Vacationing in the land of the mouse

May 11, 2003

Soooo, what are we having for lunch? Mac salad? Crackers and cheese? Dang! Who left that plastic wrapper in the way? Photo by Glenn.
It is Mother's Day as we write this, and outside the window of our writing sanctuary it is shaping up to be a gorgeous 70-something spring afternoon. It is perhaps the nicest weather we have seen so far this season, and a sure indication of the sweltering summer days that lie ahead. A little sun is a welcome sight when you have just spent five days touring southern California with clouds and rain for driving companions.

The hills near Gorman resemble an artist's pallet. Photo by Roni.
The end of April found us all with time off from school and work, so we decided to take advantage of our rare convergence of vacation schedules for some needed R&R. We decided on a visit to L.A. this time, figuring we hadn't been there in a couple of years and that it would be easier to do on Glenn's 10-day vacation than the 3,000-mile drive-a-thon we took last year to Montana. It would also put us in the neighborhood of Disneyland, which was a Ben-minded destination we thought would make a good birthday present for a kid of nine years.

May I have your autograph? Minnie Mouse is the first to sign Ben's book at Disneyland. Photo by Glenn.
Tuesday, April 29 — We hit the road before 10 a.m., which for us is good time, and venture toward Highway 99 for the trek south. A Pacific storm is rolling in and Roni worries that it will follow us all week. Glenn reassures her that even if it gets bad out in the Central Valley things will improve by the time we cross the Grapevine into the L.A. basin. We stop in Fresno around noon for a picnic lunch at a large park near the public zoo. We are joined by several bold squirrels who eventually tire of our feeble offerings of bread crusts and make their way onto our table to investigate the contents of our picnic bag. Ben has about as much fun chasing the squirrels up the trees as he does climbing on the equipment at the nearby playground.

That wasn't so bad. Ben gives a positive review after surviving the Star Tours ride. Photo by Glenn.
Accompanied by a soundtrack of Ben's Gameboy and radio talk shows, we make good time through the valley and Bakersfield, and find ourselves climbing the grade through Tejon Pass as evening approaches. As we approach the tiny town of Gorman we are greeted by a rainbow-like carpet of yellow, orange and purple splashed about the hills. Wild mustard, poppies and lupines have created a conflagration of color, no doubt aided by the wet winters and spring rainfall the pass attracts. Roni takes photos from the moving car, but there is no way they can do the scene justice.

Ben gets some driving tips from Mom before hitting the road at the Autopia car ride. Photo by Glenn.
We escape rush-hour Los Angeles with only a couple minor traffic jams and head into Anaheim, but without a good road map we are on our own. Mere tourists in the land of the mighty mouse. Naturally we get turned around and are treated to the twilight scenic tour of Anaheim's seedier neighborhoods. By the time we discover the hotel district and book a room at the Comfort Inn it is already closing in on 8 o'clock and bedtime. We are thankful for the Carrows restaurant next door.

Ben hangs loose with his new best buddy, Winnie the Pooh. The autograph book was getting pretty full by late afternoon. Photo by Glenn.
Surprise, the clouds have followed us to Anaheim, and the weather report calls for more of the same tomorrow. No rain today, so we decide to take our chances on Disneyland and pray.

Wednesday, April 30 — What is it about motels that you never get a good night's rest? We were all exhausted after the long drive down, but none of us slept well, and now we are up at 8:30 in an effort to scarf down a free continental breakfast before venturing into Disney's lair. The breakfast is about the only free thing we will do today. The clouds appear threatening, but we try to ignore them as we make our way to what we believe to be the theme park's entrance on Disney Way.

So long, Disneyland. Ben waves to some of the performers in the Main Street Parade as closing time nears. Photo by Roni.
Disney is a crafty outfit indeed. True to their ability to cleverly disguise some of the world's longest lines at the park's most popular rides, they also have deftly concealed the fact that what appears to be the entrance is merely a false front for the actual parking lot. We pay our eight bucks and are given instructions to drive another three blocks in search of the main gate. Once we have found our stall on the fourth floor of the park's new multi-level garage, we take the tram to the entrance and fork over our $131 to get the three of us inside.

