child rearing

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 ūüė¶

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.

The State of Children’s Television

It’s been a while since I provided an update on the garbaged landscape of children’s television programming. When last I delved into the realm, my then four-year-old was suffering through the snottiness of Peppa Pig and the learned helplessness of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She’s now six years old, and while her tastes have refined, she now has the horrific tendency to watch the same damn thing over and over and over again. She doesn’t just binge a particular show, though. She binges the same damned episode. Back to back sometimes! Add in a nascent quarantine Stockholm Syndrome, complete with a distance-learning first-grade teacher who thinks twenty minutes of content per day is plenty, and my kid can damn near recite half the dialogue.

This is allegedly a developmental thing. There’s comfort in familiarity. They’re learning story structure. But I call bullshit, because they also want mac & cheese for every meal. Including at restaurants that are literally just selling blue Kraft box shit. Yet somehow when I’m shilling out eight bucks for something I’ve got a 50-cent box of back home (even worse when its takeout), nobody’s ascribing it to some deep-seeded desire to learn subtle foreshadowing. 

Anyway, if I’ve gotta sit through it, then you’ve gotta hear me bitch about it. 

Gravity Falls. A shit-ton of caveats with this one. It’s far from “new,” having aired for only two seasons from 2014-2016. Plus it shouldn’t really be classified as a kids show. It’s geared more toward the pre-teen crowd, although at least fifty percent of the humor is aimed smack-dab at the parents. The D & D episode references when “it tried to be hip,” then cut to a “commercial” of two kids clad somewhere between MC Hammer and Fresh Prince spray painting a wall. A wizard starts rapping at them. Cue the tagline, “Diggity Dungeons an’ all Dat.” Then Dipper, the kid in the show, shudders and says, “The nineties must’ve been terrible.” That joke certainly flew over my daughter’s head, but I’m guessing it would also fly over half my high school students, too. After all, I actually remember the version two rules!

But we heard about the show from not one, but two of Daughter’s friends, albeit both with older siblings. So one afternoon I sat down with her and we watched the first episode together. At first, we were both skeptical. The plot revolves around pre-teen Mabel, voiced by Kristen Schaal, desperate to get a date. When she finally tricks a guy into dating her, her brother Dipper, voiced by Jason Rittter, thinks the guy’s a zombie. Daughter and I were both skeptical. She was unsure about the zombie content, and I didn’t really want to get into discussions about “practicing kissing” and not throwing yourself at guys that are obviously uninterested.

It turned out the zombie was actually a bunch of gnomes on each other’s shoulders wearing a trenchcoat. She was a little more on board. I was a little less on board since these gnomes clearly weren’t taking no for an answer. A guy throwing himself at an uninterested girl is so, so much worse, and will lead to much longer discussions.

But then one of the gnomes got hit in the “stomach” (nuts, really) and spews out rainbow vomit. We both gave it a thumbs up and proceeded to watch all forty episodes over the next month. Then she watched the entire series a second time. Followed by her “greatest hits,” ten or so episodes that must have been watched ten times each. 

And again, when I say we watched the “Sev’ral Times” episode several times, I don’t mean we skipped around en route through the series each time. She would literally watch the episode, then rewatch the exact same episode, then a third time. The following day, it’d be right back to the beginning. Sev’ral Times was a boy band, and I can still sing you all of their songs. 

In the end, she watched so much, she grew tired of it. Of course she did, because I’d just ordered some of the merch for Christmas. That’ll teach me to plan for a holiday more than a week in advance. 

She’s gone through a few other “binge and purge” watch-throughs. All five seasons of a Madagascar spinofffeaturing King Julien, the lemur voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen in the movies, but voiced by someone else in the TV show. Plus Puss in Boots from Shrek, which again didn’t feature Antonio Banderas, the movie actor. Although props to the voice actor, who plays both Puss in Boots and Fozzie Bear on Muppet Babies. That’s quite a range!

But as far as kids shows on constant loop, I could do a lot worse than a pandemic filled with any of these fun shows. 

To wit…

Abby Hatcher. One day, I randomly decided to have Daughter check out a show on Nick Junior instead of Disney Junior. Like when I branch out and try a new beer, some Hazy Juicy Deep Dank Double Red Brown Black Purple Sour from a brewery that just opened last weekend and will be closed by this time tomorrow. I usually kick myself and go back to the tried-and-true Sierra Nevada or Red Trolley, and so it was with Daughter’s forays into the nether regions of children’s programming. They leave Daddy with a mean hangover.

She had been on a mini-Vampirina kick around Halloween. I think I covered Vampirina in the last review. It’s a solid, if predictable, show. In general, I approve of shows Daughter feels comfortable with WITHOUT having to watch the same episode seventeen times. But alas, if she only watches each new episode twice, the phase only lasts a week or two. Then it was on to Abby Hatcher

The plot involves the titular character whose parents own a hotel that has mystical creatures in it. Unlike almost every other kids show, everyone else is fully aware of these magical creatures. I know Snuffleupagus is out and about now. There’s been an understandable push away from encouraging kids to keep secrets. But maybe if the plot of Abby Hatcher kept the damn creatures in the background, they’d be less annoying. 

They’re called Buzzleys, and they basically look like sentient Koosh balls who sing in eight-part harmony, about an octave above Alvin and the Chipmunks. They’re really freaking annoying and they sing multiple times per episode. It’s always the same song, the Roto Rooter commercial jingle. They change the words based on whatever problem they’re trying to solve, but my hearing ain’t great and I’m usually not paying attention, so all I hear in the background is Alvin, Simon, and Theodore sucking in some helium and then singing “And away go troubles, down the drain.”

In one episode, the Buzzleys were sad and Abby Hatcher had to cheer them up. The song in that episode was the classic five-note blues riff most notably from “Bad to the Bone.” But instead of “From the day I was born,” they sing, “Oh we’re so sad…. And we’re so blue…. We just don’t know… What toooo dooo.”

(And yes, it’s made worse by the last batch only having three syllables)

And if you think childish is bad, wait till they add cat meows in…

Gabby’s Dollhouse. I don’t get this show at all. It’s fine, I’m probably not supposed to. Although kids shows should occasionally keep in mind the parents who sometimes have to tolerate them (see above and below).

Gabby’s Dollhouse starts with a real-life little girl. But unlike the Ryan Kaji, the kid who made 22 fucking million dollars on YouTube before getting a Nick Jr show and shan’t be getting a review from me here (or hopefully ever, as Daughter has blessedly not glommed onto him), “Gabby” isn’t really a Gabby. Ryan, as annoying as he is, is a genuine kid that just started making YouTube videos. Gaby is an actress named Laila. She also plays “Young Bo” on Black-ish, so hopefully she doesn’t need the Dollhouse show and can pull the plug on it soon.

Gabby, or “Gabby,” starts the show by talking to the camera a la Mister Rodgers or the Bubble Guppies or any other variant of pre-school show, during which she establishes the theme of the episode. I kept pointing out to Daughter that this show is clearly designed for kids younger than her. But whatever, it’s got cats. Cats that meow in the middle of every song. Ugh.

After a convoluted, three to five minute “check-in” with the theme of the day (hiccups or school or pirates), “Gabby” stands up next to a giant dollhouse, sings, then pinches some cat ears on her headband and turns into a cartoon. The rest of the episode is her certoon self interacting with the cartoon dolls in her cartoon dollhouse. Or real clubhouse? I can’t tell.

And cats, of course.

She still talks to the audience while in cartoon form. At the end of each episode, instead of turning back into her human self, she makes the cat dolls fight against each other in a death-match from which only one can survive. At least that’s what I wish would happen. Instead she randomly spins a wheel and lets one of them sing. 

Thank God there’ve only been ten episodes of this snoozer. Here’s hoping it’s a one-and-done.

How hard is it to please kids while entertaining adults? After all, the Aussies can do it…

Bluey. Sorry, did that sound harsh toward Australia? They have some wonderful cultural milestones. I call myself the Wombat, after all. But short of their fancy opera house, one normally doesn’t think of pop culture from the Land Down Under unless they’re singing a forty-year-old pop song. 

Plus Kylie Minogue.

But they have a fun kids show called Bluey. It features a family of dogs, one of which is named, oddly enough, Bluey. Guess what color she is!

The titular character is a six-year-old blue dog, but she’s far from the “main” character. Bluey has a younger sister named Bingo. Also with a fair amount of screen time, rare for a kids show, are her parents, who actually have names. Their mom’s name is Chilli. Get it? Chilli Dog? Ha ha! And dad’s name is Bandit, just like… uh, I don’t get this one. Must be an Aussie thing, cause I ain’t never heard John Cougar singing about sucking a Bandit Dog outside a Tastee Freeze.

It’s quite the ensemble cast, despite the entire ensemble being cartoon dogs. Speaking of which, they toe the line between dog behavior and human behavior quite well. When I said Bluey was six years old, I meant in human years. Her parents seem to have been around since the nineties. But just when you are about to forget they’re dogs, Dad talks about the time he had “bum worms.”

