travel

Maui Trip, Part 3

Wrapping up my quick jaunt to Maui. This was my third trip to the islands, but first time to Maui. I posted earlier about things like luaus and booze and Covid restrictions. Read on for more thoughts, like ziplines, pancakes, and airport bathrooms.

Businesses: Might as well make this a true TravelBlog and highlight a few businesses you should frequent if you’re there. No, you don’t get a discount. Nor do I get any kickbacks. I don’t know if it makes these more or less legitimate. Whatever. I liked them and I’d like them to still be in business should I ever make it back.

*Camp Maui Zipline: There are a few zipline companies in Maui. The one we did was at Camp Maui, just outside of the town of Haiku. Haiku, a small town. Barely even on a map. Old school Hawaii. (See what I did there?)

The zipline company is on an old World War II base, and they claim to have a “museum” of stuff unearthed while digging out the course. Don’t go out of your way for it, though, as it’s really just a couple planes and jeeps in a tent. Then again, the stupid Pearl Harbor exhibit is just a couple stupid ships that you’re not even allowed to walk on because they’re under water. Who the hell puts ships under water? I want my money back.

This is kinda cool, hanging on the walls of the museum, although clearly ripped off from the Pearl Harbor museum. Still, props to FDR for changing “world history” to “infamy.” Not even the first result on thesaurus.com. After the past two presidents, I kinda forgot we used to elect leaders who didn’t fumble through the English language.

To add to the lackluster “museum,” the ziplines are pretty much run of the mill, some barely dropping enough altitude to let gravity do its work. They had to throw Daughter like a damn fastball or else she would’ve come to rest smack dab in the middle. I guess I’m not doing a great job of selling it, but once she asked, they put enough spin on her to make it into a curveball.

That’s because the staff, at least the ones we encountered, made it fun as hell. They were consummate professionals, despite exuding full hang-loose loadie personas. In a weird way, they made the safety elements cool. When listing all the dos and don’ts, a guy who told us to call him Loki started with “Don’t trust your farts.” Then, when reviewing, he asked the most important rule. Safety first? Have fun? “I mean, those are all important,” he said, “but I think I said don’t trust your farts first.” He turns to his co-guide. “Did I forget to tell them that?”

At one point, when they had to scooch past us on a platform (because they had us all go up the ladder first, then they had to get past us to the zipline), they actually snapped their safeties onto each of us as they passed. I was already attached to the line, so if they slipped and fell as they passed me, we both would’ve gone plummeting off the platform, but we’d only go as far as my rope allowed. Guessing it would be easy to half-ass that part on a course they’ve been on thousands of times. I wouldn’t have noticed that they were unattached for the three steps it took to get past us, but I noticed (in a good way) that they clipped onto me. Daughter might’ve worried that made them look like the “only stupid instructor at the zipline.” 

But once everything was secure and on the actual zipline, they encouraged hands free, spinning, leaning back. Loki (turns out his real name was Danny, but he didn’t reveal that until the end. Even when you know, you don’t call Superman “Clark”) even did a forward flip off the platform one time, resulting in a barrel roll for the first half of the zip. I’m sure they would’ve preferred having a non-stop line of fit twenty-somethings, but they were totally at ease around a bunch of kids. I doubt either of the guys have children of their own, but their repertoire of dad jokes put this dad to shame. But then you see them working the brakes and coming halfway back up the zipline to collect the lightweight who didn’t quite make it, and they’re back to being caring professionals. 

My favorite was one of those difficult stretches where one guide threw my daughter extra hard to get her across. Right after the kid before her only made it partway and Loki had to yank himself uphill to retrieve him. Unlike the other kid, Daughter made it all the way across, but she was totally out of gas. Loki caught her, snapped one of his lines to her then “pretended” to forget about her and turn around when she wasn’t on her feet yet. All of our eyes grew wide as she started to go back up the zipline, thinking he was going to have to go out and get her anyway, when the line caught her after only a foot or two. Then he plays the “Oh, there you are!” and pulls on the line to bring her closer. 

Great time, indeed. If you find yourself there, ask for Loki.

*Surfing Goat Dairy: Another jaunt up into the hinterlands, this time to look at goats. And eat cheese. The goats were for Daughter, the cheese was for us. 

To be honest, the tour was kinda meh. You get to feed some goats. A ton of female goats plus a handful of males who, in typical dude fashion, try to muscle in with an “Are you gonna eat that?” At first I found the sex disparity odd, but then I remembered that guys don’t lactate. Best we’d get from male goats is some From’Undah Cheese. You’d think that, being a man, that bit of biology wouldn’t escape my notice so readily.

The males are only there to make the ladies pregnant to get the milk, and let me tell ya, they were gettin’ it DONE! Holy crap, the whole damn farm was pregnant. One of them looked either ready to burst, or else she was having quadruplets. The only ones not pregnant were those who recently birthed. There were six baby goats who had been born within the past week, including a baby just born that morning. Four hours old and she could already walk. I’m belatedly disappointed in Daughter for taking a year to figure it out. So much for humanity being the echelon of evolution. Then again, Daughter can now add two triple-digit numbers together while the adult goat peed on his beard to improve his sexual attractiveness. 

The cheese was decadent, so clearly Pee-Beard is doing something right. They had hard cheese and soft cheese. “Ping Pong Balls” swimming in garlic oil, a creamy Tahitian lime blend. And I don’t know which goat mixed some horseradish into her teat, but I appreciate the effort.

-Slappy Cakes: You won’t find this one advertised in your hotel lobby. No Viator busses shipping hundreds of blue-hairs to a catamaran to enjoy the local breakfast place. There was still a line out the door.

Once upon a time, on an obscure corner heading into the city of Lahaina, stood a Korean BBQ. One of those restaurants where you cook your own food on a hot plate in the center of your table, a mixture of Japanese teppanyaki and fondue. Unfortunately for that Korean place, the location isn’t overly convenient and, well, who the hell wants to cook for themselves when they go out? Your kitchen is a hell of a lot cheaper. 

Fortunately, someone took over the spot and, instead of gutting and revamping the whole thing, pondered if there was something else customers might enjoy cooking on a hot griddle. 

Sure, I can make pancakes back at home, too, but the batter doesn’t come in a snazzy squeeze bottle. And, oh yeah, I’m not at home and the hotel doesn’t have a stove top. 

So yeah, Slappy Cakes for the win. They’ve got three flavors of pancake batter, but I think one of them is gluten free, so that doesn’t really count. We ordered one tube of buttermilk and one of chocolate. I really wanted to try the red velvet batter that was on the daily special menu, but thought that would be too much pancake. At the time, I believed we’d make another sojourn to the Slappy Cakes. Unfortunately, we never made it back, so the red velvet remains a mystery.

The tubes come with a tapered spout. You have to squeeze a fair amount to get it out, not because the batter’s thick, but because the nozzle’s pretty small. This caters to a bit of an artistic flair. Even moreso when you get two flavors with different colors. Instead of a mon-colored Mickey Mouse, you can make the ears and chin in chocolate, but fill in the eyes with buttermilk. If only I had a little deep red, I don’t know, velvety color to throw in for accent.

You also get toppings. We opted for five, but probably could’ve gone with three, because they fill those dishes up. Fortunately, some of our toppings were crumbled bacon, macadamia nuts, and blueberries, so we could just eat them sans pancake. Next time, I’ll order fewer toppings and get that red velvet batter. I know it was listed as a “daily special,” but the frayed sheet of paper implied this wasn’t its first go-around. I also won’t get the shredded coconut next time, as they provide a coconut syrup free of charge, which was far more scrumptious than the shredded coconut.

They specify that the toppings are only supposed to go on AFTER the pancakes have cooked. Uh huh, sure. I know how insurance works. But bacon cooked into the pancake is a heck of a lot better than on top. You don’t get chocolate chips on top of your ice cream, do you?

The good news is Slappy Cakes doesn’t appear likely to follow the path of its Korean forebear. We got there at 6:55 am (five minutes before they open, because we went on our first morning, when our bodies were still on West Coast time), and the line was already ten deep. It was even longer when we left around 8:00. 

The price was affordable, too. Other than having to fly to Maui. Maybe they’ll franchise on the mainland some day, where West Coast time is behind everybody else, not ahead.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

If you’ve followed some of my other trips, you know I can’t resist a good sign. Only a couple jumped out on this trip, but they’re doozies.

This guy’s got more problems than a minor traffic infraction. I can’t tell if he’s prisoner number 08 or if he blew a .08. I highly doubt either of those are accurate statements. Sure, Hawaii’s gotta be mostly peaceful, but I think they’ve had more than eight prisoners. Shit, before France even had forensics, they made it all they way up to 2460… ooooooooone. (How does one phonetically write out a long lead into the number 1? Wwwwwoooooon? But that’s a different word.)

As for the .08, oh hell no. The baggy eyes, the frazzled hair, the polo that hasn’t seen a laundry room in a week. That guy’s been on a weekend-long bender, at least. Maybe he’s on day 08 of ingesting all his calories through alcohol.

More importantly, why is he allowed to keep his beer with him when he goes to jail? Hey Hawaii, if you have a problem with drinking and driving, maybe you need to take away part of the incentive. Even if it’s empty, as it might be based on the fact that he’s partially crushing it, that’s still a level of dependency the public safety system shouldn’t be encouraging. He’s snuggling that empty can like my daughter with a stuffed animal at night. 

Furthermore, how long did it take them to book him? That’s got to be some flat beer. Unless it’s sugar, because on further glance, that doesn’t really look like any alcohol container I’ve ever seen. It could be a pull tab, but that means this guy’s got a time machine, and if movies have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t throw the time traveler in jail because he’s probably here to save all of humanity. And back in his day, .08 wasn’t considered “drunk,” it was considered “breakfast.”

No, I’m back to it being a sugar shaker. This guy’s got more problems than we can possibly imagine. Shame on the state of Hawaii for throwing him into the drunk tank. They’ll only have themselves to blame when he fails to prevent the forthcoming time-pocalypse.

Then we have this beaut, a bathroom, or maybe a conference room, next to the doozy of a TSA checkpoint line. I’m sure a lot of people fly out of Maui, but shouldn’t that give them more experience at ushering us through? Vegas seems to have things dialed, except maybe on a Sunday evening. We were flying out on a Friday morning, when most people should be flying into Hawaii, not out.

We’d heard horror stories about the agricultural checkpoint, but that was a well-oiled machine compared to TSA. I don’t understand their fear of taking agriculture out of the state. I’d think the worry would be bringing in foreign pests would supersede an errant pineapple boarding an airplane.

At least the long line gave me time to contemplate what’s going on inside this bathroom.

Fonzie’s office was, as we all know, inside the men’s bathroom at Arnold’s. But most of his office meetings didn’t take longer than a quick palaver about who does, and does not, deserve to “sit on it.” Nary a breakout session in sight.

Do the meetings inside this particular “conference room” provide continental breakfast or am I supposed to dine before I arrive? I’m a little worried at the placement of that coffee urn. I’ve never encountered asparagus-flavored creamer before. Anything like hazelnut?

I know the sign clearly says it’s for conference room use ONLY, but is it okay if I use it as a bathroom? Or do I have to go to a nearby room, with maybe some folding chairs and an accordion wall, to take a dump? Because I’ve got a keynote address brewing, ready to trumpet out among the attendees. I don’t even need a microphone.

But I am going to need to scan your badge.

Okay, enough with the fun and frivolity. I’m sure the sign means the bathroom is only to be used by people attending a conference in a nearby conference room. It’s not for us plebs doing the pee-pee dance as the TSA cycle through travelers with a pace even the DMV finds offensive. Hopefully the “no liquids” rule doesn’t apply to my bladder. High grade explosives, indeed.

