The Golden Age

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10 months ago…

Places can wear you down over time, and that’s how we’d grown to feel about Philly toward the end. California was, at first, a much-needed mental reset button for us.

The first time I can recall being sold the California dream was when I saw the 1997 hit(?) animated film¬†Cats Don’t Dance. In the film, protagonist Danny (a cat, obvs) makes it to California¬†and shares his “I want” dreams and how Hollywood is going to make them come true:

The streets are paved with gold! Who wouldn’t want that?

For the first few weeks, it was just me and Ripley, as Lance was off galavanting in Las Vegas, flying to Tulsa to see Dolly Parton, and heading back to Philadelphia one last time for his brother’s wedding.

Our apartment complex in California sat at the base of a hill, and every few nights, Rip and I would head to the park at the top, which overlooked downtown Riverside, CA, and the surrounding Inland Empire. When the smog was clear, you could see for miles and miles.

My mind was clearer, too, with a new job and a new place, where things were so quiet! I could take a book (The Charm School, which I still haven’t finished) and a glass of wine out onto the balcony and just relax, which it felt like I hadn’t done in years.

Lance and I were excited. Seemingly well-positioned, an hour drive from LA, the beaches of Orange County in one direction and Palm Springs in the other, we were itching to explore a locale so much different than what we grew up with and were used to. ¬†On weekends, we’d drive to Disneyland or Laguna Beach, go to a film festival in downtown Los Angeles or visit the Santa Monica Pier. ¬†We’d hike Mount Rubidoux or head up to Big Bear.

It was the promise of new possibilities, new opportunities, new stuff to discover (new favorite restaurants! New favorite malls and drives and beach towns!) that energized us in those first few weeks.¬†They comprised, I suppose, our Californian Golden Age; we were rich in hope if not in money, when everything was in front of us and for the taking.¬†And that feeling? It’s exhilarating–terrifying, yes, and daunting, but those new possibilities are what we moved for in the first place, and it’s something I think so many people should try. Shake things up and make yourself do new things.

Still…there were imperfections from the beginning, cracks that seemed manageable at first but slowly opened up into crevasses we couldn’t avoid. Lance and I took a risk by moving to California, and as thrilling¬†as it all was, not everything was working out the way we’d hoped.

Next: The Darkest Timeline

Cat on a Hot Tin Route

Kitty
Frequent Flier Feline.

11 months ago…

“Nope.” Lance shook his head, like he was angry that the thought had even crossed my mind. “It’s not going to happen. You take her or she stays here.”

This was one of our first of many fights about our move to California. Perhaps an omen we should have paid attention to?

At this point, we had submitted our resignation letters, ordered a Door-to-Door moving pod (recommended!), and plotted our cross-country drive from It’s Always Sunny Philadelphia to actually sunny California. After a few months of throwing applications into the electronic wind, I got a job in Riverside, a significant suburban area inland from Los Angeles.

Things were going pretty smoothly until we got to the problem of Kitty. There was no way she, as an elderly little feline, was going to make it 3000 miles over five days in our little Ford Fiesta (also recommended!).  How were we going to get Kitty to California?

Lance probably saw this as a golden opportunity to give Kitty the ol’ heave-ho, considering her white undercoat essentially destroyed two chairs. But, c’mon, she’s furry family and there was no way I was leaving her behind.

Thankfully, good fortune presented itself: we had to be back in Philadelphia a few weeks after our move for the wedding of Lance’s brother. Afterwards, we’d both fly back from Philadelphia, thus creating an easy way to transport Kitty west, like a fuzzy¬†Manifest Destiny.

Problem was, Lance and I were taking separate flights, Lance leaving a day later as he said his goodbyes to his Philly family and friends. His flight was a straight six hours from Philly to Los Angeles, whereas mine had a two-hour layover in Denver.  Obviously, Kitty would travel back with Lance, as the total travel time would be less than seven hours.

“If she goes with me, she’ll get a urinary tract infection!” I cried.

“Good,” said Lance. Lance could not foresee a future where he was responsible for taking a cat on a plane. To him, it was a non-starter.

