Tag Archives: Vacation

Some thoughts on the magic of the Magic Kingdom


There’s a scene in the movie Nation Lampoon’s Vacation that I never saw coming. After fighting their way across the United States, through horrible tragedies, dead grandmothers & dogs, the Griswold family station wagon barrels into the completely empty parking lot of Wally World – a thinly disguised DisneyLand – only to discover the park was closed for maintenance.

At that moment, I sat transfixed. Someone else had been there, too. Someone else had felt the crushing defeat just as I had when I was nine years old in 1974. Unlike the Griswolds, my father and I barreled into the massive parking lot, not in a station wagon, but a vintage Porsche 356B, but just like them, the lot (which is now Disney’s California Adventure) was eerily empty. Back in those days, DisneyLand was closed one day a week, and no doubt many a well-meaning father delivered their excited children unto the doorstep of disappointment.

That has, perhaps, colored forever my perception of DisneyLand.

We went back in 1977, and, while I remember having fun, it wasn’t so much so that I’ve had any reason to go back until 2010.

And so now we’re here with our children and I’m having fun. It’s hard not to have when so many people around you, and especially your own children, are having a blast. Fun is infectious.

The analytical part of me is dissecting each ride, marveling that what was cutting edge 1955 technology is still very much in evidence and musing as to why the rides are supposed to be fun, but I must acknowledge that they are fun.

I am, perhaps, too jaded (or cynical, as some have said) to completely switch off Mr. Analytical and enjoy myself unreservedly as a kid might, but I can nonetheless enjoy it in my own way, and I can enjoy, and even empathize, seeing that unreservedly joy in my kids’ eyes, laughs and smiles.

Location:W Convention Way,Anaheim,United States

Trips and Videos

In a couple weeks, we’ll be in Taiwan.

I’ve upgraded (or downgraded, depending on how you look at it) all our travel video gear. This year, in addition to digital cameras and phones that can record video, we’ll be carrying two different mini-HD cameras. Chu-Wan has a “Flip MinoHD Camcorder, 60 Minutes (Black)” (Flip Video) and I have a “Kodak Zi8 Pocket Video Camera (Aqua)” (Eastman Kodak Company). So far, I’m particularly happy with the Zi8 because it uses SD cards, has a replaceable battery and a microphone jack. These small cameras really have a problem with camera shake because they’re so light your hand just naturally moves them around a lot.

I’ve upgraded my Vimeo account to handle all HD videos and I’ve setup a dedicated channel just for videos from this trip. You can subscribe to the Lone Locust Taiwan 2010 Channel right here.

Don’t expect greatness, but do expect some video from Taiwan…

Victory of the Daleks – Review – Spoilers

This is really going to me more about the Daleks than this week’s episode of Doctor Who, but we’ll do both.

Victory of the Daleks is the Moffat-era reboot of the Daleks, and they desperately needed a reboot, but will this really be an improvement?

Summary

Winston Churchill calls the Doctor to the Cabinet War Rooms during the London Blitz to introduce his new secret weapon against the Nazi’s, the Daleks – although he doesn’t know them as Daleks, but instead as Ironsides, created by Prof. Bracewell.

The Doctor goes F-ing crazy to try to prove they’re nasty little alien Daleks and when he finally confronts them face-to-face proclaiming himself to be the Doctor and they to be the Daleks they get all happy and leave, but not before revealing that Bracewell is an android they created as a cover story, but he thinks he’s a real boy.

Back on the Dalek ship, they use the recording of the Doctor to prove they’re really Daleks and start the Progenitor device: A Dalek gene-bank to create a new army of Daleks. The Daleks threaten to destroy the Earth, the Doctor saves the Earth, but the Daleks escape.

Analysis

This first non-Moffat story of the Moffat-era is entertaining, but ultimately empty. It’s nothing more than a vehicle to unleash the Daleks into the Who-universe once more. The Dalek plan seems nearly hare-brained, the plot device that says the genetically-imperfect Daleks can’t activate the Progenitor device is ridiculous to begin with (wouldn’t it be better if anyone could turn it on with the right passcode?) and the resolution of just having the Doctor admit they’re Daleks being good enough to overcome the lockout beggar’s belief.

