Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Easiest $125 I Ever Made

I just got back from participating in a new vehicle focus group at the Anaheim Convention Center (right across the street from Disneyland) where I got $125 simply for offering my opinions on a bunch of SUVs. Not bad, eh?

Not a bad payoff for just over two-and-a-half hours of my time. (10/30/05)

Since we drive a GMC Envoy (our other car that you seldom hear about on the blog) they identified me as a target user and called to see if I was interested. At first I wasn't until I heard I would be compensated. Being out of work at the time, I signed up. After all, a little extra money never hurt anyone, right? :)

It was really interesting. Basically they handed me a touch screen device where I had to look at new and present vehicles and rate things on a scale from 1-10. How do I like the hood? How do I like the fog lamps? How do I like the rear hatch? How easy is it to get in the driver's seat? Etc. Etc.

Anything that would explicitly identify each car was either stripped or concealed, so I couldn't tell what anything was. They also asked me to put a price on what I think the car would cost. Later on they revealed the real prices. I was way off!

When they finaly revealed the makes and models at the end, the one I liked best turned out to be a Lexus. Go figure.

Well, the Lexus was my favorite until I saw the MSRP of $69,000! That's kind of out of my price range.

My next favorite was the Lincoln Navigator. And with an MSRP of $55,000, it sounded like a bargain. Finally, at the end, they showed me two Fords, which were around $45,000. Both of those were pretty nice for the money.

Altogether I reviewed six SUVs, with probably 50-60 questions on each. There was no attempt to sell me anything. They were just collecting opinions. At the end, they handed me $125. Pretty cool huh?

Sorry I couldn't get any pix. They were really security conscious. They wouldn't even let people bring in cell phones. But no one said I couldn't take pictures of the money they paid me! :)

An Orange County Landmark Closes Forever

Orange County's Movieland Wax Museum opened in 1962 with all the hoopla of the place it was imitating — Hollywood. Searchlights combed the skies above Buena Park, actress Mary Pickford cut a ceremonial ribbon, and a freshly sculpted wax figure of James Dean greeted the guests. But on Tuesday, citing increased competition from nearby amusement parks and shopping malls, the Orange County landmark announced that on Halloween, it would close its doors forever.

Movieland Wax Museum, a Buena Park landmark for over 43 years. (10/29/05)<br />

Movieland Wax Museum, a Buena Park landmark for over 43 years. (10/29/05)

Even better: For the final days, they slashed ticket prices from $12.95 to $5. Considering that neither Tim nor I had ever been there during its 43-year reign, we decided to check it out Saturday morning.

Tim buys tickets — normally $12.95, but they slashed prices to $5 for the final two weeks. (10/29/05)
Tim buys tickets — normally $12.95, but they slashed prices to $5 for the final two weeks. (10/29/05)

The museum was founded by the late Allen Parkinson, a star-struck entrepreneur who made a fortune with Sleep-Eze, an over-the-counter sleep aid. At the time of opening in 1962 — the height of the Kennedy era — the museum cost $1.5 million. By 1970, he sold it to Six Flags for $10 million.

I loved the Lucy wax figure. (10/29/05)
I loved the Lucy wax figure. (10/29/05)

At its peak in the 1960s, Movieland Wax Museum drew as many as 1.2 million visitors a year, and Hollywood stars such as James Stewart, Sammy Davis Jr. and Carol Burnett often showed up for their enshrinement in wax.

No wax museum would be complete without a tribute to Oz. (10/29/05)
No wax museum would be complete without a tribute to Oz. (10/29/05)

For many years, Movieland Wax Museum held its own in a part of Orange County dominated by high-voltage amusement alternatives such as Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure and Knott's Berry Farm. But over the decades, business slowly declined, and the museum became a third-day attraction.

These are the newest additions to the museum: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (aka The Olsen Twins) who were added just this year. (10/29/05)
These are the newest additions to the museum: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (aka The Olsen Twins) who were added just this year. (10/29/05)

After viewing it for ourselves, and seeing all the old-time movie and television stars from a bygone era, we're not surprised that it's shutting down. But I'm glad I got to see it before it shut its doors forever.

This was a pretty good likeness of Green Acres' Eva Gabor and the late Eddie Albert who just died last May. (10/29/05)
This was a pretty good likeness of Green Acres' Eva Gabor and the late Eddie Albert who just died last May. (10/29/05)

Incidentally, in case you're wondering, most of the 250-plus wax figures will be sent north to the wax museum in San Francisco, which is owned by the same family.

