The last few months have been dispiriting to say the least, and for a lot of people I know one of the side-effects on a personal level a has been a distinct lack of enthusiasm for creative endeavours. Everything seems small and trivial when the world appears to be falling apart at a global geopolitical level.
So it was with mixed feelings that I made plans to travel to California for a two week visit culminating in attending Gallifrey One. The planning had happened in the run up and just after the election, and there were times when I seriously wondered if it wold be better to just cancel, but seeing the post-election protests and organizing did help a bit.
So on Feb 5th we flew into LAX, first to spend a few days with my sister in Santa Monica. We arrived to rainy weather which lasted most of the two weeks we were there with the exception of two lovely sunny days. The rain was the end of a decade long drought in California so one can’t complain too much, but on the other hand it also caused massive flooding and damage to the Oroville Dam, so it wasn’t a drizzle either.
While in SoCal we squeezed in as much as we could in a short time. The first thing we did though was check out the local Pokemon, because first of all Tauros but also as it turns out, big cities have waaaaay more Pokemon and Pokestops than small ones and LA, Santa Monica, Oakland, Berkeley, and SF are all pretty big. So many Pokemans y’all.
On the first morning John had some errands to run so after a nice big breakfast Ashley and I went to see the excellent, infuriating James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro. I have never read any Baldwin and expected a biographical look at his life and work, which it only sort of is. More than that it’s about the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Baldwin’s thoughts on race relations in the US. The short takeaway is his quote that “white is a metaphor for power” .
After the movie we met up with John and headed downtown on the new Expo line, which is finally up and running, to visit The Last Bookstore. I had not heard of this place before but it is a wonderfully sprawling space filled with new and used books. The upstairs has an excellent science fiction section as well as a row of artist galleries and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring. Then it was back home where Andres cooked up a tasty pasta dinner and we tottered off to bed embarrassingly early.
Tuesday Ashley had to work so we headed out on our own and after pancakes at IHOP hopped on Expo to see the California Science Center where the Space Shuttle Endeavour is on display. We spent a couple of happy hours visiting that exhibit, which is already pretty great but apparently in the process of being upgraded till it was time to meet up with my brother, who picked us up and whisked us up to the Griffith Observatory for even more science.
I’m pretty sure I have been up to Griffith once before but found it closed on that visit, because I don’t remember the interior at all and it is pretty spectacular. We saw a show in the planetarium and then ran around looking at the various exhibits and the beautiful art deco building. One of the standouts for me is along the Cosmic Corridor down to the lower level along which 2200 pieces of astronomy related jewelry are displayed in a glittering ribbon.
Being Los Angeles, the drive home was long and full of traffic, so we arrived with plenty of appetite in time for a delicious steak dinner and some drinks before once more retiring at a sadly reasonable hour.
Wednesday my brother picked us up and kindly took up to a good old fifties diner called Pann’s where John had chicken and waffles and I had an excellent hot link breakfast.
We flew into Oakland rather than SF and caught more Pokemon (hella Magnemites) before getting BART to the Sunset where we were crashing with my old roommate Palle for the next few days. The first order of business was cuddles with Harold, who has gotten even rounder and fluffier since I saw her last. Cat soundly cuddled we walked up to El Burrito Express for a burrito and settled into mainline some Better Off Ted. It was a good, relaxing way to spend our first day in SF and culminated with a late night excursion with Mr. Joe Price to get milkshakes at Orphan Andy’s in the Castro, just like the good old days.
Thursday we’d planned to head into the city but right after our first breakfast at the trusty Tennessee Grill the skies opened up and a deluge of biblical proportions ensued. Umbrellas were useless and neither of us had brought waterproof shoes, much less proper raincoats, so we were soaked to the bone in seconds. We retreated to Palle’s and spent an enforced lazy day hiding from the weather. This allowed me to subject John to The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Terror of the Autons in preparation for Gally. When Palle got home we ordered pizza from Cybelles and mainlined a bit more Better Off Ted. Not the best use of holiday time but enjoyable nontheless and given my continuing post-airplane sniffles probably about right.
Friday we headed to the East Bay and our first stop was Games of Berkeley, which has moved to new digs. I was a bit worried that the move was bad news but am happy to say the new location is if anything superior and the store looks great. Done with that we stopped by Rasputin and Amoeba looking for a few things that are hard to get in the UK and popped into one last game store called Eudemonia in John’s epic quest for Star Wars Destiny boosters. Miraculously they had some! John was very happy indeed and we left Berkeley triumphantly after a well deserved beer and pizza. Next stop, Oakland.
