Friday, February 18, 2005

Late night television and Maccas

Ali and I were watching the box late the other night, and a "community service announcement" comes on. Sponsored by McDonalds, of course. It's advising children how best to cross the road.

The next commercial comes on. Another community service announcement from some quasi-government mob. Child safety around the swimming pool.

Ali points out the (now) obvious anomaly here: what on earth are commercials lke this doing on at night when kids are in bed asleep? Well my kids usually are asleep. Why don't they put them on during the afternoon?

My first thought was that McDonalds must've committed some crime to have to perform community service like this. And aren't they getting out of it lightly by putting them on late at night when commercials are cheaper? Har-de-har-har.

My second thought was less charitable:the target market for these commercials can't be the children. It must be the adults awake at that hour. Are they trying to, under the banner of community service, trying to boost their brand name? Do people really think, "Oh I saw that commercial late last night telling children how to cross the road safely. Therefore McDonalds must be good. So I'll eat there." You've got to be kidding, that tactic surely doesn't work.

I can't think of any other explanation.

I've broken my McDonalds addiction. Since swearing myself off it late last year, (and our US trip aside, where we just had to try the Macca's) I've only had one late night cheeseburger. I reckon that's pretty good. And driving home after basketball now my car doesn't automatically stear towards the nearest McDonalds. There's three of them on my route. (route -- hee hee hee)

I've also seen Super Size Me (bloated Flash site alert) recently which further put the nail in the Maccas coffin for me. Although I reckoned the film was largely sensational [I mean come on, of course if you eat any fast food for three meals day you're going to adversely affect your health], watching someone do what he did just turned my stomach. Yucko. Arrggh, I can still picture the scene where he's spewing out the car window. Forcing yourself to eat food till you spew! Yucko again.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Our US Trip: Part 4 - Universal Studios.

Monday 6th December

Waffles for breakfast again! And once again, mine turned out perfectly while Ali's was substandard. Ho-ho-ho. It was even sunny outside. So looking forward to a great day

We got off to an earlier start than the day before, I think we were on the road by 9am. Paul had downloaded the instructions from the net, and to me it seemed a roundabout way to get there. A long way north, then east, then south. Struth! All around LA. But we did get there. During the trip, the weather had turned decidely cold, though thankfully it wasn't raining again. So it was out with the jackets again as we exited at Universal Studios. The parking was a lot less organised than Disney I noted.

As we exited the parking lot we were assaulted by LOUD music. There just wasn't any escape from it. We walked down through all the shops towards the entrance — for some reason it reminded me of Fox Studios in Sydney. Hee hee.

At the entrance, Paul and Roz took off to get photo IDs, as they were season ticket holders or something. Ali and I meandered on in, debated whether or not to have a shot taken with the Marilyn look-alike, decided no, looked at the schedule, and wandered down to the Blues Brothers Show, which was starting in a couple of minutes. I SMS's ("texted" for the rest of you) Paul to let him know where we'd be.

The Blues-mobileAs it turned out, it was the "Christmas" Blues Brothers show, so it did nothing but annoy me. OK, Jake and Elwwod were reasonable facsimiles, and the car was pretty cool, but I think they only sung three numbers from the movie. And they slotted in this other little runty character who they said was Curtis's relative or something. I just couldn't get into it at all — I think Ali may have, though. Paul and Roz caught up with us at the end. they were itching to move on.

First up was Animal Planet. Lots of trained animals and I got to pat one of the doggies out the front. Reasonably entertaining. There was one bird that was trained to retrieve money off people in the crowd. I wondered whether it knew the difference between US currency or other currencies, or even Monopoly money. They used the standard comedy/magic show trick — take the money off the audience volunteer and then "disappear" it. "Oh yes here it is in a thousand pieces," <clap,clap,clap> you get the picture.

