and I STILL don’t have 5G coverage.

The main reason I’m still carrying a mask with me is because I have a 7-year old daughter. Whereas the douchebag Anti-Vaxxer at the Starbucks can lie and say he’s vaccinated, I don’t think I can pull that with her. And if I’m anxious to avoid being a dick in social settings, the top of that list would be making my 7-year-old wear a mask while I go maskless. 

I go back and forth on whether or not I should make her mask up. On the one hand, kids aren’t likely to catch it and, if they are, they aren’t likely to get symptoms. But at the same time, the law says unvaccinated people must wear masks. I’m not opposed to ignoring unjust laws, but I also don’t want to encourage a future teenager to ignore missives from authority figures. Sometimes it’s tough to be skeptical of authority but still a believe that most rules should be followed. I’m either lawful neutral or neutral good. Or maybe I’m just a dick. What alignment covers that?

We’re going to Disneyland in a few weeks. They still require masks for the unvaccinated, which should be fifty percent of their population. Again, do I want to spend a whole day reminding Daughter that she has to keep that mask tight while I’m off licking doorknobs? I don’t know if she’s comfortable calling bullshit yet, but if she chose that as her first usage, I wouldn’t fault her.

Don’t worry, I’ll blog post-Disney. I’m sure it’ll be enlightening.

So that’s where I’m now at. Do I mildly inconvenience myself to put others at ease or do I follow the SCIENCE! and force them to do the same? Do I model how my daughter should act or do I teach her “Different Rules for Different People”? 

To put it simple: To mask or not to mask, that is the question.

And dammit, where is my 5G coverage and check from Bill Gates?

Eine Kleine Music Thoughts

I’ve had a few random music thoughts of late. None really deserving of a post in its own right. Maybe worth a tweet, but who wants to read tweets spread over multiple days with even less continuity than usual? So maybe I’ll just throw the whole damned hodgepodge into a post.

To wit:

Neil Diamond

Did you know Neil Diamond is fun to listen to? I seemed to have forgotten.

I rarely seek him out. I never wake up in a Neil Diamond kinda mood. If I’m asking Alexa, my robot overlord, to shuffle songs by a certain artist, it ain’t gonna be the Diam-ster. 

Does he go by the Diam-ster? He totally should. I’m trademarking that bad boy right now. Neil, have your lawyers call my lawyers. Not that I have lawyers. Maybe that’s why I don’t understand how trademarks work.

The reason I don’t go out of my way to hear me some Neil is because his songs are mostly similar to each other. If you’ve heard one, you’ve sated that Diamond Itch (ooh, Trademark!). As I’ve mentioned before, my family loves Billy Joel Radio. With Billy Joel, you’ve got song variety and some great stories about what’s going on, both lyrically and musically, like why he decided to change into a C-minor for the second verse of that one song. There’s a reason Billy Joel Radio comes back every year. 

By comparison, Neil Diamond Radio lasted a few weeks once and never came back. Because every Neil Diamond song is September Morn, give or take five percent, eternally toeing that same line between soulful ballad and Album-Oriented Rock. Or maybe it’s Adult-Oriented Rock? I can’t tell the difference, but if you wanna sound like a snooty 1970s-era music aficionado, say AOR. It’s the musical equivalent of “I was using it as an adverb,” a rejoinder to which nobody can quibble.

Whereas Billy Joel introduces his songs with stories about threesomes with Christie Brinkley and Elle MacPherson, Neil Diamond’s stories tend more toward, “Well, it was a September morning so I decided to write a song called ‘September Morn.’ It’s in the key of… the same key as all my other songs. Same five notes, too.”

But dammit if I can stop myself from singing along.

The other day, I read a reference to Cracklin’ Rosie, and the song got stuck in my head. Seriously, if you could read that last sentence without singing “Get on board” in your head, then you’re stronger than I. It’s an impossibility. To be fair, I’m not pulling an Eric Cartman needing to sing the rest of the song, but I must finish the lyric. One doesn’t “Cracklin’ Rosie” without a “Get on board.”

Speaking of Eric Cartman, it’s hard to not sing along with Eric Carmen’s All by Myself, too. Can’t believe South Park didn’t go with that option instead of Come Sail Away. Too obvious? Probably a good thing I don’t write for South Park.