So I begrudgingly took Kitty to the airport, paying US Airways’ $125 pet travel fee to carry Kitty into the plane’s cabin, where she would sit under my seat to Denver, then connecting on to LAX. Oh, no room for any personal items underneath your seat because of your pet? Well, too bad, because if you have a pet you somehow also lose the right to a carry-on bag too!!!! SCREW YOU, ECONOMY TRAVELERS!!!–major U.S. airlines.

After about four hours, Kitty and I landed in Denver, where of course tornado sirens were going off every few minutes. Ugh. Though Kitty’s little travel carrier was lined with lots of pee pads, I was positive¬†we couldn’t afford a significant delay without an ammonia-scented accident.

Our two-hour layover slowly increased to two-and-a-half, then three, then four as the weather wreaked havoc on the flight schedule.

And then the Bad Thing: our flight out of Denver got cancelled.

“I’M SO ANGRY RIGHT NOW THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT YOU SELFISH JERK,” I texted to Lance.

Finally, we were placed on stand-by for¬†a later flight out to LA. My nerves had caused me to drink excessively so of course I was dragging my cat into the men’s room of the Denver airport every 25 minutes (maybe I had a urinary tract infection?).

“I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to pay the pet fee again,” the attendant at the gate counter said as we got cleared to board the later flight.

“What? Why?” I stammered, frazzled, angry and tired. “I paid the pet fee already on my last leg.”

“Yes…” she went on, “But since you were on a US Airways flight and now you’re boarding an American flight, you have to pay again.”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Your two airlines merged. It’s the same ticket number. Are you saying that even though you’ve merged your reservation system, you haven’t merged your ‘pet fee’ system and therefore I’m stuck paying another $125?”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“You do realize that’s ridiculous, right?” I was, at this point, outwardly¬†indignant, which I don’t get all that much.

Finally we got on the plane. Of course, throughout the entire, near 17-hour trip from door-to-door, Kitty was an incredible trooper and slept most of the time, never peeing in her carrier once.

We made it to California in one piece, though a little worse for the wear. Lance would arrive the next day and things, in flux over the weeks leading up and through the move, would finally level out.

OR SO WE THOUGHT ::DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN…!::

The Itch List

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13 months ago…

Lance and I always had The Itch to cut ties with Philadelphia. Like most cities in the Northeast, it’s dirty, full of trashy, abrasive people, and overcast about eight months of the year. When I moved to Philly from Michigan for grad school, my¬†relocation was intended to be temporary–I ended up staying for love (SICK!).

Heck, Lance has even tried to escape Philly before. ¬†For some reason, though, he decided to live¬†in the only places worse than Philly, Delaware and Baltimore, and was eventually¬†sucked back via the City of Brotherly Love’s unbreakable gravitational pull of “youse” as a collective pronoun.

Early on in our relationship, when things were getting serious-er (ooh la la), Lance and I starting stringing together lists of places we’d like to relocate at some point, cities or equatorial island chains that seemed streets ahead of Philly.¬† It would only take a strong enough itch to leave for us to finally scratch.

In rough chronological order of conception, here’s our Itch List:

  • Chicago: Google Maps, Google Maps on my screen, which is the fairest city I’ve seen? Y’all, I love Chicago–it has the metropolitan feel of New York while being as clean as Toronto (gotta love those Canucks). Just ignore¬†the horrific murder rate.
  • Las Vegas: Though Lance imagined a life of glitz and glamour, neon lights and Showgirls re-enactments involving pools and pushing people down stairs, I pulled the plug on this possibility real fast, for obvious reasons: Vegas is terrible.
  • New York City: there was a brief moment where Lance and I thought maybe we¬†could swing the Big Apple,¬†since NYC is the epicenter of the world, basically.¬† Then our friend told us she paid $3500/month for a 350-ish square foot apartment in the Village and we laughed and laughed…
  • O’ahu/Kaua’i, Hawaii: Maybe some day, but right now it doesn’t seem super realistic, being one of the most remote places in the world and all.

And then there’s California. To people native to the East Coast, California is either where the streets are paved with gold, or where a bunch of crazy whackadoos have bizarre gubernatorial recall elections featuring¬†Gary Coleman, the Terminator, and porn stars, all while bracing for The Big One.

