How we know each other
Rao and I worked together 10 years ago on an enormous Year 2000 computer project and have stayed in touch ever since. I attended his wedding in New Jersey many years ago and was unable to blend in to the crowd of hundreds because: (1) I’m white, (2) I’m over a foot taller than anyone else there. It was an amazing wedding and I still have fond memories of it. Our most recent get-together was during my divorce, where they took great care of me. Rao’s son, Mohan is Aaron’s age and he reminded me a lot of him. Indu is a warm and wonderful woman who took excellent care of me and shared some amazingly good recipes that look very easy to make when she does it. I have not had the same success.
Disneyland was someplace I had wanted to take Aaron when he was old enough to appreciate it, and now was an excellent time. He’ll be turning five in about two months. I had packed snack items to hold us through the travel. He favors hummus, rice crackers, grape tomatoes and cheese, but lately has also picked up a taste for the carrots that still have all the greens attached. He can pretend to be a rabbit that way.
We also brought along books and videos for the flight, but he’s going through the books faster all the time. We spent the last part of the flight thumb wrestling. Aaron and I flew with United Airlines, which I found out some new things. First, United has a very poor record about timeliness; delays have become the norm. Second, you can request a seat with more legroom. That is the best idea I have heard in such a long time. I’m 6’6” (exactly 2 meters) so legroom is critical. For $30 extra, I get to exhale in comfort and not drive my knee into someone’s back. I’m definitely using this airline in the future, if arrival time is not important.
We’re at the baggage carousel and Aaron’s pretty pumped about the entire trip. He’s checking everything out and just doing kid stuff. At one point he decided to spin himself around until he was too dizzy to stand. It was fun to see the helicopter parents around me try to rein in their kids as the little ones started to do the same. I’m sure I was silently cursed a number of times.
By the time we got to the car rental place, the kids were getting hungry so I broke out the food supplies while Rao was getting the rental car. Rao had one of those GPS (global positioning systems) devices that takes about 30 minutes to install correctly but will eventually provide direction in a bland male voice. He told me we could also opt for a bland British female voice or a computer voice. They all sounded like computer voices, but we stuck with the first voice we found.
Rao had reserved a two bedroom suite at the Residence Inn less than a mile from Disneyland. Aaron and Mohan were chasing each other in the lobby while we found out about our room. I was pleased that the kids were acting like they always knew each other. It turns out the room was not available since others decided to extend their stay. Same with another Residence Inn about a mile away. Who knew the Martin Luther King Day weekend is apparently a big deal for Disneyland? Walter behind the desk was pretty uncomfortable and tried to make things better as he called around for a place for us. One was found 13 miles away, but it would be a two bedroom, two story penthouse! On top of that, the room was free that night. He saw the tired and pained look on our faces (it was well after 8pm by this time) and also said he’d take another $100 off the following night there, assuming a room came available. To summarize, for our exhaustion and delay, we just saved almost $400.
The kids were tired and still hungry despite all the snacks. I didn’t think the kids would do well in a restaurant and it would delay things further. Instead, on the way to the hotel we stopped at a Trader Joe’s grocery store and stocked up on a lot of stuff. I’ve heard it said you should not go grocery shopping while hungry and I have to agree with that statement. The Residence Inn hotels have kitchens, so we got food we could prepare. Over $50 worth, just for the weekend.
When we finally got to the hotel, it wasn’t nearly as nice as the other one. Rao got the key and we started looking for our room. Its one of those setups that have about eight apartments to a building. It was past 9pm and by this time, we were all pretty punchy. I wasn’t sure if it counts as a penthouse if its on the second floor. It was very roomy though, with two good sized bedrooms and those annoying bathroom lights that also turns on an industrial fan. We quickly broke open the food and inhaled quickly. I also set up my portable DVD player after the kids inhaled everything they could find. I strongly suspect Aaron is getting ready for a growth spurt; marathon runners don’t eat this much. By the time it was about 10:15, the kids were in bed and fell asleep in under a minute. Rao and I broke out some food Indu had packed (amazing, as always) and finally had a chance to catch up. We were exhausted, also inhaling food and laughing at how the things that went sideways turned out to significantly cut the cost of our trip. By the time he and I turned it, it was after midnight. It’s good to get to Disneyland early, but that just wasn’t going to happen tomorrow.
