family vacation

Splash Mountain, Post-COVID but Pre-Remodel

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

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

Calibrate your watches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disneyland 2021: The non-COVID Stuff

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

New Lands and Rides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Rides, New Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do the ghosts scare you?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

The App

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booze

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, booze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-COVID Disney Trip: The Changes

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

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

Openings and Closings and Maskings, oh my!

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

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.

Disneyland, Part II

Thanks for coming back. Earlier this week, I wrote about my child’s first trip to Disneyland, which, oddly enough, coincides with my first Disneyland trip as a parent. Not sure if there’s any correlation between those two facts. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

Anyway, last time I hit on some of the big ticket items. It was a great polemic about Mountains of the Space and Thunder and Splash varieties, complete with heroic and doleful tales of Fastpasses and the various sizes of worlds and whether or not any of those worlds contain mermaids.

Seriously, it was a great little blog post. You should read it. And those of you who did read it, shhh, don’t tell the others that I’m full of shit when I said it was a great post. We’ll just keep that between us.

Part Two will be a little bit more disheveled. More random occurrences than deep dives. Some lingering questions. And more of a focus on the two coffee shops in Downtown Disney.

Turnstiles¬†They still use turnstiles in their ride lines. I don’t know why I find that so odd, but I do.

The turnstiles are used to determine the popularity of rides. It counts each person that goes through. You used to be able to see the counters on most of them. On a few you still can, but most only keep it internally. Or probably digitally.

And really, I think that’s why I find their continued presence surprising. How have they not come up with a more convenient, more efficient way of counting how popular a particular ride is? They always seem to know how long it will take me to get to the front of the line. I never knew precisely how they did that, but on this particular trip, I ended up being the test run three or four times. Some employee hands you a random placard when you enter the line and then you’re supposed to hand it to the people that put you on the ride. It’s a standard “drug mule in the airport” operation. I could’ve been delivering nuclear spongecake or whatever the hell that word is that I’m not supposed to Google unless I want the TSA to delve extra deep on their next body cavity search. But I’ll just assume there was nothing nefarious in this particular handoff.

As for the turnstiles, you pretty much have to have the app downloaded on your phone to navigate the park these days. It knows where you are at any given moment. Mine kept telling me when food was nearby and asking if I wanted to mobile order. So one would think that, at any moment, they could see how many people are in line for any given ride. And sure, some rando grandma who doesn’t have the app on her phone might skew the numbers, but we could still assume that the same number of grandmas are in the line for each ride. Okay, maybe assume there are a few more grandmas in the Alice in Wonderland ride than the Matterhorn, but still. Statisticians can figure it out.¬†That’s how they do political polling, right?

Or, I don’t know, you know that every inch of that park under video surveillance from multiple angles, right? Make a computer that can count the number of people in a screenshot at any given time.¬† Or just use that wait time as the primary barometer. It’s updated on my app, so I know it’s codified and digitized somewhere. If your statisticians aren’t holding on to the data and analyzing it for relative ride popularity, that’s on you, Disney, not me. Don’t make me continually run my junk into metal bars just because you’re lazy.

And while we’re talking about relative ride popularity, can we please get a fucking Fastpass on Alice in Wonderland? What is it with that ride that makes it the longest wait time, all day, every day? We showed up right when the park opened and it was already a 45-minute wait. Speaking of which…

Magic Hour. One of the two parks is open an hour early each day for people who are staying at the hotels or have paid for some extra perks. Basically, give Disney a shit-ton more money than the shit-ton you’re already giving them, and you can go in an hour early. We were staying at a Disney property, so we were capable of getting in early. We were never able to make it. What with a four year-old who’s staying up past her bedtime each night. Or parents who are staying up past their bedtimes. Or the security line that might be more popular than Alice in Wonderland. Or the seventy-mile trek through Downtown Disney, complete with not one, but TWO, Starbucks to distract you en route. I think we made it into California Adventure a whopping seven minutes before we might have otherwise. With Disneyland, we boarded the Monorail at five till.

But we did learn a vital lesson about Magic Hour. And that is, if you are going to the park right when it opens, don’t go to the one with the Magic Hour. We pretty much got to the park at the same time each day. On Sunday, we hit Disneyland right when the park opened and we could walk right onto rides for the better part of an hour. I think we had ridden Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder and Casey Junior and Peter Pan and Small World within the first hour. By contrast, when we got there at the same time on Tuesday, the day of a Magic Hour, Alice in Wonderland had a 45-minute wait, Big Thunder a half-hour, Haunted Mansion 15 minutes, and so on, because people had already been in the park for an hour. Had we instead gone to California Adventure that day, we probably could’ve ridden Radiator Springs and Soaring and the Toy Story ride in the same time it would’ve taken us to ride Alice in Wonderland.

Again, what the fuck is with the demand for Alice in Wonderland?

Toon Town.¬†Speaking of things that need to be updated. The last time I went into Toon Town, the only time I’ve ever been in Toon Town, was when it first opened way back in, I’m going to guess, 1990 or so? I was already in high school by then. So I think we checked it out once for shits and giggles, but knew we were way too old for it. Now that I have a four year-old, it’s prime Toon Town Time. Or so I thought. But really, since Toon Town hasn’t been updated since it started, it isn’t really aligned with current cartoons. Roger Rabbit? Really? What child from this century has ever even heard of Roger Rabbit, much less seen the totally inappropriate-as-fuck-for-children movie?

But that’s not the only Straight Outta 1989 reference in Toon Town. When you visit the houses of both Minnie and Mickey Mouse, their television sets look archaic. The refrigerator doesn’t even have an ice/water dispenser in the door. Ditto with their washing machine and their dishwasher and their answering machine. Answering machine? Yes, answering machine! The answering machine is a focal point of each of their houses. You can push play on the fake audio cassette tapes and hear their outgoing message as well as messages that have been left by their friends. Needless to say, my daughter had no clue of what they were going for.

Oh, and while you’re in Toon Town, after going through their houses, you can see and get your picture taken with Mickey and Minnie. The line to see Minnie was about twenty minutes long. The line to see Mickey? I don’t know. We gave up once we made it around a corner and saw all the switchbacks in the next room. I’m guessing it would’ve ended up being around an hour. And while I was then about to go off on a rant about misogyny as present in the wait times to see mouses of different genders, we then hoofed it over to Donald Duck’s boathouse. There were, like, three people ahead of us to see Donald. And there was no official Disney photographer there. Take your own photos. Poor, poor Donald…

Food. For lunch, we went to the Golden Shower. No, I’m sorry, it’s called the Golden Horseshoe. But it’s easy to get the two confused. They both shove things into your mouth and then entertain and appall you with a show as debauched as it is offensive. The main difference is that a Golden Shower is less expensive. And at the Golden Horseshoe, they don’t secretly videotape you and hold that evidence in order to manipulate you into doing their bidding once you become President of the United States.

I enjoyed the fact that you can purchase beer inside California Adventure. And you know what? It’s not that badly priced. Sure, $9.50 for a 12-ounce pour is extreme, but they’re microbrews. It would probably cost $6 or $7 at a restaurant. At the minor league ballpark in Sacramento, a microbrew will set you back $11. So if Disneyland’s only going to charge $9.50, that’s a bargain. It’s pretty much the same price for a churro, and from an economic opportunity-cost perspective, I will get much more enjoyment out of the beer. At one point, I was happy to find myself at the Karl Strauss stand. I really wanted a Red Trolley. It’s one of my favorite beers. But I thought that would be way too pedestrian. Why should I pay $9.50 for something I could buy a six-pack of back home for cheaper? Especially when this cart has four or five other flavors of Karl Strauss, and if they make such a good red, maybe I should try one of their other varietals. I got the pale ale. I shoulda had a Red Trolley.