Before I go on about the Daleks, let me take a moment to talk about the rest of the episode. Spitfires in space, fighting Daleks, yeah, Ok, that was fun. Winston Churchill, not much of a key player, looked a little fatter than I remember. Amy did a nice job, but then she’d brighten any scene she’s in. Prof. Bracewell as the misguided android did a nice job. (And he likes girls.)

But let’s go back to the Daleks.

Do you know what it takes to make a genuinely mediocre episode of Doctor Who? Answer: The Daleks.

Confined in their metal city on Skaro, in a claustrophobic setting, they were a credible threat. Unleashed on the universe, they’re a joke. I’m sure the writers of the original Doctor Who knew that. Just look at the Dalek stories starting in the Pertwee era. They are absolutely the most unconvincing villains ever created, but they’re popular with the punters and they just had to keep bringing them back. Even back then, their master plans were idiotic. Hollowing out the cores of planets, running their own funeral parlor, etc. The power of nostalgia overcomes people when thinking about the Daleks.

Then a funny thing happened, Russell T. Davies, an admittedly massively nostalgic fan of the original series, came along and he wanted his Daleks to be menacing – like he remembered them in the misty, poorly remembered corners of his mind. (Keep this in mind, They were never menacing, it’s just his memory failing.) So, during his reign, the Daleks were brilliant and massively powerful. One single Dalek could wipe out an entire city. They’re really, really dangerous.

Problem is, if they’re so smart, that might be able to learn and adapt and become peaceful, even productive members of the universe. Not to mention that, but, if they did take over the universe, what would they do with it? Really, they’ve got no good motivation, either. Can’t have that, let’s make them insane too! It doesn’t matter how dumb the idea, right up to and including destroying reality itself, they’re up for it. They’re crazy, the audience will buy anything they want to do.

No, we won’t.

The Daleks should never have been made so smart and all-powerful that they could destroy all of reality, no more than the Time Lords should have been made powerful enough to destroy all of time itself. When you get villains that big and powerful any plot you come up with just gets dumber and dumber and the resolution more insane.

The Daleks desperately needed a reboot (as do the Time Lords). Perhaps these new Daleks, unaware of what’s transpired, will be closer to the older Daleks. Big enough of a threat to take over whole planets, subjugate whole races of people, launch intergalactic wars. but not big enough to contemplate the total destruction of the fabric of reality. Let’s give the Doctor something I can believe he could defeat using his wits.

So with this story, let’s all wish on the first star we see tonight and send Stephen Moffat some psychic messages. If we can’t have “no Daleks, ever”, then at least let’s wish for “sensible Daleks.”

A lot of ire has been spreading across the ‘net regarding the look of the new Daleks. I can take it or leave it. Since they barely ever looked menacing, I don’t think the new ones are much of a departure. They’re bigger, they’re colorful, they’re still laughable.

The Priceline Experience

Now, I can make my final judgment on our recent experiment using priceline.com to book our hotels.

A brief recap:

  • We decided to book our hotel(s) on a San Diego trip via Priceline’s name your price program.
  • We bid for 3 nights at a minimum 3-star hotel at $75 per night – fully expecting to be rejected
  • We “won” the bid, to our delight at the Woodfin San Diego.
  • We decided we could afford another night at that rate and attempted to extend the day an additional day at the same rate.
  • Priceline could not match the $75 and instead was able to offer $116. We decided to decline.
  • We thought we’d be clever and tried to extend the stay the other direction and arrive one day earlier.
  • Having already bid on an extension at the end, Priceline would not allow us to try to arrive earlier, either.
  • We decided to bid separately for another night, knowing it would be at a different hotel.
  • We again bid $75, but this time chose only 4-star hotels.
  • Again to our surprise (and even greater delight) we got a room at the Omni San Diego.

