We Crash Club 33 Part II: Club Harder

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I’d apologize for the delays between posts, but anymore that’s pretty old hat, so if anything, I’ll apologize for this brand new post throwing off our consistent pattern…!

As a wrap-up of sorts to our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tenure living in California, let’s discuss our trip to Disneyland’s hallowed Club 33.  If y’all don’t know, Club 33 is a super-duper exclusive, members-only (and for a price!) dining experience in Disneyland.

We’d been before, though I was such a nervous wreck the first time (where’s the lorazepam when you need it??) that the whole experience was a bit of a fog.  Of course, given the nigh impossibility of securing a reservation for us common folk, that’s NOT the kind of recollection you want to have.

So, when we had a pretty decent idea that we would be moving back to Philadelphia (though neither of us had gotten final, official offers yet), I decided to see if I could snag a reservation to celebrate new jobs/a farewell to California/Christmas-y sorta time/creating a hopefully memorable experience for us and our best pals in the Golden State.

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And yes, if you’re wondering, I do know, however indirectly, a member of Club 33, and no, I will not tell you who he/she is and will not get you a reservation. I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled into this person and won’t risk any goodwill between us, no matter how much money you wish to make rain on me (I think that’s grammatically correct…?)

Tucked into the New Orleans Square land of the park, Club 33’s open air waiting area is a modified version of the old, publicly-accessible Court of Angels. I’d never seen the space myself, as it has already gone behind construction walls on my first visit to Disneyland. Vaunted by many in the Disney online community as Imagineering at its purest, I was excited to experience it–and it did not disappoint, especially the free hot chocolate made available on this chilly December night.

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After the requisite photo shoot on the staircase, we were called upstairs. The restaurant, renovated and expanded since our first visit,  takes up a significant chunk of the second floor of many New Orleans Square storefronts. The main dining room overlooks Disneyland’s Rivers of America, where the Fantasmic! nighttime show plays.

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Excuse my bleary eyes and dark circles in the photo above. We were on a redeye back from New York City the night before and had worked a full-day before dinner. My hair was about as on fleek (is that nu-gay for “en vogue” or something?) as its ever gonna be, though.

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The only place in Disneyland where you can get alcohol. LIVE IT UP.

Dinner was pre-fixe at $105 (::crying emoji::) a person, and we could’ve opted for a caviar accompaniment for an extra…I don’t know, a lot of money. I don’t do fish, and it would’ve reminded me too much of the opening scene in Finding Nemo, anyway. Not for the faint of heart or wallet.

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The chef sent out this little meat shooter thing before our courses began. I’m not fancy and forgot to write down the name, but it was tasty!

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First course: the Prime New York of Beef Seared Black and Blue with Tarragon-Roasted Garlic Purée. 

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Second course: French Quarter “Five Onion Soup” with Tasso Ham and Gruyere.

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Third course: Grilled Diver Scallop and Gulf Shrimp.

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Fourth course: Petit Angus Filet Mignon.

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Final course: MONKEY BREAD HECK YEAHHH

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The “Just Kidding, Here’s More Food as a Palette Cleanser” Course.

Compared to our first visit, I would have to give this meal the edge. Along with the physical overhaul, the menu was also revised by renowned Chef Andrew Sutton, who is also executive chef at Napa Rose and the wonderful Carthay Circle restaurant in Disney California Adventure. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to try both, but these courses seemed more confident and flavorful than the old Club 33 standards.

Now that the foodie shots are out of the way, time for more restaurant photos. Since we visited pretty late on a Monday night just before the crazy busy holiday season, we nearly had the place to ourselves. As you can tell if you compare photos from our first visit to these, the renovations were quite substantial (and, I’d argue, mostly for the better):

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The new bar area, the Salon Nouveau.

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This used to be a working French lift, commissioned by Walt Disney himself. Now, it is a much-maligned booth for one (??)

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Let us know if you find us in the guestbook!

