Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Comic Con 2008 (Day 3)

The lines were far too long to get into the panels we really wanted to see (“Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles” and “The Office”), so we stumbled into a presentation by horror author Dean Koontz instead. It was wonderful and surprisingly relevant to the class I’m teaching this summer at UCLA.

Better yet was the next panel on “Dollhouse,” the upcoming TV show by the enormously popular Joss Wheadon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer” and the much lamented science fiction/western “Firefly.” I was thrilled to share the same air with someone whose talent I admire so greatly.

But the true highlight of the weekend was sitting through the “Battlestar Galactica” panel, while Tim fetched our luggage and saved my place on line at the train station. It was the perfect end to a glorious three days, even though I did have to lug the framed “Incredibles” print five blocks to the train station. I’m already counting the days till next year!

Comic Con 2008 (Day 2)

Too excited to sleep, I woke-up at 5:30AM and emailed Karen about the con. I was distressed to read in USA Today that Hugh Jackman had made a surprise appearance at the “X-Men” panel on Thursday while we were still on the train. Bummer!

The doors opened on Friday at 9:30AM so we boarded the Comic Con shuttle at 8:45AM, along with a couple of elves and an entire family of Star Wars characters. It was madness at the convention center.

“It’s like Saturday,” someone yelled in amazement. “Only it’s Friday!”

We fought our way through the crowds and headed upstairs to the “Big Bang Theory” panel. The actors were all very cute and had good chemistry with each other. Between panels, we dashed downstairs to the exhibits, where I bought a copy of “Shatnerica,” an encyclopedia about “Star Trek” captain extraordinaire William Shatner (2nd edition—who knew?!). We also fell in love with—and subsequently purchased—a framed, limited edition print of characters from Disney’s animated movie “The Incredibles.” They promised to hold it for us until Saturday.

The rest of the day was spent in dark rooms attending various panels: TV showrunners from some of our favorite shows (“Lost,” “Chuck,” “Pushing Daisies,” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles”); the upcoming Star Wars “Clone Wars” movie and TV show (so boring, I read the Shatner book cover-to-cover while waiting for the panel to end!); a Q & A with “visionary filmmakers” Judd Apatow, Kevin Smith, Zack Snyder, and Frank Miller (funny); and finally a panel promoting Kevin Smith’s new film “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (very, very funny). We left the convention center at 8PM, exhausted but happy.

What else did we see? After the previous day’s incident when I failed to take a picture because I was so flustered by the two faux Star Trek captains, Tim assumed control of the camera. As you can see below, he went berserk.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Comic Con 2008 (Day 1)

It’s July, so that means it’s time, once again, to schlep to San Diego for Comic Con, the largest pop culture convention in the U.S, if not the world! I was so bummed that we spent only one day at the con last year, I made hotel reservations way back in August so we could be there as long as possible this year.

Thursday/Day 1: We had tickets for the 11AM train, so I got up at 6AM to pack and get ready. As I’ve written before on this blog, what you wear to Comic Con is very important. Tim and I don’t do costumes, but we do wear carefully selected t-shirts that indicate our allegiance to certain TV shows and movies. This year I wanted to honor “Dark Knight” by donning the Batman t-shirt I bought in 1989 when the first movie came out. But after hunting for it for almost 20 minutes, I had a fit and declared a moratorium on all movie/TV t-shirts.

“That’s it!” I announced. “I have far too many t-shirts! I don’t care how good they look or how free they are, I refuse to bring home any more t-shirts!”

I could almost hear Tim thinking, “Yeah, right. We’ll see . . .”

We arrived at the train station an hour early and knew we were in the right place when a young man approached us wearing a shirt labeled NERD. Tim then elbowed me as Jim Parsons (Sheldon on the TV show “Big Bang Theory”) walked by. We were on our way.

Oddly enough, everyone on the train was going to either Comic Con or the Del Mar racetrack. Our heads almost swiveled from eavesdropping on so many interesting conversations. We learned not only which programs to attend at the con, but also which horses to bet on at the track! It was a lively trip.

