Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Botticelli On Toast, Stalked by Mariachis, And The Boy Who Says Ssnik: Spring Break 2009

Imagine that you're standing in a packed elevator. Now imagine everyone in the elevator is yelling at the same time. Then imagine that someone in the elevator belches and everyone else can smell what he had for lunch.

Welcome to spring break.

First off, and I'm counting on all of you, if I say next year that we're going on a trip for spring break, I want you to e-mail me and remind me to kill myself first.

It's not that I don't enjoy hanging out with Gloria and Eli. I do, and it's great, but it's great because we're funny together. What's not great is trying to hang out with them while one million other people are hanging out with us.

We thought we were going to "miss" the crowd by going to San Antonio a week after their spring break, but as soon as we arrived and started walking around, we realized it was packed. PACKED. And I don't mean packed as in a neatly organized suitcase--I mean packed as in a lot of ingredients you don't like in a sandwich placed between two slices of bread and that's all you're getting to eat.

Our first stop in San Antonio was going to be the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum. When I was a kid, I was mesmerized by the feature that ran in the newspaper daily. You know, this sort of thing:
Pervis Nelson, a farmer living in Bunkhaven, Iowa, had a head that was smaller than a regulation golf ball. Other than being featured in a line of novelty post cards, he lived a normal life, marrying and fathering three children, and in 1933 he invented the modern SCUBA tank.

I thought Eli was old enough to appreciate some of the fantastic oddities in a Ripley's museum, and he did, but it was so full of people that it was difficult to fully appreciate the shrunken human heads or the fine scrimshaw art. Ripley's is a place that has to be explored slowly, and it just wasn't possible. Plus, it seems like they've added some incredibly annoying noise to almost every room, which made it hard to want to take our time.

We did, however, see this:

That's Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," rendered from sixty-six pieces of toast.

While Eli and Gloria were in the gift shop (I think even restrooms on the Riverwalk have gift shops), I ducked out to call my friend Mike.

"It's totally suffocating here," I said. "There are so many people here that I think it might be some kind of refugee wave. I have a deep desire to shoot my own face off. And I can't walk five feet without somebody trying to sell me something. In fact, I just saw a sidewalk vendor with a sign that said "Shoot Your Own Face Off--$9."

We went to the wax museum next. The people flow was better here, so we were able to breathe, at least. One of the first wax figures we saw was Abraham Lincoln, whom Eli is very familiar with, and when he saw him, he said (in a friendly way), "Hello, Wax Abraham Lincoln."

When it was time for lunch, we found a restaurant on the Riverwalk and sat down, hoping for some degree of quiet for the first time in hours. That's when we see the mariachi band. Headed in our direction. Somehow, out of their next four songs, three were within ten feet of us.

I love mariachi music, but not at arm's reach. Plus, it was so loud that Eli kept sticking his hands over his ears, which got funnier and funnier each time he did it.

Finally, they wandered off, and we ate a mediocre meal without incident. As the waiter gave us our check, though, we saw them walking over the bridge next to the restaurant, headed back in our direction. "LET'S GET OUT OF HERE!" Eli 7.7 shouted, and so we did.

We kept seeing the Tower of the Americas in the distance, which was built for the 1968 World's Fair (which my mom took me to when I was seven, although I don't remember a thing). The Tower is basically a copy of the Seattle Space Needle, although the Tower is higher (750 feet), and we all decided that we needed to ride the elevator to the top.

On the way, we ran into this fellow:

Still walking, I heard a whirring sound, turned around, and saw a vehicle approaching at high speed. "Look out--here comes a Segway! And how often have I said that?" I said.

In case you're wondering how it looks from the top of the Tower, well, it looks high. And if you're wondering what kind of bizarre crap they're putting into gift shops these days, exhibit number one is an elongated penny album.

On the way back from the Tower, we went to La Villita, a small area of shops near the Riverwalk, because we'd stop in a glass blower's shop about fifteen years ago and I wanted to see if he was still there.

Back in 1995, we'd gone to San Antonio for the weekend and stumbled on this tiny shop that was supposed to be a glass blower's museum. We opened the door and there were thousands of small glass sculptures inside, and they were just wonderful. It didn't look like anything had changed in there for decades, and the man behind the counter (blowing glass, as it were) looked like he was in his seventies, at least. He looked at us and said "Thirty-five cents," and pointed to a weathered piece of cardboard where we deposited our money.

He acted like the grouchiest old man alive, which made everything even better, and as he told us the history of glass blowing, he sounded completely annoyed. Then we started asking questions, and he sounded less annoyed, because we were genuinely interested. He wasn't grouchy at all, really--he just didn't want people wasting his time.

We went back the next day, because I was totally fascinated, and there were people in the shop when we entered. The old man looked even more annoyed than yesterday, and he barked "Thirty-five cents" at the new people walking in. When we started to put coins in the tray, though, he said "Not you--you already paid."

I wound up buying a stunning glass tiger that was about the size of my hand. I still have it on my desk.

