Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Trip and Fall Down Memory Lane

My friend Boegle, who just recently became a Mommie, and her then boyfriend Jiri, and my then girlfriend Lemur (who also happens to be Jiri's sis), all trekked down to Baja California to witness a full solar eclipse. We did this as a "we're young, let's take a road trip!!!" though I, being the old fart of the bunch, kept drowning out my own enjoyment by worrying about every little thing, while everyone else was doing the whole, "just go with it" mantra. I could never "just go with it". Thanks, Dad.

So, after getting the week off, and desperatly trying to rent a car that would get us all the down to the south tip of Baja (the eclipse was going to be visible there and Hawaii - Baja seemed a tad more of a driveable destination than Maui), we finally set off from San Francisco on a Sunday night, needing to arrive in Baja Sur (in a sprawling burg called La Paz) by early-ish Thursday morning.

Sea-Poop Andersen's
We stopped for a midnight snack at Sea-Poop Andersen's (Pea Soup Andersen's to those not in the know about driving I-5 in California), and eventually arrived at our rest stop in LA at around 3 in the morning, grabbing a couple hours to nap, and then on to the borderlands. San Diego is pretty, early in the morning, unless you're taking a Greyhound Bus across the border*, packing a couple of five-gallon jerry cans for gasoline, just in case the Pemex stations had run out of gas.

The cab ride from Greyhound to Avis was, to put it nicely, utterly terrifying. Everyone else packed into the back seat, and I got to sit next to the driver, who was making his own lanes pretty much everywhere he went. Driving at forty miles an hour between two semis with only inches to spare is an image I will never EVER get out of my head. They could re-package it as a ride at Marriott's Great America and Torture Emporium.

Zucaritas! Con el Tigre Tonio!
So we grabbed a lot of bottled water, and various chip things (can't really remember what we bought - I was still in an adrenaline low after the cab ride), and got the hell out of Tijuana, and off to the desert. However, Zucaritas stuck with me.

The desert in Baja in general has a sameness that shows up as different all the time. Every turned corner does actually reveal something. This is not me trying to be all mythopoetic or something, it just seemed as though we were being constantly surprised. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a chance to stop and smell the sagebrush on our way down, as the clock was against us.

What we did get to smell was the gasoline, leaking out of one of the jerry cans into the back seat.

Santa Rosalia Thing
These things turned out to be a bit of an albatross for us. One, we never ended up needing them. If I remember correctly, we tossed out the leaker after we arrived in Santa Rosalia. Pemex stations were all open and full of gas, and we were only in line once, about halfway between Muleje and Loreto. While waiting in line, we got to have the treat of green corn tamales sold straight from the kettle, by a couple of enterprising young men (like ten and twelve years old, I think). We each bought a couple apiece, and I remember it being redonkerousry cheap.

But I digress. We stopped the first night in Baja in a town called San Quintin, at a place called the Hotel Romo or Romolo. Gotta find the picture I took of it. Couldn't find a restaurant, so we settled for hitting the grocery store across the street.

Out the back door of our motel
Took off early Tuesday morning. Made it all the way down to Loreto, where we spent the night in a lovely motel, two decent sized beds in one room for $23 a night, with our own personal lizard in the shower. We had dinner in the hotel. I remember having some kind of scallop soup which was pretty decent.

Again, early next morning, we left and drove and drove and drove. I think we must have stopped once or twice, because we didn't get into Ciudad ConstituciĆ³n until pretty late, and the only hotel we could find wanted $60 a night (which we thought was outrageous). We'd passed a campground outside of town that was $5 for a chunk of sand to sleep on, and it appeared that's where we'd be that night. We got there and found ourselves surrounded by a gazillion amateur astronomers (mostly Americans). Everyone was keyed up for the eclipse the next morning, but we wanted sleep. Lemur and I hadn't really prepared much beyond sleeping bags, so we slept in the car, which, being a cheap Avis rental in Mexico in '91 was not the most comfortable place to sleep.

Thursday morning, we got up, packed up fast and got on the road. It's about a two and a half hour drive from ConstituciĆ³n to La Paz, and the eclipse was due to start right around 11:30. We got down there with time to spare, had a coconut each, carved green and cold, so we had a nice refreshing drink in the heat of the morning in Baja California, waiting for the sun to go out.