Other food adventures: Jack Jack’s Nom Noms makes wonderful cookies. You get them straight out of the oven.

Downtown Disney has not one, but two Starbucks. Starbuckses? Starbi? They are super fast and if you mobile order while you’re in line at security, your order will be ready by the time you’re passing by. But even better than the instant gratification, I got to tick something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on it. On the first morning, Wife mobile ordered at what turned out to be the far Starbucks. When I went into the first Starbucks we came to, the order wasn’t there. I thought maybe it wasn’t ready yet, but Wife’s app said otherwise. See what you can use an app for, Disney? So we had to go to the next Starbucks, but we weren’t exactly sure where it was. So what did I do? I walked back into Starbucks Number One and asked them where the nearest Starbucks is. The barista didn’t even bat an eye. “About a quarter-mile up ahead on your right.”

We ended up eating twice at the Red Rose Tavern twice, not because we had heard anything about it nor that it was particularly good the first time. But without being able to go through the castle, you have to circle around Disneyland, so we usually found ourselves around Fantasyland when we were hungry. Plus they have mobile ordering. The main reason I reference the Tavern, however, is because of this sign:

IMG_20190310_095721_539

I can only presume that this means that, after 11:00 am, they continue to serve breakfast, but it’s rather ashamedly.

Quick Hits. At one point, the Monorail honked. What the hell was it honking at? Was there another monorail on the track? Did the driver see some cute mouseketeer and was trying to get her digits? There shouldn’t be any reason that the only vehicle on a track that is suspended thirty feet in the air should ever need to honk.

When we were driving on Autopia, a duck crossed the road. We all had to come to a stop. Boy, back when I was a kid, everybody would’ve been slamming into the stopped car in front of them. But nope. Here everyone just voluntarily slowed down to match the car’s speed in front of them. I’d say this is representative of my aging and maturing, but there were kids behind me who also stopped. Maybe it’s just that the ride is so boring compared to the rest of the park now, that the only kids who ride it want to treat it like a true experience instead of a thrill. Or maybe this is just the result of the suspicious disappearance of bumper cars from American society.

Speaking of the old rides, remember when the submarine ride was the most boring ride in the park? Then they added some Disney characters and now it’s an hour-long line. Because before it was about science and now it’s about Disney characters. Just like Small World. But you know what? I didn’t like it before and I still don’t like it. I’m not normally prone to claustrophobia, but man, you get me on that ride and I become imminently aware that I’m under water. I caught myself holding my breath for long periods of time, subconsciously thinking I needed to preserve my scant remaining oxygen. Give me a ride where you plummet from deathly heights any day. But there is nothing appealing or enjoyable about being under water.

A word of advice:¬†If you decide to go to Disneyland by yourself and you’re looking to take advantage of their “single rider” program, go for it. It’s super convenient. It cuts the wait time substantially for a number of rides. I’ve known groups who all go in as single riders to get through the lines quicker. But if you are going the single-rider rout, a family of three like mine is your bread and butter. So do me a favor. Even if it’s a little bit overcast, which I know is a daunting, precarious situation for you SoCal’ers who make up the majority of single riders, what with your access to affordable season passes and whatnot. But please, Single Riders, please don’t wear an ankle- length tab trenchcoat for your wondrous daytrip to Disneyland. It makes us family of three people a little bit nervous when you’re put in the compartment with us.

I saw quite a few t- shirts that said “most expensive.” A play on the old “best <birthday/vacation/anniversary> ever” shirts, only now they admit the reality that their cost is way more remarkable than any fleeting joy. And these shirts appeared to be officially-licensed Disney apparel. I don’t know whether I should be appreciative of Disney getting in on the joke or aghast at the utter don’t-give-a-shittiness of it.¬† I mean, they’re actually charging people to wear something that acknowledges how they’ll grab every last penny out of your still-bearing heart. But the best pairing of this particular trope was a couple I saw walking side by side. Her shirt said “best anniversary ever. ” Wanna guess what his said?

There was a yacht rock cover band playing in front of Pixar Pier at California Adventure. We didn’t stay to listen to them for long. In fact, we were really just buying a soda or a churro or some similar product within earshot. They finished up one song and started another. It was “Africa,” by Toto.¬† Of course it was. My daughter’s response? “Hey, Alexa plays this song at home. ” One of the sides of this parent-child dynamic is in for a ride awakening when she goes to kindergarten and all of her friends were raised on Justin Bieber and Katy Perry.

Finally, the app needs to show bathroom wait times, too. Just saying. It usually rivals that odd the most popular rides and unlike the Matterhorn,  the consequences of a mistiming goes fast beyond a drained telephone battery.

Disneyland, Part I

About a month ago, I took my first trip to Disneyland as a parent. And needless to say, I’ve got some stuff. I’ll hit some of the big ticket items today, and return with some quick hits later this week.

Obviously, I’ve been to Disneyland plenty of times before. I grew up in Orange County, so Disneyland was more or less a babysitter for some substantial latchkey portions of my youth. And I’m an Angels fan, so I probably am not quite as filled with wonder for The Mouse Corp as those who only encounter it via their movies and a bi-annual trip to Anaheim.

That being said, it’s been a few years. And of course, the last time I went there with a four year-old, I was incapable of writing a blog. Or writing at all. Or changing my own poopy diaper.

So if you’re looking for the best spot to view a certain parade or ice cream cart with the shortest line or the brightness in my daughter’s eyes the first time she saw the line for Alice in Wonderland, you might want to look elsewhere. If you want a crotchety old man whining about the good old days of Disneyland, you might get a little of that. But it’s really just a snapshot of what’s changed, what remains the same, and how the hell we’re supposed to maintain our phone battery for 16 hours if we have to bust out the Disneyland app every five minutes.

Bibbity Bobbity Boutique I had one role,¬† and one rule,¬† when I became a father of a daughter. I know Chris Rock says all I have to do is keep her off the pole. But that’s still a few years away. In the meantime,¬† when she was born,¬† I said “no princesses.” I have a friend who went full princess with his daughter. She had every single Disney doll in her room, and every night,¬† she picked out the proper pajamas to go with the proper doll which might also go with the proper sheets and the soundtrack that accompanied her to never-never land. (Although I’m not sure if she ever dressed up as Peter Pan to head to neverland.) Princess,¬† princess,¬† princess, and as a result, that girl is a motherfucking¬† PRINCESS. And, in line with Chris Rock,¬† we can all agree that princess is the first step to stripper, right? I mean, if Ariel was willing to give up her voice to please the patriarchy, can her dignity be far behind?

And why would we want our daughter to adore to some antiquated title of nobility, whose greatest life accomplishment is being born to the right parents, when there are so many other options of strong women for her to emulate. Let’s tell her the story¬† of Angela Earnhardt. Or Sandra Day O’Connor. Or, if we want to stay in the fictional realm, let’s go Squirrel Girl. Anything’s bet than Stockholm Syndrome and the Beast. even if it’s the Hermione version.¬† Hey, how about Hermione as a goal?

So, now that my daughter’s approaching get fifth birthday, that means she’s about a quarter of the way to adulthood. The quarter mark is a good spot to send a progress reports. So lets see how I’m how I’m doing.

Bang up job,  Wombat!

Of course,¬† this photo is brought to you by the princess makeovers available at Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, hidden in the far, far corner of Fantasyland. And, in case you were wondering, it is NOT included with the price of admission. I don’t know precisely how much it costs. When I asked my wife, “Do I want to know how much this costs?”, her answer was,¬† “No.” Good enough for me.

