Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Trains, and planes, and automobiles

Spent the Thanksgivikkah weekend up in the bay area with my son Matt and his wife Kim, and since I was in the neighborhood, finished up in San Diego.

The family went up to Mountain View in Silicon Valley on Wednesday. We were all supposed to fly but my wife Debby couldn’t get all of the latkas into the suitcase. A car was required. Actually a deuce-and-a-half was required, but she managed to squeeze them into the Prius. For awhile I thought we’d have to strap the applesauce jars to the roof.

Kim’s family from Boston also made the journey. They rented a house in nearby Mountain View and invited us all for dinner on Wednesday night. It was lovely but a tad weird. There we were in some stranger’s house, eating in their dining room, pictures of their family all around. I can see the reality show now: HOME INVASION COOKING.

Stayed at the Sheraton Palo Alto. It’s next to the Westin. They’re essentially the exact same, but the Sheraton is twenty steps closer to the Bloomingdale’s in the mall. It was also Black Fridikkah you know.

I love Palo Alto, especially University Street. They still have a revival theater. THE LADY EVE and MONKEY BUSINESS was playing. Revival theaters are the last venues you can watch classic movies they way they were intended to be seen – on a big screen with people texting.

The only thing my daughter Annie likes more than watching football on Thanksgiving is getting her wisdom teeth pulled with bolt cutters. So I got dropped off at Matt & Kim’s while the girls went skeet shooting or something. I dunno, they just drove away very fast. Thanks to Kim’s dad for carving. Especially with that electric knife. Had I had the honors it would have looked like the Tate-Labianca crime scene. Dinner itself was fabulous. Kim is a great cook and Matt can really open wine. I can’t describe the joy of looking around the table at all my loved ones, secure in the knowledge that the real occupants of the house are not going to come home early.

Black Friday begins earlier each year. This is good news for the idiots who camp out at Best Buy for nine days to save $4 on a battery recharger. But the novelty of shopping at midnight is gone. Now the madness begins at 8:00. If they open any earlier the actual Thanksgiving dinner will give way to tailgate parties.

On Friday we all took the CalTrans train that goes right through our room at the Sheraton straight into San Francisco. Went to Scoma’s for lunch. They have the best seafood and shortest Italian name on Fisherman’s Wharf. A San Francisco mainstay, there are celebrity photos everywhere. We sat right under Shari Lewis & Lambchop and Chili Davis.

Must say I was disappointed in the street performers on the Wharf this year. Did not see the guy who jumps out of a bush and scares the shit out of people. Nor was there the Liza Minnelli impersonator who essentially elicits the same reaction. Just a few guys spray-painted gold and Taylor Hicks.

Walked from the Wharf to the Embarcadero looking for that rarest of San Francisco landmarks – a Coffee Bean. For some reason there are only three in all of Northern California. Matt loves their Ice Blendeds, but the only time he can get one is when he’s on a business trip in China. They’re everywhere in Shanghai.

Scary moment that night walking home from a restaurant. A bus approached as we were crossing the street. Its destination sign said: “SORRY.” Holy shit, was it planning to hit us?” The sign changed to “NOT IN SERVICE.”

Saturday was the Stanford-Notre Dame football game. There’s nothing like a college town during a big game weekend. Rowdy Stanford students and alumni packed the coffee bars and martini lounges ordering scones and extra olives until they had to be cut off.

Did not get to the Winchester Mystery House. Built in 1884 by the widow of the gun magnate, she believed her family was haunted by all the people who were shot to death by Winchester rifles. (I have the same guilt over writing MANNEQUIN 2.) So to appease the ghosts she built this absurd monstrosity with hallways and staircases that lead nowhere, bizarre shaped rooms with random fireplaces, and inside windows. Why she felt bad architecture would square things with the spirit world I have no idea, but it sure would have been fun if that was the house Matt’s in-laws rented for the holidays.

Debby and Annie drove back, leisurely hitting every outlet store between Gilroy and Oxnard. I flew home so that I could get in my car and drive to San Diego. Destination: Qualcomm Stadium where the San Diego Chargers were hosting the Cincinnati Bengals. Football fans are a hearty breed. Every week you see them brave punishing arctic conditions, monsoons, and typhoons to sit a thousand miles from the action or just stand for five straight hours with no relief. In San Diego on December 1st it was 75 degrees with clear skies. They didn’t sell out. The game was blacked out locally – the first TV blackout in the NFL this year. But shadows were expected so I’m sure that kept a lot of fans away. Explain to me again why Los Angeles doesn’t have an NFL team but San Diego does. Explain to me why Oxnard doesn’t have an NFL team but San Diego does.

I was there to see Dan Hoard, the voice of the Bengals. He’s also the voice of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, but I’m not going to friggin’ Appalachian State to see him. We called Syracuse Chief games together in 1988 and I’m proud to say I didn’t kill his career.

