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Category Archives: Travel

Through Spray Colored Glasses

We’ve been back from our California vacation for more than a week now. It’s taken a while for re-grouping, however, since I came down with the flu immediately upon return to home. Now that I’m feeling better, I’m able to share some of the photos I took there. The photos accompanying this post are shot with an iPod Touch 5 and fudged with Wood Camera, an Instagram-like app.

For this trip, we went back to Disneyland. You probably already know that I love Disneyland. My spouse hates it, however, so we go there probably once every 8-9 years as a compromise (I’m actually cool with this arrangement!). In my adult life, I’ve been there in 1987, 1995, 1996, 2005, and now 2013. I’ve enjoyed every time, but it seems like every new visit, the park becomes more tourist-trappy and not so special. At least for this new trip, we had two and a half days of exploring, which made for a more relaxed trip overall. Despite several major attractions being closed for refurbishments, Disneyland was fantastic. We used the Fastpasses wisely and got onto nearly all the rides we wanted (the Golden Horseshoe Revue wasn’t doing any live performances, only serving food). On the newly re-done Star Tours, I ended up being the rebel spy that our ship needed to transport – fun! The crowd at Disneyland was nice and mellow, a change from the somewhat more ghetto-y crowd at DCA the previous night. After our Disneyland day, we got together with the fabulous, unbelievably talented Disney designer Kevin Kidney, who braved a hoarse voice to chat with us for about an hour.

I was also looking forward to Disney’s California Adventure and seeing the massive changes they’ve made since our 2005 visit, when we saw all we wanted in a mere half-day. The Hollywood Street, made to look like Los Angeles of Disney’s 1927-33 era, is a fantastic place. We loved taking pictures and noticing the real-life buildings they used as inspiration. The whole area is so classy and beautifully imagineered, a complete turnaround from the cheesy, thrown-together look of DCA on our earlier visit. Later on that night, we got a prime viewing spot for their nightly World Of Color water/light show – even the Disney-averse Christopher was impressed with this one, and that’s saying a lot. The photo below is of us, wet and dazzled, ready to get back to the hotel. The merchandise at both parks was yet again overpriced and underwhelming, but overall we came away happy and thoroughly entertained. At the Disney Gallery, I came away with a swell coffee table book – Poster Art of the Disney Parks – as a memento of our trip.

Disnelyand/DCA didn’t make up all of our vacation – the first morning, we stopped at Newport Beach and walked around for more than an hour. It was lovely; we’ve never been to that particular beach, which had some trash issues but otherwise was fine ‘n mellow. On our way back to Phoenix, we traveled to Simi Valley and the Reagan Library for their exhibit of Disney-related objects (of course!). The museum was beautifully laid out, and if the Reagan exhibit was somewhat revisionist/optimistic it was nicely done and very admiring of the man. The Disney part had a ton of great stuff, including a re-creation of Walt’s office (seen for many years in Disneyland) and a fascinating/strange display of the model heads of all the U.S. presidents used for the Walt Disney World Hall of Presidents.

While the imagery with this blog post gives a good idea of our trip’s visual delights, we took a ton of other (unaltered) photos – which are seen in the Flickr set below.

Animal skull found on Newport Beach, 2/11/2013.

Lifeguard station at Newport Beach, California, 2/11/13.

Nemo Submarine port hole, Disneyland, 2/12/13.

Princess Fantasy Faire diorama at Disney’s California Adventure preview center, 2/13/13.

Matt and Christopher after a long, tough day in Disney’s California Adventure, 2/13/13.

Display of bust maquettes for Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents attraction, Ronald Reagan Library, Simi Valley, California, 2/14/13.

Cherry trees in full bloom at the Reagan Library, Simi Valley, Calfornia, 2/14/13.