I do know that we didn’t pay for the whole shebang. She didn’t get to meet any of the princesses or take a picture in the pumpkin carriage.¬† That’s the full¬† package,¬† not the low-end crackwhore package our poor daughter was subjected to by her evil, natural-born step-parents.

While I was in the Boppity Boppity Buttfuck,¬† I heard a daughter ask her dad how much the makeover would cost. She wasn’t there for a makeover. Evidently, it also serves as a giftshop. I totally didn’t even know it existed, though I’ve been going through this nook and cranny for forty years. Probably just something my teenage/bachelor/non-parent male had blinders to.

By the way, the castle in the middle of Disneyland was closed when we were there. How the hell do you close something that effectively serves as a thoroughfare? It made it a pain in the ass to get to certain parts of the park. Damn you, Disneyland for making me walk!

Anyway, when the non-makeover daughter asked her father how much a makeover would cost, he said,¬† “I don’t know. Probably fifty bucks or something.” I almost fell over in amusement, but I don’t think I’d be able to afford the copay if I fainted. Or the giftstore crap I’d probably break on the way down.

The Consumerism is Strong.¬†On Day One, we went back to the hotel for a nap and the only way to get my kid back to the park was to entice her with a stop at the Disney Store. Let me repeat, she didn’t want to go back to Disneyland. She only wanted to go to the Disney Store. And every time we got off a ride, she wanted to shop in the gift shop that each ride conveniently dumps you out into. And really, what’s it going to hurt? All she wants is these stupid little pins. I doubt they cost much more than… Holy crap! Are those pins made out of Golden Showers?

On the first night, during that compensatory store visit, she bought a Baby Sven doll. At least they called it a Baby Sven, but it looked more like the leftover Eeyore dolls that weren’t selling. So they wrapped a cute little swaddle around it and all of a sudden the donkey becomes a baby reindeer, and a fifty year-old property is rebranded as the hottest thing in the market right now.

Daughter¬†carried Baby Sven around for the next thirty-six hours. It had a fun little handle so she could swing it around, often tossing either Sven or the swaddle into whatever stagnant water could be found. I think somebody vomited on Haunted Mansion when we were on it. I’m surprised she didn’t immediately become an artillery captain measuring the windspeed to gain the proper trajectory for ballistic arc to land in the vomit like a World War I trench.

But seriously, how do you vomit on Haunted Mansion? It’s one of the smoothest rides in any amusement park. I’d normally assume alcohol, but the closest inebriation you can get is in the other amusement park and costs $10 for a 12-ounce pour of 6% alcohol. So I’m at a loss. Maybe Dude should have gone next door to the Winnie the Pooh ride.

Oh hey, did you know they have a “Pooh Corner” in Disneyland? Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near any restrooms. They really needs to find someone with a sense of humor to design their park.

Sorry, where was I? Oh right, Baby Sven. By Day Three, that swaddle was the most sodden, disgusting piece of cloth in America. But it didn’t last much longer, because¬†when we took the Monorail into the park, somebody commented on her doll. So Daughter took off the swaddle to show it off. I don’t know precisely what happened next, but when we exited the monorail, Sven was swaddleless. A woman ran after us, asking if we dropped a blanket. We said yes. She said she put it “on the platform,” so Mama trudged back up the exit stairs to look. Daughter got a look of abject horror, of existential dread, on her face, and started asking what would happen if Mama can’t find the swaddle.

So maybe it’s that she had already played through the permutations in her head. But I was impressed with her reaction when Mama came back down, empty-handed. A look of sadness, of profound loss. Her shoulders drooped, her cheeks fell, she looked down toward the ground. A single tear fell from her eye. And then she looked back up and said, “Well, it’s okay, I guess.”

And I’m thinking, “Woo Hoo! How’s that for parenting? Our four-year old has the coping mechanisms of a Tibetan monk!”

Then she says, “We can just go buy another one.”

Did I say Tibetan monk? I meant American suburbanite.

It’s a Cross Promotion After All. I’ve gotta give credit to my four-year old. She didn’t shy away from anything. The first ride she wanted to go on was Haunted Mansion, and we ended up on that bad-boy three times. We also rode Splash Mountain three times. Twice in a row at one point, because it was an overcast day so you could pretty much walk right on it. She did the Matterhorn and Big Thunder without missing a beat and she cracked up the entire time we were on Guardians of the Galaxy. Thank God she’s got my instinct for thrill rides. As opposed to some of her friends, for whom Pirates of the Caribbean was too scary.

But then there’s the OTHER ride we went on three times. Ugh. Because if a kid’s favorite things in the world are unicorns and rainbows, you know she’s going to want to hit It’s a Small World over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I’ve never been a fan. Okay, that’s probably not true. I’m sure at one point, I loved it. But once I hit the age of reason, I realized how truly horrible of an experience it is.

I used to call it “It’s a Stereotype After All.” Because nothing conveys the idea that “there’s so much that we share” than to imply that all Scots wear kilts and Indians are snake charmers. Yeah, that’s the way to foster tolerance and inclusion.

But now there’s something way worse than a little old-fashioned essentialism going on in that ride. In typical Disney fashion, they’ve eschewed ideas of love and inclusiveness for a chance to highlight more of their characters. Go fuck your world peace, we’ve got some movies to shill.

It’s obnoxious. Peter Pan is flying around the London portion of the ride. Pinocchio is in Italy. Donald and the Three Caballeros are in Mexico. Aladdin’s in the Middle East. And Lilo and Stitch are surfing in Hawaii. That’s how you know they haven’t updated the ride in a couple of decades. Otherwise they’d have Moana.

But then the promotions became even worse. Woody and Jessie from Toy Story¬†were in… well, I don’t know, the American part of the ride? I don’t explicitly remember anything dealing with the Lower 48. But now there’s a cowboy world. Because, you know, if you’re going to curtail to stereotypes, then I guess Cowboys and Indians, it is. Ignore the fact that the park is actually in a very suburban, cosmopolitan part of¬†that same country. If it’s America, then let’s put a sheriff’s badge on a cowboy. Especially if said cowboy happens to be a Disney property.

And seriously, Native Americans, how can you not get on board with the message of the song? Are you saying you didn’t get along with the cowboys? But “there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware…” that it’s going to be taken from you in exchange for smallpox-laden blankets. So that’s a win-win, right? So glad they threw Toy Story¬†characters into that portion of the ride, because who doesn’t want their genocide a little bit cuter?

But wait, there’s more! Because after “The West” and Hawaii portions, we went to a place whose inhabitants really need to hear the message – underwater! Because Ariel’s a Disney character. So they’ve turned an entire room of the ride into mermaids and groupers and racist crabs. I mean, I guess it fits with the fiction of the ride. If we’re going to say that we all have more in common than we have different, then we might as well say mermaids exist, too. One seems just about as rooted in reality as the other.

Although I do wonder what room was taken out to put Ariel in? Which nationality was relegated to a tiny corner of another country’s portion or thrown out altogether. Did the Native Americans used to have their own room, but now they have to be thrown in with Whitey? So sorry! And that apology’s coming from me, not Disney. Disney is just saying “Fuck you, you’re not as important as that extra sale of a thirty year-old DVD.”

Maybe, since the ride was last redesigned before Moana, they had shrunk down the Scandanavian portion.¬†But that won’t last for long. You know that, when they do their next maintenance, all the blond-hair, blue-eyed Abba-clones will be replaced by Anna and Ilsa and Sven and Olaf. Unless, of course, the anti-semitic Walt Disney wrote in his last will and testament that the park must always show proper deference to Aryans.

