So that happened.France_Flag10

It takes a few days after a tragedy to comprehend how you feel about it. Initially, all you can feel is shock. Sometimes it is just in passing, you recover after a few minutes. Other times it is a real slow burn, it takes time for the shock to even hit you. The attacks on Paris on Friday the 13th hit me hard right away, and never really let up. Partially because we have a lot of French friends, partially because we have been to Paris a few times, and recognize the streets when they show them on the news, and partially because, as tragic as this was, it very narrowly avoided becoming far, far worse.

Shooting up a concert and a restaurant, multiple bombs, 100+ people dead. Those bombs were meant to be inside a Football match. With follow up bombs going off in the panicking crowd. Good security kept that from happening. I can’t imagine how many more could have been killed if those bombs went off in the stadium. We all got lucky.

Terrorists also hit Beirut and Baghdad this week. A Russian airliner went down the week before.

It’s been a pretty shitty November.

There really hasn’t been as much coverage of the other incidents, perhaps because American Media treats Russia and the middle east as “others” and not worth the coverage, Maybe it was just out of the news cycle. But Paris had an impact. People die every day. We, as a culture, aren’t very sensitive to it anymore. When you consider that the number of people killed in the Paris attack is about the same as 3 days of regular Gun Violence deaths in the US, you realize that we tune out death on a daily basis. It takes something very special to get through. And this was special.

For most of the world, Paris is the city where life is “Amélie” and “Ratatouille” all day long, and “Moulin Rouge” at night. It’s a romantic ideal with a zip code. Everything is romance and mimes and snails in your Happy Meal. We can look across the rest of the world and be disillusioned by the grey pressure of life, but everyone looks to Paris with Joy. That’s why I think an attack on Paris breaks through everyone’s cynicism. Terrorism isn’t about killing people, it’s about spreading fear, and hitting a place of such Joy (even if it is just the fantasy and perception we know) cranks that fear to 11.

I heard folks here in the US talk with sudden fear, as if an attack from ISIS is the next truly scary thing in their life. Let’s be clear, I live in America. I don’t fear terrorists from ISIS. I fear the toddler that found mommy’s loaded gun in the glove box of her F150. I fear the lack of any driving instruction as I cross the street. I fear the quality of our food (whether it’s ecoli or Type II Diabetes coming for me first). Where I live, Terrorists are the bogeyman, not a real threat.

And listening to the interviews of the Parisians after this attack, I think they know this lesson. I don’t hear fear and screaming for retribution, I hear sorrow and mourning for their loss, but the desire to stand up tall again. As they left the stadium, immediately after the attack, people were singing “La Marseillaise” with pride in their voice. They cheered each other as they walked out. We can all heal, but it has to be our choice.

Intelligence and vigilance saved lives, but refusing to be afraid is what stops the terror.

WP_20151017_21_42_34_ProI suppose that I should wrap up this weekend.

Sasha did quite well in her competition, at least in my opinion. This was a slightly odd mix, there seemed to be a lot of higher-level dancers competing, and Sasha was on the young end. She looked fantastic on the floor, but I don’t know anything about dance so I always think she looks great so sod off. The hotel was way over by the airport, as usual. In Los Angeles, this isn’t a big issue, as the airport is actually in town. But in San Francisco, the airport is 30 minutes out of town, without traffic, so that’s like 2 hours out with traffic.

As such, we really couldn’t just walk around town, or even zip in for a bit. It needed to be a big chunk of the day, which with the dance schedule we didn’t have.

On Saturday morning, Sasha found out that there was a music festival going on in town, and that Deadmaus was playing at 9:30. This actually fit our schedule, so we grabbed tickets, and once competition was over, we caught an Uber into town. The festival was on Treasure Island, which looks to be some kind of old military housing or tuberculosis quarantine or something. The Island doesn’t have the charm of Alcatraz, but it does boast better access, as the I-80 bridge runs over it. There’s actually a nice marina on one end, but the rest looks like the set of The Walking Dead.

The festival was On the shore overlooking Downtown San Francisco. It was a great view, pretty much the money shot of San Fran that you see in every movie opening. It was a small two-stage festival, with a series of food trucks, a silent disco, which is a bunch of people all wearing headphones listening to the same music together and dancing.

No, that doesn’t make any fucking sense to me either. Maybe I’m showing my age, but back in my day we used these old fangled things called “Speakers” to broadcast music through the air. Get off my lawn.

Anyways, the whole place smelled like pot smoke, which made us miss Seattle.

