It’s the end of the year, and time for my annual wrap-up of the year’s adventures. And yes, being old-fashioned, I still print copies of this and mail them tucked inside physical cards. My personal rule is that the letter must fit on one side of one sheet of paper. So here it is, complete with links:
It’s time for the 2013 Los Angeles County Fair, and time to go visit my award-winning blueberry muffins in the display case there. We got lucky this time, and it was a very pleasant day. Usually, it’s blazing hot out there in Pomona, but today was very nice. Warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and with a pleasant breeze.
We went to see my muffins first. The ribbon came in the mail last week, and I’m quite pleased that these are my first non-cookie prize winners. We spent a bit of time looking around at everything else there. I’m hoping they come out with a cookbook of the winning recipes this year, so I can try making the muffins that beat mine. I want to know what’s in them.
After lunch, we got some Dr. Bob’s ice cream, and then went and saw a show with dogs leaping in the air catching frisbees. That was entertaining. We also got to pet a hedgehog. Then we walked over to the old train exhibit. I’ve wanted to see that for a long time. And we saw a display case with some bent and broken rails from the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake.
We took a turn through the buildings where they have all the booths selling random stuff. I thought the teeth-whitening booth looked kind of creepy. Like something from “Alien”. And then it was time for the pig races. The pig races are entertaining, and we get a coupon good for a free pound of bacon. What’s not to like about that?
It was a fun afternoon.
This evening was the 9th Annual Johnny Ramone Tribute at Hollywood Forever cemetery. This year, the event included a screening of “Cry Baby“, and a personal appearance by John Waters to introduce the film. Add to that that Johnny Depp, Traci Lords, and others from the movie were going to be there, Being a big fan of both the Ramones and John Waters, this was an event not to be missed.
Since Kathleen was laid up at home recovering from her surgery last Thursday, Lucinda and I made plans to go to this, along with my friend Lisa from the West Coast Labels stair-climbing team. I made us a too-big picnic to bring along, and dug out our Tommy Bahama chairs, and we were ready to go.
We set up camp on the lawn, and Lisa got in line to get autographs from John Waters. I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, largely because everything I have by him is already signed. And as it turned out, that was a good thing. She waited in line for a long time, and then they cut the line off just before she got to the front.
Lucinda spent some time sightseeing in the cemetery and taking pictures. They had Johnny Ramone’s statue decorated for the occasion, and they turned on the lights as darkness fell.
Before the film, they held question and answer session with John Waters and the others from the film on the stage. Lucinda was excited when she found out that the panel would be introduced by none other than Dita. They took some questions from the crowd and talked about making the movie. Then John Waters took the stage by himself to introduce the film. As always, he was very funny to listen to. After he finished, we watched the movie, and as always, it was very entertaining. It had been years since I saw “Cry Baby”, so all around, this was a very fun evening.
On Sunday after the Towerthon, we spent the day playing tourist in San Diego. In our case, that meant having breakfast with my father, and then going to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido. It was a perfect day to be outside, so that worked out well. Lucinda asked if she could do the zipline this time, so we got tickets for her and London to do that.
It was a fun and entertaining day. Highlights included feeding time for the meerkats, the new lemur exhibit, where Kathleen got closely inspected by one of the residents, and the baby antelope running around it its enclosure. Pictures of the zipline adventure are in Lucinda’s album. And the best of the animal pictures I took that day are here.
This weekend was the San Diego edition of the American Lung Association’s stair climb. I’d originally planned on doing it, but after being sick this week, that just didn’t seem like such a good idea. But we’d already planned on going there to visit my father, and also to see the baby seals and the baby panda.
We went to La Jolla Cove on Saturday afternoon to see the baby seals. There were a lot of them out on the beach, and because it’s pupping season, they have the beach roped off to keep people away. So we got to see all the seals snoozing on the beach.
Saturday evening, we went to dinner with Dad at Costa Brava in Pacific Beach.
Sunday morning, we went to the zoo early, since we’d read that the baby panda was on display from 9:30 to 11:30. But when we got there, they told us that the baby panda was not going to be out today. Still, we got to see the other giant pandas, as well as the red pandas. And we also got to see a baby koala, which pretty much made up for the missing baby panda.
All in all, it was a fun weekend, even if it didn’t involve climbing any stairs.
Pictures are here:
We rode the train there this time. And now that the Expo light rail line* is running, it was an easy trip. There was even a USC football game today, and it was still no problem. Hooray for progress.
When we got there, we went in to see the spiders first. They were big and creepy-looking, as we’d hoped. A lot of people are afraid that the spiders will drop on them, but they really don’t move much. They just pick a spot to build a web, and then they just sit there. There was one spider that somehow had ended up standing on another spider’s web, and for a minute it looked like they might get in a fight, but the interloper backed off and moved away.
After the spiders, we went inside to see the new Dinosaur Hall. They’re redone the whole dinosaur exhibit there, and it’s pretty good. It’s nowhere near as big as the Hall of Dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, but it’s still way better than their old exhibit. And they did have one place where they had a painting of the current vision of a velociraptor with feathers. Sure, that kind of blows the whole ‘bloodthirsty killer dinosaurs’ idea from Jurassic Park, but that’s the Advance of Science for you. They’re still killers, but they’re much cuter and cuddly-looking with feathers.