Space Mountain. Space Mountain was closed when we went, so my daughter will have to wait another five years or so to ride that one, since I think Disneyland is sold out for the next decade once Star Wars land opens. I know that they routinely shut down rides for updates and maintenance, and our bad for going in the slow part of the calendar. Heaven forbid we actually want to get on rides. But this particular year seems a really odd year to close down this specific ride. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s, like, some new land opening in Disneyland at the end of May. If you weren’t aware, then you probably weren’t on our Big Thunder train. Because the thing damn near tipped over at the top of the first hill when we all simultaneously leaned to the left to get a better view of the Millenium Falcon poking its nose out of an impound lot in Mos Eisley.

The new land has to do with, like, some Stars and maybe some Wars. Hopefully that doesn’t pique your interest, because every hotel in the area is booked the entire week that its open. In fact, the impending opening of Galaxy’s Edge was the main reason we were going to Disneyland at all. I initially said no until my daughter could go on all the rides, because the worst day of my life was when I went to Six Flags Magic Mountain at a height of 46 inches. And this was in the days before kids lands and variable height requirements per ride. So I spent the whole day sitting on benches with my aunt while my sister and mom went on all the rides. I wasn’t going to subject my daughter to the same life-defining torture.¬†Almost made it. She was tall enough to ride everything except the Indiana Jones ride (who woulda guessed that ride would be more restrictive than Matterhorn?) and the Incredicoaster. I got to do the latter. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s hilarious.

But we had to take her now, because I have a bad feeling it’s going to be even more crowded than usual for the next year. Or two. Or fifty. At least by the time my daughter is fifty-five, she can go on all the rides.

But seriously, if Star Wars land is opening in a month, why would you close Space Mountain now? I’m thinking nobody’s going to give a crap about that ride for the first year or two that Galaxy’s Edge is open. Not only will its theme seem even more dated than usual, but it’s on opposite sides of the park. Maybe they’re trying to have it updated in time to coincide with the Star Wars theme, but Space Mountain seems to coincide more with the other cheesy 1970s sci-fi, not the fantasy-inspired Star Wars.

But whatever. Maybe they’ll use the time after Star Wars Land opens to finally put Arendale in Small World.

The Case of the Missing Fastpass. Okay, so a weird thing happened with my Fastpass when I was in California Adventure. And it happened twice, which makes me think it’s more feature than a glitch.

We had a Fastpass set up for Soaring. We had already been on it once. It was the first ride we went on, and my kid loved it. Have I mentioned that she’s a ride fiend? I mean, it’s not like Soaring is super fast or shaky or whatever. But it does kinda feel like you’re hovering in midair with the ground hundreds of feet below. I’m fine with any ride, but even I get a little lurching feeling in the pit of my stomach on that ride. There’s a certain helplessness to it. It really feels like they should rename the ride “Falling” instead of “Soaring,” because that’s the sensation that I get.

Regardless, the kid loved it, so we re-upped on Soaring for later in the day. We had a 2:00 PM Fastpass, and we were planning to use that as a chance to get back near the entrance and maybe go rest in the hotel room for a bit. But the, at about 1:55 PM, I got a notice on my phone that the Fastpass for Soaring was canceled. It was replaced with a “Wild Card” Fastpass, which I could use on any Fastpass ride.

Odd, I figured, but maybe Soaring had shut down. The wait time for Soaring dropped from about two hours to about thirty minutes within a five minute span of my Fastpass being canceled. But the wait time never actually bottomed out at zero, nor was it ever listed as “temporarily closed.” Maybe the drop in wait time was only based on them canceling everybody with a Fastpass. Fuck all those people who had foresight, let’s get you people in line on the ride.

I wasn’t sure if the “can use it on any Fastpass ride” meant any ride OTHER THAN Soaring or not, nor could I figure out if Soaring was currently running or if all of those people were waiting in line for thirty minutes in the hopes that the ride might come back online. And I didn’t really feel like hoofing it over to Soaring to find out, so meh, kid just enjoyed Goofy’s Sky School, so let’s go once more without the wait this time.

But then it happened again. We had timed two Fastpasses back to back to end our day. Radiator Springs and then Guardians of the Galaxy. Like I said, my kid’s not messing around. But right as we were about to get on Radiator Springs (Even with the Fastpass, you have to wait for twenty minutes on that ride. Without a Fastpass, it takes two hours.), I get a notice that my Guardians of the Galaxy Fastpass has now become a wild card.

But this time, I’m ready. And more importantly, this time it’s a ride I haven’t already gone on so I’m much more reticent to just go on Goofy again. So I watched the wait time like a hawk. It dropped a bit, but was still showing 45 minutes. And again, this time I’m curious if the drop was from all the canceled Fastpasses.

Only one way to find out. We walked over to Guardians of the Galaxy. Turns out it’s running perfectly fine and our wild card Fastpass works perfectly fine for it.

So while I joked about it the first time, I’m now wondering if this is a thing. It never happened the two days we were in Disneyland, but happened twice on our one day in California Adventure. But California Adventure has fewer rides and closes earlier. Whereas you can still get a Fastpass for most Disneyland rides well into the evening, you have to book the California Adventure ones long in advance. So maybe they overbook some. Maybe when that wait time creeps up toward two hours, they “release” a bunch of the Fastpasses into the wild to alleviate the wait time. After all, one time it worked on us and we went on a different ride. And really, if my daughter didn’t have her heart set on Rocket Raccoon and Groot, maybe we would’ve just gotten right back on Radiator Springs.

But at the same time, that’s kinda chintzy. Look, if you want to give me the option to swap my Fastpass out for something I’m currently closer to, that’s fine. But the first time it happened, I was under the impression that I could not go to the ride I had booked earlier. Again, Disneyland, we have the app, you have the turnstiles, you know how many Fastpasses you’ve given out at any given time. This shouldn’t be a problem. And this definitely shouldn’t be, as it appeared to be, a standard operating procedure.

You can read Part II here.

An Anniversary… of DOOM!

Anniversaries suck.

I mean, not anniversaries in general. What’s not to love about celebrating the fact that a certain event happened on this specific date in a different year?

No, I mean specifically my own wedding anniversary.

Again, this is not a judgement on my marriage. I love my wife. We have a wonderful marriage the other 364 days of the year.

And it’s not like our anniversary reminds me of some horrible occurrence on our wedding day, wherein Elton John lept upon the alter screaming “I Wanna Kiss the Bride.”

(How’s that for a 1980s deep cut?)

Quite the contrary. Our wedding was one of the most well-regarded shindigs of 2011 and beyond. We picked a great spot and kept the people entertained. Heck, we even had the guests were trading baseball cards with people they had never even met during that awkward post-ceremony/pre-reception time while we were taking pictures and signing the license. Because when you get married in your late-thirties, you’ve been to plenty of those weddings that leave the guests in a time-bending lurch at that time.

Oh, and did I mention the groomsmen got to play “Rock Band 3” in the wedding venue’s “Man Cave” the whole weekend? Fucking awesome! Way better than the time I was a groomsman and we were all holed up in the golf-course bathroom for three hours while the bridal party took their pictures.

So the wedding was great. The marriage is great. The anniversaries… man, Wife and I suck at those.

It’s not usually our fault. Honestly! It’s just that fate has conspired against us to ruin not one, not two, but THREE of our wedding anniversaries. It’s always something different. Sometimes it’s medical science, sometimes it’s the fury of nature, sometimes it’s‚Ķ whatever the hell just happened last month.

