Thursday, April 27, 2006

You may recall me lambasting my high school graduating class in an earlier post, saying they're lame because I can't find any information about my 20-year reunion. I found out today that there is a get-together scheduled for mid-August. After doing a bit of research, I discovered that it's been planned since November.

I should note a little hypocrisy on my part. After all, if it was really that important to me, I'd have taken a little more initiative. Then again, I may be a little interested in some of my classmates, but not enough to do that much work. Either way, I offer my humble apologies to my not-quite-as-lame-as-I-thought classmates who have indeed been planning this reunion.

That said though, I don't hold any expectations for the event, except that I suspect people will tend to fall back into their old teenage roles, and it will be as cliquish as it was back then. People will be as lame as I remember them. The jocks will be taking the day off as head cashier at the local grocery store in order to relive their famous touchdown or tackle, the brains will get together and discuss quantum physics, the dirtbags will slip out every so often to get high, the members of the debate team will argue about politics... Nothing will have changed except that collectively, we'll have a few more wrinkles, a few more pounds, and a lot less hair. Why am I going? Well, I'm curious to know if I'm right.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Has this Ever Happened to You?

You walk into a public restroom... maybe at the mall, or possibly at work... the location doesn't really matter that much. All you know is that as soon as you walk in, you are overwhelmed by the leftover scent of the previous visitor. You know by the stench that if you looked in the bathroom stalls, you would find a severely decayed corpse. In ordinary circumstances, you'd just turn around and leave, giving the scent of death some time to dissipate. This time though, you've really got to take a leak.

As you wash your hands after taking care of business, someone else walks in, catches a whiff of the same stench that nearly knocked you out, and gives you the evil eye as if you were the person who left the corpse in the stall. You know what he's thinking, but you don't even bother to defend yourself... partially because you realize he won't believe you, and partially because you understand that explaining that the room already stunk before your arrival would require you to spend a few seconds in the tomb of unending stench... so you walk out, a little disappointed that someone thinks that you left the olefactory napalm. Or if you're really sick, you're upset that you can't truly take credit, because it wasn't your bomb.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Carlin at the Paramount

You see that guy in the picture on the right? Yep, you guessed it... George Carlin. The picture was taken by yours truly during his performance at the Paramount theatre on Thursday. I've been a fan of Carlin since I was old enough to understand his political humor. I'm happy to have had the opportunity to see him live.

By the way, I'm not going to even try being funny in this post. It would be a disservice to Carlin, and would make me look like an idiot who's trying to be funny.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Illegal Immigrants - A Rant

I’m sure that you all know about the brouhaha over immigration. Up to now, I’ve been relatively ambivalent about the whole thing. Part of me realizes that these people are merely trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, and taking jobs that no Americans want. Part of me understands that they’re breaking the laws of the land, and for that, illegal immigrants cannot be rewarded with amnesty and a path to citizenship.

Today, an email sent to me by my friend Fred nudged me off of the fence. The email had obviously been forwarded again and again, and the original author didn’t put his (or her) written argument together very well. It was the links to the pictures contained in this email that drove me over the edge. These pictures were apparently taken at student protests in Whittier and Pioneer, CA, where the students walked out of class to protest the proposed Federal Immigration bill. During these protests, students flew the Mexican flag over the American flag, and they flew the American flag upside down!! (More pictures can be seen here.)

I understand and respect the right to protest, and I recognize the right of Americans to disagree. As an American though, I cannot tolerate this entitlement mentality from people who have illegally entered our country in the first place. I have great respect for immigrants who enter our country by legal means, make contributions to our American society, and respect our laws, traditions, sovereignty, and customs. That said, I am NOT willing to accede to the demands – yes, DEMANDS – of people who break our laws by coming here illegally, and then have the audacity to DEMAND the same rights as natural citizens or those who came to our great country by legal means.

After seeing the disrespectful method with which these lawbreaking criminals and their supporters presented their viewpoints, I am convinced that the only legally proper, and morally correct method of dealing with this group of illegal immigrants is to NOT give in to their demands (thus capitulating ourselves to a group of criminals), but by finding them and returning them to their point of entry.

To make matters worse, I read an article the other day about how the Mexican government, their police force, and their military deal with people who illegally enter their country from Central America. Mexican illegals are raped, beaten and robbed – by the Mexican law enforcement groups… and the Mexicans have the audacity to decry how we treat illegals in our country?? I don’t think so! To the illegal immigrants demanding equal protection in my country: Before you start crying about how you’re treated, maybe you should clean your own back yard (Yes, your native country of Mexico), and try entering my country LEGALLY. Until then, shut the fuck up, and get the fuck out!

I am offended by this dishonorable display both as an American, and as a veteran. If you agree with my position, feel free to forward what I’ve written. And if you really agree with what I’m saying, tell your representatives.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

...From the "Why Didn't I Think of That?!?" Department

The following article originated from Reuters. The colored comments are mine...

