Our second port of call was San Diego. Having heard of its charm, beauty, and the annual comic convention – which we missed this year but desperately hope to attend next summer if I can beguile . . . er, convince Dasad – we decided to scout out the city. We stopped first at the zoo, since it was a bit of the inspiration for Critchon’s Jurassic Park and I was curious to see if it lived up to its reputation.
“This place is more like an amusement park,” Dasad said, gazing at the map, nearly the size of a Risk game board. Various regions color-coded by continent or climate, divided the map into pieces; animal icons indicated species-specific paddocks. We decided to invade the ‘Urban Jungle’ first, one of more intriguing lands with rhinos and anteaters and because it was also closest to the entrance. Along the way, we halted our expedition to take pictures of some koalas and a capybara, the largest rodent on Earth, a fact indifferent to most tourists.
“Here come take a look at this big rat,” a red-faced man said picking up a small boy, who I assume was related in some way. “If only I had my shotgun . . .”
The pair (father and son?) walked off to join a larger group – family I suppose – the man, shouting ‘Boom! Boom! Click!’ in his wake. The unwitting ‘rats’ continued to scamper around the cage, blissfully ignorant and sleepy.
We made our way to the elephant paddock then, a huge pen intermingled with other animals: vultures, lions, snakes, insects, and other modern day descendents of those swallowed by tar eons ago. The elephant compound could not have been larger had the zoo built it for dinosaurs. Large open space sparingly furnished with trees and downed logs; a gated bridge joined the two enormous pens, allowing tourists to pass beneath. Huge steel rails, nearly as thick as a mammoth’s thigh, circled the enclosure. I had the passing image of a rampaging bull elephant ramming against the bars, trumpeting in rage, scattering frightened tourists.
Mom once warned us after noticing the heightened police presence at the mall that we should be careful, watchful for gangs and pickpockets. Pat and I laughed then at the irony, but looking at the huge mammals stomp across the plain, I have a greater appreciation for what Mom meant. Despite the impressive lodgings, the dung beetles garnered larger crowds than the mammals whose waste they depended on. We fought through the crowds for just a glimpse of three black bugs the size of quarter roll dung up a hill. Amazing.
Passing through a tunnel beneath the paddock, Dasad spied a large four-foot statue of a condor or an eagle, silently surveying the nearby leopard pen. Various statues and animal busts guarded several of the enclosure throughout the park, perhaps like fiberglass owls back home, to scare away local (and thus uninteresting) wildlife from the grounds. Nonplussed my friend attempted to ride the stone bird, but stretching his legs across the bird’s back proved dangerous, awkward, and painful – unfortunately he halted the attempt before I managed to free my camera. Feeling quite foolish, I suppose, amid the crowds, he instead stood behind the animal and humped it.
One of the zoo officials called out to him as I took the shot.
“Hey man!” Somehow I felt that this exhibition would signify an immediate expulsion from the park and probably several PETA fines to boot. The fact that the animal was actually made of stone and several times larger than its model seemed a moot point.
Thus I gaped while the official high-fived Dasad and yelled, “Some days man. Some days, I wish I could get some too . . .”
What this signified about San Diego zoo employees, I could only guess, but Dasad reacted as if he had received a medal of honor. Worse, he had discovered an audience, and if there’s one thing I learnt from reading Batman over the years, it’s that crazy people love an audience – which is why Freud created psychologists. Garnering strength from his new fan base, my friend proceeded to pleasure several additional stone fauna before we managed to extricate ourselves from the park.
On the way down to the Seaport Village, we passed the city’s monstrous convention hall, swarming little more than a week ago with geeks and fanboys for the 2009 ComiCon. Of the city’s many pleasures, this stood out in my mind as I’ve been meaning to attend the convention for the last few years, only to arrive now several days late and a dollar short.
While Dasad and Jay argued over suitable dining for the evening (seafood or Mexican), I gazed with rapt attention at the sizable edifice, imagining the site next year: awash with costumes, movie stars, and fans from every corner of geekdom. Aisles glazed in plastic inserts, polished art, and one-of-a-kind sketches. Manga and graphic novels shimmering on the racks like unpolished gold, shrouding the magnificent stories deep within their leaves. Beautiful. Next summer when we fly back to San Diego, we’ll need to bring extra bags for . . .
“Wait, hold on dude,” Dasad interrupted as we drove north under a multitude of cranes, arching above us like medieval cathedral. One or two cargo ships in dock sleep patiently while the mechanical arms reached down and snatched at the crates nestled snugly in their holds. “Who said anything about coming back for ComiCon?”
“Well, I did silly. Thought it best to mention the trip now, so you can plan out the rest of your year. Save the date, and all that.”
“We’re not going to ComiCon or at least I’m not.”
“Of course, WE are. Did you not hear what I said about the comics, the movie stars, and the graphic novels like buried gold? Beautiful stories buried beneath piles of obsequious merchandizing? The metaphor might be too subtle. Maybe an allusion . . .”
“No way. Do you know how much the tickets to fly to Anaheim cost?”
