Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Long weekend in Los Angeles

Last week I spent 4 days in Los Angeles visiting friends and extended family. I flew in late Wednesday night and had a generally grumpy day turn into a truly magical evening. My dear friend Annie picked me up at the airport (yeah Glendale!) and we wound our way to her Swiss chalet complex in West Hollywood where her delightful roommates and a friend of mine I had not seen in 10 years awaited us. Here is that complex is by daylight:

Back to the waiting friend: I had heard hide nor hair of Jamie Grace, one of three people with whom I connected emotionally during my single year at Loyola Marymount in LA, since the last day I saw her in May 2001. A few months ago she found my blog and left a comment, prompting me to e-stalk her, get in contact, and arrange for this very fortuitous meeting in WeHo (yes, people really call it that). We convened around 11 and what I thought would be an hour of chit-chat turned into 4 hours of fascinating, often deep conversation and debate. Even at 3 am we were still lively but everyone had to be up early so we forced ourselves to bed. J.G. stayed over too, and I was especially grateful for the chance to catch up on her and the fantastic things she’s done with the last decade of her life.

I had originally wanted to get to Disneyland right when it opened at 9 am, but we decided fighting traffic wouldn’t be worth it and let ourselves sleep in a bit. After a nice morning of tea and more catching up, Annie and I were underway by 10. Traffic was pretty light and parking was a breeze – hardly any cars in line! We got on the tram to the park at 11:00, exchanged the vouchers my friend Taylor generously gave us for two park-hopper tickets, took our picture with the Mickey flowers, and entered my favorite childhood destination.

I had never been to the park with anyone except my family and we all have a very strong association between Disney and familial bliss. But Annie was the perfect Disney partner, letting me be totally bossy about what we were going to do. I had never been there any time except August (the month of our annual family vacation to visit family in LA) and I was grateful that I had booked my trip for the first week in March before spring break started. The parks were virtually empty! Within our first hour we had been on Space Mountain, ridden the Matterhorn Bobsleds, and seen Captain Eo - a hilarious though badly-aged 3D adventure starring Michael Jackson and directed by George Lucas from 1986 that they resurrected after MJ’s death.

Normally any one of those would have had an hour-long line – at least –so I was giddy. I had downloaded an iPhone application that tells you ride wait times and we checked it all day, with me frequently exclaiming things like, “Only five minutes to get on Pirates of the Caribbean??” We didn’t get a single fast pass because the two lines started at the exact same place.

In Disney we also did, in this order: Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (usually there is an inexplicably long line for this), Big Thunder Mountain, paused for a soup bread bowl and churro, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and the Jungle Book cruise. Then we crossed over to California Adventure. I hadn’t been there since it opened 10 years ago and I got to go to a preview day for free as a member of the press when I worked on the newspaper at LMU. We started with Soarin’ over California (so, so cool), then got really wet on the water ride. Luckily it was a beautiful day and a few minutes in the sun had dried us off. We then waited in the longest line all day for the Toy Story ride, which admittedly was one of the most fun things we did all day. It’s like a video game! We were in stitches laughing. We followed that up with Screamin’, a killer roller coaster, and then walked through the animation studios which I remembered being cooler 10 years ago.

Our last stop in CA was the Tower of Terror. My least favorite sensation in the world is that of losing your stomach, and it seemed to me that an elevator ride that dropped you over and over would pretty much be that feeling, over and over. But, both my mom and sister insisted I do and I knew I’d never live it down if I didn’t. The line for the ride is really cool and sets the mood beautifully – the premise is a Twilight Zone episode in which you’re in the classic Hollywood era at a fancy hotel. The normal elevator is broken, so you have to take the freight, which some years ago during a lightning storm caused its occupants to disappear. I made friends with a 7 year old girl (who had been going on it since she was 4!) and her mom who didn’t particularly like the ride but was cool enough to take her daughter every year. The four of us rode together and our “elevator operator” could not have been more perfect for the role: bombshell ‘50s blonde with a deep voice and a wry sense of humor. The doors closed, Annie’s hand clamped down on my thigh, and up we went, slooowly. The ride is different each time so you never know how high you’ll go or how many times they’ll raise you back up and drop you again. When you get to the very top they open the doors so you can look out on the landscape, which was very cool. Actually, the whole ride was really cool! Since they actually push you down and don’t just drop you, I didn’t have that horrid weightless stomach-loss feeling and I would admit that it was probably my favorite ride all day. Here is the picture they took of us at the top:

If we had had more time we would have ridden Tower of Terror again, but I wanted to get back to Disney to ride the Storybook boat at night so back across the parks we went. As we were entering Disneyland again, something happened which has never happened to me before in the 18 visits I’ve made to the park. There, just as we walked in, stood the mouse himself: Mickey, with nary a crowd to be seen around him. I stopped dead in my tracks and stammered, “It’s… it’s Mickey. Look. Mickey. Mickey Mouse.” Of course we got a picture with him, and I don’t even care how bad it is – it’s freakin’ Mickey Mouse! He never just strolls around the park on his own. Usually you have to stand in line to see him in Toon Town which, let’s face it, who does that? Someone told me that he’s only ever out at one park in the world at a time. If that’s true it makes the sighting that much more rare and awesome.