I was worried about this show when Daughter first discovered it. It’s only nine-minutes long and named after a child animal who speaks with an accent. Sounded like prime Peppa Pig territory. Maybe that’s on me for not distinguishing between an English and Australian accent, but when I was in England once, they thought my accent was Australian, so I guess it’s fair game. Although honestly, I live in the same state as Hollywood, so California accents should be pretty easy to spot. How can that Brit not distinguish between Crocodile Dundee and American actors like Mel Gibson… or Russel Crowe… or Kylie Minogue? Aussies, y’all need to throw a “crikey” in there every few sentences so we can tell you from the other former colonies. Kinda like I just did with that “y’all.”

So let’s see. Nine minutes long, titular animal character, not great animation, and they drive on the wrong side of the car. Can I be forgiven for fearing Peppa Pig Part Poo? And there is no show Daughter has ever watched that I would trade for Peppa Pig. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose between Peppa Pig and Teletubbies, I’d probably choose the gun.

But Bluey is no Peppa Pig. Unlike the swine, when the character Bluey is being a bratty little diva, they call her on that shit. In fact, a fair amount of the show revolves around the horribleness of childhood narcissism. In one episode, the girls argue over whether grandparents know how to floss dance. Bingo, the younger one, thinks they can, but obviously she’s wrong. After they video call their grandparents and Bluey is proven right, she gloats and Bingo runs off crying. The parents ask Bluey if she’d rather have a sister to play with or if she’d rather be right. After looking down in deep thought while the commensurate “I’ve learned something today” music swells, Bluey looks up and says, “Can it be both?” Both parents yell “no” before the words are even out of her mouth, because they know what’s coming.

That true child behavior is what Bluey gets that most of the other shows don’t. In another episode, they’re sitting at a table outside a Thai takeout restaurant, waiting for the spring rolls, which weren’t included in their original order. They try to play “waiter” with the menus, they play pirates, they play something else while Dad really just wants to check his phone or read the paper or something. Bluey has to pee. While he’s holding her behind a bush, Bingo tries some of the spicy food and starts freaking out. He tells Bluey to hold it while he runs over to turn on a faucet so Bingo can drink. When he returns to Bluey, she’s held it too long and can’t go now. Bingo freaks out and knocks over the food they already got, all while the faucet floods the sidewalk. Bluey finally starts going when the waiter comes out to announce that their spring rolls aren’t quite ready yet. 

If this were a Peppa Pig episode, Peppa would say something stupid and snort, then they’d all fall over laughing. If it were Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, they would’ve sat on their ass and whined for Tootles to microwave the spring rolls and never gotten any comedy out of it. 

There’s one major drawback to watching Bluey, which is feeling like a failure as a parent. Both of the parents play fully vested in their kids’ make-believe. When the kids come up with a magic freeze button or a game where the parents have to dance embarrassingly in public, they play along. They never tell their kids they’re busy or that the game has gone on long enough. Never once has Bandit nor Chilli told Bluey to go watch a few episodes of Bluey while they finish editing this blog post. 

How could they? The damn show’s only nine minutes long. But evidently nine minutes is long enough to make me feel like a failure of a parent. But at least they’re entertaining about it.

WandaVision. This is a late addition to the write-up. Didn’t expect it to be here.

I told Wife that I wanted to watch this show as it came out. Tonight we’re gonna [watch tv] like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.

The problem in our household is keeping both parents awake longer than Daughter. If she wants “snuggles,” then the snuglee is usually down for the count. That’ll be fine when Falcon & Winter Soldier starts, as it’s supposed to be violent, so I can watch it by myself on the nights that Wife is playing good parent. Usually after a bout of Bluey.

But Wife and I both wanted to check out WandaVision, so I came up with a brilliant. Friday night, so let’s let the kid fall asleep on the couch while we’re watching grown-up TV. Nothing put me to sleep quicker when I was her age than five minutes of Hill Street Blues. And that was even in color, whereas the first two episodes of WandaVision were going to be in black and white.

But what the fuck? She actually liked it! And it’s not like she’s seen any of the Marvel movies, beyond Ant-Man, which bored her. But something about the Bewitched-esque magic and jokes that haven’t been funny since 1958 and the kid was WIRED!

Since then, every Friday has been WandaVision night in our household, and it’s the six-year-old who’s reminding us. To be fair, I think she’s been going more on inertia the last few weeks. She claims it’s just the “outside” stuff she isn’t a fan of, but I think even when it’s in the fake sit-com portion, she’s lukewarm. She would’ve been happy with nine straight Leave it to Beaver rip-offs. 

But honestly, if she’s okay watching WandaVision, might there be a light at the end of the children’s programming tunnel? Can I get her to watch some Star Wars? The original movie is a wee too much 1970s pacing, but I’ve heard the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons are worthwhile? Is it possible to put Schitt’s Creek on before 9:00 PM so we might finally finish it?

Or should we should double down on the tryptophan. Play Bosch, and she’ll be down for the count. I call it the ol’ “Hill Street Blues one-two.”

Passing on a Passion

I’ve been teaching Daughter some of the finer parts of sports recently. Y’know, “beyond the box score” stuff that gives you a deeper understanding of what it’s like to lace up them cleats and face the world like men.

But before I could get to the intricacies of ideal down and distance for a screen pass, I had to start with more basic fundamentals. Like “this is called football.”

Not that we’ve avoided exposing her to those various American pastimes, altogether. Wife and I met at a baseball game, so Daughter attended her first minor league baseball day (on Jimmy Buffett Night, no less) at about six weeks old. She’s been to three of the five major league stadiums in California. If we’re ever allowed to travel out of state again, she should finish the AL and NL West in no time. One trip to Seattle, one trip to Colorado, two places I love to visit!

What’s that? Arizona? Texas, too? During the summer?!?

But I don’t inundate her with many televised sports. Wife and I both grew up in the 1970s and 1980s when every television in America was required to be turned on whenever anybody was inside the house or else the Russians were going to win. Nowadays we prefer to have music on instead of TV. With SiriusXM and Pandora and Amazon Music all streaming on our Alexa, it’s a variety that would’ve given me carpal tunnel system with that behemoth of a five-CD changer I spent a month’s salary on my senior year of high school. 

When we do watch TV, it doesn’t follow the same pattern as when my father only knew of two types of programming – news and sports. By contrast, our TV is tuned to Disney, Jr about ninety percent of the time. 

The times I absolutely need to watch a baseball or football game, I’ll go to another room or, since this is the 21st century, watch it on my laptop or phone on the couch right next to my daughter watching Bluey. Daughter actually thinks curling is as prominent as football, since it’s only on devices, never the TV, so I watch it more often. Use that for your 21st century communications thesis!

Ha-ha, just kidding. Communications majors never write papers longer than a paragraph. 

Sometimes I wonder if my relationship with my own father would’ve been improved if he could’ve watched his sports by himself. Or, more realistically with my dad, if he could’ve sent me to the other room to watch my cartoons because, goddammit, he worked hard to pay for that roof over my head and, goddammit, he only gets to watch sports on weekends and every evening, but not Sunday evening because that’s 60 Minutes time and…

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, if I hadn’t interrupted my dad’s sport-watching so much, he might not’ve hated me so much? Or vice versa? 

But due to a confluence of events over the past month or so, she’s had to cede a little bit of her television dominance to some live sports instead of the same episode of Vampirina for the sixth time in a row. And since I’ve commandeered the tele, the least I could do was explain what’s going on. It makes me feel less guilty about asserting my manorial rights. Plus if I don’t engage Daughter and she jumps all over Mommy, then Daddy’s sports-viewing time is going by the wayside regardless of the fact that they’re going for it on 4th-and-one.

The first sport to grace our television screen was the baseball playoffs. I couldn’t watch them on mlb.tv subscription, which I use during the regular season because I root for an out-of-town team. But somehow the 150 hard-earned dollars I spent for their product doesn’t extend to the postseason. Sheesh, talk about a rip-off! I only get to watch 162 games from my favorite team for that $150? Why, back in my dad’s day, he was able to watch something like seventy WHOLE games. But only for the local team. And only if they weren’t opposite Belle and Sebastian, which my dad referred to as “What’s-his-face and his dog.”

At least he knew there was a dog in it. During the Latchkey 1980s, that might’ve won him a nomination for Parent of the Year.

So, sitting next to Daughter for an opening-round Padres game,  I started trying to explain baseball to Daughter. And herein the problems began. Because, in case I haven’t made it clear, my relationship with my father wasn’t great, and it was even worse when it came to sports.  If you need more proof, his favorite teams were the Dodgers and the Raiders. I grew up (yes, even when he was in the house) an Angels fan. When I finally got around to noticing the football, I opted for the Broncos, probably because I’d heard my dad curse John Elway’s name many a time.

I wasn’t entirely a self-taught sports fan. My grandparents were in the Angels booster’s club and I’ve been going to games in Anaheim my whole life. But I was in my teens before I learned how to throw a baseball. I used a VCR to tape a Braves relief pitcher’s delivery on TBS, then played it back in slow-motion to copy the mechanics. To this day, I still can’t throw a football. I throw it like a baseball, which countless people tell me isn’t possible until they see me throw a football, then remark, “Holy shit, you throw that just like a baseball!” 

It’s a good thing Daughter’s name isn’t Son.

Most of my sports viewing came about in college, primarily so I’d have something to talk to “normal” people about. My interests revolved around history and classic rock and penis/fart jokes. Meatloaf says two out of three ain’t bad, but I was, at best, batting .333, and unless I could pick and choose my audience, most of the time it was a hat-trick of strikeouts. So I expanded my understanding of baseball, including the fact that there were, at the time, 23 OTHER teams not named the Angels. I also partook in the weekly dorm-floor football viewing on Sunday mornings. Sprinkle in a dabbling of hockey and basketball and, voila!, I don’t have to leave the room when my anecdote about Catherine the Great falls flat.

