September 17, 2002
I’ve been on vacation. Now, I’m struggling with getting back into my normal routine. Nine days away— from my laptop, from customer calls, from e-mail and forums and online journals, from NPR and Newsweek and the rest of the media— was enough to get pretty out of touch. Getting away from it all is one of the reasons to go on vacation, so from that perspective it was a good trip, but man, the reentry is painful. Having spent only a few minutes on keyboards all of last week, I seem to have lost my stamina for clicking and mousing and focusing on the little black characters on the big white screen. It’s easier today than it was yesterday, but I still want to be back outside in the sunshine. Well, I get overheated pretty easily, so let’s make that back outside in the shade, with a good view of the sunshine and a nice breeze blowing over me.
Last week, I got plenty of sunshine and breezes and views of the world not bounded by the putty beige or charcoal gray of a computer monitor. Mr. Karen and I flew into LAX and hopped into the rental car and headed off to experience Southern California. We did some of the same things we’d done on earlier trips and tried some new things, too. Our first stop was lunch at a little Italian restaurant close enough to the ocean that there was a steady stream of barefooted surfers walking by on the sidewalk out front, suited up in neoprene and carrying their boards. Since one of the reasons to travel is to do things one can’t do at home, we try to eat at non-chain restaurants we we’re on vacation, or at least eat at chains that haven’t reached our area yet. Fish burritos? Nope, Taco Bell doesn’t have those, but the Mexican place at the food court in the mall in Escondido did. Of course, there are times when we’re just trying to get from one place to another and opt for the ease of the familiar. On my drive home from the customer the night before we left on vacation, grabbing dinner at Subway was definitely the way to go. It was late; I was tired, and I had stuff to do after I got home, so ordering from a menu I knew was the most efficient way to fuel up and get back on the road.
We spent the first few days of our vacation in San Diego. I wanted to see the animals most of all, and we ended up going to both the Wild Animal Park and the World-Famous San Diego Zoo (that’s evidently its official name, plastered over the entrance and on the maps and signs) on consecutive days. They were just like I’d seen on Animal Planet. We did get to see the pandas, but I my favorites were the capybaras (for once I got to see one do something other than sit placidly), the young red river hogs, and the takins. Other San Diego stops included a short harbor cruise and a quick sampling of Balboa Park outside the zoo. I’d like to go back and spend more time on both of those someday, as well as see some of the things we couldn’t fit into our schedule at all this trip.
After San Diego, we headed up to Anaheim to visit with our friend Mickey Mouse. He’d made a lot of home improvements since the last time we were there, adding a new theme park, a shopping and entertainment district, and two hotels to his resort. We stayed at the Grand Californian, which was built as part of the new theme park, Disney’s California Adventure (DCA). It’s a beautiful place, Arts and Crafts style done on a grand scale. The attention to detail was evident, and I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. I especially liked the repetition of design motifs, such as the roses in the jacquard patterning on the top sheets matching those in the wallpaper border in our room. We took a tour of the hotel, something we’d never done before, and that pointed out details we would have otherwise missed, like the small Tinkerbell tile set into the faÃ§ade of the front desk. Of all the Disney hotels we’ve stayed in, this had the most grown up feel. The shower curtain did have Bambi and Thumper on it, and there were hidden Mickeys in various spots, but that was as whimsical as it got. The Mickey toiletries we’d enjoyed on previous Disney trips were nowhere to been seen, replaced by ones with elegant cream labels that looked almost too nice to use.
One advantage of staying at the Grand Californian was easy access to DCA. This was particularly nice because the hotel’s entrance to the park was very close to Grizzly River Run, the whitewater raft ride. This meant we could (and did) ride the rapids several times in a row and get thoroughly soaked without having to squish around in wet clothes the rest of the day, as our room was just a short walk away. Quite a contrast from our trips to Walt Disney World in Florida, where a wet Karen is an unhappy Karen after riding Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom, knowing she has to drip back to the bus and shiver in air conditioned comfort before getting dry again.