Outside, they had an exact replica of Michelangelo's David, carved from one piece of carrera marble — the same as used by Michelangelo. (10/29/05)
Outside, they had an exact replica of Michelangelo's David, carved from one piece of carrera marble — the same as used by Michelangelo. (10/29/05)

It was definitely an interesting experience. The wax figures had definitely seen better days. And very few of them are recognizable to people under age 30, which I think is probably the main reason it's shutting down. But I'm definitely glad I got to see it before it closed for good.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Everyone Has a Little Villain on the Inside

Okay, you know that game that Tim is addicted to? City of Heroes? Well the makers of City of Heroes just released the sequel: City of Villains. Last night at midnight, they kicked off this new version (for people who pre-ordered; new people have to wait until the 31st). Naturally, we wanted to get in on the action. Just thought you might enjoy reading about our newest characters.

Tim's first villain, Anubis-X, is what they call a Mastermind. Masterminds are perhaps the most complex archetype to play, because much of their powers originate from the various henchmen he can summon to their side, such as the living dead, a band of ninjas or several mechanized monstrosities. This adds an extra layer of complexity, since the game player must simultaneously control the character and the minions he commands.

Mastermind Anubis-X has been resurrected from ancient Egypt to terrorize the new City of Villains. (10/29/05)

Anubis-X's powers were selected by Tim, however, the physical appearance and costume is an original James creation. Consisting of a headress, simple pants and wrapped wristbands and boots, Anubis-X's main color is brown. That's what Brown can do for you!

Say hello to my little friend! El Destructo, James' first villain, is what they call a Brute. Brutes live to fight and revel in hand-to-hand combat. With a strong offensive power set to inflict pain and impressive defenses to take it, El Destructo is the best there is in a straight melee fight. Protracted battles only make El Destructo mad, and the madder he gets, the more damaging his attacks become.

The street-tough, trash-talkin' El Destructo is ready to get in anyone's face. Look out City of Villains! (10/29/05)

El Destructo is an original James creation from top to bottom. He wears a simple wife-beater tank-top tee shirt to show off his sleeve tatts, a simple studded belt, pinstripe slacks and brown workboots. This is one tough homey!

Friday, October 28, 2005

First Week Down

I don't really have any good pictures to post, but I have officially completed my first week of work. It's always nice to get that out of the way.

I don't want to bore anyone with the details of my work, but things are going very well. I still feel like I don't know all the ins and outs of working at a new place, but that will come with time. One thing that helps is that I really like the people I'm working with. They're all really cool.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Starting a New Job Tomorrow

Good news! I have now found a job as a marketing communications specialist for a another enterprise software company. But unlike the last company, which had a commute of 63 miles each way, this one is in Irvine — a mere 16 miles each way. I interviewed with them last week and even met with the CEO. I received the actual good news on Friday.

So what did I do on Monday, my last day of job freedom? I went to Disneyland!!! (10/24/05)

After doing the salary dance a little — with them offering me slightly less than what I had been making, and me wanting slightly more — we ended up meeting in the middle. So I'm making the same salary I was making before, which is fine.

Plus, when you do the math on the commute, I'll be using at least 35 fewer gallons of gas a month — a savings of about $100 a month! So in a way it's kind of like a small raise.

Here's something you don't see every day ... the Space Mountain track! This scale model was built in 1975 to aid in planning and construction. (10/24/05)

Since I didn't have to give two weeks notice to any current employers, they wanted me to start right away. Tuesday in fact!

Coincidentally, my last day of not working was also the last day of my Disneyland annual pass (Tim and I plan to take a year off before renewing again, since the passes are so expensive now). So you can guess where I spent my last non-working day. :)

I had a Disneyland first: I rode the Disneyland Omnibus for the very first time in my life. A great way to commemorate my last day as a Disneyland Annual Passholder ... at least for now. (10/24/05)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Amy Hits the Big 3-5

Saturday night we went out on the town to celebrate Amy's 35th birthday. First stop: El Conquistador, one of our favorite restaurants in LA. The food is great, but let's not kid ourselves. The real reason we go there is they make some sick margaritas! Seriously, you drink one and you're practically staggering out the door. The other thing I love is the blended molcajete salsa, which they only bring out on request, so if you're ever there, be sure to ask for it.

Jon and Sabrina squeeze in to help Amy celebrate her 35th birthday. (10/22/05)

Joining us was one of Amy's good friends Sabrina — and later on, after the restauant, another couple whose names I don't know how to spell, so I won't even attempt it.