Even the official story doesn’t make sense, however. Who has a meeting at the airport? The hotel next to the airport, sure, but the last thing I want while I’m discussing the application of the newest technology on the whatsit and the best contemporary practices of whosit, is to watch a steady stream of of grumpy erstwhile vacationers being anally probed by government bureaucrats. Most conference attendees already feel that way, they don’t need the metaphor to be acted out. 

Then again, that sunburnt guy in the TSA line might pass out if he’s touched. Let’s go to the bathroom and watch the shitshow.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve been to the Big Island twice, once as a child and once as an adult. I’ve done Oahu, but it was literally back in the Reagan Administration. The luau had a kissing line, where everybody lined up to be groped by random strangers. Can’t imagine why they stopped that sexual harassment waiting to happen.

This was my first trip to Maui. My main takeaway is that Maui is very touristy. The world of the resorts isn’t really tied to any sense of reality, much less the island. I’m sure Oahu is the same way, but at least in Oahu (from what I remember), there’s more of an urban environment. The resorts might be on the beach, but they’re still tied into the city. In Maui, the cities are separate.

The Big Island, to me, feels more like “Hawaii.” Lots of different things to see there. You can visit a macadamia nut farm or a coffee plantation, find a waterfall hike, or head into cities, from tiny to middling, each with certain personalities. Allegedly you can do similar things on the “Road to Hana,” which I didn’t do, but on the Big Island, those experiences aren’t isolated on the other damn side of the island, requiring a full day to get to. We didn’t do the Road because we have a seven-year-old and all anyone ever says about it are “Beautiful, but long.” I could never even figure out if there was anything to DO in Hana once you get there, or if you end up driving four hours in heavy traffic for the sole purpose of turning around and driving back. Like the Line Ride in that Simpsons episode.

When I went to the Big Island a few years ago, I had lots of things to say about the Hawaiian language and its lack of consonants. It’s not like people are walking around conversing in Hawaiian, but there’s a conscious attempt to keep it alive. On Maui, I never heard or saw the language much, aside from city names and an occasional “In Hawaiian, ona means drunk, and we hope you get very ona tonight.” At fifteen bucks a drink.

I’m told Maui is “not what it used to be,” that it “used to be a quaint little something or other.” I’m also told that, after shutting themselves off from the rest of the world for 18 months, Maui is now interested in diversifying their economy away from 90% tourism. Maybe they should’ve thought of that before they dug up all the pineapple plants and sugar cane, but meh. We saw a fair number of fruit trees, especially citrus, growing where the sugar cane used to be, but the trees were still tiny. By the time they’ve grown, they’ll be replacing them all with marijuana.

My father-in-law, who has been going to the same time share since he bought it in the 1980s (when it was the “only one in Kaanapali”) insists that the Big Island is now where Maui was thirty years ago. I often say the same thing about Amador County wineries vis-a-vis Napa. If that’s the case, then yuck. I guess I better enjoy the Big Island while I can, then get my ass a timeshare on Kawai before it turns into Vegas.

Maui Trip, Part 2

Welcome back. Part Two of my Maui trip is more about me and my family than the actual island, then I’ll wrap it up next week with some business reviews and final thoughts.

Alcohol

Most of my Maui tweets tweets involved the various alcohol policies at our hotel. Rules and regulations, pricing, what have you. But mainly the pricing. Take some resort lifestyle and runaway inflation, add in the fact that I’m not quite the bar hopper I once was, but damn!, those prices.

I love me some pina colada, but in ninety percent of social circumstances, I’m not likely to order one. Call it toxic masculinity, call it not wanting to be the asshole who orders a blended drink. Regardless, when I’m on a cruise ship or somewhere tropical, give me an umbrella drink, stat! But holy crap, fourteen dollars? They literally grow pineapples and coconuts right here on the damn island, or at least they used to, so it should be cheaper. I wanted to throw out the Pulp Fiction line about putting bourbon in it, but at at this point, I’d sell a testicle to get a $5 milkshake. 

Of course, they don’t use those pineapples and coconuts that should be in abundance on the island. Nor do they make a proper pina colada with coconut liquor. It’s just that Island Oasis pre-mix, that probably costs less than $14 for an entire carton of at Costco, and pour in some rum. Not that this stopped me from buying it. It just increased my bitching.

Last time I was in Hawaii, I gravitated toward those lava flow drinks, which are pina coladas with strawberry puree. At the same price, why wouldn’t I buy the one with the extra yummy? Except my hotel made a couple faux pas to lessen the lava flow desirability. 

First, they put banana in it. Blech. Banana is such a bullshit bully when it comes to smoothies. It deadens all the other flavors, making everything a banana* (with special guest star, raspberry) smoothie. I’ll never understand why Jamba Juice puts it in ninety percent of their drinks. One place we went, either Hula Grill or Cheeseburger in Paradise because those are the only places Daughter allowed meals to occur) threw in a mango instead of a banana. I probably coulda gotten on board with that. Unfortunately, wherever it was, I couldn’t just charge it to the room, so I opted for beer. 

The other Lava Flow misstep was not with the lava flow itself, but with the pina colada, which came with a floater of dark rum. I always thought of floaters as superfluous. Great if you want to light your Dr. Pepper on fire, but why not just throw an extra shot in the actual drink? Like separating the yolk from the white, even though they’re all going into the waffles anyway. This aversion is alleviated in a frozen drink, however, because the floater actually stays as a floater. And my first response when sipping from this pina colada was, damn, it doesn’t have a lot of pina colada taste to it. Tons of rum, though. The second half of the drink, after the two lifeforms had merged,  tasted more like a strong pina colada, which makes papa happy. In later incarnations, I drove the straw deep for the first suck, getting full pineapple and coconut, before heading back to the rum.

Both these drinks, mind you, cost the same fourteen dollars. So for the same price, I can either add either a banana and strawberry, or an extra shot of booze, to my pina colada. That banana bully has graduated to stealing my lunch money. If it was a nine dollar drink, it might be a tossup, but if I’m paying double digits, I’m milking every ounce of booze I can.

The beer, on the other hand, only cost seven dollars for a 12-ounce pour. That seems amazingly moderate, commensurate with what I pay on the mainland. In Sacramento, we have a minor league baseball park that charges more than ten bucks. Am I just out of the loop? Has inflation hit mixed drinks harder than beer? Is there so much microbrew competition now that you can’t charge too much? As opposed to Island Oasis, which has a monopoly.

The beer prices were so reasonable that I refused to order it during happy hour, which was two dollars off each drink. A $12 pina colada becomes marginally approachable. A $5 draft beer seems like overkill.

Said happy hour happened twice each day, both seemingly tied to the pool. The first one happened right when the bar opened, at 10:00 am. I applaud a place that encourages you to get your drink on as early as possible. As a bonus, you can model your business on people making poor decisions. How else to explain all the people spending money for those enclosures on the beach, then promptly falling asleep in them? Sure, it’s a lanai while you’re looking at Lanai, but once you’re there, you’re trapped. Play on the beach or in the water and you’re wasting your money. So instead they nap, spending a hell of a lot of money to do what the homeless people in San Diego do for free. Those people need a couple mai tais at 10 am. For twelve dollars instead of the normal fourteen.

It’s a lanai… looking out at Lanai

Ten o’clock was also the time the water slide opened. At first I thought this was to encourage people to behave badly. But after riding the water slide a couple times, I realized it wasn’t made for anyone in the 200-pound range. I damn near got stuck twice on a ten foot slide. So maybe they both start at the same time to give so we can shuffle our kids off while we go get a damn drink.

The second happy hour was the more standard one, from 4:00 to 5:00, coinciding with the closing of the water slide. It was a great breakaway for those of us who just spent hours feigning excitement over our children’s umpteenth slide down. What’s that sweetie? Did I see the slight change in your body position? Of course I did. That made all the difference, didn’t it?

The problem is that once the water slide is closed, we’re back to parenting again. Not to mention showers and dinner plans. Throw in the fact that for most of us it’s anywhere from 7:00-10:00 on the internal clock (those people in the lanai are snoring away for different reasons now), and it wasn’t surprising that the second happy hour had less partakers. Like a real happy hour.

The pool bar closed at 7:00 pm. And I mean CLOSED. I was grilling hot dogs nearby and wondered if I should get a drink (a beer, since it was not happy hour) to drink while grilling or to take back to my room with the hot dogs to consume with dinner? I chose poorly, because when I swung by the bar on the way back to my room, the bartender informed me they closed at 7:00. I checked my watch and it was, I shit you not, 7:02.

Daughter. 

Sometimes I forget that my daughter isn’t four years old anymore. Other times I have to remind myself she’s not a teenager yet. Occasionally, she loses track of these factoids, too.

Things she used to be afraid of, she’s now fine with. Things that were once of no concern now inspire existential dread. Her food palate seems to be going in all directions. In some instances, she’s more interested in new flavors, while at other times she’s regressing from loving broccoli to tolerating it. Last trip to Maui, she allegedly fell in love with fish & chips. That lasted for all of a month or so before she started hating it, so it was back to the usual mac & cheese/chicken strip restaurant fare. Nothing worse than paying ten bucks for the same box of Kraft dinner we can cook at home for ninety cents. 

This trip, she was on a cheeseburger kick, despite being iffy on them back home. For the first half of the week, she devoured those things. On our first trip to Cheeseburger in Paradise, which she was upset to discover wasn’t associated with Jimmy Buffett (yeah, I’ve got THAT kid), and she mauled that entire burger and some of her fries. Against our wishes, we returned a couple days later. She ordered the same thing, this time with avocado on top, and a side of fruit in lieu of the fries. She proceeded to eat the avocado, the bun, and the strawberries, but not the pineapple. Never touched the meat and/or cheese. All things considered, I shouldn’t criticize a kid who eats avocado and strawberry, but seriously kid, there were other things on the menu. You didn’t bother looking. And I don’t know where this new aversion to pineapple came from. She always loved it before. Perhaps she associates it with coconut, which she’s never liked. 

Then again, if she doesn’t drink pina coladas, would she associate the two? 

She loves putting the “Do Not Disturb” sign on our door, but she only wants to do it when we’re away from the room. That way, people won’t be knocking forever, wondering why we aren’t coming to the door. But while we’re in the room, then everybody’s welcome. I don’t know who she expects to come by. Probably a kidnapper. And we wouldn’t want him to waste his time. Since housekeeping during one’s stay is quickly becoming a thing of the past, it wasn’t much of an issue. Not that they’ve had the “Request Maid Service” sign for years. It kinda feels like now’s a good time to bring that one back, only to be used as necessary.

This trip was the first time I saw the beginnings of that persnickety social bullshit that is undoubtedly coming in shit-tons over the next decade. She has become aware that other people might notice and have opinions about her. Even worse, it happened at the pool and the beach, so my next Maui trip will include her lying around on a chaise like my sister used to do for her entire teenage existence. 

While we no longer fear Daughter sinking to the bottom each time she swims, she’s not exactly Michael Phelps. Even a normal jaunt into the pool requires a parent on hand. If for our sanity if not entirely for her safety. She can make it to the side of the pool on her own, but doesn’t exactly know when it’s a good idea to head in that direction. With the amount of excess energy she expends over each ounce of water, if one of us were not with her, she’d swallow half the pool by the time she made it there. Even when she’s “treading water,” (or sinking then bouncing back up) she doesn’t realize the purpose is to keep the water out of her mouth. Close your fucking mouth, kid!

So when it came to swimming in the ocean, we mandated some stricter guidelines on the off chance a current separates us or a wave changes the depth quickly. Wife wanted her to take an inflatable floatie out, but I said life preserver. While I don’t think either of us intended to combine the two, in Daughter’s mind this morphed into quite the hypothetical visual. Aside from the fact that it might be physically impossible, I can kinda see where she might have a problem with fitting the life jacket into the hole of the inflatable duck. Traipsing out amongst beachgoers with seventy-five layers of protection sounds very 1980s sitcom. Should we throw some colored zinc on her nose, too? Are glasses and headgear out of the question? 