A 76-year-old man claiming to be a doctor went door-to-door in a Florida neighborhood offering free breast exams, and was charged with sexually assaulting two women who accepted the offer, police said on Thursday.
hy didn't I think of this? Er, I mean, how stupid do you have to be to accept this offer?!?

One woman became suspicious after the man asked her to remove all her clothes and began conducting a purported genital exam without donning rubber gloves, investigators said.
Yeah, I could see both of these as red flags.
"Mr. Dr.?"
"Yes, my pretty... um, I mean ma'am?"
"Why do I have to take off all of my clothes if you're just looking at my breasts?"
"Ummm.... ummmmm.... ummmm..."
"Does it help you determine how healthy they are by firmness related to my age?"
"Ummmmm.... Yeah! What you said. Now please remove your clothes."
"Mr. Dr.?"
"Yes, my little nymphette... er, I mean ma'am?"
"Don't you want to put on some gloves?"
"Now THAT's just silly!!"
"Okay. You're the doctor. Wait! That's not my breast!"

The woman then phoned the Broward County Sheriff's Office and the suspect fled. He was arrested at another woman's apartment in the same Lauderdale Lakes neighborhood on Wednesday, a sheriff's spokesman said.
Now THAT took balls! That's like getting thwarted trying to rob one liquor store, so you just go on to the next one!

The white-haired suspect, Philip Winikoff, carried a black bag and claimed to be visiting on behalf of a local hospital.

"He told the woman that he was in the neighborhood offering free breast exams," sheriff's spokesman Hugh Graf said in a statement.

At least two women, both in their 30s, let him into their homes and he fondled and sexually assaulted them, the investigators said.

Winikoff was not a doctor, Graf said. He worked as a shuttle driver for an auto dealership.
You'd think that the "ABC Auto Courtesy Van" at the end of the driveway would be a clue too, wouldn't you?
"They're letting me use their van while I have my Cadillac fixed."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

This Just In...

Since mid-January or so, about the time I got my last performance review and salary increase, I have been job hunting. Less than an hour ago, I got a job offer to work in the IT department for a large manufacturing company in the same city I'm in now. I've been negotiating with this specific company for a little under a month, and have been hoping to get an offer from them. The company is privately owned, has a family-style atmosphere, understands the unique needs of IT, gives me great opportunity for technical growth, and a good salary increase. I'm sooooo stoked.

Now, of course, comes the hard part... telling my supervisor and my co-workers that I'm leaving. I hold no longer hold any loyalty to my current employer, but I do have an affinity for the people I work with. To complicate matters a bit, I had planned to give my notice in a few days, but my new employer asked me to give the notice today... the thing is, I'm home with a sick kid... that may look a little odd to the supervisor.

Keep on Truckin'

I don't know if I've mentioned it before or not, but in addition to my fondness for computers and home improvement, I'm also a car geek. I'm not a super hard-core motorhead, but I've done my fair share of maintenance and repair, up to and including a couple of total engine rebuilds. As I get older, I usually let the pros do the maintenance, but I still enjoy having a nice vehicle, and am as fond as ever of muscle cars.

For the last several months, I've been saving up the money to get some routine maintenance done on my truck. I just passed the 50,000 mile mark, and some of my maintenance is overdue... at least according to the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. I finally got that work done yesterday. I needed new tires all the way around, and my transmission needed to be flushed. In addition to this, I got the mandatory oil change. The tires were the worst though. They were almost down to bare rubber.

In fact, day before yesterday, one of the tires gave out. After getting home from work, my younger daughter asked me to play outside with her. As I passed through the garage on my way outside, I heard a hissing sound. Yep, you guessed it, one of my tires got a hole. So I pulled the truck into the driveway, where I had enough room to work, and changed out the quickly-flattening tire. Fortunately, my truck has a full-sized spare, not one of those crappy donut spares. Even more fortunately, I was ready to buy the new tires. I was just waiting for my recent credit card payment to post, so I could get the work done. The payment posted the next day, and I arranged for the work to be done.

As I tell you my mundane tale, I've got to say that I'm a fan of Tires Plus. I had budgeted about $800 for the tires and transmission flush. They did that, plus an oil change for a little under $700. The work was quick and thorough. And as I left their shop, I had forgotten how much difference fresh tires and a good alignment makes to the steering and handling. The steering was noticeably easier, and the change in responsiveness was phenomenal. There's no doubt that I got the maximum possible life out of my old tires, but I'm incredibly pleased with the fresh tread.

The transmission flush also helped noticeably. The truck shifts much more smoothly. As I drove around town yesterday and today, I was as giddy as I usually am when I get a new toy for my computer. Next, I'm going to have to take the truck out for a little mud-running.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

From the Mouths of Teens

This is a recap of a conversation my older daughter and I had the other day. It's not totally accurate, but it's pretty damn close.

