Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Falling Fast

Currently Reading: So Sad To Fall In Battle by Kumiko Kakehashi

Well now, it certainly didn't take long for fall to fall did it? I don't know what it's like where you are but here, for the past 2 days it's been nothing but overcast, rain, fog and cold. Now, we're not talking frigid, ice-cold, break out the sky jackets cold, but cold enough. This is more of a November cold and that ugly rainy cold that just sinks down into you deep and leaves you cold long after you've gone back inside.

Still, it's a welcome change from the sweltering heat and it's some much needed water for these parts. We had a dry summer and lost a lot of evergreen trees because of it. Around the apartment complex you can see the big, bare patches where one of the trees failed to make it through the summer and had to be dug out. Maybe they should have run the sprinklers a little more often.

As I mentioned before, CC is out of town until Thursday. Be glad to get her back, that's for sure. Apart from the obvious reasons, there's all the little reasons too, like all the little things she does that I now have to do. No, the apartment isn't falling apart and there aren't any huge piles of garbage hidden anywhere. And for that matter, the bugs haven't taken over the place either. I can manage to keep things going on my own, it just takes a whole lot more work, that's all.

CC and I are on a big Hot Fuzz kick at the moment. Hot Fuzz is a British movie about a cop from London who gets sent out to the country because, well because he's too good and he's making the other cops look bad. It's a comedy by the guys who did Sean of the Dead a few years back. Great stuff. If you get a chance, check them both out. They're on DVD.

Anyway, while I was out wandering yesterday I came across some t-shirts. They didn't have our size so I ordered them online. Then CC found some BETTER t-shirts so I canceled my order and got the ones that she found. We also bid on a few things at eBay including a movie poster and some books.

Mostly this happened because I suggested, last week, that she show the movie to her brother. We figured given his sense of humor he'd really love it and we were right. So while our Hot Fuzz fixation was probably leveling off and sliding back down when CC left for Manila, it got kicked right back up again when she showed it to her brother.

We start the World Series tonight! The Sox and the Rockies. Should be a good series. Or not. Never can tell with the World Series. These guys only played each other a few times during the regular season, not nearly enough to predict how THIS series is going to go. Yes, sports writers will try to convince you that one team will win over the other but they're just guessing. Fortunately for them they've got a 50/50 chance of being right and even if it's CLOSE at the end, they'll look reasonably smart. I'm cheering for the Sox.

Can you believe basketball and hockey are starting up already? The newspaper here is filled with stories about the Memphis Grizzlies and how they're not going to suck NEARLY as much as they sucked last year. Yeah right. I look over the roster and all I can see is one massive amount of suckiness. Looks like they tried to build a team on the cheap and you know how that always turns out. If you're not going to pay for decent talent, you're going to get your butt whipped, which will probably happen again for them this year. Normally I wouldn't mind this sort of thing but in Memphis, if a local sports team sucks, that's all they talk about in the newspaper and on TV. When will the team not suck so much?

Guess that's just another sign of fall. Have to take the bad with the good :-)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Serial Killers

Currently Reading: Dexter In The Dark by Jeff Lindsay

It's Halloween season. Two weeks from now (minus a day) kids will be going door to door asking for candy, all dressed up in their costumes. Some will be really cute, some will be more macho and some (there's always some) will be thrown together and half-assed, just something they did so they could go out with the little kids and try for some candy. Some teenagers these days don't know when to let it go.

Anyway, it's also the night when we watch horror movies and read horror comics and books, all sorts of scary things. It's just what we do this season right? Well, it's what *I* do this season anyway.

With CC out of town until next week, I decided I'd catch up a little on my horror movies. When I went out shopping I hit the cheaper section of the videos and picked up Saw 2 and 3 and American Psycho. I'm really starting to be impressed by Christian Bale. He plays the title character, a psychopath lost in the halcyon days of 80's Wall Street.

