The koi pond at the Japanese friendship garden in Balboa Park, San Diego.
The yellow guy was Cynthia's favorite.
May 30, 2013

California Trip

We decided to go to San Diego to see our elder son, Zachary, who lives out there. According to him there's not much to do in SD, so we journeyed up to LA to check out Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

May 14—We left from Dulles Airport on a United flight to San Diego. Our plane was nominally an Airbus, but it seemed to have drawn its basic design from either a Soviet era zek transport,* or a WW II German train bound for the more unpleasant parts of Poland. Airline food is, of course, inedible, particularly for those of us located in the steerage, or cattle area, so we brought along a number of "energy" bars to gnaw in our desperate attempts to refrain from gnawing on the seats in front of us. Those seats have been known to furnish many a desperate passenger with nourishment when it proved impossible to keep the airline's food down. Fortunately we arrived an hour a head of schedule thanks to favorable winds.

*See The Gulag Archipelago to find out what zeks are, and what conditions were like aboard the transports.

The hotel in San Diego was a Sheraton, and it was fairly spacious. We had two queen size beds in the room, so finally, after almost 46 years of marriage, I got my share of the covers, and was able to sleep without getting an elbow jabbed in my ribs. We had dinner at the Sheraton and retired early.

May 15—The Sheraton serves a decent breakfast, but it is a tad on the pricey side. Our breakfast there was decaf coffee and the buffet for Cynthia, a triple espresso and a Belgian waffle for me. Despite the caloric intake neither Cynthia nor I gained weight during our trip.

One thing I had been looking forward was seeing the USS Midway (CV-41), a WW II era carrier that served from slightly after the end of WW II till 1991. According to Wikipedia the ship originally started out at 45,000 tons, and by the time of retirement it had, as happens with most of us, put on a bit of weight, and went out at a tad over 70,000 tons. The ship is difficult to maneuver around, if you're not young, small, and agile. When we thought we were ready to try the bridge I'm afraid that Cynthia couldn't make it, and I chickened out at the thought of climbing up four ladders to see the bridge.

One notable sight in the harbor was this yacht, which is supposed to belong to some Russian billionaire. Isn't it great that Communism is gone over there?

There are some other notable landmarks and sights near the Midway. One is a sculpture that derives from Alfred Eisenstaedt's V-J day photograph of a couple kissing in Times Square.

Near the statue is a memorial dedicated to Bob Hope and his troupe. Recordings of some of Hope's performances are played at the memorial. Both of these adjoin a seafood restaurant called The Fish Market, a small chain with stores in Palo Alto, San Jose, and other California locations aside from San Diego.

The hotel overlooked a major freeway, so we could see a shopping center with a Target, and a variety of restaurants, but because we didn't have a car, we couldn't cross the street to get to them, and had to rely on Zachary for transport. Cynthia saw one place that she thought was a restaurant, but couldn't make out the name. When we finally checked it out it was a restaurant, The Tilted Kilt, or more accurately and colorfully, a "breastaurant." Not exactly up Cynthia's alley.* We wound up having dinner at a number of places in that shopping center, most notably On the Border, which serves a very strong Herradura margarita. At 18 ounces one is enough to enable you to get high.

*As a DOM it might be up my alley, but it's not something we'd go to together.

May 16—This was our day to visit Balboa park. The park is free, but many of the museums and attractions are not. The Timken museum is devoted to Oriental art. The San Diego Art Museum had an exhibit devoted to Piranesi. I'm afraid that it was a bit on the dull side. Perhaps the most notable things about the park are the garden areas.

This little fellow was found in the area of Balboa park that is devoted to cacti. Cynthia and I are both afflicted with thumbs of the deepest, darkest, coal black hue, and kill every plant we touch, even cacti, but like many people we like the plants, even though we can't be trusted with them. For some reason, even though we've always had normal pets, i.e., cats, dogs, parakeets, etc. I think we both like small reptiles, such as our little buddy here.

This rose was not born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air since you are seeing it now. Next to the desert garden is the rose garden. Huge masses of roses of every color blooming in the California spring.

There's a picture of a yellow koi from the Japanese Friendship garden at the top of the page. The garden hosts a variety of plants, and exhibits of bonzai. We've tried our hands at bonzai, but unfortunately…. Well see the comment above about thumbs.

We missed the indoor exhibit, which was closed, but went back the next day before going to the zoo.

May 17—We went back to Balboa Park to see the indoor botanical exhibit, and then moved on to the San Diego Zoo. This adjoins the park, but unlike the park, or the National Zoo in DC, it is not free. In fact it is rather outrageously high at $44 per person. The London Zoo, which we didn't see while we were in London, charges £23, or about $30, which is the same as the Bronx and Central Park zoos charge. It's my recollection, though it's been a number of years since my last visit, that the National Zoo has a ride that lets you explore the park. San Diego doesn't seem to have one.

We spent a lot of time seeing the monkeys and apes, and finally put our foot down, and told our guide that we wanted to move on to something other than simians. Some years back we were at the National Zoo, and I missed a shot of a turtle yawning. I've been hearing about it for the last 40 years or so. This time around I caught a picture of a hippo with its mouth open.