When that was over it was over to the Shrek 3D movie, which was very cool. Paul and Roz somehow managed to sit in seats that didn't work — they rock and move back and forth at various points in the movie — but ours did, so it was pretty good. And to top it off, when we exited the movie, Shrek and Fiona were just around the corner having photos taken. Fiona looked a little bored, but she kept in character and even asked me if Ali was"my true love." She didn't understand my colloquial reply I don't think, as she gave me a wierd look, one of those, "Oh my, this is a nutcase, I want to get out of here." I wasn't being nutty at all! Paul and Roz got a photo with Dora the Explorer. No, I don't know who these are either, but they were very popular with the Japanese tourists. In fact, in my notes I had it written down as "Travelling Nora" — almost! Shrek and Princess Fiona

Next stop was the "Van Helsing" ride, which was just like a dimly lit maze, and people jumped out at you. They were quite good, and two months later I still have the bruise yellowing from where Ali gripped my arm very, very hard. The scary things on the walls were just, you know, scary things on the walls, but when someone jumps out in front of you unexpectedly, it was very effective.

We checked the schedule and headed down to the start of the backlot tour. Either our schedule was wrong or they changed it, but one lot left just as we were leaving, with plenty of space on board. Perhaps I had my watch still set on Sydney time? Grrrr. Never mind, it was only a fifteen-minute wait for the next one, and by that time the crowds had piled up behind us. So off we go, looking through the streets of the backlot. The guy running the thing looked like an ex-actor, very well preserved in an LA sort of way. He got the poos a number of times during the ride with whoever was pressing the buttons for some of the special effects. Hee hee that was real funny.

The tour was alright, but I should've taken a notebook with me as I snapped about 150 shots of buildings and things, and have little hope of ever remembering what film or TV show it was used in. "This is the drug store from Man Loses His Pants," <snap, snap>, "and the coffee shop from Battleship Popcorn." <snap, snap>. They also had cool things like the street that flooded with rains — Paul got wet on this one, you can see the sequence here, here, here, here and here. (That'll teach you, putting me at the front of the log ride!) And of course we saw the Jaws set, and this set and that set and King Kong and the largest green-screen in the world and a collapsing bridge and a river that parts (hee hee — "We're at the river now would you part the river? Umm we're waiting here for the river to part, would you please part the river? Ummm yes we're still here can you part the river?" — hee hee. Gee he was getting upset). Anyway, about 45 minutes of tour and we were back where we started.

Time for lunch. This time a proper lunch because I wasn't feeling so queezy as yesteday. We stopped at a pizza cafe and had pizza and beer. I must say, pizza in the USA seems so very much different from pizza back home. It was all I could do to get a pizza with something more than just cheese and tomato sauce on it. OK, yes I agree things are starting to come off the rails a bit now with the "two-layers of thin crust enclosing thick cream cheese for a base" stuff that is going on now, but still, does it hurt you to put bit of capsicum on there (or even some bell peppers ;-) )? The beer was a Heineken I think served in a huge plastic cup. Roz declined the lunch due to her illness. A wise decision for her, since we all agreed it was the worst food we'd had so far.

After lunch was the bottom end of the Park: Backdraft, Revenge of the Mummy, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park, Revenge of the Mummy, Revenge of the Mummy, then back up the top. With the nice weather, the crowds had grown, so we actually had to wait in line to see Backdraft. To tell the truth I wasn't that impressed with Backdraft — maybe I watch too much television? Jurassic Park was alright, but it was a long ride just to go down the big slope at the end, which was the best part. People were purchasing yellow plastic ponchos for the Jurassic Park ride; we still had our Disneyland ponchos with us, put these on and so looked a little out-of-place. And then we walked off the ride and went straight back in to do it again. The Revenge of the Mummy was voted the best ride by the others. I only had one stomach for it however, and because the lines were small, the other three went on it again, then later Paul and Roz went on it yet again. I cruised the gift shops.

