Monday, August 22, 2016

Bob Gurr’s Disney History Trail Bus Tour

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Tim and I know a lot about Disney history. But there’s always room to learn more, especially when the tutor is Bob Gurr, an early Disney imagineer and mastermind behind Disneyland’s Monorail and the Autopia ride.

Bob Gurr’s Disney History Trail Bus Tour starts at Walt Disney’s first L.A. home, which he and brother Roy built in the late 1920s. From here, we traveled a few blocks to the former site of Walt’s first studio on Hyperion Avenue, where Mickey Mouse and beloved classics, like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, were created. Breaks my heart that the site now houses a Gelson's market and parking lot, but some studio "bungalows" still remain.

 Walt's first home on Lyric Avenue, within walking distance
of the now gone Hyperion studio

Our tour guide, Bob Gurr

 
Historical sign noting location of original Disney studio

 
Former studio bungalows (above and below) are now residences

 
 
Next up: the  Griffith Park merry-go-round, where Disney took his daughters every weekend. There are certainly far more beautiful carousels to see and ride—indeed, Walt thought the grounds were dirty and unspectacular. What’s so special, then, about this one? Well, this is where Walt famously began dreaming of someday building an amusement park that children and their parents could enjoy together. Several years later, Disneyland was born.

 Griffith Park merry-go-round

Carousel horses

 
Carousel art (detail)

 
Ticket booth detail (yikes!)

video
Ridin' the merry-go-round!
 
After riding the merry-go-round and truly soaking in the historical significance of the place, we hopped back on the bus to Walt’s barn, rescued from the wrecking ball by Diane Disney and now a treasured Griffith Park attraction. Originally located in the backyard of the Disneys’ Holmby Hills estate, the barn is where Walt and his imagineers would go to relax and think up new projects, after riding narrow-gauged trains all day. Again, the historical significance of this relatively modest building cannot be overstated.

 
 Walt's barn

Walt's trains

 
Disney cartoon memorabilia
 
The last leg of the tour focused on the Burbank studio—built after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—plus the expanded Disney properties in Glendale. Throughout, our tour guide provided fascinating as well as entertaining insights into the history of Disney—both the man and the company—which Bob was lucky enough to experience firsthand. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday.

 
The building where Disneyland was designed and realized

 
The MAPO building—so called by the imagineers, because
it was erected using profits from the movie Mary Poppins. The
People Mover and 3d iteration of the Monorail were built here. 

 
Grand Central Air Terminal, L.A. area's first intercontinental
airport, recently renovated by Disney as office space 

 
Landscaped grounds around the old terminal—so
thrilled to see it all looking so beautiful!

 
One of the Glendale campus gates

 
Main gate to the Burbank studio

 
The Seven Dwarfs holding up the Disney admin. building

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Adele

 
Adele's world-famous eyes
 
I fell in love with Adele as soon as I heard her sing on the 2012 Grammy Awards show. She took home six Grammys that night and, like millions of (mostly female) people around the globe, I became a fan. I haven't memorized every lyric she's ever written, but I do love her incredible voice, which just rips the heart right out your chest when she sings about affairs gone wrong (her usual topic). When not singing, she's completely down-to-earth, reverting to her middle-class British accent and roots. Who in the world hasn't already seen her chatter on and sing joyously with James Corden in perhaps his most famous "Carpool Karaoke" segment yet?

"Carpool Karaoke" with James Corden

Late last year, Adele announced that she would be appearing in six concerts at L.A.'s 17,000-seat Staples Center arena this month. Tickets sold-out immediately and so eventually two more concerts were added, breaking all Staples Center records. I wanted to go, but knew it would be impossible. That is, until two weeks ago, when Tim surprised me with tickets for our 30th anniversary! We saw Adele in concert last night.

 
 Waiting for the concert to start

Needless to say, she was amazing. The stage, featuring a photo of her highly-recognizable (and beautiful) eyes, was on one end of the arena. Our seats were in the center on the premier level. I had read that she also sang on a smaller stage in the middle of the audience; but imagine our surprise when she came rising up right in front of us, singing her first song, the blockbuster hit "Hello." The crowd went wild. I burst into tears, before starting to scream like everyone else! Adele then walked through her fans and up onto the main stage. Who else would dare do such a thing?

 
"Hello"
 
Her voice, of course, was glorious. People sang along—which Adele actually encouraged—but for the most part, you could hear a pin drop while she was singing. I'm guessing we were all equally in awe of her talent. Between songs, she engaged with the audience, inviting three 11-year-old girls onto the stage for photos and, in her typically earthy language, provided the backstory to every song. At one point, Tim, who usually avoids all things Adele, turned to me and whispered, "She sounds like Eliza Doolittle!," which she indeed did.

 
On the main stage
 
I would have liked more singing and less talk, but this is what makes Adele Adele and is why she's so beloved. Everyone who has ever suffered a broken heart can relate to her music and matter-of-fact persona. Not too deep down, she's just like us.

 

The concert ended back on the center stage with Adele singing "Set Fire to the Rain," while water poured all around her. Her encore ended with "Rolling in the Deep," the song that made me love her four years ago at the Grammys. It was all just about perfect.

