Monday, June 30, 2008

My First Class Is Over

I so got an A. I’m not going to say it was a snap, an easy A, but I earned one nonetheless because I worked diligently, paid attention to the details of my drawings and did most all of the extra credit.

It was a good learning experience for me—a nice first class—but the most important thing I learned during the three months is patience. Usually, I like to rush through a project just to get it done, as I am very impatient when it comes to the completion of a task; however, with mechanical drawing, if you rush it, you’ll make mistakes, as there are not only measurements and calculations you have to do to draw a successful design, but since it is a mechanical drawing (as opposed to a computer-aided drawing), I had to worry about pencil size, lead width (0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 0.9mm leads, which all have individual purposes), line thickness and format, not to mention a proper interpretation of the assignment. You have to plan ahead to make sure the drawing looks good on the page, centered, aligned, properly dimensioned, and that the views used to interpret the drawing are the correct ones to use.

We had about 25 assignments to do, including a paper, 10 quizzes, five extra credit drawings, a written final, a final drawing and a group project.

By the end of it, I was pretty tired of going to class at night. I have a fairly nifty drafting table setup here at home and I could easily do all of my drawings and assignments outside of class, so actually attending class was something of a bother, unless there was a quiz or preparation for the dreaded group project.

And the whole semester came down to that, the group project that we had to present in front of the class on the last day of the course. Now, most of the kids in class had never been to college before, and since this is an entry-level course, it was a lot of their first classes. Needless to say, there was a hefty dose of high school mentality handed around by most of them…and believe me, it showed.

For starters, group projects suck. If you have four people in your group, the workload will invariably break down as follows: Person One will do 60 percent of the work; Persons Two and Three will do 19 percent of the work each; while Person Four will do two percent, which usually amounts to scribbling your name on the report seconds before it should be handed in.

A lot of the kids in the class work during the day, which is why they are taking a night class, but as one of the oldest people in the class (actually, I found out, I was the third oldest), I probably hold down the most career-like job. Therefore, I was the one that took on the group project in the same manner I would take on any job that I was getting paid for: The more anyone in the group does, the less everyone in the group has to do. That might seem contradictory, but it isn’t. If everyone does a little bit more, the project gets done quicker and it looks that much better.

The project itself was exceedingly simple. The professor divided the class in half, an engineering group and an architecture group, giving each of the groups a single assignment, and since my ultimate goal in this whole endeavor is to come out the other side with an architecture degree, I chose the architecture group, naturally. The engineering group had to design a gutter, sewer, urban rainwater runoff treatment plant, while we had to design a Japanese teahouse and 2.5-acre garden surrounding it. A snap.

Because of a meeting of the historical society I am Vice President of, I missed the initial brainstorming of our group…and you’d think that I would have missed a great deal, as the purpose of that meeting was to come up with ideas, divide up the duties and assign the designs of all of the main structures of the teahouse and the garden. Of course, you’d think that’s how it would have gone, but when I returned to class that Wednesday, nothing had been done.

Needless to say, I took charge from the guy they had given the reins to and started doling out the assignments. I treated it like a business, made everyone report to me via email on their progress (back in my day we had to use the phone, but as an English major, I had very few group projects, thankfully) and I didn’t just stand back and look wishy-washy when decisions had to be made. I spoke up.

When responding to a choice of assignments, most everyone in the group said, “I don’t care. Whichever one you want me to do. I don’t mind.” You’d think that would come across as indifference, but it’s not. It’s indecision, indecisiveness, the wavering uncertainty of youth… a lack of confidence. Screw all of that. I’m not going to sit around and have my grade affected by a bunch of 18-year-olds who can’t make up their mind.

I doled out the assignments and kept on them over the course of the two weeks we had to do the project. Of course, given my personality traits that I’d rather do something myself than allow someone else to mess it up (it exemplifies my lack of confidence in most people, so be flattered when I allow you to do something, as it means that I trust that you can do it), I volunteered to put together the final 40-page written report, the 60-frame PowerPoint presentation that we used to present our design, do the main overall layout of the garden (it’s pictured above) as well as design the main gate to the garden (I even did a scale model of the gate too).

Why so much? Again, the PowerPoint presentation, the report and the main layout were the focal points of the presentation, and I wanted them to be their best. I didn’t know these kids or what they were capable of; I had seen some of their drawings in class and I wasn’t too impressed, plus, I figured that most of them would wait until the last minute to do it… and that’s not what my second go around at an education is all about. I am in it for the A, and I wasn’t going to lay that in the hands of kids who couldn’t care less about passing or failing.

Of course, there were a couple of outstanding designs, and I’m not going to say that I was the best draftsman in the room (because I wasn’t), but I held my own with scores of nines and 10s on the assignments (with one eight).

But there is always those ones that don’t want to do anything…remember the percentages? There were eight people in our group. Me and another guy did a lot of the work. I took care of all that I mentioned above and he single-handedly designed the entire teahouse itself. Four other people did exactly what they were supposed to do, no more an no less, while the last two did virtually nothing. One was even Japanese for God’s sake. He could have helped with the pronunciation of some of the words, but he didn’t.

