Sunday, July 16, 2017

D23 Expo 2017

Costume from the movie Maleficent—Disney archives exhibit
D23, the Disney fanclub, has held its big three-day convention in Anaheim every two years since 2009.  What began as a low-key, rather amateur event eight years ago has evolved into a mega-media extravaganza comparable to a mini-Comic-Con and not in a good way. Attendees have to wait on line for hours to see their favorite Disney celebrities and/or shop in one of several exclusive pop-up Expo stores. One young man told me he waited three hours to get into the on-site Disney Store to buy a special "convention-only" set of Mary Poppins tsums-tsums for a friend. He kept his fingers crossed the entire time, hoping they wouldn't sell-out by the time he finally got inside. (Luckily, they didn't.) I commended him on being a truly good friend.

 Waiting, in what I call "the holding pen," to see Pixar animators

The fifth D23 Expo was this weekend. Tim and I have attended every one and, though, I often threaten to never return, I always do because, despite the lines and the crowds, it always ends up being a memorably fun time. We even got a hotel room, this time around, making traveling back-and-forth to Orange County a lot less stressful.

 Photo op with pile of books
The first major event on Friday was the induction of this year's Disney "Legends"—a prestigious hall of fame for celebrities and other talented Disney employees who have made major work contributions to the company. This year's group included several animators, as well as Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Garry Marshall, Julie Taymor, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. The Legends ceremony is always a highlight for me, so we arrived especially early to wait on line. It took two hours to get in; but even Tim had to admit the event was wonderful once we were inside, celebrating each person's accomplishments.

 Waiting for the Legends ceremony. Can you find Tim?

The other highlight was seeing the huge 3-dimensional model of the new Star Wars Land, called Galaxy's Edge, currently under construction at Disneyland. Though I resent how much the recently-acquired Stars Wars franchise now overshadows the more traditional Disney universe, even I'm excited to see the park's expansion into a world far, far away. It's scheduled to open in time for the next D23 Expo in 2019.

 Panorama of the new Galaxy's Edge, the largest land ever
to be added to any Disney property

Galaxy's Edge detail

More detail

One of the "other-worldly" characters to
populate the new land

Visitors will be able to fly the Millennium Falcon
Besides events, exhibits, and things to buy, the Expo lets fans release their inner Disney personas through costumes and other creative means not usually allowed in the parks.  Lots of adult princesses and villains, of course, But the most amazing was a young woman dressed as Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain ride, complete with a running model train! 

 Big Thunder Mountain costume

A fan dressed as the villain Ursula 
from Little Mermaid
When we're lucky, we even see real-life heroes wandering around the convention hall. I was gazing lovingly at my new Groot coin-purse, when I heard Tim say, "Babe, there goes SHAG!"

Sure enough, our all-time fave artist, SHAG (i.e., Josh Agle), was walking through the exhibits, unnoticed, with his children. We followed behind, until someone stopped him for a photo. We then we leaped in. SHAG was extremely gracious while I gushed about loving his work, etc. I then asked if that was him depicted in his 50th-anniversary painting of Disneyland's Frontierland and he said, "yes," pointing to his daughter, adding that she's in the picture, too. I was beyond thrilled and completely forgot how grumpy I was, just a few hours before, about not being able to see a panel discussion on upcoming live-action Disney movies because the line was too long! Hands down, meeting SHAG was the best part of this—or anyyear's Expo.


The Frontierland 50th-anniversary print that hangs above our bed
Since we were spending the night anyway, we decided to go to the Angels baseball game just a mile from our hotel. Our seats were good, but the team not so much. Still, we did get to take a photo with staff characters from Disney California Adventure's Guardians of the Galaxy show, one of the sponsors of that night's game.

 In front of the stadium

With Peter Quill and Gamora
The perfect ending to this year's D23 Expo experience. Back to reality tomorrow . . .

Friday, June 23, 2017

Taste of Liberty Station

Tim at Liberty Station, former Naval Training Center in San Diego

One of the best things about retirement is being able to up-and-go whenever and wherever you want. This week, for instance, was wide open, so we decided to take a quick trip down to San Diego. Researching things to do, Tim discovered a big "taste of" event at the new public park, Liberty Station, on Wednesday evening. He quickly bought tickets while I investigated hotel and Amtrak options.

On the southbound train
I've been reading about Liberty Station ever since it opened last year. The site of the former Navel Training Center (NTC), the land and its historic 1920s buildings were purchased by the city of San Diego and developed into a public space surrounded by galleries, trendy restaurants and a small, but hip, enclosed marketplace. Even more importantly, however, the now Liberty Station/former NTC is where Tim underwent boot-camp when he was a young sailor in 1968. Lots of changes over the past 50 years!

Naval Training Center sign

Former North Chapel now houses Five Guys, Panera and other 
franchise businesses
We decided to spend the night in Old Town San Diego, a short bus ride (#28) to Liberty Station. The event started at 5PM.

Although the environs are not as glorious, Liberty Station reminded us of San Francisco's Presidio, another former military base that has been "re-purposed." Arriving at Liberty Station, we were given a map and list of the 22 restaurants providing "tastes" of their menu items. These included Dirty Birds, which offered chicken wings "done 2 ways," THE LOT (an assortment of flatbreads), Fireside by the Patio (crispy pork belly), and Officine Buona Forchetta (cannoli). The best, though, was Liberty Public Market, the former NTC commissary that now houses several high-end eateries. We were again reminded of San Francisco: a similar but much smaller version of the recently renovated Embarcadero and its fabulous food shoppes and restaurants. Our favorite Liberty market samples: Roast Meat & Sandwich Shop (pork loin and lemon kokuho rice) and Le Parfait Paris (fruit-filled cream puffs). I don't eat meatballs, so the chef at Pasta Design whipped up a plate of focaccia bread and marinara sauce just for me. Very tasty!

