Thursday, August 22, 2013

Canceled Flight

The Southwest terminal at LAX

I had a 9:30AM meeting this morning in Sacramento, so I got up at 3AM to catch the 6:15AM flight out of LAX, just 8 miles from our house. Normally, on day trips like this, I drive myself and park at the airport, but Tim insisted on taking me (I think he thinks dropping and picking me up at the airport is romantic). I went through security and was at the gate by 5:20AM. Forty minutes later a voice came over the loud speaker, saying there were maintenance problems with the plane; therefore, our flight was being delayed indefinitely. Fifteen minutes later, exactly when we were supposed to be taking off, the voice returned to say our flight had been canceled altogether.

Passengers had two options: they could use their tickets to board the 9AM flight to Sacramento or take the 8:30AM flight to Oakland (huh?). Since the 9AM flight wouldn’t get me to my meeting till 11AM—well after it had already started—I opted to go home. I called Tim.

“My flight’s been canceled. Can you come and get me?” I asked.

“Oh oh,” he sheepishly replied. “I’m already at work.” He was, after all, wide awake, so why not get an early start on the day? I decided to grab a cab.

But there were no taxis to be had at 6:30 on a Thursday morning. Apparently cabs don’t start lining up until 7Am-ish when flights start arriving. My only hope was to take the #6 Culver City bus that travels down Sepulveda Blvd., two blocks from our house. I headed toward Sepulveda.

Unlike most airports, LAX is located in the heart of a residential/ business area. In fact, the northernmost runway starts at Sepulveda, on which thousands of cars traverse every day. If you’ve ever flown into LAX, you've no doubt thought your plane was going to land on those very cars. We regularly drive this part of Sepulveda to get to our favorite taco joint on the other side of LAX, but I’ve never walked along this stretch. What a thrill when a gigantic Qantas airbus flew right over my head before landing on the north runway!

It’s been several years since I rode the bus and so had no idea how much the fare was. Having spent my last three dollar bills on a croissant at the airport, I decided to walk to the nearest Starbuck’s to break a twenty. Luckily, the bus stopped right there.

Getting on, I asked the bus driver how much the fare was. He looked at me and whispered, “Thirty-five cents.”

“$1.35?” I asked.

“No,” he whispered again. “Just thirty-five cents.”

And that’s when I noticed the sign saying that seniors get to ride for 35 cents. I didn’t complain, even though I certainly don’t consider myself a senior citizen . . . at least, not yet.

The ride took about 25 minutes. I was the only one who looked like she was dressed for a business meeting. Everyone else looked ready to tackle real work. The woman who got off the bus with me complemented my dress. I wanted to explain about LAX, but just thanked her instead. I then walked the two blocks to our house.

When I got home, the answering machine was beeping. It was Southwest letting me know that my flight had been canceled.

Monday, August 19, 2013

No Man's Land

One of the biggest surprises at the Star Trek (ST) convention Karen and I attended last February was when Patrick Stewart announced that he and acting buddy, Ian McKellan, were going to perform together in a play “not too far from here.” We were hoping they’d be in L.A. or at the Old Globe in San Diego, but instead the play is being staged—this month only—at the Berkeley Rep in northern California. Despite my well-documented fear of flying, Karen and I hopped on a plane yesterday morning to attend a matinee performance of Harold Pinter’s four-person play No Man’s Land, starring Sirs Patrick and Ian as well as Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. 

Perhaps best known for their roles in ST (Patrick), The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies (Ian), and the X-Men trilogy (both), Stewart and McKellan were, of course, distinguished Shakespearean actors long before their more recent careers in blockbuster films. McKellan, in particular, is considered one of the greatest actors alive and has been nominated twice for an Oscar. Although we’ve seen Patrick perform on stage many times—including his tour-de-force one-person show The Christmas Carol—I had only seen McKellan once, playing a minor role in The Cherry Orchard at UCLA a few years ago. Karen and I were excited to see both of them on the same stage.

