Sunday, July 25, 2010

Comic-Con 2010

Yes , it has gotten ridiculously crowded and many of the programs no longer focus on science fiction or fantasy, let alone comicbooks. Still I continue to be drawn to Comic-Con like a junkie to her fix. I adore being in a room full of people who love the same TV shows and movies I do. Plus I thrive on the spontaneity of not knowing exactly what's going to happen next at the Con. It would break my heart not to go to Comic-Con only to find out later I had missed a once-in-lifetime sighting of my favorite TV star or film director.

So here are the highlights of this year's Comic-Con, which we attended Thursday and Friday:

Flashmob: The Hoff

Not able to get into the much coveted Hall H, where most of the big-name movie stars (e.g., Angelina Jolie; Will Ferrell) were hawking their upcoming films, we decided to walk into the Gaslamp district for lunch. I was grumping about having missed the Tron panel, when Tim yelled, “Look!,” pointing to a double-decker bus, blasting loud music. “It's David Hasselhoff!”

Sure enough, there was David Hasselhoff (star of Knight Rider and Baywatch) dancing atop an open-air bus, surrounded by scantily-clad women, and lip-syncing to one of his songs. Now we’re not Hasselhoff fans at all (who even knew he could sing?); but seeing him stop traffic with his crazy performance was so unexpected that we joined about a hundred others as they followed him down the street, whooping and hollering. Before we knew it, the Hoff, as he’s affectionately called by his fans, was dancing on the sidewalk while the crowd went wild.

“Only at Comic-Con!” I yelled to Tim, as he madly snapped photos. It was my very first flashmob! (Click here to watch one of several YouTube videos of the scene.) My mood perked-up considerably!

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Among the most formidable fans on the planet are those who follow Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind the popular Buffy the Vampire-Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse TV shows. Whedon also writes best-selling comicbooks, featuring characters from his shows, and wrote and produced Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, a 45-minute musical that premiered on the Internet two years ago. I own the DVD and the Dr. Horrible soundtrack, which I love.

With nothing else to do Thursday night, we made our way back to the convention center, where we joined about 400 other Dr. Horrible fans to watch the DVD and sing along with the film. Lyrics and an abbreviated script were distributed, directing everyone when to yell things (e.g., callbacks, such as, “Damn Big Hero!” or “How evil is it?”) at the screen. (It makes a lot more sense if you know Dr. Horrible!) Whole families were there, singing and having fun—it was an absolute riot. Even Tim got into the act, yelling and singing along. His favorite song: “A Man’s Gotta Do [What a Man’s Gotta Do].” (Again, it makes a lot more sense if you know Dr. Horrible!)

Ballroom 20

Determined to see the panels of at least some of my favorite shows, I arrived at the convention center at 7:30AM on Friday. Lines were already forming for Hall H and the smaller Ballroom 20. I queued up for Ballroom 20, since that’s where the cast of The Big Bang Theory, one of our favorite sitcoms, was scheduled to appear at 12:30PM. Tim joined me around 8:30AM.

An interesting assortment of fans (approximately 3000) got up early to wait on line with us. Standing next to me was a woman from Canada, who was there to see the stars of True Blood, the HBO vampire series that was being featured at 5PM. Others were waiting to see celebrity panels from Stargate Universe, Caprica, Bones, and, of course, Big Bang Theory. You can usually tell fans’ allegiance by their costume or choice of t-shirt, though we ourselves tend to wear nondescript Disney and sports-related [Tim] clothing.

We entered the ballroom at 9:30AM and sat next to a woman in full-blown military gear from Stargate Universe. Most of the people around us were there for the duration and so had packed enough food for the entire day. We brought pastries and apples.

First up was Stargate, which I’ve never seen, and then Caprica, which is one my fave SyFy Channel shows. Tim read the newspaper while I cheered and made note of upcoming plot developments. But, really, the both of us were just marking time till the cast of The Big Bang Theory arrived.

