LA to Chicago Road Trip

In June 2022 Dani and I flew to LA and rented and SUV to bring some keepsakes from Grandma Marjorie’s house back to Chicago. We wanted to take our time and visit interesting attractions over a two-week drive. The original idea was to follow Route 66, but using Roadtrippers I found there were lots more interesting stops if we made our own route.

After loading two wooden trunks of china and a few boxes of antique curios into the car we headed for our first overnight stay, in San Bernardino, at one of the two surviving Wigwam motels. The room was actually a lot nice than we were expecting, and it was, indeed, neat to sleep in a teepee. Most of the rest of our accommodations would be Airbnbs, and all were really nice.

We made a quick stop to admire some dinosaurs in Cabazon.

Then we made the long drive across the desert to Phoenix, arriving early enough that we had time to spend the 106-degree afternoon at the Wildlife World Zoo and Aquarium.

On the way to Sedona we stopped at a couple of wineries and followed the recommendation of the pourer at Chateau Tumbleweed to visit the cute mountainside town of Jerome. Sedona is a pretty setting, but the town is just a tourist trap.

About twenty miles outside of Flagstaff you’ll find Twin Arrows… if you hurry. They’re already down to one arrow.

Continuing across the desert we stopped at the spectacular Meteor Crater, which I remember being impressed by in my childhood.

Then it was time for lunch and a photo op on the corner in Winslow Arizona made famous in the Eagle’s Takin’ It Easy.

We drove through the petrified forest, and on to Albequerque. We’d hoped to stop at a lava tube ice cave(!) but forgot about the time change.

The next day we spent quite a bit of time in the excellent National Museum of Nuclear Science & History and then took the Sandia Peak Tramway up to 10,300 feet, and a panoramic view of very flat Albequerque. That may sound high, but it’s worth noting that much of this trip was at six to seven thousand feet. It’s easy to forget how high the high desert is.

Maybe 2% of the stuff you’ll find at Tinkertown

We took the scenic route to Santa Fe, stopping at the fascinating Tinkertown, one man’s life’s work of building miniature dioramas and collecting… well, just about everything imaginable. He has passed away, but his wife continues to run the place, and I highly recommend it as a fun and funky stop.

Santa Fe wasn’t terribly interesting, but we happened to be there during their Pride Festival, which was fun to walk through. I had intended to visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, but hadn’t made reservations, and didn’t want to wait, so we headed for Taos by scenic backroads.

We spent two nights at Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa in Taos. After all the driving, I figured it would give us a chance to relax, and that was indeed the case, although in a somewhat unexpected way. Our two-bedroom suite was beautiful, spacious, and decorated in a Japanese style. It was the perfect place to hang out when it started to monsoon for both days!

Unfortunately, its perfection didn’t extend to the roof, and I was awakened early in the morning by water dripping onto my head. I don’t think rain is that unusual this time of year in Taos, but the roof was leaking like a sieve. I called maintenance, and a very young kid said they couldn’t fix it, handed me two buckets, and left.

So that’s how we moved to Texas. The Texas-themed room, I mean. Which was identical except for Texan decor (I use antlers in all of my decorating) instead of Japanese, and the absence of a hole in the roof. Despite the steady rain, our stay was quite pleasant. We enjoyed relaxing in the room and grazing in the bar.

Now a week into our trip, we turned North and headed for Colorado Springs, stopping at the bizarre Bishop’s Castle on the way. The work of one crazy, antisocial guy, this very-not-OSHA-approved flight of fancy is still under construction. It’s definitely Colorado’s most unique roadside attraction, and well worth taking the scenic route to explore it.

I’ve always wanted to visit Michael Garman’s Magic Town, and the northern trajectory of our trip was designed specifically for this. Dani and I missed it on our previous Colorado road trip, and it’s definitely something you don’t want to miss.

It represents over forty years of the artist’s life, with intricate and evocative carved people, detailed buildings, and great use of mirrors and Pepper’s Ghost effects to create an entire walkthrough miniature town. It’s hard to convey just how neat this is.

Kansas has more cool attractions than I would have guessed. The Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City is one of the best I’ve been to. It features a large new building with great use of audio/video displays to present historic figures telling their stories in period settings. Then you have a chance to walk through a street of interconnected shops filled with historical displays and costumed performers acting as shopkeepers, bartenders, and other characters.

It’s also worth spending the night in quaint Hutchinson Kansas to afford plenty of time to see the Kansas Underground Salt Museum (STRATACA). You descend 650 feet into a working salt mine to see the process and explore its history. There’s an informative tram tour and a train that runs on the original tracks. The mine is also used for records and artifacts storage of Hollywood films and props, so there are exhibits devoted to that as well.

We had more stops planned for St. Louis and in Iowa, but Dani was getting a sore throat, so we decided to catch those later, and made a 733-mile beeline from Kansas to Chicago, arriving three days early. We’ll go back and pick up the rest of those stops on some future mini-road trip.

Total distance traveled: 2660 miles in 10 days. Here’s our complete itinerary including our stays and restaurants:

Butter Cookie Taste-Off


We did a butter cookie taste off, buying tubs of butter cookies all over Solvang.

Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery was the first of four bakeries in Solvang where we purchased a tub of five dozen butter cookies. These were among the best, but the real standouts here were the pastries. The macaroon was the best I’ve ever had, with a perfect crispy crust and chewy but not soggy interior. The cinnamon pastry, a sort of palmier with a cinnamon crust was amazing. We nursed it for breakfast three days in a row, and it was still just as good!


I found that Mortensen’s has the butteriest tasting cookies. I particularly liked the plain round ones with the curved tops. They have a long, buttery finish that is slightly salty and not as sweet as some.

Birkholm’s is Linda’s favorite. As of this writing their butter cookies still come in the traditional waxed cardboard tub rather than a plastic bucket. These were the softest and crumbliest. The standout is their plain, round, flat butter cookie, simple and very buttery.

