Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful in Nowhere, Pennsylvania

My parents live in the middle of nowhere, not too far away from Philadelphia, but still in the intersection between nothing and no place.  I think the liveliest part of their town must be the Giant Grocery Store, where sometimes they have those really special coupon days..."Triple Off".  I'm not sure why my parents decided to retire here of all places, moving eight hours from where they had raised us as kids.  But then again, that town was also in the middle of nowhere.  I regret to say that I grew up actually knowing what it meant to go "cow tipping."

There is an old saying that the "home is where the heart is."  Thanksgiving Day is  day for all of us to go back home, be with our loved ones, and be thankful for all of the blessings in our lives.  So while my parents currently reside in Nowhere, PA, it is still the home that my siblings and me, and our own families, congregate every November.  Together on this day of turkey and football, we ate our full and took time to be merry.  We remembered to be thankful for each other and for our good fortune.  And true to form, we enjoyed the liquid meal as much as the traditional gobbler meal.

Of course, as much as those beverages helped us laugh and have a good time, we enjoyed most imbibing in our companionship and getting drunk on the love we all felt for each other.  Perhaps we should not need a day in the year to remind us specifically to be thankful for each other, but it is nonetheless a good day to have.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Is Los Angeles worth California Dreamin'?

My love for the west coast has a big limit.  As much as I love San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle (hmm, the three S’s?), I have never really been a big fan of LA.  I have been to LA and its surrounding environs oh so many times, but the city and I never really clicked.  Maybe it is the old NYC-LA rivalry, although as a New Yorker I honestly don’t think it’s much of a rivalry.  Or maybe it is the insufferable attitude of some Angelinos?  Whatever the reason, I have never felt a compelling reason to spend a lot of time there.  On this west coast trip, however, I would spend two days in LA and its neighborhoods, and to my surprise, found some parts of it better than I had remembered.

I drove up from San Diego early in the morning.  As I approached LA, I was a bit ahead of schedule, so stopped off at some of the beaches just to the south of the city.  I have to say, the beaches are always one thing that LA will have on NYC.  And the weather, too, I guess.

I stopped for a pleasant casual lunch at Laguna Beach.  I guess I should caveat my blasé feelings about LA…I have always liked Laguna Beach.  It’s a charming town with an attractive beach.  It is just far enough from LA to have its own character and yet close enough to the big city to take advantage when needed.  The Ritz Carlton here is also one of the better hotels in the country.  I didn’t make it up to the Ritz, but did enjoy hanging around the village, visiting a couple of art galleries, before continuing up to LA.

I reached LA and kept busy for the rest of the day.  It was almost nightfall when I eventually checked into the Redbury Hotel.  I booked this hotel because I had needed to be downtown, and the Tripadvisor reviews of this offbeat hotel made me curious.  I encountered two surprises when I checked into my room.  First, they had a working phonograph with old vinyl records (yes records) from the 70s and 80s.  I immediately put them on and smiled broadly, enjoying every scratch and hiss from the old 33 RPMs.  Second, the room had a kitchen and a table, but the table had what appeared to be dance pole connecting it to the ceiling. Umm, what kind of parties did people have in this place?

I wandered outside for a bit trying to find a place to eat, but ended up back at the hotel for dinner.  The hotel (and their guests) were still celebrating Halloween.  I enjoyed the meal and drinks, but did not have the energy to stay up too late.

The next morning, right outside the hotel, I found a Hollywood Star for an old time actor whom I kind of admired but sure no one knew about.  I guess it doesn’t take much to get a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

I checked out of the hotel, taking note of its famous location on Hollywood and Vine, and played tourist by snapping a photo of the Capital Records building next door as well as local “art.”

I didn’t have any obligations today, so I thought I might as well continue to play tourist and drive around.  I saw some iconic parts of LA.  Among other things…

I witnessed an erstwhile Buddhist monk on a daily hike.  Or was I mistaken?

I saw the LA skyline from the popular Mulholland Drive.  The good news was no smog.  The bad news was it didn't make much of a difference.  Ho-hum.

I don’t really get the popularity of the Hollywood sign, but it’s still there in any case so I took a photo of that, too.

