Anaheim Without Disney Is Still Interesting

I spent two interesting days exploring hot, sunny downtown Anaheim while Robyn was enjoying the air conditioned VidCon conference at the Anaehim Convention Centre. I’d walk with her for the first two blocks, then she’d head off, I’d stop for my morning cappuccino and then head north to the city centre.

A nice California ranch house in central Anaheim

The Anaheim Resort District, aka Disneyland, a city of hotels, fifteen Denny’s and a dozen IHOP’s isn’t actually the city of Anaheim. There’s a real town centre that pre-dates Walt’s Big Dream by 60 years or so, but it’s separated from the Resort District by the massive I-5 Freeway. Harbour Drive crosses the I-5, and so did I.

It was a long hike in the hot sun. It took me 3/4 of Blonde on Blonde to make it (all but Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands) and honestly, it’s just hot walking. I got to see the back side of Disney though, which is interesting in its own way. If I was ever making a James Bond film, I’d film it there; all the unmarked white vans, security checkpoints, severe tire damage gates and electrical generators would make a great villains lair.

Once across the I-5, I thought I was coming up to a light security prison, or a half way house maybe. I saw a cluster of low, long army-green barracks with a tall wrought iron fence all around it. I was shocked to find it was a school! Each building was two or three classrooms with private entrances and a asphalt playground in the middle. Whoo boy would it be hot on that playground! I know security is a big thing in schools these days but man, they are taking it a little far at Orange Grove School if you ask me. Maybe it’s colourful on the inside.

Cindy had done some recon for me and told me about a downtown farmer’s market on Thursday. So that was my first port of call. It was also my fourth port of call, since there was nothing going on at 10AM when I first arrived. I guess it’s geared toward the office workers and doesn’t really get going until noon. But it was worth the wait.

The market was laid out like a Y. The long bottom bit was the farmers; tables piled with melons and peaches and onions and strawberries. Lots of the fruit was spilled out cornucopia style, rather than the neatly stacked fruit at European markets, but it was all fresh and yummy and was all grown by the people selling it (which is rarely the case in Europe too.)

The left arm of the Y was the artisans; jewelry, knick knacks and designer kibble for your pooch. and the right arm was the food trucks. Yum! Fried chicken, barbecue, falafel, wood fired pizza and more.

The travelling pizza oven

Sadly, it was so hot that I couldn’t really work up an appetite, or a big sausage on a bun would’ve been my lunch. Instead, I bought a baguette from the bread booth and a basket of strawberries and ate them in the shade. It was the right call; I still had to walk back over the I-5 to get back to the motel.

Don’t stay in jail. Jail sucks!

The next day, I hiked back downtown. After stopping at the public library to write a post and flip through a few books, I walked one block further than the farmer’s market site to the Anaheim Packing House. This huge building was once the Sunkist citrus packing house, where oranges and lemons would get packed in crates and put on trains. Now it’s a gourmet food centre.

Anaheim Public Library

Instead of shipping oranges on train cars, now you can sit on a train car and eat

There are 20+ food stalls inside, selling everything from sushi to ice cream. There’s even a booth dedicated to variations of grilled cheese sandwiches. I walked around both floors twice before buying a barbecue chicken sandwich and a local beer, and then an ice cream cone for good measure.

Hey Robyn! Grilled Cheese!

It’s not easy to get to downtown Anaheim without a car. But if you need a break from Disney and can’t handle yet another trip to Denny’s or IHOP, it’s well worth checking out. It doesn’t take me long to need a break from Fantasyland, so I’m glad I went exploring.

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.