Book Review: The Disneyland Story by Sam Gennawey


Author: Sam Gennawey
TitleThe Disneyland Story
Publication Info: Birmingham, AL : Keen Communications, LLC 2014.
Summary/Review:

This book caught my eye when I was looking for guide books for our Walt Disney World trip and since I’ve long had a fascination with amusement park history, I decided to read it.  The story documents the origins of Disneyland in California from Walt Disney’s fascination with model trains and miniature villages and the desire to give something for fans of Disney films to do when they requested to visit the studios in Burbank.  It eventually grew to be the theme park built in an orange grove near the then remote town of Anaheim.  Disney’s monomaniacal commitment to building and then tinkering with Disneyland over the last 15 years of his life makes one wonder how he found time to work on the studio’s film and television project. This is doubly true since he was bringing a lot of the talent from the studios to work on Disneyland, becoming the first imagineers.  For all the artifice of Disneyland it is fascinating how many real things – from train engines to architectural details – were salvaged to build the park.

The book is basically in two parts.  The 1950s and 1960s are more intricately covered with the focus on Disney’s dream and the projects completed and started in his lifetime.  From the 1970s to the present, the book is more of a listing of annual changes to the park, and the sense that Disneyland is getting neglected due to the company’s focus on new parks in Florida, Japan, France, and China.  The Michael Eisner era seems to be wrapped up in red tape and bad ideas as the company continually fails to expand Disneyland and the initial disappointment of the Disney California Adventure when it finally opens in 2001.  This period is also marked by the Disney company seemingly doing everything in their power to avoid ever paying any taxes to the city of Anaheim.   Nevertheless, while the book is rightly critical it also celebrates the imagination that went into creating and changing Disneyland and the joyous role it plays in American culture.
Favorite Passages:

Disney archivist Dave Smith said, “Disneyland’s true appeal, we admit now, is to adults. Children don’t need it. Their imaginations are enough. For them, Disneyland is only another kind of reality, somewhat less marvelous than their own fantasies.”

According to architect Robert A. M. Stern, “Ironically, Main Street and the very way the theme parks are designed would probably be, much to Walt Disney’s surprise, the actual genius of American Urbanism captured at a time when it had no value to most people, certainly in the architecture and planning profession.”

According to Crump, when he started working on the project, Ken Anderson took him aside and said, “Now you guys remember that when you’re designing anything for Disneyland, you’re the gods! You tell them what you want, and you make sure that they do it your way no matter what!” Then Crump met with Walt, who told him, “You gotta remember that there are electricians, there are plumbers, there’s air conditioning … you’ve got to work around that … they’re just as important as you are.”

At lunch with Walt one day, Ray Bradbury asked, “Walt, why don’t you hire me to come in and help you with ideas to rebuild Tomorrowland?” Walt replied, “Ray, it’s no use … you’re a genius and I’m a genius … after two weeks we’d kill each other!” Bradbury was flattered, “That’s the nicest turndown I’ve ever had, having Walt Disney call me a genius.”

Ray Bradbury recalled a time when Walt told him “Nothing has to die.” He wrote, “Walt was right. Nothing has to die. Just rebuild it. Steamboat America, lost? Carve a river bottom, flood it, and send your Mark Twain paddle wheel down the riverway. Victorian train travel, gone? Nail up a rococo scrimshaw station, steam in the 19th-century locomotive, carry passengers from Civil War territories through African jungles into AD 2000.” Disneyland was a way to live forever.

Recommended booksInside the Mouse by The Project on Disney, Mouse Tales by David Koenig, and Amusing the Million by John F. Kasson
Rating: ****

Beer Review: Almanac Pilsner


Beer: Craft Pilsner
Brewer: Almanac Beer Co. 
Source: Can
Rating: **** (8.5 of 10)
Comments: Almanac pours out golden, yet cloudy with a lot of effervescence and a thick head.  The aroma is of fresh cut grains and citrus with a flavor of mild hops balanced with a hint of sweet cream.  There’s minimal lacing and a light mouthfeel.  Overall this is great stuff.

Beer Review: Sierra Nevada Otra Vez


Beer: Otra Vez
Brewer: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: *** (7.6 of 10)
Comments:

This beer is brewed with prickly pear cactus, which reminded me of the time I fell into a prickly pear cactus and since there were no tweezers handy I tried to extract the needles from my hand with my teeth, but ended up with a needle in my tongue!  This was a more pleasant experience of introducing prickly pear cactus to my mouth. It’s a sparkly, golden beer with a finger-width head.  A sour citrus aroma introduces a tart and sweet flavored beer, kind of reminiscent of a gin & tonic.  It’s low in alcohol and highly drinkable, so it’s good for a hot day.  It paired well with my supper of Israeli couscous and roasted vegetables.

Beer Reviews: 21st Ammendment Toaster Pastry


Beer: Toaster Pastry India-Style Red Ale

Brewer
: 21st Ammendment Brewery

Source
: Draft

Rating
: **** ( 8.0 of 10)

Comments
: Beer pours with a gorgeous amber color, but no much head or carbornation.  Fruit and malts are apparent in the nose.  The taste is a balance of sweet and bitter with wood, nut, and strawberry favors.  Nicely done and palatable.  Not overly bitter as the “India-style” usually implies. 

