California trip, Part 2

After my earlier wanderings in California, and my adventures at Wheel of Fortune, we tried to figure out a good spot to eat lunch. We decided on the Stinking Rose, a “garlic-themed” Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. We made our way over there (through traffic, of course!) and it took awhile to find somewhere to park, but then I realized that there was free on-site parking (score!) Lunch was good. I had the ravioli which was not overly garlic-y, though I did have a bit of PJs garlic pizza which was quite garlic-y. When lunch was over, and the waiter came back offering dessert, we asked him if there was anything with garlic. We thought we were so clever, but in the voice of someone who has probably heard that 1000 times, he did mention there was garlic ice cream (eww?).

By the time that we were done with lunch, it was around 3pm, and Anne and PJ decided to head back home. After some consultation, Kerry and I decided to head down to Santa Monica. So after we changed out of our WoF clothes and into something a bit more casual, we headed out. Traffic actually wasn’t TOO much of a pain but it took us a bit of time once we were down there to find somewhere to park. We ended up in an $8 public lot right by the Santa Monica Pier. I had brought a swimsuit to potentially go ocean diving but I had failed to get a towel. I remember intentionally not packing one figuring I could pick one up from my aunt and uncle. And while I’m sure I could have, I had forgotten to actually DO that :-D .

We walked up and down the pier for a bit, checking out the sights. Kerry rode one of the carvinal-style rides, and we checked out the markers denoting the end of the famous Route 66 highway.

We got an ice cream which was decent yet over-priced, and I found a penny (one of only 2 coins found during my whole trip!) While we were walking back on the pier we saw a crowd forming and looked over and it appeared that someone was shooting a movie there! Nobody I recognized and judging from the looks of it, probably a minor / indie project but it was still cool.

After that, I swung by the bathroom there and changed into my swimsuit and we headed off the pier down to the beach. Having had quite the experience in jumping in large bodies of water, it was fun, and I even got in a sweet wave jump. After a bit of playing around, we headed back to the car and back to Calabasas. Rather than going back via the interstates, we decided to drive back via the Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon which was nice.

We had dinner with Larry and Anne and I turned in pretty early in the evening. The time zone differential, coupled with knowing I’d have an early start the next morning made me feel awful tired. Got up about 3:45 the next morning to take Kerry back to Sacramento. Well, to take Kerry back AND FOR COUNTIES!!!! I had a route planned out which would let me pick up 25 new counties in California. When I explained to my aunt about how I was going to drive to Sacramento and back to LA in one day, she totally thought I was crazy. And frankly, who’s to say she was wrong? :-)

First problem was when we were trying to get onto I-405 north from US 101. You know how lots of times when you’re driving on Interstates, and you see electronic signs alerting you to lane or exit closures at some crazy early time and you kind of ignore them because who drives in the middle of the night? Well, alas, that happened to us. The exit ramps to NB 405 were closed until 5 a.m., and it was only about 4:25. So we had to detour around which thankfully didn’t take too much time or effort. After that, it was a pretty straight shot from I-405 to I-5 to CA-99. Thanks to the time change, even though it was awful early, I was still able to call home and talk to Carolyn for a bit. I did feel a bit sleepy while it was still dark, but once the sun came up, I didn’t have much of a problem. Kerry slept most of the early morning, until a slight detour off of CA 99 to get Kings County. While we were there, we stopped to get gas and some snacks, and I regaled the attendant with my amazing celebrityhood. We took a wrong turn to get back to the highway and drove down the main street of Kingsburg, which is apparently famous for its “Swedish Festival“.

Continuing on Route 99 through Fresno (the most populous US city without an Interstate in its borders), we got Kerry back home to Sacramento a little before noon. I spent an hour or two hanging out with her and her family, which was nice, as I hadn’t even met my youngest niece and nephew and hadn’t seen the other one in many years.

I had brought them each a little present so I could try and cement my status as “the cool uncle” :-) , and it was good to see everyone. But I couldn’t stay too long, as I still had about 10 hours before I’d be back to my bed, so after some directions to a grocery store (to pick up the obligatory “Dan travel snack” of lemon cookies), I was on my way.

