Sunday, April 30, 2006


Roll Up For The Mystery Tour, Part Three

Part One is here. Part Two is here.

The next morning, we had a dining experience that was a first for me. Kid S picked us up, and we went to a place called DZ Akins. First of all, the menu is huge. Going to this place made me realize how much I enjoy a good menu. So many choices. Choices of what? I’m glad you asked. DZ Akins is like a New York Deli that’s been transported to southern California. I’ve never been to New York, so I can’t tell you how close it is to the real thing, but it’s pretty dang good, even if they don’t have peanut butter omelets.

Do we even have real delis in California? The impression I’ve always had is that a deli is a sandwich place. I mean, you go to the counter in the supermarket where they sell all the sliced meats and cheeses for you to make sandwiches, and it’s often called the deli counter. So all my life, I’ve thought that delis are places like Subway or Togo’s. DZ Akins is a full service restaurant. I don’t know the exact name for what I had, but it was an omelet with meat and cheese, a heap of fried potatoes, and a bagel and cream cheese. A great breakfast that really got me fueled up for a long day at Sea World.

The first annoying thing about Sea World is the parking lot. As Kid S drove us in, it looked to me like we were waved past a ton of empty spaces and lots, directed by traffic cones, until we got to the lot we were allowed to park in. I’m not saying the parking lot we were stuck in was seriously degraded, but the asphalt pretty much looked like black spray paint on dirt. I thought they had waved us so far into the parking lot to get us closer to the gates. No. I think we were actually sent to the parking lot farthest away from the gates. We had to hurry, or else the water in the dolphin tank might have evaporated.

This whole time, it didn’t seem like there were very many people there. That all changed when we got to the gates. It was jammed. For the casual visitor, you have two options at the gate. You can wait on line while some slow attendant processes every knucklehead in front of you one. at. a. time. It’s almost painful. Or you can go on the Quick Ticket line. That line has a bunch of ATM-like machines, and you can just select the number of tickets and pay with a credit card, all without having to deal with an incompetent cashier. The problem with Quick Ticket is, like with any ATM, the line of average knuckleheads in front of you, all of whom you’re counting on to be better and faster than the cashier who does this all day. We split up. I took the standard line, and Miss Tori and Kid S took the Quick Ticket line. I think someone once said you can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the people. Even standing in line can be fun, if there’s some sort of challenge to it. Who would get their tickets first? (Insert dramatic silent movie pipe organ music here).

They won. The average customer is more efficient than the average cashier at Sea World. Having said all that, even the Quick Ticket line took a long time. Turns out, for the same price as a one day ticket, you could get some sort of passport thing that would get you in the park again for free for the next month or whatever. All you have to do is enter all the same info that you put on the average mortgage application. No wonder it took so long. We don’t need the passport. We’re not going to drive nine hours each way just to go to Sea World for free sometime. But who can resist the idea of getting something for nothing? That’s why it took so long, even in the Quick Ticket line, but I did get a nice ticket with my name printed on it. Then we were off . . .

. . . to the next line. You know, the line with the turnstiles and such, where they actually scan the ticket. This is no ordinary line. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve had my hand scanned for security purposes. After the lousy parking lot and the long wait in the ticket line, here’s another line. They don’t help the effort with clear, well-written instructions either. Nor do they have any customer in mind who is taller than five foot nothing when they placed the machine. The icing on the cake is that the little outline painted there to show where your hand goes has been rubbed away to nothing by the grubby mitts of who knows how many scuzzy people. So I’m all ticked off already, frustrated by all the waiting, and now I’m jamming my hand in somewhere I can’t even see, prodded by the mumbled “Try again, sir” of the attendant. Did I mention that I had picked the wrong line again, and Miss Tori and Kid S were already through and waiting for me on the other side? Hella weak. I finally got through, boiling over with visceral hatred for all things Sea World-ish and vowing that as Poseidon is my witness, I will never visit Sea World again.

