Posted by: Mad Ness Monster | 07/23/2009

Nessie’s Excellent 2002 California Adventure

(2/11/03)

(NOTE: This one is a tad bit long.)
In 2002, for her fall semester, my sister went on a sort of study abroad program in Hollywood. My mom, on a whim, decided we should fly out the week of Thanksgiving and visit her. Well, when else are you going to have a reasonably sane excuse to visit California?
I brought my sketchbook along, and what you’re about to read is largely based off what I wrote during the trip. Actually, it’s kind of half based off what I wrote, and half based off my famously crappy memory. See, our tour of California was approached like this: “Well, we’re probably never ever going to be on this coast ever again, so let’s see EVERYTHING!”
For the full effect, try to get something piney-scented going and put that “Ventura Highway” song on repeat but pretend it’s being sung by your dad.
11/24/2002 – The adventure began at 4:30 in the morning. Our flight was scheduled for seven in the morning, meaning we’d get to San Francisco at around three in the afternoon (this would end up being the only time I’d ever find the different time zones fun). All you need to know about the flight is that I was a total nervous wreck.
I’m going to skip over the actual flight. I won’t mention the cool things for sale in the airplane catalog (I think they deserve their own article some day.)  [EDIT: They did.  That and the other gift guide features will be up in time for your holiday shopping this year.]   And I won’t mention how cool it was flying over the Rocky Mountains, upstate Arizona, and the spectacular and breathtakingly monotonous circular fields of middle America.
See all of that distracts from something very, VERY important: the fact that we spent the better part of the day IN THE AIR.
Okay, I’m usually not uncomfortable with flying or anything. Thing is, the last plane I was on was about a three hour ride to visit relatives in Florida. Same coast. Three hours. And a good seven years ago.
Boston to San Francisco, on the other hand, was a grand total of six or seven hours in the air, with one really quick stop in Las Vegas, on kind of a small plane, and (let’s just stop beating around the bush) my first post-9-11 flight.
We got there and back again safely. That’s all I wanted.
So, my first impression of San Francisco: Bizzaro-Boston.
I mean, like, it’s got the piers, and it’s got the seafood, and it’s got the… interesting natives, and it’s got the esoteric little stores. It’s got the road system designed by maniacs, and it’s got the aggressively whimsical mixture of different architecture from different time periods all jammed together.
But it’s warm. Back home it was snowing and in Frisco it was breezy and springlike. And you have to think about what that implies for the city’s overall psychology.
I mean, they’ve got a fast food chain out here called “In-N-Out Burger“. You start a restaurant back east with a name like that and, well, I don’t want to think what would happen. I’d feel bad for you though. Anyway, they serve some damn tasty burgers.
Now, this is the point where you can go ahead and call my family insane. We went to eat at three different restaurants in this one afternoon. This makes a *little* bit more sense when you know that we only had two nights in San Francisco. Also we had only some kind of small, tasteless snack cracker served to us on the plane.
We went to In-N-Out (I will pause so that we nasty little Atlantic coasters may all get the giggles out of our system) for the sake of local color and some actual food. Then we drove around Golden Gate Park and wound up at the Cliff House at sunset. We stopped in for hot drinks and the evocative view. And then we went, by my sister’s request, to Amoeba Music.
Amoeba Music is an evil, insane record store with over fifty-zillion CDs and videos to sift through. I recommend that you visit it if you can, but do NOT have any specific bands or movies to look for. I had a list, and I walked out with nothing but a set of bumper stickers.
Lastly, we went to the Buena Vista Pub. You may reiterate that my family is insane, seeing as we went all the way from Boston to San Francisco to go to an Irish-American pub. They serve what they call “the original Irish coffee”. When I think “Irish coffee”, it tends to be one of three things:
* – Actual coffee made and served in Ireland;
* – Bailey’s, with some coffee in;
* – A toothless but excellent version of that last one, served in Dunkin’ Donuts;
Well, this was whiskey, with approximately a teaspoon of coffee in it. I take two sips and I damn near pass out. Either I am some kind of genetic mutant, or this guy *really* hates people from the East Coast. Ooh, an East Coast / West Coast coffee rivalry! Whatever.