“So I was looking for your sewing kit the other day…”


“I wasn’t snooping through your room or anything, but I found something…”


“It was a set of furry handcuffs.” When I saw where this was going, I couldn’t help but grin. I came dangerously close to laughing out loud on the spot, and was totally unable to suppress my grin. “Dad?”


“Why do you have a set of furry handcuffs in your drawer?”

“Are you sure you want to know,” I asked grinning a little wider?


“Sex,” I replied, curious how she would react.

“Really,” she queried?


“For real!?”


“That’s gross.” After a few seconds to let the new reality soak in, she continued, “Daddy?”


“Why do you really have those furry handcuffs?”

“Are you sure you want to know,” I asked grinning a little wider?


“Sex,” I said again.

“Really,” she asked again?


“For real??”


“That’s really gross,” she reiterated. “Daddy?”


"Is that really why you have furry handcuffs in your drawer? Are you sure it wasn't a gag gift or something?"

"Do you want it to be a gag gift?"



"So they were a gag gift?" I just grinned at her. "Good, because that would be gross if you really used them for sex. I mean, after all, she's your wife!"

"So it wouldn't be gross if your stepmom and I weren't married?" I asked quizically? That one flustered her a bit more.

"I guess it would be gross anyway... Dad? Were they really a gag gift?"

"Do you really want to know?"


Monday, April 17, 2006

My High School Graduating Class is Lame

I graduated in 1986. Shortly after graduation, I entered the Marine Corps. When I came home on leave in late 1990 or early 1991, I ran in to a couple of people who graduated the same year I did. Shannon was part of the "popular" crowd, but she was always down to earth and very cool. We struck up a conversation, and she started filling me in on the goings-on of some of others we graduated with. Eventually I asked if we were going to have a class reunion. Her answer was something to the effect of "No, we figured that since we don't have our lives in order yet that nobody else does either."

"That's pretty fucking arrogant!" I replied, which quickly and effectively killed the conversation. I vaguely remember that my graduating class had a ten-year reunion, but I didn't attend. I figured that I was already in contact with everyone I cared about. My best friend Greg was of the same opinion. In all honesty though, I'm not 100% sure that we had one... I only remember that Greg and I didn't go. If there was a reunion though, my hunch is that only the people who still lived in my hometown at that point went, making it a reunion of locals.

It looks like things have come full circle again. I graduated high school twenty years ago... it's actually 20 years ago next month, but close enough. Once again, I'm interested in going, but I haven't heard anything from anyone about a reunion. I even searched the internet today, and there's nothing planned. I suspect that they figure they don't have their lives in order, so nobody does. How lame!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Springing to Life

I'm not a big fan of winter, but I love spring. Winter is scenic and everything, but it's cold, and the scenery is only good during or immediately after a snow storm. Once the plows clear the streets, or the snow starts melting, it's just dull, gray and cold. Spring, on the other hand, is when everything comes to life. You can leave the windows open because it's warm, the crickets chirping lulls you to sleep, and the birds singing wakes you up. The trees start sprouting leaves, the grass turns green, the flowers start blooming... how could anyone not love spring. (And I'm saying this as an allergy sufferer!)

At the same time though, I've recently (by recently, I mean the last few years, not the last few weeks) noticed that my appreciation for, and activities during spring are significantly different than they used to be... not just as a kid, but also as a younger adult. When I was a kid, I did the same stuff that all kids did during the spring. I rode my bike, stayed out later, climbed trees... you know, kid stuff. As a younger adult, I'd still ride the bike, and do "outdoorsy" things, but I also started throwing in stuff like mowing, planting and so forth. I hated it, but I knew they were chores that needed to be done.

In recent years though, I think I've started turning into a massochist. I'm finding that I don't spend as much time riding my bike. I'm spending far more time working on my yard. The crazy part is that I'm actually enjoying it! When the weather started warming up, I started looking forward to grabbing the rake and clearing the winter debris from the yard; somewhere along the line, I've ceased thinking of yardwork as a chore, and started considering it exercise and a worthwhile long-term project. It's like when the world starts springing to life, I want to be there to cultivate that life. Equally important though, is the fact that this work gets me off of the couch, and gets me outside and active. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to grab a rake and get outside. DOH!! I forgot, I've got to fix my garbage disposal first. Okay, garbage disposal, THEN yardwork.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Walking a Tight Line

Today's post is partially inspired by Sunny's comment from yesterday's post, and partially based on recent personal observations.

They say that being a parent is the toughest job in the world. Notice that I didn’t say worst job in the world; I said toughest. As a parent, you’re responsible for the health, welfare, safety, well-being and upbringing of a human life. It’s a commitment that should not be made lightly, because it’s a life-long obligation. It’s the most frustrating, rewarding, invigorating, draining, joyous and sorrowful experience you will ever encounter, and it never ends.