Anyway, when you combine that with the books I've been reading lately you start to notice a pretty distinct pattern. I've been reading a lot about psychos and serial killers. Those three movies, not slasher flicks, not monster movies, serial killer movies. And the book I'm reading? The latest in Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series, also about a serial killer. Before that, Fight Club. Not serial killers and maybe not quite psychos but those boys certainly weren't right. Before that, How to Survive a Horror Movie and before THAT was I Am Legend. Must just be something about the Halloween season that does this to me. Something about the change in the weather maybe, some sort of unintended side effect of the rest of the great things that happen in fall. Who knows what comes after this. Slipping into winter, maybe I'll drift to crime fiction. It's not much of a leap from serial killers to just normal crime stuff right? Or maybe back to Sci Fi again. Too early to tell. I'll just go with whatever strikes me as interesting.

Speaking of interesting, nah, actually it's just more boring stuff. Today I spent a decent amount of time working on the truck. Nothing serious is wrong with it mind you, just some routine stuff that hasn't been done in a LONG time. I've got two points to make on this one.

First off, whoever designed the engine for the 1995 Ford Ranger, the 4 cylinder model, was a REAL sadist. Yeah, he'd make the Marquis de Sade proud. It's a 4 cylinder engine which would suggest 4 to 5 plugs right? At least, my last two cars before this worked that way. But the ranger? 8. Yes you read that right, this particular engine has EIGHT plugs. Four of them are easy to get to. Pretty standard stuff though the 4th one is a tight fit, it's doable. The other four, well now you're getting into some pretty weird stuff. I was able to replace the wires on two of them after considerable effort but there was no way in hell I could get the plugs out without taking apart the engine and my general rule on that sort of thing is that I don't take off parts I can't identify. SO, 4 new plugs, 6 wires and a new air filter. The truck is running much better now.

Second, when I pulled the plugs out and saw the condition they were in, I must admit, I was pretty damn surprised the truck was running at ALL. They were the most hideously fouled plugs I have EVER seen. How on earth the engine managed to turn over, how the cylinders fired with those plugs I'll never know.

I've got to admit it, the engine designer may have been a sadist but you know, the engine still works after all this time, even with the crappy plugs so maybe he knew what he was doing after all :-)

Back to work tomorrow I'm afraid. I'll have to do a little ironing too before then. Hate it when CC's out of town. I have to do her chores as well as mine and it doesn't leave me much free time on the weekends. Add to that the fact that I had to fix the truck and you can imagine I didn't have much time for ANYTHING restful. No matter. There's always next week. Besides, CC comes home on the 25th so I won't have to wait much longer :-)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Vacation Part 4: The Slide Shows

And finally, the pictures. First up are the general pictures . . .

Then we have the trip to the Disney parks . . .

And finally, Hollywood baby!

The Vacation Part 3: All The Rest

The bulk of our interesting adventures at Disneyland happened on Wednesday. On Thursday we went to the other park, California Adventure, which is right next door. Over there, they've taken little bits and pieces of things from various parts of California and worked them into a nice theme park. They've also incorporated a lot of the Disney characters so you definitely get the Disney experience.

Thursday was the day for CC to ride all the BIG rides (and for me to watch her do it). Right from the start we headed over to the big roller coaster. Unfortunately it was closed for maintenance at the time so we went over to this other ride where you sit, strapped into your seat, and it just sort of shoots you straight up. You'll get to see video of all this on CC's site. I filmed it all.

Then we wandered over to Grizzly River Run, which is your usual river rapids type ride. Those are SO much fun. The whole area is done up like Norther California, up in the mountains. Sort of gold rush period. They have a band called the Miner 49'ers and CC (along with several other park patrons) got to join in and play washboard for a bit. We have video of that too, you betcha :-)

Naturally we there were more stops to take pictures with Disney characters. This time though, they weren't ALL good guys.

Our next stop was the Aladdin show. Over in the Hollywood part of the park, they have a theater that runs a live-action, Broadway-style show based on Aladdin. I was expecting something a bit corny, a short version of the cartoon maybe, nothing major. DAMN was I wrong. They seriously went all out on this thing with LOTS of special effects and a WHOLE lot of jokes thrown in for the parents. The guy playing the genie was GREAT! I wasn't overly fond of the Robin Williams one in the cartoon because he has a habit of over-doing everything. This guy was more like a toned down Jim Carrey instead. DAMN funny and he had GREAT timing.