Danish Mill Bakery’s were my favorite. I particularly like the crispy kind with raisins (or are they currants?) Their cookies seem to have a bit more body than the others.

Sadly, we did not visit the Solvang Bakery, since we already had twenty dozen, so we’ll have to save tasting notes from the iconic windmill shop for another visit.

Harold’s House of Omelets

When we used to live in Westlake Village, Harold’s House of Omelets was our favorite spot for breakfast. Sometimes we close the Alcorn McBride office and head over there for a late breakfast, because Harold’s wasn’t open for lunch!

Wednesday morning, Dani and I made the pilgrimage to Thousand Oaks, about an hour drive (hey this is LA, where you drive an hour to go to a restaurant) north west from our hotel.

These days Harold’s stays open all the way through dinner, and they’ve added Mexican food to the six page densely packed menu. But the omelets haven’t changed. They’re still football sized, with a thick fluffy layer of eggs concealing a literal pile of whatever is underneath. I like the “special” omelet, which has tomatoes, bacon, sour cream and mild chilis, all on top of crispy hash browns. Yum.

The decor hasn’t changed in thirty years (or possibly fifty, as this is their 50th anniversary). It’s nice that sometimes you can go home again.

Thanksgiving in Los Angeles

For Thanksgiving Linda and I flew to Los Angeles from Orlando, and Dani flew in from Chicago. Linda and I were lucky, and my medalion status (from credit card miles, I guess) got us upgraded to first class.

Once again we stayed at L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills, one of the homiest hotels I know. Their “linger longer” deal that gets you a free day makes it quite attractive.

We took advantage of our time in LA to visit quite a few restaurants, some new, some old.

Of course we had to start at El Cholo, where we had lunch with Linda’s mom. It’s just a few blocks from her house. El Cholo doesn’t really serve food that’s like any other Mexican or Tex Mex cuisine, but they’ve been doing the same thing since 1927, and we’ve been going for almost 50 years.

For dinner we tried the two Michelin star restaurant Providence. We liked the quiet atmosphere, and the service was terrific, but there didn’t seem to be enough home runs to justify the stars. We were tired (still on East coast time) so we stuck with the shorter 5-course tasting menu. The matching wines were just okay.

As with last year, we had the Thanksgiving buffet at L’Ermitage. It’s nice to just go downstairs and graze for lunch, in preparation for the real Thanksgiving meal in the evening.  Perhaps we were earlier this year, but it didn’t seem as well-attended, and some items we liked had been eliminated, but it was tasty.

Thanksgiving dinner was a Saddle Peak Lodge, a restaurant Linda and I discovered over 25 years ago, when it first opened. The rustic building, tucked into the canyons above Malibu, used to be a hunting lodge, speakeasy, and a bordello (not all at once). There were eight of us for dinner, including Linda’s mom, cousins Adele and Vikki, Vikki’s son Matt, and his wife Lauren. This was a great choice for Thanksgiving. The relatively small table made it easy to converse, and the food was delicious; half the table had the elk, which was probably the best entree I’ve had there. Service was good, especially considering how busy the place was. The wine pairing was stingy and very overpriced, though.

No visit to LA is complete without Smoke House garlic bread, the best in the world. Who cares what the rest of the food is like! There were almost no other customers at lunch; probably they were all at the mall on Black Friday.

For Friday dinner we tried a place recommended by my sales manager, Tommy. Vibrato is a jazz club high up Beverly Glen canyon, designed by herb Alpert. The acoustics were amazing, as were the live jazz piano and bass. The tables are arranged in a small amphitheater, and the room is really magical. The biggest surprise was that the food was great, too. We all loved the place!

Saturday Linda and Dani and I drove to Santa Monica and had sushi overlooking Ocean Avenue and the Pacific. We’d been to Sushi Roku in Las Vegas and really liked it, but this one wasn’t as good, and very expensive.

Saturday dinner was at Patina, another Michelin starred restaurant, this one in the new Disney Concert Hall downtown. We had the tasting menu with matching wine pairings, and all of us thought the food was excellent–in fact better than I was expecting. The service, however, was extremely incompetent. I had to remind them to pour almost every wine flight, and request every refill of water. The wine pairing was the highest quality I’ve had though, and a great bargain considering the number of wines, top producers and generous pours.

In retrospect, we agreed that of the four dinner places, two with Michelin stars, the ones we will return to are the ones without the stars!

One of Dani’s projects is to have her picture taken with Flat Doctor (think Flat Stanley, but for premed students) in as many spots as possible before the new year. Here she is on a particularly clear day in LA, as viewed from the rooftop of our hotel.

Sunday we got to the airport early and avoided the anticipated travel hassles, and were back in Orlando by 6:30pm. No first class upgrade this time, though. It was a quick trip to LA, but we squeezed in a lot.


Thanksgiving in LA

We’re spending Thanksgiving week in Los Angeles with Linda’s mom. It’s given us an opportunity to catch up, since we haven’t seen her in two years. Dani flew in from Chicago on Wednesday, and we met her at LAX, where the theme building has been refurbished and has some really cool lighting.

The week is affording us an opportunity to visit some favorite restaurants: El Cholo, Smoke House (world’s best garlic bread), Stan’s Corner Donuts (world’s best donuts), Tommy’s (world’s best chili burgers) and Duke’s (world’s best, um, nothing).

And to try some new ones: La Cachette Bistro, Geoffrey’s, and Water Grill.

For Thanksgiving we had dinner at Craft with Marjorie, Linda’s cousins, Adele and Vicki, Vicki’s daughter and son Leslie and Matt, and Matt’s wife Lauren. It was really a good place for a holiday dinner, because they had lots of large tables, and the food is always served family style. Everything was delicious, especially the veggies, mushrooms, pureed squash and bread stuffing. Dani’s and my favorite dish was the baby brussels sprouts(!) There were also lots of desserts, interesting ice creams (sour cream, a favorite flavor), and many leftovers to take home. We ordered a wonderfully creamy Delamotte Champagne off the list, and we brought a buttery 2006 Ramey Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay, and a somewhat lightweight 2005 P. Dubreuil-Fontaine Corton Perrieres Burgundy that we’d obtained the day before at Moe’s Fine Wines.

