Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Your shadow weighs a ton, driving down the 101

SO this is part deux of the west coast expedition....

After leaving Las Vegas, I wanted to sleep.  I took up residence in the backseat of Adri's rental car for the drive to the LA Basin.  A couple stops, including a few hours at the Calico Mine in the middle of nowhere for some tourist fun and lunch, we made it into Rancho Cucamonga, where I was staying.  I picked up my rental car (free from Avis.. thank you!), and found my hotel and crashed for a couple hours. 

Plans were made for dinner, and I was heading to the Hollywood hills to meet up with Adri, Lusya, Dragona, and Razi.  All former Amherst, MA, residents (which included Mo and Katya).  And half of them are literally rocket scientists working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena.  So yeah, genius abounds.

Well, the first thing I noticed about LA is that I need to pay more attention to the scale on the maps there.  Even the online maps are deceptive.  It make sit look like Ontario is a near suburb of LA..  It's not.  It's an hour away with no traffic.  Oh well, lessen learned.  And then you add in legendary traffic.. its fun to get around.

Reunited with Adri and Lusya, we took off to the Griffith Park Observatory.  It's a famous place, and you've most likely seen it movies (like pretty much everything else in LA).  It was a clear (for LA) night and you could see a great view of the city before you.  They also had telescopes set up to gaze at various celestial bodies on a gorgeous night.  It was quite a nice experience.

After Griffith, we headed for dinner at the Mess Hall.  Interesting trivia, the restaurant is in the building where the cobb salad was invented.  Dinner was fun, and was good to be reacquainted with some friends from back east (for some reason that makes me laugh).  After dinner, we headed to Hollywood to stroll down the walk of fame and just generally meander about.  Last time I was on Hollywood Blvd I was 13 years old and i remember it being seedier.  Times change I suppose. 

It's true, I do prefer blonds :-)
After our venturing about, it was time to head back to the inland empire.  I thusly informed the others to let me know the plans for Saturday, but don't expect to see me before noon.  I made it back to my hotel and crashed, attempting to catch up on the sleep lost in Vegas.

Saturday came and found out the girls were all doing wedding related stuff (which some how included shopping on Rodeo Dr).  I had no desire to be dragged about, so I decided to take a scenic drive.  The only problem with my plan, I soon discovered, was the scenic drive was across the top of the San Gabriel mountains and winded through the passes and peaks... where there was over a foot of snow.  Luckily it hadn't snowed very recently and the ambient temp was well above freezing so the roads were in good shape.  And crowded.  I never thought of being able to go snow skiing in LA county, but it can happen.  And people were out in force with sleds, snowboards, and skis. 

 I suppose  I shouldn't be driving windy mountain roads taking pictures, but I likes the scenery.  I only got nervous a couple times when I saw signs proclaiming that snow chains were required ahead.  Hrrmm, i don't think i got that option on my rental.  Turns out it was sort of overreacting, or they hadn't changed the signs in a few days.  Still, it was beautiful and would have been nice to had a motorcycle to take this drive with.  The only problem was the drive took about 45 minutes longer than I planned.  But I'm glad I took the diversion

The drive was great though.  The scenery was beautiful, and once you got past the main snow ski areas, the roads were pretty empty.  The speed limit was 55, but I can't see how you could manage that without going over the edge.  

Playing in the snow in the morning

After cruising the San Gabriels, I thought it'd be nice to the see ocean.  Off to Malibu and a cruise up the PCH.  One of my vacation plans is to drive the PCH from San Diego to Seattle... or close to.  I think it would be a fun road trip, spread out over a week or so at least.  Well, to get to the coast, I ended up on the 101 and had to cross the Santa Monica mountains.  The best route looked to be the Topanga Canyon  Blvd.  And again, back to taking pictures while driving on curvy roads.  And again, a motorcycle would have rocked here.

Topanga Canyon
 Once through the canyon and hills, I came out on the PCH and headed toward Malibu.  A quick stop at Duke's for some refreshment and to just get out of the car.  I've been to Duke's Waikiki location, and it's a favorite.  The Malibu location had a similar vibe and really delicious crab and macadamia nut wontons.  And a nice view of the sinking sun over the Pacific.  Got in touch with Adri and Lusya and got the plans for the night.  Meet up at Razi's place then off to Santa Monica.

