California Vacation 1996

The following is a compiled and somewhat edited repost of what I posted in my topic on Genie about our 1996 California vacation, including Disneyland and the World Science Fiction Convention. It's not very well-organized, having been posted in bits and pieces, but here it is, all 300+ lines of it:

We had lucked into a very good airfare, thanks to a fare war a couple of months back -- round-trip Baltimore to Orange County by way of Houston for just $220. That $220 fare was an amazing fluke; two weeks later the cheapest fare available (so far as we know; since we already had tickets we didn't look all that carefully) was $800. We got really lucky.

So we flew out to John Wayne Airport, collected our three suitcases... except we'd checked four.

The other one, containing swimsuits, towels, bed linens, etc., was in Nashville. The three-letter code for Orange County is something unintuitive like SNA, which if glanced at hurriedly upside-down looks like the code for Nashville.

We were renting an apartment in Newport Beach, two blocks from the Pacific Ocean (and one of those blocks is beach). It's very frustrating to spend a weekend at the beach when your swimsuits and towels are a thousand miles away.

We nagged the airline; the Orange County folks were mostly very helpful, actually, but limited in what they could do, given the available information and what flights actually go to Orange County. (It's a much smaller airport than we'd realized -- it's very nice, very modern, but small and under-utilized.) Apparently, for arcane reasons neither we nor the OC baggage people understood, the suitcase got sent back to Houston rather than going on the one flight a day direct from Nashville; from there, we were informed, it was put on Continental Flight 731.

Which goes to Panama City. The one in Panama, not the one in Florida.

Fortunately, this turned out to be a misunderstanding; it was actually on Flight 1131, Houston to Orange County, and finally showed up Sunday evening. We were twenty minutes from the airport, so I went and picked it up, rather than waiting for it to be delivered around midnight. (We hadn't adjusted to Pacific time yet. Midnight = 3 a.m.)

Since we couldn't do much at the beach in street clothes, we spent Sunday visiting Julie's Uncle Norman in Gardena, then went to see the La Brea tar pits, arriving ten minutes after they stopped excavations for the day (sigh). The tar pits are very strange, and not at all what I'd pictured -- I'd thought of big pools of tar with distinct banks, like little ponds. They aren't. They just look like someone spilled a bucket of tar on a lawn -- except under the tar, instead of lawn, there's a lot more tar.

So there's this very ordinary-looking city park with grass and trees and benches, and chain-link fences scattered about it more or less at random, surrounding ugly black puddles. And the whole place smells like a hot, freshly-paved parking lot.

(There are even two tar pits in the parking lot, by the way -- the stuff keeps seeping up in new places. So there are two squares of fencing in the parking lot.)

They've dug thousands of skeletons out of the tar. Only one is human -- and she's a murder victim, with the back of her skull bashed in with a blunt instrument.

She died 9,000 years ago. Wonder what happened to her killer? Her body obviously wasn't found during his lifetime...

Saturday was fly out and settle in; Sunday was Uncle Norman, La Brea, and suitcase recovery; Monday we hit the beach, mostly, then took a boat tour of Newport Beach's harbor in the afternoon. That was interesting. There's a channel-marker buoy just outside the harbor that always has sea lions on it -- the fewest anyone's counted since the buoy was installed is three. There were maybe a dozen when we went past, stacked two or three deep.

There were also lots of fabulously expensive houses pointed out. And boats -- Elizabeth Taylor's old yacht was the largest.

And there's Pirates Cove, which you've all seen on TV and in movies; it's at the southeastern corner of the harbor, and has played the part of a tropical island in "Captain Blood," "Captain Hawk," and "Gilligan's Island," among other places. It's popular with moviemakers because the harbor shelters it; they don't need to worry about those big Pacific waves washing away cameras or extras.

I should point out that I had wanted to make this trip a whole family vacation and not just Worldcon because when I was in L.A. in '94 I was fascinated by the place, and thought the kids would be, too.

Wrong. They weren't. Trips to Universal Studios and Griffith Park were voted down; any Hollywood-related stuff was dismissed as not worth bothering with. All we saw of Hollywood was driving along its southern edge on our way back to Newport Beach from La Brea. (We took a western route, Wilshire Blvd. to Santa Monica Blvd. to I-405.) In fact, the only time we actually got out of Orange County and into L.A. was the trip to La Brea. This seemed to me to sort of undercut the whole point of the enterprise, but they professed to prefer relaxing at the beach to Knott's Berry Farm or anything in L.A.

Julie sided with the kids because she hated freeway driving (which really is different from anything back east) and it was about an hour's drive from Newport Beach to the north side of the city. And partly she was just tired -- her job's been hectic lately (she needed a vacation), and either she caught a cold or her allergies were really bad, we aren't sure which. Jet lag probably figured into it, too.

Were it just me, I'd have gone to Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm; I got outvoted. Not that I dislike beaches.

But no, we didn't spend the whole week at the beach. There are limits. On Tuesday we went to Disneyland.

