Tag Archives: Disneyland

How NOT To Drive to Los Angeles

FinallycartoonDo any of you other married people have a random, sensitive topic you never bring up because you and your partner once had a huge fight about it and that weird fight came to symbolize all the ways you and your partner don’t see eye to eye?

Yeah, me too.

Only, it pertains to my first marriage. My husband John and I were both married before (no kids) and I think his trigger topic with his first wife was television medical dramas or home improvement shows or something because she was always buying sod in Tahoe and killing it.

My ex-husband and I, on the other hand, could never bring up:

The Best Freeway For Driving Between Northern And Southern California

A fact that my mischievous cousin Vanessa probably remembered, so when we were all siting in a hotel near Disneyland last week (more on that trip in future posts) and she casually mentions how her buddy Steve was arguing about why people shouldn’t take Interstate-5 to get to Los Angeles, I had to jump up and shout:

“WHAT?? I-5 is the ONLY sane way to get to Los Angeles and ONLY LUNATICS WOULD TAKE ANYTHING ELSE!”

Before launching into a history lecture about how I-5 was specifically built so the military could move weapons across the state and any other route takes forever… getting far too worked up about the best freeway to use because, well, this argument and I have a long history together.

Taboo Marriage Topics

See, I met my first husband in the Army during a youthful existential crisis where we were both learning Arabic. He was from Virginia whereas I’m a Northern California native who went to college in Los Angeles and therefore lived in Southern California for several years while regularly driving up north to visit family.

 

Well, imagine you’re a California native who is engaged to a Virginian who hasn’t set foot off the military base, yet keeps telling you Wrong Things About California. Like, that San Jose is part of San Francisco. Or that you should be calling it “Frisco.” (I had to refer him to Emperor Norton during that argument).

And further imagine that you’re getting ready to drive up north to your wedding rehearsal dinner, with your super-gay usher in the car (I’ll tell you more about him if you want), when said Virginian starts demanding you take US-101…

And you tell them NO, because you’ve made this drive a thousand times and truly know that I-5 is the better route. You keep pushing for I-5, yet they keep insisting on 101 and when you want to know why, you find out that their dad once had a business conference in California where someone told him that 101 is a prettier drive–a dad who never actually attempted I-5 but clearly must know better than you.

“Okay, so you know that I lived in Los Angeles and probably drove up north about once a month for several years, right? Don’t you think I’d have a better idea than someone who never even tried…”

“Well, my dad said it was better.”

“WHEN DO I EVER, EVER INSIST ON A ROUTE? DON’T YOU THINK I’D KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT?”

And it was true.

See, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag. I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat. I have a HORRIBLE sense of direction and I completely accept that about myself.

People have different strengths and weaknesses, and finding my way around will NEVER be one of my strengths. My family tells funny stories about how I tried to drive to San Francisco in high school and ended up in a cornfield or whatever… in short, I know this and have made peace with it. My ego is completely disconnected from the art of knowing the best way to get to anywhere and I DO NOT BOAST about knowing any directions unless I’m 100% SURE.

But if I know any direction in the world, it’s that I-5 is the best way to drive to Southern California, because I’ve tried the other ways and have been stuck in a 21 hour-vs-6 in rush hour San Francisco traffic before.

I’ll probably be shouting as much to the convalescent home aids after Alzheimer’s has devastated 98 % of my brain: “TAKE I-5 TO GET TO LOS ANGELES BECAUSE IN ANYTHING ELSE, MADNESS LIES” as the nurses shake their heads: “She’s going off about Interstate 5 again…”

Because THAT fact may be the last one left standing.

No matter. My ex pulled out a map to show me how 101 parallels 5. He kept arguing about how his father’s casual overhearing of something should trump my actual, hands-on knowledge until I finally said:

“FINE. Let’s take 101.”

And of course, a more experienced man would’ve known that “fine” translates to a dare in the female universe. But we were kids at the time.

So the drive ended up taking twice as long.

We missed our wedding rehearsal.

We missed the rehearsal dinner.