 
Before the rain started to fall

 
Me, looking all girly-girl for Adele
 
P.S. I forgot to mention that in the middle of one particularly moving song, we suddenly heard screams to our left. There, just two rows in front of us, was a young man, down on his knee, proposing to his girlfriend. She accepted as everyone in our section applauded. Only at an Adele concert!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Convention

 
One of 50 artworks celebrating the 50th
anniversary of Star Trek
  
The TV show Star Trek (known to fans as TOS) has spawned three prime-time sequelsStar Trek: the Next Generation (TNG), Deep Space Nine, and Voyager—a prequel series, Enterprise, and 13 movies, including the recent "reboot" films set in an alternate universe and starring a new cast, playing younger versions of the original, now iconic, characters. The entire pantheon is, without a doubt, a cultural phenomenon. I've been a fan since 1966, when the very first TV episode aired on September 8.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise, Creation, which has been organizing pop culture gatherings since 1971, decided to expand this year's annual Star Trek convention (i.e., "con") to an unprecedented five days. Always held in Las Vegas, the event claimed to be the biggest, most glorious celebration of all things "Star Trek" ever assembled.

Although Karen and I have been to many Star Trek cons over the years, we had never attended the one in Las Vegas. Too damn hot, for one thing! But this promised to be historic: almost every major cast member of every Trek series was scheduled to appear. Plus, of course, there would be lots of opportunities to buy one-of-a-kind commemorative merchandise. The convention was held last week. We bought our tickets way back in December.

 
After driving five hours to Vegas, arriving
at the con, at last

 
An over-sized Starfleet insignia
greeted all con attendees

 
  All fake weapons had to be inspected

 
No real weapons allowed
 
Trek conventions are legendary. Parodied in the past for being the one place where geeks can let their freak flags fly, in more recent times the cons have actually become much more mainstream, attracting mostly long-time fans (i.e., folks our age) who live relatively normal lives. Because the shows and films embrace diversity, they are loved by people of all ethnicities, physical abilities, sexualities, and races. Indeed, the conventions are a wonderful hodgepodge of beings, all sharing the same belief in a brighter and more humane future. 

 
Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock
 
So what's it like going to a Star Trek convention? Six thousand people purportedly attended last week's event, so at times it was crowded and crazy, especially when trying to get from one program to another. At other times, however, it was peaceful and solitary, like when I paid homage to a replica of the original bridge of the starship Enterprise. Displayed in a dark room at the end of a long and busy hallway, fans approached the bridge almost reverently, in hushed tones. It was me and the security guard when I first entered—a nice respite from all the hub-bub outside. I didn't want to leave.

 
 Control panels on the bridge

The bridge replica

 
Me, pretending to be captain on a different faux bridge
 
Costumes are a big part of the convention. Many people dress like their favorite charactersthe more obscure the better—but most (like me) just wear t-shirts proclaiming their allegiance to a particular aspect of Star Trek. I did get up especially early, on Saturday, to see the costume parade at 8:30AM—a real hoot!—and silently judged the costume contest that night. (My favorite did not win.) What fun to see people express their love for Trek so openly and creatively!

 
 A "drunk" Klingon as Batman

Fans dressed as various TOS characters on stage

 
 Starfleet cadets (officers?)

 
Klingons

 

 
Captain Kirk's nemesis, Khan

 
Female Vulcan

 
Harry Mudd, a popular character
from TOS

 
Covered in tribbles!

 
Orion slave boys

 
Kamin, from my favorite TNG
episode, "The Inner Light"
 
The main part of the convention, however, is the celebrity appearances, where major and even minor stars of the shows speak and answer audience questions. For the first time ever, we bought reserved seats in the event auditorium: "copper-level," which put us about 3/4 of the way back from the stage. The actors looked like ants, from where we sat, but then again we paid only a third of what the "gold-level" fans paid for their up-close-and-personal seats. Thank goodness for large-screen video. My favorite speakers were Bill Shatner, the original
Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise, and Kate Mulgrew, the first and only female captain of all the shows. We also viewed previously "lost" footage from TOS, which will soon be available on DVD, and learned that the long-overdue revision of the Star Trek Encyclopedia will finally be released in October. I've already placed my order.

 
Bill Shatner

 
Adam Nimoy, paying tribute to his dad, Leonard
(Mr. Spock), who died last year
 
Lots of other things were happening, too. There was a wonderful art exhibit, called "50 Artists, 50 Years," displaying some fabulous renderings of characters and scenes from the various TV shows and movies. Fans could also take their pictures in front of some of the more famous scenes from fave episodes (e.g., "Trouble with Tribbles") and/or could buy photos—and tons more merchandise—in the dealers room. Saturday night, the Nevada Pops orchestra performed a two-hour concert of music from all the series and most popular movies. No wonder we were exhausted by the time we returned home on Sunday.

 
Artist's rendering of the TNG cast

 
Spock

 
Andorian science officer next to a Starfleet poster,
recruiting Andorians

 
 Me and Karen being assimilated into the Borg

 
Plenty of merchandise to buy, including tribbles

 
Me having trouble with tribbles
 
It was an amazing convention, celebrating a truly epic fictional world. We may just have to go back to Las Vegas again next year for the 30th anniversary of  Star Trek: the Next Generation. Make it so!

 
Other activities: Klingon karaoke, Friday night

 
Cake decorating: Q

 
Salt vampire from "The Man Trap" (TOS)

  
Fans were invited to sign a farewell to Anton Yelchin, who
was tragically killed earlier this year

 

 
Me returning home through the Guardian of Forever
(from my favorite TOS episode, "City on the Edge of Forever")