Our first two anniversaries went off without a hitch. A couple of lovely bed-and-breakfasts in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Similar locale to where we got married and, as a bonus, wineries! On our first trip, we went north toward Sierraville and the Lakes Basin. We picnicked by a lake and opened a bottle of wine that had been given to us as a wedding present. Thus started a tradition where we would purchase a bottle of wine to be consumed on our next anniversary trip.

This vaunted tradition lasted precisely one year. Two if you count the bottle we got at the wedding.

The following year, we traveled up to Jamestown off of Highway 108. They have a railroad museum up there. We got to see the train car that they filmed “Back to the Future 3” on! It was specially-made for Michael J. Fox to hide how short he is. We drank Year One’s wine and bought another bottle for Year Three.

That bottle might still be in our wine rack. Because our third anniversary was the first one that went sideways.

Our daughter was born three months prior to our third anniversary. I wish I could go all high-and-mighty, new-parenty and say we couldn’t POSSIBLY think of leaving behind our newborn treasure. But truthfully, we had grandma lined up for months. Baby was perfectly fine that weekend. Momma, on the other hand, was not.

I wrote a while ago about some of the complications my wife had after the delivery of our daughter. In a nutshell, the pregnancy and the delivery went fine, then my wife spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. So even if she hadn’t needed to be in the hospital that specific weekend, it was going to be a low-key anniversary. We booked a B&B about twenty miles from our house and figured we’d only be gone 36 hours or so, at which point we could get back to our baby and deal with whatever medical issue she might be having at that time. You know it’s a fun year when you can bank on medical drama weeks in advance.

Unfortunately, there was no way we could’ve banked on this particular drama. September of that year brought an inflammation, and the subsequent necessary removal of, her gall bladder. The good news was that this was probably one of the mildest/run-of-the-mill medical issues she had that year. Evidently many pregnant or postpartum women have gall bladder problems. It’s one of those stupid organs we don’t need anymore and it tends to get all riled up when you have the audacity to put a fetus up in its territory.

The bad news was that, when Wife went in to the doctor on the Thursday before our trip, they said she should go to surgery immediately. She told them to, very politely, go fuck themselves because if they aren’t going to cover pre-existing conditions then we ain’t gonna cancel our pre-existing B & B reservation. They looked at her with a very serious furrow of the brow.

Actually, Wife was way more polite than that. And way more polite than I would have been at the midway point of six months of medical incompetence. But she had become a pro at the whole thing by then, and she knew they wouldn’t give her the surgery immediately anyway. Sure enough, we finally admitted her on Saturday, and they didn’t remove her gall bladder until Tuesday. Her blood pressure was too high. So maybe they should’ve just shut the fuck up on the whole “cancel your anniversary” shit.

But we did at least cut our sojourn short. It was originally planned to be a two-night stay, but we cut it to one. It turns out that the two other reservations at the B&B for that night also cancelled. Since we were pretty damned local, the innkeeper asked if we minded if he took his teenager out to see a movie that night. After all, it’s not often they have a Friday night with a shit-ton of guests. We said sure. We went out to dinner and came back to a completely empty house. Kind of weird. I wanted to go kick back in their game room and crack open a beer. But that would be kind of mean with Wife unable to imbibe.

So instead we sat around an empty house that was not our own in a somber mood. We knew we were going to be leaving first thing in the morning to drive her to the hospital, where they would be removing a key portion of her body. Add to that the fact that she had already spent weeks upon weeks at the hospital that summer, and the empty B & B just made it seem a tad too real, a tad too final.

But, damn, the breakfast the next morning was pretty fucking good.

And we were so happy, when Year Four came around, that Wife hadn’t had any parts of her body inflamed or removed for over six months!

But I guess health isn’t the only reason to cancel a weekend away. Year Four just came at an all-around bad time. Child was a little past one-year old. Wife and I were still trying to figure the whole work-and-parent balance. I mean, I guess we still are, and will be for another, oh I don’t know, twenty years? But a one-year old requires different attentiveness, like changing diapers and mashing up food. Whereas a four-year old only has pre-school friend drama. Wait a second. Is there any way I can go back to cleaning up soiled drawers?

One additional wrinkle we had in Year Four was that we had just bought a new house. We signed the paperwork and got the keys the two weeks before our anniversary, so we were still pretty much living amongst, and out of, fifteen hundred square feet of boxes.

It’s been three years since we moved in now and we’re still not entirely out of the boxes. Like I said, we’re still figuring out that whole “working parent” thing. And we’ll ignore the fact that, even before we were parents, we never finished unpacking my crap from when I moved in with her. So maybe we’re still figuring out the whole “Working Adult” thing. But man, when I retire in twenty years, the house is gonna be SWEET! Too bad my aching legs won’t be able to get up the stairs by then.

But after losing the previous anniversary to medical drama, there was no way we were going to let this one fall by the wayside. Who cares if we can’t find our suitcases or that wine bottle from two years ago that we couldn’t drink last year? We booked a B&B near Murphys, California, which is another cute foothills winery town, albeit further south than usual. It wasn’t far from Jamestown, where we spent Year Two, when we had encountered some of the wineries near Murphys and decided we wanted to double back.

As the anniversary approached, we both broached the subject of cancelling. Had Year Three been spent out of the hospital, we probably would’ve canceled earlier than we did. But cancelling two anniversaries in a row kinda feels like a bad thing.

You know what else is kinda a bad thing? When the entire foothill region catches fire! Maybe the universe was telling us to take another year off, although that’s pretty mean of the universe to sacrifice lives and property just to send a message to a couple of numbnuts in the suburbs.

Anyway, I called the B&B to cancel our reservation.

“Oh, were you calling about the message we left you?”

“No. What message?”

“We wanted to see if you were willing to give your room to firefighters for a refund.”

“Oh, sure. We’d love to. Thanks.”

“Wait, you said you didn’t get out message? So you were going to cancel regardless?”

“Was I? No, I think that I‚Ķ”

“Too late. No refund. But the firefighters thank you for your donation.”

Okay, that might not have been the actual conversation, but it wasn’t far off. I think they refunded us one night, but not the second.

Regardless, we made it to our fourth anniversary with a whopping fifty percent completion rate. We were dead set on raising that bad-boy up to a D- grade by Year Five. One of the wineries we belong to in Amador County rents out the owner’s old house in the middle of the vineyard. Pretty sure the vineyards will be hydrated enough to withstand any wildfires. Wait, what happened in Napa last year?

Actually, we were in Napa Valley last year for Year Six. I know Napa seems to buck a certain trend. It’s not in the foothills, and if I ever get around to writing that “Wine” post, I’ll contend that it isn’t really wine country, either. But it was on Groupon late in the game, so winner, winner! Even better, we managed to be there two whole weeks before it turned into a hellacious moonscape of soot. Anniversary mojo is back, baby!

So going into this, our seventh, anniversary, we had almost forgotten all about our earlier foibles. To quote bastardize “Major League,” we had a successful anniversary in Year Six. We also had one the year before. If we could do it this year, it will be a streak. Oops. The third strike is always the hardest one in getting a turkey.

Sorry, mixed my sports metaphors there. The latter “strike” was a bowling strike, being referenced in a paragraph about a baseball movie. Bad Wombat!

This year, we decided to go back to the Amador region. This was a little bit of a late plan, but Year Six hadn’t really taken shape until a few weeks prior, so why plan ahead? Actually, seeing as how we already went to New York and Denver and San Diego in the past few months, we weren’t entirely sure we should take another weekend away. Even though it was a month earlier, we were kinda treating Denver as our anniversary weekend.

But then we realized that all of the wineries in the Amador region were doing a festival. We’ve always talked about going to one of those, and if it falls on our anniversary weekend, we can’t really NOT go, can we? Once we confirmed there were still rooms available (not an automatic in a town of less than a thousand inhabitants on a weekend that draws members from fifty different wineries), we decided to head up.