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Note to self, never trust Lance alone with a camera:

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All in all, our second visit to Club 33 was more magical (and definitely less stressful!) than the first.  With my expensive exclusive Mickey ears on to rub in everybody’s faces, we strode out of the restaurant like kings.

What a night.

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Bless These Boys

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Deciding to leave California would’ve been a lot easier without these jerks.

[P.S.: Arthur, I’m stealing your photos, thanks.]

We were truly, incredibly fortunate during our time in California to meet so many great people. In fact, I’d venture to say the proportion of swell-to-crummy people in California is much higher than in Philadelphia. Or, at least, they take better Instagram photos. Still, Arthur and Eric were in a league of their own (God, I can’t even get three paragraphs in without turning this gay.)

Arthur and Eric were fast friends to us, allowing us to consider California a home for however brief a period of time we lived there.  They folded us in to their extended network of friends, inviting us two weirdos to parties and get-togethers when we knew nobody and hadn’t really earned it.

These fellas were one of the main reasons we struggled, even until the very end, with our decision to move back to Philadelphia. Good friends don’t come along all that often, y’know? You can’t break any ol’ person’s glassware or call them dumpy and get away with it so easily.

We ultimately made the decision to go back to Philadelphia because, looking at the whole picture, it seemed like the better move at this point in time, for both of our careers. But I won’t ever say it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to come back.

Thank you, Arthur and Eric. Thank you to my parents for visiting so frequently. Thanks to Phil and Michael flying all the way out to California–selfishly, we needed it more than you know. Thanks, too, to everybody else who extended a lifeline to us, even if you didn’t realize it. Thank you, thank you.

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Escape Route

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Five months ago…

Lance and I had a Very Serious Conversation about six months into our tenure in California, after both of us found gainful employment and had sampled all the local fast food chicken fingers (Carls Jr=::thumbs up::, Jack in the Box=::go to hell!!!::).

It was in this conversation that we decided, hey, yes, we were going to move back to Philadelphia.

For many of the reasons covered in past posts, we had to leave that door open. As of October 2014, though, we weren’t actively pursuing employment back in Philly, since we were barely halfway through our apartment’s lease.  We figured we’d wait until around February 2015; not only would that give us about three solid months for both of us to find jobs before our lease ended, but we could also use that extra time to assess our fit with California.  Maybe we’d decide to stay, after all…

Having this timeline helped. It gave us a clear, if rough, exit strategy, a red eject button we could push if we needed to.  And it was still far enough in the future where we could give California an adequate chance.

…Except we didn’t.

I found out in October, through the grapevine known as Google Chat, that a position had opened up at my old employer–a good position, a clear step up in title, responsibilities, and pay compared to what I had in California. The kind of position, too, that didn’t come along every day. The kind of position worth potentially moving for.

So…even though it was bucking our established timeline, I applied for it, except I didn’t tell Lance at first. I kinda just wanted to see what would happen without him emotionally investing in it too much, since I knew he would. Of course, I’m a terrible liar, so he ended up finding out pretty early on, even before my first interview (sorry to ruin the suspense).

Every day following my two rounds of interviews, Lance and I would talk with each other on G-Chat, and not long into any ol’ conversation, Lance would drop the, “So, have you heard anything yet?” bomb.

Me: Do you want to go to BJ’s [editor’s note: an actual chain restaurant in California] for dinner?

Lance: Did you hear anything yet?

Or…

Me: Did you pay the Verizon bill this month?

Lance: Did YOU HEAR ANYTHING YET??

Or the classic…

Me: What do you think about going down to San Diego this weekend?

Lance: OMG WHY HAVEN’T YOU HEARD ANYTHING YET? YOU SHOULD CALL AGAIN TODAY AND CHECK.

Lance still claims–to this day!–that he wasn’t getting his hopes up and that he wasn’t burdening me with undue stress. I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions.

Anyway! Lance, at the same time, had been working with his former employer, doing work from home part-time. With that foot-in-the-door, we figured Lance would have an easier shot finding a job back in Philly should the opportunity present itself.

