Monday, June 23, 2008

Vacation Notes

This is what I didn't understand about San Diego: there are two of them. The first San Diego is anywhere within a mile of the water. The second San Diego is everywhere else.

Both San Diego's, however, are trying to hang out in the first San Diego, as are all the tourists (us). And, by the way, there's no parking in the first San Diego--per mile, there are beaches and commercial areas for 5,000 people, and 100 parking spaces. So San Diego's problems with pollution (which are quite severe when you're more than a few miles away from the water and the sea breeze) are seemingly almost entirely caused by people driving around looking for a place to park.

This is what we learned from three days of driving around looking for parking places: if you're within a quarter-mile of your destination, and your destination is near the beach, then take the first parking place you find (and consider yourself fortunate). We actually spent more time driving around looking for parking places than we spent driving to the general area we wanted to hang out.

Eli 6.10s top 5 vacation moments:
#5: "I'm going to ride the scariest ride and I'll puke when it's done and it'll be AWESEOME!"
With the help of a two time zone change in our favor, we arrived in San Diego at 9:50 Sunday morning. Early that afternoon, we went to Belmont Amusement Park. This was our first experience with the quarter-mile rule, and we would have that lesson reinforced every time we went somewhere near the beach, basically.

Eli 6.10 did ride the scariest ride at Belmont Park, a classic wooden roller coaster (the Giant Dipper) that has been around forever, but that wasn't the highlight of our visit.

The highlight was a 25 foot tall plastic coconut tree.

If you could climb this "coconut tree," you won a prize. It was clearly impossible, because there was absolutely nothing to hold on to, except for 1/4" ridges that simulated the roughness of a real tree.

So Eli put on the harness and started up. When he realized that he can't use his upper body as much as he would for a rope climb, he just squeezed the trunk with his legs and kept going. I was watching the guy who was in charge of the booth, and when Eli was about 2/3 of the way up, he turned to me and said "He can climb."

"He can," I said. "He's Spiderman.

He made it to the top, of course, and I still have a very hard time imagining anyone else who could make it. I took a look every time we were near, but it looked so intimidating that hardly anyone was even willing to try.

That might have been the most effort per penny of prize value (an inflatable sword that probably cost five cents to make) in recent history.

#4 Lumpy Quintuplets

Gloria loves Mad Libs, and when we were eating breakfast at IHOP (Eli 6.10s favorite breakfast place when we're on the road), the kid's menu had one on the back. When we'd answered all the questions, she started reading the story to us, but she started laughing so hard at one point that she couldn't keep going. She tried three times, and finally squeaked out the phrase "lumpy quintuplets." That got Eli laughing so hard that he fell sideways in the booth, and it immediately became the ideal vacation phrase when anything was going wrong.

Also, it's a great name for a band.

#3 The World's Noisiest Toilet

We were eating dinner at a restaurant called Gringo's, which had just about the only Tex-Mex menu in the area, and I went to the bathroom just after I finished my meal. I flushed the toilet and was greeted with a sound that can only be described as the Niagra Falls of Toilets. It was absolutely deafening.

I was required by law, obviously, to go get Eli and show him this wonder of plumbing, and he agreed that it was, by a large degree, the loudest toilet in the world.

#2 Eighty-eight Years Old
While we were at the San Diego Zoo on Tuesday, we went to the orangutan habitat. There was one orangutan in particular who was clearly the dominant male--he was absolutely huge, and he also looked very old. Eli watched him for a few minutes, then announced, "He's eighty-eight years old."

Eli generally uses as his source the Encylopedia Makeitupica, so I immediately asked "And where exactly did you learn this?"

Outraged, he said "Hey! He LOOKS like he could be eighty-eight years old!" Then he smiled, having been busted.

A few minutes later, I wandered to the edge of the habitat, while Gloria and Eli were still watching the orangutans from the other side. As I stood there, I saw three people standing together chatting, and one of the men said "That big orangutan is eighty-eight years old."

Eli was thrilled when I told him, of course. Within the week, I expect an article in the San Diego newspapers proclaiming "San Diego Zoo Home To World's Oldest Orangutan."

#1 Secretariat, With a Shell

Gloria loves the Galapagos tortoises, so we went to visit their habitat just before we were going to leave the zoo. They had a retaining wall around the habitat (about 48" high), plus a steel rod fence that went up an additional 36" or so. The fence was angled inward, and I can only assume, given the relatively poor vertical leap of gigantic tortoises, that it was there to keep people out, not keep tortoises in.

I saw Gloria lifting her arms high over her head, camera in hand, to take pictures without the rods being in the way. I turned to look in another direction, and then I heard her shout "Oh, NO!"

Given the highly inflammatory nature of tortoises and their behavior, I know immediately that her tone could mean only one thing: she dropped the camera.

In the tortoise habitat.

That is, in fact, what happened, and a brief discussion ensued over how best to handle this statistical outlier. I could have gone over the fence, but that would have been breaking about forty zoo laws, and it felt highly improper in general. So I went looking for a zoo employee.

After several minutes, I found one: the oldest living zoo employee (I suspect) in San Diego Zoo history. He was also incredibly nice, and he walked back with me to the tortoise area, where a remarkable drama was unfolding: one of the giant tortoises (and he was truly giant) had seen Gloria's silvery-colored camera glinting in the sun, and he was making a heroic run for the merchandise.

That's right: a Galapagos tortoise was racing a zoo employee in his 60s. It was like watching the Golden Girls run the 100 yard dash. The tortoise was Secretariat with a shell, and he was making good time, already imagining how many photos he could take of future tourists.

"He's going to eat my camera!" Gloria said to me.

"No way," I said. "He's not used to sprinting. He'll pull a hammy." I thought for a few seconds, then said "Actually, he probably won't eat it, but he might pee on it."

Eli 6.10 collapsed in laughter at this point.

"You're probably rooting for that because it would make a better blog post," she said, laughing.

"The thought fills me with glee," I said.

At this point, the zoo elder had climbed up the wall and was struggling to straddle the fence. It seems like a very, very bad idea that he was up there.

"I can do that," I said. "I don't want you to get hurt."

He started laughing, with a twinkle in his eye--I think he might have been Santa Claus. "If I get hurt, it's covered by workman's comp," he said, laughing, and with that, he rolled over the fence and landed (heavily, but on his feet) in the tortoise pen.

Still ten feet away from his photographic destiny, Secretariat With a Shell realized that his day would not be today. He was Alydar to the zoo employee's Affirmed.

After retrieving the camera, someone suggested (quite helpfully) that there was, in fact, a very low fence in the next habitat, which could be reached by simply stepping over a very low fence that separated them. I should have something to add here about cheetahs, but there was only a different breed of tortoise to contend with, and senior zoo man clambered out, none the worse for wear.

"Okay, that was GREAT," Eli 6.10 said as we walked away. I couldn't disagree.

Oh, and for those of you who have adopted Eli as a surrogate son, you'll be pleased to know that he was absolutely aces on the entire trip. Five days, and not one fit, not even a cross word. He wanted to see everything in the San Diego Zoo (which is huge and very hilly in places), and we did--seven hours worth of walking, and he never asked to be carried once.

I pretty sure I did, though.

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