I’ve taught plenty of girlfriends and other nerd-friends about how to follow sports, but seeing as my own appreciation for sports occurred beyond the age of reason, I don’t know if those experiences translate to fathering. When explaining the game to a six-year old hoping for guidance and discovery, the differences between a two-seam and a four-seam fastball probably ain’t gonna cut it.

The only thing my mom ever told me about how she raised me to like baseball was that, when we went to a game, we couldn’t go get food until there was a number under the “4” on the scoreboard, meaning top of the 4th if the away team scores a run, otherwise we had to wait until the middle of the inning when the “0” pops up. In retrospect, that seems to predicate one toward rooting for the away team, but I guess she was more concerned with her wallet than my blooming sports interest. Perhaps that helps explain my disparate, heterodox sports fandom these days. I live in northern California and the short list of teams I root for include the Anaheim Angels, Tennessee Titans, Colorado Buffaloes, and Calgary Flames. Don’t ask. It’s probably worthy of blog post of its own.

And no, they’re not the Los Angeles Angels. California Angels is okay, but Anaheim Angels is ideal. It’s alliterative and appears first in the alphabet. You’re never going to win over L.A., Arte Moreno. People in Orange County hate L.A. Lean into it!

My dad is no longer alive, so I can’t consult him about how he tried (and failed) to pique my interest, or at the very least, how he explained sports to me. I assume it was something along the lines of, “Fuck off, kid, the game is on.” Not in so many words, but the message would’ve been clear.

So I started with the basics. Pitcher versus batter, the most pure faceoff in all of sports. Equal parts strategy and execution. Two warriors trying to out-think each other before resorting to natural talent honed by thousands of repetitions.

How did I translate this into Daughter-speak?

“The guy with the ball is trying to throw it through the little square on the TV screen.”

One thing is certain. I can guarantee that isn’t how my father explained it to me. 

The “little square on the TV screen” is, of course, the strike zone, which is digitally imprinted on most baseball broadcasts over the past decade. I’m usually not too big of a fan of it. It’s not the official strike zone, of course, because that’s only in the eye of the umpire. But if nothing else, it gives us verifiable proof of what we’ve all been yelling since “Damn Yankees” – “You’re blind, Ump. You’re blind, Ump. You must be outta your mind, Ump!”

As an aside, who the hell decided that Broadway musical and 1950s baseball was a good mix? Throw in the devil, too. I’d be curious to watch the “Mad Men” episode that analyzed exactly which cross-section of society they were aiming for with that one. And why, when they revived it in the 1990s, did they stick with the Washington Senators, a team which hadn’t existed in 25 years? It’s gotta be even more confusing now, with the new Washington team playing in the national league and, ergo, never losing a playoff spot to those Damn Yankees. Baltimore Orioles is the same number of syllables. Just sayin’.

So I managed to get a few basics through to Daughter. Four pitches thrown outside the little box means a walk. Unless the batter swings and misses. Until I told her, on a 3-2 count, that the next pitch was the one where it would all be decided, only to see it fouled off. Then again. Then again. 

And she was done. Maybe next season she’ll learn what a base hit looks like.

Since the World Series, we’ve been doing some mandated COVID home-improvement projects. At least I assume they are mandated, because everybody I know is building house additions and buying new couches and converting the kid’s bedroom into a dry sauna room even though the kid is still living in the house. 

Our particular project was getting new carpets. This necessitated moving a bunch of furniture around, and for about a week, we only had (shudder…) one TV plugged in. In the whole house! What is this, 1947?

To make matters worse, my Titans were on TV. Since they made the AFC Championship last year and have the best running back in the game, they’re showing up as the game of the week a little more often. This is difficult for me because I’m used to the years when they only show up on my TV once or twice a year, so I’ve attuned myself to watching every time they’re on. This year, I’ve already seen them four times and we’re only halfway through the season. Although one of those was a Tuesday game that was delayed due to COVID, so maybe it’s less about Derrick Henry and more about 2020 just being fucked up in general.

Anyway, the Titans were going to be on TV and we only have one TV in the house. Sorry, Daughter, but I’m going to do an impression of the grandfather you never met. Now pull my finger.

So Daughter plopped herself next to me and asked me what was going on in the game, what the teams were trying to accomplish.

And what did I tell her?

They’re trying to get to the yellow line. 

That’s right, the magical first-down marker which I mocked and reviled when it was first added to football games. I considered it the greatest dumbing-down in the history of sports. How the hell hard is it to figure out how far they have to go if it’s listed as third-and-four and, by the way, they’ve got a giant fucking orange stick glaring at you from the sideline. 

Yeah, THAT magical yellow line.

You see, Daughter, they have three chances to get past the yellow line, and if they’re successful, they’ll get a new yellow line. If they don’t make it, they have to kick it away to the other team, who will get a yellow line of their own. 

Fortunately, she didn’t watch long enough to see somebody go for it on 4th down.

So let’s chalk “teaching sports” up as one more thing I can’t conceive of doing before technology existed. I don’t know how we found random businesses before Google Maps. Nor how we coordinated schedules with friends. How the hell did teachers teach without googling “Russian Revolution lesson plan.” How did authors write without cut-and-paste functions? Did they really have to retype the whole fucking page to fix one typo? What happens if there’s a typo on the retype?

And now, sports. The pitcher is trying to throw the ball through the little square. A football team is trying to get to the yellow line. If I ever turn on a hockey game, I’ll have to tell her they all want possession of the glowing thing.

Well, at the very least, I can be sure of one thing. 

I’m certainly not approaching sports with my daughter the same way my dad did with me.

Nostalgia on Rolling Wheels

A week or two before the shutdown, I found myself at the local skating rink.

In fact, it was literally days before society ended. Maybe the Friday before the Friday when the toilet paper ran out. I remember it clearly because the skating rink had hand sanitizer out and one of the local parents kept doing shots of that alcohol-based substance like we were experiencing a Friday night in our twenties, not our forties. How silly she’s going to feel, I remember thinking, when this whole thing blows over in a week or two.

And our kids still haven’t returned to school.

Sorry, I might’ve buried the lede on that story. Did I forget to mention that my town has a skating rink?

No, I don’t mean a skate park. I’m also not talking about some tennis court that’s been turned into a roller hockey court or a running track that’s been turned into a roller derby course. Nor is it ice skating.

I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness, slick wooden oval roller rink. Like with roller skates and shit. Straight out of 1978!

And let me tell ya, the decor is straight outta 1978, too. Check this out:

Can it be called retro if it’s the same it’s always been? You gotta give props to a company that keeps the same decor so long that it comes back into style again as a chic throwback. Imagine how much I’ll be crowing when those jean shorts in the back of my dresser come back around. Of course, it’ll all be moot if my 32-inch waist doesn’t come back at the same time.

My COVID hairstyle is looking suspiciously close to what all the hip dudes were sporting on MTV in the mid-1990s. Or how Keanu Reeves has looked his entire career. 

Keanu: the Jorts of Hollywood!

I actually went to the skating rink five times in the twelve months before lockdown. She became a kindergartner and all of a sudden we had to engage in spirit nights. And if skate nights worked to pass some cash the elementary school’s direction four decades ago, then they still serve that function now. The more things change, the more they stay the same. My daughter informs me on a regular basis that the floor is still hot lava! You’d think somebody would’ve done something about that since I was five years old. But nope. I’m sure the next politician running for office will promise to fix it during Infrastructure Week.

It’s not just for school, though. Only two of those five visits were supporting the school. One was for the girl scouts, the other two birthday parties. But I tie it all back to the elementary school, because without them leading the way with three or four fundraising nights a year there, I don’t think the girl scouts would’ve organically thought up a pastime from the early 1980s. Neither the six-year-old nor the seven-year-old could explain to me the finer points of trickle-down Reaganomics. 

The first time we went, Wife told me we were taking Daughter to her school’s skate night. 

“Ice skating?” 

“No, roller skating.”

Eyes narrowed, looking for TV cameras from a prank show. 

“At the school?” 

“No, this town has a roller rink.”

Blink. Blink.

“Do we have to buy…”

“Rentals.”

And before you ask, yep, they’re the same rentals you remember. Literally the same ones. Remember that one pair with the frayed shoelaces? I think I was wearing that exact pair in March.

Daughter had a great time and ended up asking Santa for a pair of skates for Christmas. Santa gave her what she wanted, which kept alive the streak of new wheels for every birthday and Christmas. I’m not kidding. Since she was two, every gift exchange has had some sort of wheeled travel item. It went from tricycle to balance bike to bike with training wheels to scooter to taking the training wheels of the bike. Last Christmas came the roller skates, which she promptly took out to skate on the street Christmas morning. She got a big-girl bike for her birthday this year, so I guess we’re up to car this Christmas? Is something else supposed to bridge the wheeled gap from six to sixteen?