After checking in at the hotel, we ran down to the convention center, where we had an hour to kill before our first panel. Mustering our strength, we dove headlong into the always crazy exhibit hall. Even on Thursday it was ridiculously crowded. At one point I thought I saw Avery Brooks (the captain on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) walking alongside Patrick Stewart (my all-time favorite starship captain). I held my breath.

“Damn, you guys look good!” an exhibitor yelled, as everyone stopped to snap a photo.

Turns out the “captains” were just two fanboys in costume.

At 3:30PM, we went upstairs to stand on the first of many lines that weekend. The panel was on the new HBO vampire series “True Blood,” premiering September 7. Oscar-winner Anna Paquin, who plays a waitress who falls in love with a vampire, was there, as were several of her costars. We were handed red tickets to exchange for “True Blood” swag while we watched clips from the show. We then sat through a panel on “Dexter,” the Showtime series about a likable killer, played by Michael C. Hall. I was already in ecstasy!

Worried that it was getting too late to collect our swag, I motioned to Tim to hurry as we exited the room. We raced past the autograph tables and several former celebrities waiting to greet their fans. We then entered the “Fulfillment Center” and showed our tickets.

“Red tickets over there,” a bored staff member said, pointing to the right.

We were each handed a backpack containing a “True Blood” comic book, the paperback novel “Dead Until Dark”, on which the show is based, and, of course, a t-shirt. Tim got a white shirt that said “FRIENDS DON’T LET FRIENDS DRINK FRIENDS.” Mine was red and admonished that “REAL BLOOD IS FOR SUCKERS.”

“I LOVE THEM BOTH!” I squealed, completely forgetting all about my t-shirt moratorium.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday Morning in Santa Monica

At the end of May, Tim announced that he wanted to reinstate the rather short-lived tradition we started 10 years ago, when we spent several Sunday mornings at the beach, reading the newspaper and generally enjoying the scenery before the crowds descended.

I agreed. But despite my enthusiasm, Tim didn’t mention the beach again until this morning, the last day of my five-day “staycation” (i.e., stay-at-home vacation). I was just starting to wake up when he whispered in my ear.

“Let’s go to the beach!” It was 7:10AM.

“What does it look like outside?” I mumbled.

“Sunny. Do you want to take a shower or just go as is?” he asked, hopping out of bed.

I looked at my hair in the mirror. Not too bad. “I’ll shower when we get back.”

Tim fetched the beach chairs I bought for $5 at a summer close-out several years ago, while I threw a bottle of water and two books into the perpetually-packed picnic bag we lug to the stadium, Hollywood Bowl, and anywhere else that might have a sticky or dirty floor.

We pulled into the Santa Monica parking lot at 7:40AM. It now costs $7 to park at the beach, but it’s free if you get there before 8AM. Well, it’s not really free, but since there’s no parking attendant on duty before 8AM. . . You get the idea.

Although the lot was about a third full, very few people were actually on the beach. Instead, everyone was either riding or walking along the bike path or attempting to surf, even though the waves looked pretty flat. An older couple waved their metal-detectors over the sand, hoping, no doubt, to find precious items left behind by yesterday’s beach-goers.

We grabbed our stuff and started the long walk toward the water. It was sunny, but still not hot enough to fry the sand. We set-up our chairs on a shallow rise overlooking the ocean. I immediately started to read.

“Yikes! These chairs are horrible,” Tim complained.

“What do you want for $5?” I said, ignoring the annoying bar cutting across my back. “I’ll buy better chairs if we decide to come back next week.” I then returned to my book.

I’m currently on a dystopia reading jag, finishing up the third volume of an Arthurian post-apocalyptic trilogy for kids. The first two volumes were inspired, but the long-awaited third, not so much. I read the ending and quickly picked up the second book I brought, “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy. More post-nuclear holocaust. At the end of each page, I looked up at the ocean to reassure myself that we were not actually in the middle of a nuclear winter.