Disney Day 1
The next morning, we got the kids bathed and cleaned up and headed back to the other Residence Inn to try our luck. Rao was hoping for them to be booked out again to make it a cost free hotel stay, but said they were sure they could get us a place eventually. They kept the luggage and we went to Denny’s for breakfast. Denny’s is pretty much standard no matter where you go, but this one had its own little quirks. The clientele could be divided up into four groups: people with names in plastic badges tied to a rope around their neck, tourists (that’s us), large Hispanic groups and those that look like the stereotype of adult entertainment managers and their staff.
We were the weird group because Aaron has a gluten allergy (wheat, mostly) and Rao and Mohan are vegetarians. I had brought rice bread with me, figuring they could just toast it up and we could have that with some eggs for Aaron. There was a wait staff discussion with the manager and they were apologizing profusely but didn’t want to be shut down for health code violations. This for making toast. The terrorists have won. Rao wasn’t doing much better since they didn’t eat eggs either. They ended up with a greasy grilled cheese sandwich.
There were a ton of people at Disneyland. The parking lot was full and the overflow lot was nearly full when we got there. Rao insisted on bringing a stroller along, a decision that really helped us out later. We elected to just do Disneyland and just for one day, but our tickets were still about $240. The kids were really excited about being there and the weather was perfect. We started to walk and quickly realized we’d need hats to avoid sunburn. The kids picked out Buzz Lightyear that we later found glows in the dark and I got an old style anniversary logo’s hat. Total cost? Over $60. You’re welcome.
We made it through Disney town pretty quickly and then found the ride that Indu, Rao’s wife said was a must: the Snow White ride. There was a large parking area for strollers nearby and then we proceeded to wait in line with over 100 other people. The line moved pretty quickly but as time went on, Mohan became more and more agitated to the point of crying in panic. The line is tightly packed and one way, so he had to stay around to just before the start of the ride to get out. The reason for his being so upset? His mother had drilled into him that all step-mothers were very evil and he was terrified. I told Rao that this guarantees his happy marriage because this level of terror will keep him where he is. Aaron loved the ride though covered his eyes during the scary parts and then wanted to do it again. Some smaller amusement parks would just let you sit tight and ride it again, but we had no such luck here.
While waiting in an even longer line, I started to look around. There are a lot of beautiful people in Disneyland and many of them had no children with them. These were clearly young children rides but there were lots of teens and twenties and thirties in line. Disneyland is apparently an ideal place to go for a date. They looked fit, tan and a few women kept looking inside their sweaters. My guess is that they just had some silicone or saline inserted and were evaluating the results. It was always accompanied by a low cut, tight V-neck sweater, a little too carefully tweezed eyebrows and hair color that’s been applied too many times.
After another ride, I broke into the backpack of snacks and water, and after that refreshment, headed to Toon Town. Disneyland is enormous and in hindsight, we should have taken the monorail but there was so much to see every 15 feet, that we had to be on foot. We waited in a very long line (again) to see Mickey Mouse and got pictures and film of that, but it almost didn’t seem worth the wait. As we came out, two women handed out hats with the Mickey ears and told us that we won; I guess it was for waiting around. Kids’ bladders aren’t worth much when there’s a lot of excitement. Lots of potty breaks, water breaks, snack breaks and we managed to fit in a handful of rides in between it all. It wasn’t uncommon for a kid to announce that he had to go potty about five minutes before we were to get on a ride. Aaron and I just missed out on the Tea Cup ride with a woman who looked exactly like Paris Hilton. I guess even the customers can come in costume.
The Rainforest Cafe
One thing to remember is that Disneyland is in a desert. It gets cold very quickly once the sun goes down. As it got later, Rao went to get the jackets and we started to walk to the Rainforest Café. Rao described it as having a lot of stuff for the kids to look at the and food was pretty good. What I didn’t know is that it was probably 1½ miles away and everyone was tired. Again, the monorail would have been brilliant but we were pretty punchy at that point and were not thinking strategically. Each kid wanted to sit in the stroller so to make it work we alternated and sometimes a kid was carried. We finally made it there and it was getting dark and we were pretty cold. There was a two hour wait to get in. We would have selected another restaurant, but every place had that long a wait. I had to admit it was impressive, with thundershowers every 20 minutes, shrieking mechanical monkeys and a fish tank that was so large as to be a series of pillars that connect over your head.