No fire this time! Yay! In fact, the weather was absolutely sublime. Partly cloudy, low eighties. STRIKE 1. I guess after getting evacuated from Camptathalon in August, nature decided to take it easy on me. And the wine festival was wonderful. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but you get a glass and you go from booth to booth getting a half-ounce of wine each time. Delightful! Why haven’t we done this before?

STRIKE 2.

The plan was to head into town to check in at our B&B and then walk to the brewery across the street.

“Oh, I don’t have your reservation.”

GUTTER BALL.

The innkeeper says this as soon as she answers the door, before we even tell her our names.

Wife starts to pull up the Travelocity reservation on her phone, which is not that easy in a town where they consider 3G to be the GOOD kinda cell service.

“Oh, well I’ve had pneumonia all week, so I moved all of my reservations to the hotel in town.”

Okay, that’s fine. We don’t mind staying there. In fact, we tried to book that first, but they were all full as of three weeks ago. If you could just point us in the right‚Ķ

“But I’m feeling better now. So you can stay here if you want.”

Um, okay. Even though you don’t have our reservation? What’s the catch?

“It’s not the room you booked. It’s this one that’s on the outside, not in the actual B&B. But hey, it’s an upgrade because it’s a king-sized bed instead of a queen-sized bed. It’s our most popular room. But the people that had booked it are now staying at the nice hotel in town. I can show it to you.”

Umm… okay?

So she escorts us around the side to the “Carousel Room.” What a day to leave the clown porn at home!

Well, okay, maybe we could make this work. I mean, the brewery’s closing hour ain’t getting any younger. Even if it is kinda weird that she “doesn’t have” our reservation and everybody else has been sent packing. No horror movies start by being the only customers in an abandoned hotel, right?

Should I be concerned that the innkeeper’s talking to the corpse of her mother?

Still, while we don’t have specific plans for the next day, we kinda wanted to hit another winery or two on the way home, maybe have lunch at the restaurant we had our first date in, and grandma’s already booked to babysit through the afternoon tomorrow. Plus, did I mention the brewery’s open until 8:00 within stumbling difference? So why the hell not? Sure. We’ll take the room.

“Oh great, I’ll run your card.”

You mean the card we used on the website to make the reservation that you never received?

“What is your name?”

Umm… Has this not come up yet?

“Oh, by the way, there’s no breakfast tomorrow. Because, you know, I once had pneumonia.”

Blink. Blink.

So Wife and I return to our car with things to discuss our plan of attack outside of Typhoid Mary’s earshot. Both of us are a little bit skeeved out. Too many oddities. We couldn’t really tell if she was trying to get rid of us or not. Or if we were going to wake up in our mortal shells the following day.

Finally, despite the call of the brewery, we decided to cut our losses and head home. We walked back up to the front door to return the key.

“Oh, do you need to get back home to your child?”

I don’t specifically recall mentioning we had a child. Maybe it’s mentioned in our missing reservation. Or else she’s already analyzed some DNA we dropped on our “tour” five minutes earlier.

“No,” we respond, “it’s just that the room we reserved is‚Ķ um, I mean the breakfast that was supposed to‚Ķ um, yeah, you know what? We want to go home and see our daughter.”

“Well, okay,” the innkeeper says. “But the website is going to charge you for the night, anyway.”

Oh, you mean the website that didn’t have our reservation? That one?

Turns out that, yep, as soon as we were back in cell range, the charge had already gone through. And get this, it was the rate for the “upgraded” carousel room. I didn’t check to see if they had added the clown porn surcharge.

So let’s see, that’s two good anniversaries, two bad ones, two good ones, then one bad.

My daughter would look at that and say, “Look, Daddy, it’s a pattern!”

And I would say, “Good, honey. And what can you predict about the next one?”

And then my daughter will be grounded until after Year Eight.

Hawaii, Part V

This should be the final installment in my Hawaiian vacation travelogue. Travel-blog-logue? Hell’s yeah. You can go back to the beginning or not. Today will be a little mish-mash of my final days on the Big Island, as well as some of the minor bits that have fallen through the cracks in the previous days.

Backyard: Okay, what the hell is this?

Hawaii Confined1

This was right next to the putt-putt golf course in our back yard. I assume it houses some underground equipment for the nearby pool or faux-river or, hell, the fitness center that has more dust than Betty Ford’s muffin. You find equipment stored underground like that all the time. But as I got closer, the wording struck me as odd.

I expected something along the lines of “Authorized Personnel Only.” Maybe even a nudge-nudge “No Admittance,” although we all know that every place admits somebody, of else there wouldn’t be a door. I would’ve even been fine with a “Danger” or a “High Voltage” warning. What I was unprepared for was this:

Hawaii Confined2

Confined Space? What the fuck does that even mean? Whatever’s underneath these doors is the same size as the cover, right? Is this like a reverse-Tardis, where it’s smaller on the inside. If that Doctor Who reference wasn’t obtuse enough, my first instinct was to write “A Pylon from Land of the Lost” – this rabbit hole can get a bit scary when I’m writing more than once per week.

What dumbass made the inside smaller than the door? Is it maybe concave? An upside-down pyramid? Ooo! Ooo! Like a Pylon!

But why does this particular warning exist at all? There was no keyhole anywhere on it, nor any conspicuous levers nearby, so¬†whoever has access to it should already know the dimensions, correct? I doubt some random guest stumbled upon a secret panel in the nearby health spa, ran over to the exact metal panel it opened, then said, “Whoa! It’s confined! Better go back to my rum punch.”

Plus, wouldn’t even this random blue-hair SEE that the space beneath the door was confined once they had magically opened the door? Making the warning, again, pointless.

Unless… Doesn’t confine also mean to trap or imprison?

Uh oh. Didn’t they film “Jurassic Park” here?

More Signs:¬†Here’s a slightly more entertaining sign:

Hawaii Dive

I know it doesn’t look like much. Just a standard “No Diving” sign next to a standard pool. A shadow-dude in a diving position with a red circle and slash.

Except for the little artistic embellishments. The accoutrements¬† that add a little sense of flair. Flair in the “Office Space” sense.

I love Dude’s head crashing into the bottom of the pool. Sure, it’s always implied that that’s why you don’t dive, but rarely is it drawn in such detail. You don’t see a picture of a syphilitic penis on a pack of penicillin, after all. But here, you see Dude clearly in a lot of pain, what with the lightning bolts at his neck and the, I don’t know, is that an explosion or a blood splotch where his head is hitting the cement?

Not to criticize a guy who’s clearly in a lot of pain, but the form on his dive was pretty weak. What the hell are your arms doing, Dude? Was that really a dive or were you trying a new, upside-down doggie paddle? Not blaming the victim here, but had you dove like a normal human being, you’d probably only be suffering from a couple of broken wrists, instead of the bad case of electricity neck and mild scalping you’ve got going on.

The other thing I liked about this graphic was that this was one of the few versions that was outside the pool. Most were inside the pool, right next to the depth marker, which seems a bit too late. A wonderful, upside-down vision of what you will look like a split second from now as you whizz past into the four-foot depths.

Coconut:¬†I’m a big coconut fan. Wife is not. She was hoping to get it out of my system while in Hawaii. She failed.

Stateside, it’s not always easy to get coconut-flavored concoctions, although it’s becoming easier, especially in Summer. But in Hawaii, it is everywhere and in everything.

Grocery store, first day, wife says” “Look, honey, coconut cookies.” Got ’em. And are those coconut chips? Okay, if I must.

