Friday, October 29, 2010

Friendly Competition

There are only a handful of businesses in the country that do what we do at Mountain Electronics: fix computer boards from coin-laundry machines. Three of our competitors are located in California, and upon examination of that 2 page Rand-McNally map of LA that I mentioned earlier, we realized that all three of these repair outfits are located in and around Los Angeles. So we decided to spend a couple of days meeting our competition. We do business regularly with two of the businesses, so we called them to see if we could drop by.

Jim and Shelly Stavros own and operate Super Computer Boards, based in Huntington Beach, CA. It was a lot of fun to finally meet "the man behind the voice" that I've talked to so often on the phone. Jim and Shelly were so sweet to us. They took us out for lunch at Duke's, a great fish restaurant with a Hawaiian surfer flare, named after the famous Hawaiian surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, who brought surfing to the mainland and made Huntington Beach the surfing capital of America.

After lunch, we walked out on the Huntington Beach Pier.

From the pier, we had a great view of all the surfers. Those dots in the water are surfer's heads, waiting for a good wave.

George catches a good wave . . .

. . . in his dreams!

We spent a wonderful afternoon in Huntington Beach, and "Uncle Jim" even bought a Huntington Beach kitty-cat T-shirt for Adalaya, who shares her love of cats with Shelly. Thank you, Jim and Shelly, for lunch and showing us the highlights of your beautiful town!

Next on the business agenda was a drive north to Venice Beach, where we stayed overnight in order to be near ALJ Electronics for tomorrow's meeting.

We biked the beach strip between the Venice Beach Pier and the Santa Monica Pier, and saw many interesting sights.

They have the nicest skate park I've ever seen there.

I figured this was the "medical park" of the strip: medical marijuana and botox injections.

And there were some fantastic birds posing for pictures on the pier.

Our last, but certainly not least, stop in the LA area was a visit to ALJ Electronics in El Segundo. We met Carolyne and Darryl in person and, once again, it was great to put faces with familiar voices. We enjoyed sharing stories of our experiences in the laundry industry with each other.

Now that business is taken care of, it's time for us to "boogie town," and after a few more hours of driving, we should be out of LA.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

LA and Hollywood

Los Angeles: the city of angels and cars. We spent 5 beautiful days in this sunny Southern California metropolis. LA is really just a bunch of separate towns and cities which have sprawled together to form a large, intricately woven concrete jungle. There are highways and interstates spread over 2 whole pages of our large Rand McNally altas in order to cover LA. We got to experience this extremely car-centered city first hand. This was the traffic on a Sunday.

LA felt dramatically different from other West Coast cities we've visited, especially San Francisco, because there was, obviously, no good public transportation.

But not all cars are bad. We have become Farhrvergnugen fans, and Southern California is a Mecca for these fun vehicles. Here's a few of our Volkswagen favorites, the Bug and the Carmen Ghia (my favorite). Maybe George will rebuild one for me one day! That's our van in the background, with another one pulling in.

And here's a classic beauty.

Our first stop in Los Angeles was to visit one of the angels that lives there, Heather, my friend from Nepal. It was so fun to see her again after 15 years and to meet her beautiful family. After catching up and strolling down memory lane, we had a good time trying to track down other folks from our trip through the cyber web of Facebook. Here we are on her porch, and I still have my T-shirt from our trip to Nepal, which I now sleep in.

Like most folks these days, Heather and her family are busy people, so we spent a much needed respite from van life in their beautiful house while they were at work and school. We were able to catch up on some school & work of our own. Adalaya found a fluffy homework helper too.

We were, however, able to tear ourselves away from our studies to admire (and sample) their citrus trees. Here's an especially handsome cluster of lemons.

And our first-ever lemon picking is documented, and that lemon was so good! Thanks for everything Heather and Michael!

After spending a quiet day at Heather's home, we were ready to see this crazy city first-hand, but what to do in such a place with so much to do? We decided to go see a movie in Hollywood, of course! It was the week before Halloween, and The Nightmare Before Christmas was playing in 4D at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Blvd.

We were previously unaware of the existence of the 4D movie experience, but we became instant fans! The movie itself is in the new 3D format, with the funny over-sized glasses (have you ever tried looking at yourself in the mirror with those things on - it's pretty crazy!) But the 4th dimension takes the movie experience to a whole new level. To begin with, the whole theatre was decked out for Halloween with lights and jack-o-lanterns, and 5 different curtains opened (in various directions) to reveal the big-screen. Just below the screen was an LED sign, upon which directions for the audience would be written, such as "Bark with Zero". When Jack, the Pumpkin King, first goes to "Christmasland", the theatre emanated a gingerbread scent! When he was driving the sleigh, pretending to be "Sandy Claws", the fans in the theatre turned on, and we could feel the wind in our faces. Then we were instructed to "Jingle Bells", and about half of the viewers started jingling the bells they had brought along with Santa's reindeer. At one point, the room filled with fog from the fog-machine below the screen, and strobe lights flashed with the lightening in the movie. Another time, stage-lights spun snowflakes of light all over the theatre. Needless to say, we loved it. What a great way to experience Hollywood! Maybe the Yancey Theatre will go 4D in about 20 years.

