hiking, travel, Uncategorized

360 Degrees of Beauty – Santa Monica Mountains, CA

If you can ignore the hideously high prices of real estate, food, gas, (and, well, everything else), the geographical disasters – mudslides, earthquakes, wildfires, droughts – and the occasional civil unrest (riots, shootings, muggings, oh my!) then the Los Angeles area has a lot to recommend it. The weather is famous with sunny skies and mild temperatures practically year round. And although the earthquakes are a nuisance sometimes, they do have nice side effects: gigantic mountains. If you’re a hiker like me, that’s a good thing.

Los Angeles also has its fair share of, shall we say, unique individuals. For example, a few months back, this made the news. Some overly muscled young men, one presumes, lugged a piano up to the top of a nearby hill. Witness:

Source: Eddie P.
Source: Eddie P.

My hiking friend Sara and I had to check this out. Which had nothing to do with the prospect of overly muscled young men, I assure you. Is it getting warm in here? Anyhow, early one Sunday morning we set off on a ridgeline path on the Topanga Lookout Trail that ended in views like these:

graffiti two

lookout two


graffiti one

Alas, the piano had disappeared, perhaps pushed over the edge into the brush below? We will never know. We were too busy checking out the colorful graffiti. And the 360 degree view.

The day was a bit warm, but  the breezes are nice up high here, and you’ll seldom find a better view in the round. The three muskateers, Rudy, Kima, and Misha, smiled their approval.

PicMonkey Collage

In case you’re in the area (about 35 miles northwest of Los Angeles), here’s another link for the Topanga Lookout Trail. Recommended!

general wackiness, humor, photography, travel, Uncategorized

I Wonder as I Wander … at WonderCon

What’s this? An actual travel post from me, your delinquent travel (slash writing slash animal) blogger? Glory hallelujah! I’m doing a brief look at my experience in exotic downtown … Anaheim. Yes, the Anaheim Convention Center to be more accurate. WonderCon is usually held on Easter weekend in the Bay Area. However, the last three years have seen it in Southern California due to scheduling conflicts. Conference organizers claim that they hope to return the con to San Francisco soon, so there’s no telling where the con will be held next year.

Over all, WonderCon with its 50,000 or so attendants, is rather like a mini-Comic Con (which boasts at least 125,000 attendants, and spills out of the San Diego Convention Center to bleed garishly all over the Gaslamp District). It’s even put on by the same nonprofit organization. WonderCon, however, does not take over Anaheim with the same single-minded gusto that Comic Con takes over San Diego. Not only do hundreds of cosplayers (fans in costume) range everywhere, but buildings and buses are festooned with ads for TV series and movies and so forth. San Diego transit even gets into the mix by changing the transit signs to Klingon (past years) or Dothraki (Game of Thrones). See an example of this wackiness here.

Anaheim is not quite so obsessed with WonderCon. After all, they have DISNEYLAND. Yes, that was supposed to be in all caps. Mickey and Minnie Mouse gallivant all over Anaheim, not to mention the other Disney characters. They have all become passé to the regular inhabitants. The city welcomes the thousands of geeks which WonderCon attracts, but they don’t exactly know what to do with them. A case in point:

Last year I was waiting for a bus to take me down the street to my hotel room for a little well-deserved showering when a homeless man appeared, reeking of alcohol. Mumbling to himself, he lurched down the street. A young man and his girlfriend, dressed as some anime duo or another, walked past the homeless man. Upon seeing them he gave an exaggerated double-take. Not unlike this:


However, his amazement was soon lost due to his efforts at retaining his balance on a busy streetcorner.  Not two minutes later another couple strode by, wearing something like this:

Cosplay - Catgirl and Friends 2006


The homeless man now performed a triple – nay, even a quadruple-take. Then he proclaimed in loud, plaintive tones: “What is going on here??”

Ah, the stuff of dreams. That’s WonderCon for you.

Here is a little gallery with some other photos from this recent event.

