Thursday, October 26, 2006

Spooky Spork

This is my favorite time of year. Part of it is the weather. In October we often have sunny days, but the sky is a different blue, the air is cool and brisk, there are yellow and orange leaves mixed in with the green, and the light itself has a different quality. Even today, when the sky is gray and there is a low-lying fog blurring my surroundings, it still has its own beauty.

In addition, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. There is just an element of creativity that you get to have as you design pumpkin carvings and costumes that I appreciate.

Unfortunately, in my current job it is our busiest time of year, so I don’t get to do as much with it as in years past. As I was reflecting on old memories, it occurred to me that my best Halloween memory and my worst both occurred on Sauvies Island. That’s pretty impressive considering that I have only been there three times.

The worst was one night where a group hayride was organized. I was going with my friend Elizabeth and some others, and due to some complications they had, we were running very late. By the time we got there the hayride had already left. I was disappointed to have missed it, but we hung around looking at the shop until the others got back. At this point, a guy she was interested in started talking to her, and offered to drive her back in his sports car via Old Germantown Road. That is the scenic route. It would probably be more scenic in daytime, but it was still an exciting offer because she liked him and she liked the car, and with some minor pangs about abandoning the rest of us she accepted.

So, that wasn’t horrible for me—just incredibly lame. With the travel time involved it was a total waste of an evening. The memory stings more because it was just the beginning of my being totally dropped as a friend as she got more and more into the guy. I have had other friends get married without that happening, so ultimately I guess we weren’t friends, we were pals, and I was disposable. It hurt a lot though, because it was happening at a time when I really needed a friend.

The fact that I am calling my best memory the best probably makes me kind of mean, but that won’t be the first time.

It was another group activity, but this time it was the corn maze. The sign said “haunted” after a certain date that was already past, but I was not sure what that meant. Although there were many of us, I was primarily with two girls, Annie and Danica, and Danica’s enthusiasm was boiling over. She wanted to run off in a separate direction, ignoring the maps and turning off the flashlights, and we humored her. She was skipping quite a ways ahead, and as she turned a corner she suddenly stopped, screamed, and starting running back towards, and then past us.

I was kind of curious about this, so I went up to look around the corner. It was an evil clown. I mean, not regular clown evil—real evil. She was crouching on the ground wearing a black cloak, a shock of read hair sticking up ala heat miser, the red nose with eye and mouth makeup, and carrying a knife. (The knife was obviously plastic, but the intent was still clear.)

Well, that explained it, so I nodded and turned around to go back to my friends. I could see that Danica had made it quite a ways and Annie was going after her. As I started towards them, the clown started following me. I thought, okay, the clown needs to be scary, I need to make up some distance, fine, I’ll jog. I’m not much of a jogger, but okay, the clown gave up, and I made it back to my friends.

Annie was holding Danica’s arms trying to help her get a grip, and as I got closer I could hear Danica saying “I hate clowns. I wish we hadn’t come.” That’s when it hit me—she was actually scared! I mean, I guess I kind of thought she had been startled by the clown and then with her natural enthusiasm it went a little over the top, but no, it was genuine fear. We met back up with the main group, but the rest of the night was ruined for her because all she could think about was whether or not the clown would show up again. (I did actually see her again, but she was in another area and I did not point her out.)

Anyway, because I am a jerk, I found it incredibly amusing. I did feel sorry for her and try to help her, but it was also funny. I guess I had some sense of exhilaration from not being scared.

You see, I was always scared of haunted houses in the past, and would refuse to go in them. Even the one at Disneyland I could barely be gotten into as a kid, and I once stayed alone in a car for an hour and a half while other people went through the Haunted Caves. Then comes this watershed moment where I realize there is nothing to be scared of. They can’t hurt you. They can’t even touch you without getting sued. (That is a recent development by the way. Back in the day they would not only touch you at the Haunted Caves, I know people who were picked up and carried places.)

I had a similar change with roller coasters that go upside down, going from no way to just abandoning all fears and loving it. Getting over fear is good.

In the case of haunted houses, I then started going to many, and was able to refine my theory. In groups, the ideal combination is to have one person who completely suspends disbelief, one who does not suspend it at all, and then some in between. That way you have the person who pulls you in to increase the excitement (or amusement), and the anchor who can pull you back out if things get too scary.

And the actors know who is whom. When we went to the Triple Maze of Terror and Haunted Dungeon at PGE Park, there was always a monster following Karen. When we went to the 13th Door, one ghoul followed Little Sister M into the parking lot. The sadistic side of me thinks that rocks, but my nice side will make you hot cocoa and tell you jokes until you feel better.