At 12:15PM someone brought musical instruments on stage to do a sound check. Hmmm, very suspicious—were the actors going to treat us to a musical number? Then sheets with lyrics to the Big Bang theme song appeared. Obviously we were going to participate in another sing-along! But instead of the actors, out walked Barenaked Ladies, who proceeded to perform the show’s theme song! Now I don’t know Barenaked Ladies (BNL) from a hole in the ground, but I do know they’re a world-famous alt-rock band, so I started screaming along with everyone else. It was one of the most exciting surprises we’d ever experienced at a Con, as you can see for yourself here.

Buoyed by the appearance of BNL and a terrific Big Bang panel, I asked Tim if we could stay for the 3PM Q&A session with Joss Whedon, creator of Dr. Horrible, etc. (see above). He said yes, though we were both pretty hungry by then (pastries and apples don’t go very far!). We read magazines through the Bones panel and then, finally, Joss came out to roaring applause. (I think it was Entertainment Weekly that called him one of the current “gods” of pop geekdom.) He announced several projects he’s working on and then took questions from the audience. After almost an hour, a strange-looking man in a hat and obviously fake mustache approached the mic and asked Joss which actor he enjoyed working with the most.

“What a weird question,” I thought to myself, when Tim whispered excitedly, “That’s Captain Hammer!!,” referring to Dr. Horrible’s arch-nemesis.

“Huh?” I said, scratching my head.

Joss then coyly responded that his favorite actor was Nathan Fillion. Before we knew it, the man at the mic began removing his hat and fake mustache, revealing that he was indeed Nathan Fillion, the actor who plays Captain Hammer. (Good eye, Tim!) If screams could be harnessed, San Diego would have had enough energy to light Pet Co stadium for a week! Quite the thrill.

Star Trek

I noticed that episodes of the classic Star Trek series were being screened at the Marriott, so we ended our day adventuring through the “final frontier.” The hotel ballroom reminded me of the old Star Trek conventions Karen and I used to attend in the late 1970s when a big part of the festivities involved watching 35mm episodes of the show. This was in the dark ages before VHS, so getting to watch Trek back then was a very big deal. Not so much today, of course, when Star Trek reruns play every day on TV—not to mention the countless repackaged DVD collections, many of which I own—still it was fun reliving my youth with like-minded fans.

The audience at the Marriott was small but hardcore. We watched “Arena,” first—the episode where Kirk fights the cheesy-looking lizard creature called the Gorn. We affectionately laughed at the sillier moments and yelled out warnings to characters about to be killed. Even Tim, who had never watched Star Trek till he met me, got into the spirit and yelled at the screen. It was cathartic and fun, even though a normal person would have thought we were insane! We left after two episodes.

Tim’s reward for being such a good sport: free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream samples outside the convention center. Here he is with Cherry Garcia.


We hopped the train back to L.A. at noon on Saturday. As crazy as it was on Thursday and Friday, the Con is always much worse on the weekend, so we fled. Nevertheless, I was sad to go, because I really, really love Comic-Con.
Where else can I feel so completely removed from the real world?

There’s talk of moving Comic-Con to Los Angeles (hooray!) after the San Diego contract ends in 2012. We’ll see. Until then, I’ll be schlepping down to San Diego come July.

Monday, July 19, 2010

L.A. Flea Market

The latest L.A. area open-air market debuted yesterday in the blistering summer sun. Calling itself the L.A. Flea Market, the monthly event, located outside Dodger Stadium in parking lot 8, features not only the usual vendors (new as well as vintage wares), but also live music, kiddie rides, and—best of all!—a food truck food court (yay!). Early bird entrance is at 7AM with general admission two hours later.

We, of course, love Dodger Stadium with its unmatched view of the city; but it can be brutally hot in the summer, so we decided to get there as early as humanly possible for a Sunday morning.