Voyage to La-La Land, Pt. 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here is the conclusion of our four-day trip to Los Angeles, Burbank, Sherman Oaks and Palm Springs. Since our Getty museum trip turned out to be a single day, we spent Thursday morning looking through the shops on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. Although getting around and parking is a problem around there, we eventually got settled behind a store called “Aunt Teek’s” and looked around. One of the neater things we came across was a building that was a converted motor court from the ’30s or ’40s that had various small businesses. We dropped in on a jewelry shop nestled in the back and had our rings resized while chatting with the ladies who worked there. It was a fun bit of local color. We also went through the main antique mall. I ended up buying a vintage ’50s brochure for Disneyland’s Aluminum Hall of Fame – which wasn’t cheap, but it’s a good addition to my paper ephemera collection.

We had an appointment in downtown L.A. that afternoon, so we got back to the hotel room and checked out before navigating the freeways. Obama was in town at that time, but strangely the traffic was okay (despite all the helicopters hovering around). Having a couple of hours to kill, we went back to the Japanese district which is just down the street from the historic City Hall building. This is one of my favorite parts of L.A. The shops are a riot of fantastic imagery and nifty packaging. Although I was tempted to buy everything I saw, I wound up settling on some cute toys (including a blind-boxed plastic “cute animal inside a household object” toy which turned out to be a cockatiel in a rice bowl), a book on Japanese cinema, and several bags of gummi candies, cookies and shrimp-flavored chips.

After Japan Town, we drove up to the Fashion Institute to meet with our friend Shirley and see the new exhibit they’ve got of costumes from many of the major films released in 2011 – including all the films nominated for this year’s Oscar awards. We drove through the “skid row” area and the fabric merchandising districts to get there, both of which were really something to see (from the safety of a locked car!). The exhibit was wonderful. Christopher wrote about it here. One of the genuine surprises of the exhibit was that it had a handful of classic-era costumes, including two (Jean Harlow’s shorts from Reckless and a hat from Pride and Prejudice) designed by MGM’s Adrian. After meeting with our friend, we went on a little walking tour of downtown which included L.A. Live, Staples Center and that area of downtown. L.A. Live was too chaotic and overcommercialized for my tastes, but it was still interesting to walk around and people watch. Most of it is chain restaurants. The Grammy Hall of Fame Museum was also there, but the admission was too expensive for us. I got a kick out of the sidewalk pieces with each year’s Grammy award winners inscribed in a metal record, however. There was some hubbub with the police going on there — a large group of local Tibetians were there to protest China’s treatment of their country while the Chinese Vice President was staying at the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel. That was pretty cool to watch. We also stumbled across the historic Figueroa Hotel and took mucho pictures. It looked especially pretty as the sun was setting.

Thursday was a long day — and we still had to drive out of town to get to our hotel, in San Bernadino! I was really hungry by the time we got there, devouring my bean and cheese burrito dinner. The next morning, we enjoyed the free Best Western breakfast buffet and headed out to Palm Springs to visit with Christopher’s plastic collecting friend, Robin. We arrived pretty early, so we checked out the little exhibit of ’50s-’60s items at the visitors center (perfect timing; it was “Modernism Week”) and gaped at the overpriced furniture and decor in the Midcentury Modern shops along Palm Canyon Drive. We also looked at a few of the thrift shops in the area (I picked up a few kitschy, unused ’60s greeting cards at one). The weather was a bit dry and hot, but otherwise it was a relaxed, fun time. After a long time spent looking for it, we finally found Robin’s place and he regaled us with a bunch of neat vintage plastic pieces from his collection (tiny creamers for airline use, demitasse cups, etc.). After a satisfying lunch at one of the older Mexican places in town, we shipped off for Phoenix. Did you know that Palm Springs is one of the hardest places to get out of? It was frustrating to drive down the same road, sitting through 100 red lights, but once we were out on that highway back home it was a total relief. At about 8:30 that night, we were finally home — safe in the knowledge that we had another memorable trip!

Voyage to La-La Land, Pt. 1

Since there was only one movie watched this week (Miller’s Crossing, excellent), I won’t be doing a Flick Clique. Instead, I will be doing a little writeup of what occupied most of our time this week, a road trip!

