A Summer That Won’t Suck, Outing 2


Happy Friday!

It was most definitely a happy one for me since I used one of my paid Summer Days to extend my Father’s Day/anniversary weekend by one day. And yes, it was worth it.

Today’s adventure took us someplace we had been just a month prior but because Ann wanted a pair of sandals she didn’t get then, we had to make another trip. Fortunately, traffic was extremely light on the way down to San Clemente – it’s about 40 miles from home – and we made incredible time. I was pretty shocked, actually.

Our first stop: the Rainbow Sandals outlet.

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Just look at that fancy, unintentional, not-made-with-an-app lens flare! And that gigantic flip-flop outside the store! In preparation for summer, we all got a new pair – even me, who has enough pairs to last the rest of my life. Plus I got a new wallet. I guess I have a problem.

Once our shopping here was done, we meandered our way up to the top of the hill to the outlet stores where we ate lunch. Granted, there aren’t many stores there but it’s still a nice place to walk around and waste the day. This would explain why we only left with one bag of stuff, all of it purchased at the Nike store. You know. I needed a new pair of running shoes. Or something.

I also checked out the Vans store and came across these that were, unfortunately, a size too big.

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And at $20, they were a freaking steal. Too bad they didn’t fit. I really wanted them.

Just as we decided there was nothing more we wanted to shop for, we made a stop for some frozen yogurt and pretzels. Anthony wanted the yogurt and while I would have gotten some, I was driving and already had my share of dairy product for the day with the pizza we ate for lunch. Lactose intolerance is a lovely thing.

As I was paying for our pretzel nuggets, I spotted a $1 bill on the ground near the register and asked the cashier if they had a tip jar. She said they didn’t so I stuck it in my pocket. I wasn’t going to argue and decided long ago that money found is worth keeping.

With that, we left the outlet from which you can see the ocean. It’s quite lovely.

And it’s where I was driving to next, unbeknownst to the family.

So with the help of Google Maps, we found our way down to Capistrano Beach (yes, it’s close to Mission San Juan Capistrano, also a beautiful place). We had never been there before and thought it would be nice to just have a stroll along the ocean.

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And that $1 bill? It paid for one hour of parking. Perfect! It was long enough for us to enjoy the sound of the crashing waves and take some pictures.

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Selfie stick? Nope. My long arms have been doing the trick since the late ‘90s. And yes, I need to shave.

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It’s scenes like this that make me hesitant to ever leave California, despite its faults. No earthquake puns intended, naturally. But I’ll take my chances with them over any other natural disaster – any day of the week – to call this my backyard.

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Going to the beach was also a great way to break in those sandals.

And yes, I will gather rocks when I go to the beach. I could take home buckets of them if I could since they are all different and appeal to me for different reasons. Today’s trip included these:

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This picture just does not to them justice. The colors are much more vibrant, even more so when glimmering in the sand after being washed over by the tide. You’re just going to have to take my word that they are pretty amazing and will look great on my desk at work.

Anthony swears the light one is quartz. It’s really milky and white, nothing like it looks here. I don’t care whether it is or it isn’t. It’s just cool and I’m okay with that.

After the beach, we stopped by and visited my high school buddy who owns a restaurant in the area. You know, the one I delivered pizza for on occasion? It’s always good to see him and we still have much to talk about even after leaving high school almost 30 years ago.

And that wraps up our Friday.

As for Saturday? It’s not as far but you’ll know when we get there. It’s someplace I haven’t been in years and a real hotspot for tourists. I usually avoid places like that but with this being A Summer That Won’t Suck, I’m pulling out all the stops.

Curious? Follow my Instagram feed and see for yourself. We’ll be there in the morning!

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Track Time


Today was Anthony’s 12th birthday and despite Mom and Dad asking him repeatedly for weeks what he might want as a gift, his reply was a consistent “I don’t know!” (He really wanted a camera but I’m still pricing them — and he’s not getting one better than mine.)

I had some suggestions for places to go and things to eat, all of which were met with opposition or just not logistically feasible for our back-up plans. I even threw out the idea of going to the local go-kart track to see if he would bite.

He was skeptical. But Ann, tired of his indecisiveness, made up his mind while he was taking a shower: we were going go-karting and he was going to like it. After all, I took the day off from work to spend it with him.

Go Kart World sits off the 405 in Carson and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was no longer in business or even abandoned by its owners who were suddenly in the midst of some kind of legal trouble. You’d think that — until you see the number of celebrities who have spent the day there: Cindy Crawford, Quentin Tarantino and yes, even David Beckham. The last one makes sense since he played for the L.A. Galaxy whose home is just a few blocks away. The arcade walls are covered with even more celebrity pictures than what’s on their website.

I guess if you want to have some fun on the down-low, this is the place to be.

Anyway, there are a ton of options for racing from a single ticket to an all-day pass. We opted for the all-day pass since it didn’t make any sense to spend $30 for two hours when the day pass was $37.50. It also gives you in-and-out privileges if you decide to go for a bite to eat and come back (which is what we did).

