Sunday, May 24, 2009

Item From the Past: Socal 2001

May 24. I last visited Disneyland in 1973, though I saw the Florida part of the empire in 1982 . My visit at nearly 40 was enjoyable, and I appreciated at least one thing I didn’t at age 12. The second ride we took was the Pirates of the Caribbean, sitting in the first row and getting wet, just like in '73. This time I marveled at the detail of the mechanical characters and their movements, and the lighting and the sound effects, all so coordinated so precisely. It struck me how labor-intensive the park must be, how much constant effort it is to keep the thing running day after day. So I didn’t feel that the ticket prices — $43 for an adult — were quite so high. Disney has a reputation for rapaciousness, but at least they put on a high-quality show for the money. And the irritating A-E ticket system is long gone.

Lilly wasn’t occupied with that kind of musing, and enjoyed almost everything from beginning to end. Luckily, skies were overcast most of the day, and temps no more than 70°. Besides the Pirates, we rode — an exhausting list, but not an exhaustive one — Splash Mountain, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, the Adventureland Jungle Cruise, Gadget’s Go Coaster, the Raft to Tom Sawyer Island, the King Arthur Carousel, the Mad Tea Party, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the Astro Orbitor (sic), Star Tours, the Haunted Mansion, the Disneyland Railroad and Autopia.

Gadget’s Go Coaster, a mild roller coaster in the part of the park known as Toontown, was Lilly’s very first experience on a roller coaster — but likely not the last, since she enjoyed it immensely, as she did a number of other fast rides, though Splash Mountain scared her enough at the end to make her cry a bit. At 40 inches in height, she just met the requirement for all but the fastest rides. Besides waiting in lines and riding rides, we also ate a meal, modest by Disney standards, and bought some items, again modest by the park’s standards. We stayed until closing — 9 p.m. — and Lilly fell fast asleep as we strolled her back to the Candy Cane Inn. We didn’t stay up much later myself, and I remember a mild burning sensation in both feet as I drifted off to sleep.

May 25. An easier day. Got up too late for the motel’s no-extra-charge breakfast, so I ventured across Harbor Blvd. to a doughnut shop in a strip mall. Cambodian family doughnuts, I believe — I once read in the WSJ that Cambodian refugees had pretty much taken over the doughnut trade in southern California, edging out the chains. Anyway, the doughnuts were good & fresh, and the proprietors could have been Cambodian, though I couldn’t recognize their language as Khmer. I never did see any chain doughnut shops as I drove the streets of Orange County.

By noon or so, we had driven to downtown LA. We parked near Little Tokyo — $3 all day, an amazing rate that would be five or six times more in downtown Chicago — and spent some time in that district, still Japanese but a shadow of its pre-WWII self, I have heard. Had an authentic inexpensive Japanese lunch there. Then we went looking for the Los Angeles City Hall, to take in the view from atop its tower, but the whole thing is undergoing renovation, and was completely closed. So we boarded the Metro subway, something that didn’t even exist when I was in town last. Very convenient, practically brand-new, and a little too clean, something like the Singapore subways.

We got off at the Hollywood and Vine station and walked westward on Hollywood Blvd., finding the street as seedy as I’d heard, but enjoying the stars on the sidewalk. By the time we got to Gaumann’s Chinese Theatre, the street had improved somewhat. The Chinese Theater was very popular, with people walking all over the forecourt impressions in the cement. Marilyn Monroe’s seemed the most popular, with a small line of woman waiting to put their hands in the prints, which looked worn. After a look at the nicely restored Roosevelt Hotel across from Gaumann’s, including a look at the room in which the first Academy Awards were handed out, we rode back downtown and picked up the car, driving back to Orange County — Knott’s Berry Farm’s Chicken Restaurant — for dinner. Tasty chicken, and Yuriko reported the ribs good too.

May 26. Another late start. More Cambodian doughnuts. Hit the road again, first stop Griffith Park. Was it too much to ask for a nice view of the city from the famed Observatory? It was. The clouds were low that morning, so most of LA was invisible. Still, the Observatory was interesting, including the bust of James Dean. We headed north from there on California 101, which roughly follows the Camino Real (signs tell you this). With half as many cars, it might have been a more pleasant drive, just like most of the other freeways in metro LA.

We arrived in Santa Barbara in the early afternoon, and the drive became much more calm on SB’s streets, which are picturesque and, but for some architectural differences, reminded me of the well-appointed streets of Santa Fe. At Mission Santa Barbara, a lovely old place, a festival was in full swing, so we stayed there awhile, eating and looking at the artwork chalked on the plaza in front of the mission. Later, we drove downtown and ambled along State Street, SB’s glossy and busy shopping street.

At 5 p.m. we came across the Santa Barbara County Hall of Records building — one of the most stunning American public buildings I have ever seen, a masterful bit of Mediterranean architecture from the 1920s. It also happens to have a clock tower which, I understand, affords a nice view of Santa Barbara. So I went to the clock tower and… it had just closed. Thwarted again in my attempts to climb to a vista.

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