Stan’s Obligatory Blog

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Bright light city gonna save my soul, gonna set my lungs on fire

Filed under: — stan @ 10:13 pm

This past weekend was a grand adventure. Last fall, when I did the “Stair Climb to the Top” at the U.S. Bank tower in downtown Los Angeles, a woman I talked to there told me about the stair climb up the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas. I looked it up, and it looked like fun. The climb was on Saturday, March 13. And as an added bonus, if I could make the cut and be in the top 50 climbers, I could do it a second time on Sunday in the ‘run-off’ to determine the winner. And besides, it seemed like a good excuse for a weekend in Las Vegas.

Kathleen and I drove out there on Friday afternoon. The trip was pretty uneventful, and we got there just after dark. I was pleased to see that the middle-age-mobile averaged over 30 miles per gallon for the trip. After checking in to the hotel, we took a walk to go find some cheap prime rib, since that’s one of the things Las Vegas is known for. We got a good nighttime view of the tower, and I took a moment to contemplate it a bit. And after dinner, we rode the elevator up to the observation deck to see the view. When we were up there, we asked the security guard where the stairs were, and he showed us the door and the top of the staircase. It looked simple enough. How hard could it be?

Saturday morning, I got dressed in my running gear and got ready to climb. The starting order was pretty random. They said it was just the order that we’d signed up in, so I knew I’d be able to catch and pass at least a couple people on the way up. When we lined up, they gave us a small lecture about the tower stairs. The staircase goes up the central core of the tower. it follows the side of the elevator shafts, so it’s in a roughly triangular space. There are landings on each end of the base of the triangle, and the staircases go back and forth across the space. One way, the staircase is attached to the wall. The other way, it goes directly across the space, about 6-8 feet away from the wall. So that leg is about a 20-step staircase that is just anchored at the ends, and there’s nothing on either side of the railing. This is known to give some people the willies.

When I started climbing, I saw immediately what they were talking about. And yes, it gave me a slight case of the willies. So when I was on those staircases, I just focused on the middle of the stair about three steps ahead and just blocked out the fact that on my right side there was a 300-foot drop. This went on for the majority of the climb. Probably on the order of about 600 vertical feet. I’d been practicing my pacing on the stairs at the library at Caltech, and I set my watch to beep every second to act like a metronome so I could maintain a steady pace. And I managed to do that all the way up. At the top of the tower core, the stairs entered the ‘pod’, which is the round space at the top where they have the bar, restaurant and observation deck. From there it was just a normal staircase for about eight floors up to the observation deck. The stairs let us out into a hallway where they gave us each a towel and a bottle of water. When I got there, I just flopped down on a chair and gasped like a fish out of water. Yow.

As always, I had the “Climber’s Cough” at the top. And everyone else did, too. It was easy to tell who had just finished the climb, because we were all hacking up phlegm. Apparently, this is a known phenomenon caused by high blood pressure in the lungs from the exertion of climbing.

After catching my breath, I had a look at the results that they were tallying on a large monitor. I was pleased to see my time was 11:35.96. I’d hoped to do about 12 minutes, so this was a pleasant surprise. And at the end of the day, it was good for 23rd place overall. This meant that I’d made the cut and could climb in the finals on Sunday.

We spent the rest of Saturday doing Las Vegas-y things. It was good fun.

On Sunday morning, I got dressed again and ready to climb. This time, the starting order was the same as our rank from Saturday. Between that and the fact that they sent us off at one-minute intervals pretty much guaranteed that nobody was going to be passing anyone else today. This meant that it was going to be a solitary climb. Just me against the stairs. Before starting out, I did a little warmup by walking up on the down escalator. Sort of like a stair treadmill. Again, I set my watch to maintain pace, and again I was able to maintain the pace all the way up. For some reason, it hurt a whole lot more the second time. Go figure. But I managed to shave a second and half off my time to finish at 11:34.50, which was good for 26th overall, and 3rd in the 50-59 age group.

