In Search of Sambo’s

I’ve been to Anaheim before, but it’s been a while.

Aside from weekend fishing and camping trips, I only took two family vacations with my parents. The first, when I was 10, was a three week trip to Windsor and Detroit (via Bemidji Minnesota and Niagara Falls) for my cousin Mary Catherine’s wedding.

The second was to Anaheim and Disneyland.

We came in March, when I was in Grade 7. I remember just how green everything was; from the moment we left the airport I couldn’t believe all the green grass everywhere. Even the school fields were lush and green! We had prairie scrub at Ruth M. Buck school. Mixed with gravel. If you fell on the playground you were guaranteed a scraped knee and quite possibly some embedded stones. And anyway, it was St. Patrick’s Day; my playground at home would be covered in snow for at least a month yet.

ahh, vacations… This way we have room for Granny!

There were five of us on the trip. My Aunty Donna, mom’s youngest sister, was still single and flew down with us. She was the most important person in my 12 year old world; it hadn’t been that long since she’d been living in our basement on Bruce Street and then in her own apartment in Regina. We’d watch the Carol Burnett Show together on TV every Thursday night and laugh like crazy. And she’d let me read her old Mad Magazines and listen to her Donovan and Beatles records. She was so cool. But now she lived in Calgary, which would become the exotic escape for my sister Wanda and me for years to come. So we were thrilled she was coming on this big vacation with us.

Donna had a job working in PR at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, and she brought along a small bag of promotional material about Calgary. Since it was 1978, 10 years before the Winter Olympics would put Calgary on the world map, promotion was a big deal. But also, since it was 1978, it was still funny to roll up a fact sheet about Calgary, written in a tiny font on a small piece of paper, and put it in a clear plastic capsule. The fact sheet was titled “DOPE About Calgary” but all that showed on the capsule was the “DOPE” part.

That’s right, my hip, cool Aunt brought a baggie of white plastic capsules labelled DOPE on our family trip to California. You know what happened: she got picked for a random search at the airport, was asked about the baggie, and said “That’s my dope!” Our time at the airport was a little longer than we planned.

We did everything you’d expect on a 70’s romp through Southern California. We went to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios. We took the bus tour to San Diego and Sea World, stopping at the mission at San Capistrano to see the swallows. We took a tour of Hollywood, saw the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre. It was a blast.

Back then, Disneyland was a single park, ringed with tiny motor hotels and there was one big fancy hotel called the Disneyland Hotel. We stayed in a little motor inn, right across the street from the main Disneyland parking lot. The motel we stayed in wasn’t all that different from the Alamo Inn that Robyn and I are staying in now, in fact. Although the this area has changed a lot in 35 years.

Our motel. Good beds, great air conditioner, horrid WIFI

Now there are two Disney parks side by side; the original Disneyland and a park called Disney California Adventure. Between the two parks are at least four huge Disney hotels and a shopping street called Downtown Disney, where you can buy mouse ears and a shirt even if you can’t afford a ticket inside (a whopping $160USD per person per day now!) And while there’s still several classic motor inns around the park, there are also Hiltons and Marriots and Hamptons and all the other chains too.

I think California Adventure is where the old parking lot used to be. The parking lot for visitors is several blocks away now; there is a “Toy Story” bus line that constantly shuttles people to and from the parking lot.

And they do a lot of shuttling! Disneyland is still a massive draw from what I can see. Every morning, the hotels around us empty my 8:30AM. Half the folks head east to the convention centre, wearing their red, purple or blue VidCon badges. But far more people head north one block to Disneyland, in groups of four or six or eight, typically pushing a stroller, often with grandma in tow, and always, always wearing mouse ears.

The fashion is amazing, including the mouse ears. Disney sure has diversified since the 70’s. No more black Mickey Mouse ears; now, everyone is bedazzled! Sequins, fur, sparkly bows, and even leopard prints are the rage. And every type of Disney t-shirt imaginable is being worn too. They even combine logos now. I saw Mickey as a New York Yankee, Mickey as a LA Dodger, a Laker and an Anaheim Duck. Oddly, not as a Saskatchewan Roughrider, but I’m still looking.