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Invariably, I am completely broke when I attend these events (let’s face it, that’s how I’m able to travel anywhere – saving money to get there and stay there, not buy stuff) but this year I managed to buy a few things from the wonderfully well-stocked Exhibit Hall. Behold:


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WonderCon is a less expensive, less crowded, less crazy way to experience a pop culture event than Comic Con (whose tickets have become increasingly difficult to obtain). It’s not just for lovers of comics, but those who enjoy anime, cartoons, manga, books, movies, games, TV shows, and collectibles. You don’t even have to dress up. Chances are you’ll have a great time either way!

humor, travel, writing

It’s the Destination, not the Journey

There are places that we travel to that we never forget. They embed themselves in our minds because of their beauty, majesty, symbolism, romantic history, or exotic splendor. These are the places that, when we are old and infirm, we will remember with a smile, and perhaps an embellished story or three to our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

There are also places that we never forget for reasons not quite so awe-inspiring. Garberville, California is one such place. Last year, while in the middle of a rather agonizing bout of back pain, I decided that I simply had to go up to Crater Lake, Oregon. My long-suffering husband Dave did little to talk me out of this notion, 27 years of marriage having convinced him that when travel was concerned I would only be put off for so long. So there we were, driving our aging Nissan Maxima up the 101 freeway past San Francisco and north toward Oregon. After a drive of many hours, shortly after nightfall, we decided to gas up and eat dinner in a pleasant little hamlet of pine trees and rolling hills just off the freeway. As it was a Sunday evening, we feared that not many places would be open, but we were in luck! A little café was not only lit up, but it saw a steady stream of fellow travelers and locals.

The whiteboard above the counter listed numerous healthful and popular eating choices such as are often found in Northern California — alfalfa sprouts, tofu, and so forth. Dave was pleased to note the establishment’s beer selection, as he always is. The cafe was decorated with the flowing hippie-like artwork of what I presume to be a local artist or two, and various other hallmarks of small town life – a stand for the local newspaper, some posters about the softball league and announcements about garage sales and women’s club gatherings. We noted, with pleasure, the older gentleman with a long flowing gray and white beard who stumped up the stairs to the second level of the restaurant while carrying an old, well- used fiddle.

Music! How delightful.

Soon after he began playing, however, the hideous scratchings, howlings, and shriekings emitting from the instrument caused our opinions to change somewhat. No one else seemed bothered by the awful commotion, but we found it far from relaxing. I should note here that neither one of us are music snobs. Back in the misty years of our youth, David learned to strum a bit on the guitar, but hasn’t picked it up since, and my last musical endeavor occurred in the sixth grade when I learned — and promptly forgot — a recorder.

Dave usually takes quite a while figuring out what he wants to eat and even longer choosing a beer, so after ordering I fled to the porch, away from the “music.” Seating myself on a well-used plastic chair, I observed the surprising number of local inhabitants out for an evening stroll. I say surprising number because the town was quite small, barely much more than a few shops, now shuttered for the evening. I noticed that the two dozen or so people wandering around streets at this hour seemed to include a larger than usual assortment of dogs. Being a dog lover, they caught my eye.

“Look, dogs!” I told Dave when he came out to join me, beer in hand.

“I don’t like the looks of these people,” he said. “Keep an eye on the car.”

“But they like dogs!” I exclaimed. How could such people be untrustworthy in any way?

Dave gave me an unimpressed look. He is a great lover of dogs, as long as they don’t eat, poop, bark, destroy anything, or look at him. So, basically, the stuffed kind. Or the kind that populate that painting with all the dogs smoking and playing poker.
A Friend in Need 1903 C.M.Coolidge
I looked closer at the dogs. Usually they lacked leashes, or their leashes were made of ratty pieces of rope that the dogs’ owners must have found on the road somewhere. The dogs looked perfectly content to stay in their little pack, however. Perhaps this was because the human members of such a pack rather more closely resembled homeless dogs. None of the humans seemed to be wearing shoes, man and woman alike, nor did they seem to have availed themselves of a bathing facility any time in the recent past. Several of the men wore long dreadlocks, and several of the women may have run a comb through their hair in the previous week, although it was kind of hard to tell. The expressions on these people’s faces were usually rather serene and included a happy grin or two. There was loud talking and some skipping, too, as I recall.

One and one began to add up to the expected total of two. Here we were in Northern California — Humboldt county — surrounded by people who look like they dwelled under the bridge.

It was about that time that the proprietor of the establishment came out and informed us that drinking beer on the porch was specifically forbid by law and that we needed to go back in and endure Grandpa’s horrible scratchings upon the formerly noble instrument known as a violin just like everybody else.

Well, all right, maybe they left that last part out.

Dave seems to recall that the food wasn’t half bad, although I have no such memory. Suffice it to say that we ate our meal rather speedily and continued on our way, happily unscathed by the experience.