In order to put together the report and the PowerPoint, I needed each person to write a couple of pages about their design, what inspired them to choose the materials, the look, the features, etc., as well as provide me with scans of their drawings to include in the PowerPoint. Each person was going to present his/her drawing with the PowerPoint and basically explain in detail the reasons behind making their structure look as it did.

For me, it was real simple. In fact, I cut out a bunch of stuff. Like I said, the final report was 40 pages long, but I received a total of six of those pages from the other seven members of my group. The other 34 pages came from me. The two that did nothing the whole time, of course, didn’t write anything.

One of the slackers didn’t show up for class for most of the two weeks we worked on the group project. I saw her once or twice, and I didn’t even know her name or if she was still enrolled in the class or not, and because of that, I gave her the least crucial portion of the project: to design the waterfall (which has a host of traditional meanings in a Japanese garden). I figured if she didn’t do it, we could get away without having to discuss it in our presentation.

The class before the last day, she handed me her drawing… and I couldn’t tell what it was. I mean, she was assigned the waterfall, but what she handed me looked more like the designs for the small intestines. “I did it really fast this afternoon,” she told me quickly. It was crinkled like she kept it in her pocket all day, and she had written a bunch of phone numbers on the back…it’s vellum, you can see right through it. In short, it made no sense, it didn’t follow the theme of the garden and it wasn’t Japanese in the slightest. Oh well, I put it in, because that’s all I could do. I was going to put on my career hat, play the managing editor and tell her to do it again, but if that’s the level she wants to work at, I’m not getting paid to stop her.

It must have been difficult to live with me for the five days or so before the presentation, and I owe a lot to Kara and the kids for staying out of my hair during that time. It seems that, if I wasn’t sleeping, I was in my office, writing a report, drawing the garden’s overall design, designing the main gate, working on the scale model or piecing together the PowerPoint… not to mention my regular day job!

I wasn’t surprised that, on the day of the presentation, the girl didn’t show up. I hadn’t received any copies of the other guy’s drawings or his section for the report, and I hadn’t even heard from the girl. Class started at 6pm and she wasn’t there. I went through the PowerPoint with the rest of the group, so everyone knew what frames they had to work with and what they needed to talk about… and she hadn’t yet arrived to class. Our presentation was first, but we didn’t start until after 7pm, and as I was introducing the group—just after I explained that we were missing the girl, she strolls into class and joins us up front.

Of course, I did the lion’s share of the speaking, talking about the history of Tea in China, how it migrated to Japan, the very involved and ritualistic tea ceremony, the difference between gardens in Japan and the west, namely the U.S. and finally the main gate to the garden. Everyone else followed. While this was happening, I told the slacker girl the order of the presentations… and she told me that she didn’t know what to talk about. I said, “talk about the waterfall, you know, your drawing.” “What should I say?” So I gave her a few suggestions based on what I had read and researched about Japanese gardens and what had soaked through about waterfalls (excuse the pun), and she started to write it down! Verbatim. She had me say a few things a couple of times so she could transcribe them, and I found it very sad that she didn’t know how to spell “environment,” “verify” and another obvious word I can’t rightly recall. Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that I spell restaurant wrong every time I try and February always throws me for a loop, but how did she graduate high school if she can’t BS her way through a two-minute spiel about a simple three-tier waterfall?

She stood there and read from the scrap of paper on which she had scribbled my suggestions. When she was done reading it, she stepped down, never once mentioning her drawing or anything remotely close to what she had attempted to design.

Sometimes I weep for the future… but one thing really pissed me off at the end of it all. We had finished our presentation, a few of the students and the professor asked a couple of questions (which nobody could sling the answers but me…like “Why did the Japanese place such importance on their gardens and teahouses?”) and we were all stepping down off of the riser to return to our seats. I had the report in my hand and I was going to drop it off at the desk the professor was sitting at. The slacker girl and I were walking down the aisle together and she said, “Oh, is that the report?” taking it from me to give it a quick thumb through. Then she said, “I’ll give it to him,” and without so much as a pause she quickly scooted over to his desk and turned in the report.

One she had nothing to do with. Now, I don’t want to sound like George from “Seinfeld,” but I didn’t like her getting credit for anything to do with the report. By the very fact that her name was on it and the evidence that she was the one that handed it to her, she received the ultimate credit for doing the most work on the report. The professor has no idea who wrote the 36 other pages, and since her name is nowhere to be found aside from the cover, he probably assumed she did it all.

I was going to say something after class, but I figured it was a waste of time. My A was nailed down, and if it helps that girl get a slightly better grade (I don’t see how she could possibly have passed), then so what. It was my inadvertent good deed for the day.

I just hope she learned a lesson.