I asked the assistant manager if I could see the menu to check for our dietary margins and she quite cheerfully chirped about helping. Okay, are there any menu items that don’t have gluten? “Oh no, we never cook with gluten!” Um, gluten is found in wheat. Do you have any wheat free breads possibly? “Don’t worry, all of our bread is either white or sourdough.” I gave up at that point. I noticed that her eyebrows were more than a little on the thin side, which gave me a new working theory. There is a direct connection between eyebrows and intelligence for women under 40 in Los Angeles. The thinner the eyebrow, the smaller the brain. Coloring them back in does not seem to add back the IQ points.
We got a couple of T-shirts for the kids and sifted through all the plush toys of endangered animals that were not at all endangered at the store. Eating was always a little hit and miss with our limits but Trader Joe’s kept us well supplied in my backpack. The crackers were gone, as was the garlic hummus (the kids just loved that), the grape tomatoes and assorted fruit. Rao was stuck with various forms of cheese bread most of the time: grilled cheese, cheese quesadilla, cheese sandwich. As we finally got seated, Aaron asked if he could look at the animals hanging from poles and the ceiling. He ended up talking to many of them as they randomly made sounds, which either amused or annoyed the people around him. After dinner we went to another store and got some Disney pajamas for Aaron that glowed in the dark. The size M should hold him for a while. We were getting pretty tired, though. It had been nine hours non-stop and we were still dragging a little from the night before.
As we got out of the store, I just told Rao we couldn’t wait for the fireworks and we should just head back to our hotel room. As luck would have it, the last monorail train for the night had just pulled away a few minutes before so we had the joy of walking the distance to the car again. Mohan fell asleep in Rao’s arms and Aaron was just being real quiet in the stroller. We were probably only ½ mile away from the car, having just passed the bag check area, when Mohan suddenly woke up and started crying, saying he wanted to see the fireworks. As it turned out, they were going to start in three minutes so we hurried back. I was not even out of eyesight, but they insisted on checking my bag again. Too tired to even make a stupid comment, I just nodded dumbly and sat against a light pole to watch the fireworks.
Back at the hotel, wee got ready for bed pretty quickly since Aaron was excited about the new pajamas. Kids pajamas are supposed to be snug to keep children from going up like torches in case of fire. I can’t remember any parent ever saying, “There was this fire and things were rough, but fortunately, baby’s clothes were shrink wrapped on him so the flames never got close.” I’m sure there was someone somewhere who got sued for something and that’s why the clothes always seem too small. The clothes were not even close to fitting and we had to stick with the pajamas from home. He was exhausted anyway, so there was not much protest. We’d just have to go back tomorrow for something that would fit. I guess Disney sizes clothes for midgets and dolls because these clothes would only be baggy on a puppet.
The kids were still really happy but had that edge of tired that sends up warning flags to any parent. Rao and I decided the night before that two days of Disney would have been too much. The hotel had an enormous breakfast area with all kinds of food items made with meat and wheat. It worked out pretty well with a quick run through to get the kids a little food, then we worked in shifts with one parent watching them snack while the other got a more complete meal.
Rao did all the driving and together with his talking GPS navigator, found his way pretty well. He had his ways about him that made his driving distinct. The GPS was a helpful tool, but required a great deal of installation to attach to the windshield and actions had to be repeated three or four times to actually work. I kept thinking of the definition of insanity (doing the same action over and over again, expecting different results). The GPS would also get confused, saying it was “recalculating.” In order to help it, we’d drive around in circles for a while, much to the confusion of the kids sitting behind us, who would offer a running commentary about what was happening. I tried to offer vague explanations but they’d quickly pick it apart. The reasoning ability of a four year old is not to be underestimated. More on the GPS later.
The other thing that was peculiar is that he always put the car in drive first. We’d be in a parking lot with nothing ahead of us but trees and a wall. After a few times of this I asked him about it and he said its important to always start going forward. Its bad luck to begin going backwards.
The store that had the pajamas was pretty empty that morning, but must have been staffed by same agency that provided last night’s restaurant management. You’d think clothing sizes would be pretty straight forward, but I realize there’s no hope for humanity and sterilization of these people should begin as quickly as possible, so that the stupidity is not passed on. I hope it’s not contagious. Aaron was very patient as he tried to explain to the clothing clerk what he was looking for, but it just wasn’t getting through. It threw her off that the letter L on the hangar could be both sometimes a size 6 and sometimes a size 8. The blank puzzled look almost made me feel sorry for her.
Rao had to hunt down his morning coffee so we waited by a fountain for a while. That was a nice little highlight as the kids giggled around the fountain and tried to predict when it would shoot up in the air or just gurgle down low for a while. This is the part of childhood that I so appreciate: take an ordinary situation and turn it into something enjoyable.