11/25/2002 – Okay, let’s talk about time zones.
I had a hell of a time sleeping in California. My biological clock is dead set on Eastern Standard Time. My brain would think it was around seven in the morning, and then I’d look at the clock and it’d be around four. Add that to the Sleeping in a Hotel Bed Issue. Add THAT to the Cable Cars Right Outside the Window Issue. I was starting to miss college.
It’s a good thing the rest of the day made up for it. Muir Woods was the highlight of the entire vacation. I’m going to try and describe it, and it’s going to sound really lame. This really is something you have to experience for yourself. While in California, don’t go home until you’ve visited a Redwood forest.
You can thank me when you get back.
I’ve been in some beautiful forests, but this could only be described as a cathedral of trees. You’re in a grove of pines out of prehistoric times, a raven will call overhead, chipmunks dash out and watch if you stop and try to draw. The only downside is that eventually, you’re going to have to leave.
Which brings us back to San Francisco proper. We went to Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39. Ghirardelli Square reminded me of a chocolate-worshiping Faneuil Hall. It was very nice. It was also W-A-Y expensive. San Francisco made me p*ssed to be poor (by their really plush standards. I mean; an average meal at some pancake-housey-thingy dump we went into for a late-night snack was over fifty dollars).
Pier 39 on the other hand…
Oh dear God.
Try to imagine the scary parts of Portland, ME moved out onto the actual piers. Only make them scarier. And add more freaks. And add the lovable Pier 39 World-Famous Sea Lions.
You have to follow these little tiny signs to get to the sea lions. The first sign is actually a cardboard cutout of a jolly pinniped pointing your way down the Pier. (Next to this was a cardboard cutout of Gandalf, and I briefly wondered, if you followed the way he was pointing, if you’d run into some wizards.) My entire family had worn ourselves out already before we got to Pier 39, so we were walking through crowds of freaks and performance artists, and past geeky tourist attractions and insanely esoteric stores (The Wind Chime Shoppe! The World of Items of Diverse Shapes! The Hall of Porridge!) and past a gorgeous two-decker carousel to see…
Okay, I’m not even sure how to describe this.
Picture a harbor that looks to be closed off to the rest of the sea. And picture a set of rafts tied together with a number of what I’m sure are graceful, even noble beasts in their natural element. Here I got the impression of a mound of chunky bodies lying around, growling and farting. Furthermore, there was an upscale-looking restaurant where you could sit and watch the sea lions belch and fart at each other.
So, regarding Pier 39, scary and confusing doesn’t cover the half of it.

11/26/2002 – the Coast Road
So here’s where you go if you want to feel like you’re driving off the edge of the Earth.
I rate this leg of the trip A+++ for the view. It’s enjoyable if you aren’t the one driving. If you are, be aware that you’re going to be a good thirty feet in the air, driving along the edge of a cliff with the Pacific Ocean pounding away at the sharp, pointy rocks directly beneath you. Hawks and vultures are going to be soaring underneath you.
And this goes on for a good five hours or so.
If you become tired of the inevitable sustained panic attack, you can visit Hearst Castle. My mom really wanted to see this thing. (For the record, she didn’t understand the appeal of the LaBrea Tar Pits. Not to knock my mom or anything, but I think you see the fundamental difference between us right there.)
We got to the castle too late to take a tour, but for some reason, the movie explaining what the heck this was all about was still running. So we watched it (in hindsight, I think we just needed to get away from the scary cliffs for a while). Basically this William Randolph Hearst guy lived a life of incredible fun and excitement as a lad, going on cool adventures with his archeologist mom in Europe and so on. When he became a multi-millionaire as an adult, he decided to build his own castle. There he lived in sort of a Michael Jackson lifestyle, only without all the complete disassociation with reality-land. And after he died, these historical society types decided to preserve his home so that people could come and enjoy it and buy officially licensed Hearst Castle Spring Water or Hearst Castle Bubble Bath in the gift shop.
Right.
After feeling so, so, SO bad for ol’ Mr. Hearst, we returned to the road and ended up in Hollywood well after ten at night. That’s after Midnight by our clock. What little we got to see of LA that night didn’t make much of an impression as I was not really in an amuse-able mood.