We choose to go to the Disney Parks in the off season to avoid crowds, and that works, but it also means that many attractions are down for rehab. Disneyland seemed to be doing quite a lot of maintenance, with much of Fantasyland being boarded up, as well as the Haunted Mansion and the Railroad. Still, there was plenty to do. We rode Indiana Jones multiple times, since it was new to us and there isn’t one like it in Florida. We spent a lot of time in DCA, exploring this new park. Soarin’ Over California is a great ride, the first attraction ever that’s entertained my nose along with the rest of me. California Screamin’ is a smooth but still exciting roller coaster; I liked riding in the front better than the back, although the soundtrack could be heard better in the cars at the rear of the train. One disadvantage to the short lines in the off season is there’s no time for one’s stomach to settle in between rides. I am not entirely happy to report that I had my first theme park hurling experience the morning I had a big breakfast burrito followed by riding Soarin’, Screamin’, Screamin’ again, and the Sun Wheel (in a swinging car—what was I thinking?) in quick succession. The Sprite I drank when we took a break to calm my stomach didn’t help, but it did make the burrito bits nice and fizzy when they came back up.
Another disadvantage to the off season is the nighttime shows only run on the weekends. We splurged for seats on the balcony for Fantasmic! on Friday; this meant we didn’t have to stake out a spot three hours in advance. Saturday, the crowds descended and people were camping out for the show four hours ahead—not my idea of fun. We used the Fastpass system for most of our rides that day, and it worked out pretty well. A good thing about having so many people at Disneyland on Saturday was it meant they ran both the Mark Twain and the Columbia, so we were able to get our first ever ride on the latter, a replica of the first U.S. ship to sail around the world—very cool. There weren’t quite as many people at DCA as at Disneyland that day, so we were able to get a spot right on the curb to see the Electrical Parade without having to sit on the concrete for hours ahead of time. After following the parade until it disappeared backstage, we headed back to Disneyland. We finished our time in the parks with a last ride on Indy before strolling over the watch the late Fantasmic! show. Because we got there just as the show was starting, we didn’t have a prime spot, but it turned out we could see pretty well. Sure, trees blocked our view of some things, but we’d seen them the night before from the balcony, and we actually had a better view of some of the activity than we’d had from those premium seats. It was a nice way to end our day and our trip.
Sunday was a pure travel day. We were up early to pack before driving to the airport. The stupidest thing I saw all week was the woman who sent her Styrofoam cup of orange juice through the security scanner. Yes, it had a lid on it, but what was she thinking? Of course it tipped over and spilled. Too bad I didn’t notice her put it in, or I could have put my bag on a different belt. By the time breakfast was served all over the conveyer, my bag had disappeared into the scanner. Fortunately, most of the juicy goodness was soaked up by the newspaper she’d stuffed in the front of her carryon, so my bag didn’t get yucked up. On the flight home, I sat next to a plane spotter. I’d heard of train spotting, since Dad was such a railroad buff, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people might do the same thing with planes. This guy was serious, with binoculars in one hand and a pen to jot the numbers in his journal in the other, and a reference book in the seat pocket that he’d occasionally pull out and check something. Unfortunately, it was too dark in Detroit when we landed for him to spot from his seat, so I only got to see him in action at LAX. Interesting. Maybe I should figure out how to take my hand sewing on planes again, to entertain my seatmates. I can’t board with the scissors, but the needles are okay, smaller than safety pins. I’ve heard of people using the cutters on dental floss containers to cut thread, and I can see that working. Now I just need an appliquÃ© project.
So now I’m home, trying to catch up on work and mail in all its forms. Unpacking and laundry will wait for the weekend. I’m also trying to get back on the eating right wagon. I tracked nothing and ate a lot when we were gone. I had appetizers, rich entrees, wines, desserts– sometimes one of each at the same meal. It could have been worse; some nights Mr. Karen and I shared one appetizer and one entrÃ©e, and that worked out well. Some meals, though, there were just too many things we wanted to sample. Someday maybe I’ll be able to go on vacation and not come back with extra pounds as a souvenir, but right now, I’ve got about five of them to unload. It’ll happen. It has to happen. I did pretty well yesterday, until the ease back into normal life pizza and cheese bread dinner, and today has been good so far. Sure, it’s discouraging to have to see these same numbers on the scale again, when I’d hoped to have them behind me for good by now, but I’m glad I enjoyed my vacation and probably would do the same thing again (except for the breakfast burrito).
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