Las Vegas Star Trek Convention 2005

Dani’s Los Angeles Journal

August 1, 2005

We were supposed to leave Saturday night but Delta called to tell us our flight was cancelled, so we ended up leaving REALLY early in the morning on Sunday. We connected in Salt Lake and arrived in LA in the early afternoon. After a stop at Grandma Marjorie’s house we all went to my parents’ favorite Mexican place for dinner, El Cholo. I don’t like Mexican food much but it was pretty good. They have cheese chips that are to die for. By five o’clock we had to call it quits and head to the hotel.

We are staying at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena (about half an hour away from Grandma) and it’s really nice. Our room is large and has a beautiful view. Dad and I went for a swim, then came back to the room and vegged for a while. By 8:30 we were ready for bed.

On Monday, feeling a little more human, we ordered a HUGE room service breakfast. Even Mom had something (she never eats breakfast). It was really good. I have some history homework I’m doing (really long boring homework) so I did that for most of the morning.

At lunch Mom and Dad took me to an old haunt of theirs, Tommy’s Hamburger Stand. They do nothing in moderation there. A burger has a patty, two handfuls (big handfuls) of onion, ten or fifteen pickles, and a giant scoop of orange goo they call chili. All in all it was a, unique experience. Did I mention that the goo turns your fingers orange permanently?

After we had consumed as much as we dared we went over to Grandma’s. Her next-door neighbor Denny came home from work early and talked with us for a while. I went next door and met his dog, Johanne Sebastian Bark (they just call him “Sebastian”). He is a white German Shepherd and he is BIG! Standing on his back feet he can look me in the eye. He weighs about 120 pounds and his shoulders come to my waist. He is really sweet though. He has an old bucket he thinks is a toy. He holds it over his head and prances around, then puts it down and rolls it across the yard with his paw. At 7:00 we went to dinner with relatives at Shanghai Red’s at the marina.

Wednesday we went to Farmers’ Market. My parents remember this place from when they were kids. It’s a bunch of open stalls outside where they sell everything from greasy pizza and French crepes to tacky tourist junk. We had lunch there, Mom and I decided to partake of the greasy pizza, dad had a ham and cheese crepe and Grandma had Chinese food.

Have you ever eaten coke bottle candies? They are the best invention under the sun! It’s made of what gummy bears are but it’s clear. There is coke injected into the bottom of them. They’re great! I have a small bag of them that I bought maybe we can share when I get back. Oh, and guess what they have in every supermarket and convenience store in California, Squirt! They have Squirt! I have been getting it every chance I get. Anyway, it was a lovely afternoon.

They’ve built a shopping area called the “Grove” next to Farmer’s Market. We wandered around there for a while. They have a huge, three-story Barnes and Noble. I bought the book version of Wicked, my favorite play on Broadway.

For dinner we went to the Smokehouse. They have has the best garlic cheese bread anywhere.

Dad bought some tickets to see the King Tut exhibit on Wednesday. There were lots of neat treasures on loan from Egypt. They not only had lots of gold treasures but also lots of really well-preserved wooden things. There was one footstool that was made of wood but it was carved and inlaid to look like an animal hide. A guided tour on tape interpreted it all.

For dinner we went up to an old building called the Saddle Peak Lodge, up in the mountains. We sat outside and watched the sun set. The Saddle Peak Lodge has been many things in its time including a hunting lodge, a speakeasy, a brothel and a fine dining restaurant. They specialize in game, so I had buffalo and dad had elk. Mom had ravioli, and man, are those things hard to shoot.

Thursday Mom and Dad and I took a two and a half hour drive north to the central coast wine country. It was good. The views were lovely, and there was a nice breeze, so it wasn’t too hot. We stopped in Solvang, a touristy Danish village, for some butter cookies. The movie Sideways was filmed in and around the town of Los Olivos; it was neat to keep running into places where they filmed. Mom and Dad did some wine tasting, and we had dinner in a nice little restaurant imaginatively called “The Los Olivos Café”.

We spent most of Friday at Grandma’s, and went to a new restaurant in the historic Wiltern Hotel for dinner.

Saturday Mom and Dad went to Fry’s, a giant electronics store, and selected a new computer for Grandma (her old one had a really weird software problem).

On Sunday Dad finished setting up Grandma’s computer and we went to Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills for dinner. Trader Vic’s is where the Mai Tai was invented, and they served that and all sorts of other wacky tropical drinks, along with some excellent spare rib appetizers.

Steve’s Las Vegas Journal

Monday we packed and checked out of the Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena — after a week it had begun to feel like home. We took the 210 freeway to San Bernardino and then 15 over the pass to the high desert. The drive to Vegas took about six hours, and carried us through mostly rocky, barren terrain on a surprisingly busy four-lane road. A long, skinny ribbon of thunderstorm hung like a curtain across one valley, and provided ten minutes of torrential rain in a landscape that was otherwise parched and dusty.

We’re staying at the Venetian Hotel, our favorite in Vegas. Every room is a suite, and there are 17 restaurants in the building!

Monday evening we had tickets to see Penn & Teller at the Rio, so we had dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Masquerade Village there. While waiting for dinner Dani was able to watch the Mardi Gras parade that I worked on a few years ago. It’s a fairly complicated control system for a dozen or so overhead floats on which the performers ride.

Penn & Teller were amusing, but it wasn’t a great magic show. Before the show Mike Jones, a terrific jazz pianist, performed with a stand up bass player who turned out to be Penn himself. During this preshow the audience was invited onstage to inspect a box and sign an envelope, both later used in the show.

Tuesday we had lunch at Taqueria Cononita by the Grand Canal in the Venetian. Dani bought a magic trick at one of the shops and spent the afternoon practicing. After some power napping we changed and drove to the MGM Grand to see the new Circe de Soleil production, Ka.