The shadows began to change shape. Sunlight shining through gaps in the leaves went from round to crescent shaped. Everyone rushed to get bathing suits on (except me - I was going to photograph this event no matter who had to die). Soon enough, the moon crept across the face of the sun, and the sun was directly overhead. Within a couple minutes of the beginning of the process, we had what is known as totality: a flaming black ball in the middle of a dark sky, surrounded by stars, with sunset colors ringing the entire horizon, and thousands of people on the beach and out in the water, screaming and banging drums.

Boegle bein' silly at lunch
Of course, the sun came back. It took a while, but it came back. Then we had lunch. Pork tortas with sliced avocado, cilantro and onions.           O    M    G

Then we headed back, pretty much at a slower pace with a few chances to stop along the way to take pictures. I remember one place, where we found a mound of white shells piled up on the side of the road, at a high spot between the coasts. Hundreds of sea urchin shells, hollowed out and heaped as a trash pile.

Other memorable sights included the innumerable crosses by the sides of the road, at least one pretty decent shrine to the good old Virgin Mary, and a few rusted hulks of cars and trucks that had died and been pushed off the road to be slowly scavenged by the local entrepreneurs. One other business that I wish I had gotten a picture of was a tire stand on the side of the road, in the middle of BF nowhere. I'm pretty sure we were at least fifty miles from the nearest town, but then I assume that if it's not paved, it's not a road. I'm sure there must have been someone to pick him up every afternoon.

I don't remember where else we stayed on the way back. I do know that we went faster going home than we did going down. For some reason, the next place I remember us staying at is the beach in Ensenada. Waking up in the morning to have a nice man try to sell us a rug, or several, if we were so inclined.

We weren't.

After that it was a blur getting back across the border. The another blur getting back to the Bay Area. Then an even bigger blur - what the hell have I done since, that was as amazing as that trip?**

* That requires an explanation: cars rented in San Francisco are not insured to travel south of the center line in Baja. Baja Sur requires a whole different kind of insurance, so we decided to drive to SD, bus across the border, find a rental car place in Tijuana, and head south from there. The bus ride was uneventful, though it took us through some neighborhoods that would have to be seen to be believed - houses and fences made out of old car hoods, for example. Wish I'd taken pics of them.

** Maui was actually pretty nice...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Noun on/in/under a Noun

We've had "Snakes on a Plane". Now, there's "Man on a Ledge".

I'm so glad Hollywood has finally found a formula that really works for them. We need to give them a little help, though. I'm sure there are versions of the formula that we could try out, and perhaps even develop plots for them.

"Frog in my Throat"

"Mom in a Meat Factory"

"Furby in a Baby"

I dunno. Just a few ideas. They'll need developing.

I've been hearing more and more about new derivative films being made from TV shows I watched when I was a kid, like Big Valley, and so on. Couldn't possibly be worse than the original, but might, if they try really hard.

By the way:

How to be a Retronaut has wonderful fake posters from the Golden Age of Socially-Conscious Hollywood (i.e., the 70s) that includes such casting concepts as William Shatner and Natalie Wood in Avatar (has to be seen to be believed).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shiva looks up

Shiva looks up
Shiva looks up,
originally uploaded by wireout.
At about four o'clock in the afternoon on Friday, November 25th, my wife and I took our dear little old Shiva to the vet to have her put to sleep. Her kidneys were pretty much gone, and we were told that we could keep her alive a while longer, but she wouldn't have been a happy cat.

I lost my little old lady cat 16 years to the day I brought her home from the vet. She was the most wonderful little psycho angel, who (even with only three legs) terrorized almost every other animal she ever encountered. With humans, she was sweet, purring and generally friendly, though she could turn on you pretty quickly if you bothered her too much.

RG and I will miss her. She has been my best cat friend ever, and I already miss her snuggling into my armpit at night.