It was one of those experiences you never forget, and I wanted Eli to meet him, but we found out that he retired last year. At age 89.

Today, doing some research on Google, I found out that his name was Larry Williams, and he started glass blowing in 1948.

Believe it or not.

Oh, and while we were walking through the shops, there was an offer that I'm quite sure I've never seen before:

When we got back to the hotel, we heard beeping. For half an hour. Finally, we tracked it down to the room next door. I called the front desk. "We're in 505, and something in 504 has been beeping for half an hour," I said.

"Oh, my," said the front desk lady.

"After half an hour, they're either dead or out of the room," I said, and she laughed, "so could you please send up someone to find out either way?"

I hung up the phone, then turned to Gloria. "If we're in the hallway, and EMT's are taking out bodies, is that a tipping situation?"

We tried to eat dinner, but couldn't get in anywhere (generic and expensive food on the Riverwalk=SOLD!). Plus, as we were walking along, Eli saw the mariachi band again. "THEY'RE FOLLOWING US!" he said, and by then, it seemed entirely plausible.

Finally, we wound up at the Hyatt. Incredibly, the restaurant was closed on Tuesday night, but we were able to sit in the lounge and order from the menu.

That's right. Eli 7.7 in a lounge, although it was open-air and didn't resemble a lounge in the least. We ordered from the menu, and the food turned out to be excellent (brisket tacos FTW). On the way out, Eli said "That was pretty good--for a bar!"

When we got back to the hotel room, Eli seemed to be banging into something every five seconds (please note: no alcohol was consumed), so we built him a safety device:

Wednesday morning, we were headed to Sea World. With five million other people, all of whom were ahead of us in the parking line thirty minutes before the park was even supposed to open.

Um, arghhh?

The first thing we always do at Sea World is go to the dolphin tank for the 10 a.m. feeding, because we all love dolphins, and Eli is long enough now that he can actually pet the dolphins when he gives them fish.

It was so crowded (at 10 a.m. in the morning), that the booth ran out of fish before we could get any. Undeterred (in a kind of "WTF am I doing here?" kind of sense), I returned a full 30 minutes before the 11 a.m. feeding (while Gloria and Eli went to look at sharks), because I was going to get some fish for Eli.

And there are already 30 people waiting in line.

I think every person within 500 miles of Sea World had already arrived. Every inch around the dolphin tank was jammed with people.

They announced that because of the "huge" crowds (their word, not mine), each person in line could only purchase one little cardboard try of fish (four to a tray). That was good, because it was going to increase my chances of getting to the window before they ran out of fish.

While I'm in line, the two ladies in front of me let their friend cut in, 15 minutes after I'd gotten in line. I was okay with that, mostly, but when her two kids cut in front of me, too, it was too much. If they had stolen the last tray of fish, I was going to look for a tire iron.

Here's Eli petting a dolphin, which is an entirely awesome feeling:

On St. Patrick's Day, I randomly counted 200 people on the Riverwalk. 41.5% were wearing green of some kind. The next day, at Sea World, a similar sampling of 200 people counted 19.5% wearing green.

Later, I was standing in the longest line for popcorn in the world, and Eli decided to sit on a bench for a minute. I looked over a few seconds later, and another kid was sitting next to him. He was nearly Eli's size and was wearing a bright green baseball cap.

They ignored each other for a little while, then started checking each other out, like kids do. Then the kid with the green cap looked at Eli and yelled "SSNIK!"

Eli looked at me and we both burst out laughing at the same time.

A few minutes later, they were chatting like old friends. After I finally got the popcorn (note to Sea World: it is a fundamental principle of business that when people want to give you money, you take it from them as quickly as possible), Eli got up from the bench and joined me. "So what did you guys talk about?" I asked.

"Nothing much," he said. "He asked if I knew how many people were killed by sharks each year."

We were in the penguin habitat--well, next to the pengin habitat--and it's very dark in the observation area, with small areas of light against the back wall. I put my hand on Eli 7.7's shoulder and said "Let's say that somehow you got separated from us in a place like this. Where is the most logical place to go?"

Eli thought for a few seconds, then said, "I'd go to the nearest lighted spot, because it would be easier for you to see me."

That's my boy.

About a minute later, we realized that somehow Gloria was behind us and had gotten separated. Eli, laughing, said, "Mom is lost. She should go to the nearest light."

We went to the water park inside Sea World because Eli was hot, and he got totally soaked, of course, so when we left, he crawled into the hatchback area of Gloria's RAV-4 to change his clothes. I was talking to Gloria and we heard a thump, then he said, "How many ways can a man hurt himself?"

"Yes, it's been an epic struggle against yourself to get dressed," I said.

On the way home, we'd just gotten on the interstate (for a two hour drive home) and Eli said that he was really feeling tired. I said that he should just take a nap, and he said "I don't think I could go to sleep, even if I tried."

I looked back nintety seconds later and he was sound asleep.

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