Shortly after the Cracklin’ Rosie (get on board) incident, I asked Alexa to play some Neil Diamond, then proceeded to belt out every song she played. 

I read recently that Paul Simon would not be remembered as much as Bob Dylan. My first thought was, “Well, duh, stupid clickbait.” I doubt Paul Simon would place himself in Bob Dylan’s category. Simon is, first and foremost, an entertainer, while Dylan is an icon, bigger than himself. But on the flip side, people don’t still whine to Paul Simon that he switched from acoustic to electric fifty years ago. And Bob Dylan never had Chevy Chase in any of his videos.

Neil Diamond is in the Paul Simon category. Not definitive of a genre, not an icon of a generation. Not music I’ll go out of my way to to. But if it’s on, I’m singing along and you better not touch that dial.

Air Supply. 

Most of what I wrote about Neil Diamond goes double for Air Supply. The only thing rarer than me seeking them out is me NOT singing along at the top of my goddamn lungs. And woe to whoever is within the same zip code.

I’ve seen Air Supply in concert three or four times and, let me tell you, they rock. It’s not a a word one normally associates with their sappy love songs, but if you listen in the background of their songs, there’s some solid guitar riffs. In concert, they bring those forward and emphasize the first word in power ballad.

And unlike some of the older acts I’ve seen (cough, cough, Eric Clapton, cough, cough), they still seem to enjoy touring. Even if they have to amend that lyric from Making Love Out of Nothing at All to “And I can make all the [state fairs] rock!”

Unlike Neil Diamond, I’m not surprised at my closet appreciation for Air Supply. When they come on the radio, I’m like, “Heck yeah, Air Supply!” instead of, “Oh hey, Neil Diamond?” Part of that dichotomy stems from the necessity to stand by your fandom. One doesn’t run into too many people arguing that Neil Diamond isn’t a legitimate musician. But say you’re an Air Supply fan and you’re encountering some raised eyebrows. Don’t let them cow you!

Ironically, I encounter Air Supply songs more often than Neil Diamond songs. Perhaps it’s my choice of radio station. While I’m only likely to encounter the latter if I tune in for the seventh-inning stretch of a Red Sox game, the former get heavy rotation on the SiriusXM Yacht Rock station.

I’ve blogged before about the amorphous blob that the “Yacht Rock” moniker is growing into. It’s supposed to reflect a certain carefree attitude, foolish pursuits of whimsical love, and perhaps a wee bit of drinking oneself into oblivion. Michael McDonald croons, “I keep forgetting we’re not in love anymore,” while the lead singer of the Doobie Brothers opines, “What a fool believes he sees, the wise man has the power to reason away.” Not sure who that guy is. Turns out his name is Michael McDonald. Wonder if they’re related.

Another big time Yacht Rocker is Kenny Loggins of This Is It and Danny’s Song fame, not to be confused with the King of the 1980s soundtracks, confusingly named Kenny Loggins. No way those two cats are the same. 

Or Kenny Rodgers, who was also known for both soft rock ballads and soundtracks, but definitely isn’t Yacht Rock. Unless you look at Lady a certain way. Islands in the Stream, too, which sounds sacrilegious because how can Dolly Parton be Yacht Rock until you realize that Barbara fucking Streisand gets the nod for her duet with Andy Gibb.

If the first rule of Fight Club is “never talk about Fight Club,” then the first rule of Yacht Rock is “is it Yacht Rock?”

And Air Supply isn’t Yacht Rock. Let me get that out of the way up front. They are straight-up, unabashed love songs. There is virtually no planet on which they should be considered otherwise.

Unless that planet is SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock station, cause let me tell you, they play Air Supply all the fucking time. 

Every single time, I say, “This isn’t Yacht Rock.” Then I sing along at the top of my lungs like it’s September Morn.

Yacht Rock Radio has quite a bit of this “Yacht Rock adjacent” music. What started as a distinct style and theme has morphed into “any soft rock from the late 1970s and early 1980s.” Or, in the case of Loggins and Messina, as early as 1971.

As with the Yacht Rock cover band I watched, at least when they’re playing non-Yacht Rock, they do a good job of playing stuff that anyone who tuned in for Yacht Rock won’t mind hearing. Like Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat. Seriously, what the fuck is that song? It’s like a genre unto itself. But it’s kinda fun to listen to. Quirky.

