Sunday, September 14, 2014

Memories of Wilshire Blvd

Me and our old Ford Falcon wagon in 1970

Several years ago, the L.A. Conservancy solicited members' stories about Wilshire Blvd., my favorite street in Los Angeles. I submitted a written memory, which appeared briefly on the Conservancy's website, and then forgot all about it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I visited the Conservancy's new "Explore L.A." microsite, this morning, and there, featured prominently on the Wilshire Blvd. page, was my short story under the headline, "The Most Glamorous Street in the World"! You can link to my memories here or enjoy them right now below:

Like most of the kids in my high school, I got my driver's license as soon as I turned sixteen. But unlike everyone else, I was too afraid to drive the freeway; and so that entire first summer (1970), my younger sister and I regularly drove the family's 10-year-old Ford Falcon over 25+ miles of L.A. streets to go to the beach.
From Burbank we took Barham over the hill to Highland and then down to Wilshire, where we turned right and headed toward the ocean. Our favorite beach was Sorrento, located at the foot of the California Incline.
Just west of La Brea were the tar pits, the art museum (only one building in those days), and the amazing gold column of the Fairfax May Co. -- all only a few steps away from curly-q French fries at Dolores drive-thru.
Further down was Beverly Hills, with its beautiful hotels and department stores, and of course Wilson's House of Leather, where we always decided to continue on Wilshire rather than turning onto the probably more suitable Santa Monica Blvd.
Approaching the beach head-on down the hill from Westwood somehow seemed a lot more exciting than sneaking up behind it from Santa Monica Blvd.
Years later, I frequently retraced this route as a UCLA graduate student, even though I had conquered my fear of freeways by then.
To me, Wilshire Blvd. remains the most glamorous street in the world and is the very epitome of Los Angeles.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Wiltern Theatre

The Wiltern's neon sign

Clad in blue-green Gladding-McBean terracotta tile, the Wiltern Theatre is one of the most magnificent buildings in Los Angeles and may, indeed, be one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the U.S. Built in 1931, the theater majestically sits at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Western. Hence its name: Wiltern.

Blue-green terracotta exterior

Exterior entrance: art deco detail above the old box office

We’ve seen many concerts here—plus, I love showing it off to out-of-towners—so we know the Wiltern. However, the day before leaving for Alaska (see below), we got the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour with the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation and truly saw the building for the first time.


Wall detail

Wall and ceiling detail

Art deco staircase: ceiling detail

Auditorium wall detail

The stage: view from the balcony

Stage rigging

Stage from the catwalk above

Fire curtain, lowered right before we left

Auditorium ceiling

OK, so we kinda went berserk taking pictures of lamps. But seriously, aren’t these the most beautiful light fixtures you’ve ever seen? Be sure to click on the images to enlarge.


Wall lamp

Inside the auditorium

More lobby

More ceiling

Main chandelier

Chandelier mural detail


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Disney Cruise to Alaska

Our ship: the Disney Wonder

Captain Mickey on the bow (click on photo to enlarge)

For years, I’ve been bugging Tim about going on a Disney cruise, so finally he booked us onto an Alaskan cruise to celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary this week. We flew up to Vancouver very early yesterday (Monday) morning and didn’t get onto the ship until 1PM. I was starving and so immediately went in search of food. Luckily, the Parrot Cay restaurant was serving a buffet lunch. We ate, found our cabin and fell asleep while waiting for our bags. We awoke just in time for the mandatory emergency drill, where we learned how to don our life-jackets (kinda dumb) and then decided to investigate the ship.

First stop: Parrot Cay buffet

We were poking around in the “aft” all by ourselves, when we thought we heard someone yelling on a loudspeaker. Tim guessed it was some crazy person onshore, but it turned out to be the first of what promised to be many “family dance parties” mid-ship on the top deck. Everyone, including Mickey Mouse and friends, was counting down till the ship launched. Adults, as well as kids, were jumping around and singing. It was the perfect start to our weeklong Disney cruise. A few minutes later, the ship left port and we were headed out to the sea.

The welcome wagon

Disney Wonder smoke stack

We’ve been on non-Disney cruises before, including one to Alaska some 15 years ago. So we know that cruises are a time to be pampered and entertained and educated—if you want to be—about your new surroundings. But a Disney cruise is even more special. 

Disney princess gathering: Cinderella, Belle, Ariel,
Rapunzel, and Tiana

For one thing, Mickey and pals are part of every day’s adventure. On Wednesday, for instance, we had breakfast with Pluto, Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey (dressed up in his captain’s regalia) and got to wear crazy hats made out of napkins. Evening entertainment includes “Broadway-style” shows, often featuring Disney characters. And first-run Disney films, like Guardians of the Galaxy, are shown all day in the 200-seat Buena Vista theater. (You haven’t seen Maleficent until you’ve seen it from the second row in 3D!) Even the ship’s smokestack plays “When You Wish Upon a Star” when it blows. It’s all Disney all the time.

Breakfast with Minnie Mouse

Pirate napkin hat (Tim as Jack Sparrow)

Of course, the cruise is also all about nature and the grandeur of Alaska. There’s a naturalist, Doug Jones, on board, who gives fascinating lectures you can attend or watch via the onboard TV. Plus the crew is very good about pointing out any “wonders” they know we’ll want to see. Suddenly the ship’s bells will sound overhead (“When You Wish Upon a Star,” again) and a disembodied voice will announce the first glacier sighting or whales on the port or starboard side. That, then, is our cue to drop everything, grab our cameras and head topside to marvel and take pictures. 

