the things we do

This is what happens when you drink with videographers. You get your beach house weekend turned into a music video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xp_QvObmulo&hl=en&fs=1&]

This was a long weekend in Dillion Beach, CA; four couples, three children, seven cameras, 20 bottles of wine, fifty oysters, many cases of beer, and no internet connection of cell phones.

It was over too soon, but now thanks to film maker Dave Manzo, we won’t be able to forget it.

mouse time

It’s not the three-weeks-on-a-tropical-island I need. Or the live-on-a-sailboat-with-a-beautiful-girl I keep dreaming about.

But it’s better than being at work.

Tomorrow I’m taking the family down to visit the mouse, braving bone-chilling (for SO Cal) temperatures and holiday crowds.

Early December is one of the best times of the year to visit Disneyland; the park is decked out for xmas, teh Haunted Mansion is overlaid with ‘Nightmare Before Xmas’, and Small World is re-done with enough holiday twinkle to defrost even my scroogian heart. We’ve missed the perfect window, last week; but I’m hoping poor weather and terrible economy make for less crowding.

I need a whole lot more vacation than this though. Three days off work and then I’m back home. I’m hoping for a lot of recharging in a short period, which means I need extra sugar and plenty of Pirates and Haunted Mansion.

Portland is like…

Typically, my trip is over too soon. Tomorrow evening I fly home from Portland, into the fire and brimstone that is northern California, and back into what we think of as real life though I think if one does it right, travel is real life and work is the other thing we do from time to time.

I’ve spent the last couple of days exploring neighborhoods around Portland; though I think I haven’t really even scratched the surface. My friends Bonnie and James moved up here several years back, and love it here; I rather suspect the ‘tour’ they’ve given us has been more a sales job for ‘why move up to Portland’.

Portland is a funky town; I spent today trying to think of what it’s like. It has some similarity to Santa Cruz, CA; but it’s much more a place than Santa Cruz. It also has some similarity to Berkley, but Berkley has much more sense of self-importance. It finally occurred to me that it felt a bit like Austin; it’s a college town, it’s an oasis of culture and weirdness in a largely back-woods state, and it’s a place which seems to see itself as apart from it’s surrounds. It has a dynamic food scene (today’s oddest treat; blue-cheese chocolate truffle), a somewhat unique music scene, and people on the street all seem a half step ahead of things, style-wise. Yet it’s also very much a small town, not quite so cool as it thinks it is. You can see people trying to be cool.

I like this town. I don’t, though, love it yet. I could immediately visualize living in Victoria (as I could when I was in Vancouver ten years ago). I actually pondered living in Seattle. Portland, though, I haven’t yet come to terms with. I can’t quite decide if it’s self-aware funkiness more tips the scale toward appealing, or annoying.

Either way, it’s a town I need to see more of. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get up here to visit; the family I’m staying with are some of my favorite people in the world, and they’ve had an open offer extended to ages. It’s not that far, and I can even see coming up here on two wheels some day, if I pick a good time of year for motorcycle travel.

I still haven’t managed to get to Voodoo Donuts for a bacon maple bar, one of the key goals of my trip. I’m hoping to get that taken care of tomorrow. On the other hand, if I don’t get there, it’s one more reason to come back real soon now.

in seattle

I kind of meant to keep a running log of my stay in Seattle as did in Victoria; or at least carry on a flirt-by-flirt, firework by firework overview.

I never quite got to my computer in seattle; maybe it was flaky WiFi, or maybe the lack of a decent writing surface in my room. Or maybe I was too busy by day and too beat at night.

I’ve been through Seattle a few times before, and sort of rated it as one of those ‘what’s the big fuss about’ cities. The last three days in Seattle changed my mind completely. I drove in thinking, i should have stayed in Victoria, or gone to Vancouver; I left today thinking, I want to live here.

My hotel was almost exactly halfway between Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market; it would be hard to pick a more perfect spot for a first trip. This is the corner where the Seattle Fire started in 1889.

It’s funny; my mental image of Seattle came from two sources. There was a teevee show around 1970; ‘Here Come the Brides’ or something like that. It presented 1860’s Seattle as a folksy, rustic place.

That image stuck – though I can’t recall ever actually watching the show at the time – until Seattle hit the public consciousness in a big way, thanks to Sub Pob Records and the Grunge scene. Somewhere around the same time, Starbucks started to its slow march toward world dominance.

