Monday, September 29

Malibu Fog

This past Saturday I had a pleasant diversion when some friends came to visit me at the Villa. It was a pretty unusual day for Malibu--it was so foggy even the mid-day sun didn't burn through it. It was foggy, but not cold, so it turned out to be a nice day at the Villa. Debra, Devi, and Melissa came by to see the museum and to be misinformed on one of my tours. When I came out for the tour, I spotted Debra in line signing up, so I went over and said over her shoulder very seriously, "I really don't recommend that tour." The Visitor's Services guy who was signing people up was new, and when he heard what I said his face took on a horrified expression. People take themselves so seriously... Anyhow, the ladies claimed they enjoyed my tour and afterward we had lunch together at the cafe and chatted until it was time for me to teach again.

Me, Debra, Devi, and Melissa

Saturday's foggy weather matched my mood for the week. Coming back to work after a break through a haze of allergies that drugs couldn't quite alleviate made me feel as if I were muddling through. Maybe it's allergies, or maybe it's a daze of confusion after being hit with school groups for the first time since June. Whatever it is, it's clear the summer lull is officially history.

Wednesday, September 24

Sunday, September 21


This morning after breakfast and some final souvenir shopping, we packed up and hit the interstate for the long drive back to L.A. The drive back seemed longer than the drive out, even though we made good time and it was technically shorter. Overall I think it was a great trip. Eric and I got to spend some time together and celebrate our wedding anniversary and spend time with his parents, who also happen to be celebrating their anniversary this month. Like any vacation, the one downer is that you have to come back. I don't have to work again until Wednesday, but boy will I hit the ground running--school groups are starting again and I'll be working overtime that day as well. Welcome back! From here on out it will be a steady march to the holidays before I'll get more time away from work. I don't mind, though. I need vacations like anyone else, but after awhile I start to feel the need to get back to work. It must be some sort of disorder. I blame my parents.

[Note: If you'd like to see more pictures from the trip, go here.]

Saturday, September 20

Grand Canyon Trip: Day Three

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

The cabins of the Maswik Lodge sit near the railroad, so we have a lovely wooded view out the window of our room. Yesterday evening Eric and his dad went off looking for elk and deer. We had seen some does and fawns wandering around near the shuttle stops, and one of the drivers told them a tale of "the biggest elk I've ever seen" with "the biggest rack I've ever seen," so they were eager to have a sighting themselves. Knowing a wild goose chase from a golden opportunity, I had opted to wander the shops with Eric's mom. Sure enough, by dinner them the guys returned without having sighted their quarry. Early this morning Eric's dad went out again--I think he said he was out for two hours--and saw nothing. Not long after he returned to his room, he spotted some deer out the window. Murphy's law.

After a quick breakfast we caught one of the shuttles that helps to move people from point to point throughout the park. We discovered one shuttle stopped at an IMAX theatre at the National Geographic Visitor Center a few miles outside of the park in Tusayan. The theater features the IMAX film, Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets. The visuals of the Grand Canyon on an IMAX scale were certainly impressive, but the film was light on the geologic and historical exploration of it. It was certainly entertaining, just not that informative.

Once we made it back into the park, we headed for Yavapai Point again in order to pick up one of the rim trails. The view from the trail make my regular evening walks look decidedly boring. I very much enjoyed hiking with such an incredible view to take in all the while. We spotted a few deer and elk tracks and a very aggressive squirrel hassling a snacking couple. (Squirrel bites are the number one treated injury in the park.) By the time we ended up back at Grand Canyon Village, it wasn't long before the time we were to board the train. So, we rested and rehydrated while we waited.

Before long we were back on the Santa Fe car, riding the rails back to Williams. After an afternoon of hiking, it was a rather drowsy ride, but by the time we pulled into the depot my thoughts were turning toward supper. We hadn't really had lunch, and I had worked up quite an appetite. The pizza place smelled best, and we had no problem completely eliminating a large pizza. What's more, I was able to enjoy my pizza without regret knowing I had gotten my exercise for the day hiking. All in all it was a really great day.

Friday, September 19

Grand Canyon Trip: Day Two

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

This morning we were up early to pack and check out before breakfast. After some bacon, eggs, and biscuits it was just about time for the "Wild West Show" before boarding the train. The show consisted of three or four performers dressed like cowboys and armed with cap guns who put on a little fifteen minute comedy skit about a poker game gone awry. It was very tourist kitch, but the crowd (mostly senior citizens) got a few belly laughs out of it. Once the entertainment was concluded, it was time to board the train.

We had sprung for first-class, so we were in one of the luxury cars near the end of the train. The seating was comfy and spacious and there was fruit, pastries, coffee, and soda. Our seats were also right in front of the bar, which opened shortly after we departed the train depot. Needless to say, we were set for a pretty comfortable two hour and fifteen minute ride to the canyon. Until I was on the train, I wasn't sure what its route actually was--the description of the route said the train skirted the southern rim of the Grand Canyon. But once we were aboard, it was clear the route started out sixty-five miles from the canyon and headed for the south rim. I caught only the briefest glimpse of the canyon through the trees as we pulled into the Grand Canyon depot. The scenery throughout the ride was still beautiful, though.