So keep playing Air Supply, SiriusXM. I’ll judge you, but then I’ll be anxiously listening for the next one.

WKRP in Cincinnati. 

While I’m on the topic of Yacht Rock, here’s another song that gets heavy rotation on the SiriusXM station.

It feels weird that a TV theme song gets the Yacht Rock designation, but if any one deserves it, this one might be it.

I take that back. Believe It or Not, the theme song from “The Greatest American Hero” is yachtier, but unfortunately the powers that be refuse to admit that. I’ve never once heard it on the rotation and, in case it isn’t obvious by now, I’ve got a lot of “Time Spent Listening.” What’s even more annoying is that one of their bumpers references it. The smooth, deep-voiced guy makes some asinine comment, says “Believe it or not,” and they cue up the refrain from a song they don’t fucking play on the station! What the hell? 

But if they’re not playing the quintessential Yacht Rock TV Theme, they’ve got a decent second-place replacement. 

Here’s the weird thing about WKRP in Cincinnati. Were you aware there’s more than one verse?

It’s not uncommon for some TV Themes to have extended cuts that become hits on their own. In the 1990s, the theme songs from both “Friends” and “Party of Five” made their way up various charts. Those songs, however, didn’t really make reference to the show, so it makes sense that I’ll Be There For You and Closer to Free might have extra verses. The verse that played during the opening credits sounded like a verse, or perhaps a chorus, not a song in its entirety. Similar things could be said about 1980s stalwarts like the aforementioned Believe It or Not, as well as Thank You for Being a Friend from that show about the four Miami sexpot lesbians. If the theme song started, “Whoa, those golden girls with their silver curls and their golden showers,” I wouldn’t expect to hear it on 80s on 8.

WKRP in Cincinnati, on the other hand, fits more in line with the 1970s trends of catering a theme song to the specific story of the TV Show. Nobody was running out to buy Brady Bunch or Love Boat on 45. The refrain “I’m on WKRP in Cincinnati” isn’t quite so ubiquitous as “Thank you for being a friend.” But props to the guy who was tasked with writing a TV theme song for not letting it stop there. He let the Yacht Rock flow and wrote a second damn verse.

The thing that sticks out when I hear the song is neither its relative yachtiness nor its success at incorporating the letters WKRP into a rhyming scheme. It’s the fact that the best line, a slice of lyrical that ties together the whole song, DOESN’T appear in the first verse, and therefore, on the very opening credits that necessitated the song in the first place.

From the “public” verse (“Baby, if you’ve ever wondered…”), you probably know that the song is a letter to a former love by someone settling down from a transient lifestyle. Somehow he decided a podunk radio station in southern Ohio was a good place to plant roots. Clearly he didn’t know that terrestrial radio was in its waning days of independence where wacky DJs like Dr. Johnny Fever could get away with shenanigans before going on to substitute teach a class of nerds.

The second verse continues in the same vein. “Heading up that highway, leaving you behind, hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Broke my heart in two, but Baby, pay no mind…” Thne comes the beautiful coda: “The price of finding me was losing you.”

Damn dude. Doesn’t really fit with a turkey drop, but hauntingly profound, nonetheless. 

Maybe don’t bury that on the B Side of all B Sides?

Barry Manilow and Phil Collins.

I didn’t start out this post intending to bring these two in, but in so many ways, they mirror my earlier topics.

Barry Manilow? Like Air Supply, ya gotta be unabashed in your appreciation. As with those two Aussies who seem to be singing their love toward each other, Barry’s lyrics are mushy as shit. Hence many a fan closeting their appreciation.

But musically, he’s solid. Predictable, but solid. It didn’t get called a “Barry Manilow key change” for nothing. The chord-progression equivalent of Spinal Tap’s “going to 11.” 

One cannot merely hum along with Barry. One must belt!

On a desert island with a gun to my head? I’d probably take Barry over Air Supply, based solely on the breadth of his catalog. Air Supply’s got, like, ten songs that I know all the words to. With Manilow, it’s closer to thirty. And Air Supply ain’t got nothin’ on par with Copacabana.