I was pleasantly surprised by Disneyland, actually. I'd thought of it as small, outdated, and kitschy, overshadowed by its eastern sibling, and seriously overhyped. Well, it is small compared to Disney World, and sometimes kitschy -- or campy, which isn't much different from kitsch done deliberately -- but it comes close to living up to its hype, and I liked it better, overall, than the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

We were there on a Tuesday, so the lines weren't outrageous -- the longest we waited through was just under an hour, and most were much less. We hit just about all the major rides -- Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Space Mountain (twice), Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Star Tours...

Also some not-so-major attractions, such as Gadget's Go-Coaster in Toontown, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Alice in Wonderland.

"Mr. Toad's Wild Ride" is fun; I was startled, though, to discover how old it is. I found a book in a gift shop that showed when each ride was added, and it's more than thirty years old! It did get a facelift recently, I believe.

We saw the Main Street Electrical Parade, which was in its final season before being retired; we were in Space Mountain during the fireworks, though, and missed 'em entirely. Deliberately avoided the Lion King parade. The Enchanted Tiki Room broke down in mid-performance -- the audio tape broke (I mean, you could hear the "snap" followed by the tape flapping on the reel), and the birds kept on moving in near-silence, their little mechanical beaks clicking... that was kind of surreal. We never did see the end of the show; they shut everything down after a couple of minutes and herded us out.

The food was pretty good. Expensive, but nowhere near as outrageous as I'd been led to expect -- the complaints I've heard must've come from people who haven't been to a lot of theme parks, or even major airports.

I have two general comments to make about Disney as compared to other theme parks.

First, Disney really does try to be imaginative and always give you a little more than you expected. The train ride around the park, for example, goes through Splash Mountain and gives you a look at one of the animatronic scenes therein. The coasters never have one big boring hill at the beginning; the climb up is always broken into two or three pieces. Water rides never just have one big drop. Sometimes the extra effort pays off, sometimes it's just stupid, but they try.

Second, you can see the evolution of their thinking about waitlines, and you can date when each big ride was built by how much effort goes into the lead-in. Old stuff (such as the Bobsleds, added 1959) has nothing but plain old waitlines with metal rails. Boring and uncomfortable. Some time in the late '70s or early '80s, though, they obviously started to give serious consideration to the fact that most people stand in line an hour for a three-minute ride; waitlines are shaded, routed interestingly, given their own scenery, getting more and more elaborate until they culminated (so far, anyway) in the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, where you enter through something like a quarter of a mile of fake temple, complete with fake boobytraps, things to play with (if a sign says "Don't touch this!" it usually means that if you do mess with it there's a pay-off, such as a voice yelling at you), and cipher messages all over (they give you a card with the cipher key on it when you come in) in a phony "ancient alphabet."

The best waitlines are Star Tours (C-3PO, R2D2, and other droids messing around with spaceport equipment, and ads for various "tours"), Space Mountain (some genuinely funny video stuff, including FedEx ads of the future), and Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The worst waitline is for Splash Mountain, which goes through narrow, hot, stuffy passages that really aren't entertaining at all -- they obviously didn't have the bugs out yet when they built that one.

And why do I like Disneyland better than the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, which we visited in 1987? Because it's smaller. They're forced to keep everything much more compact, as they have 81 acres instead of 2,000. This means much less walking in the hot sun.

And some of the old stuff they didn't bother cloning in Florida is a lot of fun -- the Bobsleds, for example. The Matterhorn is definitely cool; Julian sorta considered going on it again, then decided Space Mountain was even better. Besides, Mickey climbed it while we watched (we were resting our feet just then); he doesn't do anything equivalent in Orlando.

I love amusement parks -- not just Disney, all of 'em. We've made repeated visits to King's Island, King's Dominion, Hersheypark, Busch Gardens' Old Country (Williamsburg), Kennywood, Canobie Lake, Salisbury Beach, and probably others I'm not thinking of right now. Also one-time visits to Knobel's Grove, Conneaut Lake (now defunct), etc. Roller coasters are my particular interest, but I like lots of other stuff, too.

And speaking of that, Julian has conquered his fear of roller coasters! He rode 'em all. We more or less dragged him onto the first one (Big Thunder Mountain), but after that he was gung-ho to ride 'em all, and repeating Space Mountain (just about the fastest of the bunch) was his idea. He loved it.

We have a convert!

The only thing seriously shut down when we were there was the Mark Twain -- the riverboat. The Temple of the Forbidden Eye shut down for a couple of hours at one point, but came back in time for us to ride it.

I like the fact that they post a list at the park entrance of whatever's definitely closed. I also liked (once we found it) the board where they post estimated waiting times for various rides; we were startled to see that the longest wait at the park was for Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, which we never even saw.

(We knew roughly where Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin was, but never actually saw it. [shrug])

So Disneyland was Tuesday. Wednesday we did next to nothing -- we slept late, recovering from the Mouse, and then hung out at the beach, mostly. I read a lot. The rental apartment included a shelf of very assorted books; I read Little Women, Julie read Jackie Collins' Rock Star.