Disney's California Adventure lights up the Anaheim skyline as we get one last shot from the fourth floor of the Disney parking garage. Photo by Glenn.
It isn't long before we find Mickey and Minnie posing for photos and dishing out autographs for the "guests." This is a defining moment of our day, as Ben decides he will embark on a quest to gather as many signatures as he can. We pop for an official autograph book and he's off and running. Dad and Mom are handy with the digital camera to capture Ben with every character he can corral. By the end of the day he has met Goofy, Pluto, Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, Woody the cowboy and Annie from Toy Story fame, Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too. There was Captain Hook from Peter Pan, Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, and even the Queen of Hearts whom he hounded like a paparazzo until she signed his book. Other families are waiting in line for Splash Mountain and Small World; we're searching high and low for Chip and Dale and Donald Duck.

Glenn puts Ben's driving skills to the test on the bumper car ride in Newport Beach. Ben proved he could give as good as he got. Photo by Roni.
But with 10 hours to kill from our arrival to the park's closing at 8 p.m., there is ample time to take in many of the other attractions. Roni is not a fan of roller coasters, so she reads one of her novels while Glenn tries to coax Ben onto a few of the big rides. Ben's first taste of a roller coaster comes on Star Tours, which is like a virtual bumpy high-speed trip through space. He isn't so sure he wants to go on the ride, but once it is over he remarks that "that was the best ride ever." Which must mean it was pretty cool. We also hit less turbulent attractions, such as the Autopia cars, the Pinocchio and Snow White rides, the Haunted Mansion and the Mark Twain paddlewheeler. We cruised around the park on the steam train, learned about the Civil War in the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln exhibit, and hummed along through the multi-lingual Small World ride.

Everybody rides the carousel. It's tough getting this shot one-handed while you're traveling in circles and moving up and down! Photo by Glenn.
By the time several dozen costumed characters marching in the evening's Main Street Parade have led us like the pied piper toward the exits, we are dead on our feet. We pick up the obligatory overpriced souvenirs and head back to our motel. We have cheated the rain for a second day and remarkably still have enough cash left over from Disneyland for dinner. We are again thankful for the Carrows restaurant next door.

Mom keeps the camera warm while her brave men ascend skyward on the small Ferris wheel at the Fun and Game Zone. Photo by Roni.
Thursday, May 1 — Our Disney odyssey complete but still feeling the physical aftereffects, we decide to spend the day on a leisurely sightseeing trip. Leisure and the L.A. freeway system aren't good bedfellows, so we stick to the surface roads. Roni has discovered some used bookstores in Anaheim, so naturally our first stop is at the Book Baron and its 20,000 square feet of old paperbacks and magazines. There is something there for everyone, including Ben who nearly loses himself in the Pokémon and video game section. Roni finds some more Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz novels to add to the new bookcase.

We took this three-car ferry to Balboa Island just for fun, but the locals who use it regularly know it saves several minutes off the old commute. Photo by Glenn.
After seeing more of "Old Anaheim" than we care to, we meander down Beach Boulevard until we hit the coast and decide to explore the Balboa Pier area of Newport Beach. This turns out to be an unexpected delight. In a tourist magazine we stumble across an amusement attraction called the Fun and Game Zone, which turns out to be a little like Coney Island and Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf combined. We blow 20 bucks on tickets for rides that include a carousel, bumper cars, tea cups, a Ferris wheel, and something called the "Scary Dark Ride" that was more cheesy than scary. Being early afternoon on a school day, we have the rides mostly to ourselves. Ben and Glenn convince Roni to join them on the bumper cars, and the three of us have a five-minute bumpout. We hang out in the arcade area playing skee-ball and video games, then stroll the pier until we come across a hole-in-the-wall joint that sells New York-style pizza by the slice. It's good stuff, Roni says, but not the way New Yorkers would make it. Ah well.

Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too? Ben enjoys the sweet taste of turning nine. Photo by Glenn.
Rather than take the main road back to Highway 1 for the return trip, we opt for the three-minute ferry ride across the harbor just because we can. It's a postcard perfect day, the first (and last) one we've seen on our journey, and being on the water around all the sailboats bobbing in the harbors makes us glad to be living in California where popping down to the coast is an easy spur-of-the-moment choice. Of course, heading back to Anaheim in rush hour traffic is a good reality check to counter any notions that one might actually want to live down here.