After enough boredom, I decided to drive up to Santa Monica.  I walked around the pier a bit, and then continued north to explore the nearby towns.  It was a great day for a drive, and I kept wishing I were in my convertible.  So was getting OUT of LA the best part of being in LA??

Getting hungry, I turned around to head back to LA. I debated where to stop for lunch.  I hadn’t been to Venice Beach in ages, so decided that would be my last stop.  My analog to Venice Beach is Greenwich Village from a couple decades ago, full of characters (some a little shady) and with a very distinct subculture.  I like both facets.  I walked around, stopping off at the arts and crafts stalls, T-shirt vendors, and other people along the walkway.  Mostly, it was fun just people watching for awhile.

After lunch, it was time for me to head to the airport and back to the east coast.  As I thought about my two days here, my opinion of the city hadn’t materially changed.  Still, I really enjoyed the weather and the people watching.  And while much of LA-proper was as boring as ever for me, other parts, including the surrounding towns, offered glimpses of promising exploration.  Maybe I will give Los Angeles another chance yet.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Boo! A San Diego Halloween

I don’t know how else to say it: I love San Diego.

Hawaii is heaven on earth, but it is so far away.  San Diego has similar perfect weather and perfect beaches, but has the advantage of being only three time zones away from the east coast.  It also is a place of very fond memories.  If not for California taxes and politics, I would consider moving there permanently.  Still, I will take any excuse to visit San Diego, and as luck would have it, there was a conference in the city at the end of October.

The day time meetings were meetings, ie. quite zzz-inducing.  I took every excuse to sneak out during the days to the nearby beaches and towns, including Mission Beach, Delmar, Coronado and the like.  I have been to these places many times, but I never tire of them.  Each has its own inviting personality.  And the best part of sneaking out in the middle of a weekday is that you have that entire slice of sunny (and occasionally cloudy) heaven mostly to yourself.  I consider myself to be an east coast kind of guy, but even I admit the west coast has its charms.

I always feel strangely content when I am on a California beach, but the happiest part of me are my feet.  It must be the warm sand, even in late October.  And happy feet mean happy me.

As nice as Delmar, Coronado and the surrounding San Diego communities are, my clear cut favorite town in the area remains La Jolla.  The restaurants are awesome; I still remember the first time I dined on the patio at Georges on the Cove.  La Jolla is a bit of an upscale community, with a nice beach and an ocean walk that is one of the prettiest in the area, even on a cloudy day.

Even the seals are friendly in the La Jolla.  On this particular day, however, one specific spot of La Jolla beach had a very noxious odor.  When I inquired about it to the locals, I heard various explanations blaming seagulls to the seals themselves.  I never got to the bottom of it.  It was better just to avoid that stretch of the walk and enjoy the rest of the town.

One of the most picturesque advantages of being on the west coast, of course, is the sunset.  Sometimes, the sun looks like it is exploding as it falls across the horizon.  I imagine that the views from anywhere along the coast are spectacular.

For me though, there is only one spot to really catch an amazing sunset. Whenever I am in the area, I try to catch it from my favorite corner of La Jolla. I am never disappointed.

If the days are best spent on the nearby beaches, the nights are best spent within San Diego itself.  For example, the Gaslamp District has been revitalized over the past decade to rival the happening spots of any other major city.  As luck would have it, this conference spanned Halloween, as one of my favorite La Jolla restaurant reminded me by decorating its signature automobile.

When I looked out my hotel window that evening, it was clear that the entire city was in a festive mood.  Apparently, my hotel was in the middle of a gigantic multi block Halloween party.

I decided to tumble and stumble outside to see the costumes, and was treated to lots of people dressed up, each having fun in their own individual way.  I managed to get a simple face mask in order not stand out so much as an outsider, and had lots of fun looking at people making a general happy spectacle of themselves.

The evening was much more enjoyable than I had anticipated.  I hadn’t personally celebrated Halloween in years, at least not in a public venue, and I doubt that I will again any time soon.  It was still an unexpected surprise to run into these festivities.  Sometimes life gives you those and you need to take them gratefully when you can.

All too soon, it was time for me to leave San Diego.  As I said, I am an east coast guy, but even now I find myself often thinking about those California beaches.  My feet think about them, too.