I tweeted out a joke that it was also my fifth time at the skating rink in the past year, and also the fifth time at a skating rink since the Reagan administration. I was going for hyperbole, trying to be funny, but the more I thought about it, it might’ve been spot on. I remember roller blading a few times in college and beyond, but that was always done around the college campus, or on one of those aforementioned basketball-court-turned-hockey-rinks. Never did we go to a private entity designed exclusively for skating round and round in an oval.

So maybe in high school? But I don’t remember any skating rinks being open during high school. And my four years in high school matched the four years of the first Bush presidency. So yeah, snar-casm (snarky sarcasm) aside, I think it’s legitimately been since the Reagan administration since I’ve been to a skating rink. If I had to pinpoint a precise year for my last trip, I’d maybe say 1985. “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” seems like a good final song to red-light/green-light to.

Sorry, not “final” song, since I’ve now red-light/green-lighted to “High Hopes,” or maybe it was “Old Town Road” or “The Middle.” Or maybe “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” The DJ has to still have it.

In addition to red-light/green-light, they still play four corners. The DJ also referred to something as “bitchin’,” a word I haven’t heard since the last time I was at a skating rink. Now I know where it’s been hidden all this time. Jesus, this place really is like Goonies and Ghostbusters trapped in amber. 

Speaking of retro, the roller rink had an advertisement (on one of their 12-inch box TVs) for an upcoming “Retro Night.” I didn’t check at the fine print, but I imagine the date was listed as January 1-December 31. I don’t know what they could do to make themselves more retro. Except maybe clean up some of the dust. And put out lines of cocaine.

Unfortunately, my skating skills aren’t what they were in 1985. Gotta admit it’s a little wobbly. Plus I’ve gotten used to ice skating, where you can more or less stop on a dime by turning your feet sideways. If you turn your feet sideways while the wheels are still moving forward, you’re in for a crash course in Newton’s Laws of Motion. I’ve also become more used to rollerblades, where they’re smart enough to put the brake in the back. Roller skates still have the rubber brake knob on the front. This makes no fucking sense. If you’re moving forward and you have to lean farther forward to slow yourself down, you’re just going ass over teakettle. Back brakes slow you down. Front brakes work like a pole vault. 

One thing that’s different is the tweens out on the rink. Not the concept of tweens, because skating rinks have always been the haven for “too young to drive, but old enough to be dropped off by parents for two hours.” But the big difference between tweens now and tweens then (aside from Day Glo) is that nowadays they have phones. And they’re on said phones while they’re skating, which is an action they don’t perform all that often. Do you see where I’m going with this? They crash because they’re looking at their phones. It’s fucking hilarious. Plus, I don’t have to feel guilty about laughing at them as I speed past. I can justify that they’re learning valuable lessons before they have a car around them.

The birthday party was scheduled to wrap up at 8:00. I figured that was just a suggestion, but around 7:40, they mentioned that we only had twenty minutes left. They were kicking us all out. Ah, I figured. The place closes down at 8:00. Kinda makes sense if you cater to kids and birthday parties. Then let the teenaged employees out before its too late. Maybe they need to head home to start up their weekend homework. I’m sure that’s what all my students do with their Friday night. 

Just kidding, they don’t start their homework Friday night. That’s what third period on Monday is for. 

My assumption about closing time at the roller rink was just as off-base. They told us we needed to get all the rentals and crutches (they’ve fashioned PVC pipe into triangular “walkers” for beginning skaters, of which there are quite a few at a sixth birthday party) back to the front to be ready for their next session. Next session? You mean the skate rink is open past 8:00 on a Friday?

And boy howdy, they are. When we left, we walked past the line waiting to get in. There had to be at least fifty people. Maybe closer to one hundred. Many were those very same teenagers who were supposed to be home working on school work. But there were also twenty-somethings and parents. Some people even looked to be my age. Just like 1978, if the skating rink is ROCKIN’, y’all better come knockin’!

Makes me wonder why there aren’t more roller rinks around. Sure, they can’t pull like they did in their heyday. I remember at one point my little town of 20,000 or so had its own roller rink and there was another one in the town of 30,000 a few miles away. That’s a level of glut that golf courses are now trying to draw back from. When Tiger was big, every municipality wanted five new golf courses. Now they need to figure out what to do with acres and acres of manicured land. One of the ones nearby turned into a soccer golf course.

But most towns have room and demand for one golf course. And they probably could stomach a skating rink, too. The problem, of course, was that most of them didn’t make it through the 80s and 90s to the point where they became retro chic. I imagine if you found yourself at a roller rink in, say, 1990, it was skeevy as hell. Cocaine in the bathrooms is groovy, but hypodermics are just a drag, man. I imagine the one in my town must own the land it’s built on. There’s no way it made it through the Clinton administration if it was paying monthly rent. 

But now the few remaining rinks have come full circle to wholesome family entertainment again. The type of place where they have elementary school nights and children’s birthday parties. In 1990, the only children having birthday parties at roller rinks were probably giving freebase spoons away in their goodie bags.

The range of “cool in the 1970s, later a joke” runs the gamut. On one end, you have bowling alleys. Somehow they’ve survived in spades. Not that bowlers are hip these days. Were they ever? But if I started this blog by saying I went bowling last weekend, you wouldn’t be all that surprised. Nobody’s ever looked at me with an odd expression, asking, “Did you just say there’s a bowling alley opened near you? Like, with pins and shit?”

On the other end of the spectrum is the old drive-in theater. Those used to be in abundance and now they’re only remembered as shrines to date rape. 

Actually, Sacramento still has a drive-in theater. Not sure how, cause I’ve gone a few times and, unlike the roller rink, I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t curious as to why they never made it to Y2K. 

The only reason drive-ins have value (aside from the fact that blow jobs in crowded movie theaters are frowned upon) is for families with kids. The kid can fall asleep in the back seat and the parents are finally able to see adult entertainment without taking out a second mortgage to get three hours of babysitting. 

But movies have gotten too good to be wasted on the shitty screen quality of drive-ins. Our TV screens are better. Our phones are better. And the only movies that we even bother to see in the theater anymore are the ones that are visually stunning enough to be wasted on our home screens. If my TV can’t do it justice, then the drive-in is straight-up insulting the director. Especially when some jackwagon drives up late to the movie, or leaves early, shining their headlights on the screen right when the boobs pop out CGI space-battle explosions reach their climax.¬†

I guess that sentence was going to end with a climax, either way.

Actually, the drive-ins managed to reopen long before the indoor theaters. It turns out the Sacramento drive-in is owned by a company that has seven or eight of them throughout the western U.S. I remember when they reopened in mid-May, making me ponder why a business where I stay in my car the entire time was closed to begin with. 

Of course, when they reopened, there were no new movies coming out. That’s been a problem for other movie theaters as they’ve reopened. Wasn’t “The Empire Strikes Back” the top grossing movie of April? I think when the drive-in reopened, it had a double-feature of two Spiderman movies – Tobey McGuire’s and Andrew Garfield’s. Or maybe it was “Goonies” and “Ghostbusters” trapped in amber.

But skating rinks should have gone the way of the bowling alley, not the drive-in theater. It’s a shame, because as I rediscovered over my daughter’s first year of public schooling, there’s still a place for zipping around in circles in this app-laden world. 

Maybe I should do something about that.

Right after I finish this petition to bring back lawn darts.

You’ll Never Believe How I Play Animal Crossing! #713 will amaze you!! Plus X-Men and GoT!!!

Welcome back to my foray into the time- and mind-suck known as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, including the use of the clickbait titles required when writing about said game.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Sophie Turner starred as both a “Game of Thrones” character AND a Marvel character. I should probably post a picture of her. Meh, you can google it.

Oh, and I think last time I promised I’d tell you what new critters are available in September. Let me check my Critterpedia. I’ve see some salmon and some crickets. A snazzy red dragonfly is  out, but only during daytime hours. And something about acorns?

Dammit, I should’ve buried this at the end of the blog. With a shit-ton of “Next” buttons en route. I’m as bad as a Nigerian prince at this.

Last time, I wrote about my family’s journey from one to three Switch Lites, along with three copies of Animal Crossing. But at the tail end of that post, I was still managing to fight the temptation to hang out with passive aggressive animals. But eventually, I reached the point I always reach with Civilization games. Easy levels are too easy, hard levels kick my butt. If the damn game’s gonna last ten hours, I want it to be just hard enough to beat. The only thing worse than wasting ten hours on a game you’re kicking butt on is to waste ten hours only to lose. 

So some time in late June, I finally busted out our third copy of Animal Crossing and created the island of Buffett. Because Wife had already nabbed Copacabana and Margaritaville is too many letters.

If you haven’t played Animal Crossing, the main plot of this game is revolving debt. I assume they sell it as “building an island paradise amongst creepy animals with personality issues,” but really, it’s about the never-ending, crippling debt that defines modern America. Plus doing other people’s work for them. 

The stage is set with your very first task, which is to place not only your own tent, but the other two tag-alongs’ tents, too.  That’s right, they sell you on the whole “deserted island” motif then, Bam! give you two neighbors, one of whom is “snooty,” and three staff. Seems suspiciously like one of those “hour-long” timeshare meetings. 

You then spend the next month chasing Tom Nook, the crazy cruise director’s, dream of packing said island to the rafters with other residents until you can get a Fyre Festival concert going with an artist whose name sounds suspiciously close to an organization that one should not want to be too closely associated with. My heart skips a beat every time Daughter exclaims, in that echoing voice of a six-year old not yet aware of “inside voice,” that we have to get home quick so she can attend the K.K. rally.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. 

