Go ahead, say what you will about Disneyland: it represents everything that’s wrong with America, consumerism, the decline of culture, etc, etc.
Then try going to the Anaheim, California amusement park – you will have to work very hard not to be won over. Your cynicism might last a couple of hours, boosted by fellow tourists in matching t-shirts, overpriced junk food and the high entry fee.
Soon, you will notice how clean everything is, how efficiently it all runs, and how darn happy everyone is – we’re talking about the visitors AND the employees. Just make sure to avoid ‘It’s a Small World’, unless you want to have a really cheesy song stuck in your head for the next week.
Then, you will find yourself happily buying Made-in-China princess tiaras, $7.95 helium balloons and bubblegum-pink cotton candy. Because it’s fun, it makes everyone happy, and what more justification do you need than that?
After that, you may even find yourself skipping around and buying your own princess tiara, or Mickey Mouse ears.
The rides are really well done, with great music and art direction. Our favorites were the epic ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ boat ride, submarine adventure ‘Finding Nemo’ and the ‘Mad Tea Party’ spinning teacups.
We were lucky that Sophia is over 40 inches tall, since that meant she was able to go on all the big rides, the rollercoasters. Actually, it meant that she had to go on the 50-foot drop Splash Mountain, alpine adventure Matterhorn and Wild West-themed Big Thunder Mountain not once, but twice – once with me and once with Daniel. (She got so into rollercoasters that she daringly raises her arms when we go up and down big hills in the car).
She only faltered once: declining a second ride after one go on Space Mountain, a lurching, space-themed rollercoaster in the dark.
Despite this bravado, her absolute favorite moment of the day was the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire, where kids get to meet their movie heroines. Aurora, Ariel, Belle, et al were superb, gracefully and theatrically staying in character even when speaking to colleagues. They all hugged Sophia, asked about her dreams and fantasies and then froze their beautiful gazes for the camera. I don't know whether the photos catch the wonder, glee and amazement in Sophia's eyes.
One piece of advice: if you can, go to Disneyland mid-week, when school is in session, and it’s forecast to rain. We did, and barely waited in a single line.
Thanks so much to Kristyn, our friend from the KOA campground at Santa Margarita Lake, whose friend Ramona, a Disney employee, totally hooked us up with free tickets!!! (That said, the experience is 100% worth the $62/$72 one-day entry fee.
Now that we are really about to leave LA, Sophia’s had to say goodbye to her new BFF.
She has been talking seriously about marrying Nomi, which has both sets of parents very excited. It will most likely be a Korean-British themed wedding, which means lots of kimchi followed by fruitcake. And a good selection of teas.
(Elisa and Eric, you had better book your tickets now!)
Logistics might be an issue, as they live 6,000 miles apart. Sophia is talking about going to school in California, to be closer to Nomi. We just have to work out how to pay for healthcare.
Here is the happy couple, photographed by Nomi’s dad, Joseph Cultice, as part of a portrait series he is compiling.
When Lisette texted to say that she and Carolyn wouldn’t be able to go on the Beverly Hills celebrity bus tour, we were quietly thankful.
Our social life had been frenetic since the return to LA on December 29. We liked living like real LA people, commuting 34 miles between our outpost at the RV park in Anaheim and friends much closer to the center (is there a center?), but desperately needed a Quiet Day – no culture, no socializing, no driving.
Kicking back after a pancake breakfast, we settled into another cup of coffee.
The weather being as fantastic as it was, we went for a dip in the pool (open year-round and heated to 85 degrees) opposite our trailer, and then tested the Jacuzzi. We sat back and admired the lines of palm trees, pausing when we discovered that the really tall one behind the Airstream was a very well disguised phone mast.
Sophia watched ‘Tom & Jerry’ on the computer, and Lulu crawled around, energetically pulling herself up at intervals.
The freeway hummed in the not very far distance.
We ate some more, and then Daniel’s brother Tim’s friend Brian came over for a barbeque and told us how amazing and full of opportunity LA is.
After he left and the girls were in bed, Daniel and I watched the nightly fireworks at Disneyland, just over the fence.
When you speak to strangers at a restaurant, do you invite them to your house? We know some people who do just that, and more!
Three years ago, Daniel, Sophia and I went to dinner with my parents, my sister and her husband at the Bridge Café near South Street Seaport in New York. Sophia had just learned to walk, and was toddling all over the place – mostly up to other people’s tables and into the kitchen.
Respite arrived in the form of Will, a nine-year old from LA jauntily dressed in a three-piece pinstriped suit (his mother, Julia, said he never dressed down). He spent the next few hours entertaining Sophia – at and under our table, and that of his family. Daniel and I enjoyed the rare treat of sitting back for a nice meal, a drink and a chat with our family.
At the end of the meal, Julia took down our email address and said that if we were ever in LA, we would have to visit them.
So three years later, we did.
Julia, a writer of magazine articles, screenplays and now a novel, suggested that we park the Airstream outside their house and said we were welcome to use the facilities and have breakfast inside.