Which brings us full circle back to Phil Collins. I’ve got four of his albums, six if you count Genesis. Using the same metric, I’ve seen him twice or three times in concert. There’ve been a few times I’ve heard an unknown song and said, “That’s Phil Collins on drums,” and each time I was proven correct. Like Neil Diamond, you simply cannot argue with the quality of his work. Whether it’s his haunting early stuff from “Face Value,” the happy-go-lucky mid-eighties hits from “No Jacket Required,” or his supercilious wagging-of-finger songs from “But Seriously,” he’s consistently solid.

But like Neil Diamond, it’s easy to forget. His holier-than-thou attitude might be what sours me toward him. He kinds seems like a jerk. A tool. Both of them do. I feel like if SiriusXM tried a Phil Collins radio, his song introductions would be along the line of, “I wrote this song because I’m a good musician. I don’t care if you like it or not.”

But then there’s his remake of You Can’t Hurry Love. 

And what about those duets? Philip Bailey is usually painted as the talented one in Easy Lover, but if it was only Philip Bailey, it wouldn’t have been a hit. And don’t let amateurs butchering it at karaoke sour you on Separate Lives. If Endless Love hasn’t been banned from karaoke bars, then the ballad from “White Nights” has to be allowed, as well. 

To be honest, Phil Collins is one of the few singers I can’t karaoke. He’s a skosh to high for me, but not high enough to falsetto or belt. It’s painful. Bon Jovi’s in the same range. Every single other singer I’ve karaoked to, I’ve completely nailed. You’ll just have to trust me on that.

The easiest guy to karaoke is Neil Diamond and his five-note range. 

But as different as they are at the karaoke bar, Neil and Phil are birds of a feather in terms of listenability. Rarely top of mind. If I want to listen to them, you’ll get an eyeroll and a begrudging “I guess.”

But if you turn one of their songs on, you better keep it there. Maybe even repeat it more than once. Because dammit if they’re not good. 

I just can’t seem to remember that.

Seriously, go listen to Sussudio. Just TRY turn it off mid-song. You can’t, can you?

If you can, you’re a monster! Leave your name and I’ll report you to the authorities.

Your penance will be Forever in Blue Jeans.

Get Yer Shots, Numbnuts!

My family did something really weird last weekend

We baked some brownies and cookies, packed some drinks into a cooler, and went over to a friend’s house for a pot luck barbecue.

And then right as the wienies were roasted, the cervezas and margaritas flowing, all of a sudden….

Nothing happened. That’s it. End of story. Weird, right?

Did I mention we weren’t wearing masks?

Well, Daughter wore a mask, as did all of the other children. But the adults, all eight of whom are vaccinated, had nary a face covering in sight.

Or at least none doing their face covering bit. A couple of us had gaiters around our necks, just in case, because thirteen months is long enough to create habits. Even if the CDC kinda, sorta, maybe said it was a little bit okay, but not really? Because they can’t come right out and say that eight people, all of whom cannot catch a certain virus, might not still pass said virus amongst themselves.

For the last six months, every single message has been to go out and get vaccinated as quickly as possible so that we can… keep quarantining and masking? Bogus! I let Bill Gates chip me and I’m still on shitty-ass 4G.

I got my vaccine on the early side, considering I’m a teacher. When I got my first vaccine, I thought I was an outlier, but my purgatory of the only vaccinated amongst a sea of Typhoid Marys didn’t last long. They wanted me to post a selfie touting that I got jabbed, but considering so many people I knew were upset at the pace of shots and the amorphous criteria for who gets the vaccination, I didn’t want to post of “Ha ha, suckers! No COVID for me!”

After all, not everyone can get onto the French Laundry reservation list.

Fortunately, the wave of “put your name on a waiting list and wait for a call” was on the verge of becoming common knowledge. By the time I got my second shot, three weeks later because I’m a Pfizer (the 2021 version of asking someone their sign), most of the people I knew already had their first shot. The flood came fast and now we’ve already gotten to the point where the supply of the vaccines are outpacing the demand.

Which is why we’re still wearing masks, I guess?

At first I still wore masks because I was in the minority. Solidarity, yo!

But if we’re not to the point where a majority of Americans are vaccinated, we will be soon, so why the hell are we wearing masks outside? Or inside, for that matter?