So long Shiva. I hope wherever you are is sunny, and the local birds are slow.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stupid Collectibles & SPAM

NOTE: This post was originally titled The Art of Stupid Packaging. I have been receiving SPAM on this as commentary for the last two months, so I assume it's being directed from the Slipcover Collectors website, which is why that link is no longer an active link. Because, you know, I sure wouldn't want folks who think owning slipcovers as a collectible to be mad at me.

Original Post:

So, I'm reading my daily dose of Consumerist to find out the latest in consumer news, since (though I'm opposed to excessive consumption), I buy things sometimes, and I ran across an item where a man is lamenting the fact that he is unable to purchase Blu-ray DVDs with slipcovers at his local Target, since Target discards custom slipcovers in order to cram the Blu-ray packs into the hardshell plastic anti-theft cases they use to display Blu-rays. This seems rather sad to me. The poor fellow goes out every week and buys the new releases, because he collects the slipcovers. Who can he contact at the movie studios or distribution places to tell that, what Target is doing to the Blu-ray packaging, because it's really important -

Wait, what?

He collects DVD slipcovers?

I guess I'm a little dense. Why would you do that? Do you watch the films? Do you realize the cost of buying a limited-edition slipcover is often a $30 movie? How much stupidly disposable income do you have?!?

Sure, I get that the Criterion Editions are often packaged in really interesting covers, and often come with cool booklets and extra information. But who gives a flying fuck about the latest Justin Bieber concert movie slipcover???

It gets better. There's a website: Slipcover Collectors

I understand, this comes under the heading of other people's money, and who cares what these oddballs decide to blow their hard-earned cash on, but still. This is so freaky-weird I don't even know where to start. Well, okay - try the FAQ page. I notice there are no comments at the bottom of the FAQ page. Perhaps I should help...

There's a wonderful book, originally published in Japan in the early sixties, called How To Wrap Five Eggs. It's kind of a sourcebook/inspirational guide to thinking about packaging design. Of course, being Japanese, there's a certain something about it that I find endlessly appealing: the uses of natural materials, especially, but also the eminent practicality of some of the designs: how do you transport 20 small fish to market with a only a short length of rope? You can't bundle them up, as the friction would ruin the look of the fish, destroying any "curb appeal" they might have. Plus, they're slippery. So, you link them together with a series of slip knots, so that each fish has it's own little loop of rope, none touches any of the others, and you can sling the whole thing over your shoulder or over your back. Simple, neat, practical, and looks kinda cool. Of course, the Japanese fisherman doesn't give a hoot about cool, he just wants to sell fish.

But slipcovers? Slipcovers...

You're collecting a mass-produced item, whose sole function is to make you want to buy an expensive movie, 90% of which are crap, where no particular artisanship is required, other than to get you to buy the movie. Most people who buy movies are buying them either because they want to watch the movie over and over again, or because their kids do. The slipcover itself, is, of course, the first line of attack by any marketing person, and it's gotta be a grabber (and I'll admit, the slipcovers for the Alien series of films are pretty arresting). But buying the film so you can own the slipcover for the Denzel Washington/John Travolta version of Taking of Pelham 123 (a trainwreck of a movie, and I'm not taking about actual trains, here), along with the latest Hannah Montana and the Superman Batman Apocalypse video - I'm not sure I understand which medication is required to make these people stop.

It's a hobby, I guess. Beyond that, I don't know what to make of it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

In the Land of Nightmares

Sin City, baby, Lost Wages, yeah, hepcat! Sinatra, Elvis, and...Wayne Newton?

What do you mean it's weird and it sorta sucks?

I understand that Las Vegas is designed to get people walking long distances past rows of slot machines, and that convenience of access and egress is something they've physically designed out of most venues. The non-stop need to persuade you to sit down, put your feet up, have a drink, it's just a nickel to play, is everywhere. Gas stations, hell, gas station bathrooms probably have slot machines over the urinals. Would you get your winnings from the bottom of the latrine, please?

We hassled a bit about where we were going to stay. I was originally interested in the Vdara (if vowels are optional, what else is?), and I was really interested in their rooftop pool - until I started reading about their "rooftop" pool. It's on the roof of the 3rd floor above the valet parking station. That leaves the other thirty or forty floors above the pool to look down on you. It also created an interesting physical effect, and I haven't heard whether it's been fixed yet.