The first two acts we saw were good, but not my style. I didn’t care actually as I just wanted to get out of the hotel, and I was pretty excited to see Deadmaus, so the waiting until his set started could have been anything and that would have been fine. As it was, the other acts were really good. The  first was a DJ called Hudson Mohawke. It was loud, with lots of lights. I paired this music with a large glass of Strongbow Hard Cider. The pairing was good, the pounding bass of the DJ made ripples across the ice of the plastic glass accented the tart apple flavors of the cider.

KFA Twiggs was up next. She sang some kind of high-powered pop with what looked like modern dancing and lots of fog and wind effects. She took a pause halfway through her set to thank everyone for being such great fans and introduced her band and family and such. She seemd nice. Then she sang and gyrated some more. I went for another drink. I found a Jack Daniels booth that did a mix with hard cider, the Hot Cinnamon flavored whiskey, and a cinnamon stick. Near that was a bacon stand. I bought a cup of bacon. Apple, Cinnamon, Whiskey, and Bacon. This gets the Mark seal of approval.

The crowds were surprisingly open and mellow. Lots of dancing, but nobody rushed the stage or anything like that. So Sasha moved up to the front of the main stage to get away from her boring dad, and I hung back a few feet in the crowd. We basically skipped one act over on the second stage to get this good position, but it was worth it.

The show was a fantastic stage and sound setup. Big lights, screens, and of course a few Mouse heads. At one point Deadmaus had “Left Shark” and some Alcatraz guy and a hot dog bring him beer and a couch and they danced. No I did not make that up. His set went on for an extra half hour. Well worth the wait and money. The crowds broke up after that, and we were still surprised at how orderly and mellow the whole thing was. it was a pretty low-key festival, which was nice compared to some of the madness that I’ve seen at other events. It took a long time to get a shuttle off the island, then we caught an Uber back from Downtown to the hotel. We got in by12:40, which was not bad at all.

A really good time for a last-minute activity.

WP_20151015_20_42_15_Rich_LISo naturally,  anytime I’m out and about, I’m drinking.

But picking what to drink can be a real pain in the ass. It’s like ordering coffee. I drink a ton of coffee but I’m picky as hell about it. I like straight espresso. But most places suck at making the actual coffee, and depend on the mixes and sugar to make it drinkable (see: Starbucks et. al)

Alcohol is much the same. I like to drink wine, but most places serve expensive, high-alcohol fruit bombs. Also wine goes best with food, and I’m not always up for a full meal. Beer is a great drink usually. If you can find something that is a local drink it’s typically light in alcohol (relatively) and you can get some really fascinating flavors depending on what the brewmaster intended. But drinking beer when you fly is not optimal, as it’s just too gassy to enjoy in a low-pressure air cabin.

Then you have mixed drinks. These can go either way. On the plane, you can never go wrong with a Bloody Mary. Good flavor balance. Hydrates. and any vodka will do in a pinch. There is usually at least one good whiskey in stock, and whiskey goes with everything. If you are on Hawaiian Air, they have Trader Vic’s Mai Tais. Last time we flew Hawaiian I emptied their stock. That was epic. I could barely walk.

Now we are in the hotel for the next two days getting ready for dance sessions and competition. That’s what I like about dance, unlike gymnastics there’s always a bar nearby.

I think I’m going to experiment with cocktails. I think an Old Fashioned sounds good as a start.

WP_20151015_15_54_54_Rich_LISasha and I are off on a short trip this weekend. She has a Dance competition in San Francisco, so we are taking a quick flight down. This means I get to do two things:

  • Drink
  • Play with my travel shit

I’ve been trying to up my game on what I travel with. I picked up a ExOfficio travel vest on one of our trips (it’s the kind of thing with lots of pockets on the inside, so you can pack it with shit without looking like a Jungle Ride reject. It’s pretty amazing actually. All the specialized pockets for ID, Pens, tickets, etc feed my OCD perfectly, it is much lighter than a full jacket (which I always end up carrying anyway) and works like a small extra bag for all it holds.

I still use my Tommy Bahama duffel bag as my carryon. It’s just roomy enough but squishes to any size to cram into the overhead when other bags don’t fit. I also got a new computer bag for travel. it’s a 5.11 Tactical RUSH Mike. It’s the same quality as the 5.11 Tactical PUSH pack that I have used for a few years as my shoulder bag for travel. I have that along as well to hold my camera (the Nikon D200 with a 50mm lens.) The camera and pack stuff into the duffel perfectly.

I have my 11” HP Elitebook, and a Kindle. Some cables, an external battery for the phone, a mini wifi hotspot, and cables, etc.  This plus my Windows Phone (with 20MP camera) round out the lot.

It’s all compact and light. I only need my dopp kit, some shorts and shirts for the weekend.

I’m on the move.

