MMVIII.

Dec. 31st, 2008 04:52 pm
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This was .... a hell of a year, really.

I left a job that was slowly killing me even though I had no fallback plan for it. I was more broke than I've ever been, getting by on ramen and peanut butter sandwiches. I put together a spiffy redesign of webmutant and starting shopping my resume around, and now I'm paid quite well at a job I really enjoy.

They turned on the proton beam in the Large Hadron Collider, and the world didn't end. An exploding star halfway across the visible universe became the farthest known object ever visible to the naked eye. The SpaceX Falcon 1 was the first privately-developed spaceship to make orbit, and India launched Chandrayaan-1 to the moon. A woman in Spain became the first person to have a successful trachea transplant with a lab-grown replacement. We found snow, real snow, falling on Mars.

We lost George Carlin. And Gary Gygax and Edmund Hillary and Heath Ledger, Arthur C. Clarke and Forrest J. Ackerman and Stan Winston. And Boeing Surplus.

I had my first migraine. That's a club I was perfectly happy not being a member of,

The Merchants of Deva had to cancel our annual party at Norwescon, thanks to untenable new rules and regulations at the hotel. I joined the committee for Steamcon, and made it to an Orycon for the first time in years; it was pretty laid-back and uneventful, but it was nice to have a room at a con for just me and Ahna for a change.

I started using the jQuery Javascript library, and it finally made coding Javascript fun and easy.

I finally got to go to Florida for Halloween Horror Nights, and I got to take [livejournal.com profile] windbourne with me, and we went to DisneyWorld and Epcot while we were at it. I fell asleep on the plane and woke up to find my fear of flying was suddenly, inexplicably gone.

We saw Avenue Q and Phantom. And I saw English Beat, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, Goldfrapp, Cold War Kids, We Wrote the Book on Connectors, Vixy and Tony and Tricky Pixie (about a million times), and probably some other bands I'm forgetting. David Tennant announced he was leaving Doctor Who. Steven Moffat was tapped to be the new head writer, which I couldn't be happier about.

.... I got published. I have a story in a book, from a real publisher, a real book I can take down off the shelf and hold in my hands. And best of all, it's a Doctor Who book -- I'm finally, really genuinely a part of my favorite thing in the world. A small part, a footnote of a footnote, but still.

I bought myself a completely adorable little laptop. Used it to finish revisions on my fan-film script, write a new story for Halloween, enjoy having wireless Internet access practically everywhere I went, and now I've fried it stone dead. A short in either the power supply or the motherboard, most likely.

I put together lots of props for the Mercury's Doctor Who night, and everyone's amazed and delighted expressions made all the work totally worth it. That same weekend, my condo burst a pipe and had a terrible flood, and I've been living with a bare concrete floor in my dining room ever since.

The price of petroleum hit $100 per barrel for the first time, this year. Gas reached $4.00 a gallon. Our economy tanked, taking everyone else with it, but at least that brought oil crashing back down to $40 a barrel. Seattle was crippled by the most massive snowstorm in years.

I wasted hours and days of my life on someone I thought was one of my best friends, who turned out not to really be a friend at all. It's the first time I've ever had to explicitly tell someone I was done with them, and the first relationship of any kind I've looked back on with the sense that it was all just -- pointless. I let a lot of my other friendships fade during this time, and I wish to God I could just have that time back again.

I donated money to a political campaign for the first time in my life. I watched in horror as John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, the most calculated and cynical and anti-intellectual such choice I've ever seen, and even deeper horror as so many voters seemed to take her seriously. And then Barack Obama was elected, the country finally waking up from one long post-9/11 nightmare of hate and fear and choosing love and hope instead. Barack Obama didn't get the country to just believe in him -- he gave us a chance to believe in ourselves again.

I literally danced in the streets that night, with thousands of people, thousands, who could finally believe in their country again, who were laughing and crying and cheering and everyone was a friend, that night. It felt like we'd won a revolution without ever having to fire a single shot. It was, honestly, the most joyful and meaningful and profound night of my life and I will never forget it, not ever.

We reached the deep minimum of a long solar cycle, but after a slow start, it looks like Solar Cycle 24 is finally beginning. Maybe the future will be a little brighter.

You've been -- interesting, 2008, I'll give you that. Still, I won't be sorry to see you go tonight. Even if you do cling to life for one extra second.

Flight.

Oct. 13th, 2008 01:05 pm
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Been a while since I last posted, a lot going on. Let me try to get you up to speed.

I went to Florida, weekend before last. Did I mention I was going? I can't remember. Anyway, [livejournal.com profile] retcon has been trying for years to get me to fly down to Florida with him, both for Universal Studios Halloween Horror nights, and to visit our friend [livejournal.com profile] lokheed, who moved there a few years ago. This year, there was extra reason to go -- to be there for the last night of Disney World's Pleasure Island. I finally had the money to actually make the trip, and to bring [livejournal.com profile] windbourne with me, too.

(My bosses not only let me go, but gave me a bonus so I'd "have a little spending money for the trip." I'm still boggling over that one.)

Our trip was ten pounds of fun in a five-pound bag. We went on the rides at Universal Studios (everything from the classic Jaws to the new Simpsons ride) and the aforementioned Horror Nights -- multiple different haunted houses on the studio grounds, most of them pretty awesome -- on Friday, Disney World on Saturday, and Epcot on Sunday.

Long-time readers of my journal may recall my disappointment at the fact that the Haunted Mansion was closed on my trip to Disneyland. So this time I went through it twice, once for this trip and once for the missed chance.

Pleasure Island was -- fine, I guess. The line for The Adventurers Club, which everyone had been recommending to me, was ridiculously immense, and so we didn't even make it inside. Riff's favorite dance club there, Mannequins, was actually just too overwhelming for me to take -- the volume, the lights, the crowds -- my ADD-rattled little brain couldn't prioritize the inputs, basically, so Ahna and I left him there to dance, had a late dinner at the Raglan Road Irish Pub, and wandered around a bit.