One funny thing happened right after class (funny to me anyway, as it well illustrates the age difference I experienced between myself and the rest of the class). In our group was this one young couple, boyfriend/girlfriend, who were so joined at the hip that she shared one desk for most of the class. Jennifer and Johnny (he didn’t answer to John… just Johnny! As in, “I did it for Johnny!”). They’re both blond and disgustingly cute together, one of those couples that look like brother and sister until you see them kiss and you get that little bit of vomit rise up in the back of your throat, making you think their actually from West Virginia until you find out they’re not actually related. Anyway, we were standing around saying good bye, and I thanked the two of them for all their work on the group project. Jennifer said, “No, we should thank you, as you did most of the work.” Then she added in a squeaky Valley Girl-esque tone. “You're so awesome!” I think if she had to have spelled that out, it would have been Ur soooo awesome! As if I was a bouncer and just allowed them to come into a really trendy club or if I let the Hollister store stay open five more minutes so she could get a new cell phone cozy. Apparently awesome is a high form of praise to the Y-generation, especially since a host of other words may very well have sufficed.

Well, I thought it was funny. And on that note, my first class ended. Afterwards, as if we were the city champs in youth soccer, we had a pizza party at the local pizza place just off campus.

I think I was the only one there that was old enough to buy myself a beer.

Ah, kids.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fly Watch: Day Three

I would have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes and experienced it for myself in these last three days. Flies. Hordes…an infestation, like Hitchcock’s Birds. I walked quietly downstairs a few mornings ago to be greeted with dozens of black specs lounging lazily on various windowsills and baseboards in various rooms of the downstairs.

They didn’t move, not one twitch of their hairy legs, just stared at me with their 50 eyes each. Why were they there? How did they come in the house? Why were they just sitting there?

The only thing I could do was arm myself, and for the first few, it was easy to smack the life out of them. They bunch up, so swinging into a group results in several casualties per strike, but then it was as if they could communicate. As soon as they saw me, they’d not only scatter, but they’d regroup.

Twelve turned into 20. Twenty to 50. Fifty to 100. Soon, I would clear a windowsill of a dozen flies, turn my attention to another windowsill in another room, and when I returned to the first sill, they’d reinforced, organized and concentrated their efforts.

But for what?

They all seemed slow, mature, grown up flies with little energy or any desire for self-preservation. Huddled in the corners of the windows, they congregated as if ready for a counterstrike.

I upped my weapons, pulled out the Dyson and began sucking them up by the handful, pulling them from the skies as they tried to flee. It worked well and I soon gained the upper hand in the battle, as it was one of attrition. Their numbers dwindled before nightfall, but come sunup, they had returned in greater hoards than ever before, inundating the windowsills in numbers I would have—up until then—only imagined.

Where had they come from? Where were they coming from? Why here? Why now?

Two days prior, we had our first appointment with the pest control to spray the outside of our house for spiders and ants. We had come across several black widows lately and a dozen egg sacks in the rafters of the porch and patio, so we figured it was time to call in the professionals for a scheduled spraying.

The following day, every fly within three houses of ours decided that it was too hot of a fly zone to remain outside, so they found their way in. But how? All of the windows are now shut. The air conditioning is on, making the house positively pressurized, but yet, they still find ways in.

I pulled the couches away from the windows in the living room and for 20 minutes, I stood their watching the windowsill, the dirty windows and caked-on screen for any signs of break ins. There were none. I walked away for a few minutes, and by the time I had returned, there were three flies sitting there, mocking me, laughing perhaps.

They were sucked into the vacuum and probably beat to death by the dead bodies of their fallen comrades. It is a fitting penalty for invading my house… but then I thought, to my horror, that they weren’t coming in the house… that they were already in the house, hatching from God knows what and who knows where.

I tore apart the ground floor of the house. Everything that didn’t belong downstairs was put in a laundry basket and dumped in a big pile upstairs. I moved all of the couches, chairs, tables and knick-knacks, half expecting to find a maggot-covered piece of half-rotting hamburger that Matthew hid because he didn’t want to eat it…maybe a month ago. Or perhaps Elsa couldn’t make it outside quick enough and I had yet to find it, hidden under some random end table.

I vacuumed, I washed down the windowsills, I swept the cobwebs from the corners of the rooms. I sat and watched. The flies kept coming. It’s not like we live in a slaughterhouse or in a barn with cattle; this is a residence where people live, relatively clean people, so why would they want to stay here?

The only thing that makes sense is that they’re lethargic, slow and seemingly sick. They sit on the sills in vast numbers unable or unwilling to fly away, and if they do, they’re slow, fat and easily sucked out of the air and into the vacuum.

It’s been three days now, three days of the constant struggle, me against the flies. I tore apart the family room, pulling out every piece of furniture that wasn’t nailed down, the couches, tables, pictures, lamps… I even empted out the cabinet under the TV. I dusted, I washed, I rinsed, I wiped. I vacuumed the ceiling fan, the fireplace, the couches. I washed the windows, the hearth, the back of the TV, the glass in the pictures on the walls. There was nothing, no source, no obvious entry point, no obvious Mother Fly sitting under the cushions of the couch squeezing out dozens of flies by the minute.