From there we went to Storybook which gives me the warm fuzzies from a childhood of idolizing the boat guides, beautiful women in long dresses who would sometimes let me sit on the bow of the boat with them. I almost regret riding it, because although it is as cute as I remembered, the costumes have changed, our guide was shrill, there were fat people in the boat (since it was built in the ’50s when people were smaller, it breaks all the time because we’ve gotten so fat, which made me very protective of the little boat), and someone took probably 100 flash photos in the 4 minutes we were on the water. Ah, well.

After that we also rode Pinocchio because there was no line. Those kids rides really have terrifying imagery! By then the park was closing down so we strolled down Main street, choosing to enjoy the shops rather than hurry back across to see the light show at California Adventure, which we didn’t even have seats for so the likelihood of seeing much was slim. We got a caramel apple and flattened some pennies, then boarded the tram and drove happily away from the happiest place on earth.

Annie dropped me off in Glendale at my Gramma’s house around 10 pm. I slept like the dead in a very cozy bed and woke up to her smiling face and a nice cup of coffee. Being in that house is another cherished childhood memory, and I’m grateful that so much has stayed the same. Gramma sends everyone a daily update and for the last several months has been writing her life history for us to enjoy. It’s been so interesting that I wanted to do something with it, so we spent the morning going through old photo albums filled with incredible pictures and documents. She very trustingly let me borrow them so I can make digital copies and hopefully turn it into a book with her memoirs for the family to have. It was so interesting talking about all of that history that when she asked if I wanted breakfast, I looked at my watch and it was after noon. So we got dressed for lunch instead, hitting up a sweet tea house in Glendale called Favorite Place where the owners know her and gifted us two delectable red velvet cupcakes for dessert.

After that we drove to Forest Lawn memorial park in Glendale where there is a small but interesting museum. Apparently in the building next door there is the largest painting of the last supper in the world, but we missed the viewing time and instead focused on the stain glass exhibit in the museum, which was quite a sight. Some of them were as old as the 12th century. We also toured the sculpture room, where I was stunned to come face-to-face with a Moai from Easter island. You very, very rarely see these outside of Chile and I was mesmerized for some minutes in front of it.

By the time we got back to the house it was time for my aunt Sandy to pick me up. She was in the area and agreed to collect me so my cousin Lana didn’t have to make the brutal round trip in Friday afternoon traffic. The hour flew by as we caught up, and we had a glass of wine at their beautiful house in Malibu before Lana whisked me away to Santa Monica for dinner at a “hipster Chinese restaurant” with more family members (Lana’s husband Karl; her sister/my cousin Lauren and her fiancĂ© Nick) and some of their friends. You can bring your own wine which was cool, and the food was great – a high compliment from someone who worked in Seattle’s International District for years and knows her Chinese cuisine! After that we hit a few bars but didn’t stay out too late.

The next morning while Karl went surfing, Lana and I had a nice fruit, granola, and Greek yogurt breakfast and then went on a hike in nearby Temescal Canyon. It was so close we were able to walk to it. The hike was perfect, just the right level of difficulty so we were sweating but could still maintain a conversation. The views from the top were impressive, though Lana lamented that it wasn’t more clear over the ocean. I didn't take a camera with me but I borrowed this from Google (thanks, Alan Fogelquist):

On our way back we stopped for lunch at a happening café called Vida. There are always famous people out and about in Pacific Palisades so I was disappointed that all we saw was someone from The Hills, and definitely not someone I recognized.

We took quick showers and then were on our way to her sister/my cousin Larissa and her husband Justin’s house for a family party. They recently had an adorable baby girl and I managed to hold her for a few minutes before she was stolen from me. Between my aunts and Gramma it was hard getting a piece of her.

My extended family is huge – my grandparents had 4 kids and each of them had 3 or 4 kids. Plus, it’s only bigger now that my cousins are getting married and having their own kids. Even with my family and another family missing from the fray, there were still close to 20 people there. It was so great to catch up with everyone, and Annie came to meet the troops. Dinner was delicious - lasagna followed by chocolate ganache cake – and the last of us didn’t leave until 10 pm we were having such a ball.

I spent that night at Gramma’s again and on Sunday Annie came over for lunch (she wins for putting in so much effort to see me). After that she had a movie shoot and Gramma and I went to Descanso gardens, a sort of botanical garden meets arboretum. The camellias, cherry trees, and lilacs were in bloom and it was another beautiful day.

We sat for awhile in the Japanese garden and then checked out a camellia competition. Hundreds of blooms were on display, and we puzzled over what made one a first-prize bloom versus the second-prize next to it, and wondered what the different categories meant. It’s fascinating to think about people creating their own camellia strains and entering them into competitions.

From there we visited Gramma’s mom, brother, and my Grandpa, who rest in peace on a beautiful hill in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. We went on March 13, and March 15 would have been Grandpa’s 91st birthday. (Happy birthday, Grandpa!)

We had to go straight to the airport from there, wrapping up my action-packed four days in Los Angeles. I wish I had more time but I fit a lot in and it was really wonderful to spend so much time with Gramma and to see as many people as I could.


jrteacherlady said...

WOW what a retelling!!! I have to say I LOVE Disneyland as much as you:) I can't wait to see the digital books you make of Gramma's albums...

AmberAnda said...

Sounds like an awesome trip! I can't believe you packed so much into a few days!