It took me a while to come up with the word “headgear.” Don’t see those around much anymore. Technology might be destroying our planet and plotting humanity’s demise, but at least we improved the teeth straightening.

She never directly said dork or geek, I don’t think she ever even enunciated the phrase “embarassing,” but you could tell that’s where she was going. Her exact worry was not being, “the only stupid kid on the beach.” Ugh. Since when did she start noticing how other people perceive her? Are the mean girls already mean girling? Is Daughter on the sending or receiving end? And is it too late to return to distance learning?

Of course, we parents didn’t help matters by noting that none of these people knew her, to which she responded that made it even worse. First impressions, and all that. I guess it takes until middle school when you learn that strangers are a far safer commodity than people who see you every day and will remind you of said embarrassment every fucking chance they get.

Come Back for Part Three

One more batch coming up early next week. Find out my thoughts on ziplining, pancakes, and goats. Just what you’ve always hoped for!

Maui Trip, Part 1

I kept going back and forth about blogging my Maui trip. I doubted there’d be much more to add to my Poo-litzer level,  Michneresque 5- entry polemnic from when i visited the big island four years ago (turns out there are still more vowels than consonants in the Hawaiian language, not that you encounter the Hawaiian language much on Maui), plus I’d be reacting to a few things in the waning days of Covid restrictions that would be obsolete by the time I posted (even more obsolete than most of my pop culture references). 

I tried live tweeting a couple things instead. I wish I could do that more, get quicker digs, more buy-in to and from the zeitgeist. That’s me, right on the cusp of the technological frontier, contemplating the key social media conduits of 2001 and 2011. Come back in twnety years to see my TikToks.

Unfortunately, my vicious salvos of truth often need some percolatin’. Who woulda guessed this shit is actually edited? And I never wouldve assumed I’d get 5,000 words out of sipping pina coladas at the pool, but I did, so I guess I’ll break it up into parts. So, meh, here are some thoughts:

The Covid Stuff

We were in Maui the last week of mask mandates. As happened in California, the last gasp of Covid restrictions is an odd in-between times. Either they’re necessary and useful or they’re not. Nobody believes that they are necessary right now, but we can already predict the date at which they will lose their utility. Kinda like the last two weeks of school, when no teacher assigns anything meaningful, the moment you announce that masks will no longer be required on a specific date in the future, it becomes a charade. 

Worse than California, ninety percent of the places in Hawaii where masks were required are outside. Including the damn airport, which isn’t even on the verge of lifting the mandate. I know, I know. “Following the science,” right? The science that outdoors is the safest place you can be. While I’ve poo-pooed many of the Covid restrictions (particularly those more performative than purposeful), but I’m all for masking up in airports, where drastically different populations comingling increases the likelihood of mutations and variants. But what do you do with an airport that’s mostly outside? Science works best when nobody asks questions.

The restaurants in Hawaii also tend to be outdoors. Nothing seems more foolish than putting on a mask to walk past a bunch of people sitting at tables in a sand pit, just to get to your sand pit, where you can take off your mask. All in a state that says masks will no longer be worthwhile the day after tomorrow. 

The biggest victim of Covid policies was our luau. At least I think. Or we could’ve just been at a shitty luau. Hard to tell.

One of the joys of a luau is the all-you-can-eat factor. I mean, sure, they dance fancy and ooo, ahhh, fire! And long tables to converse with strangers. But unlimited mai tais? Sign me up. 

Unfortunately, that whole “let everyone scoop their own food at the buffet” is frowned upon these days. Maybe. Instead, they brought plates of all the delicacies to our table. In their defense, they brought out eight appetizers, one scoop each, four to a plate, from which we could spoon from those plates onto our own. If it was buffet style, I might’ve doubled up on the noodles and macaroni salad, skipped the kimchi. Or maybe I would’ve tried a bite of kimchi, offset by an extra macaroni salad. When it’s delivered to us without ordering, all with the same-sized scoop, that’s not an option. Meaning, to be a good dad, I had to stock up on the taro root and leave Daughter the pasta types.

The dinner followed suit. One plate came with pork and fried rice, another with chicken and veggies, while a third had fish with veggies. There was plenty to go around for the three of us. I was able to eat two fish, one chicken, and some pork and there was still enough for the rest of the family. But scooping things from one plate to another doesn’t have the same feel as “What is that new exotic dish? Only one way to find out.” 

Not to mention, when you keep sending the poor waiter back to give you more free mai tais, as opposed to grabbing another one off the free-for-all table, it feels more co-dependent than festive. There was also substantially less variety of drink. At the last luau, random new drinks came out, just as fun to sample as food. This one had mai tai or a Blue Curacao lemonade concoction. I only had two, which doesn’t factor into the price of the luau quite as nicely as six. In fact, they stop feeling like “free” mai tais.

The next morning, we went to breakfast at a different hotel and, wouldn’t you know it, they had a buffet! No restrictions. The Indian place back home requires me to put on a goddamn HazMat suit to get some goddamn butter chicken these days, in a state that ended its Covid restrictions a month ago. Meanwhile, I can hack a lung over that vat of Hawaiian scrambled eggs till my heart’s content. 

So maybe they aren’t illegal during Covid? In which case, bad luau. And bad resort for blaming Covid (or making us assume to blame Covid), when you just didn’t want to bother putting out a pina colada fountain. 

Maui Geography

While this was my first trip to Maui, Wife’s been there a good twenty times because her parents have owned a timeshare for decades. Shit, Daughter already visited once before I made it out, because we didn’t have to worry about coordinating Spring Breaks when she was four. As such, I never understood people’s descriptions of where things are on Maui. Now, I understand a bit more, but still have a general sense of “Have you ever looked at a map?”

First and foremost, up vs. down. Every other spot on Earth, up means north, down means south. We might have a reasonable discussion on the effects of white privelege, but until the world decides otherwise, it’s how maps are made. In Maui, “up” appears to be toward the airport, or maybe up one of the mountains (Haleakala), but not the other (Pu’u Kikui). Any way you define it so that the resorts in Kaanapali are “down.” The Ritz Carlton up (north) in Napili is as far “down” as you can get. Now that I’ve been there, I kinda get it. It’s one long road, seemingly straight but actually curved, to get from the airport to the resorts. The road starts out going south. Maybe that’s where it comes from? It can’t be an elevation thing, because the runway is damn near on the water. I thought there was no fucking way we were going to land before the asphalt ran out.

Our zipline was upcountry, but also on the north side of the volcano,  so as a bonus, I can say we went “up” to the zipline and be correct either way. 

The most direct route from the airport to Napili and Kaanapali appears to be around the “top” of the island. But evidently that’s a shitty one lane road, like the “Back Road to Hana,” so you’ve got to go the long way. Even though they’ll complain about the traffic on the two main roads, they won’t throw some asphalt on the alternate routes.

Speaking of which, Wife often talks about the “Other side of the island.” Based on what I’d heard, I assumed that meant Hana. But no, nobody ever goes to Hana, other than to take the Road to Hana. The “other side of the island” from Kaanapali is Kihei. Down south. Facing west. Kind of like how Los Angeles and Seattle are on… different sides of the country?

Again, I kinda get it now, in that when leaving the airport, after driving south, you take a left to go to Kihei and a right to Kaanapali. But… but… They’re still on the same sides of the island. 

Resort Land

We were staying at Kaanapali. As were probably ninety percent of the tourists. It’s a minimum of ten gargantuan resorts, stretching along what would otherwise be a desolate coast. When you’re walking along the path late at night, there’s a really good chance the property you’re turning into is the wrong one. And you can’t even ask people for directions to the Marriott property, because I think Marriott owns half of them.

My wife and daughter kept gushing about Hula Grill, where they went before when staying at the grandparents’ time share. I assumed we wouldn’t be going there, seeing as we’re staying at a completely different property. Nope. Hula Grill’s in the middle of the sprawl, so every place feeds into it. As the hour and a half wait indicated. But we still slogged through it, (on our first night, approaching 11:00 pm according to my stomach), and it was, in fact, wonderful food. We went two more times before the vacation was out. With a mask while outside. Even more comical, the waiter asked if we needed our parking validated. Doesn’t everybody walk there? Although I totally wanted to Uber back to the hotel, because it was dark and windy and I knew for a fact I was about to walk into the wrong damn Marriott.

It’s not quite as removed from the local populace as some of those Mexican or Caribbean resorts. Unlike in Montego Bay, there are no warnings about being kidnapped if you leave the property. But it still feels like a segregated party town. On the drive in from the airport, it’s nonstop beaches and small towns, then wham! Hey honey, I don’t think I need the navigation app anymore.

Alright, that’s a good enough place to leave it. Read on for odd juxtaposition about the price of alcohol and my daughter having the audacity to grow up.

Snow Camping

After multiple fits and starts, years after the initial idea crept into my brain with the perseverance of syphillis, I finally headed up into the mountains and camp in the great white, frigid tundra of the Sierra Nevada, facing harrowing white-out conditions, a la Jack London lightsabering open his Tauntaun, relying on only my MacGyver wits and those innate survival skills harkening back to caveman days.

Okay, a couple slight misrepresentations there. Jack London had no lightsaber. Other than that, it’s all legit.

Plus the fact that I was in Yosemite Valley, where there are park rangers every other square foot. Not to mention grocery stores. And bars, in case I forgot to pack enough beer, the ultimate survival sin.

Oh, and the weekend in question, the temperature was only a few degrees cooler than down in the flatlands.

This was my second planned glorious freezefest marred by temperate conditions. Two years ago, my outdoor curling bonspiel, held at one of the coldest spots in the lower 48 states, resulted in a high in the mid thirties and a low in the twenties. Don’t get me wrong, that’s cold and all, but that same competition this year had highs in the single digits.

Yosemite camping, in comparison, was closer to what I assumed it would be. Yeah, that high temperature wasn’t substantially lower than back home, but the high temperature doesn’t tell the whole story. In the valley, you probably get three to four hours a day near the high. In Yosemite, if you walk into a shadow, you’re losing ten degrees. The only time I felt truly miserable was 2:00 pm, returning to campsite after hiking to the Vernal Falls bridge, only to find said campsite completely shaded, and realizing that sweat cools very quickly. The sun teased us way up on the mountains, but it was gone for good from down below. Even though the temperature dropped another twenty degrees by nighttime, we were acclimated by then.

Actually, the most miserable I felt was when 28,000 steps at elevation combined with carnitas and beer. The bus that takes you into Yosemite is called YART, for Yosemite Area Rapid Transit. Yart is also what I did inside my tent.

Speaking of which, the shuttle busses are back! After two years of destroying the environment in order to stop the sniffles, they finally decided to let our feet and exhaust pipes rest. The only weird thing about the busses was the time and date posted inside were wrong. We rode around Saturday afternoon, but the busses through it was Sunday morning. We thought maybe if we rode the busses long enough, we could find out who won the Super Boal and make a bet on it. Alas, at 5:00 pm Saturday, it was still only reading 8:00 am Sunday, and I don’t think the shuttles ran at midnight when we could listen to the game. Damn you, time travel paradoxes!

Sorry, that had nothing to do with snow camping, just a Yosemite/Covid aside. 

As for the temperature thing, it did get pretty chilly overnight. Somewhere in the mid-twenties, I’d surmise, although one of the wives saw a report of 18. Nothing that a tent, sleeping bag, and about five layers of clothes. 