11/27/2002 – HOLLYWIERD!!!
DISCLAIMER!!!
I love people from Texas and/or Florida. And we all love you, Danny DeVito.
As noted before, all this week it had been snowing back home. I was almost certain that this would be the only holiday season snow we’d get and I was missing out on it. Damn global warming.
Today was mostly dedicated to recovering from the Coast Road adventure. However, we did get around to going on that staple of Hollywood tourism, the Cheesy Celebrity Home Tour.
Our tour guide was a disaffected math teacher and our fellow tourists were a cynical, sarcastic old man and his wife, and also (this is very important) a group of cheerleaders. Cheerleaders who were from either Texas or Florida. Very girlie cheerleaders from either Texas or Florida.
The following bit is done in all honesty and without a hint of sarcasm. I will now list a series of quotes I jotted down during the tour. They will tell you why being on a tour of celebrity homes with a pack of girlie-girl cheerleaders from either Texas or Florida is The Most Wonderful Thing in the World.

GIRLIE-GIRL CHEERLEADER FROM TEX OR FLA: “What’s that in Brad an’ Jennifer’s trash can???”
CYNICAL SARCASTIC OLD MAN: (after this, he became the Most Wonderful Person in the World) “I dunno. Probably a vat for rendering fat to make soap.”

“That (person/dog/fire hydrant) is FAMOUS!!!” – Another Girlie-Girl Cheerleader from Texas or Florida (this became the Clan Mad-Ness mantra for the entire vacation)

“I reckon…” – Mom of one of the Girlie-Girl Cheerleaders from Texas or Florida

Picture that episode of “the Simpsons” (“Homer’s Phobia”, episode #4F11; “Dad, why did you bring me to a gay steel mill?”, bow down to my geekery now!!!), where the John Waters character is driving Marge around and pointing out the settings of various local scandals. But add those wonderful, wonderful Girlie-Girl Cheerleaders from Texas or Florida. That was our tour.
During our fun adventure with the Girlie-Girl Cheerleaders from Texas or Florida, some guy in a car driving around Beverly Hills and coincidentally using the same route as our driver flipped us off. He’s probably a major producer or something. We also found out that Danny DeVito lives on the same street as Brad and Jennifer. None of our Girlie-Girl Cheerleader from Texas or Florida friends cared about Danny DeVito, even when a suspiciously familiar looking little roundish figure was spotted walking around in his yard. And the crazy thing is that the next day would prove to be even stranger.