We left on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, to take a four-day trip to Los Angeles, Burbank, Sherman Oaks and Palm Springs. Much of that first day was spent driving in the dark (we got up at four a.m.). At around 11:00, we needed some gas and I was getting hungry for some sustenance, so we stopped in Azusa and drove around a bit. It was a lovely town, and the affordable eats at T-Burgers got us rearin’ to move along. Arriving towards L.A., we made a second stop in Pasadena to look around. The bungalows are beautiful there, and they have a nice (if too chain-store heavy) downtown. We got out and shot a few pics of Christopher with the Colorado Boulevard sign:

It was a nice, sunny day and the traffic was strangely not congested. We ended up at our destination, the Best Western in Sherman Oaks, ahead of schedule. I ended up picking this particular place since it was at a perfect right angle to our two main destinations, the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank and the J. Paul Getty Museum high in the L.A. hills.
After checking in and having a light lunch in the Denny’s at the hotel, we were all set for the TV sitcom taping that we’d reserved tickets for a month earlier. In 2009, we attended a Big Bang Theory recording. This time, we decided on 2 Broke Girls (which happens to be one of our faves). As we got shepherded onto the studio grounds, it struck me (again) how gorgeous the grounds at W.B. are. Everything is so well-manicured and beautifully maintained there — and it’s one of the few places around L.A. that still has that aura of the classic Hollywood 1930s-40s period. As we waited in line, we both marveled at the studio and expressed wishes that we could work there someday, somehow. The afternoon we were there, The Big Bang Theory was also taping an episode and we saw the cast members discreetly going about their business — Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco passed by our line walking to the studio Starbucks (named after Friends‘ hangout, The Central Perk) and we spied Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayaar going to get some grub at the W.B. commissary. The taping itself was a ton of fun. Long, but fun — this one required multiple retakes for every scene. Luckily the script was funny enough to survive three, four, and (in one butt-numbing example) eleven takes. The warmup comedian was the same one we saw at a Rules of Engagement taping in 2009 and he surprisingly recognized Christopher when we went to chat with him after the taping was done (four plus hours later!). We hung around, got autographs and a chocolate cupcake. Christopher wrote about it here.

The following day, Wednesday, was our daylong trip to the Getty. I personally picked this over Disneyland for this trip for the simple fact that I’ve never been there and always wanted to go. The Getty complex is located atop a mountain overlooking the ocean and the rest of the city. Patrons visit by parking in a lot at the base of the mountain and going by tram to the top. That day was really cold and windy, but we enjoyed it — and the crisp air offered some really outstanding views. The museum is divided into about five pavilions. Each pavilion deals with a certain historical period with changing exhibits and decorative art on the ground floors and painting/art on the upper floors. In the morning, the place was swarming with school groups, but those thinned out as the day went on and we were able to enjoy most of the exhibits in solitude (many of the guards can get touchy, however – be warned!). We got to see paintings by Sergeant, Titian, Rembrandt, Cezanne and Van Gogh (Irises in the flesh!). The decorative stuff was even more interesting and enlightening. Those Getty folks run a nice, state-of-the-art museum. Although many insist that two or three days is optimal, we saw everything we wanted to in a single day. Probably the funnest part of that day was goofing around in the outdoor sculpture garden by where the tram deposits visitors to their vehicles (see photo below).

After our whirlwind Getty day, we ended up checking out the sights around Sherman Oaks. Although we passed by the famous Galleria (like, totally, fer sure) a few times, most of our exploring centered around Ventura boulevard and its funky shops and restaurants. There’s a fair share of bland chain businesses along that stretch, but it’s good to know that the city’s bread-and-butter comes from locally owned places with unique charm and character. That night, I wanted to eat at a Thai place called Anajak. It took a while to find it (we forgot to write down the address), but once found it was a wonderful experience. The dining room was tiny and romantically lit, and Christopher chatted up some of the other customers. Service was excellent; the chef even brought us a free appetizer dish.