Second day, Costco. Coconut Clusters. Mother-in-law says she usually goes through a bag of those by herself if she’s in Hawaii for a week. Well then, I guess it’s two bags this week. (Editor’s note: We only made it through one bag, which means the other one’s going home with Daddy!)

Day Three Breakfast: Pancakes with coconut syrup. And to think I was about to go for the kalua poak benedict. Good thing wife pointed me in the other direction, because that coconut syrup was divine. When I wake up in a cold sweat two weeks from now, trying desperately to hang on to memories of once not being stuck in a classroom with hormonal teenagers every day, that syrup will be what is coming out of my pores.

Day Four. Coconut brittle with macadamia nuts.

Final Day: Coconut Mai Tai.

And have you heard of this libation called a pina colada? If only they had coconut-covered macadamia nuts, I’d be in- whoa-hoa, what’s that I see at the airport?

The only coconut-flavored product I didn’t partake in was coconut. Because those are a pain in the ass to husk.

So sorry, Wifey. While my coconut obsession was temporarily abated, it was not cured.

Coffee:¬†Last day in Hawaii, let’s check the culinary checklist. Macadamia Nuts: check. Coconut: check. Coffee: Oops, not yet.

So while in-laws were getting their last round of golf in, nuclear family drove up into the hills to check out a plantation. Plantation? That seems racist. Can’t call it a vineyard, but farm seems so… yokelly. Whatever. Two of the plantations seemed to get the best reviews. One required reservations and weren’t open until 10:00. The other did not and was open at 9:30. Considering in-laws’ tee time was at 7:15, we opted for the earliest/least planning required.

Not sure how the 10:00 AM one could’ve been any better. This place was awesome. Thirty-two hundred feet elevation in the “cloud forest,” which totally sounds like a Star Wars location, complete with a nature trail attached to get the little one’s wiggles out after she had to sit through the “boring coffee talk.” Of course, during the walk, she had to listen to me sing “Nature Trail to Hell (in 3D),” and might have preferred boring coffee talk by the end.

Everyone we met there was nice. When we first got there, they said the first tour would start at 10:00 and ushered us into the gift shop for some free samples “in the meantime.” Okay, don’t mind if I do. At one point, a lady from the shipping department came and refilled her travel mug from one of the carafes.

“At least you never have to worry about running out of coffee around here,” I told her.

“We never run out, but it seems like I have to brew the next batch a lot,” she responded.

No pour-overs in the break room, here.

Did I mention they had four iced teas for tasting, as well?

The tour itself was very informative. I’ve been doing winery tours since I was 21, and have done beer tours at everything from brew-your-own to all of the big three. But this was my first coffee plant. They showed us ripe, unripe, and overripe cherries (the coffee beans are inside cherries). The tour guide squeezed a ripe cherry to get the bean out, put it in water, showed us the next step called “removing the silver lining.”

We went inside the plant, which was scarcely larger than a garage, with machines that could do all of the processes he just showed us in a more continuous process. Then another machine could sort by size, and they had a newfangled computer doohickey that could even sort the beans by color(there’s a sweet spot in the color range).

Then he asked if we wanted to see the roaster room. Of course we did. He said no one’s ever said no. Even people that don’t like coffee still like the smell of it, right? They had three roasters that they called papa bear, mama bear, and baby bear. The last one was mainly for a couple pounds at a time. They sold a different tour experience where, with guidance, you could pick your own cherries, sort your own beans, and roast your own coffee to take home. Sounded great till I saw it was over two hundred bucks. Nah, I’ll take the free tour, thanks. I’ll buy the good shit you’ve got in the gift shop. The last thing I want to do is pay five times as much for whatever crappy swill I would make.

All in all, I’m glad we fit this into our final day.

And now I can go out-snooty all the hipsters I see at Philz and Blue Bottle.

Hawaiian Language: I owe French an apology.

Sort of. For the apostrophes. Hawaiian has way more apostrophes than French. But French, you’re still on notice for having a whole bunch on non-pronounced letters in your words.

Hors d’ouevres. I rest my case.

Hawaiian has no unpronounced letters. It’s about as phonetic of a language as you’re going to find. If the word is spelled out as ha’la’poluki’i, then it’s pronounced like it looks. I assume this is because Latin letters were added to a spoken language after the fact.

The Hawaiian language seems primitive. I don’t mean primitive as in uncultured. I mean “in the early stages of development.” Italian is a primitive language, in that it was the earliest language to evolve from Latin. Thus it has fewer letters than French or Spanish or English.

Hawaiian has, like, three letters. Okay, maybe a few more, but not many. As far as I can tell, the only consonants in Hawaiian are H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. And let’s be honest, H and W are bullshit letters. They could be replaced by all of those apostrophes.

So only five hard sounds are found anywhere in the language. It’s got to be hard to come up with deep concepts using only five hard sounds. Since they can’t come up with new combinations of sounds, they just add more of the same combinations to make longer words. Almost every word is a combination of smaller words. Aloha is a combination of “alo” (presence) and “ha” (breath of life). I assume mahalo (thank you) must combine two other words with “breath of life.”

But eventually, there have to be words that don’t include a breath of life, right? Or else every word does, making it pointless.

I’ve become a bit of an amateur linguist of late. What I mean by “amateur linguist” is that I listen to a podcast. Isn’t that the modern equivalent of junior college?

The podcast, Lexicon Valley, talks about how sounds are produced and how languages progress. “Mama” is the first word most babies produce because first they are just yelling “ahh,” then they close their lips and make an M sound. Hence: “Ahhh,maaaa,maaa.” The second place most babies find to stop the vowels is where the teeth will pop out. Hence “Dada” or “Tata” are variations of their second word/sound.

Except not in Hawaiian. Hawaiian has no equivalent of the T or D sound. The main sound they make with their tongue on the top of their mouth in N and, ironically, L. Think about how many languages have trouble with the letter L. Particularly a number of Asian languages, which one would think are the closest neighbors of a Polynesian language. And yet Hawaiian, with only five hard sounds, mastered L.

But at some point, the ability to communicate must be inhibited with this limited combination of sounds, right? If I have to wait till the end of the word to know what you’re saying, that would seem difficult. Wait, are you saying palalulu or palalula? And is there no mumbling in Hawaiian?

At the airport on the way out, I saw a Hawaiian word search magazine. At first I thought that must be really easy. There can’t be too many words. I mean, if three of the words you have to find are Hono, Lulu, and Honolulu, you only have to find it once, right?

But on second thought, holy crap, wouldn’t that be difficult? How do you start a word search? You find all the words with the obscure letters, right? Hey, these two letters have an x. Look for an x. And drizzle has two z’s next to each other. Should only be one place like that in the whole puzzle, right? (And the predictable bastards probably put them diagonal from each other, trying to be tricky, but that also means they’re toward the center.

What are you going to look for first in a Hawaiian word search? There are only ten letters, and I’m not sure if any of them appear more or less than any of the others. And yeah, look at the front cover of that bad boy:

Hawaii Word Search

You know what’s worse? No apostrophes.

Hawaii, Part IV

Thanks for coming back for Part IV. To catch you up, I’m visiting Hawaii for the first time in over thirty years. I’m with my three-year old daughter, my wife, and her parents. The in-laws have been coming to Hawaii regularly since the 1970s. My wife went with them often into her twenties, but she’s been gone a good decade, too. I’m reporting back on the oddities of Hawaii, the “joys” of traveling with a toddler, and the… um… yeah… of traveling with in-laws.

The trip to Hilo:¬†We didn’t have anything planned for Day Four, so we opted to head over to the other side of the island.