Here's a picture of Tim and I after two of El Conquistador's killer margaritas. (10/22/05)

Afterwards we headed to Anthem at MJ's where we spent the next two hours taking kamikaze shots and dancing to the DJ's tribal mix. That was a lot of fun. Then afterwards we closed the night with a cheesy drag show at this total dive called Silverlake Lounge. It was fun!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Rubbing Elbows with the Kennedys

Yesterday Tom called me and said, "Guess who's going to be at Dutton's book store in Beverly Hills doing a book signing tomorrow?" When he answered "Caroline Kennedy," I knew then nothing could keep me away.

James with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. (10/17/2005)
James with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. (10/17/2005)

After all, it's not exactly every day that you get to meet the last surviving child of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy Onassis). So when an opportunity like this presents itself, you simply must jump at it ... even if it does mean driving in the rain for two hours to get to Beverly Hills (it's only an hour in good driving conditions).

Books compiled by Caroline Kennedy. (10/17/2005)
Books compiled by Caroline Kennedy. (10/17/2005)

Tom came with me, naturally. He is the only person I know who would be as excited as I am to meet one of the Kennedys. We got to the bookstore with 15 minutes to spare. There was already a line, so we quickly purchased our books and got in it.

Yep, that's me with JFK's daughter. (10/17/2005)
Yep, that's me with JFK's daughter. (10/17/2005)

I couldn't see Caroline from the end of the line, but we did spot her husband, noted exhibit designer Ed Schlossberg. I was hoping to see some of their kids (JFK and Jackie's only grandkids), but I don't think they were traveling with her on this book tour. School is in session this time of year.

Caroline Kennedy, with James at left. (10/17/2005)
Caroline Kennedy, with James at left. (10/17/2005)

The book she was promoting is called "A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children." The book even contains a few poems written by her amazing mother.

My book signed by Caroline Kennedy. (10/17/2005)
My book signed by Caroline Kennedy. (10/17/2005)

We were still in line, about five people away from getting our book signed when things took an an amazing turn. It was at that moment that Caroline Kennedy's cousin — one Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger — walked into the store. Tom spotted her before I did and said to me, "There's Maria Shriver!"

James & Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger. (10/17/2005)
James & Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger. (10/17/2005)

I thought he was pulling my leg, like he always does with his faux celebrity sightings. He replied "On my honor dude, that was seriously her." At that point, I couldn't contain my enthusiasm. That's two Kennedys for the price of one!

Look out Arnold, Tom is making a move on your wife. (10/17/2005)
Look out Arnold, Tom is making a move on your wife. (10/17/2005)

First was Caroline, who like her mother, was very gracious and polite (and also somewhat guarded). She signed both our books and even personalized them for us (most of the time she would simply sign her name). Then afterward, we approached Maria Shriver who was talking with Ed Schlossberg and asked if we could take our pictures with her.

Caroline Kennedy signs books. (10/17/2005)
Caroline Kennedy signs books. (10/17/2005)

And like a good politician's wife, she was all over it. She was definitely more outgoing than her cousin, but I guess you have to be when you're the First Lady of our great state.

My poetry book signed by Caroline Kennedy. (10/17/2005)
My poetry book signed by Caroline Kennedy. (10/17/2005)

By the time we left the store, Tom and I were high-fiving each other. All in all this event delivered like dominoes. I was so glad I was there.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Picture's Incredible Journey — Part 2

In A Picture's Incredible Journey you read about how my picture showed up in one of the photo collages at Disneyland. The only sad thing about that story was that they never used any pictures of Tim. Well that is no longer the case!

We had received notice from Disneyland that they posted some new collage photos at various locations in the park, including one of Lady and the Tramp that contained four pictures of Tim. Now I'm jealous! :)

Here is the Lady and the Tramp collage as it appears from several feet away. (10/14/05)

If you look just below and to the left of Lady's tag, you'll find a picture of Tim as he's trying on a Tigger costume in one of the Disneyland stores in 2002. (main 10/13/05 — inset 9/29/02)

About a foot above Lady's head, you'll find a picture of Tim posing with Minnie Mouse. (main 10/14/05 — inset 12/20/01)

Just fractions of an inch above Lady's head, you'll find a picture of Tim with our friends Christine, Justin and Tom. (main 10/14/05 — inset 12/16/00)

Even I showed up in the Lady and the Tramp picture. Just to the left of the waiter's arm (just below the armband), there's a picture of me posing with Mr. Toad. It's the same picture that appeared in The Mr. Incredible collage. (main 10/14/05 — inset 05/07/00)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Vacation in Quebec — Day 7

Sadly, this is our last day in Quebec, the place where we had so much fun this past week. All of us will definitely look back on this trip fondly.