Actually, before we attempted to extend the stay at the Woodfin, we checked the place out online. The hotel seemed just fine, and we noted that most of the rooms at the hotel were actually suites with a bedroom, living room with sofa bed and kitchenette. We inquired with the hotel and learned we could “upgrade” for $20 more a night. The kitchenette meant could prepare our own breakfasts and save nearly $20 each day, and a sofa bed for the kids wouldn’t go amiss.

We took that into account before we bid on the extension, so, in essence, we were prepared to pay a total of $95 per night (still cheap by San Diego room rates available online.) That meant that the $116 became $136 and that was just out-of-bounds.

The hotel itself was perfectly acceptable. It was clean, quiet and close to several of the places we wanted to go. It was also close to fast food and other restaurants, a Fresh & Easy for shopping and a park where we took the kids to play in the evening.

We were never troubled in any way by staff or other guests. There was the fire alarm incident, but you can’t hold anyone to blame for things like that.

If I had any criticism of the it might be that one evening we called and asked for extra towels and they said housekeeping would bring them up and they never did.

Priceline Experience 1: Woodfin San Diego. Good price, good room, no complaints. If this is an example of the typical Priceline experience (especially if you don’t go trying to change things after you’ve started) then it’s all recommended by me.

Now, on to the Omni San Diego…

Largely what you might expect from the Omni would be a top-class hotel, and indeed it was in every way. The facilities were immaculate and well designed. The staff were all friendly, efficient and almost comically eager to please. I described elsewhere how they found Sawyer the Cat for us. The hotel also provides a toy bag for each child staying in the hotel. the bag, somewhat mysteriously, also contains a kazoo. Who in their right mind would give a kazoo to kids in a hotel?

Being just an “ordinary” room with two beds, we didn’t have nearly as much space as we did at the Woodfin, but it was more luxurious (I’m not sure that’s quite the right word but it will have to do.)

The stay wasn’t quite as uneventful as at the Woodfin. The first night (and remember, we were only booked for one) there was a room party of some kind 2 doors down. It didn’t sound exactly like a big party, but the music was a bit loud (enough to come through the walls from two rooms down) and two or three children kept running out of the room, slamming the door, and running up and down the hotel corridor every few minutes.

Unfortunately, the doors to the room opened inwards, and I was unable to swing it open and give them an “accidental” face full of door as they passed our room over and over. They quieted down by 10:00PM. That’s a little late when you’ve got small children going to bed at 8:30, but not excessively, so I hadn’t reached the point where I would call the hotel. Either they voluntarily shut down before I decided to call, or the hotel shut them down.

Despite that, we decided on the first night that we were going to test Priceline again and try to stay yet another night. We realized we wouldn’t get the kids to the beach if we didn’t add a day.

Here’s another restriction we learned about Priceline: You can only extend a stay by the same number of day (or less) of the original bid. In other words, we could have attempted to extend the stay at the Woodfin up to three more nights, but we could only try to extend the stay at the Omni by one night. This was no problem because we only wanted one night, but it’s good to know for future reference.

We weren’t hopeful we’d get an extension. We were scheduled to depart on Friday morning, and so we’d be trying to book into a weekend slot, which is no doubt busier and normally more expensive.

Once again, Priceline couldn’t get a $75 extension, but came up with $94, which we felt was reasonable enough to accept.

Indeed, the next day the hotel was noticeably livelier. It turns out that the Omni is next door to Petco ballpark. Sadly, they don’t play cricket there, but instead that baseball game that’s all the rage in this country, and there was a game Friday night, so the whole area was packed, and, from our window, we could watch the left fielder (cow corner) play ball.

So, the Omni itself was just about perfect. Just about. My complaint? I think the complaint is more about Priceline. It’s hidden costs… the Omni charges $30 per night for their parking (which is valet only.) That would have effectively bumped our $75 per night room to $105, or a 40% increase over what we bided and accepted.

We parked at a garage across the street for less than the $30, but that was still an unexpected additional cost “gotcha.” At no point in the Priceline bid process do you have any opportunity to specify any form of minimum requirements such as “free parking.”

So, Priceline Experience 2: Omni San Diego. Great price, but hidden costs. Exceptional experience otherwise.