Known as the Vdara Death Ray, it came about as something discussed (then blown past) in the design period: what would the sun do if it hit the huge mirrored surface of a concave hotel shape with a pool at the bottom of the lens? And the answer came back after they opened: singed hair, melted plastic drink cups, and a feeling of being microwaved if you happened to be in the path of the marauding sun. Remember ants under magnifying glasses? Scale it up a bit, and you have the Vdara's pool. They couldn't get the interior surface of the pool to seal, and all the plants died because, while the heat in Vegas isn't as bad as the heat on Venus, it was inadvertently achieved by the Vdara's architects.

So, anyway, we stayed at the Aria, one of the only non-smoking hotels on the Strip. Very pretty, all dark woods and modernist designs, none of the excessive Art Deco or Art Nouveau nonsense of places like the Bellagio (where things can always have extra unnecessary flourishes and gilding, lots and lots of gilding). The TV was controlled by a remote that also managed the lights & curtains (imperfectly), and relations with the hotel staff. One could, theoretically, order every service in the hotel and have it delivered to the room through this console system, except for the actual touch of another human being. If you didn't bring one, and you don't fancy drinking alone in the bars, you'll have to call for take-out from the local hookers. Or you could go out and get a massage at the Spa, though that costs extra, too (though less than a hooker).

We had wanted to see a show, but unfortunately, the shows we wanted to see were all sold out months in advance. You can wait on an interminable line for folks who've decided not to show up, but there are few guarantees of a seat, and no guarantees of two seats together. So we contented ourselves with $5 worth of the nickel slot machines downstairs (which lasted about four minutes), a little eating, and a little shopping, as well as time in the spa. Since the bartender from a local pub helped us find the check-in counter (a mile from our parking space in the free self-park structure), we decided to try the food there. Really good fish & chips and some pretty decent beer.
We spent an hour or maybe a little more in the Aria pool. We were warned against any sort of "rough-housing", like families tend to do when they play in pools, by folks who had already been warned about their rambunctious behavior. Ooooookay. Then there's the folks still wearing sunglasses in the pool. Then there's the one hipster doofus wearing sunglasses AND A HAT in the pool - not a baseball cap, but an actual trilby-type hat. I saw one older lady wearing a very tight bikini that really showed off her mottled, leathery tan. And from probably fifty feet away, and not wearing my glasses, I could tell that the woman in the sparkly white bikini had really big, totally fake boobs. MY EYES!!!

The other restaurant was the Buffet at the Bellagio. As with any buffet, the food was hit or miss. I had some spicy lamb ribs that were tender and amazing, RG had beef short ribs that were equally tender and amazing. I went to the macaroni and cheese bar (a MACARONI AND CHEESE BAR) and had my mac and cheese made to my personal specifications, including fresh crab. The cute thing about this particular buffet is that most of the food is portioned already. When you go for lamb ribs or the beef short ribs, you could pick up as many as you wanted. But almost everything else comes in little ramekins or mini saute pans, just to remind you, "hey, it's a friggin buffet, and you don't want to fill up on starches, now do you?" My largest complaint was with the desserts - does everything that has chocolate also have to contain passion fruit puree? What if someone doesn't like passion fruit?

RG really wanted to visit the Miracle Mile, a shopping mall we could see from our window that is on the other side of the Strip from our hotel. A mile of covered shopping mall covering a single city block, of the over a hundred stores within, we only found a few that we hadn't seen anywhere else. One was the Bettie Page store (with "official" Bettie Page clothes). RG tried on a few pieces, but the sizing was so ludicrously small that nothing fit her. I imagine a Petite at this store fitting, perhaps, a child of seven, but then no child of seven should wear this sort of clothing. We also tried Allsaints, Ltd, a swanky clothing store based out of England. Same thing there. I am not a small person, I am willing to admit I have a weight problem, but when I try on something marked XXL, the one thing I don't expect is for the sleeves to be so tight that I can barely get my elbow past the armhole. Couture sizing: it's all about being six foot three and weighing around 130 pounds. I gave up in disgust pretty quickly. Another was a piercing and tattoo place (where you can get that drunken tattoo experience you'll always regret) where I managed to find a pair of spiky earrings that I've since had to discard (couldn't pass through my kitchen curtain without it grabbing my earlobe). At one point we passed by an enormous fiberglass statue of a stripper. A stripper. Forty feet tall. In a shopping mall with kids. And you may ask yourself, "well, how did I get here?" I'll tell you.