We had a much better time the next day at Epcot, even though it was a little strange to be there. I haven't been since I was -- thirteen? Fourteen? We started with Spaceship Earth and it's still exclaiming how awesome the future's gonna be, with its spaceships and space stations and everything. Realizing that I was no closer to that day than I was twenty years ago was pretty depressing. I cheered up shortly afterward, but it still left me with kind of a strange feeling.

Thursday and Monday were spent almost entirely on planes. I've been terrified of heights for years, and so was a neurotic wreck on the trip down -- having to immediately look straight ahead and down if I so much as accidentally glanced out the window -- and for most of the trip back. Until one point where I woke up after a short nap, and was facing the window, and just kind of went -- "Huh." I was looking down at clouds and was totally okay with it. I was even able to keep looking out the window during our landing. It's like a switch flipped in my head for no reason. I'm not complaining.
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By this point, I was getting pretty used to the sensation of the roller-coastery fast-ride stuff, and increasingly convinced that they would not, in fact, lead to my untimely demise. So I was actually willing by now to tackle a ride I knew [livejournal.com profile] retcon and [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf had been looking forward to, that I'd been convinced after Space Mountain I wouldn't be able to handle: Thunder Mountain.

I loved it.

This was better. This made sense. I like going fast -- ask any of the passengers of my Happy Blue Fun Truck of Death. What I don't like is being out of control, as was proved to me on an unpredictable inner-tube ride at Wild Waves last summer. But this I could handle -- since I could see the track, I could anticipate what was going to happen, and appropriately lean into the curves, and --

Hell, I'm overanalyzing. It was fast and it was fun. I couldn't believe it, but there it was. (Of course, it terrified the hell out of me each time Riff raised his arms out of the car, and nearly got his hands lopped off at the wrist by some low outcropping of fake rock, but pay it no mind.)

We wandered into Fantasyland. The It's a Small World ride was closed, as we'd heard it would be, and I somehow managed to contain my disappointment. (My fondest wish is to be allowed fifteen minutes in that ride. With a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.)

treebyleaf got another surprise, here. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was still here and in operation -- she'd been certain she'd read that it was years gone, but here it was. Convinced she'd slipped sideways into another timeline, she sheepishly asked if we'd go on it with her, obviously worried we'd think it was too childish -- and of course we went. I "drove" -- the steering wheels do absolutely nothing, but she still didn't want to be behind one. It was fun and cute (and ends, charmingly, with a quick trip to Hell), but the best part of it all was her delight and surprise.

(My only other strong memory of Fantasyland was a dancing Pinnochio puppet in a window. From a distance, I couldn't see how it was done, and for just a split-second I thought -- well, never mind what I thought.)

We wandered briefly through Toon Town, with Riff and I stopping on the way in to pick up a couple of frozen lemonades, not realizing that they really would be frozen -- as in, absolutely-solid, my-tongue-literally-stuck-to-it level frozen. treebyleaf, who had grown up in California and knew that all such vendors keep their little carts cranked down to ludicrous sub-Arctic temperatures, was surprised that we were surprised, and a little annoyed by our complaints.

We found Toon Town pretty missable, actually -- it struck as being for really little little kids -- but I liked the design of it. I particularly liked the flat, forced-perspective "rolling hills" around it all.

We headed back to Adventureland and went on the Safari Boat Ride, which was funny and quaint and charming. treebyleaf was more than a little irritated by the patter from our tour guide -- the "script" has obviously changed a lot over the years, and has abandoned any pretext of telling a story and degenerated into, well, making fun of the ride, really. I can see her point, but I still enjoyed it and thought it was funny.

After that we went on the best ride ever. Indiana Jones.

Even the entrance to this ride is amazing -- a huge, winding archaeological dig. (I heard later that, in peak season, the line through this temple can take well over three hours, but we were able to just breeze right through it.) We got into the Jeep-like ride car and a humorless-looking attendant inspected us with a flashlight to make sure we were wearing our seatbelts. ("Ride Nazis!", I whispered to treebyleaf. The attendant did look a lot like a villain from the first film.)

There are three different paths into the ride -- or rather, I found out later, they convincingly make it look like there are three different paths -- and you have to contend with blowguns, countless skeletons, gouts of flame, a familiar huge rolling rock, aided at various points along the way by a startlingly-convincing audioanimatronic Indy.

Way, way, way cool. (Here's a detailed description of it.)

By this point, it was still early evening. treebyleaf had been right -- despite my fears, one day was going to be plenty of time to spend in the park and still see everything we wanted to see.

We started doubling back to do the things we particularly enjoyed a second time. There were starting to be lines, now, and children, as the after-school evening crowd started to filter in. We hit Thunder Mountain again, and then got right back in line to go around again. Much fun.

We knew the Parade would start soonish, so we started thinking about what we wanted to do with the remaining time until then. We talked about seeing Innoventions, which we'd skipped earlier in Tomorrowland, but it was more out of curiosity than enthusiasm. (I'm glad we decided to give it a miss; Diana tells me it's just more corporate advertising.)

I tried to suggest to Riff and treebyleaf that they go around on Space Mountain again -- I know how much they love the ride, and I was willing to just sit and wait for them -- and they misunderstood me, thought I was suggesting that all three of us go back on it. And they were so happy and delighted and surprised that I would be willing to that I wasn't about to correct them, or even let on that I'd meant otherwise. I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and found that yeah, I was willing. Yeah, I could do this. We hurried back to Tommorowland.

And you know what?

It was great.

And I realized what the difference was, what mistake I'd made -- I shouldn't have gone on it first. Now that I'd become accustomed to the other coasters, now that my body understood what was happening on these rides, I was able to enjoy it.

Notice I don't say, "relax and enjoy it." Check out this picture:


(click on thumbnail for full-sized picture)

Do please note that despite the smile on my face, my fingers have bled deathgrip-white from holding on. Heh.

