Sunday, July 25, 2010

They Say You're Going Places

I just got back from a week in California! If you know my family, you know that Disney is a big deal. Big, big, big deal. We are in Disneyland at least once a year and usually at least one of us is also at Disney World or the Tokyo Disney Resort at one time or another during the year. 90% of the art work in our house is Disney. I tell people that Disney barely comes in second to Jesus in my family. They laugh, but it's not too far from a reality.

This was our first year staying in one of our vacation club condos. We have membership in the Disney Vacation Club and get to stay in really nice condos with multiple bedrooms and a full kitchen at the Disney Resorts. I was perfectly content to sit in the condo all day really. The Grand Californian hotel is nothing short of spectacular:

We are definitely a bastard step-child family when it comes to vacation club guests. We stay in an extremely nice condo in a five star hotel, but we drive in a crappy mini-van (which got us stranded in the desert on the way home; 'nother story, 'nother time) with a Utah license plate. We didn't fly in. The window on the driver's side doesn't roll down so we open the door to talk to the bell-hops. We don't want them to carry our luggage to our room because we can't afford to tip them. And on our drive to and from we stay at super sketchy, white-trash motels in St. George. Real classy.

Disneyland can be miserable in the summer if you don't know how to do it right. I feel bad seeing other people having a horrible time in the park. I've decided I'm going to make every effort to only go during off-season. It is simply the only way to go.

What I really want to talk about is a little excursion I made by myself. The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California is the only place my family EVER vacations. Does it get old you ask? Yeah. It does. I'll always love that place and I'll always go back, but I do have yearnings to see other things. I kind of realized that even though this is a travel experience, I'm so sheltered because it's the exact same trip every single time. I see the same things. I might as well be teleporting back and forth from Farmington to Anaheim. This time, I was going to actually take advantage of being in Southern California.

I was lucky that my family chose to go to California while the Tony Award winning musical In the Heights was playing at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. I was in New York just a couple weeks after In the Heights had won the Tony Award for Best Musical and of course, getting tickets was impossible. I couldn't even believe my luck when I found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, lyricist, and actor who originally played the lead role, Usnavi, was booked for the Pantages engagement. I HAD to go.

The tickets were surprisingly very affordable, it was getting there that was going to be difficult. I was going to go by myself in that my family clearly wasn't interested. I wouldn't have the car because my parents were taking my younger brothers to Legoland that day. I could ask the concierge at the hotel to set up a cab for me, but that could potentially cost hundreds of dollars. My option was then public transportation. And let me tell you, it was the experience of a life-time.

I meticulously planned out the trip, looked up what trains to take and where to make the transfers. I gave myself hours of extra safety net time, but of course, I ended up on the train (thanks to my parents) as it was leaving, without a ticket. I was immediately kicked off the train at the next stop in Fullerton because I was riding illegally. Luckily, another train of a different railway system was right behind it. It costed extra, but hey, it was super nice and completely empty. It was a coach coming from the airport and the interior was nearly identical to that of an airplane. I got on with a guy in his 20s that had a little kid with him that couldn't have been any older than 10. They sat right in front of me. The ride was just under an hour to my transfer and I couldn't help but overhear parts of their converstaion. It was absolutely beautiful. I was able to establish that they were cousins, the younger one had come from out of town for a family reunion. They were looking through a photo album and I heard things like this:

Young cousin: "Who's that?"
Older cousin: "Your other cousin, my younger brother."
Y: "Why haven't I met him?"
O: "He died"
Y: "How?"
O:  "A drug overdose."
Y: "What does that mean?"
O: "He just took too many drugs and his body couldn't handle it. He was 15 years old. You were a baby."
Y: "Would he come to the reunion if he were alive?"
O: "(laughing) How would I know that?"
Y: "(pointing upwards) Ask him."

The ride on that Amtrak coach to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles was really nice, and I came out teary eyed. Call me a creep, whatever.

