Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 16, 2005
BLOG: California Blogging
So, I spent last week on vacation in Southern California with my wife and kids, visiting family and seeing all the touristy sights we could squeeze into a week. It was the first time I'd been to California - in fact, until this year I'd never been west of Chicago. It's not hard to see why people fall in love with the place the first time they see it. Thoughts and impressions:
*We stayed in Newport Beach, which is something like 50 miles south of downtown LA and thus turned out to be ideally strategically located to hit the sights ranging from the hills north of LA down to Seaworld in San Diego. It's also a very nice town with a beautiful public beach, and wasn't as expensive as some of the surrounding towns as far as hotel rooms. Highly recommended.
*We hit Dodger Stadium and four theme parks - Disneyland, Legoland, Seaworld, and Universal Studios (if we'd had more time, I'd have liked to see the Angels and Padres as well). All of them were fun, although there was a limit to how much the kids could do at Universal. The theme parks were all extremely expensive (especially Legoland and Universal), although in our case we were able to get, through family and other sources, a variety of free tickets, discounts, coupons, and even (in the case of Seaworld) half-priced scalped tickets outside the entrance. Seaworld probably had the best food and, by far, the most reasonably priced souvenirs. Disney, of course, had the worst parking situation (the exits to the trams to different parking areas are very badly marked at night). I was very impressed with Dodger Stadium, which is every bit as beautiful and peaceful a place to see a game as it looks on TV, although my one gripe was the difficulty of locating an exit (at Shea, this is never a problem, as there are ramps heading out everywhere you look), and the Dodger Dog is not up to the standards of a New York ballpark hot dog. Legoland, of course, is a geek's paradise, with miniature models of several American cities (go there now while they still have the original design of the Freedom Tower, the design that will now never be created in the actual Manhattan). At Universal, we saw the "Waterworld" show, which was billed, with a straight face, as "based on the hit movie." While the plot was really too thin even for an outdoor theme park show, the show was definitely worth seeing for the live special effects, which included a lot of things blowing up, catching fire, and plunging into the water (on the other hand, the actors in the show couldn't even meet minimal action-movie standards of realism in handling firearms). I hadn't realized that Seaworld is owned by Anheuser-Busch, which is why along with whales and dolphins you get a Clydesdale display and "beer school."
*We saw an awful lot of the freeways, putting over 900 miles on the rental car in 8 days. An observation: Californians refer to their highways as "the 405," "the 5," etc., which sounded strange to me - in New York, you would just say, "95," not "the 95." Also, the concept of "free" is so ingrained that when you get on a toll road, there are warnings after warnings for miles before you hit a single toll booth. Coming from Queens, the traffic did not seem nearly as bad as we'd heard; we hit some momentary traffic heading to San Diego and did get stuck a little going from Universal to the Dodger game, but nothing like an ordinary trip on the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Even from the highways - especially the Pacific Coast Highway - the natural beauty of California is staggering, and the manmade views aren't bad either. There was one view we saw a few times at night, on 73 heading north into Newport Beach, where you pass over a ridge and suddenly have the whole of LA laid out below you, not bunched in a Manhattan-ish skyline but with the lights of modern civilization at nighttime stretching as far in every direction as the eye can see. It looked like George Lucas' vision of the city-planet of Coruscant from space.
*We encountered, especially with the (very friendly) guys sitting behind us at Dodger Stadium, a number of people in LA who use the word "dude" as if it were a required form of punctuation, without which one can't conclude a sentence fragment, let alone a complete sentence. Another thing that surprised me: wine for sale everywhere, in supermarkets and convenience stores, and not just a bottle or two but rows and rows of the stuff.
*As to the Dodger game, we saw Tuesday night's game against the Phillies; all the better to miss the Mets, so we could root for the home team. The Dodgers were, once again, leading off Cesar Izturis, who has a .222 on base percentage since June 1, the worst in baseball by a margin of 42 points. And people wonder why they don't score any runs. The Phillies were pitching Robinson Tejeda, who may have a good arm - he struck out Jeff Kent three times with men on base - but just could not find the plate, which is borne out by his walk rate this season. Brad Penny was masterful for the Dodgers before the bullpen imploded.
*We saw a few more Bush bumperstickers than Kerry ones, although this may mean little enough nine months after the election (here in NY, the number of Kerry-Edwards stickers dropped off rapidly after the election), plus Newport Beach, at least, is in what used to be the heart of Republican territory. The hotel and the theme parks were also plagued with a ridiculous proliferation of state-law-mandated warnings and disclaimers, nearly none of which made much sense (did you know that Disney may contain tobacco and other potentially cancer-causing agents?). At Seaworld, they asked the people in the audience at the Shamu show who were military or military families to stand for applause, and quite a lot of people stood up - that's San Diego for you.
*Yes, we managed to see endless TV replays of the Beltran-Cameron collision in what was otherwise the all-Terrell-Owens sports networks. The only two OF collisions that scary that I can remember are (1) Johnny Damon and Damian Jackson in the 2003 ALDS and (2) the Mookie Wilson-Lenny Dykstra collision that ended with Mookie's teeth marks across Lenny's nose.
Anyway, a fine time was had by all. Regular blogging to resume tomorrow.