From there, it was over to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This one is sort of the opposite of the ride CC went on first. Instead of shooting you up, this one DROPS you. There's an elaborate set-up about with some videos as you walk through it and get into a HUGE elevator. That elevator then takes you up to the drop point and WHOOSH! What's cool about it is that the drops are random. It drops you several times, down, then back up again, then down some more. Those are generated by the computer. It randomly determines how far down, how far back up, so the ride is different every time.

By this time, the roller coaster was running again so CC got on that. Great video there of her being launched, by the way. That's one advantage of me not being able to ride these things. I can camp out along the way and get some good shots :-)

Back to Disneyland for some shopping. We'd pretty much saved our shopping for day 2 so we wouldn't have to carry everything around. It also gave us time to figure out what we'd be buying and it allowed us to check out the California Adventures park to see if they had anything better.

Friday we had more visits with family planned and a trip to Hollywood. Hollywood is a very weird place. It's pretty much exactly as it looks on TV, right down to the very strange characters roaming around dressed like famous people. That's right, you to can have your picture taken with any number of celebrity impersonators. A huge gathering point for them is Grumman's Chinese Theater. MAJOR stop on any LA tour.

Of course the place was packed with people taking pictures of the handprints of famous actors. We took quite a few ourselves in fact. It's great fun to look at. Some of them had such small hands and feet! Bette Davis, for example, her feet are so TINY!

That's pretty much how we ended our vacation. After spending some time in Hollywood, we went out to dinner with CC's aunt then drove back to their house (we spent the night there).

If this last entry seems a bit rushed, well I guess it was a bit. I've still got some things left to do before I head back to work tomorrow and who knows when I'll be able to get back to the blog entry. I wanted to put in as much as I could while the memories are still fresh.

Speaking of which, I hope you enjoyed our little trip because I'm sure you'll be hearing about it for quite a while. We had so much fun and there are so many little stories to tell that there's no way to fit them all in just a few blog entries. I'm sure something will happen along the way and we'll suddenly remember something that happened on our trip. Hope we don't bore you too much :-)

Just one more blog entry to follow I think. I'm putting together a few slide shows so you can see the shots that DIDN'T make it into the blog entries. Enjoy!

The Vacation Part 2: Disneyland

According to my wife, a visit to Disneyland is every American's birthright. Now, I don't recall anything about Disneyland being in the Constitution, so I'm not so sure it's actually a RIGHT. I can say that it's one place everyone should go to at least once, no matter how old you are. Unless, of course, you can't check your adulthood at the door. That's the one big rule for Disneyland, you check your coolness at the door. In fact there's a sign right past the gate that says pretty much that exact same thing. And you know what? Most people follow that simple rule. I can't tell you how many people I saw wandering the park, big guys with tattoos and NASCAR t-shirts, goth girls with multiple piercings, people from all over the planet, all wearing Mickey ears or Jack Sparrow hair. Disneyland SO rocks!

First thing that happens to us, as we hit the park, I lose my wife to a dog. We stopped at City Hall (which is where guest services is housed) to pick up a little device that would close caption the rides. We're crossing the center of the little plaza at the end of Main Street, looking at our maps trying to figure out where to go first when suddenly I hear, "OH MY GOD!" and VOOM! My wife is gone. I didn't even see where she'd rushed off to at first but after a cursory scan of the area it was pretty obvious. Yes, that's right, Pluto was making the rounds and she dropped everything to go get a picture. I caught up to her just as she was getting to the front of the crowd he had drawn.

What CC REALLY wanted to see, more than anything else, was the Haunted Mansion. We'd seen it on TV on one of the travel shows. They did a special about all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes and the special effects were really cool. Me, I wanted to take things a little slow, work our way up Main Street, look in the shops, that sort of thing, but it got pretty obvious pretty early that CC wanted to do the Haunted Mansion NOW :-) We plotted the fastest way to get there and off we went.