We’d been to SoCal¬†together once before, and enjoyed it for what¬†we saw–San Diego and, of course, Disneyland. But last winter, when Lance went on a trip to Palm Springs without me (don’t worry, friends, he was with a proper lady), he called me on his first morning there and said, with palm trees and mid-century modern architecture all around him, “We have to move here.”

And for some reason, this time after years of talking about it, we finally scratched that itch.

Since U Been Gone

Lance and Jeff

Remember the season 2 finale of “Alias” where, after fighting the genetically-warped clone of her dead roommate, Sydney collapses only to wake up in Taipei two years later. What?! And Vaughn is married, that son of a bitch! WHAT?? And Sydney has a mysterious scar on her torso which we later find out is from where a secret society was harvesting her eggs for…

OH JESUS. I should’ve just stopped watching.

What I’m getting to is that, well, Lance and Jeff and Lance+Jeff is/are back after a long, semi-amnesiac hiatus. A lot has changed in the year or so since we last updated, but, like network TV shows, things are also exactly the same.

Over the next couple of posts we’ll be “in media res”ing this shizz, filling in the gaps on what’s been happening. Unemployment! Going broke! Disneyland! Cross-country moves! Cats on planes!

CATS ON PLANESSSSS

For those of you just joining us, let’s introduce you to our¬†cast of characters:

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Lance: stylish Broadway diva, loves a good cocktail and all things tropical. Easy on the eyes. Smells good (usually.)
Jeff
Jeff: reserved unless he has a strong opinion about something, which he will then not shut up about. Scored a hot piece of ass when he married Lance and is forever grateful.
Ripley Doodle
Ripley: A dopey ragamuffin.
Kitty Boo
Janney: a/k/a Kitty: a cat who barfs on sofas that cannot be cleaned.

Recurring guest stars to follow.

Now that you’ve got your foundation (you may also want to check out some “prequel” material to bone up on The Story Thus Far), we’ll start recapping our journey west (I really want to use the joke-y title “Westward Homos” but I hate that word even if it’s clever) tomorrow.

STAY TUNED.

Travel Tuesday: Harry Potter and the Prescription of Ass-kaban

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Now, I don’t want to blame Lance’s prescription for our less-than-stellar first visit to Universal Orlando’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

…but I am. [Editor’s note: Love ya, boo!]

I need to backtrack and provide a little context: Lance, per the usual, was having his Bi-monthly Health Crisis (seriously, he passed 30 and his body just began shutting down).  This time, Lance was experiencing (TMI warning!) a near-full-body rash.  We speculated for weeks as the rash grew more irritated and scaly: was it an allergic reaction? it was itching so bad, could it be bed bugs? and so on.

Finally, Lance got himself to a doctor, who couldn’t pinpoint the cause but figured it must be an allergy, and prescribed the steroid Prednisone to combat it. ¬†I didn’t know much about Prednisone except I was under the impression that prescription steroids were supposed to be heavy-hitters: take a few and whatever was ailing you would be knocked flat on its ass.

Well, according to Lance, a side effect of Prednisone is that it makes you a giant rage monster.

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So that’s how we ended up in this Chili’s. ¬†On the night of our arrival, we were to go to Artist Point, one of Walt Disney World’s signature restaurants in the achingly wonderful Wilderness Lodge (more on this in a future post). ¬†However, we were having one of those travel days where we were both on edge and snipping at each other. ¬†That, and Artist Point ain’t cheap, so I figured, “Why spend the money when we’re both miserable and certainly wouldn’t have a good time?”

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The rest of the trip was fraught with bickering, day in and day out. ¬†This isn’t all Lance’s fault; when traveling, especially when the trip is understood to be “mine,” I am very sensitive to Lance’s mood. ¬†Is he having a good time? I’ll worry. ¬†Is he mad? Is waiting in line for Revenge of the Mummy going to lead to divorce?? ¬†

Whenever I notice Lance being quiet or distant, I prod him. ¬†“Baby, what’s wrong?” ¬†And that leads to us fighting over who’s being too sensitive, who’s spending too much time buying luggage at the Tumi outlet when we should be at Universal or Islands of Adventure, etc…

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My pal Brian is a champion of the Universal Orlando Resort (which includes the second park, Islands of Adventure) and after a recent series of articles he wrote for Theme Park Tourist, I was very excited to re-visit after nearly a six year absence.