My image of Seattle changed from from folksy to urban; like the rest of the country, I sort of noticed seattle for the first time in fifteen years or so. Trouble was, the new image was just as two dimensional as the old. What I saw wasn’t that different than the music scene in San Francisco; punk, folk and metal bands all sort of converging on a common point, fueled by drugs, alcohol and coffee.

Several years ago, I came through the area on the way from one place and to another. What I saw was horrible traffic, crowds on tourists, and not much else. I pretty much got out of town quick as I could and haven’t been interested in coming back since.

This week, I wiped out all that. Cheesy western teevee, grunge rock stereotypes, traffic and empty tourism; all gone.

What I realized the last few days is, I’d missed what made this city cool. The dynamic weather, the amazing views, the food, the culture. In one sweep of coast line, one can find two of the country’s best ballparks, storied old quarter, world-class farmer’s market, numerous museums, and thriving downtown.

Everywhere I looked there were shops, restaurants, bars, and yes, coffee houses, that were full of locals as well as tourists. People live here; the tourists spots are such because places like Pike Place Market are real, not hopped up for tourists.

I didn’t get to do half of what I wanted; I missed the Experience Music Project, I missed several restaurants, several museums. I didn’t get to shop for produce and cook (no kitchen in my hotel). I didn’t have time for any live music. On the other hand, I managed to get to Pike Place a couple of times, found a tattoo shop I’ve wanted to visit for years (Vyvyn Lazonga), toured Seattle’s underground, visited the Space Needle (something I’ve wanted to see since I was little. I saw forth-of-july fireworks and visited the Utilikilts store. I got out to see locks in Ballard, took my kids to Archie McPhee, and even managed to catch a musical with them (Aida, one of their favorite shows).

What I proved to myself is that I’d completely missed seattle last time I was here; and that I needed to spend a whole lot more time here than had this week. I liked Seattle enough that I started to visualize living here; the only things that stopped me from pricing houses were the thought that I’d just seen un-seasonably warm weather, and that the main high tech employer in town happens to be Micro$oft.

Plans for next time, though; condo, not hotel, so I can show Pike Place and then cook. And plan for much more time, so I can actually hang out.

oooooh, caaaanahdahhaaaa….

It wasn’t planned this way, but my family and I wound up in Victoria, BC for Canada Day (Or as my kids insist on calling it, ‘Canadia Day’).

This wound up being a lucky coincidence; the dates were picked around my mother-in-law’s trip to Everett for a high-school reunion, my work schedule, and my kids summer school. We had no idea, when booking, that Canada Day fell on july 1st, nor did we think about the significance of this.

July fourth means little to me, apart from being the day we used to have fireworks (before local communities decided to punish the responsible many in order to weed out the irresponsible few, by outlawing all fireworks). America may be my country of birth, but now, and even when I was a child, it all too often it represents what’s wrong in western culture. While I will root for American teams in the Olympics, and think the ideas upon which this country was founded are pretty damn good, I can’t in good conscience stand for the national anthem or salute the flag; these things carry too much aura for me of mindless, reactionary, love-it-or-leave-it patriotism.

Particularly in this bush-era, post 9/11 world, the stars and strips says to me, ‘we don’t care of we’re stupid and wrong’. Yes, I’m cynical, but I remember the sixties, when we fought another war far away for no reason anyone could justify; I remember when we wore american american flags on our jackets to say ‘it’s my country too.’ We fought a culture war then, and thought we were winning. I don’t always have the resolve to keep fighting it.

So it was particularly refreshing to come to a country in the midst of celebrating it’s symbolic birth, when it’s a country I have no emotional baggage with.

Canada is a northern neighbor, a country that’s produced some of my favorite bands and musicians, a place where they share my passion hockey. Ok, sure, they don’t know how to play football correctly and they kind of sound like Bob and Doug; but they have far saner policies on drug enforcement and gay rights, and they make much stronger beer. The sum is still pretty largely positive. So I could embrace the festival spirit easily, letting go my own opinions on nationalism and politics. Today, it was about red and white flags, fireworks, beer, and pretty girls (have I mentioned the girls in Victoria? Ok, let me put it this way – grrrrrowl.)