Crafted Baked Goods (mini-moonpies)

Cool neon signs

Pasta Design

Le Parfait Paris

We spent two hours sampling food, walking around, reminiscing (Tim), and meeting new people. It was a wonderful evening and one I'm hoping we'll be able to repeat again next year. Highly, highly recommended.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy @ DCA


I may love Christian Bale as Batman and Robert Downey, Jr., as Ironman, but my favorite superhero movie franchise is Guardians of the Galaxy, the fantasy series about a rag-tag group of alien misfits, whose leader, Peter Quill (i.e., “Star-Lord”), was kidnapped from Earth when he was a child. Skilled at saving the galaxy, the Guardians are irreverent, unorthodox and highly lovable. Their cast of characters includes the green-skinned female Gamora, a loudmouthed, gun-wielding raccoon and a warrior tree, who says only one thing: “I am Groot.”

Now part of the Disney universe, Guardians recently got its own ride at Disney’s California Adventure (DCA). The ride involves an elevator that feels like it’s free-falling, so I’ll never go on it. Still, I love all the corollary stuff, including a short “staged” encounter between Quill and Gamora, in front of the Guardians ride, that ends in a dance-off with Groot. We waited in line—for an hour!!—to have our photo taken with Groot, everyone’s favorite Guardian.

 Exterior of Mission: Breakout! ride

Quill trying to rouse the crowd, while Gamora looks on unimpressed

Groot and Star-Lord

Groot's dance-off

With Groot!!
We haven’t gone on the ride, but everything else is fun, especially if you’re a fan of Groot.

I am bread!: sourdough version of Baby Groot's face--
too cute to eat!

Tim eating churros instead 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

NYC Vacation

Walking the High Line through Chelsea
We love New York City, but hadn't visited since 2009 and so jumped at the chance to go on a Broadway tour with the South Coast Rep, a theater group in Orange County. The tour provided tickets to four Tony-nominated plays—War Paint, about the rivalry between cosmetics mavens Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, Oslo, about the short-lived Palestinian peace accords negotiated in the early 1990s in Norway, Noel Coward's Present Laughter, and Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler—plus we saw A Doll's House, Pt. 2 on our own. We also visited the Rockefeller family estate Kykuit, the 9/11 memorial and museum, mid-town Manhattan, and the NY Transit Museum—all of which you can read about in separate posts below.

We rode the subway, saw friends, ate lots of good food, and walked our feet off. It was a wonderful, and much needed, vacation! 

Relatively cheap breakfast at the deli across the street from our hotel

New York cheesecake at 11PM—we're on vacation!!

Dirty water dog on 43rd & 8Th Ave. I prefered
eating at Chirping Chicken, a great NYC chain.

Much finer dining at Mario Batali's Eataly at Four World Trade Center 

Trying to decide what to eat at Eataly


And, of course, dressing up for the theater 

World Trade Center

Photo of Lower Manhattan, taken moments before the first plane
crashed into WTC on 9/11
The most moving—and difficult—part of our stay in NYC was visiting the World Trade Center and 9/11 Museum. Tim and I had seen the Twin Towers on previous trips to New York and had witnessed, firsthand, the cleanup efforts soon after the destruction of 9/11. So we were familiar with the area. I was not prepared, however, for the emotional impact of a revitalized "ground zero."

Though never a big fan of the architectural style of the Twin Towers, they, of course, have since transcended any criticism of how they once looked. The new One World Trade Center is much taller and shinier than the original, but it will never loom as large, in my mind and heart, as the towers. Instead, my eyes looked downward to the two reflecting pools marking the footprints of the demolished Center buildings. The pools were somber but beautiful and rimmed with the names of the people who died on 9/11. A simple but powerful tribute.

One World Trade Center

Detail at top

Reflecting Absence reflecting pool, memorializing the former
footprint of one of the Twin Towers

Flowers are placed on the victims' names on their birthdate

Looking at the south pool from above
There are two museums commemorating the events of 9/11: one created by the victims' families and one located in the underground bowels of the former towers. We visited the latter, which was enough for me. I was not the only person openly crying as we passed the few surviving remnants of the buildings. In an interior room—signs warning parents of graphic images—were artifacts and television footage of the destruction. I lasted five minutes before telling Tim I'd meet him outside after he was done. Far too emotionally painful to experience all over again.

The first thing you see when you descend the stairs into the
museum are two of the massive tridents that decorated the foot 
of the Twin Towers

Several stories tall

Trident base looking very much like a cross

Photo of the remaining tridents (click on image
to enlarge)

Remaining underground wall

Remaining column with firefighter messages

"Survivors' Staircase," which over 200 people used to
escape the collapsing building

Part of the TV/radio antenna on the North Tower—six engineers
died trying to keep the antenna operating as long as possible

Elevator part

Ladder 3 firetruck, destroyed by falling debris

 "No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time"—the
blue tiles try to capture the color of the 9/11 morning sky
After emerging from the museum, we made our way over to the Oculus, an incredibly spectacular structure that houses an indoor mall. To me it looks like an eagle crossed with Statue of Liberty's crown. It also reminded me of the few tridents that remained standing after the towers fell. In the end, I decided the Oculus was a cathedral to commerce—a grand F.U. to all terrorists who think they can destroy the American way of life. What do you see when you look at it?

The Oculus: an eagle in flight?

The Oculus across the street from the 9/11 museum (lower 
righthand corner)

Inside the Oculus

Shoppers and tourists

Looking upward at the spine of the Oculus

Backside of the Oculus, with One World Trade Center behind