Oddly enough, my feet kept getting cold around 3:00 am. I’d think my feet would be the warmest, buried deep in my sleeping bag. But I suppose they’re also closest to the edge of the tent. Plus the whole distance-from-heart thing and only one layer of socks. On night two, I threw a hand warmer down there, but it had burned out by the time I needed it. I opened a second one, but I don’t know if I didn’t shake it right or if it was a dud or whatever, but it never seemed to warm up and I was too fucking tired to reassess. 

Yes, I’m talking about those little iron oxide packets. As I said, roughing it like our forebears. 

But dammit, there WAS snow on the ground, so I’m claiming victory over snow camping.

Honestly, I was a little worried. We had huge storms in December, but the last four weeks have been dry, and I wasn’t sure what impact a month of fifty-degree days might have on tobogganing conditions. I knew there’d still be snow up on the mountains, but the valley only sits around 4,000 feet elevation. Fortunately, there was plenty of snow to go around. Considering our campsite was in full shade from 2:00 pm on, I think the snow will stay there well past the equinox.

At least it wasn’t last year. We originally booked our snow camping for last January, but Yosemite canceled it due to the first, or maybe second, Covid surge. Back before we started naming variants, because they didn’t start naming variants until after got vaccinated and weren’t living in fear of plain ol’ vanilla Covid.

While I complained about Yosemite shutting down, because it’s not like we were going to be exchanging lots of saliva with strangers while outdoors in January, perhaps it was a blessing. Our first (and only) storms of the 2020-21 winter didn’t arrive until two weeks after our reservations. Without snow, it isn’t really snow camping. It’s just cold camping, which doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

Aside from the length of time it’s near the high, want to know the other difference between forty degrees at home and forty degrees camping? The latter doesn’t have central heating.

I figured forty was no big deal. I regularly walk to my classroom in shorts when it’s sub-40 in the morning, and half the times I’m wearing shorts because it’ll be 65 by the time I walk out. Except on the way to my classroom, I’m only outside for 500 paces or so. When it’s forty degrees at a campsite, you better be sitting your ass by the fire. Then your front. Then your ass again, like a goddamn rotisserie chicken.

I’m mostly exaggerating. Weatherwise, it was more or less what I was looking for. Cold and crisp, enough to require layers and bundling, but nothing bone-biting. Not sure I would’ve wanted to run around naked at midnight, but nothing a fire in the morning and evening, and a little walking around during the day, couldn’t accommodate. 

Although we did a hell of a lot more than “a little” walking around. In addition to those 28,000 steps, my Fitbit clocked me at 130 floors on Saturday. We did Mirror Lake AND Lower Yosemite Falls AND the Vernal Falls footbridge. I’ve become so used to camping out in the middle of nowhere where the biggest exertion comes from sitting by a lake and playing cornhole, that I forgot camping can include some rather aerobic exercises.

It doesn’t matter if I’ve done Vernal Falls twenty times in my life, I still fall for that sign at the beginning every damn time. “Vernal Falls Footbridge,” it reads, “0.8 miles.” How hard can a trail be if it’s less than a mile? 

Except for the fact that it’s 0.8 miles straight the fuck up a mountain. I tried to explain this to the two Yosemite noobs with me on this trip. We’d done Mirror Lake already and it was getting close to lunchtime. I really only wanted to see if Happy Isles was open. I didn’t need to prove anything.

But it’s less than a mile, they said. There ain’t no pain in the world we can’t withstand for one measly mile. Twenty minutes up, twenty minutes down, and we’ll be right and ready for lunch. 

Then I suddenly forgot a lifetime of experience. I’m older now than I used to be, I reasoned. My legs are longer. An hour car ride used to be straight torture, and now I do it on a daily basis. Based on that logic, the NFL would be filled with fifty-year-olds. 

Holy shit, Vernal Falls is a brutal fucking hike!

There’s one stretch, only fifty yards or so, that appears to cross the surface of the sun at something like a seventy percent grade. No, I don’t care if that can’t exist. This entire stretch stands only as a reminder, after hiking ninety percent of the way under a beautiful tree canopy, that nature is an asshole. On a summer hike, you rest beforehand, drink your body weight in water directly afterward, and then become a druid so you can fuck the nearest tree. 

I thought maybe it would be a pleasant respite in the middle of winter, but nope. Because when you’re hiking in forty-five degree shade, you’ve got layers. I contemplated stripping off my flannel and sweatshirt in order to cross the threshold in my skivvies, but that would’ve taken way too much effort.

When we returned to the campsite, now with no sunlight, my friends remarked it was a deceptive 4/5 of a mile. I felt like reminding them I tried to talk them out of it. But instead I only shivered while cold wind buffeted my sweaty undergarments.

The Mirror Lake trek was more pleasant. The only drawback to that slow, paved incline was some slippery-as-shit batches of ice. Not so bad on the way up as the way down. My curling skills came in handy. Walk like a penguin, low center of gravity. My friends didn’t do quite as well. Four tumbles between the two of them. 

Speaking of ice, I was surprised the actual lake was iced over. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. Ice and snow don’t form the same way, and if it’s regularly dropping into the twenties and teens at night, it doesn’t matter if it’s been a month without a cloud in the sky. But still, Mirror Lake is pretty shallow. Not really a lake at all so much as a slight egress, a Thanksgiving belt unbuckling, of a fast-moving stream. In fact, the pool just beneath Mirror Lake, which I always considered more or less a part of Mirror Lake, didn’t have a speck of ice despite only a fifty foot elevation change. 

And yeah, I totally wanted to curl on that shit.

The Yosemite Falls hike was pretty much the same as it is in the middle of summer. Almost as crowded, too. For the most part, the park was serene and, from the perspective of a regular summer day, sparse, but the Lower Yosemite Falls bridge was still ass-to-elbow.

The only other place that felt crowded was, ironically enough, the campgrounds. Only one of the seven or eight valley campsites is open in the winter, and it’s only half open, all of us jammed into a hundred or so campsites. So even with decreased demand, we’re still right on top of each other, especially for guys used to camping somewhere remote enough for home run derby and throwing butter at trees. Maybe Yosemite knew what it was doing when it canceled my reservations last January. I thought there was no way we could spread Covid to strangers while outside in January. Turns out it’s about as private as a cultish orgy.

They didn’t, however, close Yosemite Falls last January. I assume that’s what caused every single surge and variant of the past twelve months.

Even the village store was a ghost town. I didn’t even know it was possible for the parking lot to only house a handful of cars. On a summer day, you’re idling for ten minutes until one of the two hundred cars leaves. In January, they don’t even bother plowing half the parking lot. 

Or maybe it was just that people bought their shit during the day, not wanting to drive over icy roads in the dark like a couple dumbass city slickers rolling into town twenty minutes before the store closes.

Which leads to the biggest issue with my snow camping adventure, the biggest switcheroo from my comfort zone of summer camping. 

Did you know that the days are shorter in February than in June? Who woulda guessed?

I knew there was no way in hell we’d make it there before the sun went down, but couldn’t fight that niggling hope at the base of my spine that I wouldn’t be blindly groping in the frozen dark like a freshman trying to unclasp Elsa’s bra. We discussed grabbing dinner on the way into the park, but didn’t want to lose time. So no stopping at the Pizza Factory or inviting brewery in Groveland. Because… well, I’m not sure why. It’s not like 8:00 would’ve been darker than 7:00. Once you hit nighttime, you’re setting up camp blind. The only difference is sloppiness caused by hunger pangs.

In the end, after fumbling around with some persnickety poles that seem to go together perfectly fine when I don’t have to worry about my fat ass blocking the lantern light, we finally boiled some water and had ramen for dinner that first night. It was almost PB & J sandwiches, but the other guy realized he threw some packs into his camping gear back in the Bush administration and that stuff can withstand a nuclear winter. Or a Yosemite winter. 

Not as good as the brewery or pizza in Groveland. Then again, had we stopped for dinner, the store might’ve been closed when we got there, meaning we could only burn the wood we brought with us. Ramen and fire beats pizza and no fire.

Who says I’m irresponsible while camping?

Next year, Polar Bear Challenge!

Family and other F Words

My family occasionally reminds me why I moved to the other end of the state.

That “occasion” is every damn time I have to interact with them. 

Christmas this year was no exception. Is it too soon to wish for the good old days of 2020 when we had baked-in excuses to avoid travel and gatherings? Sure, that excuse still exists. It’s just sounding more like an excuse.

The Boomers who have ruled my extended family with an iron fist since the moment they clawed their way out of war-weary wombs are dragging everyone into their self-centered black holes. They never doubted their infallibility over the last seventy years, why should they start now?

My parents generation wrested Christmas and other holiday celebrations from their own parents in the so-called Greatest Generation while in their thirties and forties. Meanwhile, I’m pushing fifty, but so far they’ve allowed ONE member of my generation to host ONE holiday. And it’s Easter, which no one gave a shit about. You can take Charlton Heston’s gun easier than we can take a Certified Family Gathering(tm).

I mean, come on, if they were the “Greatest Generation,” why would they let other generations take things from them? Don’t they know that greatness means grabbing everything and holding onto it with a death grip? Otherwise the fascists win. Not that the Greatest Generation would know jack shit about standing up to fascists. They didn’t have Facebook OR Twitter in 1941. How could one possibly stand up to fascism without changing the font on their profile picture? “Greatest.” Pfft.

For the past thirty-ish years, Christmas dinner has shifted between my mom, my aunt, and their cousins. As negotiated in the Great Treatise on Holiday Celebrations reached during the Clinton Administration, right up there with the Good Friday Agreement and Oslo Accords., my mom and aunt hold the Christmas festivities in even years, while the heathen side of the family got the odd years. 

Not that they’re heathens. With an Irish last name, you might think I’ve got a protestant/Catholic thing going on. The two sides of my family, descending from my grandpa and his sister, are quite agreeable. It’s the generation gap that gets a bit hairy. In case you hadn’t noticed.

As with everything, Covid kinda fucked up that whole arrangement. Nobody held Christmas in 2020. There was quite some consternation, and many negotiations back and forth, as to whether 2021 should go to the person who was skipped in 2020, my aunt, or the original 2021 designee, a cousin. I can only assume both sides sent pawns to a neutral location with missives and salvos before going to the mattresses.

Enter my niece, who graduated college in December. Because no story about obtuse Boomers is complete without a it’s-all-about-meeeeeee Zillennial. I’m not sure whether she was demanding a graduation party or whether my mom, her grandma, insisted. Probably a bit of each. Grandma uses any excuse to throw a party, not because she enjoys company, but so she can prove she throws better parties. But niece was the one who didn’t want to wait until spring or summer for her party. Granted, it’s taken her seven years and at least three locations to finish said college career, but now that she’s finished, dammit, gotta throw the party ASAP.

Seems a simple pickle, yeah? Just cancel Christmas and throw a graduation party instead.

I wish I was being facetious. 

Step one. Niece can’t make it to Grandma’s house for Christmas because of, I don’t know, work or friends or bong hits. So they planned her graduation for the middle of January. What’s better than one Awkward All-Family Shoutfest over the Holiday Season? That’s right, two.

And okay, not to throw everyone else under the bus without acknowledging the grenades I lobbed. Because if we’re lumping people into their generations, then how does Gen X play out?  “Yeah, I ain’t fucking doing that.”

Did I mention that my students asked if I was a Boomer? I was incensed. After I explained I was Generation X, they responded that they had never heard of that. So right on par.

In this family issue, I feel I made many concessions. In fact, I was willing to fly to Southern California for both events, Christmas and the graduation. What I refused to do was make my daughter schlep her ass across the state twice in a two-week period. Especially with one being the day after Christmas and the other being at the end of her first week back at school after two weeks off. To say nothing of the $500 I spend each round trip. 

I thought the most logical trade-off was both of us come for Christmas but then it’s just me for graduation because, honestly, why does a 7-year-old care about college? Like most 7-year-olds, she has a natural aversion to festivities where everybody’s gushing over someone else instead of her.