WP_20150629_17_27_39_ProAfter years of travelling to Disney, we have come to the conclusion that the mid-day at Disney is just not worth it. As such, we skipped it this trip. On our New year’s trip this year, we stayed at a nearby hotel (Annabel Hotel), but still a fair walking distance. We were going to stay at the Disneyland Hotel, but decided to try the Grand Californian as a test. Being so close meant that our room was literally as close to the park as some of the rides. There was not reason not to stop back in the room, or swing by the pool, so that’s what we did.

We hit the park early each day. Right at opening, or taking advantage of the “Early Hour”. We found that at opening, the parks were really empty, and didn’t start to really fill up until around 11:30. At that point, we started working our way back to the hotel, usually hitting the pool by 12:30 or so (sneaking in an extra ride on the way back). We didn’t return until 4:30 or 5pm. Once the parades started, that took people away from rides and the lines were ok again. The later we stayed, the better the lines were.

Naturally, we hit all our big favorites, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, Haunted Mansion. For whatever reason, this trip Yulia started really liking the stronger rides. She’s never been a big Roller Coaster person, but she got really excited for Space Mountain, and Matterhorn, and we even got her to try California Screamin’ (in her case, this was aptly named).  She went on The Tower of Terror as well. A small amount of screaming may have happened there as well. I’m not sure why she suddenly started enjoying these types of rides, but we all had fun.

The weather was hot, so that made spending the afternoons resting or in the pool make even more sense. There’s actually a lot of shade in the Disney parks, but you cook out in the heat, and it just stops being fun pretty quick.

We even took time out to go to Tom Sawyer’s island, which is now “Pirates Lair” because America is full of Illiterate motherfuckers. That had more shade, and tunnels that Yulia and Sasha used to see if they could get me stuck or hit my head. (Final Score: Fake Rock – 6, Mark – 0).

On one of the days we tried for a dinner at our favorite place, the Golden Vine Winery, but by the time we had walked there the place was booked. The checking desk called around, and found that there was some space over at the new Carthay Circle. This was part of the remodel of the front of California adventure, (the whole remodel they did turned out great) and was designed after the theater where Snow White was played the first time. We had been to the bar there, but never the full restaurant. We ran over, and after a short wait, were taken to a table.

This wasn’t a regular park restaurant, this was really, really nice. There were  a few small special occasion rooms off the main room, and there were quite a few folks (not everyone) who were actually dressed for dinner. They had a very good wine selection, and from the menu we could see that this appeared to be an attempt at real fine dining. Our server confirmed this when we talked with her. This was a bit of an experiment, and the park wanted to see if some real upscale food would work in the park. We took her recommendation for wine, which was surprisingly good as it was Californian (usually too hot) and from the winery belonging to a Disney director. The food was all top-notch, if not a bit over spiced, like they were trying just a bit too hard. We were pleased in any case, and I’m glad to see Disney keep trying with the food in the parks. It has made a huge jump in quality over the years, and I’d rather they try too hard and learn than go back to hotdogs and nachos.

For our last night, we came back to the park extra late to catch two shows: The new Electric Parade, and the Main Fireworks.

I have always loved the Electric Parade. The original show was from the 70’s, and I remember seeing it as a kid with my grandparents. It went away for a long time, then about 10 years ago, it came back for a while. But it was the same show. it was cool, but the music and floats were a bit dated. Light bulb dresses on the princesses. Weird electronica music. A float for the movie Pete’s Dragon. (if you don’t remember Pete’s Dragon, then you are just like 90% of the visitors who kept asking “who the hell is the kid on the dragon?”) Shortly after we saw it with Sasha, they stopped the parade again.

They have a new electric parade now, and we were excited to see what changed. As it turned out, everything. Every float was new, from all the new rides and cartoons. much more advanced and larger as well. All new music, but I could hear that they sampled the music of the original parade in some sections. It was a nice callout to the old parade. Towards the end of the parade, I recognized just a few of the old floats that they snuck in, a callout to those of us who remember the old parade. We loved it.

Once the parade passed, we were told to move into Main street to watch the fireworks. This year is the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, so they had a bunch of “Diamond” things about, and the Fireworks show also got a special treatment. When the show started, Lights went down all along Main Street. Then once the first few displays went off, projected lighting lit up the Castle, and main street. Scenes to match the theme and music were projected, chimney sweeps danced for Mary Poppins, fake Snowflakes fell from the sky for Frozen, Finding Nemo had a giant Nemo fly past the Castle, all while the Fireworks grew bigger and bigger. The whole show was bigger end wilder effects before a huge fireworks finale. It really was the best display we had ever seen. We were literally stunned. When it finished, we cheered with the whole crowd for a while, before people started heading out. We moved back into the park to get in just a few last rides before it all closed.