The last picture we took in Quebec. Tim is reading in the Montreal airport as we wait for our flight to Cincinnati where we board our connection to Orange County. (9/30/05)

The plane is preparing to land in Orange County. This photo shows Tustin and Irvine as we face South. (9/30/05)

The plane that delivered us safely home. Thanks Delta! (9/30/05)

That night, when we got home, we toasted the good people of Quebec with our friends Everett and Joe. To toast, we used a little tiny bottle of Canadian icewine that Doris and Jenn gave us the night prior. To make icewine, grapes are left on the vine well into the winter months. The resulting freezing and thawing of the grapes dehydrates the fruit, and concentrates the sugars, acids, and extracts, thereby intensifying the flavors and adding complexity to the wine made from it. It was dee-licious! (9/30/05)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Vacation in Quebec — Day 6

On Day 6, we headed back to Montreal where we went to the Tour Olympique (Olympic Tower).

Built in the mid '80s above the stadium used in the 1976 Summer Olympics, the Tour Olympique is the world's largest inclined tower, rising 575 feet above Montreal. To get to the top, you take a cable car that lifts you along the outside of the tower. Because of the underground parking, we couldn't get a good distant photo, so instead I got this photo of a scale model they have inside. (9/29/05)

As we took the cable car up, Doris got a great shot of the Olympic Village, the pyramid-shaped buildings where Olympic athletes lived during the 1976 games. Today they are apartment buildings (a one bedroom apartment runs $820 a month Canadian). (9/29/05)

Jenn, Doris and Tim check out the great view of downtown Montreal from atop the Olympic Tower. (9/29/05)

As you look out, you can see downtown Montreal in the distance. (9/29/05)

Underneath the tower is the Centre Aquatique, where all the aquatic events were held during the '76 games. The pool in the foreground is where USA's Greg Louganis (then 16 years old), the most successful male diver in Olympic history, won his first Olympic medal ... the silver in the 10m platform diving event. (9/29/05)

Doris, Tim and Jenn check out the excitement of the swimming lessons taking place in the Olympic pool. The place was dead that day, probably due to the rain. (9/29/05)

After our day at the Olympic Park, we got some food at St. Hubert, a restaurant chain that is about as common in Quebec as Starbucks is in the USA. As soon as you sit down, they bring you a big bowl of cole slaw free of charge. Cole slaw connoisseur Tim said it was the best cole slaw he's ever had. (9/29/05)

While at St. Hubert, I was finally able to get a poutine, a Quebecois original dish that consists of french fries smothered in gravy and fresh cheese curds. It was really good!!! (9/29/05)

Back at the hotel, I snapped this picture from our balcony on our last night in Quebec. That night Doris, Jenn, Tim and I got together to drink a bottle of port and play card games. (9/29/05)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Vacation in Quebec — Day 5

On this, our fifth day in Quebec, we decided to check out the Montmorency waterfalls, which were literally a 10-minute drive outside of downtown Quebec City.

At 27 stories tall, Montmorency Falls is 100-feet higher than Niagara Falls. The falls were simply gorgeous! (9/28/05)

Here they are from one of the lookouts ... as you can see they have a pedestrian bridge that spans the waterfall. (9/28/05)

Now that we're up at the top of the waterfalls, here's the stairwell down! (9/28/05)

James and Tim pose in front of the waterfall at the top of the stairwell. You may not be able to tell, but Tim, who is afraid of heights, was terrified. Mad props to him for making it through the experience! (9/28/05)

After the climb down those million stairs, we took a cable car back up to the top where we had lunch at the Manoir Montmorency just behind Doris and Jenn. Built as the summer home of the Governor in 1780, the building also served as the home of Queen Victoria's father, Prince Edward, from 1791 to 1794. It ultimately burned down, and what stands there today is a re-creation. (9/28/05)

The view from the Manoir Montmorency restaurant! (9/28/05)

Afterward we explored the city of Montmorency where we saw this interesting looking church with a gold statue of Jesus on top. (9/28/05)

While on the hunt for a liquor store, we found the nearby PFK. To the best of our French language knowledge, we think it stands for Poulet Fritte Kentucky. (09/28/05)

Later that evening, we went shopping in downtown Quebec City where I snapped this shot of the Basilique de Notre Dame de Quebec, the oldest parish in North America dating back to 1647, although the building that stands there today was built in 1922. (9/28/05)

Afterward we bought some Cuban cigars at J.E. Giguere Tabac, which was a stone's throw from the basilica. Our resident Cuban cigar expert Doris gives the selection a careful inspection. (9/28/05)