We headed off to the beach to spend the last hours in Los Angeles near some fresh air. This is not as easy as it sounds. At higher elevation, there’s a beautiful view of the city and the ocean and the very thick layer of pale chocolate pudding that is the pollution sitting above the city. Rao punched in Long Beach into the GPS and proceeded in the general direction until he decide the GPS was wrong. With the understanding that as long as we keep moving west we should eventually find a beach, we drove for about 20 minutes with the GPS offering helpful advice along the way. “Make a U-turn at the next intersection. Recalculating. Make a U-turn at the next intersection. Recalculating. Make a right turn on to Highway 45. Recalculating.” And so it went, with the device being infinitely patient but insistent. Rao assured me that the GPS was wrong but left it on anyway. This was definitely an exercise in patience but I’m not sure for whom: the GPS, Rao or myself, but we all passed.
Just as we were deep inside the crapiest part of the city, the kids announced that they were hungry. There was not much to choose from between the liquor stores, the 7-11’s and the Chinese food restaurants that had $3.50 buffets. For no apparent reason, Rao made a left turn and the neighborhood transformed into a middle class area. The kids were hungry, restless and had to have a potty break, so we stopped at a supermarket and took care of business. We stocked up on picnic supplies, used the market bathroom and got some coffee for the adults. While talking to the Starbucks people, I discovered that the beach was only a few minutes away.
After having a little to snack on and the bladder pressure removed, there was again positive excitement. Rao put the car briefly in Drive, before we backed out of our parking spot and headed to the beach. He also decided that he had received enough feedback from our GPS friend.
It was a beautiful park right on the water with a very rocky coast. There were older women painting and picnic tables and sea gulls and children running around. We unpacked our things and chowed down. A few short minutes later we were down on the rocks looking for dinosaur bones and fossils when the sea gulls landed on our picnic table and went after whatever food we forgot to put away. I learned that they could swallow a large strawberry without thinking about it. We found a lot of shells and made up stories about who would have walked these rocks in the past. It was a nice way to end the trip.
We headed to the airport at a leisurely pace. Everyone was happy but pretty worn out. I had upgraded our seats to First Class with frequent flyer miles because it would be late by the time we made it back to Portland and I wanted Aaron to be able to get some rest. First Class travelers have all kinds of little perks that make it easier. I was looking forward to the lounge that they set aside but when we went up there, I discovered that was only for international travelers. So there are now two different classes for First Class. Hmmm.
We trundled back down to the common cafeteria area surrounded by various food chains and unpacked the supermarket picnic food that went untouched by the seagulls. Afterward, we looked for a small chocolate for dessert. Aaron and I usually have a small chocolate after dinner and clean up and I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I stopped by the newsstand on steroids to find something small we could have. There was nothing like that so I just bought a chocolate bar. $1.35 took me by surprise, and it must have been the exhaustion talking because I refused to pay it. The sales clerk told me to fill out a form, but I hadn’t given her anything but the candy bar I wasn’t buying. That just seemed stupid to me and I walked away. I made the rounds to a few other mega-newsstands and got a similar shock. Well, at least they’re consistent. I just told Aaron we’d get some chocolate on the plane. First Class would be sure to take care of us.
We played Go Fish until it was time to move towards the plane and I pulled out the DVD player to watch a movie with him. An hour before the flight, it was announced that there would be a 30 minute delay. 30 minutes later, there was another delay announcement. We made it through the entire movie before boarding and settled into roomy, comfortable seats with blankets and pillows. I was dreading this a little because with the delays, we’d get into Portland just before 11pm and Aaron was already getting ready to nod off. I asked our flight attendant about chocolates but she didn’t have any. I then asked about where I’d find an electrical outlet for the DVD player and she also had to reply in the negative. She then asked where I’d normally find this. Lufthansa. One of the best airlines in the world where they walk around regularly with chocolate and fruit and every other seat has an outlet. You pay for this stuff in the airfare but I’ve learned to appreciate this.
The final bit of humor for the plane was the bathroom. The walkway required me to slide through because it’s built for runway model hips. There was but one bathroom on the plane all the way in the back, where the ceiling curves down. Both of us had to go potty, so the logistics of moving around in that small space hunched over started me giggling and Aaron as well. He went to sleep right after that and I carried him to the baggage carousel, the bus and long term parking where we were back in our car. He woke up each time cranky, confused and very tired, but went right back to sleep. Another valuable skill that young kids have.