I find myself at a loss to adequately describe Ka. Days later we were still trying to absorb everything we witnessed. Here’s how the Las Vegas Review-Journal described it:

Cirque Tops Itself: ‘Ka,’ the most expensive live show in modern history, takes a new direction by telling a story

Seen from directly overhead, two opposing groups of armor-suited warriors charge to meet in the middle. A fierce battle ensues, the warriors using staffs, swords and kung fu. Some have an almost-supernatural power to leap over their enemy.

That’s how the scene unfolds in Cirque du Soleil’s new “Ka. ” But the audience doesn’t see the overhead perspective on film, or reflected in mirrors. They see it because the warriors are suspended in the air, their feet rappelling onto a near-vertical wall, upon which the image of the battlefield is projected.

Along with performing their stunt combat, the performers are squeezing control units, hidden in their fists, to move the wires that suspend them from a grid 90 feet above the stage.

In part, it’s the answer to the question everyone had: How could Cirque top itself and deliver a distinct new product in its fourth show on the Strip?

The $165 million “Ka” marks not only a watershed for Las Vegas entertainment, but perhaps the creation of an all-new entertainment medium: the live movie; theater that uses the language of cinema.

“In movies you will see a battlefield from different angles… We’ve had the opportunity to give people a live experience about battle that is completely different than what you would get in any other theater,” says Lyn Heward, who oversees Cirque’s creative content division.

“Ka” has the rich, textured atmosphere of grand opera, except that nothing is stagebound, not even the two stages themselves.

Scenes flow from one to another, changing perspective. When the nanny of the young protagonist falls overboard during a turbulent storm at sea, you first see the older caretaker swept off the side of the boat that spins and bobs like a cork on the water.

Then the stage transforms to an underwater point of view, to show the nanny sinking to the bottom — again by using aerial wires and film projection — and the young heroine  plunging in to rescue her.

“It does focus the way a spectator can watch an activity. When I go see `O,’ I have difficulty choosing what to look at,” Heward says. “But this is a little bit different. We are giving you a point of view to look at this from. “

Moreover, the signature Cirque music, acrobatics and overall aesthetic have been focused into actual storytelling for the first time.

In lieu of a fixed playing area, the stage design resembles a black void, where the two main stages move in and out of position. One is the “Tommy deck,” a platform that slides in and out much like a drawer. The other — the one hosting the vertical battle — is the “cliff deck,” an 80,000-pound rectangle lifted in and out of place by a 230,000-pound gantry arm.

The cinematic feel of the show also introduces a new, home-theaterlike dimension to the theater: Every seat has its own personal set of speakers.

“It is not as if sound always comes out of the seat. It is just another pair of speakers,” says sound designer Jonathan Deans. In fact, there are 180 outputs of sound, compared to 60 for “EFX. “

“We take a sound and shred it into multiple sections,” Deans explains. “It will go out and fly around the auditorium shredded, then come back into that (original) sound. Will the audience know that is happening? No. But they will feel something different is happening. “

Much of the music is recorded, but all sound effects are live. “If a fireball comes up through the stage,” Deans explains, “we draw little squares on the camera image (that monitors the stage action). So when the fireball crosses through the squares, it actually triggers different sounds, and places the sounds to different speakers. “

René Dupéré, who composed the soundtrack to “Mystere” and most of the Cirque shows before it, returned to the fold at Laliberté’s request after a 10-year break.

“It has to be a score, like a movie score,” Dupéré says. “The music has to tell what’s going on, because there’s nobody talking. “

The most distinctive aspect of the score is a 42-voice choir, which sings “invented lyrics” by Dupéré’s wife, Elise Velle, who was principal singer for the first year of “Mystere. “

The choir and orchestral sounds are blended in with the live performance of a seven-piece band, which the audience doesn’t see.

But, Dupéré says, in places “I had to soften (the music) a bit. It was so dramatic, I couldn’t see the action. The music was too big. “

It’s a larger lesson the creators of the most expensive live show in modern history are trying not to forget. One key special effect is created by nothing more than the shadow of a candle.

“Human beings make the effects, and not machines,” Heward says. “The technology is simply a support to the human performance. “

Click here for a technical article from

Total Production.

Dinner at Nob Hill was as unremarkable as Ka was remarkable. Overpriced, uninteresting, and with an amazingly extensive selection of incredibly unappealing wines at absurd prices, this is the number one clip joint to avoid in Vegas.

Wednesday began with a delicious room service breakfast. The servers are exceptional at the Venetian, setting the table in your room as if you were in a fine dining restaurant.

Then we walked across the street to the Treasure Island, which has been destroyed by MGM Mirage, the new owners. The name has been changed to the “ti,” and the skull and crossbones sign, the most distinctive in Vegas, has been removed. The exterior pirate ship theming has also been modified to make it “sexy,” and the redemption gaming center that Dani and Linda were looking for is gone.

We took the tram over to the Mirage and purchased an admission to the Secret Garden of Siegfried and Roy and spent a pleasant hour watching lions and tigers sleep.

After riding the tram back to the ti we crossed the street to the new Wynn. Steve Wynn’s latest upscale creation is even uglier than the Bellagio. The outside looks like an office building behind a dyke, and the inside is filled with the same garish mess as Bellagio. The only focal point, a “water feature” that is a simply a wall with water running down it, is so poorly placed that only a few dozen patrons can see it at one time.

Back at the Venetian we allowed our body temperature to return to normal while waiting about an hour for an afternoon snack in the Grand Luxe Cafe.

In the evening we drove over to the Hilton to pick up our wrist bands for the Star Trek convention, which begins tomorrow.

Dinner was at Bouchon, an authentic Parisian Brasserie in the new Venezia tower. It was indeed authentic, right down to putting the bread directly on the table. It was also delicious. The fois gras terrine appetizer turned out to be an entire 5 oz jar of pate de fois gras, pricey at $41, but enough for three, and worth every penny.

After a delicious breakfast at Bouchon — best baked goods outside of Paris! — we headed for the Las Vegas Hilton.