I did the math, and my power output for the climb works out to about 0.35 horsepower for the 11.5 minutes it took to get to the top. I’m pretty happy with that for being 50 years old.

So now it’s onward and upward to the AON tower climb next month. And this one is also for charity, so if you can, please stop by and make a donation, however small, to the American Lung Association.


Another day at Universal, with much less water

Filed under: — stan @ 8:55 pm

Since Lucinda and I had the Presidents’ Day holiday off today, we decided to go back to Universal again. They only sell tickets with the ‘buy a day and come back any time for a year’ thing, we figured we’d take them up on it. Since today was a nice sunny and warm day, we figured there would be more people than last time, but the upside to dealing with crowds was that we weren’t going to get soaked. So we gathered up Kymber and we all headed over there this morning.

When we got there, we immediately headed down to the lower lot, since the sign said that the lines for the rides down there were not very long yet. We rode Jurassic Park once, then the Mummy twice, and then back to Jurassic Park again. In between the first and second Mummy rides, I stopped at the snack bar and got a napkin to make some earplugs. And then I was much more comfortable. As I’ve mentioned before, riding a roller coaster with two ten-year-old girls can involve a lot of screaming. The first picture on Jurassic Park had me stoically holding my ears to block out all the screaming on the final drop.

We had lunch overlooking the end of the Jurassic Park ride, and then we went back up and saw the “Waterworld” show. After that, we did the obligatory tram tour. I got a chuckle from the Los Angeles Fire Department golf cart. We usually think of the fire department with lots of gear going very fast to put out fires. And the image of them puttering around in a golf cart was just a bit absurd.

After the tram tour finished, we went back down to the lower lot for the “Backdraft” show. And then one more time on the Mummy. By then, it was getting late. I figured we had time for one more ride, so Kymber and I got in line for Jurassic Park again. This time Lucinda didn’t want to go for some reason. So while we were waiting, I texted her and said that we were going to send her a message from inside the ride. I wrote up a short message:


and saved it in the ‘Drafts’ folder on my phone. Then, when the boat was just tipping over the edge of the final drop, I pulled out my phone and hit ‘Send’. The ride photo shows me holding my phone in the air as the boat plunged into the water at the bottom.

All around, it was a fun day, even if we did have to wait in line some. The rest of the pictures are in Lucinda’s photo album.


The scene of the crime

Filed under: — stan @ 5:19 pm

Last week, I saw that TMZ had posted the coroner’s report on Michael Jackson’s death. Right on the first page of the report, it gave the address of the house where he had been living, and like Phineas Flynn, my first thought was, “I know what we’re gonna do today.” I mapped out a route for the Sunday bike club ride.

We rode out by the most direct route possible, through South Pasadena and Highland Park, and the across the L.A. River and into Hollywood. We rode down Hollywood Blvd, which is always a bit of a weird place to be riding a bike. Then we cut south to Fountain Ave, where we saw the house with “STOP In the Name of Love” on the roof. Then we rode down part of the Sunset Strip and on into Beverly Hills. We made a short sightseeing stop at the tree where Lindsay Lohan crashed her car a few years ago. Then we stopped at the park where George Michael was arrested in 1998. Then we turned off Sunset Blvd and up the street to Michael Jackson’s house. The gate was covered in flowers and little printed tributes that people had posted online.

Leaving the scene of the crime, we passed what was one of the coolest mailboxes we’ve ever seen. Then we rode up Benedict Canyon and then down the other side into the Valley. We stopped for a snack at a little coffee shop in Studio City, right across from Vitellos, which is the restaurant where Robert Blake and his wife shared their last meal before she was murdered.

On the way home, we also stopped off at the Barris Kustom showroom to peek in the windows at the Batmobile and other cars on display there.

All in all, it was a fun little sightseeing ride.

56 miles.