I came out of there feeling like a million bucks. I live with so much fear all the time. It's always wonderful and amazing to fly right in the face of it, do what I want to despite it.

We headed back to find a place to stand for the parade. The huge Dark Crystal-ripoff sculpture at the entrance to Tomorrowland looked even better at dusk, with lit up rings of neon.

Then there was the Parade itself, which was, well, okay. This was our only real serious unanticipated disappointment of the day -- the direct result of not doing our damn homework. All three of us had been looking forward to seeing the famous Main Street Electrical Parade. We had no idea they didn't do it any more. Sure, we got a Parade, but it wasn't Electrical. There were certainly fun aspects to it -- I particularly remember the Little Mermaid float, because the girl on it was gorgeous and looked and acted much like Ariel, and because they cleverly had her inside a huge bubble (presumably "filled with water," one assumes). But overall, it was kind of underwhelming. I don't even remember if there were fireworks.

(I found out when we got back to Seattle that the Electrical Parade is still done, but has been moved to the California Adventure. Gyp!)

Afterward, we headed back to do the Indiana Jones ride again. treebyleaf noticed this time that the "inscriptions" on the walls were almost readable; I'd noticed myself the first time that they had the regularity and length of English, and surmised that they were just a simple substitution cypher, but hadn't noticed that some of the letters were similar enough to English letters to actually read. treebyleaf noticed that she could read the words better out of the corner of her eye than she could trying to look at them head-on. We managed to pick out a word or two here and there, but that was about it. Pretty neat.

(I found out when I got home that the cypher is called "Mara script". Here's a guide to the inscriptions, including translations, a cypher key, and a downloadable font.)

Diana had told us to go on this ride at least three times, and we soon learned why -- not only did we go through the different "paths," but the dialog we got over our "radio" and from Indy was totally different each time! It's a neat way to keep the experience fresh.

For our third time through, we started to head all the way back up to the start of the "line" again, and then decided not to be silly -- we ducked past a rope barricade and headed back in. A couple of pre-adolescent boys saw us and followed us, which amused the hell out of us -- I guess they figured they could get away with it, too, if the "grown-ups" were doing it. Heh.

We followed Indy with Pirates of the Carribean again, at treebyleaf's request. It was, if anything, even better the second time. I was especially delighted at the end of the ride, by the two parents ahead of us uncertainly saying, "That was kind of scary, wasn't it?" and their little little girl saying brightly "I wanna go around again!" And so they did.

When we went into Pirates, it was still a little light out; the inside of the ride presents a night sky, of course, with fairly convincing clouds; and when we left, it was now actually dark. That felt a little like magic, really.

Our last revisited ride for the evening was the Safari Boat ride. We got a tour guide who was even better than the one we had the first time around, and even treebyleaf had to grudgingly admit he was pretty funny.

Nearly closing time, now, and we started wandering out. treebyleaf had been wanting ice cream, and we stopped at an ice cream parlor in Main Street, but it was crowded, so we went somewhere else. She ended up getting something sweet to drink instead, if I remember right.

We gathered everything from our locker to go home when Riff remembered that we had one last errand -- I'm glad he remembered. We'd promised to pick up a piece of an interconnecting toy Disneyland monorail system for [livejournal.com profile] lokheed. Again, we weren't positive what pieces he already had -- and frankly, we weren't sure we'd found the right toys at all, and the staff was not much help -- but all went well and it turned out to be just what he wanted.

We left the Magic Kingdom and found our way back to the buses. It was one of the best days we'd ever had.

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Please note: The narrative below might possibly be a little disjointed, and I can't guarantee the strictest accuracy. I've talked with [livejournal.com profile] retcon and [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf about the order of things, and our memories are incomplete, and don't quite line up. What you're getting here is history, at this point, and all histories are a little fictionalized, just an attempt to impose linear order onto memories and impressions. I'm not bothered and I hope you're not, either; everything I talk about here happened, just not necessarily in the order I present it. That's all right. I'm talking about Disneyland, so I'm talking about illusions, anyway.)

---

The Disneyland Railroad was a lot more like what I wanted out of Disneyland -- fun and cheerful and just a little bit quaint and dated. It was a great way to get a sense of the scope of the whole park at once as we made our circuit around it.

Our first attraction on our trip delighted and amazed treebyleaf, because she knew it, from the dimmest of memories. She'd remembered absolutely adoring a "Prehistoricland" from her first trip as a very small child, and hadn't been able to find it since -- or find any grown-ups on subsequent trips who even knew what she was talking about. She'd been told, flat-out, that it didn't exist, but here it was, with big audioanimatronic dinosaurs in appropriately garish and volcanic dioramas.

We went all the way around the park, then stayed on past Tomorrowland again so we would end up at Main Street. We had errands to run.

treebyleaf has a co-worker named Selena, a dear, sweet girl going through some hard times lately, who had had one simple request when she heard we were going to Disneyland. She wanted Tigger's autograph. How could we refuse?

First we had to make a trip to the bank so we'd have a little more cash on hand. It's decorated in the same old-fashioned style as the rest of Main Street, and has one of those, uhh, penny-grinding machines. Do you know what I'm talking about? A little device where you put in a penny and it presses it flat and embosses a new design on the front as a keepsake. I'm used to such machines charging fifty cents or more -- but not only was this free, there was some one at the door handing out pennies just for this purpose. (What a great job! Can you imagine? "What do you do for a living?" "I give away pennies.") Very classy.

We stopped at a vendor's booth and looked for something appropriate for Tigger to sign. I believe I was the one who spotted a die-cut postcard shaped like Tigger -- perfect. The girl behind the counter complimented me on my shirt: she hadn't seen one like it. I was wearing, at treebyleaf's request, the Eeyore sweatshirt that Tiktok had bought for me years before, with the collar and sleeves cropped off.

We then set out to find Tigger, which turned out to be very simple -- he was right there in the Main Street area. We waited our turn and handed him the postcard to sign -- when he saw what it was he did an enthusiastic little end-run dance. Definitely the right choice. It's always nice when celebrities are so approachable.