Watching the dads and grandpas is my favourite pastime. Dad’s tend toward being sun-conscious or sports-conscious. That is, they either have the largest sun hat of the group (sensible and much needed if a little dorky) or are draped head to toe in the colours of their team. I saw all blue Dallas Cowboy fans, including hat, shirt, pants and socks and Cardinals fans who even had red shoes. It’s awesome.

But my favourite beyond all others is the matching family vacation outfits. I saw a family of six wearing bright orange t-shirts with Snoopy silk screened on the front and “Marshall Family Vacation 2016” underneath. Brilliant! Others wore all pink or all yellow or all green. It reminded me of the stag and stagette crews all around Amsterdam, but these folks were off to Disneyland and good for them. Robyn’s quite disappointed that we didn’t get matching outfits when we did our trips to the Maritimes and Vancouver Island and maybe she has a point.

Go Team Pink!

The other vivid memory of my first trip to Anaheim was the food. My dad is a very fussy eater and that intensified on vacation. On our first vacation to Ontario he insisted on only stopping at Husky House truck stops and ordered the same meal every time. This carried on to California.

I remember walking twice a day, in the morning and evening, south from our motel, alongside the massive Disneyland parking lot, to the southern corner of the park. There, on the corner, was a small family restaurant with the unfortunate name of Sambo’s.

We walked to Sambo’s every day for breakfast and every day for supper and Dad ordered the same thing every single time. Bacon, eggs over easy, white toast and coffee for breakfast and hamburger steak, soup and coffee for supper. When our waitress asked Dad if he wanted ‘the usual’ on Day 3 he beamed. There was no way we were going anywhere else now.

I took a few circuits around the Disney Resorts looking for Sambo’s yesterday but I couldn’t find it. I wanted to take Robyn and order a hamburger steak for old times sake.

I’m sure the name changed long ago but the building might still be there. My best guess is a place called Coco’s which is right beside our motel. It’s the right size and on the southwest corner of the current park, just like I remember.

Sambo’s? Is that you?

If I’m wrong, then the building and a ton of other places have been torn down to make a new employee parking lot. It all depends on whether California Adventure extends further south than the 1978 version of the Disneyland parking lot.

Noooo!!! Hopefully not, anyway

I’m going to pretend that Coco’s the old Sambo’s and will be sure to go there. Gotta keep the old memories alive.

But I’m keeping my mouth shut at the airport.

Off To Anaheim, California; This Is Travelwear? ; Finding Calm, and Something to Eat in a Sea of People; Buddy, Can You Spare a Screen?

The travel bug is incurable. Once it’s in you, any daily routine that doesn’t involve leaving the house early and exploring new surroundings just doesn’t cut it. So after 3 weeks of trying to find something new in the city of my birth, I jumped at the chance to cash in some air miles and head for the airport again.

My favourite daughter Robyn is heading off to VidCon, the annual YouTube conference in Anaheim, California. Her friend and travel companion couldn’t afford the trip this year but Robyn was determined to go. She’s not really comfortable travelling alone however, so I’m going as a roommate and Chief Transportation Officer. My main role as CTO is convincing her to walk around Anaheim even though it’s 30C+ every day.

Because I booked my flight two days before leaving, I couldn’t get the same flight as Robyn. Not the same airline either. Or even the same connecting city. So while Robyn flew to Los Angeles via Calgary, I took the longer route and headed east to Minneapolis. I had the opportunity to go to the airport at 4AM to catch my flight too. Take my word for it, Regina sure is lovely and peaceful at 4AM.

I still can’t get over the difference in how people dress in North America vs. Europe. My frumpy shirt and baggy pants make me the well dressed one here! The plane to Minneapolis was full of ball caps, t-shirts (not always covering bellies) and shorts. There was one guy in his 50’s wearing pale khaki short shorts with a black Motley Crüe t-shirt stretched over his belly. At 4AM! But at least he has a black leather bag.