Union Station was intimidating to say the least. I needed to transfer onto one of the metro lines underground. It took me a while to find it. It was definitely a change of scenery. Definitely different from the nice clean train I had taken earlier. Riding in that metro was like checking into an insane asylum. While I waited for the train, people were eyeing me and standing ridiculously close to me. I had my hand glued to my wallet. I was dressed decently in that I was going to go see a professional, national touring company, and by default I was by far the wealthiest looking person around. Once I got on the train, I noticed I was the white-est person there; a very different feeling for me. I'm used to being the only person of any color at all in sight.

Just before the train started moving, this five foot nothing hispanic woman, probably in her 80s, gets up and moves to the seat directly across the aisle from me. Once we started moving, she was yelling at everyone on the train in Spanish with this terrifying scowl on her face. People disregarded it as if it was a regular occurance. I was terrified. Some people got closer to her and nodded, others glared at her, most ignored her. A couple stops after, a man that looked like he had never bathed in his life got on. He had dread locks that looked like possums, inch-long fingernails, and smelled like something had died inside of him. He was completely delirious. He was giggling, whispering things to himself, grinding on people standing up, getting right in people's faces and screaming "EXCUSE ME!" every ten seconds or so. He was happy though.

Although  I was shaking and maybe a little bit scared for my life, I think that was a great experience for me. It was great to get away from sunshine-y, squeaky clean Anaheim, into the real world of Los Angeles and Hollywood. It's not a nice place, but hey, most of this world isn't. Luckily the Hollywood and Vine station was right across the street from the Pantages so I didn't have to wander around. Even in my short walk across the street, there was a very dark and filthy spirit associated with Hollywood Blvd.

I sat down and watched the show, and was absolutely blown away. If you've seen this show, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. The energy has your blood pumping from beginning to end. The score is up-beat, exciting, and beautiful. The story is hilarious, heart-breaking, relevant, and inspiring. I had high expectations, and they were more than met. I'm serious when I say that this might be the best piece of musical theater I have ever seen. I've been reading reviews of this touring company, and some say that they are a stronger group than the original Broadway cast. That doesn't surprise me. Every. Single. Person....was absolutely incredible. This was the best collection of talent I've ever seen in a single produciton. It was amazing to see Lin-Manuel at the helm, guiding his baby. It's really something to see someone play the lead role in a piece that they wrote themselves. He had an indescribable investment in the show. How have I been so lucky this summer? Audra McDonald and now this?

There was a beautiful correlation between the depicted financial struggles of these people in Washington Heights, New York and what I had just experienced on the metro.

I most identified with the character Nina. I sort of loathe when I identify most with a female character because then I know I can never play them. ANYway. Nina has just returned from her freshman year in college, but has a big secret. We're at the same place in life, so it's not bad that I related to a chick, ok? I'll relate to Usnavi more once I'm older and working in the real world. Anyway, what I really loved about this story was that it centered around such normal issues. I think sometimes we want theater to make us uncomfortable. We want to see these horrible ordeals, these adult situations, these gruesome sights. Don't get me wrong, I think there is a lot to learn from heavy subject-matter, but I also think that you can tell a moving, dramatic, and inspirational story about simple problems. The issues covered in this story are very simple. There's no drugs, no adultery, no suicide, no abuse, and no murder, but the story is still very serious and very moving. Anyone that's ever been part of a family or a community can relate to it. I don't want to spoil any more of it. Just make every effort to see it.

Arielle Jacobs singing Breathe:

So beautiful. This video doesn't do her justice though.

The rest of the touring cast on Lopez Tonight:

Sorry about the scatter-brained nature of this (and every) post. I'm too lazy to organize this many thoughts. Overall, I'm glad I got to go on vacation. I loved being in my home away from home, but loved getting out and seeing the world even more. Exploration is a great thing.


  1. @momJulee (via Twitter)July 26, 2010 at 11:13:00 AM MDT

    Wow, great experiences!

  2. Jon, I'm really jealous of your little slice of the real world. haha That sounds weird, but oh well! Congrats! ps. your posts always keep me entertained and I find myself saying, "Oh, me too!" a lot. haha

  3. Erik, you have heard of In The Heights right? That show made me wish I were loud and proud Latino.