There was some bad construction / traffic on I-80 westbound just west of Sacramento, but it cleared up before too long. I was listening to an Orson Scott Card book called Pastwatch, which I found quite enjoyable. I had read the book a few years ago but it was definitely a good listen also. I did one out and back on my way to San Francisco (to pick up Contra Costa County) and then approached San Francisco from the north. I got off of 101 right before the Golden Gate bridge and went up into the foothills to take a few pictures.

It was hard finding somewhere to park but I managed okay. It was here that a wave of sadness hit me in that I was getting to see all these cool sights and I had to do it all alone :( . It just wouldn’t work out that Carolyn and/or the kids could come with me, and there was nothing that could be done about it, but it still made me sad.

After crossing the Golden Gate into San Francisco, I made my way over to Lombard Street, billed as the “most crooked street in the world”. Traffic was moderately heavy in-town, but it got worse as I got going up the hill to the top of Lombard. The hill was pretty steep (of course) and I had to resort to driving with two feet – left one on the brakes and right one to push the gas. There was a lot of peeling out from cars, both from myself and from other cars. As I got closer to the top of the hill, I decided to pull an audible and instead of driving down the street, I parked off to the side and just walked the block and a half to the top and then walked down the crooked part.

With not a ton of time to spare, I figured that would work. I’ll have to remember next time if I’m in the area that it’s probably best to approach Lombard from a side street near the top of the hill. At the bottom, I decided to use my iPad to record a video of me trying to set a record for the fastest time to run up the steps. I didn’t get a great time (too many people in the way!) but it was fun.

Then it was back in my car and I drove down to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had some directions printed out about where to park but while driving, I decided to pull an audible and parked underneath Ghirardelli Square. I had planned on buying some chocolate there so I thought I could get some validated parking. But first, I hoofed it over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I took in the sights and stopped by the Musee Mecanique, which was pretty cool. Then I ordered a crab sammich (seemed like the thing to do) and by then it was time for me to head back to my car. I stopped into the Ghirardelli store and bought some chocolate, but not nearly enough to get my parking validated. It worked out okay though because I had only been there a little bit so the parking charge was not egregious. There was one guy painted all silver who was “posing” as a statue

Then I drove along the bay on the Embarcadero. Passed one homeless guy begging that I thought had a funny line – he would tell passersby “I’m looking for a down payment on a hamburger”. A little bit later, I passed AT&T Park and apparently there was a Giants home game – even though it was only about 5pm local time, there were a lot of folks dressed in orange and black. I was wearing my orange Browns shirt, so at least I was fitting in color-wise :-) . A little south of that, I got back onto the highway and then it was a long drive back to Los Angeles. For the most part (350+ miles) I was on US101, with only a few detours around (for counties!) A little north of Los Angeles, my route had me cut over on CA134, which saved a few minutes versus just staying on 101. Tragically, a few miles in, I was pulled over by the cops. The officer said I didn’t have my lights on, as well as that I was “following too closely” to the car in front of me. It turned out that I just had the running lights on, even though I had had no problem seeing things. He only cited me for the following though, which turned out to be a $247 ticket (!)

I got back to my aunt and uncle’s house around 10:30 p.m. and headed off to bed. I had another early morning – had to be up on the road by 530 or 6 in order to make it to the airport for an 8:15 flight. No real problems there – I had a bit of trouble finding the Avis dropoff but no big deal. Flight was normal and got back home around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. All in all, a very fun trip!

California trip, Part 1

Ironically enough, it was while we were actually WATCHING Wheel of Fortune that I got “the call”. I almost didn’t answer it, because it was an unknown area code and usually those end up being spam or wrong numbers. But for some reason, I answered it and it was Gary from Wheel of Fortune. I had gotten my letter in the mail a few months prior, but all the letter says is that you will be a contestant some time in the next 18 months. The call came on a Wednesday night, and in a continued show of poor timing (just like when the WoF audition was scheduled on the same day we were leaving for vacation), the call came the night as I was trying to leave for my Great Lakes trip.

Since I had been planning on staying with my aunt and uncle, the only really pressing need was booking my plane tickets. I was actually pleasantly surprised given that I only had about 2 weeks notice before the tape date – I was able to get a non-stop round-trip ticket to LAX, flying out of Cincinnati for only $330. This is a really good deal as normally those tickets are over $500. I guess it must have been close enough to the actual dates of the trip that they were discounting the tickets to try and get them sold. I also had to talk it over with Carolyn and we decided that there really was no way that she or any of the family could come along. With the baby being so young, it just wouldn’t work out. Had she been a little older, or had she not been born yet, we probably would have tried to figure out a way to have somebody watch the other kids so she could have come, but alas, it was just not in the cards.