Three vaccinated people with masks and one unvaccinated person without a mask walk into a bar. And… nothing. That’s the joke of a world we live in. 

Most of the data says we probably don’t need to be wearing them outside in the first place. The virus primarily transmits through water droplets, and the existence of wind and fresh air outside inhibit my globules from getting to you. But still, it’s comforting to see other people with masks, because it means they’re taking it seriously. Wearing them outside has always bordered on virtue signaling, so there’s little reason to take them off now, right? Except for maybe some ear fatigue.

Up to this point, it was to save the unvaccinated, as it was a total crapshoot on if you had access to the vaccine. But now we need to protect the unvaccinated because… they don’t give a shit?

And before I tailspin into some vitriol, let me get all my disclaimers and caveats out of the way. I know kids can’t get vaccinated. Trust me, I’m heading to school every day with the understanding that, even vaccinated, I can bring the virus home with me. And with every adult I know being vaccinated, the only one who’s likely to be hurt by my district’s decision is my daughter. Not the greatest feeling.

But kids seem to be safer from this particular virus. They can carry it from parent to teacher to other parent pretty easily, but they don’t get the symptoms themselves. At least until they’re 12 years old. But right now 16 is the cutoff for vaccines, so there’s a slew of 12 to 15 year olds who are in a precarious position. And considering I teach mostly sophomores, it makes it easier for me to keep my mask on during the school day, even if it sometimes feels like overkill. I’m supposed to be modeling “good citizen” for my students, but aren’t I also supposed to be modeling research and causal relationships? My district sent out a “reminder” that we need to wear our masks whenever we’re on campus, even if we’re outside. So great, in a school where we teach science and government, we want to model ignoring the CDC.

And fine, you want more caveats? I understand the variant problem. My student gives it to me, who is immune, I pass it to Daughter, who it doesn’t affect. She gives it to her teacher, who is immune, and said teacher gives it to another student with an unvaccinated parent. That’s five chances for the virus to mutate, five attempts the virus gets at figuring out how to end-run around the vaccine. Allegedly the South African variant is running roughshod through the Pfizer vaccine, which is the one I got. So that’s great.

Which I guess is why the CDC is telling us to keep wearing masks indoors, even if everyone in the room is vaccinated. They probably recommend using condoms after a vasectomy, too. But unlike the latter example, people are actually listening to the former.

Their new chart is odd for a number of reasons. It’s got two elements, a green, yellow, red coloring system to denote relative safety, as well as a yes/no component about wearing masks. But there’s an obvious lack of continuity between the two. A whole bunch of “safe” green also requires masks, whereas some “less safe” yellows don’t require one. 

If you’re vaccinated, everything is in the green. You’re safe. But still every single activity inside tells you to wear a mask. So when I and all the other vaccinated teachers in my department have lunch together, it’s considered “safe,” but we should wear a mask. In fact, it’s the exact same designation if it’s a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Safe, but wear a mask. To protect those who don’t care about being protected.

I don’t mind wearing a mask. It’s become normal. Sure, wearing it for eight hours straight at school is tougher than when I was maxing out at a couple hours before. After four weeks, I’ve noticed the skin behind my ears is getting rashy and blistery. 

But fine, it’s modeling. It’s solidarity. There’s no way for the stranger I pass to know if I’m vaccinated or not. And they might be nervous.

But if they’re nervous, shouldn’t they, I don’t know, get vaccinated?

Honestly, it’s available to everyone above 16 now. Those who don’t have it are choosing that. Why in the greatest of fucks should I worry about them?

I had a student who came to school for a week, then opted to return to distance learning. His mother emailed me, his history teacher, to explain that she didn’t feel we were doing enough to inhibit the spread of the virus. They have an at-risk uncle in the house, she explained, and she’s worried about her son bringing the virus home to the uncle.

Sounds horrible. And if this email were hitting my desk in November, I’d be right there with y’all. But how is “at-risk” uncle still not vaccinated by the beginning of May?

So fine. Keep wearing the mask to remind people that they’re supposed to be wearing masks. Even if the only people we’re reminding are probably as anti-mask as they are anti-vax. 

