Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Disney Cruise to Alaska

Walt and me

I’ve been bugging Tim about going on a Disney cruise for years, 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 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.

Disney Wonder smoke stack

[I'll be adding to this post throughout the week, so come back later!]

Friday, August 08, 2014

Dumbo Ride Controversy

Dumbo, 1958 (click to enlarge)

The Dumbo ride looms large in my family’s lore. Mom always loved telling the story of the first time we went to Disneyland in 1958, three years after the park opened, and how she got stuck loading my sister Vicki and me onto the ride.

There were five of us that day: Mom, Dad, Vicki (3 years old), me (4 years old), and Uncle Louie. Unc was so excited about flying in Dumbo (he’s the handsome devil above, seated in the elephant behind my sister and me), that he completely abandoned Mom as she was trying to get us on the ride. In all the commotion, Mom tripped and fell, while Uncle Louie sat laughing in his Dumbo. Dad must have been in charge of taking pictures, because he didn’t help either. My mother never forgave either of them.

Well, I was attending the annual Disneyana convention a couple of weeks ago when one of the speakers mentioned the Dumbo ride and the problems it had early on. The first Dumbos had hinged ears that were supposed to flap when they flew, but never really did. Plus, he said, there was no opening into the body, so riders had to jump or be lifted into the Dumbos. Ah ha! Could that be why Mom had such a difficult time getting us onto the ride?

When I told my sister about this, we both immediately dug-up our copies of the now legendary photo above. There we are, smiling away, while Uncle Louie looks on innocently in the background. There, too, are the hinged ears, which I never noticed before, despite looking at this picture a million times. But also, there’s very clearly an opening on the lefthand side of the Dumbo. Mom didn’t have to lift us into the ride.

So what was that Disneyana guy talking about? According to Wikipedia, as well as my Disney reference books—yes, I own a bunch of Disney reference books—the original Dumbo ride wasn’t upgraded until many years later, so obviously the guy was wrong—unless, of course, someone out there knows differently. Do any of you remember Dumbos that didn’t have an opening? Regardless, I’m just thrilled we have such a great photo of Dumbo’s hinged ears!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tale of Two Bridges

I've been a fan of the Bridges brothers and their father for as long as I can remember. Tim and I both grew-up watching Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt and I've loved Beau ever since his starring role in the film Gaily, Gaily. As for Jeff, we've both seen almost all his movies, but I especially loved him in Starman and the recent True Grit reboot. As you can see below, Tim got to meet Jeff Bridges several years ago when he (Tim) worked for radio station KLOS.

Last night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored the Bridges family by interviewing both Beau and Jeff at the L.A. County Museum of Art. I bought tickets as soon as I saw the announcement. The line of people to get in was around the building by the time we arrived, 45 minutes early.

The brothers talked affectionately about their father Lloyd and how both he and their mother encouraged them to go into acting. Jeff apparently tried to resist, but eventually joined the family business in his late teens. He earned his first Oscar nomination at age 22 for his supporting role in The Last Picture Show

Film clips were screened, illustrating the breadth of all three Bridges actors. Beau, in particular, seems to have had the most diverse career, playing everything from a lovably grumpy father in the current sitcom The Millers to a repressed homosexual in Masters of Sex. Both brothers talked about their acting process and were surprisingly open about their insecurities. They also praised the women in their lives, thanking them for keeping home life together while they travel for work. "Their names should be right up there in the film's credits!," Jeff said to a rousing round of applause.

The evening ended with the closing scene from their first movie together: the wonderful The Fabulous Baker Boys, about piano-playing brothers who are struggling to stay on the fringes of show biz. The real Baker boys exited the stage to a standing ovation.

Tim and Jeff Bridges in younger days

Monday, July 14, 2014

Grease is the Word

It’s almost too embarrassing to admit, but I had never seen the movie Grease until last night’s 4th annual sing-along event at the Hollywood Bowl. Judging by the crowd, I was one of the last people in L.A. to see the film. At least a third of the nearly 18,000 attendees dressed as characters from the movie. My favorites were the pink-haired ladies at the end of our row and a trio of fans, who arrived just before the show started, dressed as John Travolta and two beauty salon gals with hair-curlers piled high. They were fun, but made no sense to me until the musical number “Beauty School Dropout,” during which the hair-curler gals—actually a man and a woman—stood-up and danced, much to the delight of everyone in our section.

 Pink-haired ladies a la "Frenchie"

The backside of the faux Travolta and hair-curler gals

I must say I was dubious when Tim picked Grease as one of our Hollywood Bowl concerts this year. But like everyone else there, I ended up having a blast. Retro rockers Sha Na Na, who also appear in the film, got the audience in the mood by playing tunes from the ‘50s, while we waited for the sun to set. Didi Conn (“Frenchie”) was the M.C. As soon as it was dark enough, the movie began to roll and everyone around me started to sing, including my husband, who sang even the “girl” parts! I was surprised to find that I, too, knew a lot of the songs. 

Plus the event was highly interactive, even if you didn’t know the story. We were each given a bag of goodies to wave during certain parts of the film: pom-poms for the football pep rally scene, a yellow hankie during the car race, a comb to slick back our greasy hair, etc. Two guys behind us had memorized the dialogue and so yelled out key lines. It was a hoot.

I certainly don’t need to see Grease again, but last night was lots of fun. Highly recommended for anyone who loves John Travolta, Olivia Newton John or 1950s-style teen musicals.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

From One Extreme to the Other

The San Francisco Bridge from AT&T Park

After driving home from Las Vegas (see below), we spent one day recuperating at home before hopping a plane to San Francisco for a couple of days. We stayed at my new favorite SF hotel, the Serrano—old world charm, located just five blocks from the Powell St. BART and Muni station. We took mass transit everywhere—always a nice change for us car-addicted Angelenos.