After I got back from the Great Lakes, I continued my planning. Firmed up the car rental, the lodging with my aunt and uncle, got my county route planning, as well as some touristy things to do while I was in California. In talking with my sister Kerry, who lives in Sacramento, she decided that she would be able to make it down to watch. And in addition to my aunt, my friend PJ was off work on my taping day, so I’d have 3 folks in the audience.

I flew out on Thursday August 23rd. I had arranged with a local hotel to park there and take the shuttle over to the airport. I always get nervous about how long getting through security and such at the airport might take, so I like to have buffer time. My flight left CVG at 9:24, and so I was trying to make the 7:30 hotel shuttle (they run every 30 minutes), but apparently I just missed it, so I had to wait around till 8. It ended up not being an issue at all – I got to the gate in plenty of time. I even was able to talk to the gate agent and swap my middle seat over to a window seat (bonus!).

Flight was uneventful and it always seems weird with the time difference – it was a 4 hour flight, but I left at 9:24 and arrived at 10:55. I went through the airport and got on the shuttle over to Avis. Kerry’s flight was arriving about an hour after mine, so I figured that I could have the car rental all secured, so that when she got in, that we could just leave. The shuttle had 2 stops in Avis – the first one was for “Avis Preferred” customers. I was not quite sure what that meant so I didn’t get off there and instead just went on to the “normal” counter. As it turned out, I was a “Preferred” customer, which apparently consists solely of signing up for free on their website. Then I got the standard car rental line “Oh we’re out of what you reserved so were going to ‘upgrade’ you”. I can not tell you how much this annoys me. I had reserved a compact car due to the good gas mileage, since I was going to be doing a fair amount of driving. Ooh but of course they did not have one of those so I got a “QUADRUPLE UPGRADE!” to a full-size car.

Then the guy at the counter suggested that I could go back to the “preferred” section and apparently one of the features that they have is that if you don’t like the car you got, you can just pick another one from a section of cars. You can also pay a bit more per day to upgrade to a car. While I was slightly tempted by the Ford Mustang, I did not go for that :-) . I ended up with a Ford Fusion and then I just had to wait for Kerry to arrive. Apparently there were some problems with the shuttle – she was saying that she was waiting out front of the airport but no shuttles arrived. Meanwhile I was sitting in the car, just waiting and waiting…. Eventually she arrived and we were off!

The first order of business was a stop to Randy’s Donuts, an iconic LA eatery. We went to the walk-up window and each ordered 2 donuts.

Then the next stop was over to Hollywood. Traffic on the 405 was slow even though it was the middle of the day, and similarly on Santa Monica Boulevard. Welcome to LA!!! Meanwhile, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to sing Sheryl Crow or Weezer :-) . We also passed by the Los Angeles temple which I had not realized was actually on Santa Monica Blvd. We got to Hollywood and parked at the Hollywood and Highland center, because we were only going to be there a short time. First stop was to take some pictures of the Hollywood sign. I had read that the H&H center was one of the easiest places to get a picture of it. We got ourselves turned around trying to find the overlook but eventually we did. It was…. exciting (okay not really but when you’re in LA, you gotta do it, right?).

Afterwards we went out front and took some pictures of the stars on the Walk of Fame.

At this point, we realized that it would actually be cheaper to just pay for the 1 hour of parking than to buy something and get the validated parking, so we did that and headed out. It had gotten to be quite a bit later than we were hoping – the original plan was to meet up with PJ down by USC (where he works) and grab a late lunch. But it was so late that we decided that given LA traffic (a constant), it was not going to happen. So we audibled and headed up to the Griffith Observatory. That was a pretty cool place and offered some great views of the LA skyline.

After that, we got ourselves a bit lost but managed to successfully navigate traffic over to my aunt and uncle’s house, in Calabasas.

My cousin Pam and her kids came over for a bit of a family dinner, which was nice. The rest of the evening was just spent relaxing. We did watch Wheel of Fortune (of course!), and then my aunt graciously ironed my clothes for me. What happened next…. stay tuned!