After you’ve picked out the island, placed three tents , and promised to bury your first-born child into a glowing hole that will grow into a three-baby tree, they stick you with the bill. You owe fifty grand in moving expenses!

Not to worry, though. Like any good cult leader, he’s gonna cut you a deal on your first batch. All you have to do is use his phone app to get frequent flyer miles and drink his Kool-Aid on a regular basis. However, as soon as you pay it off, he hits you with another loan, and this one needs honest-to-goodness money to pay off. 

Sure, I don’t have to take out that second loan, but dude is a somewhat persistent used-car-that-runs-on-snake-oil salesman, “Hey, good job paying off that piece-of-shit tent,” he says. “How about manning up and getting a fucking house like the rest of society?” So you acquiesce and upgrade to a studio apartment, then a one-bedroom, then two. Eventually you add an upstairs. Each time, he builds it for you right away, then makes you pay off the loan. And he won’t let you forget about it either. If you chat with him about anything, it comes across as, “Boy, I really wish I could get my favorite Aryan singer to this podunk place. And hey, no hurries, but about that little loan I floated you…

“But seriously, go build some bridges and paths and campsites and shit, because this deserted island ain’t gonna turn into a five-star resort by itself.”

It’s not just the Jim Jones guy in charge, either. EVERYBODY on this fucking island wants you to do all of their work for them. In a Trumpian show of nepotism, Tom Nook’s little nephews want to set up a shop on the island. Only thing is that you have to collect all their supplies. Then, in a classic boss-versus-worker-bee twist, once they open the shop that you built for them, their hours are shorter. When they were working out of resident services, you could buy and sell from them 24 hours a day. Now their shop is only open 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. It’s like that old joke where the MBA guy finds a villager who fishes in the morning and drinks cervezas on the beach the rest of the day. The MBA tells him that he should expand his business, invest in a fleet, work hard for thirty years so he can enjoy a retirement of fishing in the morning and drinking cervezas on the beach the rest of the day.

The Nook boys will accept items for sale after hours, but then they take a 10% cut. About what you’d expect from dudes who relied upon their uncle for the plot of land and a random stranger for all the materials. I guess they’re too busy sipping cervezas on the beach. They certainly aren’t fishing, because that’s what they need me to do to keep their business afloat. 

Eventually, your island will grow to 10 other residents who might help the various Nookses with their get-rich-slowly schemes. But, hoo boy, those other residents su-uuuu-uck. The can’t fish. They can’t catch bugs. They can’t bang rocks. Hell, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one shake a damned tree. Not sure why these people (or animals, I suppose) decided coming to a deserted island, with no OSHA or ADA or left-turn signals. This sure ain’t one of those libertarian islands where you’re expected to fend for yourself.

Watch one try to catch a bug some time. It’s hilarious. They stalk up to it with their net raised and then they just stand there like Paul Giamatti trying to talk to a woman in “Sideways.” Pull the trigger, mother fucker!

At some point later in the game, you’re supposed to build bridges and inclines. I guess the game manufacturers thought people would feel used and abused by that point, so instead of paying for it all yourself, you place where it’ll go and then everybody on the island can contribute to its cost. Unfortunately, “everybody contributing” usually ends up equating to 197,572 bells from you and 428 combined from the other ten residents combined. True socialism at work!

But their slovenly ways aren’t nearly as annoying as how damned smug they are about it. They really should’ve named the game “Passive Aggressive Crossing.” If you talk to them more than once in a day, they not-so-subtly remind you that you’re wasting their time. “Wow, we keep running into each other” or “Hey, I have an idea, let’s see how many times we can talk” or “Didn’t I just talk to you?” But then if you go a couple days without talking to them, they remind you of that, too. 

This is probably why it’s a kid’s game. Daughter doesn’t understand social cues or sarcasm, so if somebody snidely says, “We should play a game where we keep talking to each other for no reason,” she’s like, “Sweet, a game!” Meanwhile, I return their own passive aggressiveness with a healthy dose of my own. The museum owner loves fish, but hates bugs. So I make him tell me more information about bugs, but whenever I give him a fish, I pull the “Sorry, I’m really busy.”

It only takes one look at our various islands to note the different ways we play this game. Wife’s island is meticulous, well-manicured trails between perfectly-segregated flower gardens. She even decorates the areas around each resident’s island with different motifs, giving each of those slackers their own flower beds. Daughter’s island is filled to the brim with lots of colorful knick-knacks. Instead of meticulous flowerbeds, her whole fucking island is one giant flowerbed. There’s probably some rhyme or reason to it, but I can’t discern how to get from point a to point b, much less the aesthetics of a six-year old. 

My island, meanwhile, has random shit dropped wherever. There’s usually some method to my madness, but I couldn’t give two shits about how it looks. My exercise bike is by some sort of fish-drying rack. I think there’s a lava lamp by my topiary. I do a good job of cleaning up all of my ersatz building materials, my rocks and wood and what-have-you, into neat little clumps of thirty. But then I put those clumps of thirty on the ground, whereas Wife puts them in storage. Why did I put all the shoes and cans out on the beach? So they’re out of the way! Sure, I coulda put them in front of Agnes’s house, but what would that accomplish? 

At least you can get around my island. Daughter’s island has so much random shit it’s a fucking maze. While Wife’s island has neat little flower beds of complimentary colors and varietals, Daughter’s island is one giant smorgasbord of every flower in existence. Oh, and fences. I visited her island last Sunday morning to buy some cheaper turnips from the disgusting, snot-nosed Daisy Mae, and Daughter informed me I had to go through the “secret passage” to get to the other side of the island. Said secret passage ended up being a zigzag of fences through a flower field, between two houses, and onto a bridge.

My flowers, by the way, are as haphazard as Daughters, only less prolific. When I get the quest to plant three flowers, I plant three flowers and nothing more. Then I drop the remaining seed packets there, so the next time I get that quest, I only need to pick them up and plant three more. So its more of an amorphous blob.

Daughter probably interacts with the other residents as the game designers intended. When given the choice (task!) of where to put their houses, she started by putting them as close to hers as possible. When that became untenable, she made carefully constructed neighborhoods, even paying to move some of their houses to live close to others they’re likely to get along with.

Me? I put those fuckers as far away from me as possible. I signed up for a deserted fucking island, dude. It’s bad enough these lollygaggers want me to do all their work for them. They want me to talk to them, too?

When I finally gained the ability to move houses, I didn’t move theirs, I moved mine. Because by then I could get across the river, and option I didn’t have at the beginning of the game. And it’s a skill the others never gain, because if they can’t work a goddamn net, I don’t see them mastering pole vaulting. Fifty thousand bells to cordon off half of the island for my own private compound? Sold!

Although I did also pay to move one of the original residents’ houses. I’d originally placed it too close to the center of a peninsula. When new residents moved in, I wanted them taking up as little space on my paradise as possible, so I moved Agnes’s house over a skosh to jam a new resident in right next to her, like a proper nineteenth century tenement. Slum lord, here I come. If I could put them all to work at a Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, I would. 

IT’s not only about where they live, either. Daughter makes gifts for her residents and sends them postcards. She doesn’t at all mind when one of them tells her to “snuffles” or “pronk.” Seriously, she’ll go around the island to collect natural resources, then craft them into finish products, just to walk up to a rando and give it to them when they weren’t even asking. WTF? Doesn’t she know she can get a good deal on that over at Nook’s Cranny?

Of course, then she always whines that Wife and I have more money and more Godzilla monsters than her. Maybe if she learns her lesson now, she can avoid the whole loadie friend stage in her teens and twenties.

So if I don’t make my island pretty and I don’t interact with my residents, what the hell am I doing playing Animal Crossing? Trust me, it’s a question I ask myself on the regular. But, you see, they give you tasks. A never-ending list of tasks that give me Nook miles that I must complete in order to get assigned new ones. In order to get Nook miles that I don’t need, which I redeem for cash and prizes. which I don’t do.

It’s so easy to fall under its spell. All I have to do is cut down a tree and catch five fish? Easy peazy. So why am I, thirty minutes later, still with two fish to go and a virgin forest? It’s just like those never-ending games that I download on my phone.

Except that I had to pay for this never-ending game. Three times, in fact. 

Crap.

Maybe I need to sell some ads to those free-game companies.

Secret Animal Crossing Tips with Marvel Villains and George R.R. Martin!

I’ll be right with you. I have to catch two fish to get some Nook miles. 

Two hours later…

No really. I’ll finish this blog post. As soon as I buy a shrubbery from Leif and talk to one more resident.

I know I’m a little late to the party, but as you can probably tell, I’ve become one of the presumably billions of people who turned COVID-geddon into a non-stop fest of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

It might seem silly and pointless to be writing my “review” of a game that came out months ago, but my Google feed suggests otherwise. It’s not quite as clickbaity as “Next Game of Thrones Book Release Date will Fix Major Plothole,” followed by a description of  season six of the tv show. Or maybe “MCU Phase Seven Villain Confirmed,” which links to a list of comic book villains. Really? Doctor Doom AND Galactus are both Marvel characters?

Seriously, near the end of July, I saw a headline for which Animal Crossing bugs and fish would be disappearing at the end of the month. Hey guess what? I can check my Critterpedia, too. In case you’re wondering, cicadas are going away at the end of August. 