A brisk morning walk topside

Deck 4

Yesterday (Wednesday) we spent most of the day slowly traveling inside the Tracy Arm fjord toward our destination, the South Sawyer glacier. It was a spectacular day—sunny and unusually warm—as Doug Jones explained the amazing terrain we were seeing. Almost everyone was on deck snapping photos and oohing and aahing.

First big glacier sighting

Surrounded by 7000 ft. monoliths

Even Goofy and Donald (below) came
up to see the glaciers

First glimpse of the South Sawyer glacier (center of
photo - click on image to enlarge)

The South Sawyer glacier

The glacier and me from our veranda

Our cabin is a bit cramped but nice. We’ve had better—our last Alaskan cruise cabin was obscenely sumptuous—but we’ve also had much worse—steerage! There’s a desk-and-sofa area (where I am right now), that can be closed-off by a heavy curtain, and we have a small veranda. 

Our cabin

Our man Lorenzo visits the room twice a day, replenishing towels, etc., and generally keeping everything neat. While we’re at dinner, he leaves chocolates and the next day’s schedule of events, called “The Personal Navigator,” which is the single most important resource for planning the following day’s activities. There is so much going on every day that we would be absolutely lost without our “Navigator.”

Like all good cruise ships, there are plenty of “free” (i.e., pre-paid) food options—a liability for most travelers! Breakfast and lunch are served during designated times at many spots throughout the ship: Goofy’s Galley, Beach Blanket Buffet, Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, Pluto’s Dog House.
Before . . .

And after (Tim with not one but two hot dogs!)

In addition, the crew hosted a barbecue on Wednesday to help while away the time as we crept our way toward the glacier. Needless to say, it was a feeding frenzy, even though we had just eaten breakfast only three hours before.

Animator's Palette: the most Disneyesque of the
ship's restaurants

Note the giant paint brushes holding up the ceiling
(click on photo to enlarge)

Dinner, on the other hand, is much less freeform. Although the meals rotate among three of the ship’s larger restaurants, we are all assigned a table number and eat with the same folks every night. We selected the early seating—5:45PM as opposed to 8:15PM—and are happily part of a great group of diners. 

Our wonderful tablemates: Blake, Rebecca, G, Tim, Amy, and me

Courses are selected off a menu and you are encouraged to order as much as you want. For those who like to dine alone or just get away from their kids, there’s also an “adults only” Italian restaurant, called Palo, that is “price fixe” and requires reservations. The food is supposed to be exceptional, though so far we’ve been perfectly happy with our group meals.

First night dinner (Monday)

Formal night (Tuesday)
Semi-formal night (Friday)

Our ship docked at three ports along the Inside Passage: Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchican. Of the three, Skagway was the smallest (pop. 862) but also the most magnificent, located at the mouth of a lush glacier-made valley. Though the town is now mostly t-shirt shops and jewelry stores, it was once the launching point for thousands of prospectors stampeding into the Yukon gold rush in the late 1890s. 

Docking at dawn in Skagway

Historic Skagway buildings

A nice surprise: flowers in bloom everywhere

Feeling adventurous, we decided to ride the White Pass & YukonRoute narrow-gauge railway 20 miles to the Canadian border and back again. Built over just two years during the late 19th century, the tracks start at sea-level and climb up the side of the Coast Mountains for almost 3000 feet—totally outside my normal comfort zone (terrible fear of heights), still the views were incredible. This was certainly a highlight of the trip.

Inside our small railroad car

The train ahead of us, crawling alongside the edge 
of the mountain (click on photo to enlarge)

Riding over the wooden trestle (gag!)

The old wooden trestle, no longer in use (thank goodness!)

The next day (Friday), we pulled into Juneau, Alaska’s state capitol. We spent a couple of hours strolling through town and visited the tiny (compared to California) capitol building. 

Pulling into Juneau

Juneau, Alaska's state capitol

Looking at our ship from shore

Stumbling upon the campaign headquarters for U.S. Senate candidate Mark Begich, I quickly entered, saying, “Hey, I didn’t know there were Democrats in Alaska!” Turns out one of the campaign managers was a young guy from Pasadena, who temporarily relocated to Alaska in hopes of helping Begich win a key seat in the Senate. We wished them lots of luck.

Today (Saturday) we’re in Ketchikan, known locally as the Salmon Capital of the World. It’s also the southern-most town on the cruise, so tonight we begin our journey back to Vancouver. Ketchican is picturesque, with its totem poles and hundred-year-old wooden homes. But we’ve been here before, so opted to walk around town on our own, instead of paying top dollar for an onshore tour. Tomorrow we start packing for home.

Picturesque Ketchikan

With Mickey and Minnie

With Goofy

It’s been a truly wonderful week, filled with fun, unusually beautiful weather, and gorgeous scenery. Being on a ship, where everything is taken care of by an excellent crew, is just heaven. Plus, you never know when you might run into Mickey Mouse, a fairy tale princess, or a Pixar character.

 Pixar night (Friday): Russell from Up

My favorite: Woody from Toy Story

Tim's favorites: Mr. and Mrs. Incredible from
The Incredibles

We loved it all so much that we’ve already booked another Disney cruise, from San Diego to Vancouver, in May 2015. Does anybody want to join us?

With Jesse and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story

Donald Duck and nephews on the stern

See ya real soon!