Beer Review: Stone Citrusy Wit


Beer: Citrusy Wit
Brewer: Stone Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: **** (8 of 10)
Comments: On tap at Saus in Boston, this is a good beer to accompany Belgian specialties.  The beer appears cloudy and orange with a foamy head.  The citrus is strong with this one from the muted orange peel aroma to the orange/lemon flavor, punctuated by coriander spice, and followed by a bitter apricot punch.  As someone who is not a fan of bitter beers, this is a pleasant exception.

Movie Review: Dope (2015)


Title: Dope
Release Date: 19 June 2015
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Summary/Review:

Growing up in “The Bottoms” of Inglewood, California, Malcolm and his friends Diggy and Jib get good grades, play in a punk band, and are obsessed with 1990s hip hop music and fashion.  As geeky misfits they have to navigate themselves around bullies, drug dealers, and gang members on a daily basis.  When a young woman invites Malcolm to a drug dealer’s party at a nightclub, they find themselves in the middle of a shootout and with a backpack filled with Molly and a gun.  All sorts of hijinks ensue as the trio attempt to get rid of and then sell the drugs. It’s reminiscent in many ways of teen comedies of the 1980s updated with contemporary references. It’s probably most analogous to Risky Business, but since I always hated that movie I’ll point out that it shares commonalities with Real Genius in the ways the young protagonists use their smarts to outwit and outsmart everyone else.  While this movie is laugh out loud funny, grim realities are close to the surface and it does not shy away from depicting gun violence, drug use, and the frequent use of the n-word.  This is a pretty spectacular movie on all levels – script, acting, cinematography, and the brilliant use of music.

Rating: ****

Beer Review: Boont Amber Ale


BeerBoont Amber Ale
BrewerAnderson Valley Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz can
Rating: (7.5 of 10)
Comments:

Appropriately amber colored, this is an effervescent beer with a big, bubbly head that disspates quickly.  The aroma is grassy and rye bread, with a balance of caramel and citrus in the flavor, and a lingering hop bitterness. Light lacing on the glass.  Good solid beer.

 

Beer Review: Ballast Point Victory at Sea


Beer: Victory at Sea
Brewer: Ballast Point Brewing Company
Source: Draft
Rating: ****(8.4 of 10)
Comments:

This  Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter pours out black with a thick, cream-colored head.  The nose is chocolate and roasted coffee bean, and the taste is a rich chocolate with hints of vanilla sweetness and a bitter coffee atertaste. At 10% ABV, you can taste a bit of alcohol and will probably also feel it!  The beer has a light mouthfeel for a porter and leaves light lacing on the glass.  This is some fine beer right here!

From the same brewer:

Beer Review: Lagunitas Brown Shugga Ale


Beer: Brown Shugga Ale
Brewer:  Lagunitas Brewing Company
Source: Draft in a tulip glass
Rating: **** (8.1 of 10)
Comments:  This beer pours out a pleasant dark amber color with a pinky-width head.  The aroma is sweet with hints of grass and spice.  The flavor is complex – juicy fruit, brown sugar, and a touch of bitter hops. Oh and the presence of alcohol is noted.  There’s some lovely lacing and a medium mouthfeel.  Brown Shugga is a nice treat!

 

Beer Reviews: Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale


Beer: Red Barn Ale
BrewerThe Lost Abbey 
Source: 1 pint, 9.4 fluid oz bottle
Rating: ** (6.7 of 10)
Comments: A golden, bubbly beer with an apricot aroma, and the flavor of a bread roll and spices with a grapefruit aftertaste.  There are clumps of lacing on the glass with a medium mouthfeel.  Not a flavor to my taste but the effort to make a balanced beer is evident

 

Beer Review: Ballast Point Sculpin IPA


Beer: Sculpin IPA
Brewer: Ballast Point Brewing Company
Source: 12 fl. oz. can
Rating: ** (6.6 of 10)
Comments: Poured from a can into a jam jar (not your usual presentation), this beer appears cloudy orange with a thick, big bubble head.  The aroma is a musty apricot, with apricot, mango, peach and other fruit flavors balancing out the typical IPA bitterness.  A nice, well-rounded beer

Book Review: A Crack in the Edge of the World by Simon Winchester


A Crack in the Edge of the World (2005) by Simon Winchester tells the story of the Great Earthquake of San Francisco in 1906 (and much, much more) in a way only Winchester could tell it.  Winchester has become one of my favorite writers simply because he writes about science, history, and travel in an engaging manner.  He also has the James Burke-like talent of making connections among seemingly disparate things.  For example, in the early chapters of this book he connects the website of Wapakoneta, OH and  geologist Tuzo Wilson as well as making California’s Mt.  Diablo a symbol for pretty much everything to come in this book.