And Hugh Jackman probably won’t be playing Wolverine in the Disney Marvel movies.

We were late to the Animal Crossing party as a result of being late to the Nintendo Switch party. Haven’t played many video games since a) child became mobile, and b) phones started adding never-ending games that require you to log in once every 30 minutes to accomplish nothing at all. My PlayStation 3 is collecting dust upstairs, Assassin’s Creed 3 about 15% done and Grand Theft Auto 4 still in its plastic wrap. I thought, briefly, about buying a PS4, until I found out that it doesn’t have backward compatibility. But the PS5 will, so maybe sometime in 2022 I’ll finally conquer Zork.

With the ‘Rona shutting down both mine and my daughter’s school year a couple month’s before her sixth birthday, which allegedly comes with a minuscule amount of hand-eye coordination, I figured it was finally time to splurge on a next generation console before it became a last generation console. Like me.

Unfortunately, the entire rest of the planet also decided to buy a Nintendo Switch in March. And the supply line was already jacked up because they’re made in countries which went through the Shutdown Shuffle thing back in November. 

But because I typed “Nintendo” once upon an internet search, I spent most of April getting all sorts of fancy newsfeed notices about this fantastical new game that looked nothing like Mario. Why, it’s only giant-headed humans on a brightly-colored island. 

But from what I read, and heard from friends who owned a Switch before the shutdown, it was the BEST of times. It’s an obsessive game, they told me. There’s SO MUCH to do on it. Like fishing and catching bugs and chopping trees and… and… that’s about it. Sounded more like farming to me, but a video game titled “It’s Literally Just Lawn Mowing” was in the top ten downloads on Google Play a little while ago. Wow, we’re really looking for a slice of normalcy this year, aren’t we?

I asked one of my friends if it was kid friendly. She blinked at me through the Zoom call as if I had asked if the Pope shits in the woods. “Yeah. Have you seen it? It’s made for kids.” Well sure, I said, but so was Minecraft, but then grown-ups come and destroy everything your child has built. I mean, have you seen what we’ve done with Halloween?

But she assured me that, if I were to ever track down a console, Daughter could keep her island safely secured from other human beings. Sold! Removing contact from other human beings is the whole fucking point of video games, yesno?

I spent most of April and May scouring every virtual marketplace for a console, any console. Except for eBay, because no way was I going to pay $600 for a used console that somebody stuck up their butt first.

In early May, I saw some Switch Lites for sale, but no big plug-into-the-tv Switches. I hadn’t heard of these Lite things before, but I was skeptical. I’m aware the big selling point of the Switch is that it can be plugged into a TV or can be transported and played on its own little screen. As with the Wii and, really, every console including the original NES, Nintendo can never compete with the big boys on graphics or gameplay, so they differentiate themselves with fancy little “let’s redefine what video games even are.” For a span of a couple months in seventh grade, every boy and half the girls in my school were competing and sharing progress and helping each other through Metroid. “Hey, I got missiles last night.” “Dude, I’m stuck on the bats.” “Oh, place a bomb on the left-most doorway.” Hard to believe we did all that without cell phones or cheat boards.

Still, I was leery of the Switch Lite. Handheld consoles always hearken back to Game Boy. And really, isn’t my phone a handheld gaming console? And their games are free! Sure, I have to watch an ad stream as never-ending as the daily Nook Miles tasks, but all the advertisements are just for other free games. How the hell does that work? Seems as bogus an economic system as the hospitals and insurance companies that concoct random numbers because nobody really pays any of those make-believe prices. “Go ahead, add another zero and we’ll just raise premiums, which employers will cover in lieu of raises. Oh, and we can run an ad on Candy Crush with the extra profit.”

But as April turned into May and Daughter’s birthday approached with nary a toy store in sight, those shoddy Switch Lites started calling my name like lite beer during Lent. After watching them show up, then disappear again, on Target’s website, the next time I saw them, I nabbed it as quick as possible. The two games I got with it were Mario Kart, which Daughter’s played maybe five times since early June, and Ye Ol’ Crossing de Carne.

I also bought Civilization VI for Daddy, because I’ve played every other iteration of Civilization, dating all the way back to the first one on 5-1/4″ floppys back in 1991. When Daughter opened the present, we informed her that, while this was her birthday gift, it was a family item. We reserved the right to play on it when we desired.

That lasted about a week.

Not that Daughter was reticent to give it up. She’s okay with watching us play, to a certain extent, but Wife was having none of it. It started out innocently enough. We figured we should what the hell this game was all about if we were going to use it as a baby sitter while we worked. Daughter had played it a few times, but her reading level isn’t quite up to the level of word bubble after word bubble of Tom Nook’s bullshit. So Wife made a character to figure out if there was more to the game than running around and fishing.

Spoiler alert: there isn’t any more to the game than running around and fishing.

While Daughter was usually okay with limiting her game time, you could only get our Nintendo if you took it from our cold, sleeping hands. Turns out Animal Crossing is precisely the style and speed of video game Wife prefers. And Civilization VI is just as crack-like as the first five. Unfortunately, looking up from the screen and realizing it’s 3:00 am is much more of an existential crisis at 45 than it was at 19. I might as well just stay up until I can call the chiropractor.

The good news is that the Switch Lite has a finite battery, so it gives me more impetus to save and quit than any of the first five Civilizations did. Sure, I could plug it in, but if I’m getting up from the couch, I might as well go to bed.

The other drawback to all of us playing on the same machine was that we all had to play on Daughter’s island, which she named Hawaii, because she isn’t the best at naming things. We’ve adopted two animals from rescue groups over the past year and she kept both random names assigned by the fostering employees. It could be worse. She named the fish Grocery Bag and Shopping Cart.

After about a week of Wife getting her feel for the game, she was checking Target inventory for not only a second, but a third, Switch Lite. A week after those arrived, they were joined by a second copy of Animal Crossing, so the two of them could play at the same time. I repeatedly said we didn’t need a third copy, but allegedly one of the real joys of this game is visiting each other’s islands, which can only be done if we’re all playing on three different machines, with three different copies of the video game.

For those keeping track, my $199 investment in Daughter’s birthday/COVID sanity, has now turned into $600 in consoles plus $180 for three copies of the same game. And yeah, I know we can log in and out of different machines and download it to each one, then log out again. But meh, it’s not like there were many options to waste money on during the lockdown. Hell, without a commute, I’m probably saving that much money a month in gas and oil changes.

Plus, we totally kick ass at the Bug Off now. Did you know you get bonuses if three of you are buggin’ at the same time?

Still, I might need to figure out how to monetize this damn blog to pay off all my bills.

On that note, click here to hear how our peaceful family was taken over by creepy animals with personality issues. Two posts are better than one, right?

By the time it posts, I might be able to tell you which critters and fish show up in September.

Oh, and spoilers about every Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Harry Potter plotline for the rest of time!

Yosemite, COVID Edition

Just got back from a couple days in Yosemite. This trip was quite a bit different from those of the past.

I’ve been going to Yosemite since before I was cognizant. Probably been there around forty times total. This was Daughter’s third trip and she just turned six. So if there are two things I know in life, they’re probably Yosemite and being a snarky asshole. The latter I’ve done far more than forty times.

Used to camp there with my family every summer, when it was still possible to get reservations. They used to sell them through Ticketmaster (or maybe Ticketron?) on a rolling basis, whereby tickets became available eight weeks before the date of travel. So some would be released every day. My dad used to camp out at the local record store to get in there the minute they went on sale. 

Nowadays they release an entire month’s worth of reservations online at the same time. If you take the time to consult your calendar six months out to ensure that day isn’t somebody’s birthday or something, you’ve already lost them to somebody else. And whereas it used to be first-come, first-served as to which campsite once you got there, you now have to pick the specific numbered site when you reserve. The one time I tried to reserve, I went off to find a campground map to make sure I wasn’t getting the one right next to the shitter, and by the time I came back, it was taken. I guess next time, I’ll learn to love the vault toilets. 

So ever since the age of twenty or so, it’s been day trips. I used to live a couple hours from the park gate. Nowadays it takes a solid three/-and-a-half hours to get to the valley floor. That necessitates a bit more planning, usually a stay over the night before or after. Because the last thing I want to do after four hours in a car is the 2,000-foot elevation gain hike up to Nevada Falls.

Last year, it was just Daughter and I who went. Wife had an excuse called “having to go into work.” Clearly that’s not a thing anymore. I packed Daughter in the car shortly before her bedtime and drove through the night while she slept, because three hours in a car with a five-year old is torture for her and I. We stopped at a B & B in Groveland around 10 pm, and we were in the valley by 10 am the next morning, “hiking” up to Mirror Lake. If you’ve never been, the walk to Mirror Lake is literally on a road, a leftover from when they allowed cars more places. The road is also still usable if you have a disabled placard. The hike is 1.2 miles with an elevation gain of a whopping 100 feet. But this was enough for Daughter to ask “Are we there yet?” fifteen times and bloviate about the horrific workout I was forcing upon her. That’s about the time I scrapped the whole Vernal Falls idea. 