I ended up in a hot tub in the middle of the night, drinking cheap wine out of paper cups with my gay friend, who kept asking me if I really planned to give up dating forever for a guy who kept insisting he could smell ozone and that San Jose was part of the greater San Francisco metropolitan area (allegedly mentioned in southern textbooks).

JUST LIKE 101 IS THE BEST WAY TO DRIVE TO LOS ANGELES, RIGHT??

Yeah, he kept correcting my knowledge about California until I was forced to pretend that dividing by zero is possible (“You’re dividing it by nothing, so it doesn’t divide. Five divided by zero is five!”) just to watch him freak out (this is what happens when nerd marriages go wrong).

And that’s the thing with these weirdly-sensitive arguments that never make sense to outsiders–they always represent something deeper.  In this case, his lack of respect for what I brought to the table and my pleasure at letting his doomed plans blow up.

But here’s the thing… turns out Vanessa’s friend Steve was arguing that 99 was the best route. He made some compelling arguments.

Compelling enough that John and I actually tried it. We drove home from Los Angeles using California State Route 99 as Satan ordered his minions to shovel all the snow inexplicably blanketing his domain.

And… it was… ahem

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(What passes for historical artifacts in California)

Roughly as good as taking I-5.

It took a little longer, but only about 20 minutes, and had more interesting shops and restaurants along the way.

In fact, we briefly fell into a time warp when the kids discovered old Coke machines and novelty soaps outside a unique antiques & snacks shop.

So… I was wrong. There IS another sane way to dive across California. 99 is a breath of fresh air after years of taking I-5.

But I’m STILL completely against 101 for interstate travel, despite the 40 minutes of prettier initial scenery before adding several hours to the trip.

And I won’t even talk about the Pacific Coast Highway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Family Braves Mickey’s Giant Wheel of Death

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Mickey’s Fun Wheel is not very fun

On the third day of our family vacation, I awoke to the bizarre sensation of artificial cheese crunching in my teeth as I struggled to breathe.

Opening my eyes, I found my daughter, Brontë, straddling my chest with a bag of goldfish crackers. She was petting my face with one hand and stuffing goldfish into my mouth with the other.

As disorienting as a processed cracker forced-feeding was,  it’s probably the nicest method my three-year-old could think of to wake someone up. Noticing my eyes were open, she asked me, in the sweetest voice she could muster, “Mouse time?”

 

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My Disneyland alarm clock

Adorable. Nothing prepared us, however, for the saga awaiting us on the third and final day of our trip.

It had been raining off and on in buckets throughout the morning, but we were determined to enjoy our final day in the park. My parents, my husband and our two daughters were sore from days of walking, but tried to rally our spirits to squeeze the last drops of fun out of our vacation before preparing for the long haul back to Northern California.

Hungry, tired and chilly in California Adventure Park,  everyone wanted to get some breakfast, but I get a bright idea instead: “We have to go on the Mickey Fun Wheel first! Let’s get on the rocking cars before breakfast because there’s NO LINE!”

After days of endless lines, I was excited to see a clear path to Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I figured we could pop right through before the place got crowded, then have a nice breakfast before sallying forth.

My mother doesn’t like heights and finds scary rides intimidating. She wasn’t about to ride a giant ferris wheel, so she offered to look after baby Bridget while souvenir shopping until our return.

My father, husband John  and I, on the other hand, LOVE scary rides. Space Mountain is a piece of cake for us, the Tower of Terror is mildly exhilarating and we could ride California Screaming all day long. We figured a ferris wheel would  hardly be daunting, but would give us a nice view of the park before settling into the day.

But what about a three-year-old? We decided to take Brontë with us after  noticing that Mickey’s Fun Wheel ride has no height restrictions. Even Star Tours, which is pretty tame, has a height requirement. So Mickey’s Fun Wheel should be no problem. How bad could a ride be if you can take infants on it?

Approaching the ride, we saw that you can either choose to go on the stationary cars or the “rocking” cars. Well, the stationary cars had a line in front of them, whereas the “rocking” cars were completely open. So John, my dad, Brontë, and I piled into one of the rocking cars. We were sure it wouldn’t be any problem. There weren’t even any seat belts, so it must be pretty gentle.