After about an hour, a European couple walked by and set-up their camp in front of us, but a little to the left, so we could still see the water. Then a surf instructor and his student arrived. More people started coming. We left at 9:30AM as a line of cars waited to pay the attendant.

From the beach, we drove up Main St. to the farmer’s market that’s held every Sunday in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica. It was a mob scene, as usual.

Not as good as the Hollywood farmer’s market, which I’ve written about elsewhere, this one does have its charms and is quite the happenin’ spot for old hippies (we often see former state senator Tom Hayden there) as well as Santa Monica’s trendier hipsters. Johnnie, an old guy who I’m sure used to be homeless, now runs a booming dog-watching business on the sidewalk, while a man in an orange reflecting-jacket valet-parks shoppers’ bicycles. We scooted past the pony rides and the Neil Young sound-alike band and headed straight for our favorite fruit and vegetable stands.

“Don’t buy any fruit without tasting it first,” I warned Tim, as we by-passed the vendors that don’t offer free samples.

After loading up on peaches, nectarines and tomatoes, we made our way over to the hot food. Even though I wasn’t all that hungry, I can never resist the chicken taquitos at the Mexican food stand, and so ordered a lunch plate while Tim wolfed down a sausage dog. It wasn’t even 10AM yet, but the food and atmosphere were heavenly. Plus no one cared that we hadn't taken a shower.

For the first time all week, I felt like I was truly on vacation. Too bad it’s back to the grind tomorrow. . .

Friday, July 11, 2008

Walt Disney's Apartment

I’ve been to Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure four times over the past three weeks—a new record even for me! As always. I had fun: white-water rafting with an unsuspecting family of kids who laughed hysterically every time I screamed; swing-dancing with Tim in the shadow of Sleeping Beauty’s castle; and “Soarin’ over California” with my sister.

But the most interesting trip, by far, was the insider’s tour Tim and I took during this year’s American Library Association conference in Anaheim. Though we were supposed to be absorbing Disney’s customer service ethic, our favorite part was entering the inner sanctum of Walt Disney’s private apartment, located above the fire station on Main Street. The apartment not only functioned as a “green room” for visiting dignitaries and celebrities, it was also something of a refuge for Walt, who frequently spent the weekends there with his grandkids.

We’ve known about the apartment for years, of course, but never imagined we’d be able to go inside. Our tour guide took us through a side gate and up a wooden set of stairs to the patio where Walt used to look out at the park, often (according to legend) with tears in his eyes.

The apartment was too small to accommodate all 20 of us at once, so we split up into two groups: ladies first and then the guys. Photographs were allowed, but only if people were in the shot.

I had seen pictures of the apartment before, but was still surprised at how feminine it was. Lillian Disney, Walt’s wife, decorated it in her favorite color (blood red) and multiple floral prints. The sofas doubled as beds, leaving the grandkids to sleep on the floor. The one-room space was too tiny for a kitchen, so a wet-bar sufficed.

We gals oohed-and-aahed and then returned to the patio, while the men took their turn. Our tour guide’s assistant told us stories about our long-deceased host. Apparently word traveled fast (“Code W”) as soon as the boss stepped foot into the park. I myself remember seeing Walt stroll through Frontierland, one damp December morning, when I was just seven years old. Then six years later, we saw him riding a surrey with his grandson, only a few weeks before he died. Luckily for us, his dream still lives on.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Club 33

Restricted to members only, Club 33 is a private facility created by Walt Disney so he could entertain celebrities and other dignitaries when they visited Disneyland. Located next to the Blue Bayou restaurant in New Orleans Square, the club is so exclusive that the only indication it’s there is a discrete address (“33”) outside a nondescript gray door. In fact, I never even heard of Club 33 until Tim casually mentioned it a few months ago. At that point, I became determined to get inside. After much prodding, Tim finally checked with his radio contacts and, sure enough, was told we could get access through a member who was a friend-of-a-friend. We made dinner reservations for four (us, plus my friend Carla and her daughter Megan—both huge Disney fans) for Friday night.

