Week 29: Boy, that’s for Dam big!

No, that’s not what she said. I’m talking about the Dam, you know the Hoover Dam. It’s that big man made thing that helps save water and creates power for places like…Southern California.

 

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You know how there are those places that you always say to yourself, ok next time we visit so and so we’ll go there. Well, everytime I visit Las Vegas I tell myself that the Hoover Dam should be on the agenda. This past week, I made sure I did. Visiting the Hoover Dam was on my 50 Weeks to 50 list, and darn it, I was going to visit the damn Dam!

 

I was in Vegas for business, no really, for the week. My parents had tagged along too. We decided to stay an extra day and take the time to visit the Dam, which was only about 30 minutes away. And if you’ve ever ventured away from the Las Vegas Strip, the rest of the area is well like…most other communities — new housing developments arising, strip malls, baseball fields, freeways. You know you are close by the Dam when you exit off the freeway and Dam tourist souvenir stores start to spring up. And the streets are lined with fast food establishments. I was tempted to stop by the A&W restaurant since we don’t have any in San Diego.

 

There’s a short curvy road you take from Boulder City to the Dam, and I notice that they have their own police station which looked to have a pretty large presence. I assume it’s to prevent anyone from causing major damage to the Dam, because that would be a major domestic terrorist attack. You then notice all the electrical poles, then you turn a corner and there’s the Dam.

dam2

We pay the $10 to park in the parking garage (where else are we supposed to park), and as we step outside our comfortable air-conditioned car, are immediately greeted by the dry, hot desert air. I don’t know how Vegas folks stand the heat. I guess you get use to it. We hurriedly get into an elevator (the theme of the visit) from the garage to the street level, so that we can take an escalator down to the Visitor Center and get back into someplace with air conditioning.

 

The longer Dam tour where you get to wear hard hats wasn’t available by the time we get there (I was in seminars all morning, so we arrived in the afternoon), and we have to settle for the shorter Dam Powerplant Tour, which lasts about 45 minutes including a short film documenting the water reclamation reasons for having a Dam, and building of the Dam itself. It was actually very interesting, and we learned that construction took five years, which was two years ahead of schedule, and it created Lake Mead, the largest man made lake in the U.S. They had to build smaller dams and diversion tunnels prior to the big Dam, one of the dams is still buried in the water. Being built during the Depression era, the project helped boost the economy too, and helped develop the surrounding communities. After the film, we are lined up to wait for a large elevator to take the whole group down, down into the Dam facilities. Each group is about 40-50 people, tours run constantly, so lots of people come to visit. I hear many dialects and foreign languages, so it’s a pretty popular Dam destination — being one of the top manmade wonders of the world.

 

Our tour guide is informative and funny. I think a pre-requisite must be a sense of humor if you want to work in this Dam place. As we are packed in like pickles in these elevators, our guide warns us that all those with cameras “can take all the Dam pictures you want.” Boy, people really like to play with that Dam word.

daminside

After the elevator takes us down 530 feet into the rock wall of Black Canyon, we exit into a tunnel that leads to a small glass enclosed room that overlooks a massive 30-foot-diameter pipe, which carries water from Lake Mead to the Dam hydroelectric generators. Apparently 90,000 gallons of water each second. Wow, that’s a lot of water surging underneath us. I’m thinking if there’s some major earthquake or fluke underground flash flood — we’re gone.

damtunnel

We also see some maps detailing the floor plans, showing that the two sides of the Dam facility are identical. Now, for some reason I never realized that the Nevada/Arizona border runs through the middle of the Dam. So they refer to the Dam Nevada side and the Dam Arizona side. We are then lined up one by one to head back into the elevator, and counted twice. I feel like I’m a kid on a field trip.

daminside2

After a short elevator ride we walk through a longer tunnel to the viewing balcony overlooking the room housing the powerplant generators on the Dam Nevada side. You get a nice view of the 650-foot long room and its eight generators, each marked atop with the initial of the state the power is designated for. I love the design of the terrazzo floors, so art deco. After way too many Dam generator pictures, we are once again lined up along the long tunnel rock tunnel, counted twice, and wait for the elevator to arrive. We notice some water leaking down on some areas of the tunnel walls; there’s not going to be an outburst of water through a crack is there, I wonder.

dammuseum

Once back in the elevator, we end the tour at the visitor center, which has a small but informative exhibit hall and an outdoor viewing area overlooking the Dam. Inside the exhibit hall, you learn many facts about construction and use of the Dam. The official death count of those who died during construction is 96, but that number doesn’t include deaths from pneumonia. And although the government says no bodies are buried there, you have to wonder due to the nature of some of those deaths, it’s a gruesome thought.