According to Winchester, 1906 was a year of seismic activity worldwide, the California earthquake just one of many events.  Before we learn about the earthquake though, Winchester takes us deep into the geologic past.  Winchester then takes a tour across the North American Plate starting in Iceland.  As he travels the continent, Winchester visits the sites of numerous seismic events including such unlikely intraplate locations as Charleston, SC and New Madrid, MO. Finally arriving in California, Winchester takes us to Parkfield a hub of seismic activity and earthquake study.

Winchester prefaces the story of the 1906 quake with a fairly detailed, yet lively, history of San Franciso itself which rises from a wild west boomtown to the greatest city on the west coast.  Finally, he relates the story of the quake itself, filled with first person stories of the people who experienced it.  This includes some celebrities like operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, psychologist William James, writer Jack London, and four-year old Ansel Adams who broke his nose as a result of the earthquake.  Amateur photography also captured the human perspective on the quakes and the ensuing fires.

Winchester also documents the human response to the earthquake.  Scientist throughout the world use rudimentary devices to track the seismic activity (many of them in Jesuit institutions).  Insurance companies tried to weasle out of paying their claims much to national disapproval, even in Congress.  Long-term aftershocks of the earthquake include the rise of Los Angeles as the dominant western city due to its relatively more stable location.  Winchester also theorizes that the belief in the earthquake as divine retribution sparked the rise in Pentecostal churches that still affects public discourse today.  Another unfortunate aftereffect is the use of Angel Island to detain potential immigrants from China, many trying to claim relation to Chinese-Americans already living in the city because all the records were destroyed in the fires.

In an epilogue, Winchester continues his travels to Alaska where the famous pipeline traverses a fault and is susceptible to the viscious earthquakes of the state.  The effects of Alaskan earthquakes can be seen all the way in Yellowstone Park, itself sitting on a volcanic caldera which could blow with disasterous results for the Western States.  Winchester ties this up with the hubris of people building on land prone to seismic activity.

Since I’m commuting with my son and no longer have time to read on the subway, I got this as an audiobook to listen to while performing mundane tasks at work.  It’s narrated by Winchester himself in his charming, academic English accent.  He also amusingly immitates the various accents of the historical figures he’s quoting, such as Caruso’s Italian.  I enjoyed listening to this lively historical and geological work and reccomend it highly.  I’ve previously read Winchester’s Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, The Professor and the Madman, The Meaning of Everything, and The Map That Changed the World.  You can read my reviews of these books at LibraryThing.

Author Winchester, Simon.
Title A crack in the edge of the world [sound recording] : America and the great California earthquake of 1906 / Simon Winchester.
Publication Info. North Kingstown, RI : Sound Library/BBC Audiobooks America, p2005.
Description 10 sound discs (ca. 12 hrs. 36 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

Movie Review: Crash


It’s Christmas time in Los Angeles, and the film Crash (2004) depicts a day in the life of several Angelinos, all of whom tend to be awful people who are blatantly racist and spout ham-fisted dialog.  Along the way they have moments of heroics and frailty to show that their human, all done in a manipulative manner to rend one’s heart.  At the end, we all learn a big fat lesson about race relations in America.  It’s like that song “One Tin Soldier,” only less subtle.

Book Review: Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon by Jim Paul


One day Jim Paul decides that he wants to launch rocks into the ocean with a catapult and so he convinces his friend Harry to colloborate with him in building one, a process described in Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon (1991). Paul manages to convince National Park Service to allow him to use the catapult at the abandoned forts at the Marin Headlands and even gets a grant for $500 from the Headlands Center for the Arts. Naively, Paul believes that $500 will cover the entire project (and then some) and is surprised when he ends up sinking hundreds of dollars of his own money into the project.

Similarly, Paul knows next to nothing about constructing a catapult. Harry has all the technological knowledge and is pretty much solely responsible for its successful completion. On the other hand, the cranky Harry has none of the whimsy that Paul has in his desire to fling rocks for fun.

Early on, the reader learns from Harry that a true catapult is more of a large crossbow. The trebuchet or “Monty Python type” he deems too inefficient and likely to break down. So they build the crossbow type of catapult acquiring parts from a strange variety of shops in the seedier parts of Oakland and San Francisco that specialize in steel-working, salvage, and boating among other things. In intermediary chapters Paul visits the catapult in history from its (supposed) invention in Syracuse by Archimedes to the fall of Jerusalem, King Edward’s conquest of the Scots, and even more tangential connections such as the Oppenheimers and the atomic bomb.

Overall, I found the historical chapters more interesting than the story of the catapult’s construction and deployment. Paul just tries too hard to find humor in places where he was really pissing people off (especially Harry). Similarly, the whole project seems to end up being a whole lot of nothing up to and including the lecture they deliver which is an exercise in cringing to read. The highlight of the contemporary part of the book comes just before the lecture where Paul and Harry wander to the shore where there rocks landed and discover that it is a nude beach.  Some poetic passages and observations make for insightful reading, but this is pretty much a hit or miss book.

For another opinion, here’s a review from the New York Times from June 6, 1991 by Christopher Lehman-Haupt.