Lastly, when I was pointing out the issue of them not being able to touch you in the corn maze, someone raised the point of yes, but what if an escaped murderer ends up here at the same time? She felt that with her luck, if it happened to anyone it would happen to her.

First of all, I just like my odds on that one; I think I will be okay. However, I have thoughtfully prepared a list of three trouble signs that will let you know when to take things more seriously.

1. They touch you.
2. Their weapons are made of metal, not plastic.
3. They are not teenagers.

It’s not a given that they are bad at that point, but you should at least be ready to act defensively. And really, you should always know a few self-defense moves, regardless of your location. My favorite is a swift knee to the groin.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Away to San Jose!

The first thing that must be acknowledged is yes, every time I hear that city name, the song goes through my head. I did not sing it to any natives though, and maybe only once to my traveling companions. You have to be considerate like that. Actually, the hotel was in Santa Clara.

The second point is that it was not the coolest trip I have ever taken by a long shot. I don’t regret going, but if I never make it back there, that is okay.

Little Sister M, Friend H, and I arrived around noon on Thursday. We needed to pick up the rental car and head over to the hotel where Little Sister J would be waiting, having finished her last meeting.

We were there because Intel is there, but we saw other high-tech names everywhere. I think it is more obvious when you are in the Silicon Valley than in the Silicon Forest.

The road layout is interesting in that you spend the majority of your time on expressways, at least using the driving directions we had. We would change expressways about four times on the average excursion, and then once you get onto a regular street it is one block to your destination.

Our first stop was Winchester House, located in San Jose proper. This was one I had wanted to go to for a long time, and I would say it is the one most worth going for. I was surprised to see how it is smack dab in the middle of the city. The surrounding land has been sold off and developed, so it’s basically next to a strip mall.

I did not feel anything spooky whatsoever, but it was still interesting to see. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and you cover a lot of ground on the tour.

If you do not already know, Sarah Winchester was told by a medium that the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifles were angry and would haunt her, and she needed to keep adding onto a house to make room for them. Not only is the house huge, but there are some oddities like a door to nowhere, stairs to nowhere, and similar things. The obvious thought is that she’s crazy.

One thing we learned is that their only child died of failure to thrive, and that was followed by her husband dying of tuberculosis. So, she basically saw the two most important people in her lives waste away, dying by inches. You can see how malevolent spirits could seem reasonable. Also, she had the money to get away with it.

I was surprised to see an option to purchase a year pass to the house, as it does not seem like a place you would keep coming back to. However, they do have three different tours: the standard (which we took), a behind the scenes tour, and a flashlight tour. You can also do a self-guided tour around the garden. I explored the garden while my exhausted entourage rested in the café, because you do cover a lot of ground. If you wanted to do everything, and you lived nearby, it would make sense to do things on different days.

On Friday we headed down to Gilroy to visit Bonfante Gardens.

I have contemplated doing a guide to Disneyland based on body type, because depending on your shape, some rides are less comfortable than others. However, you can still go on almost everything. This is not true of Bonfante.

Many of the rides are set up for children only, and that is fine. We just did not happen to have any children with us. However, even on some of the all access rides, access was indeed limited by size and weight, even for those who were not particularly heavy.

There was an episode of Designing Women where they go to a spa, and Charlene and Suzanne end up in the weight loss program while the rest are pampered and coddled. Charlene is embarrassed to be there, and keeps piping up that she just had a baby. Finally Suzanne snaps, “Yes. As opposed to the rest of us who are just fat and childless.” That’s what I was thinking.

Also, because on the web site there was such a focus on agriculture and horticulture, I kind of expected better landscaping. Yes, they had the circus trees, but it just was not as pretty as it could have been.

Finally, the prices inside the park were expensive, and the customer service was pretty indifferent. We only found one friendly employee in the entire day.

Do I hate the place? No, but I can’t recommend it. If you are in the area, perhaps for the garlic festival, and you have small children, it’s a reasonable stop, but it is not a destination, kind of like you would not travel cross-country just to go to the Enchanted Forest in Salem.

Our last stop was Great America in Santa Clara. Size was an issue again, though not as much. Customer Service was indifferent again too. I guess Disneyland has spoiled us because they really train them well there, and they recruit students from all over the country, and their staff in general is just friendlier and better informed. No one knew if the theater with the motion simulator was operating or exactly where it was. That should not be a hard question.

The rides are pretty cool for the most part. I loved The Demon. (The Grizzly is probably also pretty good, but it broke.)