The Star Trek convention attracted an interesting cross section of people, to say the least. On Thursdayand Friday there was a high ratio of Trekkers in Federation costumes. These are the fans Shatner was was addressing in his Saturday Night Live sketch, “Get a Life. ” These people still live in their parents’ basements. It’s probably a good thing.

By the weekend, though, when attendance peaked at over 3000, the audience was a cross-section of all ages, with women perhaps slightly outnumbering men. If there was any demographic missing it was young teenagers, particularly girls. Kids came with parents, older teenagers rived on their own, and a lot of the audience must have seen the original series when it first aired. But Dani was fairly unique, and as a resulted attracted a certain amount of attention form the celebrities.

The format of the convention is: stage presentation by celebrity, stand in line for celebrity’s autograph, go to dealer room and buy crap.

I found the presentations almost uniformly entertaining. The stars enjoyed talking about current projects, and most were genuinely pleased by the loving reception they received from the fans. Two open mics at the sides of the stage allowed fans to ask questions, and the stars answered them with candor, and often with great wit.

The standing in line was a bit tedious, but nearly every celebrity made an effort to make eye contact or say a few words to each fan, even if they were signing 600 autographs. These autographs are the currency of the convention, as they — either directly or indirectly — cost $20 to $80 each. This comprises the celebrities’ compensation for attending, and also provides most of the convention organizer’s profit.

The dealer room was actually pretty interesting, because in addition to many booths selling Star Trek collectibles and photos there was also a large section devoted to minor celebrities. Here was an opportunity to have photos personalized, buy CDs, or just chat with a couple dozen minor stars. And some of these people weren’t that minor: James Darren hung out for several days, as did a large number of other characters from the five series.

Although there was more of an emphasis on autographs than I’d have liked, I tip my hat to the organizers, who kept the event running like clockwork for four days. No presentation ever started more than a few minutes late, and the mics and video worked well.

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Here’s what we saw during the four days:

The show opened Thursday with a mediocre improv of TOS (The Original Star Trek) by some guys from Texas. Aside from an amusing double take when the security guy realizes he’s wearing a red shirt — and is therefore certain to be killed — it wasn’t that great.

It was followed by a presentation by Denis Russell, who worked on the original opticals for TOS. Denis seems like a nice guy, but is the world’s worst speaker, and I’m still not sure he knows what an optical is.

Throughout the convention there were some interesting lunches at Benihana, but although we had gold passes that included almost everything, lunches weren’t part of it, so I won’t describe them.

After lunch things picked up with an amusing presentation by Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Rand on TOS) and Robert Walker, guest star of the Charlie X episode. Raised by aliens, Charlie has some trouble adapting to human ways. In one famous scene he swats Rand on the butt as he passes her in the corridor. Whitney has had a rough life, which she’s only recently gotten back on track, and Walker talked about his (apparently famous) parents. They had a good rapport.

Next up was LeVar Burton. He’s an incredibly intelligent and well-spoken man, who talked about the impact of Roots, and his rather extensive directing experience. He just starting a new movie with Stan Lee. An amazing number of people thanked him for his 28 years of work on PBS’ Reading Rainbow.

John de Lancie played Q on TNG (Star Trek the Next Generation), DS9 (Deep Space 9), and Voyager. (I don’t know if he was on Enterprise, as I haven’t seen most of that yet. ) He is very involved in producing classical music concerts and legitimate theater, and is a long-time friend of Kate Mulgrew.

Robin Curtis was a Vulcan in the movie The Seach for Spock. We skipped her presentation.

Corbin Bernsen played Q2 on TNG. We skipped this.

I couldn’t figure out who Dean Haglund is until someone told me he was one of the computer guys on the X-Files, a show I’ve never seen. So why is he at a Star Trek convention? Apparently he makes a career of touring the various conventions (more than one a month) doing improv. His show was hysterical! He began by explaining that the plot of all X-Files episodes is the same: some weird creature is discovered and then the government spend the rest of the hour denying it. So he invited the audience to suggest the creature (I think we ended up with a stoat-moose-rabbit) and then selected audience members to help him perform three sketches:

  1. Audience member attempts to make verbal sound effects as Dean describes the action — and comments on their sound effects.
  2. Audience member provides Dean’s arms as Dean acts out a scene — including taking questions from the audience: “Yes, you sir… no, not the one I’m pointing at, the one I’m looking at. “
  3. Audience member attempts to move Dean’s body as Dean — spastically — describes the climax.

Very funny stuff.

Thursday night was a private party for the gold ticket holders — at least 500 of us — at the Star Trek Experience attraction. Buffet food was served in Quark’s Bar, which looks a lot like the one on DS9, and seats the same dozen people. Entertainment was mostly by Chase Masterson, who played Lita, one of Quark’s Dabo girls, and is a pretty good nightclub singer, and Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest on Enterprise), who has a country band. The Star Trek Experience attraction was also open, with its astonishing transporter effect, which makes it seem as if you are “beamed” aboard the Enterprise. Also open was the new Borg Encounter, which is an excellent show incorporating live actors, 3D Hidef video and effects. Both are top notch shows.

Friday began before lunch, but we skipped the presentation by Gwynyth Walsh. We did get her autograph later, and she looks much better than this in person.

Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim on Voyager) was a delightful speaker and did some very funny impersonations of Kate Mulgrew. He hung out with the attendees later, and seems like a really nice guy.

After lunch we met the first of four captains appearing at the convention, Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway of Voyager). Kate is just back from two months in Ireland with one of her twenty-something sons, where they were writing poetry and stories. She’s in Tea at Five, the popular one-woman show about Catherine Hepburn, and is enjoying being 50 and slowing down a bit.

Max Grodenchik and Chase Masterson played Quark’s slow brother Rom and Quark’s Dabo girl Lita on DS9. They took the stage together, and couldn’t be more dissimilar (well, maybe in makeup they could). Max is incredibly shy, and Lita incredibly outgoing. We met them in person later in the dealer room, where we bought photos and CDs. They were both very generous with their time.