Dad and John sat on one side of the car and Brontë and I took the other. Looking back, I have to wonder what we were thinking, because this seating arrangement created about a 200-pound difference between the two sides of a pivoting car that responds to leaning…

But we clearly hadn’t thought of that, so when our ridiculously-weighted car flipped 90 degrees to the left over the water the moment the ride started moving, everyone gasped.

The ride stopped again, so Disney employees could fill additional cars with more people, so our cart started rocking to the right in a freakishly slow, tilt-a-whirl style. Everyone went quiet as we started working out the physics of our situation in our heads.

Then the ride starts again and our massive weight difference whips us  to a 90 degree angle over the water below. You know how the high dive looks so much higher from the diving board than from the ground? Well, staring through our cage straight at the lake below us had a similar effect, except with the added sensation of knowing a fall like this would probably break all of our bones.

Sure, we were technically in a cage, but without seatbelts or even a handle to brace ourselves, it was hard to feel like we weren’t plummeting to our deaths. Something about staring hundreds of feet straight down into water with no sense of containment sets of your inner panic alarm, even when you’re a seasoned rollercoaster rider… You can’t help wondering what if, umm, this thing doesn’t hold?

Just then, the wind whips up and rain starts pounding. Raindrops are pelting our faces diagonally then sideways. I look over to see John and my dad, who have both completed tours in the Navy, blanching stark white in rigid silence. Our car just keeps getting higher and higher while slowly tilting from one side to the other as other cars are reloaded with people.

As we reached the apex, the wind picks up even harder and we shoot sideways again at the very top of the park. Rain starts pounding us like a hale of ice bullets as the “fun” in Mickey’s “Fun” Wheel takes a sinister turn.

Dad tries to brace himself with his feet as John declares this the “worst moment of his entire life,” and both look as though they’re fighting to contain their bowels as I start feeling horribly responsible for our predicament.

“Oh sure,” I think, as my inner voice sarcastically berates me, “Let’s just hop on this ride in the pounding rain instead of sitting in a nice warm room and eating breakfast… Cause there’s no line. Maybe you should have thought about why there’s no line instead of leading your family into MICKEY’S GIANT CAGE OF DEATH.”

I’m petrified, but can’t get a word in edgewise because my inner Great Santini won’t shut the hell up: “Scared? Because you’re frozen and staring hundreds of feet down into the water in a revolving car? Well SUCK IT UP, grown-up, so your terrified three-year-old kid doesn’t see you panic, because if mama is scared, she’s going to absolutely FREAK OUT, and TRY not to vomit while you’re at it!”

I swallow hard, steady my face and prepare to reassure my toddler by pretending this is all a happy fun time when I look over and notice that Brontë is standing on the wall of the cage. She is able to do this, of course, because our current, 90 degree angle,  turned the wall into the floor.

And as she is crawling up the wall, it’s rolling the car even further, which is freaking all the adults out even more.

Brontë, however, is oblivious to all this, because she is too busy having the time of her life  pointing out the seagulls hundreds of feet beneath us. “Birds!” she squeals, delighted and giggling. “Mmm hmm… that’s neat, baby,” I respond in a half whimper.

Trapped in our rain-soaked torture cages about fifteen minutes before escaping, John yells, “Thank GOD, that’s over” as we all step onto solid ground. Immediately agreeing to “never, ever do that again” we adults trotted away from Mickey’s Fun Wheel with deep relief as Brontë threw her arms in the air, demanding, “MORE!!!!!”

Umm… no.

We had a nice breakfast and enjoyed the rest of our final day, apart from Brontë’s disappointment at being two inches too short to ride Cars. Turns out, that 40-inch height restriction is a hard rule. Apparently, employees won’t let you sneak your kid on it, even if you find her sneakers with two-inch soles and tease the crap out of her hair to fluff up some height.

And we had a final chuckle before leaving the park. As the crowds jostled together while scrambling toward the park exit, we overheard a father sternly tell his little girl, “Well, that’s what happens when you stuff money in your underwear.”