It was far too crowded, but of course it was a Saturday. Generally we are only at amusement parks during the week, and we go during the off-season. Great America is only open on weekdays during the summer, so you either have hot weather or weekend crowds. I don’t know how crowded the summer weekdays get, as I think California is year-round school, so you would not have everyone out on summer vacation. I could go back here, but I would be more likely to try Magic Mountain or a Six Flags, just for something new. And, who knows? Were I to develop a new body I might want to try them all again just to see what that was like. I would probably still not do Bonfante again without small children.

So there you go. Nothing fantastic, but nothing horrible either. Chances are the worst day on vacation is still better than the best day at work. It’s just that work pays for them.

I still need to report on Toronto, but it will not be until I get back from Italy. Arrivaderci!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

World-wide Spork

I am behind again, as is no surprise, and I have some travel to catch up on, which is one of my favorite topics. Before that, I thought I should take a moment to explain how all of the travel ended up happening so close together.

First of all, I subscribe to Portland Opera. I have been doing so since 1998. Occasionally, I will get advertisements for other opera things, but nothing has ever tempted me until about two and a half years ago when I received a solicitation from Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. They were building a new opera house, and they were going to inaugurate it with three consecutive full productions of Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

I should back up and explain that the Ring Cycle is a series of four operas with a continuing storyline. The most famous segment is probably Die Walkurie, because everyone has heard “The Flight of the Valkyrie”, and that is where it comes from.

Portland Opera does four or five operas a year, and I think that is fairly common, unless it’s the Met, so either you are just doing one of the series, and you lose some context, or you do the whole thing and that is your entire season. And if you are only doing one composer for your entire season, making it Wagner is a risk. All of the stereotypes of bombastic music delivered by fat women in Viking helmets originate there.

The point is, it’s a huge commitment. The way they were doing it was spreading the four nights over six days three weeks in a row. The continuity is great because you are seeing what happens the next night or the night after, and the musicians are the same and the same singers are doing the same characters as their story continues.

I personally do tend to prefer Italian and French opera, but I listened to the cycle on CD, and it really is beautiful. Plus I had never been to Toronto, so I signed up. It is hard to plan your life two years in advance though, so it is not surprising that there were complications. My time there was September 18th through the 24th.

My mother is from Italy, having come here because she married an American soldier who was stationed over there. She has been back to visit three times. She went with my father, older brother and older sister before I was born, and she went with my younger sisters twice while I was struggling to get through college, so I am the only one who has not been there. The only member of her family I have met is her oldest sister, who has come here a few times.

Mom’s last time over there was eleven years ago. We have thought about sending her many times, but there were always concerns with work and money, where you think maybe next year will be better. However, her oldest sister is twenty-one years older, and eventually you realize that you do not have forever, and maybe there is no such thing as a good time. When we had looked at all the different possibilities for who would go, and when, it ended up being me with Mom, and in October. We leave the 6th and come back on the 17th. I have less than two weeks in between getting back from Toronto and leaving for Italy.

My sisters and I also really like amusement parks. Disneyland is definitely where we go most, but we have talked at times about maybe taking an early morning flight on a Saturday, spending the day at Magic Mountain, and coming back that night. The idea has come and gone, but while Little Sister J was exploring the internet, looking at Great America in Santa Clara revealed some other interesting attractions nearby. As we were debating if we could do it, and when, she got scheduled for a business trip to Santa Clara at the end of August, and it seemed perfect, so she had us join her there on the Thursday, spending three days there.

As you can imagine, I am really pushing the limits of my available vacation time, but I don’t really regret it. I love travel. Go somewhere? Yeah! Almost anywhere. I mean, it’s not like it’s taking time away from my husband and children, or that I am worried about not progressing very much in my career. About the only grown-up responsibility I have now is a house (that will be a topic for another day), so I might as well have a hobby of some kind.

So these are the trips that I need to catch up on. I’m hoping I can write up Santa Clara and post it Friday morning, right before we leave, and then have installments on Toronto and Italy in the few weeks afterwards.

Next up? Well, my younger sisters turn thirty in February, about a month after I turn thirty-five. They have been looking at ways to make it special for a few years, originally thinking London, then Vegas with friends, then settling on Disneyland with just the three of us. About two months ago, J had the idea of Hawai’i. None of us have been there, and January should be a great time to go. M was very upset to lose Disneyland, but we argued that it might be better in April, so it’s a good thing I get more vacation in January because it’s going fast. Also, someone mentioned the possibility of just a weekend in Vegas in December, but I don’t think that one will really happen.

Still, it is going somewhere. Hmmm.