The Vernal Falls hike was a rite of passage for me. From when I was about my daughter’s age, my dad would hike us up to the footbridge, the first spot you can see the actual falls. The following year we went a little further. The first time I made it to the top, we took the back route, but my dad showed me the infamous Mist Trail. It’s effectively a staircase made out of misshapen granite that’s slippery as shit because you’re under a constant deluge of splash from the falls. You’d think it’s rain. My dad didn’t think I was able to ascend the Mist Trail that year (good call – at forty-five, I’m still a klutz), and promised we’d attempt it the following year. The following year we went to the Grand Canyon. And Zion the following year. Bullshit! Three years later I made it up. 

The only problem with making it to the top of Vernal Falls is you then realize it’s not even the cool waterfall on that hike. Nevada Falls, an extra two miles and another 1,000 feet up, after already going up 1,000 feet in the last mile-and-a-half, is one of the quirkiest waterfalls in existence. It’s crooked like Bill Clinton’s penis. I might’ve been in junior high by the time I conquered it. Nevada Falls, that is. Not Bill Clinton’s penis.

After that we found a cool trick. Get up to Glacier Point and take the Panorama Trail DOWN instead of up. Of course, that’s when I was a teenager. Nowadays I feel like going downhill is worse than going up. Not as strenuous, but it moves muscles in ways they’re not supposed to move.

My original plan was to try the Vernal Falls footbridge this year, then start Daughter on the same Trial by Hike my dad put me through. Except this year, the shuttles aren’t running as a result of COVID. Which is the impetus for this post. Obviously I can wax nostalgic for thousands of words about Yosemite, but that would be exciting for an audience of one. I know it usually seems like I only write this shit for myself, but it’s not entirely masturbatory.

After closing for three months, Yosemite opened to the public a few weeks ago. As soon as I saw they were reopening, I jumped online to get a reservation. We planned to go up Sunday morning, stay overnight near the park, then go back in Monday before driving home. As an added bonus, Yosemite was limiting entry! Yosemite without visitors is about as close to heaven on Earth as it gets. Just like John Muir intended. Unfortunately, a lot of other people had that same notion. And those rat bastards were parked EVERYWHERE!

Obviously they weren’t limiting entrance too much. They were aiming for half of the usual summer crowd. So the trails and meadows weren’t super full, but without the shuttle buses to get us around, we were on our own. Usually you drive to one of two or three parking lots and then ride the bus around everywhere. This time it was find a spot and walk as far as you have to.

When I heard there’d be no shuttles, I grew curious about a bus-only loop at the east end of the park. On it are two main attractions, the Mirror Lake “trail” I mentioned earlier and Happy Isles, which is where the trail to Vernal Falls, et al begins. Surely they can’t block those spots off, can they? Or are they going to make me walk the mile from Camp Curry just to get to the trailhead whence I have to hike another couple miles straight up? I mean, I’ll happily climb the 1,000 feet in elevation gain over a mile and a half trail, but adding on an extra half-mile of flatland? I think NOT! 

Our first day there, a Sunday, before we parked at Camp Curry, we drove ahead to check out the bus-only loop.. It was now car accessible. Sort of. We could drive to Happy Isles. Tons of cars were parked there. But we couldn’t get all the way to Mirror Lake. Not surprising. There’s plenty of space at Happy Isles for a makeshift parking lot. I don’t know how they’d do that at Mirror Lake. We went the other way on the loop and found the farthest we could get was North Pines/Stables, which is how far you can drive under normal conditions. 

Okay, no problem. It was late in the day by then. I was mainly using Day One to figure out what was open, what was closed. Make some plans for tomorrow when we could hit the ground running. And maybe, if we could drive all the way to Happy Isles, but not Mirror Lake, this would be the year we tackle Vernal Falls, after all. Start Daughter on the same rite of passage as me.

Except when we came back on Monday, the road to Happy Isles was closed. What the fuck? And naturally, the parking lot at North Pines was jam packed. So back to Camp Curry we went. At least there was a yummy-looking food truck there the day before. Its version of chicken & waffles was served in a waffle cone with a maple drizzle. Delightful. We passed on it because we had picked out a dinner spot near the hotel, but we were looking forward to it for lunch the next day.

But sure enough, that shit was as closed down as Happy Isles on Monday. What the fuck, people? It’s COVID time. Nobody’s working. There shouldn’t be huge differences between Sunday and Monday. The taco truck was open both days. But when you’ve got your heart set on chicken tenders in a waffle cone, carne asada ain’t gonna cut it.

Perhaps we could get around the loop on wheels. I had the brilliant idea to bring Daughter’s scooter about the eighth time we stopped on the way to Mirror Lake the year before. But we forgot to pack it. Oops. So we looked into renting bikes. Twenty-four bucks each for a half-day. Okay, so seventy-five bones for the three of us? It was a distinct possibility. After all , it’s not like we’d be spending money on scrumptious lunch options. Only one thing dissuaded us. The extra five bucks for her to rent a helmet. It wasn’t the cost, five bucks is excessively reasonable after the exorbitant cost for the rental itself. But something about putting something that’d been worn by every other kid on the face of the earth seems a bit too far these days. 

Ironic, I know, since under normal circumstances, they probably wouldn’t have cleaned that shit since last century and it would be filled with colonies of every head lice ever invented. This time, they’re probably disinfecting it every night. And yet…

In the same vein, Sunday night was the first time we’ve been in a hotel since the beforetimes. It felt weird. The one thing going for us was that, while Yosemite was closed, this hotel was either closed or getting very little action. But I never realized how the carpeting in a hotel room looks straight outta 1979, which was probably the last time it was cleaned. That’s probably Jack Tripper’s chest hair down there.

On the other hand, it’s refreshing that the feces and DNA left behind by previous guests are no longer my primary concern. Go ahead and bring in a black light. Spooge splats are fine as long as there aren’t any Mexican-beer-drinking viruses in the man batter.

After discovering that there was no parking close to Happy Isles or Mirror Lake, we parked at Camp Curry and walked through one of the empty campsites to the river. There’s only one campsite open in the whole park. Man, if I had been one of the lucky few to reserve one of the other sites back in February, I’d be pissed. That’s like winning the lottery only to find out that you won the wrong lottery and the money’s going to somebody else. 

I don’t see why they only open one campsite. If they’re trying to encourage social distancing, shouldn’t they open half of two different campsites? Then again, as I’ve opined before, camping is about as socially distant of an activity as we’ve got in this world. Especially if we’re to believe the newest reports that it’s very difficult for the virus to spread outdoors. True, Yosemite camping isn’t as socially distant as most campsites. Even though there is zero campsites available when you try to reserve, they jam ya in like sardines once you’re there. When I camp there, I actually have to pee IN THE BATHROOM! The Horror!¬†

Just as John Muir intended.

Speaking of which, halfway across the abandoned campsite, Daughter decided, as six-year-olds are wont to do, that this time, and no other time, was the proper time to vacate her bladder. But it’s cool, even if the campsites closed, they can’t be locking the bathrooms, right? Turns out that yes, they can. Could she make it across the street to the open campsite? Maybe three minutes? If you’ve ever encountered a kid in early elementary school, you know the answer was a resounding no. 

Of course, this was also the moment that a few rangers were walking through the campsite, checking it for, I don’t know, viruses and such? So we took Daughter behind a tree to hide from them, which probably was doing no such thing, and it was off to the races. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to peeing in public. I’m a guy, the world is my urinal. But that’s why I usually camp out in the middle of nowhere. It’s crowded at Yosemite. If I randomly whip it out, I’m liable to splash on hundreds of people. But I guess society is a bit more forgiving of a six-year-old than a mid-forties dude. 

When we finally made it through the campsite, I finally had that “passing it on” moment. We were standing on the rocky bottom of the frigid Merced River, throwing rocks and sticks into the current, and Daughter absolutely loved it. Couldn’t get enough. Sure, my feet were slicing and dicing and turning into icicles, but Daughter’s eating this shit up. And I’m reminded of all the times I walked across or laid down on an inflatable tube or mattress, with nary a thought of internal temperature or why the fuck couldn’t they put some goddamn sand at the bottom of this stream as John Muir intended.

It’s such a rare feeling, that I’m doing this parenting thing right. Sure, I might’ve exposed her to spooge marks and COVID the night before. And sure, I let her play on her Nintendo for all three hours both ways. But dammit, we gotta take the wins when we get them, right? 

She even said she’s excited to go back to Yosemite next year.

I’m sure that’ll change once I make her hike Vernal Falls.

Coronavirus Lockdown Journal Part 2

It’s academic time right now.

As I write this, my daughter is sitting next to me, working through a store-bought “Kindergarten skills booklet” that appears to have been written for kindergarten skills back when I was in kindergarten (Which is edible: paste or vegetables?), not what they’re doing now. So she’s burning through these. After all, if she can burn through a Dr. Seuss book, I don’t think having her trace the a at the beginning of apple’s going to vex her much. We’ve limited her to one page a day in some books, but we still have to give her enough busy work to get through the recommended one hour of morning Academic Time before our magical robot overlord, Alexa, tells us it’s time to move on to our next time allotment.

Such is life in what I’ve dubbed Quran-geddon(tm).

Is that how trademarks work? Can I just throw a ™ after something and now I get paid if anyone else uses it? In whatever quid pro-quo replace US Dollars in the sportless future when Alexa finally tells us it’s okay to go outside.

But just bear in mind I occasionally¬†have to help my daughter with some of these things. So if I suddenly write, “no, baby, it’s six, not five,” assume I just gave Daughter instructions that included the “fuck-stain shit sickle” intended for this post.

