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"I wanna feel a little danger, feel a little stranger, Angel City tonight." - Motorhead Airport Hell. Weather conditions have closed Chicago and, thus, canceled my connecting flight. I'm told this at 5 a.m., when Amer- ican calls an hour before alarm clock. (Incredibly, I don't answer the phone in a rude, crude, or otherwise inappropriate fashion.) Though the notice of a later flight means more sleep, it also means more traffic, as we discover on I-40, at the height of Rage Hour. The ticket line at the terminal doesn't move much faster-- I arrive at the gate with fewer than fifteen minutes to fill, before board- ing. (The flight is also overbooked; I decline an offer for a $400 voucher.) The wait continues in the cabin, as every other passen- ger wheels in a gargantuan suitcase, plus coat, hat, or purse. (As the totality of *my* luggage is stowed above me, I guess I can't complain.) And there's a woman's sports team on the plane-- UNC softball players, I think-- but they get seated in the back. (I get the company of fellow computer geeks.) Dock at DFW at noon; connecting flight flies at 12:31. I scramble for food, downing a Pizza Inn personal pizza (pepperoni) and a half-box of Sno-Caps in five minutes flat. Burping my way back to the gate, I'm in line by 12:15, only to be informed that, yes, the flight is delayed. Riding the movies. Finally free from LAX, I rush to the rental lot, then to the hotel, then to Universal Studios, where I catch the last tour tram of the day, departing at 4:15 p.m. (And only having parked the car at 4:07!) Backlotting we go, with a relent- lessly chipper tour guide who goes on and on about which set was in which movie or TV show. Pretty dull stuff, but with a few thrills thrown in for fun: King Kong attacking the tram, a ride through a DANTE'S PEAK lava flow, one flood, one earthquake, a collapsing bridge, and an attacking shark. (Did I miss anything?) Once we're done, it's off to the Lower Lot, for, what else?, the BACKDRAFT show. (And with only two hours to go before the theme park closes, I *look* like a guy going to fire.) We're played a reel or two of behind-the-scenes footage, which is okay, as is the Chicago fire- house set. Way cooler is a simulated factory explosion, which we experience from *inside* said structure. (Outside the ride, City and County patches are for sale. I buy one, with 10% knocked off 'cause I used to eat smoke.) Rex Tremendous. About the other attractions: the E.T. bicycle chase is cute; the JURASSIC PARK river ride is tame. (The latter is more atmosphere than ups and downs, though I *do* get slightly soaked in a small-pond plummet.) The last ride of the day is the BACK TO THE FUTURE moving car. It tilts and shakes to the motion of an accompanying video, played overhead on a planetarium-sized screen. (The effect is surprisingly stomach-churning.) As the park closes, I take a stroll along CityWalk, a collection of col- orfully lit stores and restaurants located directly outside the gate. (Dinner is "Rock and Roll Pot Roast" at the Hard Rock Cafe.) Overall, my impression of the theme park is mixed: it's great for kids, not bad for parents, and probably pretty boring for the die- hard movie fan. (The sheer number of gift shops and promotional plugs was a bit off-putting, too.) At least the lines were short. (Or, in some cases, non-existent!) Finally, on the way back to the hotel, as I did last year, I hang a right at the Hollywood Bowl, which is closed for the season, and croon a tune or two to the hills above. Good morning! 6:30 a.m. and the downtown area is already awake. Or, at least, awakening. Foot traffic is light enough that I can spread a newspaper out while walking to the coffee shop. (Break- fast is a flaky cinnamon twist, then a side order of eggs at McDon- alds, one block over.) Back to the room by 7:15, where the luxury of business travel becomes apparent: "work" doesn't begin until 10 a.m., when the first conference session starts. The convention center is within (long) walking distance-- six, maybe seven blocks. The train goes there, too, and a station stop is just one block over. As is the stop for the every-five-minutes-and-it-only-costs- a-quarter bus. Two hours and change-- a lifetime, really, to do anything: walk, write, review the conference agenda, hit the hotel gym. Whatever. Plus, the PST factor means that the East Coast is already open for business. Web sites have been updated. Mail order houses are open. And there's e-mail waiting for me at work. You know, I could get used to this time zone. Bathroom humor. The amenities in my hotel room crack me up. The soap is called a "clarifying