We headed from there towards, uhhh, Adventureland/Frontierland/Critter Country. (I'm afraid those three sections kind of blur together in my mind.) I spotted a booth selling Disneyland cloissone pins, and stopped to pick one up for [livejournal.com profile] artvixn. I'd never heard of these pins before, but they're apparently a huge collecting/trading deal, and Diana had asked me to pick up a Nightmare Before Christmas pin for her. I hemmed and hawed over which one to get, worried that she'd already have whatever one I picked up, but settled on a Sally pin (which I have yet to actually give to her, still, dammit.) I also bought Lock, Shock and Barrel pins for the three of us, -- it's a motif we've used before, even dressing as the characters for Halloween, so it was a natural choice. They're neat pins, with the characters masks actually hinged to reveal the faces below. A little pricey, but worth it.

By this point I was mollified enough to consider another ride. (I'd come all this way, dammit, and I was going to go on the rides if it killed me.) We debated what to go on next -- they wanted to go on Splash Mountain, but I was hesitant. I thought I remembered going on the ride once before, and being wet and miserable. They pointed out to me, though, that I can't possibly have been on it before -- it was built long after my last trip there. (treebyleaf thinks I might be remembering a vaguely similar ride at Knott's Berry Farm, which I admit is possible.)

So off we went, on another roller-coasterish ride, and this time I actually kind of enjoyed it. Turns out that now, being able to see actually helps me be less nervous. Who knew? I did get wet, though, even though Riff had assured me we wouldn't. (Who is the greater fool -- the fool or the fool who follows him?)

I was really intrigued by the ride, and deeply, deeply puzzled as to why they would build a ride themed around Song of the South -- a movie they'd just as soon bury and forget. I came away from the ride really wanting to see it. (I know someone who should be able to hook us up with a showing of a bootleg copy sometime, which I look forward to.)

treebyleaf was actually a little tweaked out by the ride, though -- unpleasant memories of having been on it before with an abusive asshole boyfriend. But she calmed herself down by talking it out with us afterward. I hope the ride will mainly have good associations for her now.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant treebyleaf had always wanted to try -- the Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square. She was a little disappointed by it, actually, but happy to have finally gone. I was quite pleased -- I got fried chicken that I loved. There are so many ways to screw up fried chicken, and I can't remember the last time I actually got some that tasted as good as I thought it would, but this actually did. Magic. There was some neat live music and tap-dancing going on there, too, but it was over too soon.

After lunch, we went to Tarzan's Treehouse -- formerly the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Fortunately, I'd read about this change before we left, and so we were prepared for it. As trepidatious as I was about the change, I have to admit, I was pretty intrigued by the idea of the makeover -- I mean, seriously, who gives a rip about Disney's adaptation of the Swiss Family Robinson anymore? And Tarzan was easily one of Disney's best modern animated films.

I needn't have worried -- they haven't done anything to ruin the charm of the Treehouse. And all the reworking to fit the Tarzan theme is very well done and very evocative of the film.

After that -- a wonderful surprise. I believe treebyleaf spotted this, and I'm so glad she did -- there was an art exhibit about the Haunted Mansion, including production art, early concept sketches, the works. It was great to see, for example, the stretching paintings up close, and get to linger and examine them. (There was also, to go along with their Christmas theme, a bounty of art from Nightmare Before Christmas, as well.) The exhibit was clearly put together with a lot of love for the Mansion, and it almost -- almost -- made up for the Mansion itself being closed.

Our next ride was the classic Pirates of the Carribean, and I was astonished to find that it had as much scale and grandeur as I remembered from when I was a child. I had completely forgotten the fast-ride aspects of it, and the wonderfully creepy voices ("Dead -- men -- tell -- no -- tales!!"), so it was this wonderful mix of just-as-I-remember-it and surprising-and-new.

(For the record -- I am really looking forward to the movie version of Pirates of the Carribean, and am hoping that whatever genius decided to cast Eddie Murphy in the movie version of Haunted Mansion chokes to death on a throatful of maggots. Slowly.)

Next: Thunder and Space

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(After much too long an interlude, our narrative resumes ....)

We woke up early the morning we went to Disneyland. (Possibly too early -- we were tired and hungry and argumentative, but managed to smooth everything over before we actually left the hotel.) [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf's main priority for this trip was that she actually get to spend a whole day, opening until closing, at Disneyland, which she'd never done. Neither had [livejournal.com profile] retcon or I, so we'd both agreed it was a worthwhile goal.

The hotel had given us vouchers for the tram to the park -- the tram was a cute little bus all done up in the style of an old-fashioned train or railcar, all wooden panels and brass fittings. We hadn't even arrived at the park yet and already the air of carefully contrived illusion was creeping out to meet us. There was a moment's confusion -- the hotel hadn't put the date on our vouchers -- but no real trouble. We arrived at the park in this color-coded tram station that reminded me both of airports and of school-bus field trips.

We noticed when we got there that Disney's new theme park, the California Adventure, was in fact directly across from Disneyland proper. I suppose that made sense, but not much. I don't much see the point of the California Adventure -- if you're not from California, why would you care? And if you are from California, why would you care?

As Riff bought our tickets, I kept an eye out for hidden Mickeys -- architectural details meant to suggest the silhouette of Mickey Mouse's head. The ticket booth had Mickey-shaped windows; the cement benches had Mickey-shaped end-caps; there were hidden Mickey's in the metal scrollwork on the gates leading into the park. I also kept an eye out for Walt's apartment, but I didn't remember exactly where to look; all I remembered was just the image I'd read, of Walt standing inside it on opening day, all smiles and tears, looking down at the crowds rolling in.

We stepped onto Main Street and I was stunned at the sharpness of memory I had from when I was there as a child. I didn't really need a map, not for the broad strokes of navigation -- I knew Tomorrowland was that way, Frontierland that way . . . . A lot of the details were new and unfamiliar, but the layout was burned in my brain.