We ended up leaving right at midnight, when the park closed. It was nice to have a short walk back to the room.

WP_20150627_19_09_20_ProWe opted to haul our own bags so we could leave the boat early. Most folks didn’t seem to care. Presumably they had a plane to catch later in the day, and weren’t in any rush. We were on our way to hit the beach, or at least a beach town for a few hours, then check in at Disney. In all honesty, the departure from the boat was amazingly fast. Carnival really fixed the system for getting off the boat. Once our deck was called, the lines were so fast that we basically walked non-stop through the ship, off the ramp and right to passport control. I don’t think it took us more than 20 minutes. We were back to our car and on the highway in no time.

Yulia had the idea for us to spend a few hours beach time in LA after my sister (who lived in LA for a few years) berated us for not doing so. Several times. Finally, we got the hint, and put it into our plans. Originally we were going to go to Huntington beach. Yulia spent some time there during a Gymnastics event a few years ago, and thought it was beautiful, with cool stores and a wide, sandy beachfront. But once off the ship, our first thoughts were getting some breakfast. Sasha was checking her phone, and found that there was an Urth Café in Laguna Beach. That was around a 20 minute drive, but seemed like a good idea. Sasha and I hit an Urth Café last time we were in LA for a dance competition, and while being pretty trendy, they actually make fantastic food. They also had really, really good coffee, which we were dying for after the ship’s coffee from the last week.

The drive down the coast was really amazing. each small coastal neighborhood was a little different, with flavors of industrial, hippie, and big money mixed together. We were surprised by the number of small islands and canals along the shore. From the big maps, you don’t really see this. Each inlet was packed with marinas and boats, and with homes lining the canals with their own docks. I would love to take time to explore these areas in a boat, but that would have to be another trip.

We pulled into Laguna Beach, and the GPS told us where to turn to find the Urth Café. We pulled up to find it surrounded by a chain link fence, with an “Opening Soon! – Now hiring” sign on it. It was about half complete. Apparently, they updated their website just a bit early. That was a realm bummer, but we could see the main town waterfront just down the hill from us, so we drove over there to see if something else was open.

The Laguna Beach downtown was surrounded by hills, with the beach spilling out into the ocean in front of it. We parked by the beach, and started walking around to find a place. All the stores were funky little boutiques and galleries. After wandering the back streets a bit, we turned onto the main street, which went up the hill to some cliff side restaurants and a little art market. We found a breakfast joint, and finally had some really good coffee. The food was great too. Sasha had some good eggs, Yulia and I had yogurt and fruit. Just a light breakfast overall.

We walked around the street a bit and went to the art market. The stuff for sale was cool, but the view from the market was amazing. You could look down from here to see the beach curve away from town, turning into rocks as the hill rose up on the other side of town. People were swimming, surfing and walking the entire length. We had another great view from the Wyland Gallery next door. (Wyland is that guy who paints whale and sea murals all over the world. Beautiful, but I think they all look exactly the same. But hey, it’s art) The patio at the gallery had one of those standing telescopes, so we could look through and get a closeup of the seabirds out on the rocks, and the surfers waiting for waves.

After a bit more walking we headed back to the car. We drove out the main road towards I-5, and it began to rain. Yes, California is in a drought, we come from Seattle, and it rains. It always rains on us when we are on vacation. No exceptions. This wasn’t too hard of rain, and we figured that it would wash off some of the dead bugs that were littering our car. So it was welcome.

A short ride later, we were on the freeway, and heading north towards Disney. It has actually been a long time since we came to Disney from the south, So I had to pay attention since I didn’t know these ramps as well. It was all well marked, and since we were a carpool, we bypassed much of the I-5 traffic on the way. The ramp dropped us into the neighborhood just before Disney, and since we had stayed near here for New Years, I knew how to navigate to the right gate to get us to the hotel. We were staying this time at the Disney Grand Californian, which is the big and fancy hotel on the Disney Resort, and the only one we hadn’t stayed at before. We were only here for 3 nights, so we thought we would give it a shot. This hotel actually connects to the Californian Adventure park, so we will see if the short walk into the park is worth the cost.

Thankfully, there was a hotel laundry so we could get everything clean, we were pretty grimy after all this time on the boat. Our room seemed huge after staying in the boat cabin for a week. A shower, a rest, and changed into clean clothes, we headed into Downtown Disney to see if anything  was new. It was pretty much the same as the last time we were here (only 6 months ago). After a walk around, we fond space at the New Orleans restaurant just across from House of Blues. It was super busy, but as a party of 3, we were easy to find space for (all the other groups were huge, and waiting in an insane line). We were seated on the second floor balcony, with a view of Disney. A Jazz duet was playing next to us. Nice way to wind down the day.