dam5

Up on the outdoor observation deck, you get a view of the Dam and its grand concrete wall. When they built the Dam, they had to pour smaller 5-foot square concrete blocks with a cooling pipe in the middle of each in order for the concrete to set — otherwise if they would have poured it all together, it would have taken 125 years for the Dam concrete to cool down. How different would our lives be without that innovation of a cooling pipe?

dam3

I took my share of Dam pictures, but I was so worried that I was going to drop my phone down the Dam side, I probably could have taken some with better angles. I would have been lost without my phone. My phone has become so damn important in my life. I wish there was some sort of contraption that holds my phone around my neck for these picture taking purposes — can someone design one for me please. I guess I can design one myself, and mass market and sell it too. I can go on Shark Tank. Okay, I’m getting off topic.

dam2

Let’s see, oh yes, you can then leave the visitor center and walk out on the Dam itself. You see the older visitor center and Dam towers. I love the art deco artwork on the structures. And I didn’t think about it until just now, but I should have taken a picture with my legs straddling the border of Arizona and Nevada — Dam it! And you can’t miss the bronzed Winged Figures of the Republic. Apparently if you rub the toes of the figures, it’s good luck. You do have to pay tribute to those who developed the idea for the Dam, constructed the Dam, and died at the Dam. If the Dam wasn’t built, how would the landscape look like in places like Southern California without the water and power. You don’t want to dwell on the “what ifs” but we can be thankful for the many pioneers before us.

 

When you think about it, many sacrifices have been made for us to have the lives we have today. In the 1930s, when the Dam was built, people were willing to take on such dangerous jobs because they were in the middle of the Depression and wanted a better life for their families. Even our ancestors sacrificed in coming to a new country in the first place. Whether from Europe, Africa, Asia, South America, they sacrificed to give us all better lives in the United States. Today there are also many occupations that sacrifice for the benefit of others — police, firemen, military, miners, and more — we can’t thank them enough.

 

Not that everyone should have a dangerous job, but what are we doing in our lives to help benefit future generations, or in the simple sense, to help others. It’s not always about us and it’s not always about the present. When the future is taken care of, the present is so much brighter.

 

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Well, I’ve seen the Dam, and damn glad I did. Check that off the list. What I also didn’t think about until now, is that we could have taken Dam tours from the water. There are apparently lots of vendors that will provide your group with river and lake cruises, or rafting trips — next time. Then there’s helicopter tours too…ugh, I won’t go there. I will say that I’ve always thought that living in Vegas would be hard because of the heat. But the river and its surrounding communities aren’t that far away from Vegas and its jobs…

 

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For Hoover Dam info: http://www.usbr.gov/lc/hooverdam/index.html

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Week 28: The Happiest Place on Earth

I have been to Disneyland many, many times. Come on…I grew up in Anaheim Hills. Everybody loved to come visit us, and after a while my parents would say, “here are the directions, have a nice time.” I remember my Grad Nite where we (yes me too) rented tuxedos to wear for the heck of it. As a teen, we would go to the theme parks to go dancing (Knott’s Berry Farm had a great teen club deal too). We even went to Disneyland in college. Afterwards, when dating my future husband, we both played hookie from work and had a day at Disneyland (don’t tell O’Melveny).

 

Later when we moved to San Diego and my boys were young, annual passes were a staple. It helped that one of my sisters lived in Orange – cheap accommodations. Then, who cared if you took a day off from preschool or elementary. In elementary school we even visited Disneyland and California Adventure with one of our favorite teachers (not on a school day).

grad nite bus before

So when the high school was asking for volunteers to chaperone the annual senior Grad Nite trip to Disneyland…well, ya — I’m raising my hand. It didn’t matter that I did not have a senior, all the better, no kids to embarass.

 

There was a nice group of parents that were chaperoning (Brook, Dawn, Lisa C., Claire, John, Scott, Mary, etc.), and I was paired up with my friend Lisa-Marie. Our plan was to eat our way through Disneyland. You see, I did have on my 50 Weeks list to visit Disneyland without kids, because I wanted to eat and shop without kids dragging me around…not that I think my kids are a drag, but you know what I mean.