We got off at the 12th St. Oakland station by the wonderful Tribune Tower, which always looks fantastic at night. We had an hour or two before meeting up with our friends Anthony and Deb for drinks so the next order of business was some slightly more substantial food to lay down a base for those future tiki drinks. We Yelped a few options and I found a likely looking place called Abura-ya which proclaimed itself to be Japanese Friend Chicken. It’s a counter service place with relatively little seating so we snagged a couple of stools facing the window and ordered ourselves eight pieces of chicken in two excellent sauces, one some kind of bbq and the other wasabi based. We spent some time chatting with the guy sitting next to us, who seemed charmed by John’s Englishness, before heading back out into the night.
We arrived at Longitude a bit early and were lucky to snag a booth in the corner. The easy way to describe the place is as a tiki bar, but it really is more explorer/adventurer themed. We ordered blind and am honestly not sure what we got, the drinks were delicious all night but the service was a little vague. Once Ant and Deb arrived it didn’t matter because Anthony could guide our drink orders and the company more than made up for any lapses in waitressing. It has been ages since I got to spend any real time with these two and it really did my soul good to see them again. Best part of the trip hands down.
Saturday was our last full day in the city and it was a good one too. We had a really nice lunch and caught up with Palle’s parents, who are really just the best. It was one of the nice weather days of our visit so afterwards we walked over to Haight to see my friend Steve. We passed some older folks playing a banjo and hanging out in front of their house with a protest sign, probably from that morning’s Ocean Beach protest. We stopped at the Haight St. Amoeba store, hoping to find The Middleman but coming up empty handed. We did locate a copy of Better Of Ted season 1 for cheap, so that turned out okay. We also took a brief detour to Gamescape on Divisidero because John really can’t help himself, and then we headed to Steve’s place. We hung out and talked till we got hungry, then popped across the street to Sushi Raw for some really great food, before wrapping up the evening with Saturday Night Live (Melissa McCarthy killing it as Spicer) and beers. We arrived back at Palle’s tired but happy.
The next morning we woke up appropriately late, grabbed one last breakfast at the Tennesee Grill, squeezed Harold one last time, and then headed off to catch Caltrain to San Jose where Bryan and Mette picked us up at the station.
Before heading back to their place we grabbed dinner at a strange but good Vietnamese place called Bò Né which is outfitted like a nightclub from an early 90s low budget cyberpunk movie; led tables, murals of angels and fairies, and what I assume was a stage for karaoke. I didn’t quite understand it but the food was good and I don’t guess the decor was particularly aimed at me anyway.
The next day we went into San Jose for a bit to visit a game store, where Mette and John wandered about happily looking at all the things, and then downtown where we managed to run into Derek McCaw, who was also attending Gally this year. We had a chat while eating some chicken wings, then got Psycho Donuts and got back to the house in time to go get dinner at a Salvadorian/Mexican place called Chalateco which was loud and crowded but had pupusas and burritos and really good agua fresca, among other things.
I had originally had some grand ambitions of heading back into SF for Hubba Hubba/Death Guild and some last visits but the on again off again not-quite-a-cold that had been dogging me since the plane flight came back with a vengeance so we watched a strange and really dark early Mads Mikelsen film called Adam’s Apple before calling it a night.
Tuesday was up and out at a reasonable hour in order to make good time down to the LA area. Nerds that we are we spent most of the trip playing trivia games and listening to stand up comedy, although John nailed multitasking and managed to read an entire book at the same time. We stopped for food and insanity at Bravo Farms and made nice time most of the way down. Bryan and Mette dropped us off at an Expo Line stop and headed to the LAX Marriott while we toddled off back to Santa Monica again to get some laundry done and catch some Pokemon. We also lucked out and found the local Sears was having a closing sale and managed to find some really good deals on Levi’s. Round up the night with some good NY style pizza and colour us happy.
Although the convention official starts on Friday, Thursday is the official unofficial start so we had the hotel reserved from then, which meant that Wednesday was our last day of adventuring. We rejoined Bryan and Mette for it in Universal Studios, the original plan had been for Andres to join us as well but he got called into work at the last minute unfortunately. We got there early and spent the first couple of hours at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was really very cool. The design of the place is top notch and although I didn’t go on the ride itself I walked through the waiting line sections which are worth it all on their own. We also spent a bunch of time in Springfield and had a Krusty Burger. We took the Studio Tour as well, which started off a bit rough because of the super loud rattling sounds coming from the back of our trolley but redeemed itself with several highlights including a very good Norman Bates, a couple of silly but amusing rides, and most of all the bit where we went through the set for The Good Place, a show we just finished watching a few days previously.
We ran around looking at things and being nerds until around 3pm by which time we were pretty tired. We managed to run into several Gally folks by that time though so John and I left Bryan and Mette to hang out with them while we headed back to Santa Monica. We repeated our pizza experience, repacked and weighed our suitcases, and got one last night of proper sleep in preparation for the start of the convention.