Favorite Passages

Looking for the beginning of the catapult in history, I found it attributed to Syracuse most authoritatively, but discovered it in other places as well, and I began wondering if I hadn’t gotten the terms wrong: not that history produced the catapult, but rather that the catapult produced history. Catapults made empires that kept records, and defended those empires so that it was more likely that such records might endure for posterity. Perhaps, too, later writers simply credited their ancestors with inventing the catapult to confer the prestige of the technology on their own cultures. In any case, old catapult stories appear in various places, usually with the historical implausibility and psychological cogency of myth. – p. 59

Movie Review: Wattstax


The documentary film of the 1972 concert Wattstax (1973) was re-released in a special edition a few years ago, but I didn’t get a chance to see it then. Spurred by my recent trip to Los Angeles and a review of a PBS documentary on Stax Records, I decided to request this DVD from the library. I was not disappointed. The film is a powerful social document of Black Pride in America in the 1970’s and captures some amazing musical performances.

For the uninitiated, Wattstax was a music festival in August 1972 featuring some of the top recording artists of Stax Records to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts riots. I had imagined it as a street festival (and there was a parade and festival in Watts) but the actual concert took place in Los Angeles Coliseum. With over 100,000 people in attendance, the event has been called “the Black Woodstock,” and the name and logo of Wattstax plays on the comparison. The crowd includes many older people, children, the nattily dressed, and ordinary looking folk, and as far as I can tell every single person in attendance was black. I can’t imagine an event like this happening today when even the most militant rap act will attract a large crowd of suburban white kids. This may be a good thing, reflecting an easing of racial tensions in the US, but on the other hand the Black Pride movement seems incomplete.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of this film is not concert footage. A good portion of the introduction and between sets is dedicated to on the street interviews in Watts and shots of urban street scenes. The people interviewed talk about the riots (which are viewed as bringing about positive change), religion, unemployment, crime, identity, men and women, and adultery. These interviews are tied in thematically with musical performances so that gospel numbers surround the religion discussion and the discussion of adultery precedes Luther Ingram singing “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right.” These interviews by Richard Pryor telling funny stories to a group of people off camera while in a club.

Even some of the musical performances don’t take place at the Coliseum. The Emotions sing “Peace Be Still” in a church. In a segment resembling a (very good and effective) music video Little Milton plays “Walking the Backstreet and Crying” while sitting in a derelict urban setting by a burning trash barrel. Another scene is set in a club where customers in stereotypical pimp outfits watch Johnnie Taylor sing “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone.”

The actual concert begins with the National Anthem while the camera pointedly scans the audience to show that no one stands. Jesse Jackson takes the mic and inspires crowd and leads them in a call & response recitation of his poem “I Am Somebody.” Then he introduces the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” performed by Kim Weston. I didn’t even know there was a Black National Anthem, but it’s good to learn new things. During the performance the audience stands with fists raised and images from civil rights history are displayed. Very powerful stuff.

The concert is full of great performances by The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Albert King, Carla Thomas with the most beautiful smile, Rufus Thomas, and the show-stopping finale by Isaac Hayes. I’ll have to confess once again that I had no idea how great a performer he is and how popular he was in 1972, but damn he put on a good show. Another thing I never knew is that a great number of the spoken words by Jesse Jackson and the performing artists have been sampled on other recordings. This is particularly true of It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, one of my all-time favorite albums. Now I finally know where “Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what this world is coming to!” and “Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude” came from and heard them in context.

This is a great film that documents a place and time, and as an added bonus contains some kickass music.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Book Review: Michael Tolliver Lives


This is “my favorite book series” week.  Armistead Maupin returns to familiar ground with Michael Tolliver Lives (2007), catching up with the characters from his Tales of the City series.  The differences here are that while Tales centered around Mary Ann Singleton — starting with her arrival in San Francisco and ending with her departure for New York — this book is about the character Maupin himself identifies with most, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver.   While the earlier series is addressed by an omniscient narrator, this new volume is written in first person by Michael Tolliver himself.

The basic premise of the book is that 20 years ago when the series ended one could reasonably assume that Michael Tolliver’s days were numbered because he was HIV+.  Yet, in real life many people who were sick and dying found their lives extended by the drug cocktails that debuted in the 1990’s.  And so it is with Michael, who is not only alive and well but facing middle age and the prospect of dying from old age.  He keeps in touch with his youth through Ben, 21 years younger, but fully in love and devoted to Michael.  In fact they married at San Francisco’s City Hall.  At the other extreme, Michael needs to deal with the mortality of his conservative Christian mother in Florida and his former landlady and mentor Anna Madrigal.  Much of the story involves the choices Michael must make between the biological and the logical family.  Readers get to meet Michael’s extended family for the first time, and Maupin captures them in a nuanced, non-stereotypical way while at the same time not making excuses for them.

The book lacks the juice provided by the omniscient narrator in Tales of the City books as well as the quick and witty, almost script-like dialog.   On the other hand, Michael Tolliver Lives benefits from not being as over the top and ridiculous as those books could be, creating a quieter, more introspective novel.  All the surviving characters from Tales of the City — Anna, Brian, and Mary Ann — put in an appearance and do so in a logical plot-friendly manner.  New characters such as Ben, Brian’s daughter Shawna (a baby in Tales), and Jake add a “life goes on” element and new ways to explore the human character of San Francisco (oddly the city’s presence is not as strong as in the other books).