 

Luckily, our bus had a nice and fairly quiet group of kids. But we did hit some traffic on the way to Disneyland, so by the time we got there, Lisa-Marie and I were both starving. We started off sitting down to a meal at the Carnation Cafe — chicken fried chicken, mashed potatoes and veggies. We were so hungry, by the time I remembered to take a picture, we were done eating. After sitting a while and people watching, we decided to do the same thing at another restaurant.

grad nite beignets

Yesss…I had been thinking about the Mickey shaped beignets at Cafe Orleans for weeks! Finally, the moment I had been waiting for, sitting down eating beignets, drinking hot chocolate, leisurely people watching. I love their beignets (reminds me of Cafe du Monde in New Orleans), so do my kids. Both Lisa-Marie and I had to buy extra beignets to go (note that by the time my kids had some the next day they were smushed, but were fine after heating in the toaster oven with a fresh sprinkling of powdered sugar). Lisa-Marie had a delicious plate of Bananas Foster crepes. We said hello to a few kids we knew walking by, and soon thereafter we were stuffed.

 

We figured we might as well enjoy some rides, so let’s see what was around that didn’t have too long of a line… oh yes, the Haunted Mansion. Love that ride, especially when they re-decorate for Halloween and the holidays. Then on to my most favorite ride ever — Pirates of the Caribbean! I was so happy when they made the Pirates movies, now they are my most favorite movies ever! While in line, we did what we hated seeing other people do, let a couple kids we knew cut in line. Hey, isn’t that what chaperones are for, to help the kids?

grad nite main street

The Indiana Jones ride was too long (we stayed in line for about a half hour and it was going no where), so we went on the Jungle Cruise instead. It could be ten years later and the jokes are still the same, gotta love consistency. But we all oblige and laugh anyway. Time flies when you’re having fun and it was soon time to head on over to California Adventure. People were lining the streets so looks like the fireworks show was about to start. Which meant that the shops were empty, so we took some time to browse the shops along Main Street. So many cute things. I would need my own Disney Playhouse in the backyard to decorate properly.

grad nite 2

The throngs of Grad Nite participants were all heading on over to California Adventure, because after they officially close at 10:00pm, it stays open until 2:00 am for Grad Nite kids and chaperones only. Woohoo! What to do, what to do? We head to the right and start off with Soarin’ Over California. Love the 4-D effect of smelling the orange blossoms. Then it’s over to the Grizzly River Run…wait, what it’s closed? Oh man, that’s one of my favorites (I love water rides). Ok, well let’s keep going, yes next is the Goofy’s Sky School ride for a nice dose of whiplash. My kids would go on this ride over and over and over again using the single ride line. For me, once is plenty. We do go on a ride I’ve never been on — the Toy Story Midway Mania. It’s like an arcade game as a ride and you rack up points shooting at targets. Anything that spells competition is considered fun in my household, so this was fun to me. The interactive rides are always our favorites (like the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland, I got a million points once…no really).

 

We continue walking to the other side of the Boardwalk, but looks like some of the sidewalk food stalls are out many food items. So we head on over to the Chaperone’s Lounge in Ariel’s Grotto. Lots of people were charging up their phones, some were napping. Outside we see a few other parents we know, and sit for a spell, enjoying sodas and snacks – yummy chocolate chip cookies, and I’ll save that apple for later, thank you.

grad nite cars

Then what I’ve been waiting for all night (ok, besides the previously mentioned eating of beignets), and that is Cars Land. That area wasn’t built when I was there last, so this was really exciting for me. I love that movie. (I’m using the word love a lot aren’t I?) The Cars movie actually inspired us to take a mini-route 66 road trip, including staying overnight in the Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino. So even though the line was an hour long for the Radiator Springs Racers ride, we stuck it through. Apparently an hour wait is nothing for that ride. We kept occupied by listening to some of the high schoolers chant (I think we heard a UC, U Know in there somewhere), get appalled at the numbers of kids line cutting, and wondering if we were smelling alcohol on these minors breaths. Once on, the ride was so much fun, racing the car next to you was a blast. The cars actually went faster than what I had expected. Yes worth the wait.

grad nite cones

We watched the kids dancing to the DJ in that area, which was playing rap music. Then we noticed a girl passed out on the floor, but security was on it and an EMT was on the way. Her friends were gathered around, hmm exhaustion, alcohol, drugs? Even as chaperones, how do you really prevent kids from sneaking stuff in? Did you ever sneak such things into Disneyland, honestly? Actually, I don’t think I ever did. I was a good girl.

grad nite flos v8 kids

Next to that area we see the Luigi’s Flying Tires ride which neither of us had been on, so we go. It’s like an oversized tire bumper ride on air, and you move your body towards the direction you want to go. For me, it was somewhat hard to maneuver and I found myself jumping out of my seat, trying to bounce around. As we leave that area, we notice that the girl that was passed out was being attended to by the park medical team, and there was at least a dozen security guards encircling her. I hope she’s okay, you worry as a parent.