View from the Barefoot Bar at Duke's Malibu

On the way to Pasadena, a quick stop at Dume Point just to say I made it to the beach while in SoCal.  And back through Decker Canyon.  There are no pictures while driving this one.  I didn't feel i could manage it safely.  That should tell you just how windy and potentially treacherous this narrow road is.

Afternoon walk in the sand
Made it just time to take part (albeit a very small part) in the frantic rush to prepare wedding decorations before taking off to dinner and Santa Monica Pier.  Dinner was at a favorite place that Razi knew, a taco truck in downtown Pasadena.  And they had really good tacos for cheap.  We ate over the hood of the car while goofing about.  Next was off to Santa Monica.  We walked down the pier, road various rides (not being a large crowd, there were extra turns on each one).  A nice good night!

After a drive by of Venice beach (dark and quiet by this hour), we headed back to our respective lodgings.  but first I stopped for a Double Double, Animal Style, from In N Out.  I have to get one of those whenever I'm out west.  They're so horribly bad for you, but so delicious!

The next day was the wedding day.  The first wedding I've been to that was trilingual (Colombia, Russian, and English).   As with every wedding, there seemed to be a rush of last minute panic and decorating and organizing and planning that somehow got left out prior to an hour before the ceremony.  Hence, I'm putting out centerpieces and volunteered to hand out programs (which came in the three aforementioned languages.)  The ceremony went well, and was a non traditional experience (from an American standard perspective) that included traditions from both countries of the bride and groom.  So a non-traditionally traditional affair. 

After the ceremony, toasts were given (some requiring translators) and dinner was served.  The first dance of the Mo and Katya was impressive.  They salsa'd about the dance floor like professionals.  Afterward, the party kicked off.  Masks, beads, glow sticks, noise makers, and other various party paraphernalia appeared and the DJ kicked up the tempo.  It was quite an affair.

I'd like to thank M and K for allowing (or demanding) me to come.  It was great to share in their celebration after knowing them for what doesn't seem like that long.  I could tell a story about the first time I met them, but I'll refrain to save the embarrassment.  Adri and Lusya were great pals for the fun in Vegas and LA.  And always good to see the rocket scientists and get shown around form a local's perspective. 

After the wedding, it was a quick nap, then Adri and Lusya were off to Vegas to fly out and I had a 4:45 AM flight back to Louisville.  It was a great LONG weekend with great friends and making new friends (who happen to be up for showing me aorudn their home towns when I make there... )!!

Bright light city gonna set my soul on fire.

A few weeks back, i received an invite to join the pre wedding celebrations my my friends Mauricio and Katya.  In Vegas.  I have a hard time saying no to Vegas, but with Adri, Lusya, Mo, and Katya.... this could be fun.  Shortly after that, I received my official wedding invitation...  well it was more of a demand that I be there from the bride to be.  Within a week, with the graciousness of a few coworkers, managed to get the wedding weekend off. 

Vegas, baby!!! 

Since I had to work NYE, I planned to meet up with the gang in LAS New Years Day.  Getting out there was fairly uneventful since it's one of the 6 destinations served non stop from Louisville.  I had my small, but understated, room reserved at the Mirage.  First time staying there, and I have to say they've kept the place in fairly good shape being almost 30 years old... qualifying for Historical Building Status on the strip.  I was a little annoyed that my room wasn't quite ready for me.  But they promised to get it rushed and done up shortly.  I think it was really just a clever ploy to get me in a casino before heading up to the room.   I fooled them, I left the casino... and walked across the street to another casino.  Found a nice snack (oysters and beer... yum). 

About 45 minutes later I was cleared to go up to the room.  My bags would meet me there shortly afterwards.  Again, the room was small but sufficient.  I unpacked put away the clothes in the walk in closet.  And then just relaxed with an extra dirty martini and caught up on the Rose Bowl while waiting for an ETA from the Amherst gang. 

I went out to meet them, and have a quick dinner.  That's when I discovered the burger place in the back of Paris.  Wasn't sure if we were going to eat but i needed sustenance and the sliders seemed like a great idea... not to mention the bartender (who's name was Lala... seriously) was scantily clad in a corset that highlighted her assets.  I discovered it was happy hour when she brought two drinks.  OK  I'll take that.

FINALLY, Adri and Lusya made it into town.  And being a little sick and exhausted from NYE and a trip from LA, they decided to sleep and we'd reconvene the next day.