In the past three days, I have killed at least 250 flies… in our house…IN OUR HOUSE.

What the hell is going on?

The infestation seems to have subsided, as I’m only seeing one or two every couple of hours instead of dozens. The family room has never been cleaner. Tomorrow is the kitchen… same thing. No surface will remain untouched. No fly will live.

When all of this is over, at least the house will be spotless and I can avoid Kara’s “Let’s get a maid” conversation.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Matthew’s First Roller Coaster

Most every night before Matthew goes to bed, he likes to watch videos on YouTube of various roller coasters. First it was any random roller coaster from around the world, one from Japan, some from here in the states (places we’ve never been) and a few in Europe. He started to name them by their color or the manner in which they were themed (“the red roller coaster” or the “the animal one”). He enjoyed it especially when I would make my office chair mimic the actions of the roller coaster; if the coaster banked to the left, I’d lean the chair over to the left, or if it climbed a hill, I’d recline the chair way back. Giggles of delight were had by all.

Right when he tipped the yard stick at 34 inches, we tried to take him on the little 32-second roller coaster at Disneyland’s Toon Town, the one made for older toddlers. For the longest time, he wanted no part of it, until one day he acquiesced to join us. He made it all the way through the line without so much as a negative word; he even thought it was funny when the coaster would zoom over his head while we were waiting, all the while Natalie offered him words of encouragement on how fun the ride is.

When we got to the front of the line, and as Kara was stepping into the ride, he began to profess how he might have just been kidding about wanting to go on it, assuming that we wouldn’t take him seriously about making him go on the ride. So Kara stepped through and waited for Natalie and I to go on it. I guess we should have forced him to ride it, because he would have probably enjoyed it, but there’s that little chance it would have scarred him for life, turning him into a raving lunatic sometime later in adulthood.

We decided to wait until he was ready… and that day came two days ago.

Now don’t get me started on the extreme suckatude that Lego Land is or how disappointed I am about paying $60 each to get into a filthy, over-crowded, inefficient and ill-planned “amusement” park where there is absolutely nothing to offer anyone over the age of six but the bill for it all. I had been wanting to go there since it opened, as it is on the list of motivations for even having children (right below tax write-off), so once I had the chance to visit the Mecca of the building-blocks toy I have loved since I was old enough to know what to do with my opposable thumbs, I had perhaps built it up to be the be all and end all of amusement park experiences. Let’s just say that we won’t be going back and we can leave it at that.

Anyways, poor Matthew, who has been getting the short end of the stick around ever turn lately, was at that magic age and height combination to not be able to go on any of the cooler rides. He’s an eighth-inch shy of 36-inches tall now, which qualifies him for most anything there (save two) but he falls under their four-year-old rule which disqualifies him for most of the rides he pointed to and with hope in his voice said, “Can I go on that?”

The answer was usually no… and then watch as your sister enjoys it. Well, towards the end of the day, we realized that, although he was having a good time, he wasn’t getting to do anything that he really wanted to do, especially after witnessing the final straw of watching his sister go on The Dragon, a knight-themed roller coaster that Natalie exclaimed (in front of him, of course), that it was her favorite thing at the park. At that point, and all the times he tried to sneak away from Kara to get in line, he was probably feeling a little slighted, so Kara scoured the park map to find him something he could go on… and it was quite a treat for him, as it was “The Coastersaurus,” a pretty quick roller coaster for little tykes.

Let’s just say he loved it. As we were waiting in line, he marveled at the roller coaster as it shot overhead, and he was giddy with excitement as we queued up for our turn, all the while excited that finally, finally, he was going to get to go on something he wanted to go on.

As far as the ride is concerned, it was only about 30-seconds long, but you get to go through it twice, and it rivals the Toon Town roller coaster in speed, turns and excitement. Given its length, I took pictures of him throughout the ride, totalling six, from the time we sat in the cars waiting to depart until the time he became confident enough to throw his arms up in the air like a true roller coaster aficionado.

Interspersed here are the six images, spanning the ranges of emotions from excitement, elation, and exhilaration to trepidation, fear and bravado. The first picture at the top of this page speaks volumes as it was taken on the first big drop after leaving the station, and by the time we had made it around another lap, he was thrilled to be on the ride, throwing caution to the wind and his hands in the air.

It was, after all, Matthew’s first roller coaster… and he rode it in high style.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Camping During the Fall

We joined a camping group last month, a local organization that has about 50 rigs (old campers call their truck and trailer combos rigs; it’s quaint, so I’ll use it). Us joining was at the suggestion of an acquaintance of mine, one of my past Park Watch partners. We spent four hours a week together and formed a pretty good friendship that is mostly now continued via email. Since they live in town here, we see them upon occasion, and since John is cynical and snide, I took to him immediately, and when he asked us if we would like to go with his family to Idyllwild on a campout, we jumped at the chance.