I know it’s not realistic to only tell the vaccinated people people to take off their masks while the unvaccinated keep them on. How do I prove to the bartender that I’m vaccinated? Couldn’t the unvaccinated guy say the same thing (those vaccine cards don’t seem overly difficult to counterfeit), especially since he probably rolls his eyes at the idea of me getting a vaccine in the first place. He probably listens to Ted Nugent who somehow can simultaneously say it was the sickest he’s ever been and that it’s not real. 

Which is what’s pissing me off so much about this. Because if I’m not masked, I might carry the virus from one unvaccinated person to another unvaccinated person. I’m sorry, but how the hell is that my problem? Shouldn’t I be taking off my mask, increasing their risk so they might get off their ass and get the vaccine? Why are we protecting them from themselves? 

I don’t want to say I only vaccinated for selfish reasons, but about ninety percent of that reason was so I wouldn’t catch the virus nor spread it to friends and family. Flatten the curve, free up hospital beds. Societal responsibility, blah, blah, blah. I know what I’m supposed to say. But I got vaccinated for me and mine, not for you. 

But you know what would REALLY flatten the curve and free up hospital beds? If all of those Ted Nugent-listening fuckers got vaccinated. Or died. 

But instead they’re going to keep spouting off their conspiracy theories without facing the repercussions, because they all know that we’re looking out for them. Think of the irony we’ll face when you’re out on the street and all the vaccinated people are wearing masks and all the unvaccinated aren’t. Congrtu-fucking-lations!

Seriously, anti-vaxxers, let this serve as a public service announcement. You’re on borrowed time. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. Figure out what’s more important to you, being the last fucker on the Titanic or hedging your bets. Because the time of us conscientious people covering your lazy ass.

Y’all aren’t the only people tired of all the bullshit. We want to stop wearing masks, too. We want to go to bars and movie theaters and concerts. That’s why we got vaccinated. 

You like to complain about the snowflakes who won’t let shit open? Well guess what, snowflakes, you’re the ones preventing the openings now. And why, because the government, which you always whine about being slow and inefficient, approved the vaccines without ten years of testing? It’s comical how many people will whine about too many regulations and the government getting in the way of private business in one breath, then in the next opine that the government didn’t do enough to get in the way of Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

And if you think it’ll rewrite your DNA, don’t worry. I’m the same fat schlub I was before and you’ll be the same YouTube-watching automaton afterward, too.

It’s almost like they’re just scared little snowflakes who don’t want a little jabby-jabby in their army-warmy.

School Reopening

My school district decided to re-open last week.

Last year, when the powers-that-be laid forth the myriad of hurdles and quagmires and golden-shower handshakes required before schools reopened, I boldly claimed that schools would never reopen. Like, not even related to COVID. If we were required to keep students six-feet apart in well-ventilated rooms, y’all best get used to Zoom calls.

In my defense, I was totally right about the failed educators and wannabe politicians in charge of the average district failing to get their heads out of their collective asses to make the changes necessary to meet those reopening metrics. What I failed to account for at the time was that Herr Commandant Newsom, who once thought the best COVID plan was to close every business in the entire state except for his hairdresser, decided to “slightly amend” it to, “Everything open, now and forever, because now the president is in my party instead of the other party, and this is looking bad for both of us.”

Okay, he didn’t really open everything. Not until June 15, at any rate. Not sure why a guy who “follows the science” knows, sixty days in advance, the exact date COVID will be beaten. Is Astrology one of those sciences he follows?

So his “school reopening” changed slightly. From “only reopen if your county has less than one COVID case per month, AND you can ensure social distancing in all classrooms, AND improve your ventilation, AND masks and desk shields and a rectal thermometer in every asshole!”

Sometime in late January/early February (again, TOTALLY not tied to a new presidential administration), his reopening criteria checklist switched to: “Here’s $6 billion. Reopen or you get none.”

It’s a subtle change. Did you notice it?

And to get this out of the way early, despite what you’ve heard from multiple “pundits,” that money is not required to be spent on anything relating to COVID or reopening. Nor is it “going to the teachers unions.” Sure, some districts might “share the wealth” with their employees. But that is not a requirement for the money. 

Nor is it a requirement that the money be spent at all. My district loves reminding its employees that they have $100 million in reserves. Part of that $100 million came from a cost-of-living adjustment the state gave them to pass along to us two years ago. Basically, the state gave them enough money to cover a 3% raise for all their employees and our district said, “Meh, how about we keep it in our bank account instead?” 