I slept a few hours after doing some gambling and piano bar-ing.  The next day we all met for breakfast before piling into the car and off to the Hoover dam.  I'd been there before on a trip with my parents and family... about 25 years ago.  Wow I'm old.   And I'm still scared of heights.  I remember seeing a picture from when my parents took my older brothers there for the first time, well before Jamie came around, and seeing a picture of one of my brothers standing on the walls, which behind him was a sheer drop to the bottom of the canyon.  Brian looked terrified... and I can't say I blame him.  On the return trip 20 years later (with Jamie in tow), a couple uncles tried to get him back on that wall...  I thought he was going to invoke his Marine Corps training and really hurt them.  Apparently you can be scarred for life...  Of course now those ledges are marked "Do not stand or sit on walls"...  preventing such nonsense. 

After spending some dam time exploring the dam site, we decide we were dam tired and get out of the dam area and back to Vegas. A quick lunch (again at the same burger place in Paris... loved the sliders with Bleu cheese, bacon, and avocado), we split up and went out on our own.  A quick stop by the room and I decided to head over and spend sometime at a favorite bar, called Kahunaville in the back of TI.  In the past, they tended to make strongish drinks and give out free shots.  Things haven't changed. 

After a few rounds of video poker, I walked across the street to the Venetian.  I really like the way they've done the inside of the place, with the feeling you're actually in Venice.  There's also a pop art gallery there I like to dream about buying things in.  Afterwards I found myself down stairs in the Bourbon Bar, checking out what they consider to be a vast bourbon collection (with Jack Daniels figuring prominently, though incorrectly, front and center).  Amazingly the prices weren't ridiculous, and then again there's the comp if I play a game.  More video poker it is. 

I soon received notice that dinner would be happening soon, off strip steaks.  Good call, the prime rib was tasty and came with a free beer that didn't suck.  It had been decreed that we would be meeting up with the bride and groom to be and families and maybe check out a club or two that night.  After dinner we headed back to Bally's and met up with the rest of the gang.  While waiting on the group to assemble, I decided it was time to take craps.  I know the basics of the game (thanks to a iPhone app), and I know it's the best odds in the house.  While some of Mo's family tried out slot machines, I found a lively craps table.  And oddly enough, won money.  I like this game. 

We found ourselves heading to Chateau at Paris.  Then we found ourselves at a table.  Then we found ourselves with a bottle of Jack and a bottle of Goose on the table.  The music was good, the crowd was fun, and we partied like rockstars till the wee hours of the night.   If you ever get the chance, party with Colombians and Russians.  You may not remember the details of what happened but you'll know it was legen...

Sometime shortly before sunrise, I made it back to the room. The next day (not necessarily morning) when I came to, it was decided I needed coffee and food in a bad way.  Adri and Lusya walked over for a visit.  After a stop at Starbuck's and lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, we decided to go help Lusya find the tattoo she was thinking about.  Alas, she didn't get it that day, but has the design narrowed down.  

I had made plans to have dinner with my favorite Vegas local.  I don't know how long I've known Jill, but it seems like forever.  And we have an almost Biannual meet up schedule when I'm in town.  We had a nice catch up, and I met her husband, at Cabo Wabo (thought unfortunately it was too cold to sit outside and watch the Bellagio Fountains... note to self, it's cold there in winter).  It was good times and I'm always glad to see her.  And we agreed to a tentative meet up during warmer times in a couple years.

After first dinner, I met Adri and Lusya for second dinner.  Don't worry, I didn't eat a whole meal, just had a nice dessert... in the form of Limoncello Martini(s).  Afterwards we did a little gambling and the girls headed off to bed.  I kept gambling... bad move.  Everything I was up, I lost.  Oh well, I did learn some more ins and outs of the game.  I kept to my budget when it came to gaming.  When I had lost enough money that was it.  I like to think it was a wash when I include the drinks and learning experience... and just the fun of a lively craps table with a shooter on a roll.  I still don't see how people can play these games with $1000's of dollars... and be ok with losing it.  I guess they have better paying jobs than I.

The next morning, after a fairly sleepless night and seeing another Vegas sunrise, I was summoned for the departure to LA.  I didn't really feel I needed to ever give up my room, but apparently they want you to keep paying for it.  Oh well, we had to leave some fun leftover for LA. 

Adri, Lusya, and I at Chateau in Paris...  Rockstars