11/28/2002 – Normally on Thanksgiving day, I’d be doing a play-by-play of the Macy’s parade and looking forward to squash (or sweet potato, some kind of vegetable orange goo that tastes good). This year, instead, we had the damn strangest Thanksgiving ever.
We spent Turkey Day in Disneyland.
I have absolutely nothing bad at all to say about Disneyland. Well, no. I have one bad thing to say. Innoventions was just stupid. They gutted what looked like the Carousel of Progress to make some stupid bullsh*t display about the Kitchen of the Future and suchlike. Now, who the hell wants to watch a demonstration of the Kitchen of the Future in Disneyland?
The Disneyland version of a “Traditional” turkey dinner was scary. Not unappetizing, not simply bad, it was SCARY. So that’s actually two bad things about Disneyland.
But that’s it.
Disneyland RULES.
I have been to Walt Disney World more times than anyone should if they ever want to achieve emotional maturity, and that park is a great deal bigger. It also has a strange tendency of late to kill off older attractions in favor of high-tech thrill rides, which tends to make us 80’s visitors a tad bit cynical. Or flat-out disrespected.
Disneyland is smaller. This fact is either going to hit you when you see the TINY castle, or when you’re wading through a sea of people in those little streets. However, there are a lot of hidden paths fewer tourists use that can get you from ride to ride faster (once you figure them out). There are also lots of little touches – a pretty water fountain, a nice garden, a display of carousel horses – that WDW lacks. And many of the rides were longer and more involved. Furthermore, they remain mostly unaltered from the originals. You really get the sense that the whole park is based off Walt Disney’s personal vision.
That said, I should note that since Clan Mad-Ness only had a day to spend here, we opted to skip California Adventure (I like to call it Redundancy-Land; besides, I remember a fellow Crankizen gave it a scathing [and sadly lost to the Aether] review that scared me away from the place). Anyway, taking the Disneyland Proper park ride-by-ride…
* Main Street U.S.A. – Wonderfully decorated for the holidays. The attractions here are mostly the Street’s aesthetics, but there are also some nice restaurants.
* The Enchanted Tiki Room – Now, this is a sentimental favorite of my family (second only to EPCOT’s lost and lamented “Journey Into Imagination” ride), and we were very happy to see that they opted to keep the old non-Gilbert-Godfrey-involving production. If something can be cheesy and classic at the same time, this is it.
* Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Eye (or something) – Ah, who cares if I got the title wrong. The ride ROCKS.
No, I mean it. You’re sent to rescue Indiana in this Jeep, and it rocks. It also spins and it undulates. Pay attention to that motion sickness warning and use the restroom before you get in line. If you don’t, you’ll be sad.
Your humble narrator has a reasonably steely abdomen and an outsized bladder. So, that said, how was the ride?
Kickass.
Cool ride. COOL presentation (this joins Universal’s “ET Adventure” as a ride who’s queuing line almost outshines the ride itself). This is just a really excellent thrill ride with great effects.
There is, however, a down side. The FastPass system doesn’t work especially well here. And I probably should explain this as it became sort of a crutch for us once we got the hang of it. If the line for a ride is way long, you can go to a nearby machine and get this little ticket that gives you a time to return to the ride. Show your ticket to the security guard posted at the ride when you come back, and you’ll be ushered to a line with a considerably shorter wait. At Indiana Jones, this system was very confusing. Our guard misread our FastPasses and we ended up in the regular line. Good thing the ride was worth it in this case.
* The Jungle Cruise – Another good old-school Disney ride. Since the effects are good but not great, much of the appeal is based on what kind of tour guide you get. Our guide was okay.
Best line: “I just hope there’s one thing you bring with you from Disneyland. Walt Disney always said, ‘dreams can come true’. Here at Disneyland, dreams really do come true. At about fifty dollars a person plus parking.”
* New Orleans Square and the Disney Gallery – As with Main Street, the appeal is mostly aesthetic. I vote this the prettiest section of the park. The Gallery is especially nice because hardly anyone knows about it.
* Pirates of the Caribbean – A much, much longer and more elaborate ride than at WDW. While the main pirate raid part of the ride (and the song) is similar, it’s preceded by a trip through a bayou and a strange, morbid sequence starring pirate skeletons.
Now, I boarded the same boat as my dad, who WAS its number one fan. We shared our boat with the new number one Pirate fans, a young couple. They sang all the songs, knew all the words, faked making out during the dark parts, and fake screamed during the dips in the river. I swear, they will be less anxious about getting around to seeing part two of “the Matrix” then they will about being first in line for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie this summer.
