Jun 16, 2006

Things I learned from my recent vacation in California [LINK]

Landing in Long Beach Airport is like being a time traveler. Of course there's no jetway or anything fancy like that; you walk right onto the runway. The airport is a single building, the size of a bus station, that is capped by the control tower. You go outside under a corrugated metal lean-to to pick up your bags, underneath nesting birds. Before the conveyer belt starts, you'll hear a sustained siren blast that could also warn off approaching ships. The public address system is the sort of metal bullhorn speaker that could be announcing the lineup for the 1938 World Series. You pick up your rental car from another small building across the street, where you'll speak to a person behind a set of folding tables at which organic produce might be sold.

Numerous small carts are parked near the entrance to Disneyland. No, they are not used primarily by the aged and the conventionally disabled, but by people who are simply too fat to walk any distance.

Avoid Disneyland in the late afternoon. That's when the park becomes the most crowded, when small kids melt down, and when bigger kids are at their rowdiest. It becomes difficult to walk a straight line with a baby stroller without someone crashing into you without looking, or darting in front of your path.

Seeing a full-sized Cinderella walking around can be pretty terrifying.

When backing up to get everyone into the frame of a picture, fat people should have one of those "beep beep" sounds to warn others.

There are many motels right across the street from Disneyland, effectively allowing you free parking. When traveling with a young girl, choose the one that most resembles a princess castle.

By all accounts, Disneyland is far more manageable than Disneyworld, but Canobie Lake has them both beat.

Due to its unique geography and despite considerable efforts to reduce automobile emissions, Los Angeles is still a "black booger" town.

There's a nuclear power plant right there by the side of the highway near Camp Pendleton. I thought California didn't allow such things. Go figure. At least they don't have rolling blackouts any more.

Even San Diego is overcast and cold in June. Who knew?

When ordering take-out food in an unfamiliar area, it's hard to go wrong with Greek cuisine, which at any rate is superior to a fast-food Mexican establishment whose name translates to "The Crazy Chicken."

The peacocks in the San Diego Zoo seem to enjoy spending time on top of concrete restroom structures.

Panda bears are exceedingly rare, difficult to raise in captivity, and require a consistently quiet, stress-free environment -- that is, not the kind produced by an exhausted toddler coming completely unglued and kicking his feet so violently that a shoe lands within the enclosure.

Seeing a wallaby being walked down a pedestrian path on its way to the staff veterinarian can be pretty terrifying.

After your young child sees all sorts of exotic creatures from around the world, don't be surprised if her favorite one is a mouse.

Toddlers can carry on extended conversations with a macaw.

When traveling with children, okay, Disneyland is fine, and so is the San Diego Zoo. But don't let them get it into their heads that they'll be going to SeaWorld, Legoland, and some other podunk safari park as well.

An immigrant who comes to this country with very little money and barely speaking the language, but who later makes millions of dollars in real estate, is likely to go just a wee bit overboard when buying houses, cars, and other material goods.

You'll see many serious scrape marks on roadways at the base or crest of California's numerous steep hills, presumably from low-lying Ferraris that are otherwise kept in a spare garage that you might chance upon in search of the wine tasting room.

In a gated community, you must supply the pizza delivery man with your security access code, rendering it kind of pointless.

When you fly 3,000 miles to attend the bar mitzvah of a friend's son, and she has you over for lunch a couple of days in advance, and the lunch consists of take-out pizza, and your wife is offered only a single slice, and did I mention they're millionaires, something in your head should snap.

On the other hand, an immense granite countertop in a spotless kitchen right out of Architectural Digest is a great place to stack pizza boxes.

Apparently as a matter of economy, the optimum number of boys who are the subject of a bar mitzvah ceremony is two. This makes the ceremony last two hours.

Catholics instinctively look at their watches once the first hour has elapsed. Some protestants can go a whole lot longer than two hours.

A bar mitzvah is not, strictly speaking, a religious confirmation; that more modest ceremony occurs about three years later, if the boy so chooses. Having a bar mitzvah, however, is not a matter of choice.

As a general rule, houses of worship feature a small "children's sanctuary," otherwise accurately known as the "cry room." Nothing outside this room is audible, and no heat or body odor escapes.

A book that reads from right to left is, to a young girl who's recently been to Disneyland, "just like Alice in Wonderland."

There is a style of chanting passages from the Torah that appears to involve choosing random musical notes. There must be a formalized system involved that would allow a heavy-metal-addled 13-year-old boy to master it.

Gentiles like myself are not very good at keeping yarmulkes on their heads. Even the bald fare better.