WaterworldAfter the long climb back up to the top of the park, we decided to sit in a faux-Mexican bar for a while drinking Margherita's waiting for the Waterworld exhibition to start. When it was getting close, we finished our drinks and headed up there. Paul recommended us to a particular area, ("No keep going, further to the back, further. Further!"), which I was grateful for when I saw the extras start up the show and begin by spraying people within easy reach with water. The show was quite entertaining, and for a lot of the crowd, wet, as they got sprayed with water from the jet skis. This was the largest crowd I'd seen all day, and it was starting to get dark. We had a brief stop off in the gift store to buy souvenirs before heading off — we really had to get going because we had to get from Universal, back to Manhattan Beach and then back into the Staples Centre (<cough, cough> I mean center, sorry) to see the NBA game that Paul had bought tickets for.

The trip home was long and painful. Traffic! Roz was ill and Ali was once again sleeping. Roz decided on the way that she wouldn't go to the game. But regardless, it was a quick turnaround after spending about an hour in the car from Universal to the Hotel. Only twenty-five minutes later we were looking for a parking spot near the Staples Centre.

The NBA. I've always wanted to go see an NBA game. Nothing to do with the fact that I play the game. It just seems a great big enjoyable spectacle. This game was enjoyable. Double-overtime. I didn't even know there was a concept like double-overtime. The LA Clippers defeated the Charlotte Bobcats 99 to 93. I must say the food at the Staples Centre was obsolute rubbish. We tried MacDonalds, a "Street" Dog, Nachos with Cheese Dip. The only thing which we enjoyed was the Dos Equus beer — I think this means "Two X's". What happened to the other two? Har-har.

We were in what is affectionately referred to as the "nosebleed section". I think there were about 10 empty rows behind us and then there was the roof. The players were bizarrely out-of-proportion stick figures. But we could see. It was well worth the money to see the game, and both Ali and I enjoyed it. I think Paul enjoyed it too, since he's a basketballer from wayback. The bloke sitting next to us slept through the whole game. He had his kids with him, but all they did was run riot in the place. We naturally barracked for the home team, despite the obvious draw to Charlotte (my eldest daughter's name). In the USA I guess you could say we routed for the team, but it's not an expression I would use. ;-)

Battling through the crowds, we got home around 11:45p. Another late night. Another great day!

Our US Trip: Part 3 - Disneyland.

Sunday 5th December

Now let me just say this about Disneyland: People have always said to me, "When you go to the States, you've just got to go to Disneyland!' And I've always been a bit cool to the idea; it's never really been one of my intentions to go there. Well maybe with the kids when they get older. I get motion sickness on the rides, and I've got no particular affection for Mickey Mouse, so I've always reckoned I'd give it a miss.

The previous night Paul had convinced me to go. I was plumping for Universal Studios; he reckoned we could still do that the following day. So I half-heartedly agreed. Anyway, Ali was keen, so that clinched the deal.

Sunday started out drizzly and cold - we wondered if we were going to go to Disneyland at all. We had intended to get up early, but 8am was the earliest any of us could manage. Hunting around for things, I realised that in the frenzy of moving rooms last night, my laptop bag was missing. It didn't have a laptop in it, it was just one of those "maximum carry-on" size bags. So, Paul and I went to reception and picked up a key to the old room and retrieved the bag that had been left behind. I don't want to name names, but when I asked the only other occupant of my bedroom if it had been completely cleared, and she said yes, I sort of thought that it had been completely cleared. Ah never mind.

Breakfast at the "Gatehouse", which was the dining room next to Reception. An introduction to Waffles made fresh. Mine always turned out perfectly, Ali's less so. While munching on our American breakfast (dare I say it: huge), the telly was showing scenes of congestion and snow falls on some of the California highways, and as we were watching, a real live car accident, right behind the on-location reporter. It almost looked staged.