With that said, I can think of one that’s probably more difficult… being a step-parent. I have seen step-parents devote their lives to children who are not biologically theirs with the same commitment – more in some cases – than the biological parents. A good step-parent shares the same level of dedication that birth parents take on, yet they miss out on some aspects of parenting due to a lack of authority. A mom or dad may hear “I hate you” from their kid’s mouth, but they’ll never hear “You’re not my mom.” At the same time though, step-parents have some tools of their own. By virtue of not being a parent, they can take more of a friend or mentor role with their step-children. As a friend or mentor, they can freely discuss things with the children that kids may feel uncomfortable discussing with parents.

Regardless of whether being a step-parent is tougher, easier, or just plain different, I am coming to realize that good step-parents are an underappreciated lot. They put in the time, effort and love, and should get the recognition in return. Have you hugged your step parent today?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sometimes I Just Don't Get It...

I love my kids. I know that their mom does too, but sometimes I just don't get her. Recently, my wife, the kids and I were on vacation for over a week. Their mom missed out on a weekend with the kids, and the whole time we were gone, she only called the kids once... and that call was really a pretense to get some information from me. She talked to the kids for a minute or two each, asked me for the phone number she wanted, and then hung up. The kids called her once while we were in California, and once immediately after we got back. She never returned the calls. The call when we got back was important to the kids. Erin's gerbil had died, she was very upset, and wanted her mom. Mom never called back.

She didn't see or talk to the kids until Tuesday, her normal night with them. On Thursday, her next night with the kids, they spent the night with Tara, the girl next door to me. Tara and my kids are very close, but I don't approve of my kids spending the night at someone's house on a school night. Their mom, however, doesn't share my opinion and frequently allows this to happen. My younger daughter came over around 8:00 PM, saying that she missed her mom. She called, but again, mom didn't answer. My little girl ended up spending the night here.

I just don't get it. The kids' mom says that they're her main priority, but any time the kids are with me, she's unreachable. And many times that it's her night, the kids end up at friends' houses, or here. When they're with me, they're with me. Sure, I allow them to stay overnight with friends, but only on the weekends. And if something happens, they call me and I come to get them. When it's her time with them though, this isn't always the case. When they stay overnight with friends while on her watch, they still call me if they need something.

I know this is a rambling, disjointed entry, but I don't get it. She says the kids are her top priority, but her actions belie her words. My wife and I are available for the kids whether it's our time or not. But their mom is often unavailable even if it's her time. What gives?

Sunday, April 9, 2006

A Run for the Border

Our final major outing was a trip to Tijuana, Mexico. When I told my family and friends that we planned to go there, I was inevitably told the same thing... "Be careful, it's dangerous down there." Some people were a little surprised that I was taking the kids. These folks failed to understand the method to my madness though. I was on a mission... part fun, but mainly education. I wanted to show my children what the rest of the world is like. I wanted to take them on a field trip, so they could experience first-hand how good things are for them. I wanted them to watch little girls sell chicklets on the street corners, instead of going to to school, so they can eat. I wanted them to view the run-down apartments that people live in, and I wanted them to realize that people beg just to scrape by.

This education started just before we got to Mexico. Having been to Mexico before, I knew that I didn't want to drive down there. That's just not fun. I much prefer walking. We parked the car in southern San Diego, by the navy base, and took the train to the border. While walking over the bridge, the scents of Mexico came wafting toward us.

"Daddy, that stinks. I don't want to go to Mexico, my older daughter stated, as she held on to my arm."

"Well kid, I don't know what to tell you, except to say that a LOT of the rest of the world smell like this, especially the cities. Do you see those buildings?"

"Yeah, they're ugly."

"Yep, people live in those buildings. And these are some of the nicer places that people here live in."

"I don't like Mexico," she decided, holding my arm even tighter. For the entire rest of the trip, my older daughter clutched my hand or arm for dear life. You see, the people who had kindly reminded me how dangerous Tijuana is, also told her, filling her with fear and uncertainty. She only released her death grip on me to eat, or to jump over to my wife, where my daughter would cling on her in a similar manner. My younger daughter was far more fearless and comfortable. She still stayed close, but didn't feel the need to constantly cling to the adults.

After briefly pointing out the poverty, I started talking about other stuff. After all, I didn't want to harp on this and depress the kids. I also wanted them to see and experience a different culture, and celebrate it in its own right. I was able to quickly distract them by stopping at the street vendor stands and letting the kids do some shopping. We didn't buy anything though, because I knew the prices would be a little better in the main district and because I didn't want to be hauling bags around all day.