Which was kind of sucky for Miss Tori, who knows I can be moodier than a schizophrenic with PMS.* Would I be a grumpy, cry-baby, buzz kill all day? When I’m by myself, this doesn’t matter; I can just seethe and seethe and seethe. But I was actually with other people. As I’m so fond of pointing out to the idiots who get in my way all day every day, “Hello. You’re not alone in the universe. Other people exist.” Other people do exist, and it would be pretty crappy of me to be an all day complainer. That’s why I got this blog. What could cheer me up? Turns out, it was sea lions.

They let you feed them. More specific: they let you buy little paper plates with four or five anchovy type fish on them to throw to the sea lions. Ultimate specificity: It costs about a dollar an anchovy to be allowed to do something that, if they didn’t let you do it, Sea World would have to pay someone to do. I got two plates and joined Miss Tori and Kid S at the railing of the pool. You stand there and look down at them swimming or sunning themselves on rocks, and, frankly, begging like dogs under the Thanksgiving table.

They warn you to cover your plate of fish. They warn you every time you buy one. They warn every person who buys one. What are they warning about? Sea gulls! And when you look up, you might mistake Sea World for Universal Studios and think you’re on a set from The Birds. They’re all over, and they’re not above swooping on in and grabbing a fish off your plate, or even out of your hand, if you hold it in the air too long, trying to decide which sea lion you’re going to give it to. Looking back, it sort of reminded me of Letterman throwing fluorescent bulbs off a roof during a Five Story Drop bit, and acting like he was Zeus hurling lightning bolts at the puny humans below. Who shall I favor with my anchovy? Which pathetic sea lion will be the beneficiary of my godlike altruism? I spent ten dollars and now you beg for my goodwill! Ha Ha HAAAA! Like they cared. I mainly tried to throw to the ones who it seemed like other people were ignoring, or who were too far away for most people to throw to. I’m such a sucker, but I did enjoy the heck out of it and was all cheered up again. Even if a sea gull bounced off my head when he tried to come in on my last anchovy. He didn’t get it, and he didn’t crap on me either. I’ve been crapped on by a bird before though, so I can still tell you that it’s not that great. Unless . . . maybe he did crap on my head, and no one said anything because they were too polite, and I walked around with bird crap on my head all day! It’s . . . it’s too painful to think about. I just can’t go on right now. More Sea World next time.

*It took a couple of days for me to admit to Miss Tori that my real problem was that I was too stupid to figure out the hand scanner, and finally the guy behind me had to explain what I was supposed to do as if I was an ignorant child. So humiliating.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Roll Up For The Mystery Tour, Part Two

Catch the beginning of the Mystery Tour here.

So Kid S has agreed to chauffeur us around town, and we go to the old town area and start wandering around, looking for a place to eat. There is a lot of Spanish history here, and we finally decide to eat at a place that was some sort of fortified mansiony type home. It's a Spanish style, outer walls and an inner courtyard. It's a big place called the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant. I kept calling it the Conquistador, but as a warning to you, I figured you deserve the real name.

The place is beautiful. You can choose to eat indoors, or out in the courtyard. We chose outside where there was plenty of room to accommodate many people. We were seated next to a fountain. There were plants around, colorful tile, it was a treat to look at, everywhere you looked. And then the beauty ended. Service was slow. I had a carne asada burrito, which was not that great. Refried beans were mostly tasteless. Miss Tori and Kid S were equally unimpressed.

This place made a big deal of how organic and eco friendly they were. I’d rather they make a big deal about getting their food to taste good. Then again, I did get to see what an eco friendly men’s room looks like. Not only is the toilet low-flush, the urinal is actually water free. You heard me. Water. Free. Miss Tori points out that I have a habit of mocking things I do not understand (she knows me well), so please feel free to set me straight on the ins and outs of the waterless urinal.