grad nite corn

We head on over to see what was happening at Hollywood Land, and that was were the action was…yes we found a street cart selling corn on the cob and chimichangas! So, of course, we were getting hungry again and had to split some. We take our snacks into the dance area where kids were head bopping with hands in the air to a DJ playing some techno dance music – is that what it’s called, I’m really out of it. As we eat, we watch the kids enjoy themselves. This is the area where I would tell  my son to go next year when he’s a senior. Some kids start break dancing, others splashing water on others heads. The joys of young adulthood. I had the urge to get into the middle of it all, but no, I stayed where we were, on the outskirts looking in, wishing we were young again. At least the drug dog didn’t sniff anyone out.

grad nite stage

    grad nite kids stage

Well, the close of the night was soon approaching, so now what. We stroll back towards the Boardwalk thinking we may have time for one more ride. We see a large group of the chaperones heading back, but most of the kids were staying to watch the “Last Kiss” World of Color show created for Grad Nites. We decide to stay and watch and it really was a spectacular show. We were standing towards the back of the group and could still really feel the heat from the fires. Disney really knows their special effects. It did bring me back to my own high school days when we would watch the Dancing Waters show at the Disneyland Hotel. Does anyone else remember those?

grad nite 1

Alas, time to go. The herds of kids quietly and orderly stream out the gates and to the lines for the trams back to the buses. We look at the lines and think, we’re chaperones, we can’t wait this long. We were about to walk back, but then we noticed a line where we can sneak up to the front. Okay, so we took cuts. The kids didn’t say anything. Shouldn’t there be a Fastpass for chaperones anyway? Luckily, the bus driver and the other bus chaperone got there ahead of us and let some of the kids in. All the kids slowly start meandering in, and looking at what they were carrying, many did not take the advice of shopping earlier in the day. Moms know best, take our advice.

grad nite bus home

Eventually, we checked in all the kids, and double-counted. We didn’t want to be the chaperones that left kids a county away from home. The kids were pooped out, and so were we, so it was a very quiet ride home. And before you knew it, we were in bed having our Disney dreams.

 

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I really can’t believe I wrote this much about Grad Nite, and if you’ve read this far, then you must love all things Disney too, or really like my writing. Come on, Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth! (Now, if they built one in Hawaii, whoa, I’m applying for my retirement job.) I think us adults design these outlandishly fun places for kids, because deep down we are all kids. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that!

 

Yes, I went as a chaperone, but we all love Disneyland so it was fun for me too. And there’s nothing wrong with reliving some of your young adult memories. So I give you permission to go to Disneyland without the kids. Have fun…and bring me back a beignet or two!

 

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Disneyland and California Adventure, do I really need to tell you where it’s at? www.disneyland.disney.go.com

Prices: $96 for one-day, one park admission for age 10 and older, $150 for a park hopper; for a two-day $178/$217. You can get a Southern California Select Annual Passport for $289, but because of blackout dates, you can’t go most of summer, weekends, and holidays. The ultimate Premium Passport to go anytime with parking included is $699, yup, you read that correctly $699 for one year at the Happiest Place on Earth!

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P.S. I also helped with the UCHS Grad Nite at the school. I spent all night at the Food Court and let me tell you that serving kids all night was way harder than Disneyland. (My feet are still killing me.) But all the kids seemed to be having fun, they were well-behaved, and appreciated all the food provided. I love that they ate up all the fruit platters. Oh, sushi a big hit too. Making these childhood memories for all our kids is what makes volunteering worthwhile.

Week 27: The Queens’ Gospel

“I would have figured it out Bitch,” was the last thing Kiki said to me. I was explaining to Kiki, our waitress and performer, how we were splitting the bill at the Lips Sunday Gospel Brunch. I should mention that Kiki is one of the drag queens. Yes, I finally went to a drag queen show…and can’t wait to return.

lips trio

Kiki was the one with attitude, and our table of four — me, Marie, Lynn, and Lisa-Marie — got used to being called bitches early on. I will admit, if we needed anything, we looked for the nice young guys wearing the black Lips t-shirts. Kiki scared us.

lips friends

Overall, if you ever plan on going to Lips, you can’t be thin-skinned. Everyone, every age (old, young), every race (Mexicans, Filipinos), every skin color (white, black), every gender (straights, gays) will get picked on…and nobody cares. Our emcee, the “pregnant” Sister Nun of the Above, is a quick-witted queen who will single out anyone, and brings with her (I will refer to the queens in the feminine) sister act a funny, and clever angle where you really don’t feel offended at all. Her accents of various groups were accurately hilarious.