I think we initially took up their offer because it was so crazy. We suspect that they invited us to stay for the same reason.
Julia and her husband Chris, who is a comedy writer for TV shows including ‘Frasier’ and ‘Beavis and Butthead’, live in Hollywood. Also residing there are Will, now a more mellow (waistcoat, but no jacket) 12 years old, their ten-year old extrovert daughter Coco. Grandmother, who at 81 is still a practicing doctor, lives there part-time.
The first night, we were invited to a pizza dinner. The second night, to Grandmother’s birthday party. The third night, room was offered in the driveway, and there was talk of sleeping in Coco’s bedroom once Julia’s niece and nephew – in town to support Alabama at the big national college championship football game against Texas at the Rose Bowl – returned to Birmingham, Alabama.
All the while, Julia provided excellent suggestions for things to do in LA, the whole family played with the girls, and Will asked when I would be updating the blog – noting that the last entry was December 17, and printing out pie charts showing readers’ countries of origin.
After two nights, we had to go. We felt too guilty, and were unsure what – if anything – we were providing in return.
We did return, though, on our way out of LA en route to San Francisco. Airstream-less (the trailer is spending the next week at C&G Trailers, a repair shop that has been highly recommended up and down the West Coast), we were upgraded to a specially converted suite in Coco’s room, edging the poor girl out of her own bed, on a school night.
Once we return with Daniel’s mother, Barbara, we are invited to stay with them once more.
Since we got to LA, we have done a terrible job at keeping up with the blog. The excuse is rather fabulous: we have been leading a very active social life!
One could even say we’ve been promiscuous. We hope we haven’t taken advantage.
Everyone has really gone out of their way to be incredibly kind to us. We hope we can do nice things back to them, and soon.
Because it’s unclear whether our friends in LA know just how much we get around, we had better come clean about our dalliances, right here, in chronological order.
• Our friends from New York: Soo-Hyun and Joseph, who I met ten years or so ago - through Stephanie, who singlehandedly spins huge networks of smart, talented, fun friends – moved to LA from New York about a year and a half ago. They felt like a change, plus it made sense for work – Soo-Hyun had won a place at a screenwriting lab in LA, and Joseph’s photography often took him to the West Coast. Plus, the chance to swap an apartment for a house and garden would give their son Nomi plenty of space to play.
The night we rolled into LA, they greeted us not only with a dinner party but a spot in their driveway to park our Airstream for three weeks. Plus, they put us up at their house (see photo 1), and then at Soo-Hyun’s sister Chi-Yoon’s, where we did some light cat-sitting.
Throughout our time in LA, they’ve welcomed us into their Atwater Village home/clubhouse/workspace, sharing many a meal, drink and essential LA tip (such as using one’s GPS to avoid getting hopelessly lost).
Nomi and Sophia have become BFFs, playing for hours at a time without fighting. They even manage to merge his-and-her games into something that works….for example, Mommy and Baby Spock.
It must be serious: Sophia is considering marrying Nomi.
• My former Brooklyn flatmate: Lisette “Lisi” Linares – another point in Stephanie’s magical web - was one of my flatmates in Williamsburg 13 years ago. She is – of course – the one person we know who has starred in reality TV (‘Survivor: Fiji’) and had an electropunk hit in France.
She and her girlfriend Carolyn, who moved to West Hollywood from Miami seven years ago, are so much fun and pick out the best kids’ gifts. Like the British accented phonics game Sophia calls the “punch-button-er”, a Hannah Montana doll and Lulu’s glow in-the-dark, spinny-roundy, smiley-faced rattle/teething ring. We have a Beverly Hills celebrity bus tour pending.
• My former Michigan flatmate: Laura, who’s been mentioned before on this blog – she’s the ONE person so far to join us for a spot of camping!
Laura, who moved to LA to study Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica - has hosted us in not one but two houses in LA – the first in Mid City and the second in Los Feliz – all while starting a new job, moving and having her mom to visit. As if that weren’t enough, she also drove us to LAX at 5 in the morning and looked after our car for two weeks.
• My childhood friend: Elisa doesn’t live in LA, but was in town with her boyfriend Eric en route to New Zealand (their hobby is spending all their time and money going to weddings all around the world). Their friend Elizabeth threw a very elegant New Year’s Eve Eve party for them, so we all (Spring-Landons, Soo-Hyun, Joseph and Nomi) got to tag along.
• Our friends from the restaurant: This one probably merits its own posting, so maybe it will become one. See below.
• Daniel’s brother’s friend: Brian Parsons, Tim Spring’s good friend from a long time ago – we’re still not sure where – moved to LA a year or so ago to head up the theatre department at USC.
He is loving life in Marina del Rey, dating a beautiful German and has no intention of ever leaving. He joined us for a barbeque at our RV park in Anaheim, it was great fun.
• Our friend from the campground: Kristyn, who we met on our extended stay-cation at Santa Margarita Lake – she spent a weekend staying in the cabins with her university friends – totally hooked us up with Disneyland tickets. Her friend Ramona works for Disney and signed us into the park.