I arrived three hours before game time and already the parking lot was practically filled with tailgaters. When you think of San Diego you think of athletic surfers in Speedos and hard-bodied California Girls in thong bikinis frolicking at the beach. Everyone else was in the Qualcomm parking lot in wife beater shirts grilling Texas hot links and guzzling Budweisers at 7 in the morning.

It turns out I was friends with all the radio announcers covering the game. Josh Lewin of the Chargers who once stayed at my house and didn’t break anything, and Dave Sims of Westwood One – my former Mariners partner who agreed it was wrong that I should take the fall for their last ten losing seasons. Also bumped into CBS’s Ian Eagle, the busiest sportscaster in America. He is currently in a stretch of ten cities in twelve days. This explains why he called a Charger field goal a three-pointer for the Knicks.
Ian Eagle, Dan Hoard, some blogger
I admire guys who can call football play-by-play. They require skill and a command of the English language. Ex-player/analysts need only seven concussions.

The Bengals won (or, in Ian’s case – the Mighty Ducks won). There was a layer of grease on my car so thick it could probably squeeze through a CT-scan tube.

There is yet another mayoral election this Tuesday in San Diego. The last hizzoner resigned after 20 sexual harassment allegations of kissing, groping, and inappropriate headlocks in less than nine months in office. Toronto is missing a bet not calling itself the “San Diego of Canada.”


San Diego Union-Tribune headline: O.B. (Ocean Beach) Shrub Trimmer Faces Felony Charges.

Driving back to Los Angeles there’s always a horrific accident at Camp Pendleton that halts traffic for nine miles. I’m starting to think it’s the same accident. It actually occurred in 2004 and the poor driver is still trying to reach On-Star.

All in all, I had a great holiday. Anytime you can spend six days with your family, old friends, and the Cincinnati Bengals special team unit you have to consider yourself blessed. Hope your Thanksgivikkah went as well. Oh, in case you’re still looking to get me something for Chanukkah, I want Ian Eagle’s frequent flier miles.

If you enjoyed this, a book of my travelogues is still available.  WHERE THE HELL AM I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED makes the perfect holiday gift for the person who wants to go nowhere.  


Butch said...

Happy Hanukkah!

Looking forward to reading your thoughts on "Kirstie"...

John said...

Our group here in Texas wanted to do the Cowboys-Chargers game in late September, but due to scheduling problems, had to settle for the Dallas-Denver game at the Jerrydome the following week (where every Game Day Sunday is Black Friday in the beer section of the Walmart SuperCenter across the street...). Arlington's got a rule for the stadium parking areas for the Cowboys and Rangers that you can only tailgate in the grass areas along the edges of the lot, which is why everyone shows up at 7 a.m. for 3:15 p.m. games. Don't know if San Diego's the same, but it does make it easier for the cops to target the perimeters of the lots after the games, because that's where the drunken fights are going to be.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm amused by the fact that so many people from LA, awash in silicone implants, are confused about the name of Silicon Valley - which is named for computer chips, which are made of silicon, that is, SAND.

I also like Palo Alto; got to spend six weeks there working in 2006 in mid-winter.


Hamid said...

I finished MUST KILL TV and I really enjoyed it. I've posted my review on Amazon.


Jeffrey Leonard said...

No matter what time of day, Ken, you can always make me laugh. You truly have a gift my friend. Wishing you good health and happiness this holiday season. JL

Eric J said...

HOLLYWOOD is Silicone Valley.
The Bay Area is Silicon Valley.

craig m said...

A Friday question: I always suspected -- and the Internet seems to confirm -- that Klinger's Toledo Mud Hens cap was actually a modern-day Texas Rangers cap. If this is true, did you receive any flack from Mud Hens fans for this?

Anonymous said...

It's CalTrain not the CalTrans train.

L tuerk said...

Ken - Glad you had a good trip. I went to Stanford and my sis is in Mountain View. Next time you go, please consider staying at Dinah's Garden Hotel. It is remarkable, and it is right across the street from the hotel you were in. It has a great history; we spent many weekends at their coffee shop while in school.


Charles H. Bryan said...

A Friday question, which may be so dumb it's actually kind of smart or it may be so dumb that it's actually just incredibly dumb. Dumb and long -- great combo.

I've started watching M*A*S*H on DVD (well, I saw it all when originally broadcast and in syndication, but I haven't watched in a number of years) and I noticed this: god, that's a lot of green on the screen. The clothes are green, the blankets are green, the hats are green, the tents are green, the cars are green -- jeez, even the olives in the gin are green. Sure there's some gray, a little khaki here and there, white scrubs (surrounded by green), but still that's a lot of freaking green. Were there ever any concerns expressed over the color palette of the show? Did some goofball network/studio exec (who thinks like goofball me) ever say "Yes, I know it's the military, but Jesus, can't someone from the Air Force be part of the cast? How 'bout a naked episode?" Do you know if the costumers made specific decisions to put Hawkeye in a red bathrobe or Henry in a blue-and-orange college sweater just (in addition to some character-building) to add some visual variety?