We are back at the motel early enough that we can at last take advantage of the swimming pool to soothe our aching legs. Dad helps Ben put his new swimming skills to the test in the cold water while Mom hangs out in the bubbles of the hot tub comparing notes on southern California with another traveler from Australia. It's our last night in Anaheim. We forgo a formal dinner at Carrows and opt for the various leftovers we've saved from earlier in the trip. Thank heaven for in-room refrigerators.

Three generations. Glenn and Ben pose for a photo with Glenn's grandparents Sorenson in Hemet. Photo by Roni.
Friday, May 2 — Ben turns nine years old as he sleeps. We are heading to Hemet today to visit Glenn's grandparents Sorenson, whom we haven't seen in a couple of years. Glenn's grandfather is 91 and doesn't get out much anymore, but they are happy to have us stop by and have picked up a chocolate bakery cake to help Ben celebrate his big day.

We dine on cheese sandwiches and Hawaiian style pizza, then do the birthday thing. Ben is, of course, eager to open his presents, which we have been carting around with us in the trunk of the car. There are many books, some Pokémon cards, a cheap digital camera (that we later discover doesn't work with our computers, natch), and the Pokémon Ruby cartridge for his Gameboy Advance, which he had included on his "must have" list. We also give him the "Animal Crossing" disk for the GameCube, which will give him something to look forward to when we return home.

Glenn's grandfather won't let us leave before we have bagged several pounds of oranges, lemons, grapefruits and nectarines that grow in abundance in their back yard. We will be eating fruit salad for days to come. There are plenty of photo sessions before we say our farewells and head out.

Before returning to our room at the Best Western on Florida Avenue, we make our way to nearby San Jacinto where Glenn's grandma has told us we can see the traveling Vietnam memorial wall that is in town for the last day. It is supposed to be an emotional experience, and we hope that seeing it might help Ben understand all the patriotic fervor that has been stirred up by the recent war in Iraq. There are plenty of yellow ribbons and flags flying at the park when we arrive. Lots of people are milling around, checking out the thousands of soldier names on the replica wall and browsing the information booths set up under the trees. There is even a tank displayed in the parking lot. It's a thorough production, but a bit overwhelming for Ben, who resists even the mention of war-related news. Our visit is brief, but memorable nonetheless.

Dinner is at Hometown Buffet. Best dining experience we have had so far, mainly because we can all choose whatever we want to eat and get it served quickly.

Old Glory hangs proudly over the traveling Vietnam memorial wall in San Jacinto. So many names on that wall. Photo by Glenn.
Saturday, May 3 — Our run of good luck with the weather finally ends. We awake to gray skies and wet pavement. Fortunately, we are heading home today and the rain won't spoil our plans. No continental breakfast here, but the motel has provided us with complimentary vouchers for Grand Slam breakfasts at the neighboring Denny's, so we sit and wait for them for more than half an hour with the rest of the Saturday breakfast crowd. It sure was great having a Carrows next door for three days.

We check out a couple more bookstores on the way out of town. It is after 11 a.m. by the time we start the soggy trek through L.A., and the rain hits us with a vengeance as we head over the Grapevine on I-5. Glenn is on a quest for a particular book he can't locate at any of the chain bookstores at home, so we locate a Borders in Bakersfield where he quickly finds what he is after. That accomplished, we follow the rain until we reach Merced for yet another Carrows dinner. We are eager to get back home, but the rain and darkness make the drive feel longer than it is. We scan the radio for oldies stations on the trip up Highway 99. Most of what we find are sports, religious broadcasts and Spanish language stuff. Whatever happened to glory days of AM radio? We probably could have made the trip from Hemet home on a single tank of gas, but the needle's on empty and the little red light is on, so we decide not to press our luck in the rain and stop for fuel in Tracy, a mere 20 miles from Oakley.

Home! The house hasn't burned down and the cats are still alive, so we'll call it a successful vacation. Only thing left to do is unpack the dirty clothes, clean out the cooler and figure out what to do with several pounds of citrus. Roni already has plans to stir up a pitcher of lemonade.

Hope your summer vacation travels are as enjoyable as ours were. We'll talk at you again in June.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

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