I got a formal offer in mid-December, with a non-negotiable start date of January 5, 2015. There it was, our eject button.

I pushed it.

California Pros and Cons

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Sorry for the delay in posts, youse guys. You know how it goes, you have the best of intentions and then Netflix drops a whole season of Marvel’s Daredevil on you at once and you just lose track of your entire life.

Oh oh, and I forgot to put the little flashback timeframe tag here. Ya walk away for a few days and you just forget everything, am I right?

Seven months ago…

I’m not sure there’s anything more depressing than expecting to be relieved only to feel defeat.  It was like an Acme anvil dropping on my head: knowing that Lance was still not happy in California and that no job was going to help that…well, being the selfless hero that I am, I knew at that point we were moving back to Pennsylvania. It was only a matter of time.

To be fair, I wasn’t 100% sold on California at this point either–I certainly missed the creature comforts I’d developed over seven years in Philadelphia–but I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t struggling with California as much as Lance was.  Disneyland wasn’t a Band-Aid for him like it was for me.

From his earliest challenges finding a job in California, Lance and I had discussed, with varying degrees of seriousness, moving back to Philly if this all went to shit. More on that exit strategy in a future post, but as the move back became more likely, I started asking advice of some pals in order to make sure we weren’t making another big mistake.

My friend and yours, Kelly Bakes, suggested drafting a pros and cons list about California. Why should we stay? Why should we go?

Pro: Weather. One of the major reasons we moved to the desert was so that we’d never have to deal with snow and rain again. Have you ever walked a dog when it’s downpouring? THE WORST. Anyway, some consistency would be nice.

Con: Weather. The consistency was messed up. We were in California for seven months and it rained MAYBE three times. Every other day was sunny, high of 90, wash, rise, repeat. This may sound appealing, but it could feel like a Groundhog Day, Twilight Zone-ish experience.

Pro: Relatively close proximity to the beach, shopping, LA, Disneyland, Palm Springs, and San Diego.

Con: Unlike Californians who have been nurtured into loving a good drive (which is how they must tolerate all that traffic), us jerks from the Northeast hate being in the car for more then 20 minutes at a time. Having to drive an hour in any direction to do something was torture. And the price of gas in California…!

Pro: California is made for people who like being outdoors-y!

Con: …but we’re lazy.

Pro: We made some good friends pretty quickly while we were in CA.

Con: Well…there’s no downside of having friends all over the country, but in Lance’s case, it’s pretty hard to separate yourself from the people you’ve known for 20 years. Social media connects us all more than ever before, sure, but being physically present still makes a difference.

Pro: Disneyland!

Con: Lance hates Disneyland.

Pro: In California, you never have to wait for a table at the Cheesecake Factory!

Con: There’s no downside to that. In Pennsylvania, we recently waited THREE HOURS for a mommyfudging table at the Cheesecake Factory. I mean, what the crap.

Pro: We should stay to give it a chance. We’d only been in California seven months!

Con: How long should you wait for a place to feel like home before you throw in the towel?

…and that was the question, really. How long should we wait to find happiness? When would we know if this was going to work? Were we “giving up” if we moved back to Philly?

How Disneyland Saved My Life

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“Oh, you’re going to Disneyland again?” I’ve been asked with a smirk.

Or there are the conversations that have ground to a halt when I said I saw Frozen before most of my co-workers who have kids.

Admitting I’m a Disney fan as a 29-year-old gets its fair share of raised eyebrows. Though nerdy fandoms have come a long way, this one still gets treated with a spoonful of judgment.

All of that is to say, you may not understand where I’m coming from with this particular post. BUT. We all have our things–be it fantasy football, Broadway, glamping–that bring us happiness. Disneyland was mine for a brief, burning moment.

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I would be lying if I said, after we were getting serious about moving to California, that I wasn’t excited to be living within an hour of a Disney park. And when I was alone in California for several weeks after arriving, Disneyland, with all of its purposeful pokes at the nostalgic part of my brain, provided me with an immediate sense of comfort when I knew nobody else or the world outside the gates just seemed like too much.