Not knowing what to expect, I decided to google “Club 33” and found a loving, but “unofficial” website that explained everything. Latecomers would not be seated and there’s a dress code “to retain the high standards” and “elegant ambiance” of the club. Shorts, tank-tops, and (ye gods!) flip-flops were not allowed, but men could wear jeans and a collared shirt. It was suggested that women wear a casual dress or pants and a top. After spending a sleepless night worrying about my ensemble, I settled on a denim skirt and nice sleeveless blouse. Tim wore a button-front shirt and black Levi’s.

Our reservation was for 5:30PM, so we arranged to meet Carla and Megan outside the park a half-hour early. Anticipating long lines at the security gate, we left the Disneyland Hotel, where we were staying, at 4:30PM. Flying on winged feet, we made it to Disneyland in record time (10 minutes) and immediately proceeded to Guest Relations to pick-up our admission tickets. I called Carla to tell her where we were.

“We’re right here!” she said, waving at me from a handful of paces away.

Armed with our complimentary one-day, park-hopper “Club 33” passes, we entered Disneyland and headed straight for New Orleans Square. We arrived at 5:05PM just as throngs of people poured out of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. None of them noticed the unassuming gray door next to the number 33.

Tim spoke into a brass voicebox to the left of the door, notifying the hostess that we had arrived, while Carla, Megan and I changed out of our comfortable flip-flops into real shoes. It was far too early, so we were told to come back at 5:30PM, which we did.

Eventually, the door opened and a young woman asked us inside. We waited in the lobby while our table was being prepared. After several minutes, we were invited upstairs to the main dining room. Carla and Megan rode the antique French lift (i.e., elevator), while Tim and I walked.

The entire restaurant was decorated in the ornate style of mid-19th-century New Orleans: lots of wood, draperies, and chandeliers. Period furniture and large (fake) flower arrangements lined the halls.

“I almost expect the flowers to start singing,” Carla whispered as we headed toward our table.

The dining room was dark and quiet. Through the shutters, I caught a glimpse of Mark Twain’s steamboat as it circled Tom Sawyer’s Island.

Our host handed us a menu with two dinner options: (1) a five-course price-fixe ($75) meal, that featured lots of fish and red meat, which I don’t eat, and (2) an a la carte list of entrees and starter plates. I ordered the free-range chicken breast and salad with pecans and melon dressing. Tim got the giant prawn and steak. Before surrendering his menu, Tim drew our attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of the page, reminding us that “Club 33 maintains a minimum food charge of 66.00 per person.” Yikes!

As soon as we ordered, a much younger man appeared with four small plates on a tray.

“Compliments of the chef,” he announced rather stiffly. “Lemon goat cheese tarts.”

He then placed the plates in front of us. “They’re finger foods, so you can eat them with your hands,” he shyly added, as we chuckled to ourselves. The tarts were delicious.

Tim’s meal was disappointing, but the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed our food. We, of course, ordered dessert even though we were all pretty full. Tim had a piece of outside-down cherry cake with cherry ice cream, while I wolfed down a bowl of vanilla ice cream and shortbread cookies. Yum!

On the way out, we stopped at the ladies room while Tim looked down at New Orleans Square. Grabbing a stack of highly collectible Club 33 hand towels, we laughed at the toilets that looked like small Victorian thrones (very uncomfortable!) We then left, but not before purchasing souvenir Club 33 pins to commemorate the evening.

Outside the gray door once again, we changed back into our flip-flops. I felt a bit like Cinderella reluctantly leaving her glass slippers behind.

Carla and Megan ran off toward the Haunted Mansion, while we strolled back to the hotel. “Maybe we’ll return one day for my birthday,” I wistfully sighed to myself. (Note to Prince Charming: this is a hint!)