For Tales of the City fans this is a must-read, and for anyone else it’s worth checking out.   I’ve read all of Maupin’s books including Maybe the Moon and The Night Listener, but he’s best when writing about old friends.

Trip to Southern California: Los Angeles


After arriving at Union Station, I found a display of all the Los Angeles bus schedules in the Gateway Center. I find it hard to believe that I’m holding up Los Angeles public transportation as exemplary, but other cities could benefit from having full collections of bus schedules and maps available in public places. I took the ones I needed and then boarded the sleek Red Line Metro train to Hollywood. Like Munich, the Los Angeles Metro (not to mention the trolley in San Diego) requires purchasing a ticket, but there are none of those pesky turnstiles. It’s kind of a honor system (although once while I was on the San Diego trolley officers came around to check tickets) and once again Los Angeles is ahead of the curve on public transportation. Too bad nobody uses it.

View all my photos from Southern California.

I checked into my lodgings at Orange Manor Drive Hostel and did a little necessary shopping before taking the Metro back to downtown Los Angeles. I liked downtown LA because it actually felt like a city and one that seems to have been frozen in time around 1960, albeit buzzing with the commercial activity of the local Hispanic population. I followed a walking tour of Historic Downtown from my Lonely Planet guidebook. Along the way I saw Los Angeles City Hall star of film & tv, the Bradbury Building with it’s spiffy interiors used in Blade Runner, the Grand Central Market, several abandoned theaters, the Art Deco Oviatt Building and Pershing Square. Across from the park stands the Millennium Biltmore Hotel which my guidebook claimed was the location of JFK’s nomination in 1960, so I wandered the ornate interiors wondering where the convention took place. Later I read that the convention took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena so that guide book author was speaking out of the butt. I was much more pleased with the Los Angeles Public Library across the street and raced around its labyrinthine interiors. Back outside I climbed the Bunker Hill Steps and strolled down Grand Street past the Gehry-ific Walt Disney Concert Hall.

There was more to the tour, but I was running out of time. So I did something that maybe no one has ever done in history: I walked to Dodger Stadium. The walk wasn’t bad through the scruffy neighborhood of Echo Park and across the sea of asphalt ringing the ballpark. Dodger Stadium isn’t so bad it’s definitely a relic of the early 60’s much like downtown LA. It’s kind of neat that it’s built in a ravine so that the upper deck entrance is at ground level. It was kind of annoying to walk down so many steps to try to find the entrance to the pavilion seating. The interior has the advantages of bleacher seating in the outfield (which I think should be mandatory at all ballparks) and open concourses so you can still watch the game while at the concession stand. Other than that, I really don’t see how it’s so different from Shea Stadium and why people make such a big deal about it. It certainly could be better served by public transit. For more on the ball game, visit my Mets Week in Review post.

The next morning I took a couple of buses out to Santa Monica. I wanted to visit the famous Santa Monica Pier and walk along the “boardwalk” to Venice Beach. Unfortunately, the pier was rather anticlimactic and I had forgotten that I really don’t like the beach. But I did do the walk feeling dehydrated and drained by the the unrelenting California sun. I got to Venice, was not to impressed and then had to take a bus back to Santa Monica. I did like the city of Santa Monica at least, and had a pint Ye Olde King’s Head.

I boarded a Rapidbus (it’s really called that) for downtown LA and endured a hot, sunny, endless slog across the endless series of strip malls, concrete, and palm trees. If I lived in LA, I would hate riding the bus too. But I finally made it downtown and completed my walking tour visiting the monumental historic section of Union Station, strolled the marketplace at El Pueblo De Los Angeles, and visited the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. The last stop was definitely a highlight of my visit to Los Angeles with it’s modern architecture, diffuse sunlight, and unique religious iconography. After visiting one cathedral I returned to a cathedral of baseball for another night of the Mets upsetting their hosts.

On my final day in Southern California I visited the Getty Museum. I decided to avoid another long bus ride by taking the Metro Red Line to the Metro Orange Line to Van Nuys and catch a bus to the Getty Center from there. They fooled me! Like the Silver Line in Boston, the Orange Line is just a big bus, but at least it runs on its own road (adjacent to bike paths) so it moved quickly and smoothly. Not a bad idea actually. The Getty is a magnificent work of art in it’s own right. I started with a garden tour learning that the architect intended the plantings to be his palette and thus the colors are changed with different plantings throughout the year. I also learned that the gardening is rather fussy, such as removing every other leaf on the trees to create a dappled effect. After the tour I wandered through the galleries which contain some magnificent art. The museum is a chameleon adapting to becoming an traditional gallery for older works and a starker room for newer works. Really the architecture and gardens overshadow everything.

To finish off my LA visit I went to Mass at St. Paul the Apostle in Westwood and met up with a priest I know from when he once served in Boston, Fr. John (who presided at my wedding among other things). He generously invited me to eat dinner with the other priests and then drove me to the airport! From there I flew home overnight and didn’t sleep well at all.