Now, the whole park is done up for Halloween and that means a lot of the rides are also done up for Halloween. The Haunted Mansion, for example, had been redone in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme. This made things kinda funny because instead of being dressed up as a haunted mansion, it's dressed up in a sort of mixed up Christmas-Halloween. All the characters from the movie were there, of course, and they even re-recorded the audio to match (which made the captions pretty useless but also interesting in that I sort of got both versions).

From there, since we were in the general area, we hit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which was pretty cool. They've redone that one a little bit as well to match the movie. They've put in several animatronic Johnny Depps and they've got a pretty cool Davey Jones in there projected onto a wall of fog that you pass through. WAY cool ride.

Now, one joke that we kept making, and probably shouldn't was the New Orleans joke. See, they have one area set up like New Orleans. That's where Pirates and the Haunted Mansion are, along with lots of little shops and places to eat. We kept joking that at certain times of the day, the protective dikes that hold the water in the main pool will break to give you that REALLY authentic New Orleans experience. Yes, I know, bad taste but we couldn't help it. Besides, we didn't say it loud enough for anyone to HEAR us :-)

The rest of our first day at Disneyland was a mix of character photo shoots and CC on roller coasters. Me, I don't go on them anymore because after the surgery to correct my hearing, I'm WAY more prone to motion sickness and vertigo from the more extreme rides. But that didn't keep me from filming CC while she went on them. She's got the video on her hard drive and will post it later, I'm sure.

Towards the end of day 1, we made our way over to Tomorrow land just in time to catch something on the schedule called Jedi Training Academy. Now, I was a bit skeptical at first, but I thought it might be kinda fun to see what they do. Little did I know that it would turn out to be a MAJOR highlight of our day.

CC has the video on her site so make sure you go over there and check it out. There's a little stage there and the kids all gather around that. The music comes up and the Jedi come out. They ask for volunteers and you should SEE the kids go nuts, jumping up and down for this one. The kids that get picked come forward and are given a Jedi robe and training light saber to use then they're taught a series of moves as part of their Jedi training. At that point stormtroopers come in! Then Darth Vader! Then Darth Maul! Ok now we've got a problem. Jedi to the rescue!

The kids line up and take turns going through their newly learned Jedi moves, fighting either Darth Vader or Darth Maul depending on where they're lined up. Oh it's a REAL hoot. Imagine, you've got your 3 foot tall kid holding a little plastic light saber standing in front of 6 foot something Darth Vader. All the while the head Jedi is making some REALLY funny remarks. We know these are funny because at one point he uses the Jedi Mind Trick to tell us that we'll find all his jokes funny.

Let me tell you, if I was still a kid, I'd be right down there in front jumping up and down with the rest of them. That looked like SO much fun. And, in the end, you get a little certificate saying you've been to the Jedi Training Academy! How cool is THAT!

At that point, CC and I were both dragging a bit. We went through an exhibit on high tech things that either will be coming out or are already out. They had all sorts of little displays, like one where you stand on a scale and it tells you how much you'd weigh on every planet in the solar system. That was pretty cool. That's where we got the shots of us in the space suits. Everyone in front of us was doing it all BORING so we spiced things up a bit. Here's me playing the role of the guy who makes the really awesome discovery right before he gets ripped apart by aliens or blown up in an explosion or something. You know this guy. In the movie he's usually the guy who fixes everything and has his hat on backwards.

We wandered around the shops for the rest of the day and watched the parade that night. Then we joined the throngs of people heading for the parking garage. There's WAY too much to do at Disney to cover the whole park in just one day, which is why we set aside TWO days for our visit :-)

The Vacation Part 1: The Arrival

It all started with me being out of uniform. What's that you say? You didn't know there was a uniform for vacation travel? Oh yes, especially when you travel during the week, first flight out of the day. You see, that's when most of your business travelers are out and about and there is a specific male uniform that you wear. Starting at the bottom, brown or black shoes to go with khaki pants (gray pants are acceptable if they are light gray). Moving along you should wear a blue shirt, freshly ironed. Color blue is the choice of the wearer. Over the shirt, dark blue sports coat. Yellow tie optional. I forgot to wear my sports coat.