Come to think of it, maybe they should be the number two fans, dad should be number three, and whoever greenlighted the movie should be number one.
(Remember, I was writing this in 2002.)
* The Haunted Mansion – This was my one must-see attraction for the day, because of something I’d read about on another message board (sorry). And yes, indeed, for Christmas, the Haunted Mansion changes into a “Nightmare Before Christmas” ride.
I don’t have to tell you how great that is.
* Story Rides – By which I mean (these were the ones we went on) “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland”, “Pinocchio’s Daring Journey”, and “Snow White’s Scary Adventures”. “Alice” and “Pinocchio” aren’t at WDW, so they were at least interesting in that respect. “Alice” was actually very well done, even featuring a truly freaky bit where your Caterpillar car swings around outside the building on a *very* thin bridge about seven feet up in the air at an excruciatingly slow speed. Yup, feelin’ like yer gonna fall off and die in a plastic caterpillar. Yay!
Then there’s “Snow White”. The effects are okay, and the ride isn’t as bad as I remember, but it’s still damn near impossible to figure out what direction they were trying to go in here. See, the most prominent character you encounter is the witch, who is bar none the scariest looking Disney villain ever, and she keeps jumping out at you. That’s kind of a sick, sick joke on little kids expecting forest animals and dwarves.
* “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!” – For the love of God, bring your earplugs!!!
This is great fun, provided you take that necessary precaution. I’ll admit I miss “Captain EO” on some level (that is, the level of Francis Ford Coppola ripping off “Star Wars” with Michael Jackson in the Luke Skywalker role; so incredibly f**ked up; so wrong; so great). This is currently the most fun you can have in a 3-D movie that doesn’t involve Muppets. The special effects are shamelessly frequent and that’s the fun part.
* Star Tours – My sister and I managed to walk onto this ride. That kills me; I heard this used to be the most popular ride after Space Mountain.
There are motion simulators with better effects and wilder rides, but Star Tours is still the best. It’s probably because this little six minute ride manages to show up the “Star Wars” prequels. Like the guidebook says, you are ten times happier than you were before you got on the ride. The presentation is better here than at WDW, and they even throw in an Ackbar cameo! This is where all good geeks go when they die.
* Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – WOOOOOOOOOOOOO-WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!
This Big Thunder is wilder and longer than at Disney World. And it is smaller. That can’t be emphasized enough. It’s smaller as in it’s scaled down. As in my dad was in the car in front of mine, he’s REALLY tall, and I was terrified I’d have his head flying past me before the ride ended. Fun!!!
* The Magical, Fun, Fun Disney Holiday Parade What is Magic and also Fun!!! – Holy cow.
You know what? It’s a parade at Disneyland. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
I’ve mentioned this a little before, but a lot of the entertainment at Disneyland was due to the kinds of people we were stuck next to. I already mentioned the lovebird Pirates. The folks in our wing of the Enchanted Tiki Room sang along with all the songs, as did our shipmates in It’s a Small World. During the parade, I happened to be standing next to a crazy lady who took great joy in MST-ifying the parade. We agreed that our favorite part of the parade was the Float of Characters Everyone Forgets About. “We still love you Mushu!!!”
* Disneyland Railroad Train Ride Thingie – I guess it’s okay if you want to ride around the park, but it’s pretty lame compared to the WDW version. You are seated so that you are only able to look out one side. And the bits with the taxidermy animals and the dinosaurs were just really, really random.
* Space Mountain – AAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am glad to say that this was the first time I was able to gather the courage to try the Mountain. I am also very, very glad that I trusted my instinct to sit on the right side.
What else can I say about Space Mountain? It rules!
* It’s a Small World – Okay, so it’s cheese to the extreme. And the song (remixed with a few verses of “Jingle Bells” for the holidays; imagine the horror) could very well drive you batsh*t insane. But it was a nifty capper for our Disney adventure. And the exterior of the ride, an animated clock tower studded with hundreds of tiny lights, is stunning.
Of course, I was adding in the “Little World of Duff” lyrics (“Selma’s Choice”, episode #9F11, “Duff beer for me! / Duff beer for you! / I have a Duff, / You have one too!”) while I was singing along to the song.