I'd never read Little Women before. Was interesting. Not quite what I expected. Lotsa mild sermonizing and Victorian sentimentality. A classic case of Victorian Novel Disease, too.

(VND is an ailment where someone slowly, slowly sickens and dies without ever losing his or her looks (except getting pale), without any of the gruesome symptoms of most real wasting diseases. VND sufferers are usually inhumanly uncomplaining and loving, often achieving sainthood in the process.)

Anyway, that was Wednesday. Thursday we finally got to Worldcon. I'm not going to cover it blow-by-blow, but there are a couple of things to mention...Robbie from FORBIDDEN PLANET

This being southern California, the movie industry was better-represented than at many a Worldcon -- the Hugo award bases were in the shape of film cans, with miniature battery-powered spotlights shining on the rocket, reminiscent of "Destination Moon." And they had an exhibit of famous robots where I took a couple of pictures. (No, I don't know who the guy looking at the "Lost in Space" robot is.)

One benefit of going to Worldcon was actually talking to some of my fans -- it had been long enough that I wasn't entirely sure I had fans any more; somehow the folks at Concussion didn't register properly.

But at Worldcon, of the four people autographing in my time-slot, my line was second-longest -- I had far more people waiting than either Bjo Trimble or Rob Sawyer, Rob's shiny new Nebula and Hugo nomination notwithstanding.

And coming in second rather than first... hey, the other guy was Harlan Ellison. He got three seats to himself to allow more room for the line (and so Susan could be there helping out). And he and I were both too busy for over an hour to say a word to each other.

It was very encouraging, I'll tell you.

(The fact that I'd never before been to a convention west of Tulsa probably helped.)

(Council Bluffs isn't west of Tulsa, is it?)

Anyway, there is always one guy who asks when I'll write another Garth novel, and there was this time, too. (No, it's not always the same guy.)

There were more questions about the Ethshar series, though. One person remarked that The Spell of the Black Dagger wasn't funny, which was a great disappointment to her; I explained that the Powers That Were at Del Rey wanted it that way, as they didn't think the humor was what sold the Ethshar books. In fact, I'm not sure what sold the Ethshar books -- opinions on just how funny they are vary gigantically, with some people reading them as outright farce while others take them as dead serious. I always meant them to be lighter fare -- a real plot, not just slapstick like Split Heirs, but with a very definite droll side.

Lester considered them to be more or less straight fantasy adventure, though, and nagged me to make them bigger and more serious, and the end result was The Spell of the Black Dagger.

I suppose it's all moot now; Lester's dead, the series is on hold indefinitely [sort of], and if I do continue it there's no telling who the publisher will be.Robot from LOST IN SPACE

Changing subjects, Ryoga almost got lost at Worldcon.

Ryoga is the smallest and cutest of our stuffed dragons -- maybe eight inches long, nose to tip of tail. He rides on Kyrith's shoulder or in her pocket a lot. He's pretty stupid; he's named for the Ranma 1/2 character Ryoga Hibiki, and like the anime character he's got a stupendously bad sense of direction.

Well, Kyrith inadvertantly left him in a ladies' room; when she went back he was gone, and had not been turned in at lost-and-found (which was right outside that particular rest room). She was heartbroken, on the verge of tears.

Fortunately, he did get turned in about five minutes later, but we had a very bad few minutes there.

If anyone knows who turned him in, please let us know, so we can say thanks.

(You gotta understand, we have several stuffed dragons, all of 'em with distinct personalities. Kyrith does a different voice for each of hers; Julian's not that sophisticated about it. Ikarie's got the cutest voice, but Ryoga's the cutest looking. Dingo Anxiety is the biggest, with Lotta Trouble a close second. The others are Charles, his twin brother (who looks nothing like him) Charles Jr., and Kremkroc Industries Incorporated (called "Incorporated" for short). They often travel with us.)

I inadvertantly named Trouble before we even bought her -- saw her on display and said, "That one looks like trouble!" Julie added the "Lotta" much later. She's Julian's dragon, and the worst-behaved of the bunch, but she helped out in the search for Ryoga (I took her to lost-and-found to show them what sort of dragon we were talking about) -- and then had to make up for it by being grouchy and unruly for hours, living down to her name.

Dingo's the best dancer. Charles looks most alive -- in fact, he once was mistaken for a live ferret by a nearsighted bridesmaid, who let out the most amazing shriek. (She doesn't deal well with small animals.)

Dingo and Trouble are married; the Charleses are their offspring; Charles and Ikarie are Ryoga's parents. I'm not sure what the story is with Charles Jr. and Incorporated -- I think it's one of those on-again, off-again relationships.

And that concludes the original report. There have been changes in the dragon population and other details since then, but I'm leaving it as is as a historical document.

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For those who somehow stumbled in here by accident -- hi! I'm Lawrence Watt-Evans. I'm the author of more than four dozen novels and over a hundred short stories, as well as innumerable articles, comic scripts, poems, and other miscellany. This is my personal website, the Misenchanted Page; the name is a reference to my bestselling novel The Misenchanted Sword.

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