I do have better questions about (or inspired by) M*A*S*H, but I thought I'd lead with stupidity.

Unrelated: Westwood One does a nice job on the NFL broadcasts. James Lofton is unexpectedly (not unintentionally) funny sometimes during the Sunday night broadcast. And Ian Eagle does seem to be everywhere.

BigTed said...

Nice photo of you with Paul Feig and Howie Mandel, but where are the sports announcers?

Guffman said...

Ken, during my tour of the Winchester House years ago, I was told that Mrs. Winchester had a deep belief in the supernatural. Her most "trusted" advisor convinced her that once construction of the house was completed, she would die. Consequently, she kept the project going, far beyond any need or common sense.

LouOCNY said...

What? You didn't go see Monkey Business???

Green Jeans said...

terrifc! laugh out loud! very entertaining! two thumbs up!

Cap'n Bob said...

You were in my old stomping grounds, Ken. I lived in Mountain View--on Mercy Street yet--and worked in Palo Alto for a while, making integrated lead frames for computer chips. I also lived in East Palo Alto, but on the west side of the freeway. EPA was known as Little Nairobi. Apparently a lot has changed since I was there. Trains, hotels, liking the place.

I went to the Winchester Mystery House twice. Same spiel both times from the guides. Guffman's remarks are right, and there was the added fact that Old Lady Winchester was afraid the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles would come back and get her, so the house had all these screwy passages and rooms to confuse Casper and company. She would sleep in different rooms,also, to help confuse the ghosts. When the 1906 earthquake hit no one could find her for hours.

Todd Everett said...

Oxnard has a pro football team, sort of.

Anonymous said...

It's University AVENUE!

Mike said...

(Top picture:) "Is that a roast turkey I see before me?"
"No, it's a chicken with sunburn. Better use the other two candles."

Awkward moment on entering the rented house. Ken: "Wow, this is where they filmed Sorority Lesbians 5."

My impression of the Winchester Mystery House is that it wasn't built with any strangeness in mind. (The Mystery term seems added after the death of the 'architect'.) Corridors and stairways going nowhere is just what happens when you design & build on the fly. Ask any legislator.

VP81955 said...

The Stanford Theatre has a great heritage as a revival house. (Ken, part of its organ is from the old RKO Keith's palace in Syracuse on South Salina Street, which was razed along with the nearby Paramount in 1967 as part of urban renewal to build the Sibley's department store, long since closed.) In fact, you can see what films ran at the Stanford between 1925 and 1961 -- back in the day, schedules changed two or three times a week -- by visiting http://www.stanfordtheatre.org/stf/aboutHistory.html. It's fascinating.

Lorimartian said...

In 1963, my family moved from Sunland up north where I went to high school in Cupertino and Saratoga (after which I returned to the southland). I ushered at the wonderful, intimate Circle Star Theatre (in the round) in San Carlos (up the road from Palo Alto), seeing the shows for free: Marcel Marceau, who signed my program, Martin Sheen reprising his Tony-nominated role as the son in "The Subject Was Roses," Cyril Ritchard and Joel Grey in "The Roar of the Greasepaint...," and John Raitt in "Carousel," among others. I didn't realize then how fortunate I was to witness these performances. All I knew was that these professional live theatre experiences were magical. The promoters drew many high profile, as well as up-and-coming, entertainers to this relatively small venue until it was closed in 1993. The voices from productions past must be echoing through the halls of the office building that now stands on the site. RIP Circle Star.

Anonymous said...

I saw Ian Eagle and Mike Fratello call a game in Indianapolis last NBA season when the Nets came to town. We were so close to press row, I learned something interesting about the telecast. Ian requires one pillow on his chair, the Czar, two.

Barry Traylor said...

Glad you had a nice Thanksgiving, I have to admit your comment about the tailgate party Thanksgiving outside the malls cracked me up.

I have a Friday question for you. It seems that these days I can't find one sitcom that makes me laugh very much. Is it just me or they all poorly written? I have tried most all of the new ones this year and they mainly left me cold.

Lorimartian said...

Ken, just wanted to add that your description of eating a cozy family holiday dinner surrounded by photos of strangers painted a very funny picture.

Dan said...

Are there appropriate headlocks in the workplace?

D. McEwan said...

I've taken the Winchester Mystery House tour a couple of times, and if I'm ever up there again, I'll take it again. The tour, and the house itself, are fascinating.

Unknown said...

Who else can so delicately weave a Charles Manson murder reference into a heartwarming Hallmark family holiday story. Ken, this was one of your finest and the reportage and commentary on San Diego mayoral headlocks is much appreciated. Perhaps the fine art of headline writing (or shrub trimming) might yet save the Union-Trib. Yes, Chargers attendance suffers from a threat of shadows in the forecast, but keep in mind parts of the city are still rebuilding from the Great Drizzle of '09. BTW, if you didn't get to carve this year, is that a Thanksgivikkah bib or a turkey day dickie?