We got to the main shopping district, Revolution Avenue, in just a few minutes. The kids quickly adjusted, but not completely.

"Who's hungry," I asked?

"Not me," they both responded.

"I don't want to eat down here. It's gross," my older daughter continued, as the younger one nodded in agreement. I was a little disappointed by this. I had hoped that the kids would want to experience authentic Mexican cooking. Yeah, yeah, I know it's not really authentic until you're a little further south. And no, I didn't plan for them to eat at some corner vendor and get sick. Don't forget, I have been to Tijuana before. It had been over a decade, but I knew a couple of places where it would be okay to eat. The kids though, didn't seem enthusiastic about eating in Mexico. I suspect that someone told them not to drink the water. I was a little disappointed by their apprehension, but was hungry and determined. We walked down Revolution for a while and I saw the answer.

"Hey girls, we could stop here," I said, pointing to a Hard Rock Cafe. They had been to a Hard Rock before, when we went to Canada, so this was an acceptable option to them. As I said, I was in Mexico, so I had to have a Mexican dish... even though I was in an American-style chain restaurant. I had the fajitas, and they were marginal. The shrimp tasted good, but was rubbery... almost like calamari. The beef was Mexican beef, and I tasted the difference. The kids barely touched their food, but we were no longer hungry, and had the energy to continue our shopping expedition.

To make a long story a little shorter, we shopped and shopped and shopped, hitting countless stores all along both sides of the main drag. My younger daughter astutely noticed that the stores all had basically the same small selection... lots of jewelery -- none exactly the same, but all very similar... lots of clothing, lots of cheap ceramic stuff... lots of pipes ("They must smoke a lot down here," my younger daughter noted)... lots of leather.

In the end, the kids each bought a ring, and Mrs. Evan and I each bought one of those hooded shirts that look kind of like burlap bags. I can't remember the correct term for them.

After completing our shopping, we headed back north, taking a moment to give our few remaining coins to some of the begging children, explaining to our kids that we had to do this on the down-low so that every beggar in Tijuana didn't end up accosting us for quarters.

Once we were back on American soil, I asked the kids if they had fun. I figured that my younger daughter would say "yes" and the older one would say "no." I was happy to hear that they both enjoyed their time in Mexico.

We went to Tijuana on April 1. My older daughter recommended that we play an April Fool's joke on my mother-in-law. Being somewhat of a practical joker, and a smart-ass by nature, I was all for the idea. We decided to say that we were stuck at the border, and they wouldn't let us back across. The kids wanted to do it right away, but I figured it would be best to hold off for a bit. After all, it would have really sucked if we played the practical joke only to have it happen for real. (Can you say Little Boy Who Cried 'Wolf'?) After getting back into the states, and safely on our way back home, we made the call. While my older daughter was telling Grandma Barb that we were stuck, I was in the background yelling at the non-existant Border Guard.

"Get me your supervisor now! Look, I've given you our I.D.'s, the kids' birth certificates, what more do you want? I checked your web site before coming down here, and it said that we don't need passports until January 1, 2008. I'm tired, and my kids are tired. Get your supervisor, NOW!"

Grandma Barb reacted exactly as we expected. "Oh, let me get Grandpa Dan. Daaaaaannnnnn! Dan was already on the other line, and the older kid shouted 'April Foooools!' I think we got them both, but I'll never know for sure.

Friday, April 7, 2006

The Wonderful World of Disney

Anyone with Children understands that no trip to Southern California would be complete without a trip to Disneyland. The kids wanted to go there the first day we arrived, but sexy wife and I realized this wasn't the best approach. In an attempt to maximize their enjoyment of the park (with a little bit of the sadistic torture brought on by anticipation thrown in for good measure), we decided to hit Disney about mid-way through the trip. We knew if we went right away that the kids would be too tired to thoroughly enjoy the experience, and rain was in the forecast for the next scheduled outing day. It turns out that our planning couldn't have been any better. It was a beautiful, sunny day outside, the kids had plenty of energy, and we were there for roughly 13 hours. Despite being there for so long though, we still didn't come close to seeing everything there was to see. We didn't get around to seeing approximately 20% of the park, and we only rode on half of the rides the kids wanted to hit.

Speaking of rides, I've got to give Disney props on their FastPass idea. Once per hour, you can swipe your ticket on any given ride, which will essentially give you head of the line privileges. It significantly cuts down on the time you spend standing in a queue. This said, we still spent a few hours of our time waiting for the rides... and this was considering that we used the Fast Passes to their full extent, we went on a weekday, and for a large portion of the country, school was still in session. I can't even imaging how long the lines would have been during the summer.