We then took a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard to experience the craziness of Hollywood. We saw Michael Jackson, back from the grave and doing the moonwalk, and Captain America who bummed a cigarette off a passer-by. I guess times are tough for heroes too. We also saw some stars who have been immortalized forever (or until the next big earthquake) in the sidewalks of Hollywood. George's mom has her own star, although they did spell her name wrong. She's definitely a star in our eyes!

And, alas, we found a memorial to a hero for young and old.

Adalaya is a new Looney Tunes fan thanks to Damien who put the entire collection of Looney Tunes on our computer before we left. Great family entertainment!

The next day we continued our adventures in Hollywood as we went to visit some of George's cousins (they're everywhere, I tell you) that are script-writers and movie producers in Hollywood.

Ed and Jack showed us around their neat, old Hollywood home, then we walked to a great restaurant for some BBQ and half-chickens for lunch. As we walked, Ed and Jack pointed out Brad's and Angelina's cluster of houses. No sign of them home, but we did get a good view of this sign:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crusin' Central California

For nearly a month now, we've been slowly making our way down the coast of California. There seemed to be a noticeable shift in culture, weather, and landscape from Northern California as we moved into Central California. The first sure sign was the sight of this seaside amusement park: the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. It's in the background of this photo of us on the Santa Cruz Pier.

Here's a better view of the fun from the beach.

It is such a classic California scene, and we just had to go. The agreement, however, was that Adalaya had to go on a roller coaster . . . her first. Here she is looking a little nervous before getting in line for "The Hurricane".

And here we are in the front car, about to climb the unnerving hill which is looming in front of us.

George and I were screaming during the ride, but all I heard from Adalaya was, "NEVER AGAIN!" The carousel is more her style:

We both love the swings and the Ferris Wheel too. Here's a great view from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

Our next eventful stop was in the historic canning village of Monterey.

Since we've reached the west coast, we've been breezing past many an aquarium, holding out for the world-renown Monterey Bay Aquarium. Indeed, it was worth the wait, and we spent an entire rainy Sunday exploring the incredible sea life displays. Among our favorite exhibits were the jellyfish . . .

the amazingly diverse seahorses . . .

including these Leafy Sea Dragons who are sea horse relatives . . .

And of course, we loved the sea otters!

We also got to see a few wild sea otters out in the bay, rolling and swimming amongst the seaweed. None of them were close enough to get a good photo, but here's a picture of their habitat.

The most numerous of the marine mammals we've seen have been the California Sea Lions.

We've seen these talkative bathing beauties everywhere we go lately.

Adalaya's making friends with this one.

After Monterey, we continued our journey south, down the Big Sur Coast. We found a great campsite at the Pheiffer Big Sur Campground where we stayed for 2 nights.

While in Big Sur, we had the pleasure of seeing a California Condor. These massive birds, with their 9ft wingspans, have been brought back from the brink of extinction by many dedicated folks like my friend Susan, who helped reintroduce them back to Big Sur several years ago. They seem to be enjoying their native habitat where they can sail for long distances on currents of air coming in from the Pacific. We saw this Condor soar over us and head north at great speed; we tried in vain to keep up with it in our van, but it outpaced us without a single flap of its wings.

After giving up the Condor chase, we had another meeting with a bird of a smaller stature. This Scrub Jay was happily enjoying the view of the Big Sur Coast, just like we were. What's not to enjoy?

In the opposite direction, there was another amazing view of McWay Falls, an 80 foot waterfall that plummets down to the beach in this beautiful cove.

Our next destination as we headed south was Los Osos, home of GoWesty, the Mecca of Volkswagen camper-van enthusiasts. We spent two full days there getting our van in top shape for the rest of our journey. Everybody at GoWesty was helpful and knowledgeable. They let us camp out right in their parking lot and even had a bathroom and shower for their camping customers to use. Here is our van nestled amongst many other Westys.

With our van in better shape, we continued our journey south to the beautiful "Danish Capital of America", Solvang, CA. The town was full of Scandinavian architecture including several windmills and many bakeries selling (you guessed it) danishes!

I found a great Christmas shop there, the "Jule Hus", which was filled with European decorations like nutcrackers and smokers, straw ornaments, and even corn-husk nativity scenes! I love this kind of stuff!

Another store also had these cute woolen gnomes. These kinds of things inspire me to make cutesy crafty creations that my husband can't stand having around. Adalaya used to delight in such items, but seems to be outgrowing them, much to my dismay.

Nevertheless, Adalaya and I had a great time in this touristy little town, and George enjoyed the sunshine in the parking lot while he installed a new faucet in the sink, quite happy to skip out on the Scandinavian sights.

As we head south, once again, we are beginning to see more and more Spanish architecture, a welcomed sign that we are approaching sunny Southern California. In recent weeks, Adalaya has been reading books set in California. She has just finished Zia, the sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'dell, which is set in and around Santa Barbara. We visited the Old Mission of Santa Barbara which was the setting for much of the book.

Adalaya was especially excited to read in the Mission's literature that the main character of Island of the Blue Dolphins is buried in their grounds. We found this amazing fig tree presiding over the cemetery beside the mission.

It was a great way to bring history to life for Adalaya.