For starters, we haven’t yet camped in the forest, and it was nice to escape the triple-digit weekend people would have to suffer through down here and instead enjoy the mild temperatures of a higher-altitude climate.

Since Natalie’s graduation from Pre-School was on Friday, we decided to hit the road Saturday morning and stay until Monday, which worked out nice. We avoided all of the out-of-town traffic on the 91, 60 and 10 freeways and we hardly saw a soul on the 20-mile trek up the steep and winding 243 to Idyllwild. We took it slow, as my truck isn’t too appreciative of being saddled to the trailer and climbing 6000 feet into the mountains, but we made good time, as it took only about 90 minutes to arrive in the little town of Pine Cove where the campsite was (about three miles from Idyllwild).

The air was fresh and clean; the trees tall and green; and it was quiet, silent except for the birds and the breezes rushing through the pine needles. In preparation of Flag Day (yes, some of us prepare for it!), I built a flag holder and attached it to the back ladder of the trailer and bought a new American flag just for the trailer… I didn’t want to take my fancy new 13-star Betsy Ross flag I just bought for the house. Natalie can read now—at least she can figure out most of the words—so when she noticed that Saturday was Flag Day and after I explained what Flag Day was—she insisted that we celebrate it by putting up a flag at our campsite. I took some PVC pipe, drilled two holes in the ladder and attached it with some small carriage bolts, adding a 45-elbow and another small length of PVC to make the flag hang properly.

The first order of business after arriving at the campground Saturday morning was to hang the flag. We ended up with a pretty good site, one of the only two in the whole campground that has a sewer hookup. It meant that I didn’t have to pay for the truck to dump my tanks or wait in line at the dump station on the way out if it was crowded. Our site was up the hill from a little country store and the campground lodge, which had a bunch of games and a couple of televisions… but the operative word in that sentence is “hill,” as the campground was on the side of the mountain and everywhere you turned you were marching up an asphalt-paved hill or picking your way down one. Since it took me a couple of attempts to back the trailer into our spot, I’m surprised how some of these people were able to shoe-horn their rigs into some interesting places. My hat’s off to their skills as a driver.

We settled in, set up the trailer (awning, outside carpet, chairs, TV, antennae, water line and electricity), and when I thought everything was up and running, we lost power. The trailer went completely dead. I pulled off the electrical panel under the fridge and saw that we tripped a circuit breaker, the 15-amp one for the fridge and the trailer’s electrical plugs, but that didn’t explain why the microwave wasn’t on or why the outside light didn’t work. The main electrical box outside—where you plug in the trailer—had two big plugs and two regular plugs. Next to one was written “Dead,” which didn’t bode well, and every time I plugged into the second one, it made a little sizzling sound, like bacon… and I just assumed that wasn’t good either. Electricity would work for a few minutes, then stop, then blow the same circuit breaker.

Not being an electrician, I assumed the main box wasn’t working properly, so I grabbed my extension cord and patched into the main electrical panel of a rental cabin just up the road. Everything then worked fine. When we took a walk, I stopped into the main gate “Ranger Station” and let them know that it wasn’t working properly, and by the time we had returned from our walk, there were two men fixing it—I was impressed by their timeliness.

On the schedule for the first day was some time at the pool, a trip into “town” and then we would sit by the bonfire listening to some music at the campground’s amphitheater. It sounded nice and relaxing. In town, we ate at a Mexican restaurant, which gives Kara a better feeling of being on vacation and not so much like she has to do all of the household chores. It was good food, and I later learned from John that the owner used to be a popular chef in Chicago. After a heart attack, his doctor said to relocate to a more relaxing environment or start planning your funeral, so he came to Idyllwild and opened a Mexican restaurant, one of those holes in the wall that looks as though you’d get tetanus if you accidentally brushed up against the table the wrong way.

We walked around the little town, which had an eclectic collection of gift shops, cafes and art galleries. We got suckers for the kids and then headed back to camp for an early evening swim in the icy frigid pool…it wasn’t that bad once you got used to it. The kids loved it; well, Natalie more than Matthew, as he complained about being cold and spent some time all wrapped up in a towel shivering in a chair while Natalie splashed around in the pool.

After about an hour, the sun was beginning to set and we decided to head back down the hilly roads to our trailer…which ended up being worse that going up the hills. Because it was getting somewhat chilly and because it is what I normally do when the kids get out of the bath, I wrapped Natalie up in a six-foot pink striped towel. It went over her head and around her body a couple of times, and I tucked it in the sides so she would stay nice and toasty for the walk home.

Who knew she couldn’t walk very well in it?

I picked up Matthew and carried him, while Kara grabbed the floaties and fun noodles and walked with Natalie. About halfway down the biggest of the hills, I thought I heard Natalie start to laugh, but by the time I turned around and saw her face-down on the asphalt, I knew she wasn’t laughing, as a pitched screaming cry emanated from her. Kara immediately picked her up and when I got back up the hill to them, blood was pouring out of her mouth and nose.