At Riff and treebyleaf's suggestion, we found ourselves some lockers for our jackets and such. I'd intended to just keep mine on me, but when I saw how spacious the lockers were, I decided I was being silly and stowed my jacket away with everything else. The room with the lockers was terribly cute, with faux antique luggage stacks as end-caps for the rows of lockers.

We headed, geeks that we are, straight for Tomorrowland.

---

I'd read with great interest about the Tomorrowland renovation. The idea of it both delights and depresses me.

You see, the Powers that Be at Disneyland have decided that, frankly, they can't keep up with the future -- the actual progress of technology and society quickly makes their predictions look dated, kitschy, and silly. So instead of trying to present the world of the future, they're going for kind of a retro-future look -- presenting the future the way we used to imagine it. Sort of a Jules Verne look.

I grudgingly admit I kind of like this idea -- I do love the whole steampunk thing -- but it really does feel to me kind of like a betrayal of the whole idea of Tomorrowland. It speaks to me deeply about how the whole idea of the American Dream of a better tomorrow is withering and dying. We don't really look to the future, anymore, as a culture. We don't look to rockets and progress to save us. Tomorrowland was always a beacon of that dream, and to me, it feels like that beacon has seriously dimmed.

But I have to admit that what they've done so far looks great. There's a copper-clad color scheme to it all, and at the entrance is a huge spire with whirling spheres and great metal arcs. "They stole that right out of The Dark Crystal," treebyleaf commented with a smile.

The first thing we found in Tomorrowland was Star Tours, their Star Wars-themed ride. We looked at each other -- did we want to go on in? We did, especially when Riff and treebyleaf found out I'd never been on it before. The entrance to the whole thing is great -- it really felt like a Star Wars set. But the ride itself was kind of a let-down -- not the least because the sound never cut in until the ride was almost over. We thought about going back around and going through again, hoping the sound would work this time, but just couldn't work up the enthusiasm for it. We'd seen the whole virtual-reality, immersion ride experience done much better the day before with the Back to the Future ride at Universal, and besides, our love for Star Wars in general had been seriously dampened by Episode I. This ride reminded me a lot of the new trilogy, really -- it had the same sugary, watered-down, for kids only feel to it. We left non-plussed.

Wandering around, we saw someone in a robot costume for Treasure Planet, and there was a little Treasure Planet-themed stage/photo backdrop as well. It was a really, really neat looking costume, and went well with the current look of Tomorrowland, but I just had to wince a little -- I know how badly the movie tanked at the box office, I know that people at Disney lost their jobs over it, and it was a little painful to see the evidence of how they'd obviously pinned greater hopes on it.

After the disappointment of Star Tours, we were ready for something a little more hardcore. We were ready for Space Mountain.

Rollercoasters absolutely terrify me. I have trouble with heights, with the apparent danger. But I fondly remembered Space Mountain from childhood -- as I remembered it, the darkness inside it hid the height and danger and I could just sit back and enjoy the sensation of speed.

Wrong.

The entrance to the whole thing was great. (Have I mentioned that we had no lines to deal with, since we were there in January?) A great space-station docking-area look. Sure, maybe it looked a little dated by now, but it had a certain je ne sais quoi that Star Tours just couldn't match.

We got in the cars. treebyleaf sat next to me. We headed into darkness, up through a neat laser tunnel, and beyond that out into darkness hung with hazy, drifting stars. That's right, I thought, I remember this -- And then the car dropped, and that was my last coherent thought.

I was absolutely terrified. I mean, completely. I managed, I think, somehow, not to have a full-blown anxiety attack, but as the car bumped and rolled and leaned during the turns, I quite honestly wished I could just die right then so I wouldn't have to finish the ride. I walked out of there very quiet and very shaken and with my confidence completely blown. This, I'd thought, was going to be the easy ride. How had my experience of it changed so completely from what I remembered? How was I going to be able to handle any of the other rides if this one had kicked my ass so hard?

I didn't really want to talk about it, and Riff and treebyleaf knew me well enough to not press me, to just leave me alone for a while.

We found something a little more low-key next -- Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. I felt a little strange about the number of movie tie-ins at the park, and even stranger and much more annoyed about the amount of corporate advertising I was seeing -- there had been clumsily Star Wars-themed Fed-Ex ads on the walls on the way out of Star Tours, and now before we could get into HIStA, we had to sit through what basically amounted to a long commercial for Kodak.

It wasn't worth it. I was always fond of the movies this attraction was based on, but this short 3-D film was just, well, kinda dumb.

I can't help but compare it to Adventure Thru Inner Space, which I fondly remembered from my childhood. It's been gone for years, but it dealt with some of the same themes, in a way -- the idea of being miniaturized. But dammit, Adventure Thru Inner Space had a sense of wonder, mystery, and grandeur to it, and was at least vaguely concerned with real science -- I remember walking away from it fascinated and wanting to know more about atomic structure and ice crystals. Even though Honey, I Shrunk the Audience is at least nominally concerned with science and scientists, I can't imagine any child walks away from it enlightened and engaged.

And, well, that was pretty much it for Tomorrowland. Riff and I, who both drive, and treebyleaf, who really doesn't, all had no interest in Autopia. The PeopleMover was gone. There was no Submarine Voyage here in the twenty-first century; no World Premiere CircleVision 360 anymore, no sky-tram. (Not that I'd have been able to get Riff and treebyleaf up in it, but paradoxically, I'd been looking forward to going on the sky tram. No, I can't figure me out, either.) There really wasn't a hell of a lot to Tomorrowland, any more.

A little discouraged, and starting to wonder if I wasn't too old, too fragile, and too jaded for Disneyland, I joined my companions on the Disneyland Railroad, a little train that went around the park. We left Tomorrowland behind -- and everything got better.

Next: The Happiest Place on Earth

Universal.