One of our early rides was a Ferris Wheel. The picture above was taken from the top of the Ferris Wheel, while the Gondola was slightly tilted. My older daughter was scared for most of the ride, but I think she secretly likes being a little frightened. She spent the majority of the ride with a death grip on my wife and brother-in-law's arms. I tried repeatedly to get a picture of her when she was screaming with fear, but didn't have much success. Every time I brought the camera up, she'd strike a pose. Eventually, it became part of the game. The picture here is the closest I managed to come to catching her mid-scream.

After several more thrill rides at the new park, it was time to hit old school Disney. The kids were having so much fun at California Adventure, that they were reluctant to move to the old park. But when I reminded them that Mickey, Goofy and all of the other characters would be there, and told them about Space Mountain and some of the other rides, they capitulated. In all honesty, I was a little reluctant to leave California Adventure too. That entire portion of the park didn't exist last time I was at Disney, and I've got to admit that some of the rides were really cool! After spending more than half of our time at the new park though, the wife and I decided that it was time to hit the classic area. We started by subjecting the kids to "It's a Small World." That song is still stuck in my head, over a week later, but it was worth it. When I first visited that attraction, almost 15 years ago, I thought it was a little cheezy. Now that I've got my own kids though, I was struck by the vision, whimsy and fantasy of the ride. I figured that my older daughter, being a teenager, wouldn't appreciate it, but I was wrong. The Small World journey brought out the kid in our entire family. In fact, the only ride where I took more pictures was the Monsters Inc. ride.

Our last thrill ride was Space Mountain. By this time the girls were getting a little tired, and this line was long. By the time we got inside, they weren't convinced that it would be worth the wait... especially after seeing the additional 15-odd minutes worth of line inside of the structure. Once the ride started though, they squealed with delight, and both said it was one of their favorite rides -- definitely worth the wait. I likes Space Mountain better this time as well. I'm not sure what they did, but something sure seems to have changed. Maybe it was nothing more than my expectations, and the magic that accompanys bringing your own children to Disney.

As I mentioned, it had been almost fifteen years since I last went to Disneyland. A lot had changed. They had added the California Adventure, and numerous rides had changed with the times. The most important change though, was the change in me. Last time I went to Disneyland, I was a young twenty-something punk who was too cool for Disneyland. The only characters I really enjoyed were Goofy and Snow White... and Snow White wouldn't have her picture taken with me. (I was really pissed about that, but that's another story entirely.) I thought the rides were less-than-thrilling, and was a little disappointed with the experience. Things have changed significantly between then and now. Bringing my kids truly did restore some of the magic within me, and I 'm happy that I went back. Though I acknowledge that Disney is a business, I also understood and shared Walt Disney's vision of a magic place for the whole family. If you've got kids and never been to Disney, you should go. It's a wonderful experience.

Tiger, Eat Your Heart Out

The day after visiting Noni was another day of rest. Like our last slack day, this one didn’t include much down time, it merely means that the day didn’t include any pre-planned activities. We spent the day hitting golf balls. Christine’s dad is an avid golfer, and he was happy to give us some instruction. We started out swinging clubs in the back yard, and dad was a patient teacher. After swinging the clubs for an hour or so, we headed to the driving range. Considering that I had never hit a golf ball before (other than miniature golf), and the fact that I’m a lefty who used a right-handed swing and clubs, I was pleased with my accomplishments. The ball left the ground, and was within a 90 degree arc of where I had hoped to place the ball. The kids showed a little less skill than I did at first, but they did quite admirably.

After the driving range, we hit the miniature golf course, where the playing field was a little more level, and we played two full rounds on two different courses. The first time I was the winner, and the second time I came in dead last. This too turned out well. Before playing the first round, I declared that the winner buys beer. I figured this was a win-win situation for me… either I got bragging rights, or I got free beer... I was pretty proud of my shrewdness. As I mentioned, I won the first game, so I extended the challenge, explaining that it should be the overall winner who buys. They agreed, and I promptly started falling behind. When the in-laws started giving me a hard time about falling behind, I reminded them that the winner was buying the beer, and offered the possibility that I wasn’t exactly playing my best game. At the end of the second game, I was dead last, coming in even behind the kids. When the in-laws asked if I lost on purpose, I just smiled and reminded the wife and kids to mark the day, because it’s a very rare occasion that I fail to win, much less come in dead last… and then I reminded everyone that I had some bragging rights because I won the first round, and followed up by pointing out that I didn’t have to buy the beer because I was dead last overall. Yep, looks like I lost on purpose.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

A Cruise Down Memory Lane

Wednesday was another excursion day. We drove back to Tustin to spend the day with Noni, a friend from my days as a Marine. On the way to see Noni, we stopped in Orange, so I could meet Michael, a co-worker of mine. The company I work for is a large company, with offices scattered all over the place. Consequently, there are people that I’ve talked with countless times, but never met in person. Michael is one such person. Considering how close I was to his office, there was no way that I’d let an opportunity to meet him slip through my hands. We had lunch at The Block, in a restaurant called Alcatraz, a restaurant loosely themed after the infamous prison. It’s more accurate to say that its décor was San Franciscan. The food was decent and the prices were reasonable. They had a killer India Pale Ale, and the place was quiet when we got there, so Michael and I had a good chance to get to know each other in person.