If you're a fan of Dali's painting The Persistence of Memory, the one with the melting watches, you might appreciate this picture. The deer are napping, not dead, but barren landscape and the position of the deer does strike me as surreal.

Does anyone out there have fond memories of Three Days of the Condor? There are two species of condors one of which is the California condor. The other is the Andean condor which is in a separate genus. The California condor has a wingspan of 9 feet, and weighs in at 26 pounds. We arrived during the condor feeding time, and their behavior was rather reminiscent of Congress when it's in session. It's not a pretty sight to see the big birds fighting each other over a slab of meat.

May 18—Saturday was the last full day we spent in San Diego.

We went to Mission beach, and while it was still cool I did expect to see things that would make me burst out singing "I wish they all could be California Girls." I think the Beach Boys lied. The closest I saw at the beach that day was a blonde cop who had arrested someone, and had the perp in her squad car. I thought of telling her that she was the closest I'd seen to a "California girl," but didn't. After the beach we were supposed to go to Old Town. Our guide suggested a brief detour to see the tidepool, part of which is shown on the left. It's a fairly steep walk down, and we didn't go all the way down. I did get some decent pictures using the telephoto setting on the zoom lens.

Old Town, and the mall that our younger son suggested we visit, proved to be disappointing. We did go back to see the sun set in the Pacific, and the result, as you can see, while not spectacular, was pretty.

May 19—We took an Amtrak train, the Pacific Surfliner, from San Diego to LA. We traveled business class, which is only slightly more expensive than economy. On a plane there is an enormous difference between the economy, or steerage, or cattle car customers, and the business or human class passengers. On a plane the higher class passengers get bigger screens, better food, and probably cleaner bathrooms, ones you can actually use. On the train there is a bit more leg room, and the stewies bring bags of snacks by, and thrust them into your open arms. For at least half the journey you do have views of the ocean and the surf. We made arrangements through our hotel, the Hilton in Universal City, for a pickup. The driver was polite and competent.

The room had a single king size bed, a desk, refrigerator, and other amenities. The bathroom was fairly spacious. It was more expensive than the Sheraton in San Diego, and worth every penny. The hotel, like the one in San Diego, overlooks a major highway, La Cahuenga, and like the hotel in San Diego it was impossible to cross the street without a car.

May 20—If you're going to San Francisco, you should wear some flowers in your hair, and if you're going to Los Angeles you should see a movie studio.

There are a several studios that offer tours. Universal, which is also a theme park, offers one. It is $88 per person, so it is very expensive. You get a number of thrill rides, and you get to stand in line for a tram tour that takes you past the sound stages where various famous movies were filmed,* as well as some exterior sets. Part of the tram tour is a 3D experience in which your on King Kong's island. The tram gets tossed around in a very realistic manner, and it does seem like you're seeing disnosaurs fight. Another part of the same tour involves car explosions. Cars get thrown in the air, and the workings of the effect are exposed at the end.

*The guide points and says "This is stage 12 where… was filmed," but you don't get to go in, all you see is a building with a number on it.

Another part of the visit to Universal is a visit to the special effects department. It's really more of a mildly entertaining presentation, with some audience participation, and it's interesting, but may destroy any illusions you have about the reality of what you see on the big screen.

If you're at one of the hotels near Universal City you're also close to Warner Bros. studio. The tour there is $54, or $30 cheaper than Universal, and is supposed to actually take you through working sound stages. If you're interested in film production you might try that one. If you want fun, the Universal is fine. If you're in for fun, and film production, you might want to do both if your finances can handle it.

May 21—Peg Entwistle achieved more fame by her death than she did by her life.

She jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign, and various stories about her ghost have circulated ever since. The sign is part of the tour that we went on. We drove through Beverly Hills, and the driver pointed out where homes of the stars had been,* or still were. Unfortunately many of these celebrities value their privacy, and have achieved it by plantings that obscure the homes you've driven so far to see.
We stopped along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and went to Grauman's Chinese Theater where the stars used to leave their footprints, or in some cases their handprints. I think the only one of my favorites that I couldn't find was Marilyn. I did manage to find Jean Harlow's block. Other favorites were Kim Novak, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and Charlton Heston.

*Frank Sinatra's home has been torn down, and as far as I know nothing has replaced it. Walt Disney's home has also been drastically altered, as has the adjoining property.

Rodeo Drive is pretty, and expensive. We were told that the Bugatti at left was $2.5 million.

We had lunch at Wolfgang Puck's Bistro in Universal City by the hotel. I can't say that the meal was particularly memorable despite M. Puck's reputation.