Jan. 29th, 2003 04:06 pm
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I love Universal Studios. I'd only been once before, and to give you some idea how long ago that had been -- the big new attraction on the tour at the time was a Battlestar Galactica drivethrough. (Don't plan your trip around it, it's not there any more. Heh.)

I love movies, and I'm fascinated by making movies, and by special effects; in some ways, I'd been looking forward to Universal almost more than Disneyland, and it didn't disappoint.

There's a lot more there than I remember, including "Universal City," this whole sprawling complex of shops and restaurants before you even get to Universal Studios itself. We debated briefly about what to do first, but it was no contest -- we had to go on the tour.

Shortly after we'd set foot in the park, we were set upon by a young man with a clipboard who was hungry for our marketing and demographic information, and willing to give us special tour passes to get it. We cheerfully obliged, and walked away with passes that let us board the tour bus early and get the best seats. We handed them to the guard who took them with great sweeping pantomime gestures, making it clear that the passes were more valuable than gold and that he was touched and honored to be in our very presence. It was charming and highly amusing.

The tour itself was great. We got to sit right up front, and the tour guide was chatty and funny and personable. There were all the old favorites I remembered -- the robotic Jaws and the Psycho House; there was the venerable (but new to me) King Kong; there was the sprawling Back Lot with all its famous "buildings" including the Town Square from Back to the Future; and most touchingly, the guide pointed out to us the huge water tank and cyclorama that had been the Edge of the World in The Truman Show.

One part of the tour I remembered well had been revamped and updated: the rotating Ice Cave, with its illusion that the bus, not the walls, is spinning end over end, has been re-themed for The Mummy Returns and is, if anything, even more effective than I remember. (Of course, for me the most terrifying part was when the tour guide sang a couple of lines of the Boating Song from Willy Wonka.)

I don't perfectly remember the order we did things in after that, but I know we saw:

  1. Terminator 2 3-D, which was funny and thrilling. The actress playing our "tour guide" for our visit to Cyberdyne was bitchy, corporate, plastic, perfect, with great comedic timing. The attraction had a neat blend of real actors and filmed 3-D scenes, and was pretty immersive, and then in the finale they pull a neat gag to make it even more immersive. Well worth seeing and a real credit to the source material.
  2. The Mummy Returns walkthrough, sort of a combination of an exhibit of props from the movie and a full-on haunted house. Creepy and fun. The best part was an actor who we thought was a statue leaping out at us toward the very end -- [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf screamed and jumped about a mile.
  3. The Spider-Man Rocks! stage show, which was, well, just as cheesy as it sounds, really -- a stunt-filled mini-musical. [livejournal.com profile] retcon and I thought it was kind of fun and charming. treebyleaf thought it was crap. That said, it was more entertaining than the western-themed stunt show I remember from my last trip.
  4. The Back to the Future ride: I loved this, even as dumbed-down and kid-friendly as I thought it was. Did I say the T2 attraction was "immersive?" I didn't know what the word really meant until I went on this -- with a simple combination of a hydraulically manuevered "car" and a rounded 3-D projection screen that filled our field of vision, they provided a synthetic experience I totally bought into. I was moved to tears by this -- not by any of the content of it, but by the fact that finally, at long last, here was a movie that I wasn't just watching, but that I was transported into. This is what I'd been wanting since I was very, very small.
  5. The special effects demo, which certainly didn't teach me anything new, but was hysterically funny. This is given by two presenters, who played off each other really well. (And the young man of the duo has the best schoolgirl scream I've ever heard.)
  6. Backdraft, which details some of the pyrotechnic effects that went into making the movie, and then leads you into, well, a burning building. Pretty convincing. The demo that had a burst of flame spin into a little tornado shape right in front of our eyes left me jaw-dropped. If our trip to the ocean the day before has let treebyleaf get in touch with her element, this put me in touch with mine.
Universal gave us ample opportunity to get our geek on. Riff and I both found and fell in love with and bought identical Spider-Man T-shirts; kind of hard to describe, the design on the front looks at first almost like some abstract tribal pattern until you realize it's a lit silhouette of Spider-Man in a low crouch. We also found at one of the two(!) surprisingly good comics shops in Universal city a neat little set of cute, almost Lego-like figures of Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface, and I immediately realized we had to buy these for [livejournal.com profile] lokheed; treebyleaf pointed out that he had a birthday fall during our trip, so this was perfect.

We were actually at the park until it closed; we hadn't thought we'd be there the entire day, but that was how it worked out. treebyleaf was exhausted and needed food, so we ate at the Tony Roma's right there in Universal City. We then headed off to Anaheim and found a better hotel to stay in, close to Disneyland.

Next: Disneyland

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Started the day with [livejournal.com profile] retcon and I finally getting the fast-food breakfast we'd been hoping for the day before. (Apparently, it's harder to find a Jack in the Box in rural Oregon than we'd expected. Who knew?)

The weather cleared up as we headed south, just as I'd hoped it would. We saw all kinds of raptors and ravens along the way, and rolling foothills formed by some very different geological processes than those that ruled my home state.

We started seeing signs for fast-food that [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf was familiar with; Carl's Jr. and Del Taco. She told us she definitely wanted to stop at a Del Taco if we found one when she was hungry; and that as much as she'd enjoyed Carl's Jr. as a child, she disagreed with their politics enough to avoid them now.

We stopped for lunch -- nothing exotic, just a JitB -- and then headed up over one last set of hills, a pastel-soft landscape that looked like a matte painting or a model railway even when we were close to it.

Then we descended down into the huge, sprawling, incomprehensible mess that is the Los Angeles freeway system. It wasn't as bad as I remembered it from childhood; that is to say, the other drivers actually signalled occasionally, and even let us change lanes a time or two.

We tried to figure out where to head next. Our basic game plan, at this point, was to stop somewhere roughly near Universal Studios, and then go there first thing in the morning. But right this moment, we were looking for "Los Angeles" -- which we were perfectly aware doesn't really exist. Los Angeles is several smaller burroughs in search of a city, and there wasn't really a downtown to head to.