We got out of there, and Kid S apologized for the unfortunate meal, but we were all in on choosing the place. Discussion in the car was about what to do the next day, when Kid S had no class. The choice was made for Sea World. Next time I'll tell you how Sea World infuriated me before I even got into the park, and how I was prevented from ruining the entire day out of spite, thanks to our friends from the briny deep, the noble sea lions.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Fly The Friendly Skies

One thing no airline passenger wants his flight to be, is exciting. Exciting is something like this passenger freakout on a flight from Chicago to Sacramento, Ca. Here's a bit from the Rocky Mountain News:

DENVER - A United Airlines flight from Chicago to Sacramento, Calif., was diverted to Denver International Airport on Friday after a man trying to open an aircraft door and claiming to have a bomb was subdued by passengers, authorities said.

Two F-16 fighter jets from Buckley Air Force Base scrambled to escort the plane as it flew into DIA, according to Lt. Commander Sean Kelly, a spokesman for NORAD.


FBI spokeswoman Monique Kelso said authorities searched the aircraft for explosives and re-screened luggage as well as the passengers before they were allowed to re-board the plane, which left for its original destination at about 7:30 p.m.

Rather matter-of-fact, isn't it? Nothing like this account from a passenger on the plane:

...the next thing I know I hear our flight attendant yelling, "No sir, Stop that Sir!" and then "get away from there"! The passenger in 2D stated he could see that the guy had indeed been able to move the handle on the main exit door all the way over and that he could see the inner door lifting and moving a bit. The flight attendant rushed forward to push back on the door trying to close it. It was at that moment that some pretty cool guys in 1B, 1C stood up grabbed the guy and had him in want I think was considered a choke hold. 1D, another big guy (all 3 men who helped to subdue the man were a good size fortunately) was also helping to hold the guy down.


He was screaming, "I want to die, "I have a camera in my stomach", "Kill Me "and also "We have to save the Country!"


Channel 9 WAS on and the guy in 3D and myself listened to the conversations of the pilot and the Denver airport. It was believed that there might be a bomb threat since the guy was raving about needing his camera and the "camera in his stomach" comments and permission was given to land in Denver under an emergency situation. Apparently two fighters were deployed out of Buckley AFB and were conversing with the pilot in order to figure out exactly what was going on. I suppose it could be said that if the piliot was not communicating sufficiently with the jets, that some sort of action would have been taken. Fortunatly, all was well in the cockpit and the pilots were excellent.

Do you give that crew a raise or a bonus or what? I was completely hooked by this account of very frightening situation. She goes on to describe the debriefing, and gives very high marks to United Airlines for their excellent treatment of the passengers.

Disclaimer: I must also say that I have no idea who this woman is or how accurate her account may be, but it seems to match pretty well with newspaper accounts, at the very least. Or maybe a United PR person posted this anonymous account to make their company look good. I'm taking it as real unless someone shows otherwise

Thanks to Dean for the tip.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Got Everything You Need? Roll Up For The Mystery Tour. (Now With Less Annoying Typos And A Pic!)

I had to get this in under the wire, because there is an urgent warning I must bring to you. According to the stalls in the men's room at the Santa Monica Pier, Something big will be happening on April 20, 2006. Something big other than stoners getting high, I mean. The radicals are going to rise up, man. I didn't copy any of the messages, but one typical missive urged our corporate overlords to stop worrying about making money, and start showing some concern for lives being lost in Iraq. You know, sort of an informal, Luddite version of Daily Kos. But what was I even doing in Santa Monica, which must be 275 or 300 miles from Bunktown?

Miss Tori and I took a few days of vacation to visit Kid S, her little sister who attends a southern California college in a town whose name, when translated, means a whale's vagina. It's science.

We stopped at Santa Monica because Miss Tori's grandfather ran a hamburger stand down there once upon a time, which has since been turned into a bicycle rental stand. It's a sentimental place for her to visit. Plus they had all this cool equipment on the beach: parallel bars, climbing ropes, swinging rings, etc. Naturally, I had to stop and show what I could do. There may be a chance of some photos, but they're on her phone. Also on her phone is a pic of a boy teaching his sister the woman's proper place in the world (I learned of Miss Tori's disenchantment with that particular notion when she sent me the pic with "Degrading 2 Women" in the subject line. Little did she know that there was no way I'd delete anything with a subject like that!). At least, that's the way I interpreted the situation. Miss Tori is not likely to agree, but what can I tell you? I'm in love with a Democrat. Shes in love with a Republican (which means me, you wise guys!), and we're both good enough people that we're able to overlook each other's flaws.