She had tripped in her flip-flops, and since her arms were wrapped up in the towel, there was nothing stopping her from smacking her face on the ground. Her lip puffed up instantly and I started to check her teeth, hoping and praying that she didn’t do any permanent damage to them (as it could even affect your adult teeth—I chipped a tooth in the third grade and it still bothers me to this day)… but where was all the blood coming from.

Kara stuffed the towel in her mouth and carted her down the hill. Natalie cried the whole way, understandably, as it probably hurt like hell. Once back in the trailer, we examined her more closely and it looked as though she got a puncture above her gums and under her lip. How she could have been punctured there was puzzling, and once we got some ice on it, she seemed to calm down considerably.

Kara wanted to take her to the hospital, of course, and I wanted to wait and see what happened, of course, for the sole reason that it was getting dark out and we had to navigate a treacherous mountain road down to any hospital. That, and it didn’t seem that bad to me… once all the blood was wiped away, I mean.

However, the tears in Kara’s eyes and that “I need to save my baby” tone of her voice won out over my caution for heading out into the unknown, looking for a hospital that might not be out there.

We stopped by the “ranger station” at the front gate of the campground and asked the ranger on duty for his advice. He suggested that we go to the fire department just at the base of the hill (on the corner of the 243 in Pine Cove) and ask them to check her out. When I asked him if they do that sort of thing, his semi-comical response was “hell yeah.”

So we pulled into the fire station and summoned the three firemen on duty. They were watching the Angles game, and while they filled out some paperwork, one of the firemen checked her out. Matthew, of course, was acting like his old self, jumping around like a frog and saying “ribbit!” to anyone and everyone, completely oblivious to the situation or Natalie’s turmoil. To calm the kids, the firemen took us on a tour of the station, showing us the fire trucks and where they lived upstairs. It was pretty cool to see the inner workings of a fire truck, and through a swollen lip and sore mouth, Natalie agreed that it was pretty cool.

We sat on the couch and watched the Angles game while they called around to find us a hospital to go to. One fireman said, yes, go to the hospital just to be on the safe side, while another one said that he’d wait to see how she looked in the morning… so we were back to square one until the third fireman, who was married, suggested that the wife should win in decisions such as these.

So, in short order, we were headed down the mountain toward beautiful Hemet to the Hemet Regional Hospital. Saturday night in the desert town of Hemet, where anyone with a pulse an get a lone for a $150K house, I wondered what delights we would soon discover in the waiting room of the emergency facilities. At the very least, I expected a lot of gang members and elderly, the general population of Hemet, but I was surprised to find only a few of each.

The cops only had to come once, and that was to calm down this irate woman who felt like she wasn’t being treated fast enough because she was black. She kept complaining that she was going to have a stroke because it ran in her family, and I kept wishing that she’d get on with it. Stroke out and shut up about it already. All you are is a foul-mouthed racist…and the cops told her exactly as much, when I followed them outside with her. It was better than what was on TV.

The whole ordeal took just over two hours, a lot shorter time than I expected it would. Kara later told me that one of the firemen related a story to her about his wife having to go there for some reason and it taking seven hours. I’m not sure what I would have done with myself after seven hours, but I’m sure it would have involved the cops and me sitting out on the sidewalk yelling profanities that I wasn’t being treated because I was white…

But hospitals have a way of teasing you, repeatedly taunting you into thinking that you’re about to be treated by competent medical staff and then pulling the rug out from under you again. First, you have to fill out a form that announces your arrival and reason why you’re there and slip it into a slot…and then you wait along with the other dregs. After about 45 minutes, they call you into this small room, and when they did, I thought, hey, this isn’t bad at all. We will be back up the hill by 10pm and in bed at a decent hour. But no. They just wanted to take Natalie’s vitals and fill out a form or two about how she is fairing. For kids, they show a series of smiley faces, about six, each one progressively more sad until the last one is completely crying, and the nurse asked Natalie which one she most felt like today. Of course, by then, the only thing really wrong with Natalie was a big fat lip and a few scrapes on her nose and chin and maybe some soreness in her mouth; it took us an 45 minutes to get down the hill and we’d been sitting in the emergency room for another 45 minutes…Natalie, by then, was in good spirits so she pointed to the insanely happy face because she had had a really good day camping and playing in the pool. I really don’t think she understood the question.

After that, they shuttled us back out to the waiting room to wait some more. I asked how long it might be—as if I was waiting for a table at a restaurant—and she said it could be five minutes or it could be two hours. Grumbling, we sat down to wait again. But after only 15 minutes or so, they called us again… and again, I thought, wow, we didn’t have to wait too long. Okay, we might be back up to the campsite at 10:30 and still in bed at a decent hour.

However, they called us into this very tiny room, one just big enough for a chair and for me to stand. It looked as though we were visiting a prison because thick Plexiglas separated us from this giant woman who filled out all of the admitting papers, took our ID and insurance papers. Again, we were shuttled out to the waiting room, and when I asked again how long it might take to see a doctor, she honestly said she didn’t know.