So it should come as no surprise that when the state, and then the federal, government waved another $100 million in front of them to reopen, their response was, “Teachers, get the fuck back to work.” Next year they’ll be touting having $200 million in reserves. They’ve gotta be the only school district who proudly proclaims that they DON’T spend money on your child’s education.

My union’s response to my district’s directive to return to work was, “Wait, you can do that? What about Herr Kommandant’s precious color-coding? What about this Memorandum of Understanding that we negotiated back in September? Have you thought about any of the logistics?”

Their response, in order of our questions: “1. We don’t care. 2. We don’t care. 3. Are you even listening?, and 4. We give absolutely zero fucks and/or shits about logistics. We’re getting $100 million, so get the fuck back to work.”

We responded with a futile, “Can we have some of that hundr…” but we couldn’t finish the question over their laughter. 

So again, the next time you hear that it’s the teachers unions preventing schools from re-opening, bear in mind that most of our contracts state that if school is open, we must report. Most school districts could order their teachers back tomorrow. But why would they do that when they can blame us for all the problems?

To be fair, there are some local unions that will strike, but in my district, it takes three weeks of voting just to decide if we want coaches to get a stipend. I don’t know how many unions can concoct a strike vote in the ten days we were given between announcement and reopening.

In all honesty, a lot of us were ready to go back. Distance learning is a monumental pain in the ass. Something that takes me five seconds to say takes me a couple minutes type out. Multiply that by forty asinine questions a day. Maybe you’ve heard that there are no stupid questions, but obviously you’ve never had to respond to “What are we doing?” two minutes after getting off a thirty-minute Zoom entirely devoted to what we are doing.

Or “I don’t understand the assignment.” To which I reply, “Where in the video instructions I posted did you get lost.” “Oh, I didn’t watch the instructions.” So glad I remembered to record that at 11:00 last night so that it would be fully rendered by this morning.

Grading digitally sucks, too. Twenty years into this profession, I can wield a red pen like the finest foil, swathing and slicing through a written test. Something as simple as a “-1” now requires me to highlight the text in question, hit the little “Comment” button. click on the comment space, type in “-1″,” then hit save.

Add in the fact that we’re all vaccinated and, sure, sign me up for a return to school. But should we maybe discuss the logistics of the transition? No? What about the students, who aren’t vaccinated and decide they want to stay on Distance? No plan? Cool, cool. And is it too late to ask about some of that hundre…

Ring the bell. Schools back in session, sucka!

And that’s about as fast as it happened. The Board of Education met on a Tuesday, we went back full time thirteen days later. 

Yes, full time. Did I forget to mention that?

For most of the past six months, we’ve been under the impression that if we went back to school, it would be in some funky hybrid scenario with only 30-40% of our students on campus at any given time. And by “we,” I mean everyone. The teachers, the students, the administration, the parents. The last week of school before the Board of Education made its ruling, they made the teachers return to school for a week, teaching distance learning in the morning and “preparing our rooms for hybrid learning” in the afternoon. Then the following week, they told us that, ha ha, just joking, we hope you didn’t waste too much time prepping your class for hybrid learning.

What’s the difference? Allow me to illustrate:

My second period class, has 42 students. 

I have 36 desks in my room, plus a couple of tables.

 I was supplied with 17 desk shields. 

If the maximum number of students I’m going to have in a particular class on a particular day is twenty, that’s doable. Instead of placing my desks side-by-side, I turned them toward each other in “pods,” with one desk shield (basically a three-sided partition like those old cardboard science project boards, only made of clear plastic) every other desk in a zig-zag pattern. So either you have a desk shield in front of you or you have the “outsides” of three desk shields surrounding you on all three sides. And while the desks to your left and right aren’t “socially distant,” only half of them will be used at a time.

Oops.

Unfortunately, we weren’t “given” (aka ordered) more in-class preparation time after the announcement that all 42 students would be coming into second period. I could have used my own time. I could have done my last week of distance learning from my classroom,  moving all my desks back to their original location. But honestly, if the district wanted to half-ass their decisions, why should I go out of my way to ensure it’s implemented well. If I keep polishing their turd, they’ll keep giving me turds.