Gary Graham plays Vulcan Ambassador Soval on Enterprise. We skipped this presentation.

Marina Sirtis and Micahel Dorn played Counselor Troi and Klingon Warf on TNG. Michael was busy finishing a photo op (pose with the star of your choice, sort of like Madame Tussaud’s) so Marina came out first and told us all the ways to tease Michael when he came out. They are obviously great friends, and were very entertaining.

After the show we headed back to the hotel to change, and went to Valentino’s for dinner. This was a bit disappointing, as the Wine Spectator names it one of America’s top ten, but they must be referring to the one in Los Angeles. The wine list, though extensive, had no older wines, and the Italian food was challenging and not particularly great.

Saturday we arrived in time to see Penny Johnson Jerald, who plays Cassidy, Captain Sisko’s girlfriend on DS9. Cassidy is one of our least favorite characters, because the two of them appear to have absolutely no chemistry. Oddly, Penny’s presentation consisted mostly of telling us how great their chemistry was.

Connor Trineer (“Trip” from Enterprise) wasn’t scheduled to appear, but at the last minute Jolene Blalock (T’Pol from Enterprise) cancelled. Jolene seemed to be persona non grata with the organizers, but Connor was a great sport and showed up with less than 24 hours notice.

Robbie McNeill (Tom Paris from Voyager) has been busy directing, including many episodes of Desperate Housewives.

Rosalind Chao played Keiko, O’Brien’s wife, on TNG and DS9. We missed most of this presentation.

Jeffrey Combs has played several roles on DS9 and Enterprise, including Brunt and Weyun. He joined Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest from Enterprise) and Casey Biggs (Damar on DS9) for a live musical performance. Armstrong is a good bluegrass musician, and Biggs has a wonderful voice. Combs was truly awful. Nice guy, though.

Speaking of singing, James Darren, Linda’s heartthrob from the 60’s was up next. This guy was playing Moondoggie in Gidget movies in the 1950s, and he looks younger than me. On DS9 he play holographic nightclub singer Vic Fontaine, and introduced a new generation to the classic Vegas songs of the 50’s.

Avery Brooks played Captain Sisko on DS9. He was the first black to receive an MFA in both acting and directing, which he did simultaneously. He has been a professor at Rutgers sin 1972, and tenured since the 80’s. He also directed my favorite DS9 episode, Far Beyond the Stars, in which he plays a 1950s sci-fi pulp writer who is the victim of discrimination. Needless to say, Avery is an a amazing speaker. Afterwards he signed autographs with Penny Johnson Jerald, and their chemistry seemed OK. Avery stopped Dani in the autograph line to shake her hand and talk with her for a minute, and it’s the only time I’ve seen her nearly speechless.

After a quick bite at the Mexican restaurant down the hall (it’s the only decent restaurant in the Hilton, so we’ve eaten there three times in three days) we returned for the world premier of Star Trek: The Concert. 34 members of The Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Richard McGee, played all of the great Star Trek themes in chronological order. McGee was obviously also a fan, and his comments between pieces were quite enlightening. The orchestra was quite good except for a couple of horn players who should be taken for a ride in the desert. Composer Dennis McCarthy came onstage to conduct his themes from DS9 and the movie Generations.

The concert included an interlude for a vocal performance by Nana Visitor (Kira from DS9) but although she was at the convention she cancelled this performance for some reason. The already overworked James Darren gamely took her place, although I’m sure he felt ridiculous standing in the middle of an orchestra and singing to a prerecorded track.

The concert was followed by a Dessert Party with a live band and more entertainment by James Darren and others, but it was crowded and not very intimate in the huge convention space, so we left after only a few minutes.

Sunday began with a DS9 reunion featuring Nana Visitor (Kira), Rene Auberjonois (Odo) and Armin Shimerman (Quark). There was great chemistry between the three of them, and it was lots of fun. To raise money for charity, in the autograph line Rene was doing individual sketches for $10. He drew a picture of Odo’s bucket with a word balloon saying, “Dani. “

At noon Patrick Stewart arrived from Vancouver (where he has been filming X3) for a rare convention appearance. Patrick is living in London, and has rejoined the Royal Shakespeare Company. He will appear in several plays throughout 2006, and at one time or another next summer, all 37 will be produced. Patrick is clearly an ACTOR, but he takes his Star Trek notoriety with good grace.

Shatner is just so damn funny! An aspiring actor asked for advise and Shatner said, “So you want to know what you can do to be famous, rich, have the yacht, the babes, everything? Nothing. It’s all luck. “Actor, author, horse trainer, musician; this guy is busy. During his presentation he auctioned off a number of items for charity. Most interesting was your chance to be in his next Star Trek book. Two people paid $5000 each. Patrick Stewart joined him on stage momentarily before departing.

After Shatner’s stage appearance we hurried over to the dealer’s room to pose for a picture with him, a father’s day gift from Dani. We got to exchange a few words and I left him a copy of one of my books.

Following the photo op we caught most of Brent Spiner’s (Data on TNG) presentation. Brent is a really funny guy, and has an absolutely dead-on Patrick Stewart impression. (Patrick was earlier asked if he had a Brent imitation and he said, “You know why all those guys imitate me? It’s because they want to BE me. “)

The convention wound up with Robert Beltran, Chakotay on Voyager. Of all the celebrities there, Beltran was the only one who seemed to have an “attitude,” and he might not have been the best choice to wrap things up.

Here’s Dani posing with a couple of passers-by in the dealer’s room. I’m not sure if the Klingon and Andorian were from the Star Trek Experience, or were show attendees.

A parting shot of Dani who, through the magic of digital imagery, appears with the DS9 cast. Wrap Up: Since a big focus of the show is autographs, which we now have coming out of our (Ferengi) ears, I don’t think I’d buy a gold ticket to another convention. But it was a lot of fun, and I’d certainly consider a day pass to future conventions.