Funny how you can be overhearing the incoherent mess of auditory noise from hundreds of people, yet a phrase like that somehow stands out, clear as a bell. You can’t help but stop and think, “Hmm, what happens when you stuff money in your underwear?”

Turns out, John had a better vantage point to figure out what prompted this advice. Apparently, a little girl who was wearing white tights and rain boots had casually stuffed some change in her underwear (I guess that makes sense, because most kids don’t have wallets).

Well, she was complaining because a bunch of coins had worked their way down between her toes. I’m guessing her parents were too spent by this point to help her work change back up her tights as they jostled against thousands of people, so they opted instead to make her walk back with pennies in her toes. Hence, the lesson about not stuffing money into one’s underwear.

It was a wonderful trip and we look forward to returning one day, when Brontë is two inches taller.

But I doubt we will ever ride Mickey’s Fun Wheel again.

My Daughter Gets Into it With Cinderella

Bronte is unsure how to handle herself with a celebrity, but is glad she is wearing her Elsa dress.
Brontë was unsure how to handle herself around  celebrities, but glad to be wearing her Elsa dress

I was walking hand-in-hand with my daughter Brontë through the streets of Disneyland when suddenly she froze. Her little hand began to quiver as she stared ahead, whispering, “Cinderella?”

Several feet in front of us, a woman in a Cinderella costume was signing autographs for a gaggle of kids. Decked out in a blue and white ballgown, her beatific smile floated over the adoring hearts of her tiny fans.

Well, to me, it was a woman in costume, but to my toddler, it was The Goddess Incarnate.

It’s difficult to overestimate the wondrous magic of a three-year-old’s universe. Not only is most the world an uncharted mystery, but the line between fantasy and reality barely exists. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and storybook castles are real. Animals wear clothes and live in woodsy houses.

Disneyland may still be fun for adults, but for my daughter, it was the mystical kingdom of legend, where animals finally talk to you and gripping tales come to life.

And at the very top of Brontë’s magical pantheon sits Minnie Mouse, Tinkerbell, and Disney princesses: the shining stars of goodness and perfection in her three-year-old imagination.

Brontë had been astounded to learn we’d been saving up to visit Disneyland and would be there for three entire days. Every evening, she helped me cross out a box on our makeshift countdown calendar with growing anticipation, until we were finally packing our suitcases and piling into the car.

Scrambling into her carseat, she whispered, “We go see the Mouse?,” almost afraid the dream would vanish if spoken aloud.

“Yes,” I told her, as she grinned in astonishment before facing our eight-hour car trip to southern California.

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Little do they know they will wake up at Disneyland…

Eight hours is an eternity to a three-year-old. It’s rough enough for adults, so I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to a tiny child, squirming in a cramped carseat as she inches closer and closer to toddler paradise over the course of a sweaty day.

Brontë tried her best to be patient during our endless pilgrimage, bravely attempting conversations about mice and  castles from one rest stop to the next. And now, finally, her patience had been rewarded. She found herself facing the Blue Goddess of Disney dreams. In the flesh.

Standing right in front of her.

She could hardly believe it.

“You want to go talk to her?” I asked.

Brontë nodded quickly, squeezing my hand in excitement. Heart pounding, she started shaking as we approached Cinderella.

Cinderella glanced over at us and Brontë froze, paralyzed with awe.

Just then, a hand flew up a couple feet in front of my face as the bitchy voice of Cinderella’s handler rang out, “Cinderella is DONE here,” he barked, his over-plucked eyebrows locked in irritation. “If you want to see her, you have to go to California Adventure Park this evening.”

Then he flipped his back to us and swished away.

What was THAT? Maybe he was exhausted by the crowds, but that was hardly our fault. We weren’t being pushy, so why not simply tell us about the princess’s next shift instead of yelling it in our faces? Clearly, that man was drunk on Royal Power.

Looking back, I keep kicking myself for not tossing off a good retort, but at the time, all I could think about was Brontë. I looked over at her as she stood for a moment, stunned and white-knuckled, before collapsing on the ground in tears.

Her princess had seen and rejected her. Cinderella had looked her straight in the eyes and had apparently found her wanting. My daughter’s tiny shoulders heaved in deep sobs of confusion as she held my legs and cried.