Moving to a new place, thousands of miles from everything and everyone I knew, was thrilling but also a bit terrifying. Trying to re-establish yourself, threading a web of friends, searching hopelessly for any good pizza anywhere in California, etc., is both a wake-up call and incredibly exhausting.

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Disneyland helped mitigate that constant uneasiness I felt from not having a sense of “home.”

Of course I understand why some people looked down their noses when I said, “I’m going to Disneyland!” instead of checking out, say, a historical landmark. Disneyland isn’t authentic! it’s a manufactured place trying to convince you that you need a $100 glitter-infused makeover! But that’s kinda the point–I didn’t want reality. At first it was my place to escape from loneliness; later it shifted to a place to escape the ever-scarier threats of going broke (we were way too optimistic and bought our annual passes before Lance got a job. Whoops.)

Disneyland was my extracurricular activity, where I was able to meet like-minded nerds and begin to call them friends. For somebody who’s struggled my whole life to overcome shyness and self-doubt in social settings, feeling that sense of, “Hey, I belong here,” was immensely meaningful to me. Disneyland gave me that opportunity to feel like I was part of a community.

Honestly, I don’t know what I would’ve done without Disneyland during our darkest days in California. Without it, we wouldn’t have met the friends we made. Without it, I think I might’ve been crushed, Giles Corey-style, under the stress of everything going on around me.

Disneyland, and by extension, all of the people we met through the crazy, passionate community that orbits it, gave us a justification to moving to California when we had little else in which to pin all this effort spent and money wasted.

Yes, Disneyland’s expensive, and crowded, and I know I went too often and Instagrammed about it excessively. But I’m okay with it. That experience got me through a rough time and I’m grateful for it.

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Stay-At-Home Puppy Daddy

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Ripley and Lance ham it up during a California photo shoot.

It’s obvious I don’t plan these things more than a day in advance since Lance just reminded me that I forgot to shine a spotlight on his tenure as a stay-at-home puppy daddy while we lived in California.

(In this scenario, we don’t count Kitty, since: 1) she’s pretty self-sufficient; and 2) Lance hates her.)

While, sure, we were increasingly stressed by the financial crunch of Lance’s unemployment, there were several good things to come out of our time in California, one of them being that Lance finally got to live out his lifelong fantasy of being a stay-at-home parent.

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Sure, Ripley isn’t a baby (a baby would probably take away too much attention from Lance’s Cher impressions, so that’s a nonstarter right there), but he’s cute and just dependent enough on us to be endearing and not obnoxious.

Before California, Lance claimed that his true calling, besides the Broadway stage, was the home. As somebody who came from a family where both parents always worked, I admittedly couldn’t quite grasp this concept. Nevertheless, I didn’t care for being perceived as seemingly anti-“stay at home parent,” so I just went along with it.

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Over the first several weeks, Lance’s newfound free time led to a wealth of great dinners and an inversely proportional decrease in my bank account…hrm… Lance baked under the sun near the pool and gained the nice shade of taco-flavored Doritos (I’m obviously hungry while writing this.)

Lance's original caption to this photo was, "Never coming back to the East Coast, y'all." Whoops.
Lance’s original caption to this photo was, “Never coming back to the East Coast, y’all.” Whoops.

Lance and Ripley, already two peas in a pod, fused at the hip over those few months (there’s your Side Show reference, Lance.) I’ve been told from reliable sources that Lance and Ripley would just stare at each other for extended periods of time when they had nothing else to do.

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I often told Lance that I was surprised at how much he was holding it together during the never-ending job search. If I were in his shoes, I imagine I’d just shut down out of how unfavorable the forecast looked.

But I realize now that if it wasn’t for Ripley to take on walks, to take weird selfies with, to snuggle with during naps and to indulge with treats at every opportunity, I don’t know if Lance–and, by extension, we–would’ve gotten through it as relatively smoothly as we did.  Ripley was our little fuzzy light in the dark.