Victoria does a pretty good job of throwing a party. My hotel faces the Legislature building across Victoria’s Inner Harbor; this means I was greeted at 8am – yes, 8am – by loud, live music from a stage across the water. This pretty much went on all day; bands, DJ’s, speakers. It was going on when I went to breakfast, a couple hours later when I walked into town, and it was still going when we came out of the Empress Hotel after having afternoon tea.

I felt wildly out of place; I wasn’t wearing red. It looked like everyone walking up and down the street, locals and tourists alike, were decked from head to toe in red and white, including a number of girls who’d found clever ways to fashion Canada’s flag into tops and mini-dresses. Every car seemed to sport a flag, and everyone looked happy. No one was protesting anything; no anti-war demonstrations, no rallies, no nonsense; it felt like the entire city had set down it’s issues for a party.

The best part about all this was how my kids reacted to it.

We planned a brief foray into Canada just because Ruby, my youngest, has no memory of being anywhere but the USA; I wanted to give her the experience of spending money that isn’t all uniformly green. I wanted her to see road signs in metric; I wanted her to see what it’s like to cross a border. But today’s celebration gives her more than an experience of place, it gives her a sense of national identity. A week ago, she thought of Canada as a name on a map, and a place where sports teams or certain family friends used to live. Today, it’s a people. It’s a culture. She’ll never forget seeing people in red, celebrating a flag and a nation that meant nothing to her only days ago.

Businesses were giving out small Canadian flags; our hotel has pins in a dish on the concierge desk. My kids decorated themselves with flags and pins, and dug through their luggage for any red garments they had. Happy Canada Day, they said, to anyone they talked to.

The party went on into the evening, culminating with a terrific firework display which was launched directly in front of my hotel; we were able to see both the display in the sky, but also the pyrotechnicians on the ground and the apparatus they used to put on the show. People had been camping out for hours to get a good viewing spot; but we had best possible vantages, both from our room, and from the hotel’s rear patio, only a few yards from the launch point.

It was a terrific day; one of those experiences one can’t really have, other than traveling with kids. Watching some vague concept become real and tactile and human; watching how that lights them up. I’ve traveled a lot, and those moments don’t come every day, not even in every trip. But when they come, they make every penny spent pay off a hundred-fold.

Tomorrow, we leave Victoria for the states. The only good thing about this, for me, is that my iPhone will once again work over EDGE without paying insane international data rates. Apart from that, I can’t think of anything I look forward to. I want another week in BC, at least. But the three days I’ve had are some of the best travel days I’ve had in quite a long while.

I’ll admit, though, that I’ve been singing Blame Canada all day.

land of pretty waitresses

Victoria, BC; land of pretty waitresses.

I know. It sounds funny. But oddly, it’s true. I’ve been on Victoria Island for roughly 30 hours. That’s a dinner, a breakfast, a lunch, and another dinner.

It’s not just that every waitress who’s waited on me has been unusually pretty. It’s that every waitress I’ve seen has been unusually pretty. And not just the waitresses; this includes busers and hosteses. Hell, there are even pretty waiters.

What do they do, farm them? Is it the water? That clear Canadian air?

At lunch today, the waitress who served us looked every-so-slightly like Christine Taylor. She was distractingly cute. The woman who seated us at breakfast, a dark-haired british girl, had a sort of school-teacher, marion-librarian look, like she she had a little bit of wild thing lurking behind a a professional demeanor. And she wasn’t even the prettiest of a staff of pretty girls (and boys) at Canoe Brew Pub.

This afternoon, I sat in my hotel’s lounge watching a bartender and cocktail waitress who could have been sisters; olive-skinned and exotic, and even when I pictured them together.

Even the girls who waited on us tonight at the snack-shack at Butchart Gardens were cute as hell; one corn-fed, plump and sweet, the other skinny and pale with way too much back eye makeup.

The killer, though was Saturday night’s dinner. The hostess looked like a twenty-year-old Mira Sorvino, in a dress that came about as close to naked as one can be and still work in public. This girl was so stunningly pretty I had trouble paying attention to my meal, ordering the wrong dish and forgetting (three times) what I meant to order to drink. I can’t remember a thing I ate, and was almost completely unable to maintain a thread of conversation.