We drove down roads that were familiar to me only from songs and movies. "All the vampires walking through the valley / Move west down Ventura Boulevard .... " Even though I'd known in my mind that these were all real places, my heart couldn't have been any more surprised if I'd suddenly found myself in Narnia.

I turned on the radio for once, wanting to immerse myself in the local mediascape. Lots of radio stations; more than half of them seemed to be in Spanish.

treebyleaf directed us to Santa Monica, and we parked by the water and headed out to the beach and the pier. I set foot on the soft, still-balmy beach and watched what little there was of a sunset, turned to treebyleaf, smiled and told her, "Please write my folks and throw away my keys." Why, I wondered in that moment, did I live in gray Seattle? Why had I spent so long there?

The pier was gaudy and delightful -- we thought from a distance it had a rollercoaster, but when we got closer, we found it was only a miniature track meant to suggest a rollercoaster. It wasn't a disappointment, only something to laugh about; part of the magic and trickery I expected from L.A.

From there we headed to Hollywood, and found a TraveLodge. The room was fairly small and modestly appointed, and Riff and treebyleaf were both pretty unimpressed by it. I wasn't bothered; I don't expect as much from a hotel as they seem to, just somewhere to lay my head. Although I have to admit that the "Sleepy Bear" cartoon icon motif in their signage, their framed art, and on their bedding creeped the hell out of me.

treebyleaf made us a lovely dinner, chili and salad, and then we set out to explore a little.

We'd seen a great looking record store, Amoeba Music, and we definitely wanted to go check that out, but first, Riff wanted to go to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which was apparently just a couple of blocks away. I whole-heartedly agreed, especially when I found out treebyleaf had never heard of it. We wandered around it, delighted and bouncy and touristy, looking at all the foot- and hand-prints of famous actors, and at the stars embedded in the sidewalk along the street.

Amoeba Music was gorgeous and huge and overwhelming; if my first steps onto the beach at Santa Monica made me want to move to L.A., my first sights of Amoeba made me want to move right into the store. We got there something like fifteen minutes before they closed, so we didn't have much chance to explore the cavernous interior, but it was still great. I bought myself a decent used copy of Placebo's Black Market Music, which I've been wanting to get for months.

We finally headed back to our hotel room and boggled over the brochure we'd found for Universal Studios. We'd been planning on going anyway, but now we were really excited about it -- they had Terminator 2 3-D and the Back to the Future ride, attractions that we thought could only be found at Universal Florida.

We went to sleep happy and excited. We were really here; we were really doing this.

Next: Universal

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We didn't get nearly as early a start as we would have liked; but on the other appendage, we didn't get as late a start as I was afraid we would, either. We packed all our gear and consumables into [livejournal.com profile] retcon's cute li'l Prius and hit the road just in time for it to start raining.

We'd planned a scenic route, down through the Oregon Coast. The trip down to Portland was familiar enough to me, from conventions and visits to Powell's, but after a certain point, I realized I was now farther south than I had been my entire adult life. I was really outside of my box now.

Wending our way west took us through dark, rainy, heavily wooded winding roads. My horror-writer imagination got the best of me here, with the thought that I was in completely unfamiliar territory, and there could be anything behind those thick stands of trees. I never should have watched the goddamm Blair Witch Project.

Dinner was sandwiches [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf made us as we stopped at a closed gas station in a small town just to get shelter from the rain, which was not the most elegant dining venue I've ever experienced, but I have to admit it was kind of fun.

Eventually, while I was half-asleep, we stopped for the night at a hotel that I barely remember. We got an earlier start and made better progress the next day.

The rain continued. I began to worry it would still be raining even when we hit California, and the wardrobe I'd packed would be completely inadequate.

The most exciting moment of the second day for me was when we passed Sixes River and I realized that we were in a little town called Sixes, Oregon. Mind you, I no sooner had time to make that realization and exclaim about it than we were completely through the town. "That -- that was it, wasn't it?" I said sadly, looking around at the unincorporated landscape.

Speaking of which -- there's a lot of it. Most of the areas we drove through were rural ones, and I realized that more of the country is like this than not. It's hard for me to remember in a city of high-speed Internet access and lattes that most of people in the United States spend their days principally concerned with livestock and propane.

The constant rain let up to a light drizzle long enough for us to stop at a lovely stretch of beach -- real beach, with, you know, sand, not like the typical rocky Seattle beach. Sand and ocean stretching huge as the horizon. We stop the car and treebyleaf is out the door and gone. Riff and I, noticing the Caution - Dangerous Undertow sign she's surely missed, bolt after her, calling out, "Don't go in the water!"

She didn't. She didn't need to -- the water came to her. She realized that she might want to get her feet wet so stopped to take off her shoes and socks -- turned away from the ocean and got one shoe and sock off just in time for a wave to come in and splash her. She took off the remaining footwear and put all of it further up on the beach, out of the way of the water -- theoretically -- and went back to play in the surf, since she was already wet. Then a bigger wave came along, washed over her shoes and socks, and nearly carried them out to sea, but we managed to catch them.

Watching her dancing and laughing and playing at the water's edge, I said to Riff, "If she gets pulled in and drowns, I'm never going to talk to her again." "Would we still go to Disneyland?" "Sure, but it'd be kind of a downer of a trip -- go on Space Mountain, drag tree, go on Pirates of the Carribean, drag tree .... "

I came away from this feeling like I understood her better, now. She'd been born here in Oregon, and then taken away to the California desert that nearly killed her. This was where she finally looked right and wild to me, where I finally felt like I could see the deep of her ocean heart.

We ate a little lunch and got back on the road -- tree's shoes and socks were a sandy wet loss. I had to pour water out of them before I could put them in the car. Her pants were soaked as well, and she sat in the backseat and took them off and sat under a blanket. I spread her pants out on my lap, the only place I could think of where they'd be laid out flat near the heater.