From the Aria check-in counter, take a right out the door, and walk all the way around until you find a staircase leading to street level. When you hit the street, walk across the ambulance entrance (ambulance entrance?!?) and make your way down the narrow sidewalk until you see a sign that has a big "no Pedestrians Past This Point" and an indication to "Cross the Street". Which we did, all six lanes. Then cross another wide intersection, taking you to the back of the base of Crystals, a different high-end shopping mall attached to the Aria. This area is a large concrete pad in front of a black building with Keep Out signs plastered all over the doors, and a woman in a security guard uniform sitting on a folding chair under one of the sparsely-placed lampposts. She seemed to be guarding the back entrance to the lower floors of Crystals, which appear to be unoccupied and/or under construction. Guess it's nice to be employed. From the dark Crystals, walk around towards the street you think you want to cross until you find the staircase that leads to the overhead crossing (pedestrians should never, ever be on sidewalks unless they absolutely have to). Up two flights of steep stairs, across a very long catwalk past at least three different sidewalk buskers, turn right, and cross the Strip from above. By the way, you are now surrounded by hundreds of people. Down the stairs, only to be accosted by guys and gals handing out flyers for hookers by SNAPping them at you. It's an interesting trick to get your attention, but these folks don't seem to realize that the pregnant woman with the stroller probably doesn't want a hooker later. I said "probably"... Then walk through the mall.

We came out into the night, past the Michael Jackson impersonator, the Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp) impersonator, and all manner of costumed freaks hanging out on the street corner, surrounded by people wanting their photos taken with these bizarre apparitions. We walked across the street (again, surrounded by a huge, starchy mass of humanity), to get to the Bellagio. We wandered amongst the beautiful flower gardens and the Chihuly ceiling, past the endless rows of gamblers, past the incoming guests who've just arrived and are trying to find someone helpful while dragging fifty pounds of luggage through groups of chattering girls and hooting, drunken frat-boy types, hoping to be able to rest their weary heads on the front edge of a craps table, really, really soon. RG at this point was certain that if I didn't find my way back to our own hotel soon, I was likely to expire in front of her, and she didn't want to have to drag my sorry ass back through all those crowds. So we looked up on our smart phones, "how do you get from the lobby of the Bellagio to the lobby of the Aria, without the detour to Pyongyang?" The answer was deviously simple: walk to the back of the Bellagio, down a hallway to the lobby of the Vdara, out the front door, and turn left. You will find yourself on the walkway mentioned above that lead to the stairs which lead to the ambulance, Crystals, etc. In other words, a walk that originally took nearly fifty minutes would have taken ten, had we looked it up in advance, rather than relying on the advice of the staff at our hotel. Never trust the staff if you mention that you want to leave their establishment, because that's not something they want you to do for any reason at all.


Various strange sightings:

  • a fellow walking in the revolving doors at the Bellagio yelling "whoop, whoop, whoop" in a sort of howler-monkey yowl. His friends join in. Other people join in. Everyone in the lobby joins in. I SO regretted not having my little recording device here. Even without the zoo atmosphere, the level of jibber-jabber by everyone was astounding. I've been to rock concerts that were quieter. 
  • Standing in line for O, the big water-based Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio (which we didn't get to see), I was watching the poker tables. Mostly young guys wearing shades and trying not to get fleeced by the guys with the massive gold wristwatches. One woman sits down, wearing a loose-but-clingy gold gown that barely covered her various naughty bits, being given a stack of chips by a house elf (hers or the hotels I didn't know). She knew a few of the players already, so I guess she (and they) were fixtures. 
  • When RG and I were playing the slots, I ambled down the line to a slot next door, and noticed the woman on the slot next to me. She's playing a nickel slot, running the maximum bet per play, and she's losing on every single play. The dollar amount on the machine started at $9,956 when I started observing her, and went down into the upper $8,000 mark when I turned away. A thousand dollars or so on a nickel slot machine in a matter of minutes.
  • We did get to see at least one Vegas stereotype walk by. A man wearing black leather pants and jacket, with a black shirt, open almost to his waist, with a gold chain and heavy gold wristwatch, dark skin, very hairy, medium length black hair all gelled out and tousled, probably in his forties. Could have been Arabic, could have been Italian, Spanish, maybe French, but just SO perfect.