bar." The shampoo is "daily shampoo." (What, it disappears in a puff of smoke after 24 hours?) There are towels everywhere and even *more* mirrors. Bathroom mirror. Shav- ing mirror. Make-up mirror. Dressing mirror. (By my eighth en- counter with a reflecting surface, I've vowed that 1998 will be the Year of Fitness.) Did I mention that there's a phone in the bath- room? (To which I wonder: would Elvis be alive today, had he been able to dial 911 whilst on the throne?) Also above the crapper is a wall-mounted hair dryer, which I promptly drop in the toilet. (Thankfully, it's powered off.) And I break my toothbrush in half, by holding it too tight. Sigh. I can't *wait* to see what the afternoon brings... Internet World. The first half of the first day of the trade show goes well. I attend "Document Day" and chew over the many issues revolving around "information," "documents," and the incorporation of the latter with the former. (Or was it the former with the lat- ter?) The speakers are pretty good and the technical problems are few and far between; it's the *second* half of the day that's less impressive. (I guess they save the "worser" presenters for the af- ternoon, when most folks are recovering from lunch.) I do learn a new word, though: interstitials. (With three i's and three t's, no less!) And one speaker offers this well-thought and highly tech- nical opinion on the subject of Internet commerce: "Most online stores suck." Swimming pools, movie stars. By 4:30, the Touristmobile is pointed in the direction of Beverly Hills. My destination: FAO Schwartz at Beverly Center. After an amusing adventure trying to locate the correct road, I discover the downside of owning an outdated travel guide: FAO is a no go. It's gone. No longer there. The Toy Store Has Left The Building. (I throw a mild tantrum and then move on.) For din din I dock at the Sunset Strip House of Blues, for an exceptionally tasty rack of ribs (with Jack Daniels BBQ sauce) and the occasional blast of live swing/ska music (courtesy of the Cher- ry Poppin' Daddies, who are rehearsing). More shopping, this time for new music. (Thanks to the miracles of Internet technology, I can download songs to decide if I like the albums that they're on!) But between ridiculous prices and horrendous parking, I soon flee the area, headed north and in desperate search of discount stores and strip malls. (I land in Burbank, at $13.99-for-a-CD Circuit City.) Tremors. It's 4:17 a.m. and my bed is shaking. Wednesday opens with an earthquake-- my first quake, in fact. It's over in two or three seconds and I'm soon asleep, but not before making a mental note to catch the morning news. (4.5, centered near Redlands.) The second day of the conference is about customer service on the 'net-- well, at least, those are the sessions that I attend, when not roaming the exhibitor floor. (All sorts of cool stuff is hand- ed out: bags, buttons, flyers, yo yos, chocolate coins, battery- powered fans, and, my favorite, a bubble-blowing ball-point pen.) At lunch, I think I spot Dennis Rodman. It's my first (near) celebrity sight of the trip and it happens just a block from my hotel. During the subsequent sustenance input process, I reflect on the other differences between LA and RDU: the weather's nicer, the people are prettier, and there's no smoking. Anywhere. (If this land is infested with the tobacco cancer, it doesn't show it.) The roads, though, are both bumpier and busier. And, good gravy, nearly every coffee shop, hot dog stand, or parking garage has a tip jar out front. On the waterfront. Wednesday evening is spent in Longbeach, start- ing with a hasty visit to the Queen Mary. (The largest passenger liner afloat, the QM is home to a hotel, several exhibits, and a string of shops.) Afterward, I patrol the Port for a few, snapping a hard-to-get picture of a fireboat. (Accomplished by climbing the railing of a nearby dock.) From there, it's off to the main fire station, dinner downtown at Rock Bottom, and, finally, to see my cousin Cathi, for the first time in a double decade. (She's been researching our family's history on my mom's father's side. Guess whose great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was President John Adams?) The return drive, at 11 p.m., is substantially quick- er, though I'm disappointed that the Highway Patrol no longer has the "405" closed. (An officer opened fire on a vehicle, but, by the time that I'm passing by, everyone's gone home. All *I* spot is the CHP mobile command unit, riding back to base.) Forrest Grump. Thursday finds me in a fouler mood. The thrill is beginning to go. Jet lag is setting in. And, with rare exception, I haven't