Los Angeles, San Francisco 1998

Our summer 1998 vacation trip was great. We picked Danielle up at SeaWorld camp on Friday afternoon, August 7th, and headed to the airport to catch a Delta non-stop to Los Angeles. The lease ran out on Linda’s car last month. She has her heart set on a Corvette, but the color she wants isn’t available right now, a situation worsened by the recent GM strike. So she’s been renting a car for the past few weeks. It seemed strange to drive to the airport and have no car to park, but it sure was convenient to be able to simply abandon it in the rental car lot like we do when we’re traveling.

The flight was uneventful. Since I earn Delta SkyMiles on American Express card purchases made on my own and the company’s Amex cards, we’re usually able to get free first class tickets for vacations. First class makes traveling with a busy seven-year-old a lot easier. That coupled with plenty to do — a couple of game CD’s on the laptop, an activity book, and some plastic-tasting food — made the flight go pretty quickly. There are usually a lot of Disney people in first class on the Orlando-Los Angeles non-stop, and this flight was no exception, so we had a chance to visit with a few people we don’t see all that often.

When we arrived we rented a car and drove to Linda’s parents’ house. On the way I swung past the house I grew up in and lived in until I got married at 22. The neighborhood seemed a bit more run-down than I recall, with a fair amount of peeling paint and uncut grass, but I suppose it’s holding up better than most of Los Angeles. I drove past the site of the Baldwin Hills Dam, which was only a few hundred yards from our house, but there was little sign of where it had been.

Linda’s parents live in a two-story, semi-Victorian house that was built near downtown Los Angeles in 1903. The house features hand-painted ceiling murals and elaborate oak paneling. Originally lit by gas lamps, it was refitted for electricity in the 1920’s. Saturday we spent a quiet day at home, letting Danielle play with her grandparents.

One of the advantages of an old house is the attic. With an accumulation of seventy years of “stuff”, there’s always something interesting. On this trip I dredged up some old photos for scanning and some interesting old jewelry and books. Linda found a toy crane from her childhood, a recreation of the arcade-type candy or stuffed toy cranes. It has two levers that manipulate the arm and jaws, and a chute into which objects may be dropped in order to get them out of the enclosed plastic cover. After a little WD-40 Danielle had a great time manipulating the levers to retrieve small “treasures” (crumpled paper) and drop them down the chute. It beats losing fifty cents a shot.

We also unearthed a model of Disneyland that Linda made for her sixth grade art fair, in an eerie presaging of her career as an Imagineer. It’s really quite good, and her parents are still annoyed that she took second place behind a girl who leaned her father’s stamp collection against a prefab castle. Talk about holding a grudge. . .

For dinner we went to El Cholo, a 70-year-old Mexican restaurant just a block away from their house. We’ve been going to El Cholo all our lives, originally for their unique style of Mexican cooking, then later for the country’s best frozen Margaritas. The restaurant began as a small house on Western Avenue, then gradually expanded over the years, until today it occupies almost half the block.

Sunday afternoon we headed for the Los Angeles Zoo. Orlando doesn’t have much of a zoo. While Los Angeles’s Zoo has always stood in the shadow of the San Diego Zoo, it’s pretty nice. Located on a hilly corner of Griffith Park, a wilderness area that is the largest municipal park in the country, the zoo offers thousands of animals in very natural settings, with no obvious bars or cages.

When Linda and I lived in Los Angeles we were members of GLAZA, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. During the 1980s we watched the zoo grow and improve its exhibits year by year. Since then there have been animal care problems, management scandals, and funding shortfalls, and now the zoo population seems somewhat sparse.

We saw lions, giraffes, rhinos, antelope, ibex, lynx, wolverines, koalas, seals, polar bears, gorillas, flamingoes, lemurs, marmots, kangaroos, wallabies, foxes, wolves and many more. We enjoyed the otter exhibit the most. Two otters in a large area filled with pools, streams, logs, slides, tubes and other playthings spells fun. The two were in constant motion. We watched them play tag for about half an hour. They have quite a sense of humor. The leader would dive into the top end of an inclined tube and slide through, while the chaser jumped in the water and waited to surprise him at the bottom.

After the zoo we drove up to Burbank and had dinner at The Smoke House, a restaurant we’ve been going to for over thirty years. Their business is built primarily on the fact that they have the world’s best garlic bread — really more of a crumbly cheese / sour dough loaf. Mmmm.

Monday Linda and I headed out to Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale. Linda went to visit co-workers in the department she belonged to before she established the Florida presence of WDI Electronic Engineering. I went to make a presentation about our new products to the Audio/Video department. There were about a dozen engineers in the meeting, and our products were very well received. Most of these people are old friends. Since my company makes many of the A/V systems used in new attractions, we have a special working relationship with them, and it’s always a pleasure to see them when I’m back in Los Angeles.

Tuesday we visited the Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits. Danielle enjoyed seeing the skeletons of giant sloths and saber-tooth tigers that were trapped in the tar. We also watched a film about dinosaurs, and why there aren’t any at the La Brea tar pits.

Wednesday morning, bright and early, we headed for San Francisco. We had to pay for this flight, and since it’s only 40 minutes, we flew coach! We rented a car from Dollar, and were pleased to be offered a convertible at the mid-size rate. So top down, bundled up against the fog, we headed for Cliff House and the Sutro Baths.

The Sutro Baths were built at the base of the cliffs overlooking Seal Rocks, in the late 1800’s. The original bathhouse was an enormous structure, nearly spanning the coastal outlet of the rocky canyon. A great, curved roof several stories high protected the bathers from the chill sea air, completely enclosing the football-field-sized pool, steam baths and changing rooms. The structure burned in the early 1960’s. All that remains today are the concrete walls of its foundation, and the caves cut into the jagged cliffs.