The Serrano lobby

Our first stop was AT&T Park to see a Giants game. Growing up in L.A., I never liked the Giants, the Dodgers' national league rivals. Still, even I have to admit that their stadium, built in 2000, is spectacular and may indeed have the most beautiful ballpark setting in the country, as the Giants claim. But it was cold, especially after the oppressive heat of Las Vegas. Quite a difference in temperatures as well as cultures, if one can say that Vegas has any culture.

Bundled up to watch baseball—note my red wool scarf
peeking out from under my sweatshirt!

The view of AT&T centerfield from our seats

The next morning, we decided to see the recently renovated Coit Tower, which sits atop Telegraph Hill in North Beach. Completed in 1933, the landmark tower houses an array of Depression-era murals commissioned as part of the Public Works of Art Project in the 1930s. To get there, we caught an old Italian trolley car on Market St. and took it to Greenwich St., off of Embarcadero, before then climbing some 400 steps (!) to Coit Tower. The views were worth it, as we panted up more than 400 feet to the summit. But, damn, what a hike for our poor old legs! Next time we'll take a bus.

Our ride to Embarcadero

Beware, all who enter here!

Our destination—so close, yet so far

The first of many flights—that's me 
grimacing in the lower righthand corner

Up and up we go—at least it was mostly shady 

The magnificent view along the way

Coit Tower, at last

A statue of Columbus overlooking the Bay

The back of the tower

The murals depicting life in Depression-era California

Mural detail

My favorite panels: The Library—shelving books

Marxist headlines in the library: "Hoover Aid Fights Airmail 
Fraud," "Destruction of [Diego] Rivera's Fresco at 
Rockfeller Center," "Thousands Slaughtered in Austria"

We did take the free bus, a few hours later, to the Presidio, where we visited the Disney Family Museum, which I saw and loved the last time I was in SF. Coincidentally, the Presidio was also the site of Off the Grid, a weekly family picnic event that features food trucks (one of our favorite things!), 5-9PM every Thursday night. I knew Bacon Bacon from a previous trip to SF and so made a beeline straight for their scrumptious BLT sandwich. We then jumped on the bus and the Muni subway back to the hotel and quickly fell asleep. We were back home the next day—July 4th—well before fireworks and BBQ.

Early Off the Grid crowd

Massive BLT—YUM!!

July 4th: Waiting for the 7AM shuttle to SFO

Sunday, July 06, 2014

ALA in Las Vegas

Old Las Vegas: Beef, Booze and Broads

The big annual American Library Association conference was held in Las Vegas last weekend. Neither of us is all that fond of Vegas, especially in the summer. But we couldn’t resist the lure of seeing 20,000 librarians descend upon Sin City. “Stereotypes will be shattered!” I insisted.

Well, we really didn’t see too many librarians going wild playing blackjack or letting their hair down at casino shows. For one thing, the conference was far too spread-out. Most events took place at the convention center, which was miles from The Strip. Plus it was too damn hot to go anywhere without a car. Librarians are all about walking, if it means saving a few bucks on cab fare. But when evening temperatures hover around 100 degrees, not even the most diehard gamblers feel much like leaving their hotels.

We drove to Vegas (5 hours from L.A.) and so were able to escape the conference a bit to explore the old downtown area, now known as the Fremont Street Experience. Still promising “BEEF•BOOZE•BROADS” and “LOOSE $ SLOTS,” the once glamorous casinos of Fremont Street are now covered by a protective roof that seems to attract more homeless people than tourists. Though apparently spectacular at night, the famous neon signs of yore are truly sad by day. 

Fremont Street Experience in daylight

Howdy, Pardner: Vegas Vic

Easy money!

Fallout shelter sign: reminder of past nuclear 
activity in the nearby Nevada desert

While there, we had a tasty if overly filling breakfast at Du-pars, an L.A. staple that now occupies the old Bay City CafĂ© space in the Golden Gate casino. I could easily picture my parents eating here after a long night of feeding the slot machines at the nearby 4 Queens and Golden Nugget casinos.

Always open, like Vegas

Old-school Vegas diner

Old-school breakfast: lots of carbs and bacon—YUM!

We also visited the Mob Museum, housed in the former post office and courts building located just two blocks from Fremont. Not only does it chronicle the history of the Mafia and other gangster organizations, the Museum also touches on the early days of Las Vegas, when it was nothing more than a desert waystation between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Everything from the Rat Pack to the infamous wall (complete with bulletholes!) from the 1920s St. Valentine’s Day massacre to one of Tony Soprano’s outfits is displayed. Plan on spending at least half a day, if you go. Lots of fun and highly recommended!

Mob Museum

One-armed bandit and assorted early Vegas memorabilia

No trip to Vegas is complete without seeing at least one show, so we did Cirque du Soleil’s Love (again—my third time). We also ate dinner at Pamplemousse, a French bistro rumored to have been inspired by one of our favorite singers, Bobby Darin. The food was delicious, but we recommend not eating all day if you’re going to order the five-course meal.

I was going to attend one last conference session, Monday morning, but when we heard the temperature was expected to reach 110 degrees, we packed our gear and left town by 9AM. Good to be home!

One of the best things about Las Vegas: the monorail—
it ain't cheap, but at least it's air-conditioned—we got a 3-day pass