There are five tracks to choose from but really, for bigger kids and adults, there’s only three to be concerned with. And even then, you could break it down to just two since the Turbo Track isn’t all that exciting and very narrow which doesn’t allow for passing. Fun, but the competitive spirit is all but extinguished.

Anthony and I found ourselves on the Slick Track first. It’s nothing more than an oval with slippery curves that are perfect for drifting. Having played my share of driving video games in the past, I had this track figured out by my second go-around.

And while helmets are not necessary when driving, we brought ours anyway so that we could record some GoPro footage to share with everybody. Here’s our first time on the Slick Track. If you’re a fan of the old Daytona USA arcade game then you’ll dig the background music.

You might have noticed I had two GoPro mounts on my helmet. You’re right. That’s because I didn’t want to keep one in my pocket in such a cramped little car — more on that later — or keep removing it. I figured I might as well leave it and just switch positions as I needed to.

Also, at about 3:00 you’ll see Car #10 enter from the left side. The guy was a real bag of dicks and kept bumping Anthony on this track and the larger Super Track. His kids were also a couple of ill-mannered dillweeds who did the same thing but my boy got even with them by pushing them into the wall on the Super Track. As for the dad, I bumped him a few times at about 3:12 just to distance him from Anthony. This kind of stuff isn’t encouraged since it’s a family amusement center but hey, if dude’s going to be an asshole and take out my kid, I’m going Tony Stewart on his ass.

With that out of the way, we headed over to the Super Track which, as its name implies, is  the largest track at the facility. Here’s how that went (with music from Daytona USA once again).

Anthony and I mix it up a little at about 1:30 of this video and he later bumps me toward the Start line (you can hear me laughing about it later). As for that stupid yellow car in front of me? There was just no getting past them no matter how hard I tried. I wish I had a banana peel or turtle shell convenient.

So while the overall experience is indeed fun, especially for a first-timer, there’s plenty of other little things that I didn’t prepare for.

The stench/emissions produced by those tiny little lawnmower engines that power the go-karts can nearly gag you, especially when you’re directed to use a car under the overpass where it kind of collects. I had to throw the faceshield down on my helmet a few times as I was waiting just to cut back on the cloud of black smoke that was enveloping me.

At 5’10” and 200-something pounds, the size of the cars leaves something to be desired. For me, they required contortionist entry and exit as well as adjusting the seat belt before sitting down since most drivers are kids and they use a smaller size. It’s pretty cramped inside and by the time we were done, my elbows were sore from having them rest against the inner wall of the cars. But while I don’t like small, confined spaces these didn’t bother me much — except for getting in and out, which was no small task. I felt like I had done some core workouts by the end of our visit.

The arcade is less than impressive with games that someone like me, who grew up in the ’80 arcade era, would never bother to play. There’s also a fair share of claw and skill games to choose from. The only money I spent in there was for a can of Hawaiian Punch: driving these things can make you thirsty real fast.

Even with those few little things, it’s safe to say that we both had a great time and are looking forward to returning for whatever special occasion happens to be next on our calendar or any other day that finds us struggling with ways to spend it.

But I’ll leave my banana peels at home no matter how badly I’ll want to bring them.

Decade


It was the first week in September 2003 when I got the news. Ann, having been suffering from what she thought was a bout with the stomach flu, called me at work once she returned from the doctor. And I’ll never forget it.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, voice quivering. Barely being able to hold onto my oh-so-chic Nokia 8210, I was ecstatic, scared, nervous, and freaked out.

Us, with a child. Us, parents. Wow.

I told her to meet me for lunch at the office. When she arrived, I ran outside and greeted her with a big hug and the two of us shared a moment we would never forget. It was the first time that we had officially held each other as parents.

From there, it everything went so fast. Our schedules revolved around doctor’s appointments and every little thing a nervous Ann thought didn’t feel right required a call to her OB/GYN who was outstanding throughout the entire pregnancy. She also performed the C-Section.

Nothing really hit us until we saw the first ultrasound.

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That little peanut was our baby although at this point its sex could not be determined.

It didn’t matter. We were ready for little Girl or Boy to arrive. I printed out this ultrasound and stuck it to the side of my work computer and as I got updated ones, printed those out and replaced the last one. Coworkers would come into the office to get an update on things and see the latest ultrasound and, of course, ask how we were both doing.

And being it was a small business, they got together and had a Baby Shower which was just the beginning since one coworker decided she would throw us one herself…

…as did Ann’s parents.

A total of three Baby Showers. Don’t ask. I guess people like us. By the way, that Picasso print over my left shoulder is still hanging in the den.

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Then, after all the showers had come and gone, The Big Day arrived — March 30, 2004. I was on my way to work when Ann called me on my cell phone which at the time I never had on while driving. But something told me to turn it on this time.

I was a block away when I got the call to come back home because her water had broke. I turned around, called the office to let them know my vacation had officially begun and, much to Ann’s chagrin, started the video camera.