We arrived at 7:45AM and stood on the shortest of several disorganized ticket lines. We then stood on another long line to get inside. We apparently weren’t allowed in until 8AM, despite paying the more expensive early bird rate.

When we finally did get inside, we were amazed to find at least a third of the vendors just starting to set up. The rest was pretty standard flea market stuff, even though promoters had promised a higher grade of merchandise. Still I managed to find a cute lemonade pitcher, while Tim scoured the booths for a broad-brimmed lifeguard hat—which, truly, should have been included as part of everyone’s admission, since it was so damn hot! He ultimately found what he wanted at the appropriately named Hat Guy. Hands on hips with his face completely in the shade, Tim triumphantly proclaimed, “I could stand in the Mojave desert all day and not get sunstroke!”

With Tim's shopping mission now accomplished, we could, at last, turn our attention toward the food trucks—the main reason we were there, after all! I insisted I was too hot to eat . . . that is, until Tim brought over some scrumptious pork potstickers from Ahn Joo and, miraculously, my appetite perked right up. I ran over and got my own potstickers, plus a cone-shaped container of tasty potatoes from Fresh Fries. Tim also sampled tacos from the Border Grill truck. By 10AM we had already eaten both breakfast and lunch!

Our verdict: Parking lots are too hot to shop during the summer, so we probably won’t go back till November, even though the lure of so many food trucks in one place will be tempting. Hopefully the market will be far more organized and have better vendors when we return in the fall.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Boomer Saturday

You couldn’t ask for a more baby-boomer-centric day than the one we had Saturday: first a Disney movie from our childhood and then a Beatles concert. Who says we aren’t as young as we used to be?

Swiss Family Robinson

As if hanging out with my sister and uncle weren’t enough nostalgia for one week (see below), Tim and I got Saturday matinee tickets for the 1960 movie Swiss Family Robinson. The screening—on the Disney lot!—was part of the D23 fanclub’s celebration of Disney films made 50 years ago.

As a Disney employee, Tim can pretty much get onto the lot any time he wants; but it’s always a big thrill for me to go behind the studio’s gates, which were opened wide for D23 members (me!) on Saturday. We were among 10 cars on line when the gates opened at 1PM. After parking and checking in, we followed the other early birds to the inner sanctums of the lot.

The theater was beautiful. A gorgeous Fantasia mural greeted us above the entrance, while matching light sculptures illuminated the lobby. I was in my glory just walking in!

Much of the audience was our age—adults like us who had probably seen Swiss Family Robinson in a theater when it was first released in 1960. Since this was a D23 event, most wore their Disney “colors”—e.g., Mickey t-shirts or jewelry—or carried some sort of Mickey-related handbag. I immediately lusted after the purse of the woman sitting next to Tim, prompting a detailed conversation about where to shop in Disneyland. I predict a trip to Anaheim in the near future!

Although a tad slow by today’s standards, the movie held-up pretty well after all these years. As a kid, I was thoroughly captivated by the ingeniousness of the Robinsons’ treehouse, which was still amazing to my much older eyes. The eldest son, played by James MacArthur, didn’t fare quite as well, looking far less hunky than I remembered.

After the movie, we all piled into the studio store (opened just for us). I was tempted by lots of shiny things, but ended up getting something for my sister instead. We then hopped into the car and headed toward the Hollywood Bowl, just over the hill.

Beatles Celebration

Like we do most summers, we have mini-season (five concerts) tickets for the Hollywood Bowl this year. Our first event was Saturday: a tribute to the Beatles, who famously appeared at the Bowl 45 years ago. Now I’m not a big fan of other people singing Beatles tunes, but this was the Hollywood Bowl so I relented. We purposely drove rather than taking the bus, just in case we were forced to leave early by: (1) undue mangling of the music and/or (2) anyone singing “Hey Jude” or “Let It Be,” two of our least favorite Beatles songs. As Tim says, “Even if John Lennon himself rose from the dead, I would cover my ears if he started to sing ‘Hey Jude!’”