The Grand Canyon depot, open since 1901, is the oldest log-constructed depot still in use. As soon as we arrived we boarded one of the many shuttle buses that help people get around the park for a tour of the south rim. My first look at the canyon was from Yavapai Point. Like anyone else I'd heard admiring descriptions of the Grand Canyon, but as soon as I saw it I knew no words or pictures could hope to communicate the reality of seeing it. The feeling of awe, wonder, and ultimate insignificance in that first moment seeing the canyon will always be my favorite moment of the trip. What was before me seemed so vast, I had to remind myself I was only looking at one vista of a geologic feature that extends 277 miles.

By the time we had finished our time along the south rim the day was nearly over. We had a restful late afternoon at the Maswik Lodge (where we're staying) and later dinner at the El Tovar restaurant. Tomorrow we'll have most of our day to explore the park before we catch our train back to Williams.

Thursday, September 18

Grand Canyon Trip: Day 1

Williams, AZ

Last night Eric and I drove down to his parents' house to stay the night so we could get on the road early and get started on the 7-8 hour drive to Williams, Arizona, where we're scheduled to catch the Grand Canyon Railway train tomorrow morning. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be getting up at 4:00 a.m. The excitement of setting off on a road trip helped dull the pain, I think. Thanks to our early start we were well out of L.A. before any of the weekday commuter traffic got started. Once we were out of the city, I promptly fell asleep in the backseat of the truck, my head uncomfortably wedged against the window. Eric's mom was in the backseat with me, Eric's dad drove, and Eric sat shotgun. Uncomfortable as sleeping in the truck was, I fell in and out of sleep for about half our trip. By the time I decided to wake up, we were in Kingston, Arizona and it was breakfast time. I must be getting old, because getting out of the truck my muscles stiffened and cracked and creaked. They didn't used to be so painfully expressive.

From that point on, watching the scenery zip by, I began to recognize where we were. The last time I traveled I-40 through Arizona was 2002 when Mom and I were headed to California in a U-Haul. It is a really pretty drive, alternating between desert, green forests, and low mountains. We made it to Williams well before our check in time at the Grand Canyon Railway hotel, so we drove another half hour into Flagstaff to check things out. There were several little shops to explore in the historical district downtown, but no one found anything that caught their fancy. I did, however, spot a Dairy Queen--a rare treat for me since they're hard to come by in L.A.--and it didn't take much for me to convince my fellow travelers to stop and order up a Blizzard (cookie dough for me!).

Later on when we were finally able to check into our rooms and rest up a bit after the long drive, we crossed the railroad tracks that run through Williams to the main drag. Williams is one of those dots on the map that sprung up next to the railroad, much like my hometown back in Illinois. Unlike Neoga, Williams isn't much more than the Grand Canyon Railway hotel, railroad tracks, and the restaurants and little shops along main street (a.k.a.Route 66). There are a few houses and other miscellaneous buildings, but not many. I imagine most people in Williams make their money off of the Grand Canyon/Route 66 tourists. We whiled away a couple of hours wandering through the shops.

After dinner at the hotel I'm more than happy to lounge in the hotel room. Tomorrow is a relatively early start, and the train to the Grand Canyon leaves at 10 a.m.

Thursday, September 11

Six Years

Most people in this country remember this day as the anniversary of September 11, 2001. The events of that day are of course in my thoughts today, but this day also marks the anniversary of my move out west. I signed my first lease on my first apartment out here on September 11, 2002, and it's from that day I caluculate my time in California. Six years seems like an awful long time to have gone by so fast. The thought is even more remarkable when you consider there's no way I ever expected to live in L.A. In fact, before I was accepted to a graduate program at UCLA, this city would have been at the top of my list of "Top 10 Places I Never, Ever Want to Live." The irony, huh? (Pr. 16:9) But events overtook my Midwestern sensibilities, and I had to decide whether or not I was going to risk entering the urban jungle in spite of the fact I'd only ever lived a small town and I knew virtually no one out here.

Against my better judgement I took up the challenge, and since arriving on the left coast I've learned quite a lot. Below are my Top 10 SoCal Lessons:

10. The big city can be conquered.

9. That brown cloud over the city is NOT the "marine layer."

8. Not even people in L.A. care about the Dodgers.

7. There are no limits to the crazy things people will do to try to make themselves resemble an airbrushed magazine cover.

6. Forcasters are even more useless than I previously realized.

5. You can find just about anything you want in the city, except a Wal-Mart.

4. Walking is ALWAYS optional.

3. Having no house and no garage does not mean you can't own three SUVs.

2. You're never closer to God than when in a car on the freeways of Los Angeles.

And the number one lesson...