We arrived at the hospital and Ann was still doing okay. After filling out some forms, she was taken into a room for observation. Her OB/GYN showed up for the delivery and gave us a rundown of how things would happen — and reminded us of the complications we could encounter as well. Ann was then wheeled out to the OR for the delivery as I donned my sterile outfit.

Here’s a selfie of me in said outfit as I ready to enter the OR. And as is evident by this photo, I was shooting what are known at this particular moment in 2014 as “selfies” long before it was chic. And I was doing it with film cameras in the 90s, you hipster twits.

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The boy we came to name Anthony entered this world at 10:47 am. I sat by Ann’s side the entire time, only leaving her to take photos with two of the three cameras I took with me: two still (film and digital) and one video camera. On said video, I am filled with absolute euphoria as the doctor held up Anthony for the first time. I was crying more than he was and repeatedly saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! I can’t believe it!”

Ann, pretty drugged up, just smiled at me.

Once Anthony was cleaned up and I had taken umpteen photos, the nurse handed him over to me to hold for the first time. I’ve never had such a feeling of love in my life. Here, in my arms, was our little creation tightly wrapped in blankets and whose newborn eyes were seeing light for the first time. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I wouldn’t let him go. I held him so close to me as I looked into his big, blue eyes* with absolute wonder, cherishing a moment we may not ever see again. I cried again just staring at him and could almost hear Dad laughing and carrying on behind me, beaming with as much pride as myself and handing out bubble-gum cigars.

Before we knew it, Anthony was off to the Postnatal Ward for more measurements and monitoring. That’s when the grandparents saw him for the first time.

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I was also able to spend a little more time with him later that day as well as change a diaper or two.

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From the time we found out, I’ve always been proud to be this boy’s father. Nothing makes me happier than to see him smile and over these last 10 years, I’ve seen him change so much but remain the sweet little boy I’ve always known.

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May he never lose his sense of wonder. May he always be curious of things as simple as the spots on ladybugs or as complex as the galaxies that swirl above us.

May his compassion continue to flourish whether it’s helping the homeless or playing with the Special Ed kids at his school, both of which he does frequently (despite being ridiculed by some who aren’t as mature as he).

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It doesn’t matter if he follows in my footsteps or decide to take his own path. The only thing I can ask him to do is to be a person of integrity and honesty, and as of right now I think he’s well on his way to making that a reality.

His heart will be broken by his first love. He will lose golf tournaments. He will fail his driving exam. He will make bad decisions.

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But if he is anything like me, he will learn and move on. Whatever the case may be, we will always be there to love him and support him, just as we promised we would the moment we found out he was on the way.

Happy 10th Birthday, Anthony. You mean the world to us.

*Most newborn eyes have a blue tint to them. Their natural color eventually breaks through.

The Disneyland VIP Experience


To paraphrase the Walt Disney quote, it was all started by a text.

On Friday afternoon, Ann received a text from longtime friend Colleen (pseudonym). She said she was in town for the week and had a question for her: would you and the family like to join us at Disneyland on Saturday?

We immediately thought, “With what money?” Ann got another text explaining that it was complimentary. Then another stating it would be 100% free. With every text, Ann asked if this would cost us anything.

The conversation ended with Colleen texting, “Ann, I don’t play.”

She also mentioned that it wasn’t just a trip to Disneyland. Colleen had booked a VIP Tour Guide for the duration of her family’s trip. For those who don’t know, a VIP Tour Guide is a Disneyland Cast Member – they wear a blue-and-red plaid vest – who escorts celebrities and other dignitaries around the Park so that they can get immediate access to all attractions.

Meals would also be included. We would pay nothing.

Our jaws dropped. In this, the third day of the new year, we’re getting some incredibly awesome news. This was bigger than getting my picture printed in the newspaper. Big, I tells ya.

Ann confirmed that we would go then asked about parking.

We would park in the valet of the Disneyland Hotel and charge it to Colleen’s room. Well, okay then…

Ann called Colleen ahead of our arrival so that she could meet us at the hotel. By the time the car was taken by the valet attendant, she was waiting for us.  She said that her family was still eating breakfast and asked if we could wait which is exactly what we did. Once finished, we met them outside the hotel and wandered over to Disneyland.

It was a horrible trip: maybe a quarter-mile walk through Downtown Disney. The Monorail, adjacent to the hotel, could have taken us but it was down for temporary maintenance. I wasn’t complaining.

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2013: My Year In Review


Since this is a personal blog, I figured that instead of writing a year-end review about other things, it would be better suited for me to give a year-end review of things that actually happened in my life. It’s much easier to do something like this now since chances are I captured those moments with my phone, giving me photographic proof of the events.

With all of that out of the way, here’s a month-by-month photo essay of how things went with me and the family in 2013, some of which was never mentioned here on the blog. Take a virtual trip of the things we did, places we saw, events that brought us happiness, triumph, and even sadness.

Got your scrollin’ finger ready? Good! Here we go!

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