A little bit of debate about whether it would be worthwhile in the rain and cold, but we eventually got underway. A quick stop-off at Fry's Electronics Store to get an extra memory card and battery for my camera. Prices of electronics are incredibly cheap in the States. The 256Mb card cost one-third of the price of a 128Mb card had three months previously in Sydney. Plus they have a "mail-in rebate" system, which gives you an additional discount off the price - you have to fill out the form and mail it to them. I presume they use your money in some high-return high-risk short-term investment in the time it takes to mail and return a cheque. And once again, the store was easily the largest electronics store I'd ever been in.

Paul stopped to get Petrol (or "Gas"). There are blokes waiting at the pumps, not working for the Petrol Station, just to "pump your gas", and presumably get a tip. We managed to avoid this, thankfully.

Finally, finally on our way, I-405 south, I-110 north, 91 east and we'll be there. Traffic notwithstanding, for it was chockers everywhere. Stop-start-stop-start, the traffic has a totally different rhythm to Sydney. In LA, it is either moving very fast or stopped completely. In Sydney, if it is stopped completely, then something is seriously wrong.

12:30 and we're at Disneyland. People eveywhere telling you which direction to head, even though there is only a handful of cars in the lot. "Cast-members" I found out later the employees are called (even though I've read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom). It is very cold, and raining hard, and I am wondering what on earth we are doing there. Board the tram, and into California Adventure Park. The place is a sea of Blue Ponchos and to try and stay dry, we went into the Gift Shop to purchase ours.

First stop was the Tower of Terror Hotel, and looking at it I knew that I really didn't want to ride it. But ride it we did, and I managed not to throw up at the end. Next was the Muppets 3D, which was a new thing for me, a combination film and stage show with 3D glasses. It was very cool. After that we briefly stopped for a lunch, I was still feeling a bit queezy and so only went for fries but Ali went to whole Hot Dog. It was our first introduction to the curious sales tax system they have. You don't bother pre-calculating the bill and preparing your money, because the price on the displays are only indicative of what you have to pay. You always have to add on tax, which they helpfully calculate for you, but unhelpfully, don't tell you how much it is going to be before you buy it. Even though I hate the GST, I prefer to the GST. I asked Paul and Roz, they weren't even sure how much tax should be.

Next "ride" was A Bugs Life, which was interesting, the first film I've ever gotten wet in. Then on to the big roller coaster. The weather and the small number of people meant that we only had 10 minutes to wait for a seat, and I reckon that was the longest we had to wait all day. I was very queezy after this one, and resolved to stay off the nasty rides for the rest of the day. I was tempted to go again: the take-off was spectacular. Many of the remaining rides were closed because of the weather, but truthfully, I would've stayed off them anyway.

Paul had a "corn dog". I struggled to see where the corn was – it looked like a Pluto Pup to me (or a Dagwood Dog).

So on to the Main Park. "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesteday, tomorrow and fantasy." Cool!
Main Street USA was pumping because the truck with all the characters was just going past. Here it was busy, and still wet. We walked up the main road and got to Cinderella's Castle. It was so small that I had to make a comment about it, and Paul told me that it was exactly his reaction on first seeing it. There was a chicky selling ice-cream, so I bought a Mickey Cookies and Cream ice-cream sandwich. It was frozen solid, and I very nearly broke a tooth eating it. Alison snapped a good series of shots of this, here, here, here and here.

The first ride was the Jungle Boat Cruise. The chicky taking the cruise worked very hard with some very poor jokes to inspire some laughter out of us all, but hardly a reaction unfortunately. I think some of the jokes were as old as some of the plastic creatures looked. The next was the Indiana Jones ride. We walked straight onto the ride, through about 16 miles of fake tunnel. The ride itself was very cool, and not as sickening as I thought it would be. At first I thought some of the dummies were real people!

We did a brief gift shop pause. Paul had torn his flimsy poncho and wanted a new one. I think he managed to convince the salesgirl that the thing had self-destructed on first use.

