And thus we continue (and possibly conclude) the long and, at this point, irrelevant tale of my family vacation to California.
On Sunday the Stoker conference was officially still ongoing, but only in the strictest sense; I actually wanted to attend some of the administrative meetings, but we had to pack up and go. My wife has an old college roommate living in Santa Monica, about half an hour from our hotel in Burbank, so we drove out there to go to Church and visit them for a while. After that we followed Santa Monica boulevard pretty much as far as we could in an attempt to see the Hollywood sign, which happened to lead us straight through a gay pride festival. Yes, that’s correct: a van with Utah plates, full of Mormons in church clothes, driving through a gay pride demonstration in the heart of Prop 8 California. In reality the drive was not nearly as exciting as it sounds, since the world is full of reasonable people who don’t start random fights, but I was glad our kids got to experience a piece of culture they don’t really see in Utah.
And then we saw the Hollywood sign, blah blah blah, and then we went to Anaheim and checked into our hotel (the Portofino, about a block from Disneyland’s front gate), and then our ten-month baby went nuts and screamed for about twelve straight hours. Turns out he was cutting two teeth. We got to Disneyland bright and early the next morning, trying to beat the rush so we could ride the new Nemo thing without spending three hours in line, and it was kind of cool. I actually think I liked the old Jules Verne ride better; it felt more like I was seeing objects under the sea, and less like I was watching a movie through a tiny submarine porthole. Whatever. The rest of the day was spent in California Adventure, which is as boring as everyone told me it would be, with the shining exception of the Princess Breakfast, or whatever it’s called, where you get to go eat breakfast while Disney princesses come to your table and get pictures taken with your kids. Because they are princesses, my daughters loved it, and because they are 19-year-old girls in costumes, my son loved it even more. We got to see Ariel twice over the course of our time in Disneyland, and he was so adorably in love with her both times that I just couldn’t get enough. I could have spent all three days just watching him smile shyly at Cinderella, I’m not even kidding.
The first two days of our Disneyland trip happened to be, we later learned, a hellish nexus of evil: the summertime passes become active, but the off-season passes haven’t ended yet. This resulted in the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen in the park; they actually filled to capacity and started turning people away at the gate, which I didn’t think Disneyland would ever do. I’m glad they did, though, because the press of people during the fireworks shows was so humongous you could barely move. We made good use of the fastpass system and managed to ride all the “cool” rides my son had been begging to see, like Star Tours and Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain and so on. I took the two eldest children on most of those while Dawn waited outside with the babies (then I waited with babies while she rode the roller coasters, which are her favorites), and it was fascinating to watch the ways my children reacted to the different rides. My daughter, almost 8 years old, was so convinced that every ride would be horrifying that she almost threw up in the line for Pinocchio, but then when we actually got on the rides she was fine. My 6-year-old son, on the other hand, loved the fast stuff but couldn’t handle any of the stuff that jumps out at you; he cheered all through Star Tours, but kept his eyes sealed shut for the entire length of Indiana Jones. We decided that taking either of them on the Haunted Mansion would just kill them outright, so sadly I didn’t get to go on that one. I’ll hit it next time. I didn’t get to see any of the 3D shows either, because my family is boring.
My youngest daughter is only 2, and she loved most of the 2-year-old rides, but none of that really mattered because she got to meet Tinkerbell. Even the princesses couldn’t match that–when I waited in line for 90 minutes so she could meet Jasmine, all she did was run up to her and say “I saw Tinkerbell!” and then run away. As for my youngest son, well, he finally stopped teething and had a great time, but his night of screaming followed by an 18-hour day in an overcrowded park managed to wipe out my immune system and give me a cold. One day he will pay for that, I assure you.
On the third day in Disneyland we left early (“early” being about 8 pm) and drove five and half hours up I-5 to Livermore, a little town outside of San Jose, where we spent the night with an old friend of mine from High School. She, like, me, now has four kids, and they played together happily while Dawn did laundry and I slept off my cold. We had planned to spend that day driving around San Francisco, which is one of my favorite cities, but we were just too wiped out to go anywhere. It was a nice break, and a good chance to catch up with my friend.
Late the following night we drove to Sacramento and stayed for three days with Dawn’s grandparents, plus one afternoon with my aunt. My kids actually loved my aunt so much that they said “I wish we’d only spent two days in Disneyland so we could have one more day with Teri!” That’s a pretty high compliment, but she did buy them ice cream, which is the fastest way to any child’s heart. Dawn’s grandparents were absolutely thrilled to have us, though they have a very nice house and we had to move about four thousands things out of baby range. An unfortunate side effect of the grandparent portion of the trip was that our presence underlined to Grandpa just how old 95 really is, and he felt like a terrible host the whole time despite our protestations. It was a great time overall, though, and we hope to go back sometime soon.
The drive home on June 22 was pretty much a straight shot on I-80 for 12 straight hours, with brief stops for food and gas and far too many stops for potty breaks. Seriously, I don’t know why three kids can’t all potty at the same time. The highlight of the day was passing through Wells, Nevada, which lived up to my fondest dreams in the most wonderful way possible. The website mentions both “real cows” and the Interstate speed limit of 75, and I’m pleased to say that we made ample use of both, if you count pointing at cows while traveling at 75 mph. In addition to that, I’m pleased to report that the town bearing my name has a chinatown-themed casino/motel, multiple RV parks, and a trucker brothel. I feel so proud.
On the other end of the awesomeness scale was Wendover, the smallest, saddest, most desperate little town I have ever been to in my life. Every state that touches Nevada has multiple little border towns that exists solely for out-of-towners to come and gamble; California has Reno and Primm, Utah has Mesquite and Wendover, and so on. Some of those are kind of nice–I actually thought Reno was a pretty cool little city–but Wendover has the misfortune of sitting on the outskirts of Utah’s West Desert, a land so hellish and inhospitable that it’s actually covered with pools of fetid salt water. The one redeeming factor was the time zone border, that actually ran between our freeway exit and the Arby’s where we ate dinner, which meant that technically we finished eating before we even got there. So that was pretty awesome.
Also, it turns out people live in Tooele? When did this happen?
Anyway, that was our trip. We laughed, we cried, we learned a little about ourselves, and we got to drive past that big smokestack that looks like Barad Dur from far away and the “Close Encounters” alien landing zone from up close. And that’s worth the whole trip all by itself.