Since Michael and I are co-workers, talk inevitably turned to work-related topics. I know that Mrs. Evan and the kids were bored, but they were troopers, and patiently gave me a chance to talk with Michael, relatively uninterrupted. By the way, you know how sometimes the person you talk to looks nothing like you expected? Michael said that I didn’t look as he imagined me. I didn’t ask what he thought I’d look like. He, on the other hand, looked almost exactly as I pictured him.

After taking Michael back to the office, it was time for another cruise down Memory Lane, and we headed to Noni’s place. In this instance, I’m saying “Memory Lane” with more than a little irony, because I actually drove on a street with that name on the way to Noni’s place.

Talking with an old friend always brings back memories, especially after not seeing them for a while. I talk to Noni a couple of times per year, but we haven’t had a chance to really sit down and talk for ages. Additionally, I got to see her grandkids. I used to baby sit them when they were young. The last time I saw them, the youngest was five years old…he’s got his own baby now. It was fun seeing what kind of men these young boys had become.

Next, it was off to Irvine, so my older daughter could see where she was born. We took the scenic route, so that Noni and I could reminisce about days gone by. I was greatly saddened to hear that The Ranch House, a place that provided me with years’ worth of memories hazed by a drunken stupor, had been torn down. We also drove by El Toro, Tustin’s sister base in Orange County, which was closed the same time Tustin was.

In no time, we arrived at the Irvine Medical Center, the birth place of my older daughter. The hospital had expanded tremendously, but the main entrance was exactly as I remembered it, and I envisioned myself driving up to the front of the building to pick up my new baby and her mother, filled with the excitement that comes from being a new parent. I took a couple of pictures of my now-teenage “baby” in front of the hospital, and then it was off to the Long Beach aquarium, courtesy of Noni.

I had never been to a large aquarium before, and I had relatively low expectations. In the end, I had a great time. It’s the kids who were a little bored. They wanted action and physical stimulation, and the aquarium was more geared toward intellectual inspiration.

What I think we’ll all remember though, is the journey to and from the aquarium. The city of Long Beach was doing some sort of construction when we got there. As a result, we had a horrible time finding a parking spot and getting to the aquarium. We got stuck in a traffic loop… the aquarium was in sight, but we couldn’t get parked, and we couldn’t get out of the traffic loop. It was kind of like that episode of Star Trek (the Next Generation) where the Enterprise got caught in that time loop and kept blowing up… you know, the one where Data broke the loop by using the number 3.

On the way back, it rained. And rained. And rained. It was a deluge like I hadn’t seen for quite a while, and Noni said that she hadn’t seen rain like this in years. Fortunately, I didn’t have to drive, and the sound of the rain hitting the roof of the van put the kids right to sleep.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Rainforest Cafe

When we started planning our outings, I knew that we’d have a lot of things to do, and little time to do it all. At the same time though, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t schedule so many activities that we’d need a vacation from our vacation when we got back home. With this in mind, the wife and I decided that a major outing every other day was a good balance. Since our first full day was a trip to the beach, the second day was planned as a slack day; the kids had different ideas though. They seem to think that adults are there to provide them with constant stimulus, and they were pretty insistent about it. Eventually my wife caved and took them shopping. Knowing that I’m not a big fan of shopping (I’d rather gouge out my own eyes with a spoon), I was allowed to stay home with my brother-in-law and play video games, but we did agree to meet the shoppers at the mall for lunch.

We ended up eating at the Rainforest Café. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the place, it’s got a jungle motif, complete with animated "wildlife." We ended up at a table next to an elephant. Every fifteen minutes or so, the jungle “comes alive” and all of the animals move and make noise. For the most part, it’s pretty cool. Occasionally though, man doesn’t quite get it right. Such was the case here… the elephant noises sounded more like flatulence than anything. So every fifteen minutes or so, our lunch was augmented by the comforting sounds of elephant farts.

Tuesday, April 4, 2006

California Dreaming

NOTE: Today's entry was written while we were on vacation

So far our vacation has been a blast. On Saturday we flew out of our home town and spent the next twelve-odd hours getting to our destination. Like I mentioned, the kids had never flown before, and they took to it very quickly. During the first flight, they asked a million questions… How does this work? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What was that noise? During the second flight, they observed… the people, the sky, the clouds below us, the baby in the seat next to us. By the time the third flight had come, they were tired of being in the air, and wanted to be done. In all honesty, I was a little tired of it too.