Well, sitting here writing this I have gotten so high off remembered Disney Magic (trademark, copyright, patents on magic and whimsy and childhood merriment pending). Next up, the most glamorous farting around I’ll ever do in my life.

11/29/30 – This was the only day we really didn’t have much of a plan. We went to see something interesting in the morning, then kind of farted around the rest of the day.
But, since it was in Hollywood, it was the most glamorous farting around I’ll ever do in my life.
We went to the Page Museum at the LaBrea Tar Pits in the morning. This was the one thing I would have been sad if we didn’t get around to it. There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world, so it is a must-see even if you aren’t an armchair zoologist. The museum itself is excellent, but the coolest part of the park is that it is sort of a tar volcano. And it is a tar volcano that is still active. So you’re walking around and there will be crap bubbling up through the cracks in the sidewalk.
{evil}Lots of fun for the children.{/evil}
About the time we finished touring the Pits, it was the early afternoon. In hindsight, we probably should have stayed and checked out the other museums in the area, but my sister had sent some friends of hers to get the free passes to be in the audience for the Jay Leno show. We had to be there by around two to get into the audience, but what we had were Stand-By Tickets. That meant that our group of five would be invited in only if a group of five with regular tickets didn’t show up.
Confusing? Yes, and we didn’t get in. So we got to fart around.
This is as good a time as any to say that, since we got to Hollywood, I’d had Moby’s “We Are All Made Of Stars” in my head.
Farting around in Hollywood is interesting. First we went to Sis-Ness’ dormitory and hung out a little with her friends. Then we wondered aloud whether it’d be worth it to see what movies were playing at the Chinese Theater, just to say that we were inside the thing. So we went to eat at the Woolfgang Puck restaurant, and decided to check out the selection at “the Dome” theater; the one where supposedly all the big movie premiers take place.
This was where, according to my sister anyway, cause I wouldn’t have noticed them, we had our Official California Tourist Sighting of a Red Hot Chili Pepper or Person Associated With the Chili Peppers. In this case it was Dave Navarro. He and Carmen Electra were poking around the theater’s bookstore for a bit, then vanished into the Dome itself for the latest James Bond movie. Meanwhile nobody in my family was agreeing on what movie would be worth spending touring time seeing (and I couldn’t convince them that “Spirited Away” was not that God-forsaken Madonna movie). We ended up leaving the theater, heading back to the hotel, and enjoying some instantly forgettable movie on HBO. The next day would end up being a lot more fun. Apes, little kids, King Kong, and Keanu!!!