So we waited…again… and I don’t know how much time went by—that’s when the irate black woman started demanding racial equality, when one of the guards (who was Mexican) complained that she shouldn’t be playing the race card. This is 2008 he reminded her. That’s when the cops came.

Matthew was getting a little restless. He slept on the ride down the mountain, and laid awake peacefully in the stroller while we waited, but by then, he was tired of sitting in the same spot seeing the same things and hearing the same sounds. He wanted to get out and explore, complaining that he wanted to go home and that he wanted to get back to the Tango (our trailer). I couldn’t blame him, and he was being really good the whole time.

They finally called us back into the emergency room and we plopped Natalie on a bed, waiting for the doctor or nurse to give a prognosis. Meanwhile, another nurse brought a suture cart in case they had to stitch up what appeared to us to be a hole in her gum, and she proceeded to fill our hearts with fear by explaining that suturing up small children, especially in hard-to-reach and highly sensitive places, is difficult and especially painful. So much so that they only allow one parent—the emotionally stronger of the two (which would have been me that day)—to stay with Natalie and that they would be forced to restrain her so she doesn’t wiggle and mess up the stitches.

I couldn’t see that going well for anyone, so I was preparing an argument against stitching up her gum: it was a small hole, who cares if it scars as nobody would see it, etc., etc.

A honest-to-goodness doctor finally arrived and told us a bunch of stuff I already knew: that it is a small wound, that the mouth heals incredibly fast and nobody would see it if it scarred. One thing, however, we didn’t know was that it wasn’t a hole at all. What had happened was that she tore her frenulum, that little stringy piece that attaches your lip to your mouth, similar to the one that is on the bottom of your tongue. He said that it tears easily in childhood injuries and that it would heal quickly. He issued some antibiotics and sent us on our way.

One nice thing happened though. The nurse that gave us the antibiotics said that she had to make up an entire bottle of the solution in order to dole out a little cup of it to Natalie, and since she had to throw away the bottle afterwards, she would rather give it to us instead. It was one of those situations where she was going to set it on the table and turn around… if the bottle was missing, it was missing and there was nothing she could do about it. Of course, she did remind us that it needed to be refrigerated.

By about 11pm, we stopped at McDonald’s for some well-deserved ice cream for the kids and headed back up the hill. Natalie and Matthew were dead to the world by the time we reached camp, so we piled them into their unmade bed with their clothes on and we went to sleep.

The rest of the weekend was thankfully uneventful. It was nice and relaxing. Natalie didn’t complain about her mouth at all…well, she did once when she ate something acidic. She had a fat lip and some bruising on her chin and nose, but that’s it.

Other than that… it was a nice campout. Above are some pictures of our experiences.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

WTF, Walt?

Nothing beats the excitement of an energy-filled car ride to Disneyland, especially if you haven’t been in a while. It’s a Tuesday, barely into Summer, and since our passes black out for a few weeks during the busy Summer, we thought it would be a great idea to hit the Magic Kingdom one last time until Fall.

Apparently, so did a lot of other people.

We assumed it would be busy today, as it is the start of Summer; school’s out, and all of those people clutching their newly minted diplomas and shouting, “I’m going to Disneyland” when asked what they are going to do with their lives after graduation, did exactly what they said they’d do: They went to Disneyland, today.

The family got up early, and early for us means that we were out the door around 9:45, trying to avoid the freeway traffic from the regular working stiffs, but getting to Disneyland before it got too crowded. I hoped that the heat would keep most people away, but oh how I was wrong.

Sometimes, you don’t even realize that it is going to be a stampede at Disneyland until you’re in the gates and standing in a two-hour line for a thirty-second ride. You start to look around and see that the throngs of crowds are elbow-to-elbow in one swirling sea of humanity. Then you ask yourself, “what am I doing here?” and promptly leave and give it a try another day.

This time, it appeared obviously crowded as soon as we got off the freeway… at Ball Avenue, three miles from Disneyland. The left lane packed up early, and so we sat there and sat there and sat there, creeping our way toward Harbor Boulevard, then up the hill over the I5 Freeway and slowly down the other side toward Ox Road, where the employees turn left.

By this time, I was in the right lane. Looking over the top of the cars in front of me, I surmised that I needed to be in the left lane in order to make the left turn from Ball Avenue onto Disneyland Drive, as there were two left-hand-turn lanes but both of them originated from the left lane on Ball.

I turned on my blinker, and as I suspected, especially after sitting in about 35 minutes of traffic waiting for this moment, nobody let me in. Then, the left lane moved forward as the light at Ox Road and Ball Avenue turned green, allowing for a few people to sneak through the intersection to the other side. As that happened, a space opened up in front of the car next to me, so I took it, nosing my truck into the spot. It wasn’t like I cut off the person next to me; just took advantage of the fact that she was a little slow on the gas pedal. As I began to straighten out, the lady guns her car, jerks around me on the left and tries to get back in front of me again, pulling her car into the left-hand-turn lane that goes to Ox Road (where the employees turn).