We spent a little time looking around the rest of the museum before we had to go home. On the way out, we stopped to peek into the building where they stashed the space shuttle. Then we got on the train to go home. It was a nice afternoon outing.
* Also known as the ’slightly lighter shade of blue line’.
It’s the end of summer, and almost time for school to start again. So that means it’s time for a visit to San Diego to see Grandpa and play tourist. The plan this time was to go to Sea World, mostly to ride the new Manta roller coaster. Now, why they have roller coasters at Sea World is an open question, but whatever. It looks like fun.
We went down on Saturday to visit with Grandpa. We stayed in a guest apartment in his building this time, and that was great. It was just as big and comfortable as the Residence Inn suites we usually stay in, but it was right there in the same building. So that was convenient. We visited for a bit in the afternoon, and then we all went to Prado in Balboa Park for dinner.
On Sunday morning, while everyone was getting ready, I took in the stairs at my father’s building. It’s 20 stories tall. 316 steps from the first floor to the top. So I did that five times. My best time was 2:09.
We had lunch with Grandpa on Sunday, and then we headed to Sea World. When we got there, we went straight for the Manta. They said the wait was 45 minutes, but it turned out to be more like 25. And it was a fun ride.
After that, we headed over to see the penguins and the Wild Arctic exhibit. The little piece of Antarctica they have in the building there was full of penguins. But because it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it was winter in the penguin exhibit. So it was dark in there, and hard to get good pictures.
In the Wild Arctic, we got to see a polar bear facepalm. We also got to see a walrus, some beluga whales, and magellanic penguins outside. They’re cute birds, but very smelly.
We went to see the Sea Lions Live show, which is always fun. They didn’t have the sea lion jumping over a bar with a ball balanced on his nose, but it was still a good show.
At the turtle exhibit, we got to see big sea turtles gliding around the tank, and also a freshly-minted turtle turd. The fish in the tank seemed very excited by that. Yick.
The sea otters weren’t very lively. They were just floating on a little raft and snoozing.
And finally, Kathleen and I went back and rode the Manta again. The line was shorter then, and it was still a fun ride.
It was a fun day, and a fun weekend.
This weekend was the San Diego edition of the Lung Association’s “Fight for Air” stair climb. It’s only 30 stories, hardly worth showing up for. But it’s an excuse to go visit my father and go see the baby seals at La Jolla. So we all went down there for the weekend. Because this is a short one, Lucinda even agreed to do it.
We spent Saturday going to see the seals and visiting with Grandpa. And on Sunday morning, we headed downtown to the Omni Hotel. Our assigned start time was with the 12:00 group. There was some kvetching about this from the other West Coast Labels people, and most of them agitated for and got an earlier start. So they were all done by the time we got there. But I figured that as long as I started at the front of our wave, it would be all right. They allowed several minutes between waves to clear the stairs, and as it turned out, I didn’t have to pass anyone on my trip up.
Last year, I did this one in 4:03. I knew I could go faster, so I was aiming for 3:30 or better. So I figured I’d look at my watch at 11, after 10 floors. My goal was to do that first 10 in as close to a minute as I could. So when I got to 11, I looked at my watch, and it said 1:15. My immediate thought was,
“Crap! I need to go faster!”
So I turned up the heat, and I didn’t look at my watch again. When I came out at the top on 31, my watch said 3:27. So I knew I’d managed to increase my pace significantly for the last 20 floors. And when we went back down, I saw that my time was 3:23, which I was pretty happy with. It was good for 7th overall, and 3rd in my age group. The only guy older than me who went faster was Mark, and that’s normal. And both Kathleen and Lucinda improved their times from last year. Sadly, Lucinda missed getting third place by 4 seconds. Still, it was a good outing.
While we were waiting for the awards, I talked to a group of cute tattooed girls who were doing the climb for the first time. I’m always a fan of cute tattooed girls, and if they’re wearing bunny ears, so much the better. And I thought that the “Breath Takers” team name and logo were very good. The girl I talked to said that she was a lung transplant recipient, which I thought was very remarkable on many levels. She had done the climb, and she was very chipper for someone who had undergone such a major procedure.
At the end, I got a medal for 3rd place in the 50s age group. And the West Coast Labels team pretty much swept the awards. And in general, any day that includes time up on the podium for an award is a good day. So it was a good day.
This year’s Scale the Strat stair climb was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I took almost 40 seconds off my best time for the tower. But on the other hand, I blew out my throat and lungs breathing the extra-dry desert air, and I ended up coughing so much that I couldn’t race on in the finals on Sunday. And on the third hand, Saturday was Lucinda’s 13th birthday, so she got to have a fun weekend in Las Vegas with Trinh. So overall, it was a good weekend, even if I didn’t get to do my best performance on the stairs.