It’s funny to come home and discover this travel article in The Guardian about the unthinkable: Walking in LA!

Walk. Don’t walk

Most people only walk in LA if there’s a red carpet involved. Yet downtown it’s a different story – as Dea Birkett discovers when ditches her Chevy and hits the streets. Guardian Unlimited. Tuesday July 24 2007

I guess I’m a trend setter.

Trip to Southern California: San Diego


I returned to Southern California after a 27-year absence in order to add to my collection of ballparks and see the New York Mets play in San Diego and Los Angeles. I visited Los Angeles when I was six years old. This was my first visit to San Diego.

View all of my photographs from Southern California.

I flew to San Diego by way of Cincinnati. The last leg of the flight passed over desert, including Death Valley. Being a Northeastern boy this is the closest I’ve ever been to a desert. As we approached Lindbergh Field, the plane flew low over the city of San Diego. I caught the swift 992 bus downtown and dropped my bags at my hotel, 500 West.

After grabbing a sandwich, I boarded the Blue Line trolley to the border: Tijuana. I was surprised that the city and the suburbs extended all the way to Mexico. In fact near San Ysidro I saw dense urban settlement on the distant mountains only to realize later that it was Tijuana itself. Both countries are built up to the border with no frontier between them.

Crossing the border is rather humorous as all about are signs that say things like “Left Lane for Mexico,” “U Turn For US,” and “To Mexico and Parking Garage.” I followed that last sign where a long line of pedestrians entered a fugly building of corduroy concrete that straddles the highway crossing the border. I walked up a long twisty ramp, crossed the highway, came down a twisted ramp on the other side, passed through a revolving gate and voila! I was in Mexico. On the southern side of the border I was greeted with a concrete plaza surrounded by concrete buildings that resembled parking structures. These buildings contained shops selling prescription drugs without prescriptions and lots of tourist tchotchkes. More carts staffed by aggressive vendors and cute children lined a ramp up to the bridge crossing the dry Rio Tijuana. At last I made it to the main tourist zone in the Avenida Revolución. Here were more aggressive vendors for me to shake off, Mexican zebras (sad donkeys with stripes painted on them), shady bars and “erotic dance” locales. It was all overwhelming. Even when I walked over to the less tawdry shopping district for the locals, I felt so crowded that I could not even stop to look at my map.

My guidebook recommended visiting the more upscale Zona Río so after getting my bearings I walked over that way by way of a desolate warehouse and auto parts district. At least I was away from the crowds. Avenida Paseo de los Héroes is relatively more elegant than La Revo but it is merely a palm tree lined boulevard of strip malls and office buildings similar to many a suburb in Southern California. Unlike the tourist area, the locals were business people chatting on the sidewalks during lunch break. Tijuana is actually one of the wealthiest cities in Mexico which is all relative based on the decrepitude and poverty I’d seen overall.

 

I found myself evaluating why had I come to Tijuana in the first place. Basically I wanted the novelty of crossing the border by foot and then wandering around to see what’s here. With that in mind I chilled out a bit. Finding nothing of interest open on Avenida Paseo de los Héroes I decided to return to the La Revo area to visit the cathedral and then return across the border. Having had time to acclimate I found it much more entertaining to wander around on the second visit. I stopped in the busy cathedral — a dark, cool, glistening place on a hot day — and then bought some postcards. Before crossing the Rio Tijuana I stopped at a sidewalk bar and had a bottle of Pacifico beer. I was liking Tijuana a little better. Perhaps if I came with my buddies when I was 19. Of course I didn’t have buddies like that when I was 19.

Crossing the highway on the Mexican side I felt rather smug looking at all the cars backed up at the border crossing (where they had a last chance to buy tchotchkes from vendors on the side of the road). Then I saw the line of pedestrians waiting to get into the United States. For the busiest border crossing in the world the twenty minute wait wasn’t so bad.

I took the trolley back to San Diego, checked into my hotel, and grabbed supper and beer at Karl Strauss Brewing Company (which feels like the Boston Beer Works with different signs). Then I walked to Petco Park. The ballpark is located right in the revitalized downtown area and has nice local touches such as sand-colored walls and palm trees. Most famously the Western Metal Supply Co. building is incorporated into the stadium and from the exterior it looks like just another old building fronting the street. Beyond center field there are bleachers with a beach for kids to play at and even beyond that a grassy knoll where people can watch the game or look at the stars. There’s also a wiffle-ball park where a tired looking Padres employee pitches and dozens of children attempt to field. It’s a very walkable park with open concourses and for the first night I spent a lot of time walking around seeing the game from different angles (and no one stopped me nor made me feel like I shouldn’t be there). You may read about the game itself in my Mets week in review post.

Post-game I walked through the Gaslamp Quarter which seems to be mostly restaurants and hotels with the bars being on the chi-chi side. With nowhere else to wet my whistle I settled on Ghiradelli’s for a chocolate malt.