Happily, the concert was good, with most of the artists doing justice to the music. Soul singer Bettye Lavette, especially, was a revelation with her bluesy rendition of Lennon’s “Come Together,” which she prefaced by saying, “Please send me a note if you know what this song means!” But then the last act, rocker Todd Rundgren, came out and started to sing “Let It Be.” That was our cue to gather our stuff and leave before he encored with “Hey Jude” (ack!).

It was a long but very fun day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Reno and Back

This is the time of year when my sister Vicki flies down from Seattle to spend a couple of weeks in Southern California. She usually does “the rounds,” visiting family and friends, but spends most of her time with my parents, who live two hours away. Our lives have taken distinctly different paths—Vicki is now a grandma (yikes!). Still, we have much in common and always have lots to talk about. The older I get, the more I miss my sister and wish we lived a lot closer.

On her way home, Vicki often stops in Reno to see our uncle Louie, who will be 88 in September. I have flown to Reno with her in the past, only to fly home as she hops a plane to Seattle. But this time I decided we should drive so we could have some quality time together. In my youth, I loved to drive the I-395, on the eastern slope of the Sierras, and once drove all the way to Idaho by myself for a five-day whitewater-rafting excursion. It’s been a loooong time since I’ve done anything so adventurous, however!

We left Wednesday morning and headed north. What a relief to leave the traffic behind as we turned onto I-14 to the desert. I love living three miles from the ocean, but there is something so liberating about the desert—though I certainly wouldn’t want to live there, it is nonetheless very beautiful in a stark, ancient way. We marveled at the landscape as we connected with the I-395: prehistoric lava beds and red cinder cones. They reminded us of the geography field trip we each took in junior college almost 40 years ago.

After a couple of hours, we could see evidence of the southernmost tip of the Sierras on our left. Majestic granite peaks accompanied us the rest of the way. We wondered aloud how the pioneers could possibly have traveled over such rugged terrain. Hungry just thinking about it, we found a small park in Independence and ate the sandwiches we packed before leaving that morning. Hot and tired (it was well over 90 degrees—far hotter than either of us is now used to), we rolled into Reno around 6PM. After checking into our hotel, we went in search of dinner.

As I’ve reported many times before on this blog, Tim and I are big fans of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives; so before Vicki and I even left L.A. I had Tim check Guy’s website for good eateries. With directions in hand, we made our way to the Gold ‘N Silver Inn, Reno’s oldest family-owned restaurant, just four miles from the hotel. We avoided the casino entrance and entered on the restaurant side.

Open 24/7 since 1956, the place looks the way I suspect it looked the day it opened 54 years ago. The menu was traditional “American,” but my eye was immediately caught by the picture of Guy Fieri recommending the lemonade pork chops. I couldn’t resist. They came slathered in a tomato-based sauce with a hint of lemon and were absolutely delicious. I know exactly where we’re eating the next time we're in Reno!

We spent Thursday morning with our uncle, who reminded me to lock my car doors and not pickup any hitchhikers (that’s why I love you, Unc!). I then took Vicki to the airport and bid her a teary-eyed adieu. We made tentative plans to do Disneyland together next summer.

Since I’d driven all the way up to the 39th latitude, I decided to go home via Sacramento, where I have a second office that I rarely use. I checked-in to let my coworkers know I’m still alive and made arrangements to have dinner and breakfast the following morning with separate colleagues. Remarkably, they both chose to meet at the Tower Cafe, an international restaurant that was once the site of the original Tower Records store. The breakfast menu was a tad limited, but dinner (lemongrass chicken on jasmine rice) was tasty.

By 10:30AM, Friday, I was on the road again, heading south. I cranked up the iPod, sang as loud as I wanted and was home in time for dinner. I did not pickup any hitchhikers along the way.