While in the course of writing this little blog post, I asked David if he remembered our visit in Garberville. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s when we stopped in the pot capital of California. There were a bunch of bums and dogs.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rather concise summation of this little tale.

general wackiness, humor, travel

San Diego Comic Con Madness: Part II

San Diego Convention Center (7584114534)

In Part I of my Comic Con write-up I gave you a brief taste of the packed-to-the-rafters scene inside the 2.6 million square foot San Diego Convention Center. What? 2.6 million? Am I serious? Yes! But apparently it’s not enough to contain the greedy entrepreneurial marketers who cannot resist the specter of hundreds of thousands of high-earning (or future high-earning) nerds descending on downtown San Diego. And good for them. I mean these people are performing a valuable public service. They offer true value. What fan doesn’t need gobs of flimsy cardboard signs, $.02 luridly-colored gee-gaws with the names of various TV shows, movies, books and games splashed across them, and thin plastic or cloth bags the size of the side of a barn to lug around said crap. You do!

Swag giveaway by the Discovery Channel in the Gaslamp District.

Honestly, a weird kind of fever comes over fans who attend Comic Con. Even if you normally don’t care about said nick-nacks somehow you will wait in a line for 6 hours to obtain one while you are at Comic Con. Or snatch one by chasing down one of the hapless half-clothed model-types who appear on street corners to dispense them, not an easy task since you must also push through the maddening crowd like a housewife grasping after a bargain price on bras. Same thing, really.

Over the years these marketers have set up shop in the Gaslamp District directly across the street from the Convention Center. Some movie or TV studios take over whole businesses, draping them in advertisements or completely transforming them into dens of iniquity/fantasy wonderlands like the recruitment hall from Ender’s Game or a mysterious maze/encounter with Godzilla or a free cereal bar with dozens of types of cereal and five kinds of milk to promote King of the Nerds.

Costumed man on stilts in the Gaslamp District of San Diego
Just your regular Comic Con attendee. On stilts.

Mobs of people, most of them under 30, descend on the Gaslamp district to experience this one-of-a-kind sight. Many of the crowd are dressed in incredibly complex, creative and tight costumes of any sort of obscure comic book character you can think of. The advertisements are only one facet of the place, which also hosts numerous parties – some of them star-studded – movie premieres, game lounges, fan gatherings, zombie apocalypse stock-up shops, food trucks, and so on. One year I was walking along the sidewalk in the Gaslamp District and a bakery van pulled up beside me and delivered a HUGE, freshly baked cupcake. In 2013, I waited in line for autographs from the cast of the History Channel’s series Vikings, which were held at a water-themed mock up with racing kayaks, of all things. A group of about 25 Viking re-enactors showed up and had a grand time posing for pictures and shouting out, “For Odin!”

Group of people costumed as Vikings.
Random Vikings at Comic Con 2013.

One of my favorite Comic Con activities is a free, family-friendly event outside the convention center: the San Diego Zombie Walk. Where else can you be placidly enjoying your glass of wine and dish of pasta at a sidewalk cafe when hundreds of gorily costumed zombies shuffle by in search of brains? Nowhere else, my friends!

The “Con on the Lawn” is a relatively new phenomena located between the convention center and the Hilton Bayfront hotel. There are games, giant Lego creations, stages, tents, lines and events in the bay such as the TV Guide yacht, which evidently is only accessible via special pass, and the Jackdaw from Assassin’s Creed III, an authentic ship from bygone days (a loaner from the nearby San Diego Maritime Museum suitably decorated).

Tall ship decorated as the Jackdaw from Assassins Creed III.
The Jackdaw from Assassins Creed III.

The hotels are incredible, an one of the best parts of the con experience, in my humble opinion. Competition for hotel rooms closest to the convention center is intense, not to mention expensive, even at con rates. However, when you share with friends it becomes affordable. It’s nice to experience a little luxury every now and again. One friend, when confronted with the beautiful decorations and high end expensive touches, blurted out: “I’m not worth this!”

Steampunk man on trolley in San Diego.
You can definitely tell who’s headed to Comic Con, such as this gentleman on the trolley.

Hanging out in the hotel bars in the evenings is a fun way to relax, and the potential for celebrity sightings is high, since many of the celebrity attendees stay at these hotels. I’ve seen Robert Downey Jr., Chevy Chase, and Tyler Posey. I even rode up the elevator with the last two. Very exciting, let me tell you! Speaking of celebrities, there are plenty of them outside of the convention center as well. Some are just walking around the streets, taking in the spectacle for themselves, and others are attending special events like the charity panels put on by Nerd HQ every year.

The drama and frustration of securing tickets to Comic Con and downtown hotel reservations every year could fill another entire entry, but I won’t go into the particulars of those right now. Suffice it to say that although it’s not the easiest thing in the world to access, Comic Con is definitely one of the best. I’ll be headed there again, God willing, in Summer 2014!