Naturally, nobody gave two shits if I was going to be there. If I don’t bring Daughter, then I might as well sit my ass back at home and save five benjamins.

Regardless, I set out the plans. Both of us would pack everything up the day after Christmas to come visit for a few days, then I would fly down solo in January. 

As an aside, I’ve hated with a passion, since my earliest days, the whole visiting grandma after Christmas. Even when we only lived an hour away, the trip to Grandma’s house lasted from 10:00 am on Christmas morning through at least the 27th, usually the 28th. What’s more fun than opening a bunch of gifts then leaving them behind for three days? And sure, I could bring some of the new stuff, but it’s torturous when you get the hot new video game from Santa, but Grandma doesn’t have an NES. Some years I brought the case and read the instruction booklet.

One “Yeah, I ain’t doing that shit” I carved out years ago is not flying down until the 26th. Of course, we spend most of the 25th at Wife’s family, so there’s still an element of never getting to play with your new shit, but welcome to the holidays.

Except not this year. Cause my mom told me that if we were only coming to one of the two celebrations, she’d rather it be the graduation. She talked about how everybody I’d want to see at Christmas would also be there at graduation. And they’d cook the same dinner, if that’s what I was worried about missing out on. And the baby (there’s a baby in the family) might not be there the day after Christmas but would definitely be there at graduation. 

The first thing I asked before deciding was if my aunt was okay with it. After the prolonged negotiations, this year’s Christmas was gifted to my aunt, who missed her turn last year, instead of her cousin, who was originally slated for this year. I wanted to make sure she was okay with me not showing up for Christmas. My mom thought this was an odd request, because who gives a fuck about other people’s ideas and emotions? But she acquiesced and (allegedly) got clearance from my aunt, and then we were set.

Well, not really set, because now that my mom has us all coming down for a graduation on a Saturday in January, why not stick around all day Sunday to open presents and eat quiche and drink Bailey’s, basically the full Christmas bacchanal. Then jam all those presents into an extra suitcase that we pack for a 36 hour turnaround and hope it isn’t over fifty pounds on the return flight.

And again, maybe I’m the asshole here, but I said no fucking way. If you want us there for the graduation instead of Christmas, you get us for graduation, not Christmas. You know what’s great about opening presents on the 26th or 27th? I don’t have a brand new term, with new subjects and new students the next day. So sorry, but I’m not flying down on a Saturday in order to do a full extended family party followed by a present orgy the following morning in order to fly home late on Sunday to get both Daughter and I ready for school the next day. If you want us there for Christmas, we’ll come for Christmas.

That’s an asshole hat I’ll proudly don.

Not that I went scrooge or anything, I bought everybody gift cards I could easily hand to them during the festivities so as not to take the focus away from the graduating Zillennial. I sent presents to those who wouldn’t be at the graduation.

Who wasn’t going to be present, you might ask? After all, one of the selling points was that “everybody who would be at Christmas” would also be at the graduation. Except for my aunt. 

Could you guess that was coming? Turns out my aunt wasn’t quite so thrilled at her sister telling people to skip her party for the much cooler one in January. My uncle thought my mom was trying to replace their Christmas with the graduation which, of course, “never entered” my mom’s mind, except for yeah, that’s exactly what she fucking did. So whether to placate my mom or stop hearing about it from her husband, my aunt finally canceled Christmas. 

Well, she didn’t cancel Christmas. Hallmark wouldn’t allow that. But she tapped out of the family bullshit and gave the annual celebration back to the cousin who would have been scheduled to have it during this odd-numbered year if not for 2020. So all is right with the world. And my mom was happy to note that none of this drama would happen next year, because it’s her scheduled year. And if my aunt goes six or eight years between hosting, who the hell cares, right? Seventy-year-olds regularly wait around eight years for shit to happen. Just ask Joe Biden.

So fine, I’m staying home for Christmas, Aunt is miserable, but Mom gets her precious all-hands-on-deck celebration. All is right with the world and if it’s not, at least the repercussions shouldn’t last longer than a decade anyway, right?

If only someone had asked Mom to clear it with Aunt first. Oh right, I did.

Except don’t forget, these plans are being made in the joyous 2020-2022 corridor, so you know Covid is going to rear it’s ugly head. Earlier this week, I got a text that, due to the recent Covid spike, the graduation party is canceled. Postponed until spring or summer when we can festivate outdoors. It was surprisingly thoughtful for my mom, until I inquired further and one of those “spikes in Covid” was her husband. Had it not affected her household personally, I’m sure she would’ve thrown caution to the wind.

But wait, there’s more. Don’t cancel your flight yet, Mom implores! Maybe I can still fly down and we can open Christmas presents. In mid-January. Because I skipped Christmas at her request. For a graduation that isn’t happening.

Just so long as Mom gets her “Christmas” photo of all her grandkids and her one great-grandkid. Except one of the grandkids and the great-grandkid won’t be there, because husband of said grandkid (and father of said great-grandkid) just got Covid. Oh, and the one other cousin near my daughter’s age won’t be there either. Her mother has Covid.

Far be that from convincing my mom to put a cork in her fantasy of creating a holiday celebration better than her sister’s holiday. And if we all catch Covid from each other, than maybe that old “I’m in my seventies, this might be the last…” will come true. 

So now I’m schlepping my ass t Southern California for no reason other than to open presents. And I’m not giving presents, I’m only handing people cards.  Like a typical self-centered Gen X’er.

Present at this function will be my mom, my sister, the niece who just graduated college but isn’t getting her party, and my aunt. 

Yes, my aunt. Because my mom’s husband has Covid, these festivities have been moved to my aunt’s house. 

In economics, we call that an equilibrium.

A miserable, pain-in-the-ass equilibrium. And just like the ones in economics, the only ones who it benefits are the Baby Boomers.

Outdoor Curling, Off-Ice

I originally intended for this post to be a two-parter.One for preparation, one for the Sawtooth Outdoor Bonspiel. But one of our games turned into an epic, inspiring poems retold for centuries to come. So now it’s a threesome of posts. No, wait a second. Is there another word for a group of three? Perhaps a double-team? You’re currently reading the meat of this curling-post sandwich.

Read on to find out what the beautiful town of Stanley was like and how I managed to snap my wrist! Then you can find the on-ice stuff here.

Okay, so the good news is that the weather was way warmer than expected. I spent the last three months expecting zero degrees Farenheit, and in the end I got zero degrees Celsius (and y’all thought I didn’t know metric.)

Heck, we didn’t even need the beards and goggles. But when you deck yourself out this sexy, there’s no turning back on account of weather.

The bad news is that it’s really, really difficult to curl when the ambient temperature is the freezing point of water. Because, you see, we need the water to be actually frozen. If it’s melting, the stone can’t glide across it, as it’s supposed to. We went to a hockey game and a water polo match broke out. Not that I’d trust horses on either surface.

As an example, we time our deliveries in curling, in order to give the sweepers an idea of when to sweep and to give the shooter an idea of how the ice is working. We only time the beginning of the delivery. Under normal conditions, a delivery of 3.5 or 3.6 or 3.7 seconds means the rock will end on the button (the middle of the “bullseye”) at the other end, about 25 seconds later. And if I’m timing the lead on my team and discover it’s 3.7 to button versus 3.5, then that tells me I need to slide out a little slower than usual.

At the beginning of our first game, it was 2.6 seconds to button. As far as we could tell. At those speeds, it’s hard to get an accurate reading, as the sweepers are chasing after a 20 MPH bullet. So yeah, for the first two ends, we were pretty much throwing as hard as we could and hoping for the best.

The game was scheduled to start at 5:00, but they pushed it back to 5:30 to accommodate for the weather. They should’ve pushed it back to 6:00. Because by the third end, the ice was closer to normal. Okay, maybe it was 3.3 to button instead of the usual 3.6, but that’s something we can work with.

Not that we could work with it. We scored one in the first end and then got shutout for the next five. There were a few times we’d get a little something going, but then the other team would make a perfect draw and we’d end up with squa-doosh. I was ready to throw in the towel on the second-to-last end when we were down 8-1. But then we were looking at three points before I took my final two shots. We all agreed: if we score less than five, we’ll shake hands and concede the game. Because if we score, the other team gets the hammer (final shot). And it’s really, really hard to score more than two if the other team has the final shot. But if we scored five, we’d be down by two. And then….

We scored five. Game’s now 8-6. Other team wants to shake hands, but we went dick-mode and made them play the final end. It didn’t matter. My final shot curled a foot too far, pushing our own stone back instead of their stone, as intended, so they didn’t even need to take their final shot.

The weight actually normalized a bit when the sun started to set. Although human beings might not like the temperature in the twenties, curling rocks do. That’s one of the ways we were able to mount that comeback. Once the ice behaved in a marginally normal way, we were able to make some stuff happen. The lines were still wonky. If you moved the broom six inches to the left, the rock might end up six feet to the left. But that actually worked in our favor because the other team kept missing their hits. A team can’t really score five points in an end unless the other team messes up.

Then again, you gotta be ready to pounce on the opponent’s mistakes.

After the game, we headed to one of two restaurants in Stanley. There’s usually a pizza place, too, but it was closed for renovation. We were worried that, in a town of 67, the restaurant might not be open past 8:00. Heck, I live in a city of 60,000 and it’s sometimes hard to find anyplace open that late.

Turns out we didn’t need to worry. They stayed open for us, and were still open when the next draw ended. Makes sense. Sixteen teams, four curlers apiece. We just doubled the size of their population. I guess when you live in a remote town, anytime there’s outside money coming in, you gotta accommodate them. Otherwise you’re just taking money from Henry at the hardware store, whom you’ll be giving it back to next week when you need some more propane.

Word in the restaurant was that the late draw worked the opposite of us. The speed of the ice was normal for the first couple of ends, and then the fog rolled in, which pushed people back up to 2.6-second draws. I never thought about the effects of fog on curling rocks (not something we encounter too much indoors), but it makes sense. The air’s going to get heavier and there’s going to be more moisture. Neither of those are great for speeding up a 42-pound rock sliding across a frozen pond.

Unfortunately, because we lost game one, we were stuck in the early draw the next morning. 7:00 AM, an hour and change before sunrise. A wonderful time to enjoy the comfort and extravagance of a mountain retreat. It was pitch black when the game started. Check this out:

You can almost see where you’re aiming, huh? It changed how I held the target broom. Usually I try to make the target as small as possible. I stand directly behind my broom, tuck one foot behind the other. The head on my broom is usually a neon green or garish orange that really pops against the black of my pants and shoes. Don’t want to confuse my team with where the target is. Some skips stand with their legs a foot or two wide and the next thing you know, you’re accidentally sighting in on their left foot or the open air in between instead of the broom.

I started this game doing just that. Then one of my teammates told me to spread my legs. After the commensurate and anatomically errant “That’s what she said,” I opened them up wide. When finished, I saw why they were asking. My body had been blocking the spotlights. They couldn’t really see the orange target. But if I widened my stance like a GOP Senator in a Minnesota airport, they could see the giant stick between my legs.

And there was a broom there, too. Hey-Oh!

I was told by a guy who had come in previous years to be on the lookout for the sunrise. It’s beautiful, he said, and it will, however temporarily, help you stop the nagging doubt building in your gut as to why you signed up and paid for the “privilege” of frostbitten testicles. Then again, he was there on one of those negative-five days, not a twenty-degrees-at-sunrise type of day that I got to experience.

But he wasn’t wrong about the sunrise:

These photos are brought to you by a couple of stones that I didn’t bother watching. I probably could’ve swept them to better positions, helped my team win their fucking game. But really, how can I let that sunrise go by? I didn’t come here to win games. I came to freeze my testicles!