We somehow slept in fairly late (something I never do) on our first full day in Orlando, and in my anxiousness to get to the park in an attempt to avoid lines, I ended up rushing us out the door and making everything even more tense.

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When we arrived at the Universal resort, we headed straight for Islands of Adventure, where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is, tucked in the back. ¬†As we weaved through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent, I was hit with a wave of disappointment. ¬†Beyond just the light crowds limiting the energy in the air, both areas were in need of some TLC. ¬†Seuss really needs a paint-job after its unique facade has faded in the Florida sun, and The Lost Continent (along with the Jurassic Park section) is stuffed with cheap carnival games. ¬†Was Universal not the theme park powerhouse aiming to knock Disney off its perch, as it’s portrayed online?

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But as we rounded the corner into Hogsmeade, it was obvious what had people excited about Universal: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is drop-dead gorgeous, the theming and immersiveness so spot-on to the film series that you can’t help but chugging down a butterbeer or perusing through Honeyduke’s.

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There are three rides in TWWoHP: the fairly standard kiddie-coaster Flight of the Hippogriff (really, go on this for the queue alone, which features and animatronic Buckbeak and a swell recreation of Hagrid’s hut), Dragon Challenge (a Goblet of Fire-overlay of the preexisting Dueling Dragons coaster), and the absolutely mind-blowing Hogwarts walkthrough/crazy ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. ¬†I was completely taken aback by the whole of …Forbidden Journey, an amazing experience through and through, with such a unique ride vehicle technology that you really feel like you’ve never seen anything like it. ¬†And the queue, which is more than half the fun! The “line” for the actual ride takes you through Hogwarts, up staircases lined with moving portraits, through Dumbledore’s headmaster office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and past the Sorting Hat.

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TWWoHP is, I’m inclined to say, on par with Tokyo DisneySea as far as escapism is concerned. ¬†When you’re winding your way through the back alleys of Hogsmeade, or inside Ollivander’s watching somebody being paired with a wand, it’s truly incredible. ¬†(My only complaint while actually inside of TWWoHP was being able to see the warehouse-like showbuilding for …Forbidden Journey just past the Hogwarts facade.) The main downside is its size: TWWoHP doesn’t take up a lot of land, and therefore you feel like it’s over almost once it’s begun. ¬†The Diagon Alley expansion, due later this summer, will bring so much more depth and space to this really wonderful land.

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I’ll report back next week about the rest of our time at Universal, particularly the expansion of the Simpsons area, which is also terrifically swell. ¬†We honestly spent 90% of our time at Universal and Islands of Adventure in one of these two lands.

But, back to Lance, who was not only suffering from Rage Monster-itis, but also a side-effect of nausea. ¬†After a kind Universal team member let us into the express queue for …Forbidden Journey, Lance’s time with attractions was limited. ¬†Harry Potter, Transformers, Simpsons, and more all rely on similar-ish ride systems, where the guest is basically whipped around in front of IMAX-esque screens where the “action” is projected. ¬†Even though we took motion sickness meds before we set foot in the park, Lance couldn’t make it past Harry Potter. ¬†I rode alone for the rest of the day, which made us breeze through Marvel Super Hero Island and Universal Studios.

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Looking back, this trip was kinda a dud (except for the food, which I’ll address in a future post). ¬†Lance and I fought every day, even though we were both trying out best to keep things in perspective–I mean, it WAS the Prednisone, not either of us, that was causing a lot of the personality conflicts during this trip. ¬†And while it was disappointing to think about how much money we spent to have a less-than-stellar time, I also had to remind myself that we’ve been together for almost seven years and have made countless trips together–not every one is going to earn a gold star.

And heck, I was in Hogsmeade with a frozen butterbeer. Who am I to complain?

Travel Tuesday: Dollywood or Bust

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Like some sort of religious zealot, Lance must make an annual pilgrimage to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home to Dolly Parton’s eponymous amusement park. ¬†On our previous visit, we bought season passes, good from the holiday season of 2012 through the end of 2013; given that the season pass price was only ~$30 more than a 1-day ticket, we took a gamble, figuring we’d definitely be back in 2013.