Before long, we started seeing roadside readerboards advising us that the highway ahead was closed due to rock slides. Neither the signs nor the highway information radio station mentioned anything about any possible detour, so we stopped to look at a map. There really didn't seem to be a detour; there was one small road, unnamed and unnumbered, that might work, if we could find it, but ....

In the end, Riff reluctantly figured that our only real option was to backtrack a bit, head east across mountainous terrain, and meet up with I-5.

It took up the rest of the day. It was a nightmare. The rain became torrential and fog rolled in. The mountain roads were slippery and winding and all treacherous switchbacks, and sometimes we literally couldn't see the road at all. There were frightening, looming semi-trucks everywhere, and our little car was struggling to make it up the steep grades. It all seemed to go on forever.

Riff was pretty much a nervous wreck when we finally came down out of it. We stopped in the first little town we came to and found a Mexican restaurant that looked appealing. treebyleaf tried to prepare us for the fact that, since we were close to California, Mexican food could be quite different from what we were used to, but it didn't seem terribly strange to me -- just good and fresh and most welcome.

We stopped for the night soon after, far short of our goal, hoping that the next day would be better.

Next: Shangri-L.A.

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Before we could go on our trip, there were a couple of last-minute details to take care of first.

For one thing, what's a road trip without music? I wanted to put together a mix CD for our little adventure. Here's the playlist and cover art:

Lautsprecher - Omnibus
cut.rate.box - Behind The Wheel
Fear Factory - Cars
And One - Deutschmaschine
See Colin Slash - Slut
Iris - Annie, Would I Lie to You
Covenant - Call the Ships to Port
The Crüxshadows - Tears
DJ Quicksilver - Ameno (Era)
Helium Vola - Omnis Mundi Creatura
Lords Of Acid - I Sit On Acid (Remix)
London Suede - Everything Will Flow (Rollo's Dub)
Snake River Conspiracy - Lovesong
Razed in Black - I Want Candy
SPF1000 - Haunted House (Disney Remix)













(I'd almost decided against including that last track, due to my disappointment over not getting to see the Haunted Mansion, but to hell with it -- I'd built the playlist around it, and I felt like it would fall apart without it.)

I burned the disc, tossed it in my CD player, and it didn't work. Burned three more useless copies before calling [livejournal.com profile] retcon for help; we'd recently upgraded my desktop machine, Nailbunny, to run Windows XP, and I figured something had gone horribly wrong. Riff came over to run diagnostics, but it turns out my playlist was just too long -- new CD players, like the one in Riff's car, can handle a disc with nearly 80 minutes of music, but my antiquated little boombox couldn't, is all. The disc was fine. Oooops. He and [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf headed out on other errands.

I finished packing, and [livejournal.com profile] kespernorth arrived to take charge of my keys and my cat. He gave me a ride over to Riff and treebyleaf's apartment, so the three of us could head to Rustycon for Riff's dance. We'd screwed up our scheduling, you see -- our original dates for our trip overlapped the con, so we had to shuffle things so that we'd be leaving the morning after the dance.

If you read my comments after last year's Rustycon, you'll remember some of the problems I had with the con's information design and unhelpful staff. Well, I got almost as bad a runaround for tracking down tape to put up flyers, but I will admit the con's signage has improved -- I could actually find things this year. As a result, I think the dance was a little better attended this year than last year. Seemed like it to me, anyway. Still a little dead, but I don't think there were that many people at the convention overall. Riff did his usual excellent job.

I had a major fashion emergency during the dance -- a tricky little dance maneuver that landed me gracefully on my knees managed to not-so-gracefully tear a huge rip across the back of my new pants. Completely irreparable. Dammit, I liked those pants. I retired to a chair on the edge of the dance floor and explained the situation to treebyleaf, who went and grabbed my jacket so I could tie it around my waist while we went off in search of a more permanent solution, which ended up being the loan of a long black skirt from our friend Alé. Maybe not my typical convention attire, but perfectly workable. Cute, even.

Dance got done around 2:00 AM, if I recall correctly. "So, DJ Retcon, you've just pulled off another successful dance at Rustycon -- what are you going to do next?" "I'm going to Disneyland!"

We went back to their apartment and crashed for the night. (We'd talked about the insane possibility of leaving directly from the con, but it just wasn't an option, not with the dance equipment to deal with.)

Next: Going coastal

icebluenothing: (Default)
When [livejournal.com profile] treebyleaf first mentioned the idea all those months ago, it sounded great to me, even though it sounded like a pipe dream:

How about the three of us save the money we'd spend on Christmas presents and take each other to Disneyland instead?

I didn't really believe we'd pull it off, I don't think, but I watched her save for it all year, and on Christmas day, she found in her stocking my contribution: a single gold coin, a full ounce of solid gold my parents had given me several Christmases before. I'd wanted to spend it on something special, and I couldn't think of anything more appropriate than this -- a gold coin to enter the Magic Kingdom.

---

We didn't plan much for this trip -- since we were headed down by car, we didn't need to bother with airline tickets and hotel reservations.

Just days before we were to leave, I found out a few things that nearly killed my enthusiasm for the trip entirely:

  1. [livejournal.com profile] retcon wanted to do all the driving, since he was nervous about letting anyone else drive his new car;
  2. treebyleaf expected to spend just one day at Disneyland, not two;
  3. and worst of all, the Haunted Mansion was going to be closed while we were there.
In short, lack of planning and discussion turned around and bit me on the ass. That last was a real killer; call me a stereotypical goth if you like, but I'd been almost thinking of this as a trip to the Haunted Mansion, with the rest of Disneyland as a bonus.

So. A bit of soul-searching was in order, but the morning after this news, I woke up feeling relaxed and refreshed, and puzzling over why I'd been so depressed the night before. Of course I still wanted to go.

(Next: Pre-launch)

Home.

Jan. 19th, 2003 11:27 pm
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Ten days and 2,900 miles later, home safe again with a cat on my lap. Details later.

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