The other problem with preparing to return is that I had no idea what the classroom setting would actually look like come Monday morning. This was now the fourth time they’ve “given us a week” to prepare (last April, the beginning of this school year, the week before the hybrid that never happened, and this 13-day period between announcement and student return).

 Each time, I’ve felt the optimal use of “prep” time would be to do it for a week, THEN take a week to adjust. Otherwise, whatever we prepare for won’t fit the reality. I’ve been teaching for twenty years and I can assure you they problems never arise where we think they will.

For instance, it might shock you to learn that, on that first day back, I did not have all 42 bright-and-bushy-tailed teenagers excited to reignite their passion for education. The real number of students in my class last Monday was in the low twenties.

To be fair, some of them weren’t  supposed to be there. The district allowed them to change their mind about distance learning. Big hearted, since the original designation was established back in August. A wee bit’s changed since then, yesno? Ya think some people might have changed their minds about the best options between then and now?

Oh, and when families made those designations back in August, they were talking about hybrid. Would your answer to whether you’d send your child back to school change if they were expected to be 42 in their class instead of 21?

If so, you obviously don’t have the “failed educator and wannabe politician” mindset, because my district expected “only a handful” of students to change.  

Instead, it was droves. Hundreds at each high school.

And of course, they all waited until the last minute to sign up. 

When I got the first email notice of a student going on distance learning, I figured no problem. I’d send her some packet work. 

Then a couple more dribbled in. My plans started to morph. 

Then on Friday… nothing. The calm before the storm?

Still not sure. I shit you not, here I sit, fully vested in my second week back, I still don’t have a great handle on who is supposed to be in my class on a daily basis. They don’t show up any differently on my role sheet. In some cases, I get a notice from a counselor or assistant principal. Other announcements come from the students themselves. 

Some of those student emails say they requested distance learning and are waiting to hear back. Others write me the much more amorphous, “I’ve decided to stay on distance learning. Please don’t mark me absent.” Umm… does anyone outside your house know of your decision? What about the other people in your house? Because that sounds suspiciously like a “Don’t tell my parents I’m not in school.”

And yes, I’m supposed to teach both the students in my room and at home the same content at the same time. If I can ever figure out who is who.

It continued after school restarted. Students have completely forgotten how to do the whole process. I get emails from students saying they don’t feel well so they didn’t come to school. I tell them they can bring a note the following day and have the attendance office excuse the absence. Y’know, like school’s been working your ENTIRE life. Last twelve months notwithstanding.

Another student emailed me that she wasn’t coming to fourth period. She came to the first three classes but decided to “do distance learning the rest of the day.” Um, okay. That’s called ditching. Thanks for the email.

We now have fun new debates like whether or not classroom doors should be open. On the one side, ventilation! But lockdown protocol has required them to be closed for the past few decades. Although on the plus side, we’ve gone over a year since the last school shooting!

And what about those precious desk shields? Twenty minutes into first period, the students asked if they could take them down. I allowed it as long as they put them back up when class ended. Second period: same process. By my afternoon classes, I was telling the students where the desks shields were if they wanted to grab one.

Just one more expensive paperweight throughout my classroom. All sorts of fancy wastes of money went into this ill-thought return. We have webcams to teach all the hybrid students at home, back when we thought we were doing hybrid. And a tripod! What the fuck are we doing, filming porn?

We also got electronic pencil sharpeners to replace the one I bought for myself a decade ago after I was told there was no way in hell the school would approve such a frivolous purchase. If you want sharp pencils, use the broken mechanical ones! 

Oh and we all now have alcohol-based hand sanitizer despite still taking annual trainings in the fact that those are not allowed in our classrooms. Too bad Glade air fresheners don’t kill COVID, because those are still verboten. And let me tell you, when you’re not allowed to open the door in a room full of 42 teenagers, it would be really nice to be allowed air fresheners.

But my favorite new waste of money is the electronic three-hole puncher. Every single classroom got one! Because we all know that those manual hole punchers are veritable Typhoid Marys. 

Do they think we push down on them with our tongue?

But hey, they spent some money! Not well, mind you, but at least a penny or two of that hundred million are going into some classrooms instead of the district coffers.

Anything to avoid giving the teachers a raise, huh?