11/30/2002 – And so it came to pass that your humble narrator had her Official California Tourist Not-Quite-Confirmable Keanu Sighting.  We were in Mel’s Diner. We’d made that our official breakfast place for the week, and it’s pretty famous so I should have mentioned it earlier. Their coffee isn’t so good, so I tried their mocha instead, and they give me this vat of chocolate coffee. Nice. And I look up from it and right outside, in the outside dining area, is either Keanu or somebody that looked remarkably like Keanu. And that could be pretty awkward, if you think about it. Living in LA, walkin’ around lookin’ like Monsieur Theodore Logan?
Something else interesting happened today. Oh yeah, we went to Universal Studios. First the bad news.
I had only one thing to say about Universal Studios Hollywood when we had been in there for about fifteen minutes. And while we were waiting for the next studio tour tram, I wrote down this one thing in my book, in my handy little red crayon.
LOUD!!!
You get out of your car and as soon as you walk into the CityWalk section, you are hit square in the face with a wall of noise. Conversations go something like this:
A: “What should we see first? I think we should do the tour first cause it takes the longest.”
B: “What did you say???”
A: “What???”
B: “WHAT???”
And so on. Wikkid fun.
See, Universal Studios Hollywood is very different from it’s sister park in Florida, which we had all already visited twice and enjoyed very, very much. As it happens, and this is very important, Universal Hollywood is different from any theme park, because it is first and foremost a movie studio. It isn’t a theme park where they can film things, it is a movie studio that just happens to have a theme park built around it. All the rides are pretty much dropped in wherever they’d fit.
What this means is that you end up with a theme park that is very hard to navigate. There will be one really great ride in one end of the park, another great ride down in another end of the park, and yet another great ride that you have to ride down a set of twenty-foot-long escalators to get to because it’s down at the bottom of the mountain.
Yeah, fun movie trivia: Universal Studios is built on and around some “hills” that, in my neck of the woods, would probably be considered big and steep enough to be called mountains. Some parts of the park are at the bottoms of these mountains and you (really, I can’t get over this; it’s worth going here just to say you’ve ridden the thing) have to ride down a set of long, long escalators to get to them. So, in short, navigating the park is a hassle. And because it’s such a confusing place just to walk around in, you end up with crowd control problems.
Oh, the crowd control.
Actually, I don’t know if the park itself is to blame for this. I got this sense a little bit in Disneyland, but it was much worse here. Some people are just un-f**king-real. So many groups of people in Universal would just randomly stop in the middle of the street that I was nearly ready to start beating them with my little official UMass Dartmouth umbrella. Never going to a theme park on a weekend if I can help it ever again.
It wasn’t just adults, of course. And this brings up another very, very important observation:
Babies LOVE theme parks!
There is nothing in this world more enjoyable for really little kids than to be stuffed in a stroller for hours on end in the hot sun, and carted around some place that resembles a crazy dream, which they can almost see bits of between the endless forest of stranger’s legs. They love the freaky robots and loud noises. They love the hot, hot sun and the sensory overload of special effects. And boy, oh boy do they L-O-V-E being lifted out of their stroller (probably just when they were getting comfortable) to be handed over to be hugged by (or fed to???) cartoon characters the size of small construction vehicles.
I swear to you, if I ever bring some little Nessies into this seriously F.U.B.A.R. world, they ain’t going anywhere near a theme park until they’re at least seven or eight. Better yet, I’m not taking them until they’re tall enough so that, if they decide to stop walking in the middle of the street to stare at stuff while scratching themselves thoughtfully, tall people won’t have to trip over them. Seriously, there were some *really* little kids walking around, and if I hadn’t been paying attention I would have accidentally kicked them clear across the park. Unbelievable. I love those kids that just randomly run out into the middle of the street at top speed right in front of you too.
The irony hanging over the whole baby issue is that Universal Hollywood is mostly thrill rides (scary), live shows (too loud), the tram tour (boring), and play areas directed mainly at older kids (older kids = EVIL). There is NOTHING in the park for little kids. I guess I understand if this is the only time you will ever in your entire life be able to go to Universal, but your kids will honestly be happier if you take them to a pool.  Or a crack in the sidewalk at the LaBrea park instead.
Where was I? Oh, yeah. How much I enjoyed Universal.
Yeah, when all is said and done, we really enjoyed ourselves here. The thing is, we came here to go on the studio tour, and found the rides a nice extra. So, taking it ride-by-ride (again)…
the Universal Studio Tour – Hands down, the best part of the entire park. If you go to Universal Studios, this should be the reason why. Informative and lots of fun, it’s also about an hour long. Make sure it’s the first thing you do when you get to the park. Lots of familiar sets on display, lots of effects demonstrations, and some fun surprises. Santa Kong rules.
Animal Planet Live – I had little kids climbing all over the bleachers in front of me and a bunch of frat-boy-looking idiots laughing their asses off and talking the whole time in back of me during this show. Aside from them, this is one of the better animal actor shows. Lots of apes. Anything with primates in it can’t be all bad.
E.T.’s Adventure – This is a pretty good ride, especially in the beginning (remember I said a while back that the waiting area here almost overshadows the ride itself). A couple of crazy things happened this time out, though.
First off, I had the misfortune to overhear a conversation while in line. [Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers… I guess] While you are in line for this ride, you have to say your name to one of the attendants so they can log it into a computer. The characters in the ride greet you by name at the end of the ride. The question I happened to overhear was what would happen if you happened to have an unusual name. Would E.T. be able to say it? Well, I did an experiment, and if you have an unusual name, you are s**t out of luck. [No more spoilers.]
In the part of the ride where you get to E.T.’s home planet (a touch disappointing; eat magic mushrooms and go to Chuckie Cheese’s for the same effect), all the characters kind of passed out on us. Thing is, the ride itself didn’t shut down. So we were riding through these sets with comatose acid flashbacks standing around. Creepy.
Jurassic Park River Ride – YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!
Thing about this ride, when you’re actually riding it, it is the most wonderful thing in the world. Then you get off and you realize that it was *short*. Really short. And I would have liked to have seen more dinosaurs. It’s still a really good ride.
You will notice, however, that they pass out ponchos at the entrance of the ride. If they are free or cheap, get one. You will be really sad if you don’t. Also, remove your hats, glasses, and what-have-you. You will be REALLY sad if you don’t.
Backdraft – This is a pretty good effects demonstration. Even so, a lot of what you see here is more creatively presented on the tour. More importantly, if you’re going in here to warm up after Jurassic Park, it won’t work.
Terminator 3-D – Way better than I expected, and it may even prove better than this year’s “T3” (which will probably be pretty lame unless they think of something neat to do with the villain). The effects aren’t quite as refined as those in, say, “Honey I Shrunk the Audience”, but they are still pretty amazing. The final battle is breathtaking.
It is also definitely not for little kids, so I don’t know why there were so many little ones in the waiting area.