Well, folks, I consider myself a patient man, not one to easily rile or one that is quick to lose his temper, but after 35 minutes of sitting bumper-to-bumper in traffic and only going a short distance, I was not going to be overtaken by some arrogant mom in her Tercel.

I laid on the horn, for about three seconds (which is a long time in car-to-car communication) and threw my hands up in the air at her in a double-fisted objection to her existence. I’m sure I swore, partly because what she did and the suddenness that she did it, startled me. I wasn’t expecting to be abruptly passed, especially since I didn’t do anything to make her take defensive maneuvers. Sure, if I had cut her off and she had to slam on the brakes in order to avoid slamming into me, I can see how she’d be upset. I would too. But she wasn’t moving quick enough and I took advantage of the open spot.

So, she’s next to me, slightly ahead and trying to edge her way back into the lane in front of me, partly in the lane and partly in the turn lane. I stomped on the gas and put my mirror right over the top of hers. It wasn’t going to happen, and I’m sure at that point, I would have caused an accident before letting her get in front of me.

I was about to roll down the window and let her know what I really thing of her and her driving… but I stopped. I didn’t do it nor did I do anything else because she had her daughter in the car. One of the many things I cringe to see or hear is someone getting demeaned or humiliated in front of their kids. So I let up, but I would be damned if she was going to get in front of me, regardless.

She sat there next to me until the turn-lane light changed, and instead of continuing the battle with me, she turned left onto Ox Road (where the employees are supposed to enter). A few minutes later, I saw her car appear on Ox Road, facing me, preparing to turn left.

As she sat there, I knew she wasn’t done with me… and I completely predicted what she did next. As she turned the corner, she glared over and gave me the finger. It was hilarious! I always find it funny to be flipped off, especially for something that wasn’t my fault. So I did the only thing I knew to do that would piss her off for the rest of the day: I laughed. Big, open-mouth laugh.

But if you think that’s how our morning at Disneyland turn out and that’s the end of the story, you’re sorely mistaken, as it went downhill from there… if that’s possible.

Finally, we were blessed by the Disney gods to make the left-hand turn onto Disneyland Drive. From there, the road splits into two destinations: the left lanes swing down and around to the parking garage for Disneyland itself, and the right lanes go up and over to the hotel parking lots. Normally, we would want to be in the left lanes for the garage because we were going to Disneyland, but for some reason, they had those lanes blocked, for reasons which I assumed were because the park was so crowded that the parking garage was packed to the gills.

Okay, so where are they going to send us? To the hotel parking? That seemed unlikely, but it was were the cones routed us. Up and over the hill to the east of the parking garage, the two lanes that service the Disneyland Hotel were merged into one lane for the right-hand turn onto Magic Way. Then I assumed they were going to route us into the back way, a one-lane alternate entrance into the parking garage from the south side. There were no signs directing us that way, and when you’re all going to the same place, a herd mentality takes over: just follow the car in front of you and soon we’ll be following each other in line to Space Mountain.

Nobody turned left from Magic Way into the Downtown Disney and Hotel parking lots, as it seemed that everyone around me was veteran Disneyphiles, all well versed in the various parking situations at the Magic Kingdom. Only a few cars turned left, which made sense because people go to Downtown Disney to shop. The rest went straight, along the road to the backdoor entrance to the parking garage… or so we thought.

That small entrance was blocked, closed, and we all ended up on Walnut Avenue, the western-most outside boundary of Disneyland… outside Mickey’s four-fingered grasp. What now?

I felt abandoned. They shuttled us away from the normal entrance to the garage, led us to the alternate entrance and never bothered to tell the guy responsible for it to open the gate. Instead, we ended up pushed away. I flipped a U-turn and went to the next logical place, the Downtown Disney and Hotel parking, thinking that they were opening that lot up to normal park goers. It turns out that they weren’t. It was taking tickets as much as any other day, but the lanes were thronged with similarly confused and befuddled visitors, all inundating the one poor guy stuck at his post, dealing with packed lines, malfunctioning gates and endless questions all with the same theme: “Why am I here?” and “Where do you expect me to park?”

I was surprised when his answer was “I don’t know, but you can’t long-term park here. You’ll have to turn around.” So, this is why this post is called “WTF, Walt?” I would like to think that Walt Disney would have never let something like this happen. Perhaps I’ve deified Walt or maybe I have an out-of-whack perception of the history of Disneyland and/or Walt Disney’s value of his guests.

We decided to leave. After all that, we decided that it wasn’t going to be worth it to even venture into the park to see what the lines were like.

But what to do? Go home? Do something else? We decided to go to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, which is why there is a picture of an aquarium and not giant mice.

And boy was it nice. Instead of spending $58 to get the family in for a one-time visit (plus $7 for parking), we bought a year-long family pass for $125 which includes discounts on food and souvenirs, special passes to other events and free parking. Sweet!

A good day was had by all.

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