In any event, we continued down south and finally made it to our hotel. An ok drive, somewhere between seven and ten hours. It was a Comfort Inn, and in at least one way, it was actually comfortable. I am a terrible complainer about things. I am an even worse complainer about hotel rooms. However, the one problem I have with practically every hotel I've ever stayed in is the shower. More specifically, I have a problem with the shower head. Ultimate specificity: they're always so low that unless you're one of the Munchkins, you've got to be a contortionist to use them. I'm no NBA player. I'm not freakishly tall, but the vast majority of hotel shower heads are way to low for me.

So give this particular Comfort Inn good marks for shower head placement. The air conditioning was adequate. The TV was adequate. The bed was inadequate. Please tell me, any of the six of you, is there a hotel anywhere that uses actual fitted sheets? When I see a bed on which the bottom sheet is simply laying loose on top of the mattress, all I can think is "Hella weak." I mean, really, what's up with that? Think about it for a moment. A fitted sheet conforms to the surface area, and the depth, of a mattress, and it holds on tight. A non-fitted sheet, if it is to perform similarly, needs much more material to tuck under the mattress on all sides. I don't know why hotels make that choice, but it is annoying. Almost as annoying as the whole shower head thing. What you end up with is a sheet that, if you're lucky, will cover the surface of the bed. The sides? Forget it. Hella weak. I will say that I liked the Do It Blanket. It had a nice color and pattern.

What's a Do It Blanket, you're wondering? Join the club. Kid S came by the hotel to greet us, and it was from her that I got the term. The Do It Blanket (or as I started calling it, the Do Me Blanket) is the bedspread on a hotel bed. It gets the name because apparently people like to have sex on top of the hotel bed and can't take the time to pull back the blankets and sheet and get into the bed. The problem is compounded because hotels rarely wash the bedspread. The end results is a 60 Minutes report, showing just how much human gunk gets left behind on top of the bed. Kid S makes it a practice to remove the Do It Blanket as soon as she gets into a room. Miss Tori and I had no comment.

I see now that Blogger is about to cut out on me, so more later, including the lousiest dinner I've ever had at a beautiful restaurant.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


A Quickie For You

If you're into mastodons, here's an interesting tidbit. Some mastodon skulls show signs of deadly, previously unexplained injuries. The explanation comes from Dr. Daniel Fisher. He demonstrates that the injuries were caused in fights with other mastodons with a short 3D animation of fighting mastodon skulls. Pretty cool. And from Highlights for Children, if you can believe that! The animation is here.

Actual Update: Really, though, they had no idea that the injuries could have come from tusks during fights with other mastodons? I mean, what animal with tusks or antlers doesn't ram them up against others of their kind during spring or whenever. With the exception of Helen Thomas, who is rather long in the tooth. No one wants to ram her.

Actual Update: Thanks to Ace for the link, and to all you AoSHQers stopping by.

Friday, April 07, 2006


Hypothetical Supreme Court Recusals?

So I watched the Pelican Brief recently. If you don't recall the movie, it begins with the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices. Let's step aside from the movie at this point.

What if a Supreme Court justice was murdered in real life? The murderer is caught and goes on trial. Now imagine that after a series of appeals through lower courts, an appeal is made to the Supreme court. Granted, this would take years, but the Supreme Court is not known for rapid turnover. So what happens if all eight justices who served with the victim were still on the court when the appeal finally arrives? If someone in your family is the victim of a murder, isn't the conventional wisdom that you'll be excused from serving on a jury in a murder case? What about justices who worked side by side with the victim, perhaps for years? Do the justices recuse themselves? Then who hears the appeal? Does the process stop at the top of the Circuit Court food chain (and please correct me if I'm off base on the particular court, I mean the highest court you can go to before the Supreme Court)?