Down to New Orleans. I took particular interest since (the real) New Orleans was one of our stops. And the Paddleboat in the lake was particularly impressive. I almost got lost finding the toilet, but managed to find the others again, waiting for me outside the Pirates Of The Carribean. When I think of Disneyland I think of the Pirates, so I was definitely looking forward to this one.

Pirates of the Caribbean
Once again, no wait, straight into the first boat, with that view of the beautiful twilight restaurant. I took a great many photos, some with flash, some without. Now either the announcements were broken, or we got onto a boat before the announcements were made, but I swear I didn't hear ANYTHING about not taking flash photos before or during the ride until we were in the long wait at the end to debark. As soon as I heard that I said "Oops," and turned to the others. They had not heard it either.

I was dark outside and I had to check my watch: 4:30!! I guess I was still in Daylight Savings mode. Onto the Haunted Mansion. Once again, the biggest wait was the trundle through the maze to get to the entrance. What a ride! And how do they get the ghosts to dance?!

Next up was the log ride. It was very wet. And being in the front of the log (in fact, I do recall that Paul and Roz insisted I go in the front), I had so much water pouring into my eyes from the rain and the ride that I didn't see the final plunge except as a vague, murky black drop.

We decided to break for dinner, and plonked exhausted into the Horseshoe Bar for a Chilli in Sourdough Bread Basket. A show was starting up in a couple of minutes so we decided to wait it out to let our jumpers and ponchos dry out. Bluegrass Band? Well I must say I wasn't expecting much. How wrong I was. Totally entertaining, talented blokes. They even donned wigs for a Beatles number "Ticket to Ride" if memory serves. Very humourous as well, and goes to prove that it doesn't really matter what you play as long as you can entertain. After this it was back on with the wet clothes and back into the park.

Up into Littles Land most of the rides were closed, the Dumbo ride, the Teacups, but Roz insisted we go on It's A Small World. The song had been modified for Christmas, so I was tortured for about twenty minutes with Christmas carols. I thought it interesting that they play to the stereotypes. The Australian dolls were obvious – one blond bloke with a surfboard next to a kangaroo, and a couple of aborigines. It made me wonder how many other of the nationalities I recognised from the stereotypes only.

One thing we noticed: the place was clean! In fact at one point, one bloke was actually sweeping the pooled water away. We decided to catch the last train once around the park from nearby, and ended up back where we started. We had a brief visit to see the little houses, and sure enough Minnie Mouse was home. I tore my poncho in a rush to get it off and have a photo with her. Minnie has great legs (for a mouse), but I suspect that she was just a young girl.
Minnie Mouse

It was getting quite late now, and we still had Tomorrowland to go. Most of the rides were closed. "No, I didn't go on Space Mountain," to your next question. It was undergoing repairs for the season. About the only thing open was Innoventions, good for the kids, but a little boring for us. So back out onto Main Street and to do the obligatory gift-shopping. We arranged a half-hour limit with Paul and Roz and split up. When we met up with them again, they'd decided to buy Charlotte and Josephine some Disney jewellry, so it was back into the shops with them to decide on what to get. I just had to get a Mickey Mouse watch, as I've always wanted one. Paul got a matching one for Charlotte, so we can do the Daddy-Daughter thing.

The 9:30 fireworks display was cancelled because of the weather, so we left. A quick trip home to Thai leftovers for supper and an exhausted drop into bed.

Overall: Disneyland. A little bit cheesy in places, but the whole experience was overwhelmingly positive and enjoyable. Maybe the cheeziness became less noticeable to me over time. And it helped I guess that the crowds were small, as I have heard comments from other friends about how intolerable it is to wait 70 minutes in line for a three-minute ride. And bloody-hell we're in Disneyland of all places! Music played ALL the time. And the whole Cast-Member/Guest versus Staff/Customer thing was very novel.

Despite the weather, a thoroughly enjoyable day.