Day 2 in San Diego began with a trip to the San Diego Zoo. I love zoos and I’ve heard great things about San Diego since I was a kid. The staff tried to sell me the full package which includes the bus tour around the park but I preferred to walk so I purchased the cheaper admission. Inside it seemed at first that many of the roads were dedicated solely to the double-decker safari buses and like Southern California cities, pedestrians were marginalized to a narrow sidewalk. Then I discovered the central part of the zoo where there are paths going up hills, down ravines, and over exhibits on skywalks in a way that was not only great to see the animals but just a wonderful landscaping design overall. Best yet no motor vehicles could get into this part of the zoo at all. I saw many animals I’d never seen before at other zoos such as koalas, pandas, and meerkats and so old favorites like polar bears, gorillas (and boyillas), and big snakes. I really enjoyed this zoo.

Continuing through Balboa Park I was sorely tempted to visit the San Diego Museum of Art and San Diego Model Railroad Museum but I decided I needed to keep my time and money budgeted. I did pay a quick visit to the Botanical Building and the small art collection in the Timken Museum. Then I walked across the western part of the park where planes fly very low en roue to the airport. I continued my walk into Little Italy where I visited the small Our Lady of the Rosary church and admired the paintings on the ceiling. Then I had supper at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto where chianti bottles hang from the rafters. The food was good and the chianti divine.

After working out at the YMCA attached to my hotel, I attended another Mets-Padres game at Petco Park, walked down a different street of the Gaslamp District, and visited the Princess Pub in Little Italy that sadly had no cask-conditioned ales on tap. The next morning I had plans to stroll along the waterfront, exercise the Y, update my blog at the web cafe, and eat breakfast. I fell back to sleep and the maid service awoke me at 9 am so I only had time for the latter eating at the Grand Central Cafe in the hotel. Then I went to the spiff mission style Santa Fe Depot and bought my Amtrak Pacific Surfliner ticket for Los Angeles. The clean, smooth double-decker train hugged the coast for much of the trip and made stops at places like San Juan de Capistrano and Angels Stadium in Anaheim. Had I known this ahead of time (and the Angels were playing at home this week) I would have incorporated those two stops into my itinerary. Good to know for future reference that they are accessible for the car-free traveler.

Mets Week in Review: 16-22 July


The Mets week in review is much like my week in review as I traveled to see the Mets play in San Diego and Los Angeles. The 7-game Southern California swing was a test of the Mets who in the 6 weeks prior to the All Star break played very poorly. Winning three of four against the bottom-feeding Reds was not the evidence I needed to prove that the Mets were turning things around. Since San Diego and Los Angeles are two of the top teams in the National League and since historically the Mets struggle on the West Coast, these seven games would be indicative of whether the Mets are contenders or pretenders.

And the verdict is??? Good. The Mets won four games, a decent showing overall. They lost the series to the Padres but ironically it was in their loss to the Padres in the rubber game of that series that proved to me that they’ve regained their fighting spirit by rallying to tie the game in the 8th inning. That revitalized spirit carried into Los Angeles where they won 3 of 4 from the Dodgers and continues at Shea where they’re now playing the (admittedly bad) Pirates.

Before reviewing the game, let’s review where I’ve seen the Mets (and other ball clubs) play in my baseball travels. It should go without saying, but I’ve obviously seen the Mets play countless home games at Shea Stadium as well as numerous Red Sox games at Fenway Park and I won’t enumerate each of those games here. Games not involving the Mets are in italics.

1985: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium (I recall attending at least two other games at Yankees Stadium earlier in my childhood)

1997: vs. Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards

1998: vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (this was a road trip for me at the time)

1998: vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium

1999: vs. Montreal Expos at Stade Olympique

1999: Chicago White Sox vs. Detroit Tigers at Tiger Stadium

1999: vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Veteran’s Stadium

2000: vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

2001: Montreal Expos vs. San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park

2001: vs. San Francisco Giants at Pacific Bell Park

2004: vs. Chicago Cubs (3 games) at Wrigley Field

2004: Tampa Bay Devil Rays vs. Chicago White Sox at New Comiskey Park

2004: vs. Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park

2005: vs. Washington Nationals at RFK Stadium

2006: vs. Milwaukee Brewers (2 games) at Miller Park

2006: vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

2006: Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium

2007: vs. San Diego Padres at PETCO Park

2007: vs. Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium

In total I’ve been to games at 12 active ballparks and 3 former ballparks seeing the Mets play in 12 of the 15.

16 July
Mets 1, Padres 5

An ugly start to the road trip that didn’t make me feel like getting up for the 6 am flight to San Diego the next morning. The Mets played lethargically and seemed to revert to their miserable June ways. The only highlight is that Jorge Sosa returned from the DL and threw a decent game and wasn’t too shabby at the plate either. The other highlight was that I wasn’t here to see this dismal game in person.

Players of the game (I award up to ten points, maximum of 6 points to one player, distributed among the Mets players who had the biggest impact in the game):

Feliciano .50
Gotay .50
Loduca .50
Reyes 1
Schoeneweis .5
Sosa 5
Wright 2

17 July
Mets 7, Padres 0

My first game at a Petco Park and it was a good one. Orlando Hernandez pulled out one of those gems he sometimes throws with seven shutout innings AND he followed Sosa’s lead with a good day at the plate and even stole a base! Better yet, the Mets offense came alive led by Carlos Delgado, Jose Valentin, and Paul LoDuca. I had a good time watching the Mets play good baseball.