We loaded up toddler’s tablet with a new episode of “Vampirina,” just like our forebears did in the covered-wagon days, and drove up north. She had barely tolerated the hour-long trip to Costco, and all the beautiful “nature-y” things the rest of us enjoy looking at are lost on her. So Disney Junior, it is.

Before crossing the northern slope Mauna Something-or-Other, we hit a macadamia nut store. I was hoping for something like wine tasting in Napa, with the driveway winding through groves of macadamia… uh, vines? trees? bushes?¬† Couldn’t tell you how macadamia nuts grow, cause the store was not, in fact, in a grove of macadamias.

The brochure said we could see how the nuts were flavored and canned. By the letter of the law, that was accurate. If my dumbass thought that meant I’d see them harvesting and cracking open nuts, that’s on me. Instead, we saw one guy cutting open plastic bags of macadamia nuts and putting them into a spinner with some flavor salt. We then saw a machine put nuts into a can, put the lid on, and label it. Where those nuts originally came from was anyone’s guess.

But what it lacked in agriculture, it made up for in free tastings. Holy crap! There were a good ten different flavors of macadamia nuts there, and each one had a bowl of free samples. They also had samples of macadamia brittle and coconut brittle and kona coffee brittle. And popcorn, for some reason. I didn’t question, I just sampled.

Oh, and we grabbed some macadamia nut ice cream on the way out. No free samples of that.

After we crossed the island, we stopped off at Akaka Falls. They were lovely. Wife remembered the hike being abysmal when she was a teenager, but it was fine for these forty-something legs. Only a few thousand steps, according to my Fitbit. And if you made a circle, you could see two different falls, although the closest we could get to Kahuna Falls was still far off and seeing it from the side.

Then there was this:

Hawaii Akaka

Not too shabby.

The Falls were now visible from the parking lot. In-laws remembered that not being the case. We asked the dude working the parking ticket meter if they had moved something. He said there had been a storm that had destroyed some of the largest trees that were obstructing the view.

“From destruction comes beauty,” he shrugged.

Evidently he’s never seen an earthquake in the Nevada desert.

Lunch:¬†Lunch has become something of a trial since we got here. If lunch on Day One hit a hundred percent, then the ensuing days have progressively dropped to seventy-five percent, then fifty percent on Day Three. What was in store for Day Four? If you’ve studied your math, you would know there’s only one slice of pie left.

Nobody knew Hilo well, so I did what humans have been doing for thousands of years when in strange lands. I checked Yelp. Marco Polo did the same. Look it up.

“This place called Puka Puka sounds interesting, if you can get over the fact that it’s named after a double-vomit.”

“What’s it got there?”

I follow the link to the website, recite some of the items. They are met with general ambivalence.

“Here’s something called the Lunch Spot. Oh wait, it closes at 1:00.”

I call out another one. Wife looks it up. We’ve already passed it.

Mother-in-law, who is driving, pulls into a parking lot for us to decide. Hey look, it’s a standard suburban shopping center, complete with a Burger King, KFC, and a Panda Express. There’s a Jamba Juice and a Subway across the street.

And you know, nothing says authentic Hawaiian like orange chicken. So that’s where we went for lunch.

At least I went for their special “Eight Treasure Chicken.” They didn’t have that the last time I went to Panda in California, so I’ll pretend it’s a Hawaiian specialty (and ignore the fact that I’ve seen billboards for it back home).

As an added bonus, the code to get into their bathroom at the Panda Express (because the mall area in Hilo, Hawaii is ground zero for vagrancy) was 1918. The Condo we’re staying in on the West Side is #1111, so I’m getting a cool “Armistice Day” vibe going on here. 11/11/1918 – Let’s hear it for World War I! Huzzah Trench Warfare!

Nevertheless, at the rate we’re going, I’m expecting McDonald’s for lunch tomorrow.

Hilo:¬†The town itself looked nice, from what I could tell driving through it at breakneck speed en route to a unique lunchery. Kinda stuck in the 1950s. I expected Kona to be like that on Day One, but Kona (or at least the part of Kona I saw) was mostly urban sprawl. I would’ve liked to spent some time walking up and down the streets of Hilo, maybe frolic on the greens at the University there.

But, because we have a Toddler Dictator, we headed straight for the zoo. The zoo was free to enter, which made me nervous. A friend of mine went to the North Platte (Nebraska) Zoo once, and he joked that the animals on display were the ones that happened to be in that location when the cages went up. A donkey, a cow, a horse. I figured the Hilo Zoo would be something similar, since there are already quite a few exotic animals in Hawaii and, you know, it was free.

The final verdict? Well, they had a tiger. Allegedly, they had two, but I only saw one. The tiger enclosure was huge and it was too fucking hot for me to walk over to the other side of it. The one tiger we saw was trying to sleep in the shade.

Other than the tiger, it was a lot of birds, but they did have some lemurs that were very conversant. I had never heard lemurs babbling quite like these. The ones I’ve seen are usually squawking. Turns out they were just whining for lunch, because the zookeepers were coming up right after we walked down to see the monkeys. Then it was an iguana and an alligator. Basically, it was a lot of tropical animals, because Hawaii is hot and humid. Can’t imagine polar bears being all too happy here.

Allegedly the polar bears at the San Diego Zoo are quite happy. They change their diet to a low-fat variety (more to fit in to SoCal than anything else), and when given the choice between frigid water and temperate water, the slimmed-down polars actually prefer the temperate. Then again, San Diego is a dry heat, and Hawaii is most assuredly not.

The zoo was laid back, which was nice. They had a lot of benches that were painted to resemble the animals nearby. Very ornate. I only took a picture of the tiger bench because it looked like they were about to get “frisky:”

Hawaii Bench

There was a park near the entrance, and once my daughter saw that, it was all she wanted to do. We held her off for a while, but eventually we had to give in. We weren’t the only ones. At any given animal exhibit, we might’ve seen two other patrons. At the playground, there were twenty.

Saddle Road: For our route back from Hilo to the Kona side, we had a couple of options. We could have gone back the way we came, only now we were ten miles south and a wee bit inland, so that route appeared to take an extra half hour. Or, according to Google maps, we could go straight across.

“The Saddle Road?” my in-laws asked. “Are you sure?”

Hell, no. I’m just telling you what the magical Google god said. It’s listed as Highway 200. I don’t know what the fuck a Saddle Road is.

So I did what any self-respecting 21st Centuryer does. I googled Saddle Road.

Google sent me to a Wikipedia entry, where you know you can trust everything. Hey, did you know Wikipedia gets its name from a Hawaiian word, wiki, which means “made-up shit”? Or maybe not. I looked it up on Wikipedia, so who knows?

Anyway, the Saddle Road, which runs in a valley, which I assume looks like a saddle, between two volcanoes, used to be off-limits to rental cars. Hence my in-laws’ aversion to it. But now it’s a-ok, according to legal expert Wikipedia. As we drove it, I thought, why the hell would this have ever been a no-go for rental cars? Then I saw “Old Saddle Road” running off to the northeast, and yeah, that shit was one-laned and windy as fuck. I bet it had potholes, too.

The Saddle Road has a pretty major elevation gain, too. I think it goes up past 6,000 feet. And in Hawaii, that elevation means you’re in the clouds. At a certain point, visibility dropped, and we were in a very picturesque fog/rain combination, where the condensation almost seemed to float around the car and the pockmarked black lava landscape like an otherworldly phenomenon. Of course, it’s “picturesque” in the metaphorical sense, cause it was way too dark in those rainclouds to actually take a picture.

Yeah, add that in with a one-lane, windy road, and maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea when Avis disallowed this route.