He seems like an unassuming doofus, but we owe a lot to our little noodle-head doodle-butt.

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The Darkest Timeline

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Ehh…maybe 8-9 months ago? I can’t count…

The Darkest Timeline concept will be, perhaps, Community‘s enduring legacy on the Internet. In the season three episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the gang play a board game where, with each roll of the die, we are presented with a different timeline based on how the die falls, one timeline being the most depressing and cynical of them all.

After about two months in California, Lance and I fell into what we would come to refer to as our Darkest Timeline, and maybe we should’ve seen it coming. As Lance went longer and longer without a job, the clouds started rolling in (see what I did with the picture above? Clever girl…).

As I mentioned previously, we had been hoping to jump ship from Philadelphia for awhile; my concern with that was always the long odds of us both finding work around in a new city around the same time so we weren’t taking too much of a financial hit. Eventually, though, the itch was too great and we began talking about how long we could go on one income while the other looked for a job.

I found mine first, while Lance kept looking. At the beginning, I wasn’t too concerned. “Lance will have no problem finding a job,” I’d joke. “Lance could charm the pants off of a priest.” Err, bad example and probably not all that difficult (I can make this joke because I was raised Catholic.)

Perhaps we were a little too optimistic. A month dragged by, then two, with barely even a bite. As I saw our savings starting to dip to concerning levels, the panic inside me started to fester. Every morning, I would wake up early and scour Indeed, Monster and CareerBuilder. At my own job–the only network I had in California–I begged everyone who would listen for any job leads for Lance.

Trying to find a job where you know almost nobody, it turns out, is really freaking difficult, much more than we initially assumed. Jobs for which Lance would’ve been perfect just responded with form rejection e-mails. It was incredibly frustrating and intimating to me, and, though he did his best to manage it around me, devastating to Lance.

“How long can we go without another income?” Lance asked me one day.

I ran the numbers in my head. “Another two months,” I responded, startled that it was drying up so fast. “Then we’re in big trouble.”

The risk we took to move to California and add a jolt to our lives was now taunting us as a mistake. Why did we, two relatively rational-thinking people, leave jobs we liked to move across the country to where we knew virtually nobody, burn through our savings and end up broke and homeless and have to turn into streetwalkers to pay the rent except we’re so old by gay standards so who would even pay us to turn a trick?? How stupid were we?

By late summer, Lance finally got a few interview requests, though many were less than ideal. On a day with three interviews, Lance called me at work and said, “I just can’t do these jobs.” So many of these jobs, at this point, where compromises, something just to put food on the table.

Other interviews and positions seemed promising, and we’d invariably get our hopes up before the generic HR e-mail would come saying Lance didn’t get the job. Things started to look bleak, which is not something I say lightly; usually I take a cautiously optimistic view of these kind of things–keep your head down and trudge along and something is bound to happen–but I became increasingly worried over time.

Finally, finally, finally, right after Labor Day, Lance got a job, one he seemed happy with–good pay, good benefits, a good team of co-workers in a location not far from home. This was just in the nick of time, too, as we were perilously close to running out of cash to pay our bills. The sense of relief I felt was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.

I got home the evening after Lance’s first day at his new job, ready to pour some drinks and revel in that beautiful cosmic save in the last few seconds of the game. Instead, I found Lance in bed, visibly upset.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. Seeing him there, experiencing the exact opposite emotions of what I assumed, crushed me.

It wasn’t the new job–that was fine. Lance was devastated because of everything this new job symbolized: he was so far away from the friends he’d made over the last twenty years, the family he’d left behind, the career he had just started to build. A new job added a permanence to those facts.

That moment and the days that followed were my own Darkest Timeline. All emotions seemed counter-intuitive: we were distraught when we should be elated. Everything was topsy-turvy. I honestly had never felt as helpless, as hopeless, as I did then: after months of effort, to feel a sense of victory crumble right in your hands? Where were we supposed to go from there?

Next: Interlude: Stay-At-Home Puppy Daddy