1. Nothing beats home.

Wednesday, September 10

Christmas in September?

I'm recounting this mainly for my friends outside of SoCal, who I think will find this story amusing. Those of you who live here probably won't be as amused by it, so feel free to simply be amazed at my obliviousness.

For the most part I consider myself an observant person, but a recent experience I had puts that assessment in serious doubt. On Monday (my "weekends" are Monday-Tuesday, if you recall) I went down to the Del Amo mall in Torrence to check out some of the end-of-summer sales. One of my first stops was Victoria's Secret, because, well, what girl doesn't like cute underwear? I ended up spending more time in that store than I planned, waiting to be checked out, so by the time I left I was up for some exploratory walking. As I rounded a corner I was disgusted to suddenly be confronted with Christmas decorations--everywhere! Good grief, I thought, walking on and averting my eyes, unwilling to subject myself to this outrage. It really DOES get earlier and earlier every year. These people are shameless--it's not even Halloween yet!

My thoughts continued on in this vein until I became aware that it was really bright for being inside a mall. Slowly I started to notice a lot of people around me were carrying Christmas shopping bags and were awfully inappropriately dressed in sweaters and scarves for such a hot day. Other details started to emerge--the sources of all that bright light, cords taped to the floor, cases full of equipment, folding chairs...and then the set lights finally penetrated the darkness and I got it. They were filming in the mall. Apparently at the moment they were on a break, so I wasn't causing much of a disturbance, but once I figured out what was going on and that I was right in the middle of it, I picked up the pace and got out of there.

I felt pretty foolish for being so spaced I didn't even realize I had walked into a shoot. Sure, they were on a break, but come on! Wake up already! It ended up being kind of entertaining, though. After wandering through a few more stores, I ended up on the level above the shoot and was able to lean over the rail like several other bystanders and watch them film a scene. I recognized the actor as Damian Lewis, and from his suit and the badge clipped to his belt I cleverly deduced he was playing some sort of cop. Naturally, he had a female co-star, but I didn't recognize her. Once I got home I looked him up, and I bet they were shooting an episode of the t.v. series "Life," in which Lewis plays a cop who returns to the job after being wrongfully sentenced to life and imprisoned. That would mean the lovely yet vaguely unfamiliar lady co-star was Sarah Shahi.

So the moral of the story is that, yes, retailers are shameless, but they haven't quite moved Christmas to September. Yet.

Thursday, September 4

Go Fish

I suppose with the arrival of September it means we're rapidly descending into the fall season. I have to remind myself that for most people fall arrives this month, because here in southern California this is one of the hottest months of the year. Even so, it's easy to tell when school starts up again by the increased traffic of big yellow buses on the road and "back-to-school" sales in stores. With the end of summer I find myself sympathizing with Tom Hanks' character in You've Got Mail, who muses that the fall season makes him want to buy school supplies and send bouquets of sharpened pencils. I don't know how I feel about bouquets of sharpened pencils, but I understand the compulsion to buy school supplies. For me the feeling probably comes from so many years of starting classes at summer's end. Later this week I plan to indulge this urge by shopping for a new planner and notebooks I need. Some women have a weakness for shoes, I have a weakness for school and office supplies.

Maybe I'll have a chance for a shopping trip this weekend when Eric goes fishing with his dad. Of course, when I say "fishing" I mean fishing in the ocean. For me "fishing" means fresh water fishing. I have a healthy sense of self-preservation and therefore avoid fishing for anything so large it might confuse me with bait should I fall in the water. Although I have reservations about ocean fishing, Eric's fine with it, so if he wants to wrestle those suckers into the boat, best of luck! Naturally he packed tonight at the last minute. Like most men, his packing is pretty basic, but I think I managed to remind him to include most items he will or might need--like sunscreen, jacket, hat, headache medicine, etc. Hopefully all major needs or concerns are covered. Otherwise, I'm happy to be getting a few evenings with the place to myself. I'm sure I'll miss him at some point in the next few days, but I'm willing to experiment and find out how long it takes. While I'm waiting, I think I'll channel surf just for the heck of it, watch chick flicks, put almost no effort into dinner, keep the AC at a level that won't freeze anything sticking out of the covers at night, and revel in the lack of socks and various other male intimates strewn across the floor. It really is kind of a short trip...

By the time he returns we'll have only a week or so before our trip on the Grand Canyon Railway. We make it a goal to take a trip somewhere each year, and this year it's Arizona. Eric's ideas are usually wonderfully grand, like a week in Paris or Ireland. A trip like that is a wonderful thought, but not always realistic or practical considering the current plummeting value of the dollar. So, this year we've opted for a domestic location. As far as I'm concerned, as long as it's someplace I've never been, it's a great choice.

[Just as a sidenote, the L.A. Times theater critic published a story this week on Agamemnon, the play I wrote about in my last post.]