I decided to throw on an extra layer of clothing this time. Despite months of planning, the previous night had been a bit chilly. My legs were fine. My toes, despite two layers of socks and two layers of rubber, felt the ice whenever I stood still. But the worst part was my chest and arms. One layer of thermal, then a t-shirt, then a onesie was not enough. And that had been at thirty degrees. This time the thermometer read a crisp eighteen when we left our hotel. What had been a wee bit uncomfortable last night would be a tad more hard-core today.

It was fine, though. I brought the flannel shirt I usually take camping. It’s thick. Add that to some thermals underneath and my super fancy onesie on top and I should be nice and cozy, right? Well, it was better but still not ideal.

I did finally get my chest to a happy medium, though. After our second game, we were supposed to return to the ice rink to help them out with some stuff around midday. This time I went old school. I have some of those old-fashioned wool long-john style underwear that I’ve had since I was a teenager. I don’t want to say we’ve regressed as a society, but the ugly-ass shit from World War II works a hell of a lot better than the sleek black Audi shit of today. We’ve become more concerned with looking good than, I don’t know, surviving the elements. At least the rescuers will find a very sexy corpse-sicle.

Fortunately it stretches, cause my gut ain’t what it once was. Or rather, it’s a lot more than it once was. Unfortunately it doesn’t stretch THAT much, so the downward-slope of my undergut was feeling a bit drafty. But whatever, it kept the rest of me warm. I actually just wore a t-shirt over it. No onesie! Besides, it was the low-thirties once again, so I didn’t need to ward off frostbite.

By our third game, I had perfected it. Sleek black thermal, wool longjohn, flannel shirt, onesie. Four layers! I was downright toasty.

Except for my feet. Cause no matter how protected my chest and arms were, my toes were still permanently aware of the fact that they were walking on ice. One layer of cotton sock, one layer of thermal sock, shoe rubber and gripper rubber be damned.

I tried some of those iron-oxide foot warmers, but they didn’t seem to do much. I put them outside the thermal socks, thinking the closer to the ice, the better. Maybe I should’ve put them in between my two socks. If I ever return, I’ll test that out.

Oh, and I fell on the ice when I helped during the day. You see, when the sun is out and it’s 34 degrees, it makes the ice super slippery. It’s a bad time to curl and evidently it’s a bad time to walk. I was in the act of kicking an errant rock over to the edge. The ice was in the act of kicking my ass to the ground.

The good news is that years of curling has taught me how to fall on ice. Always fall forward, never backward. Backward is where blackouts and cracked skulls happen. And trips to the emergency room with the commensurate ambulance bill. Unfortunately, when your ass gets above your teakettle, you can get a concussion on the front-end, too. Did you know it’s possible to land temple first?

The good news is that my on-ice instinct must be honed very well. The bad news is that I got my wrist underneath me at the last minute before my face planted. Or maybe it’s the good news. Because a sprained wrist is better than being knocked unconscious and whisked off to the nearest hospital, which was over an hour away. But unfortunately, a sprained wrist is substantially worse than an unsprained wrist. It looks gnarly, too.

That’ll teach me to help out.

Best Buffett in Vegas

Just hopped down to Vegas for the weekend to catch a Jimmy Buffett show.

Not sure I’ll do a concert review this year. I’ve only seen two shows , and they’re both bands I’ve seen and written about before.

But we traveled to see both bands, so I guess I can write about the travels and the concert together.

I saw Mumford & Sons in South Carolina in March. Did I forget to write about that? Hmm…

South Carolina was very Caroliney. Lots of barbecue places, although most were mediocre until we found an excellent one in Columbia. Also, Columbia is the home of the University of South Carolina. Home of the Cocks. I guaran-fucking-tee I’ve written about my love of the Cocks before.

Wait a second. That came out wrong.

And the concert was awesome. I think I’ve written about Mumford at least twice before. They are spectacular in concert. In fact, I’m seeing them again in a couple months. This time nearer to my home.

But enough about Mumford and the Carolinas. Let’s talk about Jimmy Buffett in Vegas.

Phil Collins was also in Vegas that night. We thought about trying to fit them both in, but their concerts started within a half-hour of each other. Really, Aging White Dudes? Are you not aware that some of your fans might want to double dip?

Oh well, I can’t tell you anything about Phil Collins. But boy, if you’ve ever wondered if there are any places that might make Buffett fans more Buffett, well, I found it for you.

Parrotheads Descend Upon Sin City.

I’ve been to Jimmy Buffett concerts before. I’ve been to Vegas before. Both are experiences in their own regard. So when I saw that Jimmy would be playing in Vegas, well, I just had to go.

Evidently I wasn’t the only one.

Holy shit!

You wouldn’t think a single fan base could make a dent on the Vegas ambiance. Vegas has a few hundred thousand visitors on a normal weekend, right? Some people are there to see Reba or the Jonas Brothers or Barry Manilow or, occasionally, Phil Collins. Heck, I’m guessing the mummified corpse of Frank Sinatra is performing somewhere. Not to mention the sporting events, be they NBA All-Star Games or Ritualistic Ear-Biting.

In addition there are, allegedly, other recreational activities that might draw people to the middle of a fucking desert.

Normally, any one set of those travelers don’t make much of an impact. The Air Supply fans and the Drake fans each orbit around amongst each other without affecting the overall gravitational pull that is Vegas. I bet when Tupac got shot, he was right next to some drunk frat dude with an ironic trucker hat.

So I didn’t expect to see the neon footprint of Parrotheads wherever I went. In fact, it was so far out of my mind, that when there were four people dressed like pirates when we took the monorail (MONORAIL!) to the Flamingo area for brunch, I didn’t even think they might be there for the concert that was still nine hours away. I just thought, “Huh. Pirates.” It’s Vegas. What’re you gonna do?

But as we took the skybridge from the Monorail (MONORAIL!) station into the Flamingo, we saw a giant banner for a “Son of a Son of a Pool Party,” to be held from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Now, you might think this is just a great cross-promotion. Get all the people that are heading your way for the concert later tonight to show up early, spend some extra money. And, yeah, to a certain extent, that’s what was going on.

Except not entirely. Because the concert was at the MGM Grand, not the Flamingo. Granted, I’m never really sure which casinos are currently affiliated with which other casinos. But when I was in the Flamingo, I could use my Caesar’s loyalty card. Then again, when we told the aggressive timeshare salesguy that we were staying at Hilton, he said, “That’s our competitor. How about I give you a deal to stay here next time?” This despite the fact that it’s always been known as the Flamingo Hilton and there was still a sign at the Uber drop-off that referenced “Flamingo by Hilton.”

Regardless of if it’s a Hilton or a Caesar’s, I don’t think either of those are affiliated with MGM Grand. So while this was an attempt to get the Parrotheads out early to spend some extra cash, it was not an attempt by the property where the concert was actually happening. It’s counter-promotion, like the Puppy Bowl at halftime of the Super Bowl. Except instead of half-time, it’s beforehand. And instead of cute puppies, it’s drunks who should have stopped wearing swimwear like that about thirty years ago. Present company included.

I never found out which pool had a Phil Collins pre-party. It might be tough with all of the bald heads.

Then again, the Flamingo does have the Vegas Margaritaville restaurant. So the symbiosis did make a certain amount of sense. In fact, it’s a bit of brilliance. There’s a reason Jimmy Buffett is one of the most valuable musicians despite never having a number one hit. He knows that his fans are in town, he knows they like to drink, and he knows they tend to run older and higher on the socio-economic scale than the average fan base. And they can’t all fit inside the Margaritaville restaurant. So how about a pool party?

Oh yeah, he also opened a weed dispensary in town with the same name as his band, the Coral Reefers. Its grand opening was the weekend of the concert. Not bad for a dumb redneck from Alabama who just sings stupid party songs.

But the Parrotheads weren’t just at the pool party. We went across the street to Bobby Flay’s restaurant, Mesa, and wouldn’t you know it, Parrotheads everywhere. We went to see Potted Potter, a show at Bally’s, at 2:00 in the afternoon, and there were Hawaiian shirts everywhere. And hey, dude in front of me? Do you mind taking off your foam shark hat so that I can see the Ron Weasley wig?

To be fair, there might’ve been a lot of Phil Collins fans traipsing around the Strip as well. But they’re not as easy to spot.

I actually felt under-dressed. Or maybe I was overdressed, seeing as I had socks. But my major faux-pas was my lack of a Hawaiian.

I packed a Hawaiian, of course. I think of you show up to a Jimmy Buffett show without a Hawaiian shirt, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in Parrotjail.

And heck, half my wardrobe is Hawaiian. The Tommy Bahama outlet store is my own personal, inexpensive Disneyland.

But my Hawaiian (with parrots, natch) was still back in the hotel room. Because the concert was still over nine hours away. And I was going to be eating and drinking in between now and then.

These people… were they going to stay out all day? Were they going to start drinking heavily and still make the concert at 8:00? This is Vegas, can I bet the over/under on how many of them aren’t going to make it to the show? Also, any chance I can figure out what seat the dude with the balloon-flamingo hat and the “pet” foam shark on the pipe cleaner-esque “leash” has? Because I’ve kinda got nosebleed seats and would like to know where there’s likely to be an empty seat tonight.

Did I mention it’s easy to spot the Parrotheads?

But here’s another cool thing about Jimmy Buffett. This wasn’t the last I saw of the pirates from the monorail (MONORAIL! ) or flamingo-balloon-hat lady or Pet Shark Dude. They showed up at the show. Just maybe not in person.

If you’ve never seen a Jimmy Buffett show before, he usually plays in front of a giant HD screen that shows pictures and videos that go with whatever song he’s singing. Lots of tropical beaches, bucolic mountain vistas, and fun-in-the-sunners. “License to Chill” featured a video selfie of Jimmy Buffett kayaking. “He Went to Paris” had shots of the Eiffel Tower.

“It’s Five o’ Clock Somewhere” started with a clock with a whole bunch of fives. Then it showed some boat drinks. Then a pool. The pool totally looked familiar… Holy crap! I know that pirate!

What followed was three minutes of footage from the pool party that day. The pool party at a competitor’s hotel. How cool is that? All you have to do is spend money for his concert and at the pool party put on by his restaurant, and maybe his pot dispensary, and you can see yourself up on stage at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Shit, to do that at a Bruce Springsteen concert, you have to be Courtney Cox.

One more kinda cool thing. There was no opening band. Tickets said 8:00 and by 8:17, Jimmy was out on stage. He’s gotta be considerate of all of the old fogeys he made drink for ten straight hours.

He played for two hours, with only a 6-minute break to go grab a drink or a what have you.

I know the break was about six minutes because he played a video to keep us entertained. The video featured a ukulele player playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with lyrics so that we could all sing along. And sing along we did. You haven’t heard horror tinged with comedy tinged with “aww, that was sweet” until you’ve heard 20,000 people try to time “Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bismillah! No, we will not let you go.”

Why did Jimmy have this random video of a random ukulele player playing a Queen song? Because the guy had opened for him in Dublin. How cool is that? Buffett liked the guy and liked the performance, so he gave him free exposure to this crowd. And sure, that’s often the point of an opening band, but who the hell pays attention to the opening band? That’s just background music for getting frisked by security, right? And those assholes usually end up playing way too long. Some even get surly that we aren’t there to see them and are only paying marginal attention to get a clue as to how much longer their asses are going to be wasting our earspace.

But this guy, Jake Shimabukuro, is playing right in the middle of the show, when we’re all in our seats. And he’s only playing one song, so we don’t get tired of him. And it’s a song we all know and can sing along to. And even better, he didn’t even have to show up! That’s the fucking trifecta of expanding an audience right there.

If only I could get Jimmy Buffett to promote my blog.

Mid-Eighties Circus. 