This portion of the trip ended up taking so much space that I will resume writing about it later. The part of our trip where we explored downtown Los Angeles and Palm Springs will come tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Las Vegas in 1983 on Flickr

Just uploaded to flickr: 33 photos of Las Vegas I shot in 1983. I was thirteen and went there on a business trip with my dad. Most of these photos were shot via the family 35mm camera by myself, wandering the strip at night. It’s kind of a wonder that I wasn’t mugged or anything. The photos are of a very old time, unpretentious (and nearly empty) side of Vegas that is completely different from what you’d find in the same place 27 years on. Check it out.


Wednesday: On the Beach

And now… the conclusion of our Los Angeles trip:

  • Wednesday — This was our “beach day,” a nice way to wind down our vacation. I’d never been to Venice Beach before, and previously I’d only known the spot for its image as a hangout for surfers, bodybuilders, tattoo artists and other stereotypical Californians. That morning, we walked around the boardwalk and observed everyone getting ready for the day. It had a funky and kind of mellow vibe. One of the first photos I snapped was a shop window selling a custom-blown glass bong in the shape of Bart Simpson. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Much of this area looked vaguely familiar from being filmed for various movies and TV shows. I even recognized one building as a locale from the Linda Blair Roller Boogie movie. We searched around for a spot to eat breakfast, but the only shops available were snack joints that hadn’t yet opened for the day. Long story short, we ended up back at the hotel and having the attendant get our car (one of the annoying aspects of the Hotel Erwin) so we could take the short drive to the recommended restaurant. Unfortunately, the first place we tried was lousy. We had to wait 15 minutes before being waited on. Then the waiter informed us the muffin I ordered from the menu hasn’t been available for months. A few minutes later, they told us that they ran out of the croissant I also ordered. All we wanted was a simple, quick meal! We got fed up and bolted for another place across the street (which was better). About the only good thing to come from this time-consuming jag was the opportunity to see Jonathon Borofsky’s notorious ‘Ballerina Clown’ sculpture. Back to the hotel, we finally got our time to relax on the beach. It was nice, with flocks of seagulls, sandpipers and plovers to keep us company. I got in the water up to my knees and Christopher swam out to a rocky outcropping. It was a balmy morning and the beach hadn’t filled up yet — perfect! We walked around the boardwalk some more, eventually buying a stack of t-shirts from one of the overstuffed souvenir shops lining the way. We got back to the hotel, packed our bags, and shipped off for home on the venerable 10 highway. Of course, it wouldn’t be L.A. without at least one traffic jam, and we hit a doozy on the way out. Before passing over the Colorado River into our home state, we did one last “California” thing — lunch at the Thousand Palms In-N-Out Burger location! So ended Matt & Christopher’s California Adventure.

Tuesday: Studio Visits, Twice

More L.A. shenanigans (including stuff from the previous day):