I haven’t checked in since last Friday, back in the nascence of this Brave New World. I picked up Daughter from daycare and told her that her school and softball and dance class were all canceled, along with that little trip to Disneyland we had planned for this week. Then she and I spent about 72 hours in line at the grocery store in order to buy seven items, because the rest of the world was purchasing the entire store. The only thing they weren’t buying at that time was corned beef. So I figured I’d wait and come back after the weekend to buy that.

Oops.

To be fair to the hoarders, that’s totally on me, and I should know better than to wait until March 16 to buy corned beef. Although usually there’s a shit-ton of it, even on the 18th when I can buy it on sale.

My second foray to the grocery store showed some some through-lines from the previous trip and some anomalies. There seems to be a run on meat, in many ways the most perishable of items. My local store has filled up most of their meat refrigerators with salami packs, spread out so as to appear like there’s variety, in lieu of the normal beef and chicken and pork.

People are fucking horrible at hermitage. Why aren’t they buying the stuff that doesn’t go bad after a few days? They probably think they’re living off the grid by running a VPN while having their Google Maps giving them directions.

Bread and tortillas also seemed to be in shorter supply on Monday than they had been on Friday. Flour was gone, but sugar was there.¬†Thank God there doesn’t seem to be a run on coffee or beer.¬†All the beans were gone, too. Not sure if that’s a great idea for people with limited toilet paper options.

My family¬†made it through the rainy weekend, but only through inertia. You know it’s bad when the parents are begging the child to watch¬†Frozen¬†II just one more time and the child’s not having it.

We broke the not-then-official quarantine both days. In fact, I’ve left the house for something or other pretty much every day. Usually it’s just a visit to a store or to get some take-out, and it’s substantially less than it would’ve been on normal stay-at-home days. Saturday we hit the bookstore to get the aforementioned workbooks. I also found a cool Marvel Comics 1000 dot-to-dot book. That’s for Papa while Baby works on her minuscule¬†20 dot-to-dots. Holy crap, they take a long time! “Daddy, I’ve already done, like, five and you’re only at, what, three-fifty?”

We also went to a furniture store to finally buy a desk we’ve been eyeing for a while. The vulturous salespeople there are annoying on a regular visit, hovering behind a nearby pillar at all times, ready to pounce with a “Can I help you with anything? Would you like to borrow my tape-measure? Here’s my card. You can call me even though I’ll never be more than six feet away.” They knew social distancing long before social distancing was a thing.

We knew going in that, with both the rain and the Quaran-geddon(tm) diminishing the quantity of customers, the salespeople would be even more omnipresent than usual. We braced ourselves and it still wasn’t enough. We finally glommed onto one just to ward off the other vampires. But their pheromones must not be working, because when she went to go check on something, they descended. Her tape-measure did nothing to ward the hordes off. All is fair in love, war, and commission jobs right before an economic meltdown.

Sunday we went to Michael’s to get more things to occupy Daughter and Best Buy to look at laptops for me. I thought about buying a Nintendo Switch, but they were sold out. I almost bought a PlayStation 4, but I’ve held out this long and the 5 is on the horizon. Fortunately I held firm, although I’m still wavering because “MLB: The Show 20” might be the only sport action I’ll be seeing for a while.

As an aside, I’m worried that MLB is one of the arbiters of when we get to go back to normal. The last time we shut down sports was for 9/11. The NFL canceled its games the following Sunday, and baseball dithered about when it should start up. One week later? Ten days? Then the NFL said they’d return the following Sunday and MLB followed suit the next day. Unfortunately, there is no NFL to act as the leader this time. Maybe the NHL will start up for the playoffs. But if not, it’s all on the MLB, and they aren’t known for being proactive. Last I heard they’re looking at June. That’s totally going to fuck up Mike Trout’s chance to win the all-time WAR title by the end of his career. I know: priorities!

Why isn’t MLB playing? It’s the only sport where players don’t regularly come in contact with each other. Social distancing? Take a look at the real estate between the average right fielder and center fielder. The only time they’re close to each other is when they’re in the dugout, but if there are no fans in attendance, they can just spread out in the first three or four rows of the stands. And they could play all day games because it’s not like any of us are at work. They’d make a killing on TV ratings.

Back to the present, I just had an argument with my daughter about an orange crayon. Because the first orange crayon I gave her to circle all the fucking words that start with an s wasn’t orange enough. It was too yellow. Looked orange enough to me, but that’s coming from a high school history teacher, not a kindergarten teacher. When did World War II start? Kinda sorta 1939, if you’re counting the main European conflict, but it wasn’t until 1941 that all of the major actors came in, with Operation Barbarossa in the summer and Pearl Harbor in December. Of course, the Pacific Theater could have been going on as early as 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.

So don’t ask a fucking history teacher what “orange” is.

This has been my life this week. We’re using one of those charts that have been circulating online. One hour of “academic time” followed by one hour of “creative time.” There’s some outside time sprinkled in throughout the day, plus breaks for lunch and chores and quiet or reading time. I usually try to engage in whatever she’s doing, both for solidarity’s sake and to help stick to a routine myself. Of course, I don’t know if what I do counts as academic or creative. Most days, it’s probably neither. But the online time charts don’t put time aside for masturbatory self-flagellation.

It’s not like I can lesson plan during academic time. Well, I could, but by the time the hour was up, it would already be obsolete. The governor says schools are closed for the year and, I shit you not, I received an e-mail from my district the following morning saying, “That’s certainly his opinion.” And now it looks like the AP Test that my students have rightfully been freaking out about is going to change as well. Two separate test dates and they won’t cover anything from the twentieth century. So all of that nineteenth century remote learning I was working on can be stretched out. Plus the AP test will be online now, which means the motivated kids will spend the next six weeks trying to devise ways to cheat instead of studying for the exam. So there goes my pass rate.

I also liked how quickly the e-mails changed over the course of last weekend. Up until Saturday, it seemed like every company wanted to tell me how clean they were. They’ve been scrubbing every surface inside every business. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer might be things of the past, but there’s enough Lemon Pledge for every company, and then some. And when I say “every company,” holy crap! I didn’t even know I had done business with half these guys. How do they have my e-mail address? Has the government just provided every company with everybody’s e-mail address? It’s not like there are civil liberties or privacy anymore, so who cares what the government with our personal information?

Then on Sunday morning, all of the e-mails quickly switched from “look how clean we are” to “hey, we’ll deliver!” My favorite 180 came from Twin Peaks. If you aren’t aware of it, it’s one of those “breastaurants” whose main reason for existence is to see scantily-clad women. Oh, and maybe get some food. Think of Hooters and then take away 60% of each server’s clothing. Although to be fair to Twin Peaks, their food is substantially better than Hooters.

On Friday, Twin Peaks wanted me to know that all of their bikini-wearing servers will be on their hands and knees, polishing knobs during each shift. Wait, that might have come out wrong. They were cleaning everything, is what I meant to say. The message didn’t make me feel much better. In a standard restaurant, I only have to worry about the servers’ hands being clean. At Twin Peaks, ninety percent of their skin is touching everything. Fortunately, they did the economy-wide switch on Sunday. Turns out they deliver. But again, the food’s not their selling point. Customers aren’t missing the french fries, but rather the French maid outfits. And if the Doordash dude shows up wearing bikini bottoms, those fries aren’t going taste very good.

My county wasn’t on stay at home orders until yesterday morning. Then last night, the governor, who thinks he’s the most wonderful specimen of humanity and way smarter than everybody else, put the entire state on lockdown. A dictatorship is okay, after all, if the dictator is dashingly handsome and, let’s face it, better than you. Silly me, thinking we had freedom of assembly.

There seems to be some sort of distinction between “Stay at Home” and “Shelter in Place.” I’m not sure which is which, but the cities and counties have tended to start with one and then go to the other. Maybe one of them is a suggestion and the other is a mandate? I also have no idea which one the state of California is doing. We can still go to get food or medicine. And the good news is that beer is considered food.

I’ve actually taken my growler to my favorite local brewery to be refilled once, and I’m planning to go back. We’re also eating takeout for lunch more often than we need to. Because I’m on salary and I want these places to still be in business if we ever come out the other end of this. What’s the point of the checks that the federal government’s going to send out if there’s noplace left to spend it? Maybe that $1,000 will go to purchasing one roll of toilet paper on eBay.

Can’t wait to see the effect these lockdowns have on things like probable cause. Can a cop pull me over because I’m driving on the freeway? Do I have to make up some “essential” business I’m on my way to? I can’t give him the real answer, which is that that I’ve been stuck teaching academic time to a five-year old and wanted to listen to a grown-up podcast, which I’m way behind on because I don’t have a commute anymore.

We’re also allowed to go out to walk the dog or get exercise. If I don’t have a dog, can the cop arrest me if I don’t seem to be getting my heart into the cardio zone? “Come on, pansy, you call that exercise?”

Scratch that. The cops don’t need to catch you. Sacramento County just came out with an edict to call 311 if we see other people breaking their stay at home orders. Neighbors ratting out their neighbors. Getting more and more Stalin-y by the day.

I’ve got other things to say, but I think I need to flesh out a few thoughts. Better to post it here.

At least the rain isn’t coming back till Monday.