We usually stay at the south end of the Strip, but this time we were on the north end. So I was able to check out the Sahara, which has been refurbished since the corpse of Frank Sinatra played there. And Circus Circus, which most assuredly has not.

I’ve been coming to Vegas since the early eighties, when my age was still in single-digits. And we always stopped or stayed at Circus Circus. Back then, my mom could give me $10 in quarters and I’d go full Latchkey for HOURS on the upper floor. Carnival games, arcade, circus acts. What’s not to love? I remember feeling sorry for my poor mom, who had to be downstairs in the boring casino, missing all the fun up there.

Back then, Circus Circus was actually a destination, a worthy anchor of the northern end of the Strip. There were maybe only ten casinos, most of which had been there long enough to have streets named after them. Circus Circus didn’t have its own street, but it was an anchor, nonetheless.

Boy, its hallowed days are gone.

Unfortunately, this affects their business model, as well. Because there wasn’t shit going on on the Saturday morning we went there.

Those who have followed my travels before know we sometimes bring our daughter’s stuffed animal on our trips, so they can “take pictures” and “report back to her.” Except on this short weekend away, where we went straight from work to the airport, oops!, we left Giraffey at home. No problem, we figure, we’re staying by Circus Circus. Let’s go get her a new friend.

Except the upstairs wasn’t open until 10:00 AM.

WHAT? Sure, maybe the circus acts aren’t going to run 24 hours, but the carnival games? And I know they need employees to run those games. But at least the video arcade should be open, right?

Wait, they don’t do video arcades anymore? Is Pac-Man no longer chic? Boy, where have I been? Downstairs in the boring casino, I guess.

Speaking of the casino, we figured maybe we could just gamble for a little bit until the upstairs opens. I just needed to get a rewards card and… never mind. The reward card center doesn’t open until 10:00 AM, either.

So much for being the city that doesn’t sleep. At least one end of the Strip not only sleeps, but sleeps in as well.

I just threw five bucks in a machine while Wife visited the bathroom. Without the benefit of Big Brother tracking me.

When she returned, I had it back up to five bucks. So yay! I broke even. Although if I had been using a rewards card, I would’ve made a point or two. Whatever, I just pushed the button to collect my winnings.

Then something crazy happened. Instead of the familiar dinging sound I’ve come to expect when the ticket prints, there was a strange whirring. Then something shot out the bottom of the slot machine.

Holy Shit! Those are quarters! Coming OUT of a slot machine. It really IS 1986 in here!

When I realized what was happening, the things went through my mind in rapid succession:

1. What the hell is happening? Where is my fucking ticket? Is this thing possessed? It’s, like, spewing out its innards!

2. OMG! Those are quarters. How fucking cool is that? It’s so retro. Like I’m a fresh- faced 21 year old again (at least according to my i.d. at the time). Tonight were going to party like it’s 1999, baby!

3. What the fuck am I supposed to do with 20 quarters? How fucking annoying is that? I hate coins. If I have a dollar bill, it’s worth a dollar to me. If I have 99 cents, I might as well have nothing. In my world, ten dollars in coins is worth less than a single dollar bill. Because the coins in my pocket at the end of the day just go on the nightstand to die. Or they stay in my pockets where the laundry fairy takes them as compensation for cleaning the sacrificial dirty pants I left in her hamper-shaped altar. Back in the old days, when my i.d. said I was 21, I used to hold onto coins until I came to Nevada, but now slots don’t take coins anymore, so the one value coins had is now gone. Wait a second. If these slots pay out quarters, maybe they’ll… Nope. No coin slots. They take in paper money and pay out coins. Even when you win, you lose.

So I grabbed one of those buckets next to the machine. Remember those? Not that I needed it for a whopping twenty coins, but dammit, they done pissed me off with their coin bullshit. They’ll be lucky if they get this bucket back without my DNA in it.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea behind the retro slot machine is a good one. Think of all the all of the old video game consoles on the market these days. But a ticket-or-coin option would’ve been appreciated. Or maybe at least a warning sign.

Unfortunately it still wasn’t 10:00, so after cashing (coining) in my winnings, we headed for the Monorail (MONORAIL!). Still had to get a new stuffed animal. So we high-tailed it to Margaritaville to buy a couple of plush parrots. I’m sure Jimmy Buffett appreciates our business.

Daughter ended up naming the parrots Jimmy and Buffett. She then took them to show-and-tell at school. CPS, I await your call.

People. A couple shorties to finish off. Two people who stuck out. Maybe not for the best of reasons. Unless you are entertained by idiots, in which case, they stood out for the BEST reasons!

First was the guy sitting next to me at Mesa. He had clearly watched a fair amount of Food Network in whatever podunk area of the country he came from. And being at Bobby Flay’s restaurant gave him carte blanche, or rather creme freche, to make random requests out of his ass.

His wife ordered some pink concoction. Maybe it was a Cosmo, but it looked foofier. He tried it to see if he liked it before ordering a drink of his own. Of course, the server had to stand there for the experiment. Diner decided it was a bit too sweet and wondered if there was something a little less sugary.

Boy, that’s a tough one. Are there any drinks less sweet than a Cosmo? Can’t think of a single one. Sorry. We all know that cosmos are the driest drinks around, right? Certainly not Martinis or Old Fashoneds. A straight shot of scotch whiskey might as well be a swizzle stick when compared to the stifling bitterness of the Cosmopolitan. The mummified corpse of Dean Martin drank cosmos all the time.

He then asked if they could take a drink like that and add some bitters. I wanted to jump out of my seat to assist the server’s explanation that bitters aren’t actually bitter. But whatever. Dude probably heard it on a Bobby Flay show once, so who are we to question his culinary knowledge.

I didn’t pay attention long enough to hear what he ordered. The next time he caught my attention was when his burger was delivered. Tight before he asked if they had any “straight mayonnaise.”

Straight mayonnaise? I didn’t even know condiments had sexual proclivities. Sure, mayonnaise might look like semen, but I’m sure these Vegas condiments are only creaming meat, as God intended, and not some other condiment. Then again, I don’t partake in mayonnaise much, so maybe I’m just out of the loop on the Mayonnaise Agenda. Or is it a War on Mayo-mas?

But what do you expect from someone who orders mayonnaise? No mayo deserves to be anywhere near a well-cooked burger, regardless of whose bread it likes to butter.

It turns out, of course, that this guy wanted regular, unadulterated mayonnaise. None of that garlic aioli crap. Unflavored. If he’s going to dip or smother his food in sweet lard, he wants the pure stuff. Black tar heroin.

I only hope he didn’t want the mayo for those fries on his plate. If I end up yacking in my Irish Coffee, I’m adding it to his tab.

But no, the server explains, they don’t have straight mayonnaise. The closest they have is a subtle aioli.

Food connoisseur passed, disappointed.

Umm… not to side with Patron Guy in this endeavor, but if you have garlic aioli, how do you not have mayonnaise? What’s the base of the aioli? I hope Bobby Flay isn’t shipping his dips in from far away.

Go ahead, Server, double-check on that mayonnaise. It might be listed as creme fraiche.

Dude number two came running up to our Uber driver as we were heading to the airport Sunday morning. Where, he wanted to know, might he watch an NFL game.

Uber Driver feigned ignorance. “No hablo ingles.” Pretty convincing, too, as Wife and I were worried we might have trouble communicating with him. Not that you need to communicate with your Uber driver. That’s what Google Maps is for. But still, sometimes it’s more convenient to explain where we’re going.

Turns out he knew enough English to say and hear what he needed to say and hear. And I’m pretty sure he could understand “TV” and “Futbol.” Even if he pointed to where one could watch soccer, he’d be doing Dude a solid.

But that’s not his fucking job. He doesn’t need to tell Dude where to watch an NFL game on a Sunday morning in Las Vegas. Even if the answer is “Literally Anywhere.”

Seriously Dude, you see that high-rise buildings? Or that one? Right, the ones with the neon.  They’re called “Casinos.” And in these “Casinos” are things called “Sports Books.” The “Sports Books” take “Bets” on “Games” and then have giant “TV’s” where you can “Watch.” So if you’re looking for a particular game, pick a direction, any direction, and go into a high rise, any high rise. Then look for the wall with twenty giant screens on it.

They have NFL Sunday Ticket, too, so you can even watch obscure teams like… what’s that? You want to watch the Raiders? You mean the team that’s going to be the Las Vegas Raiders next year?

Yeah, I’m guessing you could watch them on local TV.

Maybe even at Circus Circus.

Going to the Reno of Love

I went to Reno a few weeks ago. Nothing much to note. Reno is pretty much always Reno. It ain’t like a box a chocolates. You always know precisely what you’re gonna get.

Although I did find out that you shouldn’t attend a minor league baseball stadium on the final weekend of the season unless you want them to be out of everything. I understand not having all the beers in stock. Don’t want to have half a keg that has to last through to next April. But the mini helmets for the ice cream? Come on, those will be perfectly fine next year.

But I’m not here to talk about minor league baseball or the cockamamie drink-ticket policy that the casinos are starting to implement. Really? You’re going to charge me for a Grey Goose? That’s probably a blog post for another time.

No, for some reason, this trip to Reno reminded me of another trip to Reno many years ago. Before I blogged. Scary to think that time ever happened. I think we used pagers and wore Day-glo parachute pants. And maybe the Challenger ran into the World Trade Center. I’m not sure. The older I get, everything more than a week old just fuses all together into one large morass that is “Youth.”

Although this story involves having a regular bartender, so it was probably after the age of twelve. Let’s hope.

My regular bartender, you see, served happy hour at a bar that had NTN/Buzztime trivia. For those of us who preferred to exercise some brain cells while killing the others. I spent many an afternoon there grading papers, because when a student writes a term paper comparing the military draft to the NFL draft, his teacher just might need a cold one.

The bartender had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with a guy. The relationship tended to be “off” at the times she was pregnant with his child and then “on” when whoever he was banging in his off-time got pregnant. Quality relationship, I assure you.

One time whilst not pregnant, she realized he was a flight risk lifelong catch, and decided that if she liked it, she ought to put a ring on it. Like, right quick! Because no better person to enter into a legally-binding life-partnership with than someone who might or might not be around next week.

She asked some of us regulars what we were doing that Sunday because, if we wanted, we could come to their wedding in Reno. It turns out I wasn’t doing anything. Heck, my bartender wasn’t going to be working, so there was little chance of scoring free drinks in town. Is there anywhere else I might find some free drinks? Reno, you say? Well, that sounds like some synergy right there!

As I said, this was a long time ago, when Nevada casinos offered free drinks. These days, they require $100 worth of bets and a Maruader’s-Map-style oath solemnly swearing that there is more money where that came from as long as they continue to ply me with alcohol. And that I won’t lose that money in any of their competitors’ establishments. And, naturally, that I am up to no good.

When Sunday rolled around, we loaded up in a couple of cars and caravaned to the most romantic place on Earth. Sorry, I meant the most romantic spot in Nevada. Make that northwestern Nevada. Not counting the Tahoe vicinity. Or maybe Burning Man. Or, I don’t know, the Mustang Ranch?

You know what? I’ll just say it. Reno’s a shithole. And thank God for that, because if it were a place people might want to go, I wouldn’t be able to find $5 tables anymore.

We stopped off at Boomtown, the first casino you come to along I-80.

Boomtown’s super classy. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s similar to Primm along I-15, being the stateline between California and Nevada, ie the first place you can gamble en route to your gambling destination. Except that, whereas Primm has three or four casinos, Boomtown only has one. Primm also has roller coasters. And the Bonnie and Clyde death car. And shows. Boomtown has none of those.