A (wet) day at Universal

Filed under: — stan @ 7:40 pm

Today was a random day off for Pasadena schools. For the past two years, Lucinda and I have made a tradition of going to Disneyland on these random days off. Since most other schools aren’t off, the parks tend not to be very crowded. But this time, our friend who works at Disneyland is off on family leave with his new baby, so he wasn’t available to let us in. So we decided to try something different and go to Universal Studios. I haven’t been there since 1996, and Lucinda has only been there once before. So we got her friend Kymber and the three of us went there today.

The school schedule dictated when we had to go, and the fact that it started raining today wasn’t going to stop us. It was cold and wet there, and we got pretty soaked walking around in the rain. But we still had a fun time. A lot of the rides are indoors anyway, so those gave us a chance to get in out of the rain for a bit. We rode the Simpsons ride twice, and eight times on the Mummy ride. In the afternoon, they opened the Jurassic Park ride, and we rode that one three times. Well, actually, Kymber and I rode it three times. Lucinda didn’t come the first time. But we dragged her along for the second time, and she decided she liked it enough that we all went around for a third time. This was the upside of the rain and cold. There were no lines for anything today. We just walked up and got on.

So even with the wet and cold, it was a fun day. The rest of the pictures are in Lucinda’s photo album.


A bit of Cold War history

Filed under: — stan @ 8:27 pm

Today’s bike ride was a sightseeing trip in to the Hollywood Hills to see the former Lookout Mountain Air Force Station. This was a small film studio run by the military during the Cold War. Since I like to collect Cold War memorabilia, this looked like an interesting piece of history.

It was chilly in the morning, but clear and sunny. There was snow on the mountains. It was the kind of day when they take postcard pictures.

We took the most direct route out there, riding straight down Hollywood Blvd, which is all right early in the morning. I collected a new entry for my collection of amusing signs. There was a crew filming something right in front of the Chinese Theater. Then we turned up Nichols Canyon for the ride up into the hills. That’s where we saw the teepee up on the hillside. That was strange. Coming down into Laurel Canyon, we passed by the former site of Houdini’s house. Then we headed up Lookout Mountain.

The ride up Wonderland Ave was a slog. Only moderately steep, but the hill seemed to go on forever. We passed the site of the 1981 Wonderland Murders, and then I saw a garage door with a fallout shelter sign above it. That was the back entrance to the former studio, which has been converted into a very large house. They had a fence around it, so we couldn’t see too much inside. Just a little peek over and through the fence. It looked like a 1940s-era military building. And it must make a very funky house.

We rode back down Wonderland and then up to Mulholland Dr. On the way, I saw a mailbox that looked like something straight out of We stopped at the Fryman Canyon overlook for water and to take a group picture. Then we headed back down Mulholland Drive. We took a shortcut down Woodrow Wilson Drive at the end, and that’s where we saw the tile house. That was very strange.

Our snack stop was at Priscilla’s. It was still chilly, but we sat in the sun and it was nice. Then we headed home by the most direct route possible, which meant riding up and over a fairly large hill in Glendale. We were all pretty tired from the slog up Wonderland Ave, but we made it. And yes, it was a nice ride.

48 miles.


The Case Study Houses

Filed under: — stan @ 8:05 pm

From just after World War II until the mid-sixties, Arts and Architecture magazine did a series of articles on the “Case Study Houses“. These were houses that they had designed and built by the top architects of the day. Most of them are in the Los Angeles area, and today we rode to see three of them.

The basic route was our “Toluca Lake” ride. We rode down through Eagle Rock and then up the Los Angeles River bike path. Then past Griffith Park and Forest Lawn to get to Toluca Lake and Case Study House #1. Fortunately, David had read the articles about the houses we were visiting, so he acted as docent, telling us the story of the house and why it was designed the way it was.

Leaving Toluca Lake, we headed up into La Cañada to Case Study House #15. This one was built at a slightly odd angle on the lot in order to take advantage of views of both the mountains behind it, and, on clear days, a view of the ocean off in the distance.