Her dress was made of some sort of clingy white jersey; cut loose in the front, it had the effect, almost, of some greco-roman toga. But when back-lit, the dress went nearly see-through, with that light-between-the-thighs thing that makes me insane. When she turned, the back managed to fit her hips and butt like a second skin, revealing the color, and every seam (and the exact location of the label) on her lacey thong.

This is the kind of girl who should be getting paid to take off her clothes; the fact that she’d look amazing out of them could not have been more clear. Every single time she walked though the dining room, I lost track of my meal. She’s the kind of girl who’s going to stick in my head for a while and might turn up, some day, as a character in some piece of fiction.

Is this some secret, that Victoria has cornered the market on beautiful women? Is this where they’re harvested, then taken to L.A. to be starved and then plumped with silicone and then stiffened with botox?

Or is it some plot among the restaurant managers of Victoria, to hire uniformly stunning people to serve food?

I will say, Victoria has turned into a very cool city. I Haven’t been here in twelve or thirteen years, and in that time, it’s grown up a lot. There are many, many new buildings, and many old ones are currently closed for upgrade and renovation. But what’s cool about it, now, is that it’s managed to preserve a european sense, while also developing a very organic sort of hipness. This is what Seattle must have been like twenty or thirty years ago, what I think Portland was like ten years ago. It’s a city that hasn’t quite been discovered as a hipster scene, but is heading there, in it’s own way rather than because people are coming here seeking a scene.

Thirteen years ago when I visited Vancouver I thought, I could see living here. Today, I thought the same thing about Victoria.

Of course, both trips I’ve had the luck of unusually good weather; both times, temps in the high eighties with clear skies, then gentle night-time breeze. I might have a different opinion if I’d been here in February or so.

But as with every trip I’ve ever taken to the Pacific Northwest, I look around and think, yeah, I see why people leave California for this place. Particularly this month when California has the Stench of fire and brimstone in the air.

v-minus-four

I’m in that last-few-days-before-vacation zone.

You know how it is; the spirit begins to leave and go elsewhere, while the mind deals with a steepening ramp of details, crossed with a descending curve of time.

I had this vague notion I would have some free time toward the end of the week; as it turns out, I’ve barely time to manage what I need to do before I leave. I have months worth of I should-document-that-in-case-I-get-hit-by-a-bus; my tendency to keep everything in my head is part if what makes me good at problem solving, but it always hurts when I need to leave. Because I’m that guy; the one who knows where the bodies are buried, the one who knows who everything works and why it works that way.

On the other hand, in four more days, I’ll be in the PNW doing pretty much nothing. So there’s that. Ok, it’s not a tropic isle, with a dark-haired maiden, but it’ll do.

I have virtually no plans for this trip. I’m not doing any diving; I’m not going to be doing any work (I mean it this time). I have no tickets to events. I have no agenda at all. The closest I get to plans is that I kind of want to spend a gift certificate I have at the Utilikilts store, though honestly, I don’t really *need* another utilikilt (so if someone wants to buy a $400 gift certificate for a significant discount off face price, I could then spend that money on a new highland kilt I’ve been eying.)

Meanwhile, I can barely summon enough attention to pack, and no attention at all for anything else beyond getting through these last few days without my head exploding.

Wicked Witches

The whole reason for my recent SoCal trip was to see Wicked.

I’m not going to try to write a real review of of it; I’m no expert on stage musicals, and can’t really accurately say how it compares to anything else in the genre. I also haven’t read the book, so rendering a judgement on how well they did with a largely-gutted plot isn’t possible for me.

What I’ll say though, is that I loved it.

Read the wiki page linked above for a detailed description; in short, it’s a re-imagined Wizard of Oz, from the point of view of a mis-understood Wicked Witch. The re-imagined fairy tale is a well-mined vein, but it’s rich in possibility; everything from fractured fairy tales to Into the Woods have used the device, and we’re far from done with it.

I don’t know how many people have attempted a re-imagined Wizard of Oz; my personal favorite was PJ Farmer’s A Barnstormer in Oz, which included a soft-core-porn, midget-sized version of Glinda, and all sorts of bizarre steam-punk-clockwork characters. More recently you may have seen Tin Man on the Sci Fi Channel, which managed to be both deeply tongue-in-cheek and deeply over-serious, but was most memorable (to me) for the fact that a large number of the cast were wearing Utilikilts.

But I have to say, Wicked did a fine job.

Read more “Wicked Witches”