On our first full day here, we drove to the beach, which was about an hour away. It was a sunny day, but a little cool. Cool by California standards, of course. We, coming from Iowa, thought it was warm enough to hit the beach, especially considering that the kids had never been to the ocean before. (I had thought that my older daughter saw the Atlantic, but I was mistaken.) The beach we visited was Balboa Beach; a place that I used to visit frequently when I was stationed in Tustin. So in addition to giving my children their first visit to California, their first plane ride, and their first glimpse of the ocean, I got to take a stroll down memory lane.

Getting to the beach brought back a flood of recollections, some vivid enough that reliving would be a more appropriate word than remembering, others so vague that I wasn’t quite sure if it was a memory or something I read in a book. Mostly the latter. I knew the streets… I knew how to get to my destination… I distinctly recognized a few landmarks, and vaguely recalled a few others. The paths were familiar, but the stores had changed. The pier was the same, but the people were different. I didn’t have much time to think about the past though. The kids jolted me from my reverie and we started into the ocean. As we ran for the water, a wave rolled in, putting the family on a collision course with one of Mother Nature’s strongest forces. In the end, she went easy on us, but reminded us of her power. The wave crashed and harmlessly covered our feet, but the water was freezing, and we all gasped and screamed at the shock. Soon, our bodies went numb from the cold and we swam with delight. Eventually though, even the numbness failed to stave off the chill and it was time to walk around town. As we meandered through the shops, I was still surprised by how little I remembered. I recalled the pier and some of the crazy things my friends and I used to do, but none of the stores. I recognized a few of the attractions, but none of the names. It was a strange mixture of sightseeing and revisiting.

On the way back from the beach, I drove by the base where I was stationed -- a base that’s now closed. For the most part, nothing is left. One of the hangars, most of the barracks, and all of the base housing had been wiped from existence. In their places were roads, businesses and construction… or nothing. A large portion of the base was still fenced off, but through the fence I saw grass beginning to grow through the concrete, and weeds encroaching on the few buildings that remained standing. Tustin was significantly different than the beach. As I drove the perimeter of the base, I was acutely aware of what had changed, and what remained the same. Seeing the base at Tustin was an incredibly bittersweet experience. Driving around what little remained of the base produced a deluge of memories. At the same time though, a lot of my past is being eradicated. There’s no doubt that by next time I come to California, what little remains of the base will be gone forever. It will be as if a part of my life never existed. On the good side though, at least I remembered Tustin… much unlike the beach.

Monday, April 3, 2006

R.I.P Sandy

My original plan for today was to start posting some blog entries about our family vacation. I'll start that tomorrow or so, but this is a little more important, in a trivial sort of way. My younger daughter's gerbil, Sandy died.

You may remember Sandy from his one and only role in the epic tale, "The Gerbil Odyssey" Sandy is survived by his owner E-ron, E-ron's sister, E-ron's father, and his wife. Memorial donations can be made to your local bar, in the form of a beer, tipped in Sandy's honor.

Sandy started getting sick a day or so before we went to California. E-ron called me into her room and showed me a little gerbil who was quite sick. His eyes were closed, he was lethargic, and his motor skills were pretty much non-existent. After a quick gerbil examination, I determined that the patient was suffering from malnutrition. (I based this diagnosis on the astute observation that there was no food or water was to be found in his cage, and because he was completely emaciated... nothing but skin and fur. My astute medical training determined that food and water was the best course of action, and I filled the food bowl and water dispenser. After waiting for a suitable amount of time (an hour or so), I checked on the patient. He was eating, but had almost no energy. Additionally, he was really cold. So I cupped him in my hands, gave him a couple of nuggets of food and a few drops of water, hoping that it would give him enough strength to help him subsist on his own.

She suggested a vet, but I couldn't bring myself to pay $100 for a $10 rodent. Instead, I suggested that Sandy might be okay. My main hope was that Sandy's health (or lack thereof) wouldn't ruin our family vacation for the poor kid. That hope was realized, but as soon as we got back, the kids charged in to the house, and before I even got into the house, my older daughter came flying back out, crying "Daddy! You killed Sandy!" My wife and I spent the rest of the night consoling our younger daughter.

Today, on my way home from work, I picked up a small box and invited Sandy's owner to decorate it in Sandy's honor. After she drew and wrote on it to her satisfaction, I placed Sandy in the box and dug a deep hole. I invited E-ron to say a couple of words, and place some dirt on her first pet's grave. Out of respect for her sensitivities, I bought two chrysanthemums... one was placed over Sandy's remains, and the other will be kept in the kid's room for as long as she'd like.

This whole experience was new territory for me. I've had pets, but I've never had one die... my first dog was given away before dying, and I moved out before the second dog died. I've never had to deal with a pet's death, and I've never had to console a grief-stricken child over the loss of a pet. In the end, I think I did as well as I could have. In fact, she's already talking about getting another gerbil.