We headed out there on Friday morning. The idea was to get there before dark. We stopped at Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker, since the girls all like their jerky. I don’t really get the appeal of jerky, but the place is amusing. When we got to Las Vegas, we got checked in to the hotel, and the girls went off on their own. Kathleen and I went up the tower to scout it out. I’ve been on a mission to get a fully-detailed layout of the stairs there, and I wanted to have a peek into the stairwell at the top to count the steps on the last two flights. I figured they’re be the same for all eight levels of the pod at the top of the tower.
After the scouting mission, we all headed over to Circus Circus for dinner. I got the obligatory prime rib that I always look for in Las Vegas. And after dinner, the girls all got some faux-ice-cream thing that I tasted and thought was horrible.
Saturday morning came, and I’d made up my preliminary map of the stairs. And based on that, I figured out split times that I’d need to make for the three major landmarks on the climb. The first was the first rest area, 1/3 of the way up the tower shaft. The second was the other rest area, which is about 2/3 of the way up the shaft, and the final landmark was the first fire refuge level at the bottom of the pod, right at the top of the tower shaft. I made up split times, aiming to be at the top in 11 minutes. Then I wrote them on a little card and safety-pinned it to the back of my glove, so I could see it at the same time when I looked at my watch.
I made the first landmark about 10 seconds ahead of schedule. The second and third landmarks were right on schedule. I managed to put on a burst of speed at the end, and I stumbled out of the stairs in 10:43, which is 37 seconds faster than my previous best time for this climb.
After the climb, Kathleen was signed up to do the Sky Jump off the tower. So we got cleaned up and headed down there. They got her suited up, and I had a seat on one of the lounge chairs they have set up by the landing area next to the tower. When they announced that it was her turn, I turned my big zoom lens up and shot a bunch of pictures as she came down. It was over pretty quickly, but she said it was fun, that is, it was fun after she got over having to take that first step off the edge.
Saturday evening, we went to the Peppermill for dinner with the whole West Coast Labels/X-Gym stair climbing team. All afternoon, I’d had a bad case of the Climber’s Cough, brought on by breathing the dry desert air in the stairwell. But by dinnertime, it seemed to be getting better.
After dinner, we headed downtown so that the girls could do the zipline on Fremont St again. But when we got there, my cough came back, worse than before. I’ve coughed a lot after stair climbs, but never before so hard that I thought I was in serious danger of barfing. When I nearly lost my dinner on Fremont St, I knew I had to pack it in. So Kathleen and I gave the girls enough money for cab fare back to the Stratosphere, and we headed back to our room.
By this time, I was starting to have serious doubts about running in the finals on Sunday morning. But I figured I’d just go to sleep and see how I felt in the morning.
Sunday morning came, and I felt slightly better. But my throat was pretty raw, and all my chest muscles were sore from all the coughing. That was when I came up with a plan to salvage the situation. I knew that running all-out was out of the question. But on the other hand, I’d wanted to do a scouting trip up the stairs to get an accurate map and step count. And since I’d qualified for the finals, I had my ticket into the stairs. So I wore my shorts that have pockets, and I brought along a pen and a notepad. When it was time to start, I started out like normal, but as soon as I was up the first couple of flights, and out of sight of the starting line, I pulled out the notepad and started writing notes. I counted the steps on every flight, which was pretty easy, since the majority of the climb is just 20-step flights, with a landing and a 180-degree left turn. At the second rest area, I even took a minute to look over the side of the stairs and contemplate the 250 or so feet of empty space below my feet. That was impressive. I shan’t be looking at that again, I think. At the end, I walked up the last flight and strolled out of the stairwell, notes in hand. It was a bit of an odd way to end the race, but at least I got some useful information out of it.
After the climb was over, I went over my notes, and I quickly determined several things that we’d all been wondering about:
- How many steps are there?
- How high is the climb itself?
- How many floors are there in the pod?
And the end product as a complete chart of the stairs. The observation deck level of the tower is 855 feet above street level. It turns out that the 3rd floor, where they start the climb, is 47 feet above street level. So the climb is 808 feet, and 1,372 steps. This is, as I’ve been saying, about the equivalent of a normal 60-story building. So even though they said it’s “108 stories”, they’re exaggerating. And the published step count of 1,455 is wrong. And finally, there are 8 levels in the pod. So this will be an aid to planning and computing split times for future climbs.
The last thing we did on Sunday afternoon was to go to New York New York to ride the roller coaster there. Kathleen and I rode it last year when we were here for the stair climb, but we couldn’t ride it when we were there in May, owing to the wind being too strong that day. So we finally all got to ride it. It’s a pretty good ride, even if the 200-foot lift hill at the beginning gives me the willies.
Overall, it was a nice weekend. And we didn’t even get stuck in much traffic on the way home.
I canceled our DirecTV service today. Kathleen and I used it to watch the Oscars on Sunday. And I got to thinking that before that, the last thing I can remember watching on it was Punkin Chunkin back at Thanksgiving. We used to use it to watch “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report”, but since we got Hulu Plus on the Roku last July, we watch those over there. And Lucinda pretty much only watches streaming things from Netflix on the Roku. For as much as we’ve used the DirecTV since last summer, it works out to something like $60 an hour for the few things we’ve watched on it. It’s just not worth it.
So that’s that.