It was a pretty amazing sight there at the airport that morning. There must have been hundreds of them, all walking around with their carry-ons and brief cases. They all matched. Most of them carried a styrofoam cup of coffee and had the Wall Street Journal tucked under one arm. Those in lower management had USA Today under their arm. Salesmen had either Sports Illustrated or a copy of the local paper.

We boarded the plane and crawled into our seats. Coach. Oh yes, how fondly I remember coach from my last flight. You know, the seat on the plane in coach is actually smaller than the seats in the waiting area at the gate. The ones in the waiting area probably recline further too.

Nothing eventful happened to us though. There was a pug in the row behind us. Never heard a peep out of it. We spent the 4 hours just reading and dozing and playing video games. At one point CC borrowed my PDA to listen to some music but that's it.

And so we reached LA. Exiting the gate in LA is quite a bit like walking into a shopping mall. Apparently that's how they've chosen to decorate the airport there, at least at the level where the gates are. Must make people feel more comfortable before they fly. It's just another trip to the mall, no big deal.

Anyway, out of the gate, through the airport to grab our one suitcase and out to wait for the shuttle. Our rental car agency operates out of the Radisson hotel by the airport so we hopped the shuttle to the hotel and picked up our car. That's it right there, a PT Cruiser with the touring package. I have no idea what's included in the touring package but I do know that it was pretty comfortable and got great gas mileage. Over the course of our whole vacation we only used up 3/4 of a tank.

We arrived pretty early in the day so we had quite a bit of time to kill before anyone expected us. Tuesday night we were staying with CC's grand aunt Lola Baby somewhere in the suburbs but we weren't expected until later. So what to do with the free time? First we had lunch. Our flight didn't offer lunch to those of us stuck in cattle class. Best we could do was a snack box for a few bucks. So we drove around the airport area until we came across a Boston Market and had lunch.

We then decided that since I hadn't seen the beach from the ground in YEARS, we'd drive towards the ocean and see if we could find our way to the beach. At the time, our GPS had yet to figure out just where we were so we did all this by map. Not bad when you consider that I've never been to LA before and CC hadn't driven there.

Anyway, we found ourselves at Venice Beach. You've seen it on TV, it's a notoriously weird place that's supposed to be filled with all sorts of colorful characters, assorted beach bunnies, muscle men, etc.

I can say for certain that it was filled with colorful characters. Granted there weren't as many of them as you see on TV but I took that to be because we arrived early and on a Tuesday. And while we did see a few surfers out there, the place was pretty much free of beach bunnies and muscle men. I guess they import them for special occasions or something. Or maybe they're only available on the weekends.

All that aside, it was a very nice beach and we enjoyed walking in the surf and feeling the sand between our toes. At one point I wandered out a little TOO far though and the water went a LITTLE deeper than I had planned. Not that it really mattered. By the time we got back to the car I was pretty much dry anyway. We were hoping to make it back later in the week but we just ran out of time. No big deal though. I'm sure Venice Beach will be around a while.

Then we hit the highway. You know how they always show scenes of LA traffic on TV? You know how it's always REALLY bad? You know what? They aren't just doing that for TV. LA traffic is HORRIBLE. We left the beach early, around 2 or so and by 2:30 we were stuck in traffic. On the plus side, I have to hand it to them, traffic was actually MOVING but still, it's been a LONG time since I had to share the road with that many other people.

About an hour or so later we managed to reach the suburbs and get to where we were staying. It was a great house up in the hills. Pool, hot tub, you name it, they had it. Not that we had time for any of that of course. It was very nice of them to let us stay though and it did save us a bit on hotel expenses and food and so forth. And given the prices of everything along the way, trust me, any time you can cut costs on a vacation like this it's good :-)

I noticed something kinda funny though during our stay. You know that show J.A.G.? It used to run on CBS a while back and now they show it on USA in the mornings. Well, apparently that show is in CC's blood because her family out there in LA watches it too. I figure given the different personalities, taste in TV and movies, different locations, it HAS to be something in the blood :-)

After dinner and chatting it was off to bed for us. We'd had a busy day and another busy day was in store for us. Tuesday we arrived in LA but Wednesday we were going to Disneyland!