Beltran 1
Delgado 1.5
Hernandez 3.5
LoDuca 1.5
Valentin 2

18 July
Mets 4, Padres 5

For six innings it looked like the Mets had reverted to their sluggish play of Monday night getting nothing going versus Greg Maddux. But then the team rallied in the 7th & 8th innings, capped by David Wright’s three-run homer which tied the game at 4 runs apiece. Unfortunately, the Padres were able to rally back off an unusually sloppy Joe Smith in the 8th inning. I have to admit that even though it meant watching my team lose that I enjoyed the vibe of Trevor Hoffman’s heavy metal entrance and the Padres’ fans cheering him to another win. The funniest part of the game is that Scott Linebrink, who surrendered Wright’s game-tying home run, was booed mercilessly as he departed the field at the end of the 8th inning. Yet he was the pitcher of record when the Padres regained the lead and thus got a win for his poor efforts. Baseball rules are delightfully weird.

Despite the loss, the Mets rally made me feel more positive about this team than I have in quite some time.

Delgado 2.5
Feliciano .5
LoDuca .5
Maine 2
Schoeneweis 1
Valentin 1.5
Wright 2

19 July
Mets 13, Dodgers 9

I love a pitchers duel. With future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and former Red Sox postseason hero Derek Lowe taking the mound in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, one would expect to see few runs scored. One would be wrong. This was an ugly, sloppy, messy and far too long game. Yes the Mets won, and it’s certainly good to see the offense on fire, but as a baseball purist, I just have to say yuck!

Anderson 1
Beltran 1
Castro 2
Delgado 1.5
Gotay 1.5
Green .5
Reyes 1
Sele 1.5

20 July
Mets 4, Dodgers 1

This is more like it. The wonderful Oliver Perez was a master on the mound. Carlos Beltran slugged a 2-run homer to help put the Mets ahead for good. Even the Dodgers run came via a home run by old friend Nomar Garciaparra, and I can’t deny him that.

Anderson 1
Beltran 2.5
Perez 3
Reyes 1.5
Valentin .5
Wagner .5
Wright 1

21 July
Mets 6, Dodgers 8

I was busy visiting the Getty Center and going to church so I missed the Mets only loss in the series versus the Dodgers. From what I read the offense is still on fire and got the Mets off to an early lead, but shoddy pitching and fielding couldn’t hold it. There are worse ways to lose and the sting doesn’t hurt so much if the team rebounds and wins in dramatic fashion in the very next game.

Beltran 3.5
Castro .5
Delgado .5
Milledge .5
Mota 1
Sosa .5
Wright 3

22 July
Mets 5, Dodgers 4 (10 inn.)

I missed this game too since sleeping off my redeye flight took precedence. It sounds like a good one though, perhaps one of the classic games of the season. It’s already being called the Chip Ambres game since the player called up only to play a handful of games delivered a 2-out single to drive in the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th.

Ambres 1
Feliciano .5
Heilman 1.5
OHernandez 1.5
Milledge 1.5
Reyes 3
Wright 1

Movie Review: Swingers


Way back when I saw a trailer for Swingers (1996) couldn’t figure out when it was set.  The characters all dressed in 50’s clothing and drove classic cars, but had the Club.  I read a review and learned that the movie was about a Los Angeles sub-culture where people dress like they did in the 50’s.  It sounded interesting, but it took me 11 years to finally see the movie.

Turns out that the 50’s fashion has little to do with the plot.  It’s more of a visual shoutout to the Rat Pack in much the same way this movie pays tribute to Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.  The plot of Swingers is very similar to Sideways in many ways, albeit 10 years earlier and the characters are 10 years younger (without looking at IMDB guess the age difference between Jon Favreau and Paul Giamatti).

The story is about Mike (Jon Favreau) a young man who broke up with his girlfriend in order to move to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting.  Despite this he his hung up on his ex and spends a lot of his time moping and hoping she’ll call.  Mike’s friend Trent (Vince Vaughn) continually tries to help out Mike by getting him to hook up with another woman.  Trent is a loudmouth jerk but turns out to really care about Mike when it counts. As they go to bars and parties and smoothly move about Los Angeles, hilarity ensues.  The plot of this movie doesn’t really count.  It’s all about atmosphere, witty dialog, and set pieces.  Eventually Mike does find love with Heather Graham at a swing dance, and his ex predictably calls the next day, but none of that matters.  As I said above, plot doesn’t count, and the movie is better when you don’t think about it.  Luckily there’s enough clever stuff going on that you don’t have to.

This movie makes me nostalgic for the nostalgia of the mid-1990’s.  The liner notes on the DVD case credit the movie with starting the Swing Revival, although I think it already existed.  Better yet, it’s stunning to watch a movie set in Los Angeles 11 years ago with nary a sight of an SUV nor a cellphone.  They did have those things back then although we were still calling them Jeeps and mobile phones.  That’s a time period I could go back to.