Coming down off the hill, we rode over to Altadena for the final stop on the tour at Case Study House #20B. This one is on the somewhat-famous “Christmas Tree Lane” in Altadena.

Finally, we rode across Altadena and back down the hill to the park. It was a very nice ride.

43 miles.


Another San Diego trip

Filed under: — stan @ 10:23 pm

On Monday and Tuesday, Lucinda and I went to San Diego again to visit my father and to go to Sea World again. When we got there, we had lunch with Grandpa. After that, we visited for a while at his place. We watched “Fly Away Home”, which Lucinda liked. After that, we went to our hotel to register and then we came back for dinner with Grandpa.

On Tuesday, we got up early and went to see the seals in La Jolla. They were all lounging on the beach, but we saw a few sea lions swimming around in the surf. We also walked over to Cave St and took the tour of Sunny Jim Cave. Lucinda was a bit spooked to walk through the tunnel down to the cave, but I managed to coax her down there. After that, we went to Sea World. We walked around and saw a lot of animals. We also took the Skyride, which gave Lucinda serious willies. At the end of the day, we went to the Shamu show, where we made a point to sit above the stadium rows that get wet. That might be fun in the summer, but not so much in December.

It was a fun little trip.

Pictures from the day are here:
Lucinda’s photos
Nature and Animals photos


Hollywood afternoon

Filed under: — stan @ 10:24 pm

This afternoon, I took Lucinda and her friend Kymber to Hollywood to visit the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. We’d been there once before, and she’s been talking about wanting to go back again. It’s a random collection of weird stuff, which is perfect in Hollywood.

We took in the museum and it’s oddities. The girls kind of skipped over the more morbid ones, but overall, they found it amusing. And afterward, we took a walk down Hollywood Blvd, since Lucinda had never seen the footprints in front of the Chinese Theater. Along the way, they got hustled for a picture with one of the characters in front of Hollywood and Highland. And I have no idea who she was supposed to be.

They walked around and saw footprints of a lot of stars they recognized, and lots more they’d never heard of. They were hoping to find Michael Jackson there, but apparently he’s not.

When we left Hollywood Blvd, it was not dark yet, so I took them up to see the Hollywood sign close-up. I’ve taken the bicycle club up there several times, so I know how to get as close as you legally can to it. And I took their picture there.

It was a fun little afternoon.


The rest of our San Diego adventure

Filed under: — stan @ 10:43 pm

On the day after Thanksgiving, Lucinda and I had some little adventures around San Diego. We started out at La Jolla Cove to see the seals. Then we went down to Mission Beach to ride the Giant Dipper roller coaster. After that, we went to Cabrillo National Monument to see the lighthouse and the tide pools. And finally, we went to Sea World. At the end of the day, we went back and had dinner with Grandpa before heading home to L.A. It was a long, but fun day.

Pictures from the day are in Lucinda’s photo album, and also in my Nature and Animals collection.


Thanksgiving, 2009

Filed under: — stan @ 10:35 pm

This year, I took Lucinda to San Diego for Thanksgiving to visit with my father. Our plan was to make a full traditional home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen of our room at the Residence Inn.

I made several things the night before, and got more ready in the morning before we left. Then we loaded everything up in a big cooler and brought it down there. The trip was an ordeal, since it was heavy and slow traffic all the way from the El Toro Y down to Encinitas, which amounted to nearly half the total trip distance. So what should have a been a two-hour trip turned into nearly four hours. But we made it there just in time to put everything in the oven and still be able to have it all ready by 6:00.

Once everything was cooking, we went and picked up Grandpa. And then we all came back to our room and had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. It turned out that I’d only forgotten a few vital kitchen items, so everything turned out just fine. But next time, I will not forget to bring along containers to hold the leftovers. That turned out to have been a major oversight.

It was a nice day.

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