I got caught up listening to 4 younger folks talking before we boarded. Two are off to Detroit to watch 3 baseball games in 2 1/2 days. Another man (in a suit, by the way) was off to Calgary, while a woman was going to her second house in Phoenix. She was 45 at most. She and her husband sold the house and now they were putting the furniture in storage while they looked for a different house. Flip and grow, I guess. I seem to have chosen a different path. Ah well.

I can’t deal with either fashion / lifestyle extreme, to be honest. The race for stuff and houses to put them in, or the general “I Work On The Rigs” look. I know I’m being an anti prairie-ist, but there were very few people on the plane with whom I felt comfortable striking up a conversation. Maybe I was just tired and missing my partner in travel.

Missing my travel companion. A seat was available too!

In Spain, everyone dressed like an architect or an industrial designer. They couldn’t all be architects, but still. I’d much rather talk to someone who is well dressed than hope against hope that the Gold’s gym gorilla boarding behind me sits down before my row.

The thing is though, I really love travelling. I even love airports, so long as I have a lot of time. I love wandering around the shopping area, buying an incredibly expensive coffee, and people watching. And you’re not going to find a more diverse and eclectic group of people than at a major hub airport in the USA.

Harried mothers with a bevy of young babes in tow, all eating a messy chocolate donut and then rolling on the ground.

People of every nationality with fashion proportional to the distance from Minneapolis (the further away, the nicer the clothes.)

Young sales types, looking dashing and serious and trying to exude success, walking with their middle aged mentors, who still have the dress but have softened significantly around the edges.

And everyone, I mean everyone, either sleeping, “doing business” on the phone or gazing, deep and unblinking, into the blue glow of their smartphones. If, heaven forbid, one is too poor or too forgetful to bring a phone, all the seats at the gate have tablets for some last minute deep gazing before boarding.

The gates in Minneapolis have tables with tablets, just in case you forgot your own.

I had a three hour layover in Minneapolis, but when I booked my flights Cindy noticed that the connection home is very tight. I’ll have 30 minutes to get from the LA plane to my plane home to Regina and Minneapolis is very large indeed. So I checked arrivals and departures board to get the lay of the land. If the gates are consistent (and these are daily flights so I bet they are) it’s going to be a challenge to make my connection. We’re talking two opposing wings of the airport.

Having time to kill, I did a dry run and timed myself from gate to gate. Through a combination of one flight of stairs, moving sidewalks, a tram and speed walking, I made it gate to gate in just over 9 minutes. So if I can get off the plane in 10 minutes, then run like hell with an empty bladder, I should make it before they close the gate with a minute to spare. To be safe, I tried to upgrade my return ticket to sit near the front, but it’s not allowed on my Air Miles redemption. I shall have to try over the phone.

Many, many hallways like this between my gate from LA and the one to Regina

I blame my overly polite Canadian-ness for a mistake I made on the second leg of my flight. The flight was full, and the overhead bins were going to be over stuffed, so the gate attendants asked for people to volunteer to check their bags. Since I had two hours to kill at LAX waiting for Robyn’s flight to arrive, I volunteered.

The problem came when I went to collect my bag before finding a place for lunch. Once I arrived at the baggage carousel I realized that I had passed out of the secure area. The secure area was also the area with all the restaurants. A slice of Banana Bread from Starbucks was my lunch and early supper until I hiked across the airport to find Robyn’s terminal, she landed, we found a shuttle bus and made our way to our hotel in Anaheim. I made it, but will be packing an apple with me for the rest of the week.

Oh, and just in case I was feeling too cozy as the new Hemingway of the travel scene, ready to run with the bulls or get into the ring to wrestle Mickey Mouse, the young lady at the Starbucks called me sweetie. I don’t think my hunky action hero appearance is working here.

Made it! Welcome to Anaheim.

The Way Back Is Shorter

People do it all the time. I know that. And yet our 8 hour flight to Europe was one of the longest and most difficult journeys I’ve ever taken.

It was hard on the mind and body to fly all night, trying to sleep while sitting upright, then finally landing in a bustling major airport in a foreign country. You’re tired, sluggish and disoriented. The signs don’t make a lot of sense. Everyone’s in a rush, but it’s unclear what they are rushing toward, or away from.

You’re here! Figure it out!