Monday, April 03, 2006


What Have I Been Doing All This Time?

Oh my goodness, where do I begin? You may recall the ring business discussed here a while back. I’m always paranoid about jinxing things, but I’m very happy to report to you now that that particular mission has been accomplished. The question has been officially asked, and answered in the affirmative. Yay for me! I guess normally I might just leave it at that, since I’m not as gushy as most people, but I have to tell you a little about the night.

First off, a while back, I hit up a connoisseur for info on some nice places to eat, and wow, did she ever come through. Of course, I had to find the place first. I take that back, first I had to call to make a reservation, and check some other details. With the reservation confirmed, I went ahead and put stage two into action. I can sum up stage two in two words: surprise roses. I picked them up, and I was on my way to the restaurant. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, out in the country, and there are no signs. I stopped at a visitor center/ winery information center to ask for some help, and it turns out the hotel and restaurant were back behind the center. I hustle on inside to drop off the roses. Pay attention guys: when I was making the reservations, the woman on the phone, Evelyn, was more than happy to offer to put the roses in the cooler, and have them brought to the table when dessert came. With the roses delivered, I could head on over to meet Miss Tori.

Fast forward to dinner. Wine and Roses is a beautiful place. It’s not a Denny’s or a Lyon’s or even a Spaghetti Factory. Eating at a place like Wine and Roses is quite a bit like going to a museum. It is housed in a large Victorian style home (well, it seemed Victorian, but I’m no architect), on a beautiful country property. When you walk up to the place, it’s almost like a scene from Bambi. You’re on a winding path around hundred year old trees, while the birds sing you along to the front door.

Inside, we are greeted and soon shown to our table. You won’t find the clanging of dishes and silverware or the loud annoying voices of jerky customers who have either just come from, or soon will be on their way to, a movie theater where they can irritate those patrons as well. Everyone at Wine and Roses speaks as if it was a library. Very quiet, soothing, tones. Candles are on each table, and the dining room is dimly, but warmly lit. Each table also has a single tulip in an art deco vase (but keep in mind I’m also not a florist or an art critic).

Our museum guide, I mean, our waiter, is a man named Kanoah, or maybe it’s Canoah. Either way, it’s Noah, with a “cuh” sound in front. This guy is like the Pavarotti of high class waiters. If I wasn’t already proposing to Miss Tori, I might have asked his voice to marry me. He explains the menu, from which you select what you want from an appetizer section, a soup and salad section, and en entrée section. You should already know, based on what you’ve read so far, that there’s no way I’m going to get the names of this stuff right. However, I shall do my best.

We aren’t so into the wine drinking, which might be a sin in a place with wine in the name, but Kanoah takes it in stride when we ask for water. Tap or bottled? Bottled. Sparkling or still? We take still. But still, Still? I didn’t even know there was a name for that. The one liter bottle arrives, and it is poured for us, just as if we’d ordered wine, although without the cork-sniffing. As the meal goes on, I never do get a chance to pour my own water. There is always someone appearing as if by magic when the level in my glass gets too low.

We place our orders, and the first thing to arrive is the bread. We get three slices each of a regular bread, and some sort of fruity bread with berries in it. The fruity bread is amazing. It’s got just a hint of sweetness, and the little red berries don’t even freak me out. Did I mention that I’m sometimes a fussy eater? A meal at a place like this is a huge risk. Once in a while I might try something new, once in a while. Except for the water, everything here will be something new for me.