12/01/2002 – The tone of the day was set when I saw some Warblers in the bushes outside Sis-Ness’ dorm when we went to pick her up this morning. Back home, these colorful little birds are strictly a summertime species. And today it was freezing rain in Boston.
I might as well list the Exotic Western Wildlife I saw on this trip, for those of you who are interested in such things (I know I am, so deal). Most of the animals I saw were species I’m familiar with from back home, which was admittedly a little disappointing. But I saw lots of Mule Deer, lots of Brewers’ Blackbirds, and big flocks of Western and Heerman’s Gulls and Brown Pelicans. I also saw some Scrub Jays, Hummingbirds (in November???!!!), and a herd of Longhorn Cattle (no sign of Bessie May though).
This was our beach day. Venice beach was very, very nice. It was cool out so it wasn’t too crowded. It was nice to just walk along the shore and watch the surfers, kids, and skateboarders. We walked down to Santa Monica Pier and watched the people at the beach, the waves, and the pelicans from a bench near the Pier’s roller coaster. (This was also a nice time for me to find out that sitting right above really violent water and watching it pound away gives me a mean case of vertigo. Yay!) After leaving the Pier, and after I kissed the solid ground, we headed to Muscle Beach on a hunt for cheesy souvenirs (no Muscle Beach Tees in my size, sad to say; that would have been hilarious). So we went to the Third Street Promenade and shopped some more and enjoyed the buskers and topiary animal fountains. When it started getting dark, we went back towards the beaches and ate dinner where we could watch the sunset. This was probably the single nicest part of Southern California.

12/02/2002 – Well, I really loved California. At the same time, on this day (the day we had to go home), I… well, I kinda felt like E.T., come to think of it. Or like Dorothy.
You know, you spend the better part of a week in Hollywood, your movie allusions just get worse and worse.
It’s interesting to reflect that our only semi-unpleasant plane experience was our very last ride, from Pheonix to Boston. We were delayed about an hour and we had to stay on the plane. The woman in back of us couldn’t stop complaining about this, and she managed to rankle me more than the TINY twins who cried straight through the entire takeoff and landing.
Remember what I said about little kids and how much they LOVE theme parks? That goes about five times for 4+ hour long plane flights.
Well, when we touched down at Logan, it was snowing a bit, and it was bitterly cold. And that snow, the construction, and the insane traffic was collectively the most beautiful thing I’d seen right then.
Well, that and the smiling 4:35 PM on my clock when I slept off the Jet Lag a few days later.
I reckon.

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