We hit the Spa for a couple hours, clothing-optional and gender-separated. I opted for no clothes, since I'd never had that experience. I spent a long, long time in the wooden sauna waiting for the temperature to rise. It was probably hovering around one-fifty, which, for a dry sauna, is actually not that hot. I was the only guy that afternoon who went from being in the hot room to dropping into the cold plunge. Everyone else went from the hot room to the steam room to either hot tubs or the lounge chairs. I kept wondering, don't they know the point of going into the hot room in the first place?

I realize that this post does not appear to be in any sort of order, and that's appropriate. I don't remember terribly well what even happened on which night, though if I put enough effort into it, I could probably figure it out. RG would help, as well - she remembers everything.

Vegas was, to put it nicely, a surreal place in which to spend a lot of money. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking a break in our regularly scheduled programming...

For a funny:

"Windbag prophets reap windfall profits"

From the appropriately titled Ironic Times.

Just thought you should know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rocks and Christians

Back to the big, bad old Bryce Canyon, and the willingness to actually hike down all the way, and then hike back out, hopefully without the need for a helicopter airlift. Down, down, down the Queen's Garden trail, so named for the figure of Queen Victoria formed by a zillion years of slow erosion way up on one of the various parapets of sandstone, down in the depths of the canyon.

Happy Trails
You walk around and occasionally though these massive formations that look both very solid and impossibly balanced, huge chunks of rocks and whole trees with their roots waving pitifully upwards, testifying to the results of the constant, yearly freeze/crack style of erosion these walls go through. One of the trails had fallen off the wall, and the forestry guys were there rebuilding a chunk of trail. Most of the trails have been cut out of existing erosion paths, or are simply an angle carved out of the side of a really big rock, but then they have to buttress them up with concrete and rebar, and I just want to tell them how lucky I think they are, for having such great job security. This place is always falling apart, otherwise no one would come here. So, always fixing, always conditioning, clearing debris, tree bits, building up trail sections that are just as vulnerable to the vagaries of good old-fashioned erosion as all the non-man-made rocks in the park.

The hike down the Queen's Garden trail is a bit precipitous and could use a few more switchbacks, though I'm not sure where they'd put them. You drop down the 320 foot elevation change in the first half mile or so, and I'd say the first hundred feet of that is over in less than a tenth of a mile. In other words - steeeeeep.

Funny, funny shoes
We were stopped repeatedly by folks coming up the other way to ask RG about her shoes. She was wearing her pink FiveFingers hikers, and no one could imagine them being comfortable. I was wearing a pair of hiking shoes I'd bought in case I didn't like my own red FiveFingers, and I was so sorry I hadn't worn my Funnyshoes. I ended up with blisters and RG really only suffered from a sort of general fatigue (from, you know, hiking).

Big damn rocks
So we got to the bottom of the trail, into a kind of cul de sac where the formation that looks like Queen Victoria with her bustle appears high above you (and once someone points it out, it's hard to see anything else). The queen is on the left in this picture.

So we're down here, enjoying the amazing formations, when a fellow walks up with his three sons, and says, "doesn't look like Queen Victoria to me. I think it's a wise man bringing gifts to Jesus."

Not amused
Well, isn't that nice.

The hike out was, at first, no big deal, lots of gentle ups and downs. As we got closer to the base of the main incline, RG and I were both stopping at every switchback to catch our breath, swig a little water. As we went up the final ascent, it wasn't until afterwards that we both admitted to feeling not a little lightheaded, and possibly suffering from tunnel vision at one point. My heart felt like a jackhammer and my lungs were wheezing (to quote Salieri) "like an old rusty squeezebox."

I can't wait to go back and do it again.