Even observant Jews might be stumped by the following question: "if 'mitzvah' means 'good deed,' then what does 'bar mitzvah' mean"?

You would assume that bar mitzvah receptions would be dignified affairs.

If it were not for professional dee-jays, line dancing and oddly-named dances would probably disappear for good.

The trend among older Hispanic women to replace their eyebrows with penciled representations extends to Mexicans.

A proper bar mitzvah gift might be a prayer shawl, a book on Jewish tradition, cash in an amount that is a multiple of 18, or, apparently, an immense guitar amplifier. YOU ROCK, A.J.!!! Now go learn how to play that thing, will ya?

If one of a hotel's complimentary hot breakfast items is a mysterious kettle of white goo that at first glance seems like oatmeal and at first smell seems like cream of mushroom soup, it is actually gravy that is meant to be put on biscuits. Don't ask; it apparently pleases visitors from former Confederate states.

It is customary to call cereal, bagels, muffins and juice a "continental" breakfast to make it sound more fancy. That may well mean that a hot breakfast offering is "incontinental."

Suppose you buy a nice bottle of wine to sip in your hotel room, but realize you forgot to pack a corkscrew. Here's one way this simple scenario might play out. You go down to the front desk and ask if you can borrow a corkscrew. The woman behind the counter says she thinks a corkscrew might be available, but she would have to have the bellboy send it up. She even gets on the phone before you leave to confirm availability, speaking in halting Spanish. When relaying the room number, she says: "tres ... dos... uuuuhhh... cinco." You return to the room, but not in time to prevent the following. There's a knock at the door and your wife, expecting you to return, opens it. Instead she sees some strange man, who looks at her for a couple of seconds, then shrugs his shoulders quizzically, palms and eyebrows up. Unable to understand what is happening, she returns the gesture. He leaves, and that ends that. So you get back to find your wife all mad at you. "What was THAT all about? Why the heck didn't you WARN me?" to which you cannot adequately respond. So you call down to the desk and explain that the bellboy had been by and didn't seem aware he needed to deliver a corkscrew, and could you please send him back up with one. A couple of minutes later, there's a knock on the door. There he is again, shrugging. You say, "I need a corkscrew," then gesture as if to hold a bottle of wine with one hand and twist it open with the other. "El cork-o de screw-o." He leaves. Though nothing is said, you can somehow tell your wife is disgusted. He returns a few minutes later with the corkscrew, and you are reminded that you need a drink.

Similarly, when you call down to the desk and ask what the weather forecast is for that day, and they tell you they'll call you back in a couple of minutes to let you know, don't wait up.

You'll find yourself wondering if questions like like "what day is it today?" and "what planet is this?" might receive a similar response.

When middle school varsity teams spend time in a motel, the effect is much like a frat party. Kids will scream at each other in the pool, down to the courtyard from upper balconies, and indeed right outside the window where you are trying to get your kids to sleep. Managers eager for their business will agree to keep the pool open well past posted hours. Coaches ostensibly responsible for the kids' public behavior will smile and do nothing. The effect will repeat from one day to the next even after you inform management of your intention to call the cops.

It is marginally more effective to issue complaints to hotel managers in person.

The best thing about paying by credit card is the ability to contest a charge.

It's a safe bet to assume left turns are not allowed anywhere in San Francisco.

Seeing live crabs in a tank on Fisherman's Wharf can be pretty terrifying.

Seeing a notoriously lazy group of harbor seals, even when they have to be pointed out in the distance from the next pier over, can be pretty terrifying.

I'm sorry, but the main quad at Stanford looks like a place for a wine tasting. Ernest, where's Julio?

Coastal Route 1 was closed due to extensive damage at "Devil's Slide" north of Half Moon Bay. Honestly, does that sound like it should be open in the first place?

Those who travel with children who are just old enough to be apprehensive at the possibility of earthquakes should be aware that you can call California in advance to check if any are scheduled for that week.

Travelers with small children should not fear redeye flights, which are actually preferable to daytime flights if the goal is to minimize fussing and crying. The only drawback is that you as an attentive parent will get no sleep and be trashed the next day.

On a related note, Benadryl not only controls allergy symptoms, but often renders children unconscious. Sometimes it produces the opposite reaction.

If after returning from California you learn from the news there has indeed been an earthquake there, check the magnitude of the quake and note that the Richter scale is base-10 logarithmic before contacting your hosts expressing concern, or they will laugh at you.

Children do not recover from jet lag as quickly as adults, possibly because adults with small children are jet-lagged by definition.

Californians seem fond of asking: "Are you still living in Boston"? Even Bostonians would consider it rude to ask if you're still living in California.

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