Now that I think about it, Boomrown’s nothing like Primm. Primm is still about an hour away from Vegas, so maybe you need to take a leak or you’re not going to make it to The Strip in enough time to bet on the Super Bowl coin flip. But Boomtown’s only about five miles from Reno. There’s no viable reason to stop there on the way into Reno. There’s reason to stop there on the way out, because you can pay Nevada prices for gas instead of California prices for your drive back. But on the way there, it only serves people with poor planning abilities or no impulse control. Kinda like a couple deciding on a whim that they should get married this weekend.

I don’t remember why we stopped. Gas? Smokes? Regardless, they got in a fight about something. Not sure what. Gas? Smokes? Anyway, we all decided to hit the buffet here on the way back to commemorate the occasion, and it was onward to the drive-thru chapel.

Except it wasn’t a drive-thru. That’s the fancy Vegas shit. These Reno rat-bastards made us get out of the car to negotiate the ceremony details! They haggled over prices and pictures and, I don’t know, whether the deluxe marriage package comes with large fries or if they have to be ordered separately. I didn’t inquire about the primae noctis add-on.

Although to be fair, I don’t know all of the privies of the negotiation because I was stuck outside watching the five kids they share via various previous relationships and what George Washington referred to as “foreign entanglements.”

Also, I might’ve been a bit twitchy, because I have a general rule about being outside in Reno. And the general rule is: under no circumstances should one ever be outside in Reno.

If you’ve never been to Reno, I’ll paint you a picture. Pull up a mental picture of Las Vegas. Now take away all the fountains and Sphinxes. And rides and shows. And attractive people. And any building built after 1980. You can keep the weather, though. Oh, and maybe ass a little dilapidated infrastructure and a few homeless people passed out on the sidewalk. Now you’ve got Reno.

Oh wait, did I say the weather is the same as Vegas? I only meant in the summer. The winter weather is way worse in Reno.

But that’s all on the outside. Inside, they have these wonderful, climate-controlled resorts with neon and free alcohol.  There’s a reason three of the Reno casinos decided their best bet was to combine into one three-block long structure so that people can move from one to the other without breathing legitimate air.

But whatever, Bartender, for you I’ll travel all the way to my Mecca, able to see the Great Mosque, my religious fervor gambling addiction quivering in my bones. Ignore the Silver Legacy! I’m here to celebrate a friend’s most blessed day, a day she’s been looking forward to since at least last Thursday. So I’ll suck it up and get ready to throw some rice or confetti or… wait, was somebody supposed to bring the rice?

Although it doesn’t matter, because here come Bride and Groom and, oh no, they don’t look too terribly happy. Did someone forget the Smokes? Gas?

“I fucking told you,” Bride was saying.

Groom was mumbling something or other.

“They won’t marry us unless we get a marriage license.”

Wait, what? This is Nevada, home of the quickie wedding. Don’t they issue the marriage certificate AT the wedding facility? All you should have to do is prove your identity as an adult and sign on the dotted…

Wait, what’s that? Groom didn’t bring his ID? Was that his super secret way of avoiding this date with destiny? If I “accidentally”  leave my driver’s license at home, I’ll escape scot free! 

Except Bride said she told him this would happen. Clearly she knew he didn’t bring proper identification to his own wedding. I would be intrigued if I could get over my sweating scrotum and quivering gambling glands.

Awe, what the hell. Inquiring minds want to know.

Turns out Groom didn’t have his driver’s license with him because he was no longer in possession of said license. It’s a temporary thing. He’s supposed to get it back soon.

Why was Groom temporarily identification-less? Had he perhaps left it at a bar the night before? Maybe it went through the laundry in his gym shorts. Or the cops took it away. Do cops take your ID away? I always assumed that, if the courts suspend your license, you still get the card back. In case you need to get married in Reno or something.

No, it turns out Groom had recently been involved in a car crash. And, as a dutiful driver, he got out of the car and exchanged information with the other driver.

By literally giving his driver’s license to the dude.

I’m going to let that one sink in for a bit. I think I went into a daze when I heard it.

Look, I know I have a tendency to get a little bit snooty in my middle-class upbringing. I understand that other people’s experiences and worldviews can’t always match my own and maybe some people are raised to think that “giving the other driver your information” means something different than I think it does.

Then again, I’ve been in a fair number of accidents in my life, and was capable of jotting down the other driver’s license number and insurance info perfectly fine, even in the times before cell phones could immediately take pictures of that information. And never once have I offered to give away my primary form of identification. Nor have I asked for said in return. Nor has anyone I’ve ever gotten into an accident with offered their identification nor requested possession of my identification, except for the temporary purpose of copying down the information.

Taking the other person’s identification is indicative of human trafficking, not a minor rear-ender.

Who the hell gets in an accident and immediately says, “Hey, here’s my driver’s license. You can send it back to me whenever you’re ready. Want me to buy you a stamp?”

Well, maybe a guy who is trying to avoid hitchin’ his old lady that weekend.

Now you might think that, a time when one of the two signatories to a legal contract isn’t able to prove their identity isn’t the best time to plan a last minute trip to said document signing, but whatever. Who can argue with True Love?

Regardless, I guess this trip to Reno is wasted. Whatever shall we do? And I’m only asking because the glistening dome of the Silver Legacy is just a few blocks away and it may or may not be speaking through my subconscious, begging me to come visit. She’s letting me know in no uncertain terms that she knows I’m in her neighborhood and that I better not be thinking about turning tail and skipping town before giving her a little laugh and a tickle. I’m just sayin’, y’all, ain’t no scorned lover like a scorned lover with more money than the Pope and more secret recording devices than… the Pope. The Silver Legacy knows what I’m doing all day, every day, and most of the time, she approves. But some of the time…

Do we have to caravan back together if they didn’t even tie the knot? I know they were talking about a celebratory buffet at Boomtown, but that’s only if there’s something to celebrate, right? Do we still need to go to the buffet at Boomtown if we’re just calling it lunch?

But wait, Bride has a plan. Of course she has a plan, because she was just telling Groom that she told him this would happen. So she’s prepared. Not prepared enough to, like, pick a different date for the wedding. Or a new fiance. But she’s prepared.

Groom brought other forms of identification. Nothing official, mind you. Not a social security card. Not a military i.d. Groom’s never been in the military, so that would be tough. But I’m guessing he’s been arrested before. Would a mug shot would count as an official government document?

He brought mail from home. Um, okay. I know it’s often used as proof of residency, but that’s not really what they’re going for here. They don’t need to prove that Joe Schmoe lives at 123 Main Street, but rather, WHO IS Joe Schmoe.

He also brought his work i.d. Good news is it has picture of him. Bad news is it’s not terribly official. I mean, the liquor store that you’re rent-a-copping at might be comforted by the fact that ABC Security is capable of color printing a badge, but if you give me a five-minute crash course in Photoshop and point me toward a Kinko’s, I could get a homeless guy standing in for Groom in this ceremony.

So this is why Weddings n’ Chips isn’t willing to marry these two. They have to prove that the state of Nevada will issue them a marriage license. They can go to the Superior Court and see if someone more official than an Elvis impersonator will sign off on the Crayola stick figure that their 4-year old wrote “Daddy” under.

Just kidding. There are no Elvis impersonators in Reno. Way too upbeat. If Reno had any impersonators, it’d probably be Phil Collins. Or Falco.

“I don’t know how the hell we’re supposed to find City Hall,” Bride says.

At this point, one of the guys I drove up with, one of the other lushes who not only has a regular, daytime bartender, but who has a regular, daytime bartender who saw fit to invite him to her drive-thru Falco wedding, looks into the Reno skyline and says, “Um, maybe it’s that square building with the American flag that says ‘RENO’ across the top?”

Well spotted, Dude. So much for lushes not having great observational skills. I might’ve noticed that giant building if it hadn’t been in the vicinity of casinos. His vice is not currently in sight, so maybe it’s easier to focus on minor details like thirty-story square buildings with flags on top. My vice is beckoning me, telling me to ignore those other buildings. Those other buildings are skanks who don’t understand what I really need.

So Bride and Groom are heading to the government building on a Sunday to see if they’ll accept Groom’s t-shirt tag as formal identification. Who knows how long that’s going to take? Whatever shall the rest of us do whilst waiting for a rush judgment from the government?

“Saaaaaaay,” I posit. “Would you mind if we maybe… I don’t know… found some air conditioning and maybe a…”

I can’t finish on account of the shakes and the salivations, but my message is clear enough by the single tear forming in the corner of my eye.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” says Bride, whose focused elsewhere right now. “I’ll text you when we find out and, if we can get married, you can meet us-,”

I didn’t hear the rest of what she said, as I was suddenly moving at the speed of light toward yon distant Heaven. The other lushes came with me. It’s vice o’clock!

I dropped the lushes off at the casino bar, despite the fact that it went against every fiber of my being. Don’t they know they can just walk an extra five feet and camp out at a slot machine and then wait fifteen minutes or so for the septuagenarian cocktail waitress to maneuver her walker over in their direction? And then they can get a well drink! Sure, they might’ve lost $50 by the time she gets back with that free drink, but then they can say they didn’t lose $50, they just purchased a $50 watered-down Jack & Coke.

So I sat down at the slot machine and had just ordered my “free” drink when my phone buzzes. It’s my bartender telling us that they made it to the “justice of the peace” and were granted a “marriage license” and were heading back to the “chapel.” She’ll meet us back there.

Well, shit.

I tell my friends to drink up. Those bastards were already been on their second drink. Not that we’d been there for long, but let’s be honest, we all met in a bar and have a regular bartender who invited us to her wedding, so we can down the drinks pretty quick.

I return to my slot machine to wait for my drink. Time slows as I wait for my cocktail. Or “Cock Drink,” as one of my favorite casino servers of all time once referred to them. I think she was about two hours off the boat from Russia. They don’t hire these women for their conversational abilities. They hire them for their ability to bend time like the Matrix and keep our sorry asses glued to our seats donating more capital into the gaping maws of their reverse-ATMs for as long as possible. They are hired to ensure that people continue flocking to the middle of an unlivable desert to visit wonderful nirvanas of neon.

“Chug, chug, chug!” my friends chanted as we headed back to the car. Not that I needed to chug. It was a long way up to the car on level “Luck You Can Find a Spot at All on a Sunday” of the parking structure. Plus, this is Nevada. We can have booze outdoors. Probably in the back seat of a car. Hell, probably while driving, although please don’t take those last two suppositions as legal advice.

Nonetheless, I chugged all the same and we made it to the car and we drove back to the wedding spot and what did we see when we got there?

Our bartender walking out the front door. With her new Husband. Family members cheering on the steps. Throwing hands in the air with illusionary rice.

That’s right. We missed the wedding. The very reason we had gotten up early and driven to this Hellblight place.

Now, I might’ve exaggerated for storytelling purposes about how long it took me to get my drink. I really don’t think we were in the casino for more than about ten minutes before we got the text. And we busted our ass to the car and were outbound within five minutes of that. And we told her we were on our way.

But here we were, having completely missed the 60-second wedding we were here to watch.

The good news was that Bride wasn’t pissed. Heck, this wedding was happening because Groom was a flight risk, and after coming perilously close to driving all the way to Reno to NOT get married, I’m guessing she wanted to get this shit done. Who knows, maybe the government clerk was about to have a change of heart and call Weddings R Us to tell them to rescind the document. When the armored guard bends down in “Groundhog Day,” you take that fucking money and you walk away. Ain’t no time for equivocation.

(That last analogy was going to be about a prisoner during the Storming of the Bastille, but I thought that might be a bit obtuse for a post with tags about Reno and Quickie Weddings.)

The bad news was that the wedding had happened. Meaning we had to celebrate. So it was back to Boomtown for their majestic $7.99 buffet.

At least Boomtown has a casino. Those hour-old mashed potatoes will hold in the chaffing dish a little bit longer. After the shit-show of this day, I’ve got a hankering to bet it all on double-zero.

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.