We arrived in Oakland by 10:30AM in hopes of strolling through UC Berkeley’s renowned Botanical Garden; but by the time we took the shuttle to the BART station, and then the BART to Berkeley, we barely had time for lunch before the 2PM show. We were in our seats by 1:30PM. Coincidentally, the two women sitting next to us were also from L.A., proving once again that the world is very small.

Waving outside Gather, where we had a lovely lunch

“Are you here to see Patrick?” I asked the women, suspecting that they, too, were Trekkies.

“Yes,” one of them confessed. “What are the odds that we’d be sitting next to the only other Trekkies in the audience!”

“Oh, we’re not the only Trekkies here,” I joked, looking around. “I think we’re all just on our best behavior because it's the Berkeley Rep!”

Indeed, Karen noticed a sign in the lobby admonishing that “should they be available for autographs, [the cast] will only sign material related to No Man’s Land.” In other words, no signing Star Trek photos, copies of The Hobbit or X-Men comicbooks!

Harold Pinter, whose work I haven’t read or even seen since college, can be a hard nut to crack, so it was no wonder we left the theater with more questions than when we went in. Still, the play was highly entertaining and extremely well acted. Patrick was especially good in the second act during a long—and hilarious—monologue about his (real? imagined?) youthful sexual exploits. Crudup and Hensley were also very good, though they played supporting roles to the main actors. The true marvel, however, was Ian McKellan, who completely embodied his character: an old down-on-his-luck poet who is trying to ingratiate himself to his former rival, Patrick. As much as we love Patrick Stewart, Karen and I both agreed that Ian McKellan was absolutely amazing. We are so glad we got to see him perform.

From Berkeley, the play is traveling to NYC, where all four actors will perform it on Broadway, starting October 31. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

D23 Expo

I’m still recovering from this past weekend’s D23 Expo, the three-day fanfest where all things Disney are promoted, passionately debated, and sold. Like I wrote two years ago, the last Expo experience was far from ideal. And yet, Tim and I got up at the crack of dawn, Friday and Saturday, to schlep out to Anaheim and stand on line with thousands of other fans. Exhausted, we decided to stay home on Sunday.

Although not as wacky as Comic-Con, some fans do
dress as their favorite Disney characters

A big part of Expo is learning about new and upcoming Disney projects. Each day we waited more than two hours to see clips and performers from Disney’s slate of animated and live action movies due to be released over the next three years. Celebrity presenters included Bill Hader, the voice of various characters in three upcoming animated films (so this is why he left Saturday Night Live!), Tom Hiddleston (cue the screams!) and Christina Hendricks, both lending their voices to characters in the new Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy DVD, Dane Cook, the lead voice of Planes, Natalie Portman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Hiddleston (again), all starring in the Thor sequel being released this November, Chris Evans, without his Captain America costume, a very funny Ty Burrell (Tim’s favorite), talking about Muppets Most Wanted due out next spring, and Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, who play the famous songwriting Sherman brothers in Saving Mr. Banks, a dramatization of the making of Mary Poppins. Schwartzman, who has a very good singing voice, by the way, and Novak were joined by the real Richard Sherman to sing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” The audience, of course, went wild and, without invitation, sang along.

We were not-so-secretly hoping Tom Hanks, who plays Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, would appear, and were holding our breath in anticipation of George Clooney, who’s been cast in next year’s strangely mysterious live action movie Tomorrowland. Instead, we got Angelina Jolie, who stars as the title character in Maleficent, an origins story about Sleeping Beauty’s nemesis and my all-time favorite villainess (evil but beautiful!). Jolie looked thin but fit and was extremely gracious, relaying her enthusiasm for the project as well as the character. In fact, everyone appearing on stage proclaimed his/her life-long love of Disney, prompting Tim to whisper a pointed comment about “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Hmmm . . .

Me sporting Maleficent head-gear

The real deal

For me, one of the best things about Expo is meeting like-minded people who love the same things I do. It’s amazing how quickly one can make new friends while standing on line for two hours. Among the more interesting folks we met: a member of the Disneyana fan club, who lives here but frequently flies to Orlando to attend Walt Disney World events; a British podcaster, who plans his family’s trips to the U.S. around Expo dates; and an 18-year-old, who knows everything about every Disney ride ever created. I felt completely at home.