Looking up, Brontë suddenly noticed Snow White walking toward a cast exit. “Snow White?” she asked.

“Yes, Snow White,” I said, “You want to go meet her?”

Brontë nodded as we held hands and ran toward the woman in a Snow White costume. But we were too late. Snow White disappeared behind the cast door.

“Another time,” I said, as my daughter stared painfully into the distance.

“Snow White is sad,” Brontë said, wiping a tear, “She sad because Cinderella was mean to her. Cinderella hurt Snow White. She make her cry.”

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Sleeping Beauty’s castle lit up for the holidays

Brontë kept expressing her hurt feelings, using Snow White as a proxy, until finally moving on. We rode the Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland and her eyes danced in simple contentment as we walked through fairy-lit streets.

“At least children are resilient,” I thought. Brontë had forgotten all about Cinderella in the wondrous spell of our Disneyland evening.

The next morning, we scheduled a “Princess Breakfast” at Disney California Adventure. You eat brunch while overlooking the water as Disney princesses walk from table to table, entertaining the kids.

It was really fun: pleasant for adults, but truly mind-blowing for young children, who believe they are really meeting their idols face-to-face. The kids from various tables endlessly beamed and giggled as Rapunzel, Jasmine, Princess Tiana and Cinderella made their rounds.

Brontë was ecstatic when a very gracious Princess Tiana came up to our table and shook her hand. Shyly smiling, my daughter squeaked out a quiet “hi!” after Princess Tiana, in her beautiful green dress, reached out her slender, gloved fingers to shake Brontë’s tiny hand.

Starstruck, Brontë watched in awe as Princess Tiana floated past her to the next table.

Just then, Cinderella walked up.

I don’t know if this Cinderella was even the same Cinderella we met yesterday or a different cast member, but it was THE Cinderella to Brontë. Brontë stared at her, frozen, as Cinderella introduced herself and tried to make light conversation.

But Brontë was too stunned to answer her questions, too stunned to even speak, so eventually Cinderella shrugged and moved on to the next table. Brontë watched her for a moment, her blonde bun shaking with her dancing laughter as her blue gown swept across the floor.

Then Brontë’s eyes narrowed.

Her tiny hands squeezed into little fists as she said, slowly and carefully, “I like Princess Tiana.”

She said it a few times, a little louder with every refrain.

She glanced over at Cinderella, who apparently hadn’t heard her, before scrambling to standing on top of her chair.Thrusting herself upwards, as tall and proud as 38 inches made possible, Brontë shot her arms out sideways, threw back her head, and yelled, “I…

LIKE

PRINCESS

TIANA!”

Cinderella didn’t budge.

Brontë was gaining steam as her eyebrows arched in her best angry toddler “V.” She smiled in deep, soul-quenching relief as she threw her head back again, drew in a deep breath and screamed:

“PRINCESS TIANA IS THE BEST, BEST PRINCESS EVER!

PRINCESS TIANA IS THE MOST PRETTY PRINCESS AND THE BEST PRINCESS AND SHE IS MY FAVORITE, FAVORITE PRINCESS!

EVER…

NOT CINDERELLA!”

Cinderella flinched as Brontë collapsed back into her chair, grabbed a biscuit, and started chewing with deep satisfaction.

Brontë hadn’t forgotten the slight at all, but she had faced the goddess bravely and said her peace.

No, Brontë had not forgotten Cinderella’s machinations, and she had unmasked her for all to see.

It was a victory for little girls everywhere, cruelly cast aside by their deities. Cinderella wasn’t a princess at all, just an arrogant harpy who humiliated little girls and made Snow White run away in tears.

Princess Tiana was the true princess, who graciously shakes your hand and kindly smiles in appreciation of her miniature fans.

And Brontë was ready to declare her public support for any potential Princess Tiana coup. To this day, she will happily explain:

“Cinderella is mean,” Brontë will explain. “And Princess Tiana Frog is a princess.”

Take THAT, Cinderella.

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In your FACE, Miss Fancy-Pants Cinderella… You obviously forgot where you came from