When we arrived in Lisbon, it took us at least 20 minutes to figure out how to buy a train ticket to our apartment. How hard can it be? Money can only go in so many slots, after all. But the first decision in a new country takes on a ridiculously huge importance. I’ll easily blow five euros on the wrong drink on Day 10, but spending a euro too much on the first train is not allowed.

Thank goodness for adrenaline. The physical fatigue of a sleepless night is more than balanced by the excitement of a new adventure. On the way out, pure adrenaline goes a long way to getting you where you need to go.

After the first few days, we’re settled in to a new routine. Get up, eat, walk around. Every few days, move on. It’s a wonderful, invigorating, sustainable groove.

However, as soon as our route faces home again, a switch flips in my brain. Living in the present is no longer enough. Thoughts of home and the future flood in and time speeds up. When we returned to Amsterdam for our final leg of our trip, I felt like I was killing time until our plane left in four days.

I don’t know how, but this had me thinking of home.

And time just kept speeding up. That same eight hour flight home felt like a drive to Saskatoon, except with two meals. Just like that, we’re home.

But this new accelerated pace is all in my head. I’m jacked up, I can’t sleep, but all around me is slow. The grass grew, but not that much. That pile of laundry is still sitting in the hamper. There’s nobody out on the street. It’s hot like an August scorcher, but the peonies haven’t even bloomed yet.


It’s taken a week to get over the time travel and match the pace of the world around me. To get a good night’s sleep; to not just bolt up at sunrise and pace about. To hang out in the afternoon like the dog and the cat.

And then, in the evening, to plan out the next trip.

*Hat tip to the wonderful Carolyn Mark for inspiring the title. I sing her songs often and with gusto.

Welcome Back, again

I just realized the photo and video were messed up on yesterday’s Welcome Back post. It’s fixed now. Sorry.

My second favourite square of the entire trip.  In the Gracia neighbourhood in Barcelona.

At least I learned another thing about how SmugMug privacy settings works.  It’s a very good service even when I mess up the settings.

Welcome Back

My favourite square in the whole trip: Square Alfalfa, Seville, Spain. I still dream about living here.

We arrived home safe and sound on Monday night and aside from stronger than expected jet lag (I’m still getting up at 5AM then collapsing in bed by 9pm,) things are good. We’re heading out for walks every day, Cindy’s putting our house back together and I’m either lining up meetings and visits with people or generally worrying. Back to normal all around.

But one thing has been happening consistently that is taking a while to get used to again. Everyone, and I mean everyone, who we pass on the street says “hi” or “good morning” to us. Every single person.

On Wednesday I was walking alone down Argyle Road at 7:30AM, when the only other person on the street passed me with a hearty “Good Morning!” I was shaken awake and found my manners in reply at the last possible moment before I could be classed as rude.

I’ve slowly had my manners worked out of me in Europe. Even when we were cycling in Holland and would pass another cyclist, they wouldn’t even make eye contact. Not even if we were the first person they passed in 10 minutes.

Way back in March, our host in Evora, Portugal told us about a trip she took to Calgary. She asked if it was our “costume” in Canada to say hello to strangers on the street, because that’s what everyone did to her in Calgary. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Maria as I get used to our customs again.

We’ve also had several people replace “Good Morning” with “Welcome Back” which has been very disconcerting. I mean, when I recognize the person it’s one thing, but this morning two men passed us in the park and said “Welcome Back” and I had no idea who they were. But one fellow said he was following this blog so knew we were home.

As we continued the walk, I muttered something about how I was surprised that people I don’t know well were reading this blog. At which point Cindy hit me and said I just needed to stop worrying and keep writing. She does that a lot.

I started this blog for one person. Our friend Deborah asked if I’d be writing about the trip and I thought it would be fun to send dispatches home. But I never imagined so many people would be following along. Thanks for reading and commenting and emailing and everything else.

And thanks, Deborah. We’ll come visit soon.

I’ll keep writing, here, there and everywhere. I’ll keep you posted.

PS. I just realized Cindy filmed that crazy hand-crank Dutch bike ferry I told you about. Here it is…