Tim and Monsters University characters

The Dark Side and me

Thursday, August 01, 2013

California Car Trip

Mission mural in Lompoc

When I was a young woman, I’d hop in my car and go for a long drive at the drop of a hat. Not so much now. I’ve become a real homebody: with my work, gardens and favorite TV shows, it’s been several years since I’ve left the house for more than just a few days.

Recently, I either read an article in the AARP Magazine or saw something on the Today Show about traveling and how it can actually generate new brain cells and improve one’s memory—I am, after all, turning 60 at the end of the year. So I decided to take a weeklong car trip, starting in the Central Coast and then heading north to Monterey and San José before stopping in Fresno, where I had scheduled a workshop. I had various job-related meetings along the way and also saw friends, making the week a nice mix of work and pleasure. 

Here’s what I learned (in no particular geographic order):

It’s almost impossible to avoid traffic in California. No surprise that it took me nearly two hours to drive out of Los Angeles, but I was shocked, as well as exasperated, when it took three hours to drive from Monterey to San José, Sunday afternoon—a ride that should have taken a little over an hour. As I found out two days later, it can also take three hours to get from Gilroy to Fresno via Highway 152 if there are enough slow-moving trucks ahead of you. Maybe I shouldn't have spent the entire afternoon at the Gilroy Premium Outlets (?). 

We’ve always loved antiquing in Cayucos, a cute little beach town north of Morro Bay. Now there’s another reason to stop there: the Brown Butter Cookie Company, an unassuming storefront that hides a bevy of activity inside. The friendly staff offer newcomers an array of samples as soon as they walk in the door. The cookies are impossible to resist, made with natural ingredients and a touch of sea salt. They ain’t cheap, but boy are they tasty! I bought two dozen, plus a bag of lemon cookies. YUMMY!

Moss Landing, a small town north of Monterey, hosts a highly anticipated flea market, once a year, that draws hundreds, if not thousands, of bargain-hunters. Lots of great items; but get there early or you may have to park a mile away. Interestingly, Moss Landing is also home to several well-known local restaurants. But, again, plan to eat early or you may have to wait forever for a table, like we did. 

Lunch (at last!) at Haute Enchilada 

Downtown San José is a fun place to stay: historic buildings, the light rail, a new mini-Safeway market, and a movie theater across the street from my hotel. While taking my morning walk, I discovered the San José Museum of Art and a new exhibit, called “Pilgrimage,” by photographer Annie Leibovitz. The exhibit is absolutely wonderful: digital images of private artifacts that once belonged to an eclectic assortment of iconic figures (e.g., Abraham Lincoln’s hat and gloves, Virginia Woolf’s room, the television that Elvis Presley famously shot, a bullet hole made by Annie Oakley, Freud’s couch, etc.). From here, the exhibit moves to the Columbia Museum of Art in October and finally the Lincoln Presidential Library next year.

You can take the librarian out of the library, but not the library out of the librarian. So, of course, I visited many libraries—old and new—on my trip. My favorites were the Lompoc Carnegie library, local historical landmark no. 1 and currently the Lompoc museum, and the Pacific Grove library, where I helped administer a grant, last year, to create a much-needed teen area.

The former Lompoc Carnegie Library

Pacific Grove library's teen area

On a whim, I decided to take the beautiful but (oh so) harrowing two-lane Highway 1 from Cayucos to Monterey. I thought I saw my car smile when we started to ascend the notoriously winding road north. I, on the other hand, was terrified. As magnificent as the scenery was, it’s hard to enjoy the view when you’re constantly worrying about accidentally driving off the edge of the continent! I didn’t dare stop to take pictures for fear of not wanting to get back into the car again.

I did, however, take lots of photos of Lompoc’s amazing murals, which the L.A. Times once called “an outdoor art gallery.” Sprinkled throughout Lompoc, the best murals are those that decorate the walls of older buildings on the town’s south end. Themes range from historic Central Coast scenes to artistic military tributes. Here are just a few of the many murals I saw in Lompoc (click on images to enlarge):