We went to some galleries with her as well, and hope to see her again.
I had always assumed it was a vacant city, full of isolation, fake boobs and broken dreams. Daniel had foreseen an endless sprawl of suburbs/ex-urbs, connected by a tangle of freeways. Well, he is right about that.
But the City of Angels is, in fact, a fantastic place to live. And a malleable one. Our friends Olivia and David, who've been there for nine years or so, described it as being so immense and so varied that it becomes whatever you make it - as opposed to a city with a character so overwhelming that one has no choice but to conform. To build your own bespoke LA, though, they say you must employ both time and effort.
Like London, LA is a conglomerate of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character. But unlike London, it boasts a-m-a-z-i-n-g weather all year round…and palm trees, everywhere!
Most people get to live in a house – usually a single-floor bungalow – with a backyard and trees bearing more fruit than you could ever realistically eat. This seems to be true in good areas as well as less desirable ones. Accommodation, especially if it’s rented, sounds like it’s reasonably priced.
It's easy to find great food from many nations and cultures, as long as you avoid Burrito King in Silverlake. Daniel, who never complains, suffered for three days.
Generally speaking, the population appears pretty happy – everyone likes to say “hi” on the street. It’s fun, and catchy. We like to say “hi” back. People talk a lot about movies and TV shows, referencing actors and famous lines - something unfortunately lost on us, most times.
The major drawback, of course, is all the driving. Most people seem to drive one to a car, guided by GPS, which could certainly lead to a feeling of isolation. We don’t know if it’s this sense of isolation that makes the vast majority of the population fail to signal when driving, and think that texting/emailing/talking on the phone while on the freeway is a good idea.
For more information on driving in LA, please see Julia Johnson's proposed book 'Free Parking and Treacherous Highways'.
Apologies for the silent period, Skippin’ Town took an extended holiday – timed perhaps to coincide with that of the Los Angeles public schools – and is only now back on the computer and back on the case.
Over Christmas, we cheated. We flew back to New York to spend two weeks with the Landons.
US internal flights have changed a lot over the last ten years – now there is way less staff and way more chaos at the airport (and this was BEFORE the attempted Christmas Day plane bombing over Detroit). It is worse than flying Ryan Air, way worse.
Seeing our trip in quick rewind was cool, though. Thanks to clear weather all the way from LA to Lake Michigan, we enjoyed views of the calm Pacific Ocean, California’s various sierras, the overextended sprawl of Las Vegas, the Nevada and Utah deserts, the highest points of the Rocky Mountains (which we had dared not traverse by car), the great expanses of the Great Plains and then the snowed over grid-farms of the Midwest.
We had hesitated in our decision to spend two weeks in a house, stationary.
Daniel had been concerned that in the overabundance of space - a quick internet search yields no antonym of claustrophobia – my parents might find us all huddled in the bathroom.
But we coped just fine. In fact, we thrived. We all slept in real beds, dried ourselves with fluffy towels and drank from breakable drinking vessels. We watched TV, used indoor showers (and baths!) and upgraded our morning instant coffee brand to Starbucks’ new VIA (which is actually really strong and tasty, with less need for adulterating).
Lest we endure boring weather, we were hit with a blizzard and then a December heatwave, leaving in time to catch only the start of high winds but miss a long run of freezing temperatures.
Sophia turned 4, celebrating with two parties – one for adults (sausage for dinner, followed by one of Daniel’s famous cakes) and one for kids (gingerbread making followed by pass-the-parcel). I turned that plus 30, we had make-your-own-burritos, Daniel’s super-strength homemade margaritas and my mother's famous Teddy's Apple Cake.
Starting the Christmas season as late as possible was a pleasure this year. We all attended ONE Christmas party - at Danielle and Chris’ apartment on the Upper East Side, in the midst of said blizzard. I think we were the only family with small kids setting out for the City as snow overtook most of the East Coast, but it was great, everyone had fun and the trains ran on time. Driving home from the station, Daniel said my father’s Toyota Camry handled better than our giant truck.
Christmas – a White one - itself was really special. For me, it was my first time home for the holidays in six years or so, and for Daniel and the girls, their first ever. Spending the day with my parents, my sister Annie and her family was really fun. The kids had a presents bonanza and still managed not to go nuts. The food was delicious and the family, numerous. My parents refused to let anyone help clean up and then came down with massive colds.
We had just the right amount of entertainment (the bijou Big Apple Circus and Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’, the Christmas decorations at Rockefeller Center and on Fifth Avenue, ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on TV), culture (American Folk Art Museum and the Met) and socializing with friends, to balance out early nights, long baths, lots of reading and time catching up with my parents – my ever patient parents who continue to be supportive of our trip…possibly despite some misgivings about our sanity.
And Lulu learned to crawl.
Loathe to leave Comfort, we were still ready to return to our adventure...aware that we'd be back in New York in just over two months.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.