talked to a soul since landing. (Interpersonal isolation is a killer, man.) At lunch, I make some calls and swap some mail and, by 2 p.m., my mood is substantially merrier. (The day also brings the second celebrity sighting of the trip: Sinbad, who is also attending the show.) Returning to the hotel in the p.m., I discover that an "AdultNET" conference is in progress on the ball- room floor. (You know: porn, online gambling, etc.) Admission is only $10, but I pass, but not before visiting said ballroom lobby and watching with great amusement as a financial meeting empties. Hoards of immaculately attired business people versus a handful of well-stacked, well-coifed, well-weathered women. It's a priceless moment. Thursday night. For chow and an eleventh-hour souvenir-shop hop, I head over to Hollywood Boulevard, where I stumble upon a sneak pre- view of THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. Remarkably, I'm able to (a.) mooch a pair of passes and (b.) find a seat that's only a few feet from my PVL (Preferred Viewing Location). The theater is *packed* with young girls, which is to be expected, as the flick stars (and in a dual role, no less!) that TITANIC heartthrob, Leonardo DiCap- rio. (Add up all that collective body heat and, friends, let me tell you, a department store cologne counter had *nothing* on that place!) I stay long enough to (fail to) win some stuff and leave. (Hey, I'm on vacation-- get someone else to review it!) The even- ing is far from a total bust, though. As I wander up Laurel Can- yon, toward North Hollywood, I'm pleased to discover that the new Van Halen is being premiered on the radio. (Great guitar work, but the vocals, well, kinda suck.) Train, train. The last day of the conference is mostly a wrap-- the last sessions and the final keynote and one more trip to the exhibition hall. (I never *did* get one of those cool orange yard- sticks...) The end also marks the beginning, for re-copying 50 pages of notes into something other than chicken scratch. Friday evening finds me in a smokeless (!) San Diego pool hall, shooting against a young lady not for money but for the privilege of who goes home with whom. I lose, but win, and wake up 30 miles north in Carlsbad, in the guest bedroom of my dear friend Marianne. (A chum from high school, she and I had taken the train into town for dinner at Dakota's, dessert at Planet Hollywood, and shelter from a surprise rainstorm at Horton Plaza.) The last sunset. Saturday morning and we're up and at 'em early, off to watch UNC play UNC-Charlotte in round deux of the NCAA tourney. (83-73 and in overtime, no less!) My aunt Noni from La Jolla stops by the sports bar, to say hello and snap photos. By 11:30 or so, we (Marianne and I) leave for the naval base, to play pedestrian on the piers. (A massive hospital ship is docked, along with a rescue craft, several frigates, and a helicopter carrier.) Next is Coronado Beach, over that incredible bridge with the mov- able concrete barriers. (What a solution!) We walk along the beach front and visit the famous Hotel Del Coronado, pictured most prominently in SOME LIKE IT HOT. Last is a lazy trip back to Carlsbad, by way of the shoreline. (It's a gorgeous drive.) After parting ways, I hang around the water for just a bit, mulling a quick trip south to the border. Alas, this gringo goes north, by way of San Juan Capistrano. (I ride by the Mission, then head up to Irvine, for some shopping. The last activity of the evening involves an overturned vehicle on I-5 and some rubbernecking by Yours Truly.) Home. 5 a.m. arrives a bit earlier than expected on the day of de- parture. My ass drags for a few until I realize that it's already 8:00 on the other side and that makes me feel better. With one or two exceptions (leaving my leather jacket in the car; an hour's de- lay in the Big D, Dallas; an equatorially challenged woman spilling out of her seat beside me), the return trip is smoother. Much smo- other, in fact, than last year's ride. I didn't have to be dragged back kicking and screaming this time-- Angel City had worn its wel- come about, oh, a third of the way through. I love the weather, hate the freeways, and, I guess, am ultimately neutral toward the seemingly endless array of distractions that the area affords. (Pop quiz, hotshot: does a certain someone *really* need more rec- reational opportunities in their life? I don't think so.) That said, I did find *southern* Southern California to be quite intrig- uing. Del Mar... Torrey Pines... San Diego... Maybe I'd better plan to go back. Just one more time. To be sure. Copyright 1998 by Michael J. Legeros
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