  • Tuesday — This was our full day at beautiful Burbank, home of the movie and television industries! Our time there actually began late in the previous afternoon. Driving in, our first stop was a bucolic ’50s-era residential neighborhood next to the Disney and Warner Brothers studios. Christopher found out the address of Mabel Monahan, the victim of famed murderess Barbara Graham played by Susan Hayward in I Want To Live! We located Monahan’s home in this peaceful neighborhood and I took pictures of C. standing in front of it (I drew the line at knocking on the door, however). Damage done, we checked in at the Burbank Best Western and ate at the Bob’s Big Boy a stone’s throw away. This is the famous Bob’s with the huge, nicely preserved googie sign out front. As it turned out, the homey and uncomplicated cuisine of Bob’s was a perfect capper to an action-filled day. The next morning, we set out for the Warner Bros. studio (also walking distance from the hotel). Originally we wanted to tour the Disney studios, but apparently Disney is very stingy about tours and one has to know an employee to get in. Hmph. Instead, we opted for a deluxe five-hour tour of Warner Bros. This tour is more intimate and involved than the basic tour we took ten years ago, allowing people inside the sound stage themselves and a meal in the commissary. It sounded like just our thing. Arriving, we found out that the tour entrance was moved from the older part of the lot into a neighboring building’s lobby. The ticket desk was inside a fancy area with a giant mall-esque gift shop and a Starbucks, which didn’t bode well in my opinion. Luckily, once the tour was under way our qualms vanished. Our tour guide was a knowledgeable industry veteran, a friendly chap who took requests from our small group of 12 on what to do. Our tram went through the studio producers’ offices (designed to look like various office buildings for shoots), a jungle with an incongruous fake snowy lake plopped in the middle, and a street filled with more offices made to look like typical suburban housing. We went through the oft-filmed area with a public park and gazebo, which was dressed for the TV series Eastwick. The tram also went through the New York City street, familiar from so many old Cagney/Bogart movies. Somebody requested going to the costume shop — this place was a wonder. Literally a giant warehouse filled with racks of clothing, arranged by style and period. I saw a section of African-inspired garments, followed by an aisle full of 1960s dresses. Next was a sound recording room, followed by lunch. I was pleasantly surprised to find that our meal was served in the executive dining room. I ordered spaghetti carbonara and peered discreetly around the room for celebrities (none were found, although our guide pointed out the head of Warner Bros. TV production at one table). This was the best meal of the trip. It even included yummy lemon cake for dessert. More going around in the tram amongst the huge studio buildings. We’re huge Big Bang Theory fans and delighted in spotting some dress extras walking around for a taping that day. We even saw B.B.T. star Johnny Galecki, smoking a cigarette under a tree located opposite the building where his show was rehearsing. Our guide took us to see the Two and a Half Men set from the audience seats. After that, we got to walk around amongst the sets for Chuck and The Mentalist. These were cool to look at up close, since they kind of looked real but also had incongruous elements (like the lighting) that made them fake. Ah, Tinseltown. We saw a garage with some famous cars, visited a museum with displays of famous W.B. movie costumes (Bette Davis’ jewel-encrusted gown from Dark Victory was the best), then walked around the preserved Central Perk set from Friends and got our pictures taken on the couch. Very touristy, but very fun. The entire tour was so memorable and much less hurried than the normal tour. After it wrapped up, we needed to hurry and check out of the hotel, then race across town to the MGM-Sony studios for a sitcom taping that night. We made it — barely in time — for the taping of an episode of the David Spade/Patrick Warburton show The Rules of Engagement (we had been trying for Big Bang Theory tickets, but the show was sold out). This was such an interesting experience, one that I’d always wanted to try. The crowd was a bit young and white trashy, and the studio grounds seemed not as well-maintained as Warners. We got ushered in forming a single file line, with Christopher worming his way to the front so he could talk with the studio page organizing things. That turned out to be a bad idea, actually, since we ended up sitting tucked away on the very edge of the seating. The stage was arranged with all of the sets needed lined up in a row, with some even tucked away around the corner. A warm-up comedian was there to keep the audience excited, which was needed since this taping went on for almost four hours! Most scenes required two or three takes, with a small army of writers on hand to tweak lines for the maximum laughs. The show itself was okay and sporadically funny; mostly what got my interest was watching all of these people doing makeup and hair, watching playbacks on the monitors, getting sets prepped for filming. This particular episode had two scenes set in restaurants, and it was so fascinating to see the extras pantomiming their conversations, acting animated even when the cameras weren’t running on them. As the taping started getting tedious, the people running the show brought out food — first pizza, then candy. In the end, I was applauding simply for the effort all these people put into this show. Leaving the studio, we drove to nearby Venice Beach for our last hotel stay, getting somewhat lost in the process. The Hotel Erwin was hard to navigate into once found, but the room was nicely done in a trendy, funky style. I sleepily took a few photos before crashing into bed for the night.