Yet the close of 2013 was rapidly approaching, and we hadn’t once set foot on Wild Eagle OR Blazing Fury. Decisions had to be made.

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We again decided to visit Dollywood during the park’s annual Smoky Mountain Christmas. ¬†The weather is cool in Tennessee that time of year and Dollywood is literally wrapped to the nines in Christmas lights. ¬†Dollywood, not surprisingly in a Southern state, also runs a fair split of Christian and secular holiday shows, which is kinda charming, if you don’t think too much of the “organized Christianity’s long history of discrimination against gays” thing.

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Now, Dollywood is a TREK from Philadelphia. ¬†It’s not really economical to fly (PHL-Knoxville is like $450 round-trip per person during this time of year), and while the drive is scenic, it takes 11+ hours. ¬†ELEVEN HOURS. ¬†Sweet lord. ¬†Driving that in a Ford Fiesta too, while great on gas mileage, will make you go stir crazy. No amount of Hardee’s Thickburgers can make it bearable. ¬†I was kinda hoping that this trip would get me out of having to visit Dollywood for at least another 18 months. ¬†It was just too much time in the car to ask of someone…

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We arrived in Pigeon Forge on Saturday night, with just a few hours left before the park closed for the night.  The place was jam-packed with thousands of locals there to catch the holiday parade; after spending a half-hour just getting from our parking spot to the gate, we shimmied our way to the back of the park for the terrific Mystery Mine and Wild Eagle coasters.

On Sundays during the holiday season, the park doesn’t open until 2:00pm. ¬†Still, we felt like seven hours in Dollywood justified the drive, so we spent the morning taking a scenic drive through the Smoky Mountain National Park, which we’d never done before.
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On the way up a mountain, we saw a bunch of pick-up trucks (of course) pulled over. ¬†City-slick gawkers that we are, we rubbernecked only to find…A BEAR. And not the kinda bears us urbanites are used to…HEY-O!

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Yup, just a cub hanging out in the trees near the side of the road. ¬†Lance and I both speculated that this could’ve been some elaborate trap by the bear family to lure in stupid tourists. We felt like we were in a good position, though, since most of the other spectators were significantly…larger and most likely slower than us. ¬†(This is what happens when you have dozens of pancake restaurants in your town.)

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Lance doing his best Rafiki.

Unfortunately, with the afternoon came rain, and right as we were in line waiting to be let in to Dollywood, it started to drizzle. ¬†And didn’t stop all afternoon.

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JAM-PACKED in Timber Canyon.

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6:00pm rolled around, just four hours into park operation for the day, and ropes started going up in front of ride queues. ¬†We were soaked, but we were committed to getting the most out of this season pass which we’d only used twice.

“Is the park closing?” I asked a Dollywood employee. ¬†It was supposed to stay open for another three hours.

“Yup, bad weather coming this way,” she said.

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So Dollywood management just decided to shut down the park early. ¬†We looked at the forecast, and the weather was not anticipated to get any worse than it had been all day. ¬†Lance and I figured that it was probably related to the very light crowd in the park all day–it wasn’t cost-effective to leave the park open for maybe 100 guests.

Lance was obviously disappointed–Dollywood is practically his second home (aside from Bath & Body Works…and Pei Wei…and Target…). ¬†I was disappointed because we’d spent 11 hours in the car the day before to get here and only got six total hours in the park. ¬†I was on the verge of breaking down into tears thinking that all that driving was for naught.

On the way out of the park, I made sure to visit Guest Relations. ¬†“They’re going to make this right, dammit!” I said, though I didn’t know how much of a case we’d have as season passholders who just happened not to have used their season passes all year.

“Well, we can offer you essentially a rain check pass to come back during the 2014 year,” the Guest Relationships rep told us. ¬†We took it.

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So now we basically HAVE to go back to Dollywood in 2014 in order to take advantage of our free passes (I’m not one to easily pass up a good deal.) ¬†Which means another 22+ hour roundtrip commute to eastern Tennessee.

GAH.