lips group

I’m sure I’m offending someone reading this, but oh well. Let’s see, what were some of the lines…ah yes…remembering to SlapAHoe, that afterwards the guys were welcome to meet in the parking lot to pray on their knees and to bring a kneepad (I’m not sure what that’s alluding to), and being located on El Cajon Blvd. that the gospel brunch crowd was the most righteous group around. There were a lot more great one-liners, but I can’t remember them all now, you just have to experience it all for yourself, and what an experience!

lips 3

The show highlights the queens lip-syncing to various songs (I was hoping they actually sang), performing on stage, dancing around the crowd, and sometimes doing a few acrobatic movements. They certainly all had a lot of energy, and kept the audience entertained and engaged. It was fun, and it was good to laugh.

lips nun

Sister Nun of the Above likes to start out each performance with calling forth the attention of all the brothers and sisters, praising aloud amens and hallelujahs! And she gets everyone in the mindset to have your dollar bills handy (like a strip club I presume), which the audience throws to the queens on stage, like throwing a baseball (my pitches weren’t as accurate as my sons).

lips 2

I did find myself looking at the queens and wondering…can those breasts be real? What do they do with their penises? Strap them down? (In my mind I used different terms.) A friend told me maybe I should take a look. Hmmm.

lips 5

We were there for gospel brunch, and although we didn’t really go there for the food, our choices were very delicious. I decided to play it safe and get a fruit plate (we were being a little fruity anyway) and a side of bacon — what a combo right! The fruit plate was a platter’s worth, and very fresh and delicious. And my side of bacon was a package’s worth, enough for the whole table and perfectly crispy. With brunch, you also get unlimited Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s. I’m a Mimosa gal, and boy were those young attendants good about refilling your glass – it was like magic, my glass was always full. I am a half-full, rather than half-empty gal. Good thing Marie was our designated driver. Then you can come to Jesus with a shot of Jesus Juice. Not sure what was in it, some sort of vodka with something that made it taste like cough syrup. That did it for me. Reminder to self: do not mix drinks.

lips food

One of the best parts of the show was when Sister Nun of the Above turns herself into Cher, still pregnant though. Loved all of the performers. And you can tell that the packed audience was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Go in a group, and have it around someone’s birthday so they can get pulled onto the stage. That day, there was a nice young gay couple who just got married that were called up on stage to perform some drinking maneuver on their knees (what’s this knee thing all about?), and Cher was commenting on who she thought was the dominant partner.

lips 4

The crowd is primarily adults, of all ages. Underage kids are allowed too, and I think that if you have kids that are pretty open-minded (your kids do know about different gender groups right, whether you agree with it or not), it would be funny for them too. They probably get all the sexual innuendo better than we do anyway. Plus they will like the music.

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I always think about why do we love comedy. Is it because comedians can say things that the rest of us really can’t say aloud in a day-to-day setting? I mean, if we said half the things we thought, honestly, what would people think of us? Racist, insincere, bitch. Now if a straight person was up on that stage making fun of gays, would we laugh? It always seems to be okay when we make fun of our own group, but if someone else does, well, then they’re being offensive. Is that a double standard, and being hypocritical? Think about that.

 

And why do we have to label people in the first place. Why is it a special thing to go watch a show of drag queens? Can’t it just be a funny musical show, with food thrown in? I don’t know. But I still played into the idea that it was a special to-do by having Lips on my 50 Weeks list.

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One of the lines Sister Nun of the Above mentioned was that all the white folk should look to the colored folk for the rhythm when clapping along to the beat of the songs. Because we all know that, especially white guys, don’t have rhythm. For some reason this made me think of my childhood friend Scott. Scott was good looking, had great hair, dressed well, was white, and boy could he dance. I always thought he was the perfect guy. Then, after taking him to my Sadie Hawkins dance, he revealed to me that he was gay. I was so disappointed, not in him, but I thought he would eventually be my guy. We had lost touch over the years, but I just was able to find him on Facebook – gotta love Facebook. Not sure why I went there, but in that you can’t label everyone. Okay sure I should have seen the signs that Scott was gay, but he’s a white guy that can dance, well yes, he’s gay, oh nevermind.

 

I think my bottom line here is go have some fun, and not take everything so seriously.

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brunch

Notebook:

Lips, 3036 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego, CA 92104, 619.295.7900, www.lipssd.com. Make reservations, especially if you have a big group. Sunday Gospel Brunch has a $5 cover, with menu items at $17.95 that includes unlimited Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s. Check website for weeknight themes, cover charges and food minimums.