After the bread, we have our appetizers. Even the way they plate the food here is a work of art. I almost hated to eat it. Miss Tori had a crab cake on a base of risotto. It looked so good, it was almost a shame to take a fork to it. I had a cheese sample, with honeycomb, candied pecans and a dish of fig paste (I guess) on the side. I had a little disk of cheese A, about the size of a silver dollar and perhaps half an inch thick, a block of cheese B, a soft Danish cheese about 1” x 2” x ¾”, and cheese C, a chunk of some sort of blue cheese about half the size of the Danish cheese. Cheese C was a bit too strong for me, and even though I finished it, it was definitely my least favorite of the three. Dipping chunks of it in honey or fig really helped. Cheese B was good, a good flavor. It also went well with honey and pecans, but could stand alone. I had sampled a small bite of each, and since I had decided that cheese A was my favorite, I had saved it for last. As I used my fork to cut into cheese A, it crumbled into bits. It almost looked like powdered sugar there on the plate. And the taste? Overwhelming, in the best possible sense of the word. I almost couldn’t stand to eat it, it was so good. This was an excellent dish. The sweetness of the honey, fig, and pecans perfectly balanced the flavors of the cheeses.

Miss Tori passed on a soup or salad, so I got to enjoy her pleasant conversation while I ate my soup. It was potato soup, sort of a puree (no chunks of potato floating around in there), that was fairly thick, sprinkled with small cubes of duck and fuji apples. I remembered Kanoah saying there was duck in there, but had forgotten the fuji apples. Here’s how warped I am. At first, I pushed the apple cubes to the side, because they tasted all right, but I wasn’t sure what they were, and that distracted me. Partway through, Kanoah reminded me that it was fuji apples, and then I was more than happy to eat them. I’m weird. I ate all the soup I could, but refrained from using some bread to swab out the bowl. Jack will also be happy to know that I didn’t slurp. Not once. Every time I dipped my spoon, a little Jack popped up on my shoulder saying “You better not slurp that soup, or so help me . . .”

Did I mention that they brought new silverware with each course? Or that Kanoah whipped out some little credit card type thing to sweep away any crumbs from the tablecloth? I’m sure there are some Mr. Howell types out there who are saying “Why Lovey, did you know that at some restaurants, you don’t get fresh silverware with each course, and no one sweeps your crumbs?” On the one hand, I hate you. On the other hand, if you eat like that every night, I am so jealous.

The main course for me was a pork chop and whipped potatoes, and Miss Tori had chicken breast and whipped potatoes. The potatoes aren’t just dumped from some scoop. Imagine a pyramid with a round base instead of a square one. The potatoes were just thick enough to hold their shape as stacked round disks. If I had to guess, I’d almost think they were put on the plate with one of those cake-decorating funnels. The pork chop wasn’t something you’d see at your supermarket. This was a thick hunk of meat, cooked to perfection.

Kanoah took our orders for dessert. Miss Tori had some sort of Bavarian thing. White chocolate brownie, some sort of mousse and strawberry slices. It looked like it was prepared in a mold (like a deep cookie cutter) such that the strawberry slices mase a little fence rising up from the perimeter of the brownie, with the mousse filling the center. It was beautiful to see. I had a chocolate mountain cake, or something like that. A small round chocolate cake, warm, with chocolate syrup inside, a little scoop of ice cream on top, and a wavy amber ribbon of pecan brittle made this as much a work of art as Miss Tori’s dessert. Before we could dig in, Kanoah brought out the roses.

I said “official” proposal earlier because we had talked about this a lot, and I was fortunate enough not to be in doubt about the answer. This night was mainly to have a wonderful evening together and make it a really special event. I took her to pick out her ring. It wasn’t a surprise. The roses were a surprise. I said a bunch of mushy stuff that I won’t torture you with here (does anyone actually enjoy hearing someone else’s mushy love talk?). I put the ring on her finger, told her how much I love her and that I’m the luckiest guy on earth, and would she marry me? She said yes. I got a thumbs up from a nearby table . . . if she said yes. Miss Tori confirmed the affirmative. We ate our desserts, took our roses, and made it to the car just in time, because Miss Tori couldn’t hold back the tears for much longer.

All told, it was a wonderful night, and I would definitely eat at Wine and Roses again. It was definitely worth every penny, and it was a lot of pennies. What did Ferris say after driving the Ferarri? “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”

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