There are a number of stores in Universal City that sell Universal Studio memorabilia. Oddly none of them sell Universal movies. Some of the restaurants, such as the one pictured at left, have rather outlandish decorations. Other stores are devoted to California fads. One such store is ZenZone, an oxygen bar and legitimate massage parlor. They offer water massages that won't get your clothes wet. The water massage unit is a long flat bed with a transparent top that is filled with water. You lay prone on the bed, and the water in the top apparently flows over you, and massages your back. The oxygen is just what it sounds like, a bar with stools, just as in your regular back home, with machines that concentrate oxygen and pass it through scented water. You breathe through a cannula, exactly like in the hospital. I passed on the massage, and tried the oxygen bar. It was refreshing, and while you can buy a home unit for about $350, I'm not sure if it's worth it. One thing that I tried was a little electronic massage unit that is about the size of an iPod nano. It gives a fairly vigorous massage, and is adjustable as regards type of massage (kneading, accupressure, tapping, cupping, etc.,) and strength from light to extremely vigorous. We bought one, and I've been using it on my shoulders. It seems to work fairly well, and there's an Amazon link to it at the top of the page.

May 22—Back in high school I had romantic yearnings for this girl who really liked Rebel Without a Cause.

Now there's a book out with the same name, and if you've ever read it, you know that by the standards of 1954-5 it couldn't have been filmed. The boy in the story spends a great deal of time describing his sexual experiences, and that just didn't fly back then. I remember saying to Marcia, my would-be sweetie, that very thing about its unfilmability. I later found out that while the title had been bought, they used a different story. In any case there's a sequence filmed at Griffith Observatory, and that sequence helped make the observatory popular as a tourist attraction, and as a film site. Griffith Observatory commemorates the film and James Dean with a bust as shown in the photo.

The observatory has several interesting exhibits at any given time, and several planetarium shows. The one we saw had some potentially nausea inducing effects in which the room seemed to move. The sensation ended with the show.

Back in 1991 Cynthia got a business trip to the Cayman Islands for a month, so the rest of us just had to tag along. We ate out quite a bit, and we even ordered from Domino's once or twice. I think we tried conch once or twice.* The best place we ate at though was Tony Roma's, a rib joint that's primarily in the States. We ate there 3 or 4 times, and may have ordered in once or twice. Well, we had to wait 22 years for our next visit, which was the one in Universal City. That was the best meal of our entire stay in California.

*See Thunderball for comments on conch chowder.

May 23—We were delayed taking off by the weather in Dulles, our destination airport. As usual the trip was miserable, the toilets were fit only for spreading typhus, typhoid, and other unpleasant diseases involving e. coli, pestis yersina, lice, and other afflictions. Traffic was backed up for some reason, and even though the plane arrived at 5:00 pm, we didn't get home till 9:30

California is a nice place to visit, but it is impossible to get anywhere by foot. Despite the best efforts of generations of environmentalists parts of it are still covered in a dense, impenetrable smog that obscures distant views. This shot from Griffith Observatory looks into the heart of the city.
The veil of eco-sin covers that heart. A wider angle view of the same scene, taken 14 seconds earlier, shows less smog close in. For all of its restrictions, all of its loss of freedom, and surrender to the forces of the environmental movement, California is still lost in the fog.

TSA—Last year when we went to London Dulles Airport still had the naked scanners. I'd read that the scanners, at all airports, were neither properly calibrated nor properly maintained, so they were probably unsafe. We opted for patdowns. In January the TSA announced that they were pulling the scanners. By May the scanners had been replaced by millimeter radio wave machines, which are supposed to be safer. For various reasons I don't wear a belt, and wear braces under a tee-shirt. Now in every secure building that I've worked in since 9/11, if you enter a metal detector and it goes off, it shows a zone where the metal was detected. The guard will then pass a magnetic wand over you, and make a determination passed on the readings given by the wand. If it's something like suspenders, it will show, and you can be passed through. No building, including an Army base that I worked on, did pat downs as a routine measure after setting off the metal detector.* Now when we left from Dulles the TSA agent detected something after I passed through the wave scanner, and I don't recall him doing an invasive pat down. When we left from California, via LAX, I set off the metal detector, and the TSA agent took me aside, gave me a spiel, which he delivered at high speed so that he was incomprehensible. I said something, and he got offensive. Now bear in mind that he is performing a search with neither warrant nor probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. I had identified the probable cause of the beep, and rather than verifying it, he subjected me to a pat down. He asked me if I hurt anywhere. I said, “I'm 68 years old. Everything hurts.” He then proceeded. He felt a piece of paper in my pants pocket, and demanded to know what it was. I took out a receipt for something or other. When the thug was satisfied, we were allowed to proceed.

Here's a problem, if metal detectors plus wanding are sufficient to prevent problems in Federal buildings, why aren't they sufficient in airports? If they aren't sufficient in airports, then why aren't airport procedures in force in Federal buildings? TSA is a large, inefficient, corrupt bureaucracy that employs thugs who are not bright enough to make it as career criminals. Isn't it time that it was abolished, along with the Department of Homeland Security, and some of the other corrupt, inept, bloated bureaucracies?

*I should note that the Army base was entered by car, not foot, but even so I don't recall an onerous entrance procedure.

Coming up next, famous corpses, poems by the Earl of Rochester, and a fantasy novel.