“About $400 dollars round trip?” For both of us, and for the moment ignoring hotel expenses. As I said, I’ve been considering rubbing elbows with geek-elite since New Years.
“Well, San Diego is probably more. Just to see sweaty unbathed virgins pore over stories we can buy here with the airfare we save.”
“With the rising cost of gasoline that might not be true anymore . . .”
“I can live without it,” he grumbled. For someone horny enough to violate a cement eagle, he sure had difficulty sucking it up now and then. I penciled him in as a definite maybe, and listening to my stomach growl, refocused my efforts on finding dinner.
We decided on Old Town, a collection of historical houses and shops much in way of Colonial Williamsburg, back home. I tried picturing John Wayne or Clint Eastwood walking through the streets, kicking up dust and dried blood with their six-shooters as their sides, but the green lawns and ice cream parlors suggested more Ann of Green Gables than the Man with No Name.
The surrounding area about the antiquated buildings is devoted to small Mexican markets filled with trinkets and t-shirts and restaurants, bursting with the scent of refried beans and sizzling fajitas. Here – at least according to Jay’s iPhone – the enchiladas and burritos were considered quite authentic, and being quite techno-savvy, as well as famished, we strode the three blocks without argument to the restaurant just outside Old Town’s Plaza del Pasado, a hotel that showcased live entertainment and open-air dining with fiery brick fireplaces. The sun had sunk behind the architecture, and the warmth of the fires was inviting. While Jay convened with Google, Dasad and I stopped to gaze at a sign just outside the plaza.
“Haunted tours, huh?” Dasad read. “Nine o’clock. ‘We know where the ghosts are.’ Sounds interesting.”
“Might be fun to simply stand in the back and scream every now and then,” I said, “Just to keep things interesting.”
“Probably isn’t much though. Hell, we could start our own tour. Get a list of places, research the history, and then scare the tourists with flashlights and mirrors. Easy. We’d get plenty of screams just having you pop out from time to time.”
“Funny,” I muttered.
“Here boys and girls,” he shouted in his best Barnum-voice, “We have the rare treat of encountering a single American otaku, look at his pale features and large gut. Unemployed specimens like Murph here dwell in the dungeons and cellars of their ancestors, absorbed in painting miniatures and playing with themselves. Watch out Miss, he has not known a woman’s touch in so long . . . He might become unpredictable when aroused.”
“Look, I wouldn’t . . .” I began.
“Ewww, Mommy make it go away. Its pasty skin . . . like it’s dead.” Dasad continued, whining in a high-pitched voice.
“Don’t worry, son. We’ll go to the gym tomorrow or spend the day outside. It hates sunlight and physical labor. Otaku can’t chase us even if we jog.”
In my case, this happens to be quite true. In his current marathon-ready state, I could never hope to catch Dasad even if he skipped up the lane (which he does, ladies, more often than any grown man should). I returned with a few pointed jabs at Trekkies, computer consultants, and assholes until I felt that we were even. Together we laughed at the absurdity, creating several other skits before we reached the restaurant. Jay followed silently – clearly the most mature of our group – holding his iPhone before him as if scanning the area for clues.
Now Mexican food is a treat for me, one reserved for road trips and the occasional movie night with Dasad. The man loves his spicy food about as much as my family hates it: the hot sauce and spices do not mix well with their strict meat and potatoes diet. Thus, I only manage to feast on enchiladas about twice a year (I refused to eat at Taco Bell with their $.99 tacos and brown bean parfait, sluiced through an old Slushee machine and sprinkled with week-old chedder.).
Thus, I had high hopes for Casa Guadalajara.
Inside we were met with an explosion of color: paper streamers of sun-burnt oranges, reds, and blues hung loosely from the ceiling; large vases overflowed with green leaves and bombastic flowers; and striped tablecloths like hand-woven shrouds dangled from long family-sized tables. A mariachi band played in the corner and families chattered noisily in the corner. Kids giggled, running and ducking beneath their parents legs. The whole place reminded me so much of home, I nearly cried.
Our waiter sat us down and gave us our menus. One of the principal rules for dining – much like grocery shopping – is to never ever choose anything on an empty stomach. This might at first appear a rather faulty paradox, seeing as you arrive at a restaurant to eat, and thus rather peckish. Yet men oft order with their eyes, thinking little of the portions their hunger demands, and before you can consider otherwise, your appetizers spread out before you several portions larger than expected. Like the surfer praying for a wave, and ending up with a tsunami.
Such was our case. The appetizer in addition to the free chips and salsa nearly overwhelmed us; nevertheless we dived in, scooping out soft tacos, guacamole salsa, and cheese drenched chips. Five minutes into our feast, we abandoned our pre-game meal to the doggy bag and loosened our belts. Our burritos and enchiladas had yet to arrive, and short of storing the meal in my cheeks, most of our entrees would have to be taken home.
In the end, we waddled from the restaurant, our arms dangled with take-home bags, our guts hanging over our belts in complete and utter satisfaction. After a walk around the shops and market – searching in vain for an authentic pancho for Dasad – we left to drive back to Anaheim. Tomorrow we would set up the Pacific Coast Highway, on our road to Napa Valley and a truck full of wine.