Danielle climbed about on the slippery walls under Linda’s fearful gaze, then we all climbed the path to the Cliff House. This is the third structure to use that name. The first two were large hotels perched above the baths. One burned in the early 1900’s after only a few years of service, the second lasted somewhat longer. Today the Cliff House is a restaurant serving well-prepared California cuisine, with a wine list honored by the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

After a delicious lunch we headed north, through Golden Gate Park and across the Golden Gate Bridge. With the convertible top down the bridge was most impressive, rising some 500 feet above the cold waters of San Francisco Bay. Danielle took a photo looking straight up as we passed under one of the massive arched supports. A mile away from the bay the fog lifted, and we found ourselves surrounded by eucalyptus, oak, cypress, and a few pines.

After a quick stop for sunscreen, we drove up the winding coast on Highway 1, enjoying the contrast to the flatness of Florida. Rocky cliffs plunged to the Pacific as we took in the sights and smells along the way. We skirted a large, freshwater bay at Stimson Beach and headed inland. Near Point Reyes the road wound through thick stands of eucalyptus that provided a deeply shaded canopy. After a stop at the Pt. Reyes National Recreation Area Visitor’s Center, we headed back.

By now it was 4pm, but we couldn’t resist stopping at Muir Woods, a pristine Redwood forest. Walking on deeply shaded paths amid the giant trees, Danielle commented, “We’re not in Kansas anymore. “

Finally, we finished our first day in San Francisco by heading back across the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown, to The Mandarin Hotel, where Linda and I had stayed about ten years ago.

The hotel was as nice as ever, and we had the pleasant surprise of possibly the best room in the entire hotel, on the top (48th) floor, overlooking the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz.

We dined at Silks, the hotel restaurant. The Sommelier, Reneé-Nicole Kubin, formerly of Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, was a charming hostess, and the winelist was extremely well thought out. Unfortunately the food was not really at the same level, and the food service was truly disorganized. Still, it was a very pleasant end to a very busy day.

Thursday, after Danielle’s obligatory room service breakfast, we drove down to Fisherman’s Warf. I bought a cap to cover my head, which was slightly sunburned from our convertible exploits, despite liberal applications of sunscreen.

After a pleasant lunch at the end of Pier 39 we picked up the Alcatraz tickets we’d reserved prior to the trip, and caught the boat out to the island.

It was cool on the boat, but still the warmest I’d ever felt the air on San Francisco bay. The ten-minute boat ride provides a time to get in the proper mood to enjoy the lonely solitude of “The Rock”. It’s easy to imagine the hopelessness that the “incorrigibles” sent here for incarceration must have felt.

A new audio tour uses binaural sound, prisoner interviews, and dramatic reenactments to capture the experience of life in the cellblock. We all enjoyed it very much.

Thursday evening we dined in a Japanese restaurant at the Plaza Hotel. After dinner we sat in the lobby listening to the piano music, and pretended that it was one hundred years ago. Danielle had some interesting opinions on the advantages of gaslight over the newfangled electric lights the hotel had just installed.

Friday we walked to Market and Powell, grabbing pastries for breakfast on the way, and stopping at the St. Francis Hotel, where Linda and I spent our honeymoon 20 years ago, to ride the glass elevators. After about an hour wait, we caught the cable car. Danielle enjoyed her precarious perch on the side of the car, right up front. She also photographed the mechanism that grabs the cable.

At the end of the line we got off and walked to Ghirardelli Square. After shopping and lunch we crossed to the Hyde Street Pier. A new Maritime Museum, operated by the National Park Service, takes up the whole pier. There, for the bargain price of four dollars, we practiced riveting, toured a ferry boat from the 1930’s (the longest wooden vessel still afloat), and explored the Balclutha, an 1880’s square rigger used in the grain trade of the newly blossoming San Francisco.

Afterwards we enjoyed the variety of odd musical instruments in a terrific music shop at the Cannery, then caught a cab back to the hotel. We had a quiet and pleasant dinner at the Hyatt, a block from the Mandarin. Both hotels are located in the financial district, which was already growing deserted for the weekend as Friday night drew to a close.

Saturday we arose late, packed and checked out of the Mandarin. Since we’d seen so much more than we’d expected to in San Francisco, we decided to drive through wine country before the plane flight home. We headed north across the Golden Gate Bridge, and in a little more than an hour found ourselves in Sonoma.

Our first stop was Cline Cellars, known for their Zinfandel, and “ancient vines” line of wines. While Danielle fed the giant coy fish in the pond we sampled several wines and purchased a delicious Carignane (“CARE-EE-NYON'”) to bring back with us. We also bought a salami and some cheeses, which we enjoyed out by the pond. Our next stop was Gundlach-Bundschu, a charming stone structure tucked up beneath a hill. We purchased a Reserve 1985 Cabernet from their library, which we’ll share with our wine group. Danielle enjoyed socializing with their rather over-stuffed golden retriever.

Finally, we visited Buena Vista, California’s oldest premium winery, founded in 1857 by Count Agoston Haraszthy, the father of California viticulture. There we purchased a 1986 Reserve Cabernet from their library, while Danielle chatted with their resident artist. Outside, one of the winery cats lounged lazily under a picnic table, consuming a mouse for its lunch.

The day was waning, and we regretfully headed back across the Golden Gate a final time, and on to San Francisco Airport, where we returned our beloved convertible and caught the 7pm flight back to LAX.

During our layover we munched on Mexican food and grabbed one final Margarita at the mini-El Cholo in the Delta terminal. Danielle and I keep journals when we travel, and we used the time to catch up on our drawings and writings about the trip, and to fill out a few post cards. The red-eye left Los Angeles at 11pm, and we all caught a few winks before arriving in Orlando around 7am. After renting yet another car, we headed home, for our own comfortable beds.

And a long nap.

Los Angeles, Las Vegas & Grand Canyon in Art 1996

Grand Canyon 96
The annual “Return of the WEDI” trip in 1996 went to the Grand Canyon for the only time.

When I travel I like to keep a journal so I can experience the trip again, years later. Now I use a laptop, but when Dani was little both of use kept travel journals using blank books and colored pencils. Here is a journal I made of our December 1996 trip to the West. Photos from this trip may be found in the Family and WEDI sections.

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