In conclusion

Overall I’m quite pleased with the Priceline experience. It reduced our costs down so much that we were actually able to take a short vacation, which we had pretty much concluded was not going to be able to happen this year due to finances. In fact, that worked so well, we were able to take a two-day longer vacation than we originally planned.

I would; however, take from this a couple of lessons.

The first is to be wary of hidden costs, and plan accordingly. I don’t know any way you prevent them from happening based on the system they’ve got and I don’t know how often these things happen. I’m sure that 99.9% of all hotels in California have free parking, so this was just “one of those things” but it does seem like it might need to be taken into account.

The second is to go with the 4 star hotels and bid low, really low. The same room we got at $75, booked online at the Omni’s website costs $219 per night – but includes “complimentary valet parking for one car per night”.

Third, plan your vacation a lot better than we did. Figure out exactly how many nights you’re going to stay, in advance, and stick to it. Even if you have to say to yourself, “We’ll stay five nights if we can get $75 and only four if it is over $90…” etc, and then bid accordingly. Save any further thoughts of extending your stay until you’re in the room.

Next domestic trip, I can assure you, we will be using Priceline to book our rooms.

San Diego – Day Five – Our Fate was Sealed

Sometimes people need to learn to pull their heads out of their butts.

Personally, I’ve had to hold back this narrative of our last full day in San Diego because of how pissed off I get every time I sat down to write it. I’m just going to divorce myself from commenting on it in any detail.

The kids wanted to go to the beach. Fair enough, I’m told there’s one of those ocean things near San Diego, and in some places that sand stuff gets washed ashore. The children are not particularly strong strong swimmers in a swimming pool. In a moving body of water, they have to be considered strictly non-swimmers. A quick google looking for “best kids beach near San Diego” quickly hit upon something that sounded perfect. A beach with a man-made break water designed to make a calm, safe place for kids to go. Known as the “Children’s Pool Beach” – you couldn’t get a more perfect description of what I was looking for.

And so we went to La Jolla, where we discovered that a bunch of frickin’ seals, who apparently also think that beach is a great place to take their children thanks to the man-made breakwater, have taken residence in the area.

It seems that allowing those nasty human children on the beach (must I remind you? that was built for them) disturbs the seals. To help further the goal of breaking down the very fabric of human civilization, a group of dedicated crackpot, whack-a-loons…. (sorry, I promised not to editorialize)… concerned idiots… (nope, try again) fucktards (Yeah, that’s the word I wanted, “fucktards”) have seemingly setup a vigil to stop people from using the beach.

The city has been forced to put up official signs (I noticed the other beaches didn’t have them.) that say, in effect, “This public beach is for the public use at any time.” It has the same tone to it as the Los Angeles airport’s continual PA announcements that say, “You don’t have give money to any panhandling, religious nutjob organization begging for money in this airport at any time.” The signs are clearly in response to a chronic, ongoing problem with harassment.

IMG_0154
You don’t have to look far to find it. The seal fucktards have erected signs all over the place, craftily worded to make it sound like you’re not allowed to go on the beach. Result of their efforts: No one was on the beach, not man nor beast, just lots of parents with their expectant children standing up at the top of the cliffs, looking longingly down on the inviting, yet stubbornly empty beach and the calm, placid waters beyond.

I have nothing against seals. I mean, what’s not to like about seals? They’re furry, cute, cuddly (until one decides to kill you) and they juggle and play the bicycle horn a lot better than I do. It’s seal fucktards I don’t care for. If a swarm of mosquitoes infested their children’s schools (assuming these people can even procreate) they’d demand them to be eliminated. (The mosquitos, not the children, although I wouldn’t put it past some of them to even get that backwards.)

If a great white shark had setup patrol in the children’s pool beach, they’d be all for getting rid of it. (Not because of the danger to children, of course, but because it might eat the seals), but apparently we can’t run the seals off from a man-made beach designed for children.

There’s a word for that kind of “conservationist”: (in addition to “fucktard”, that is) hypocrite.

And so we, and all the other parents, gave a small victory to the seal fucktards and moved on to another beach which wasn’t nearly as nice. (Bitter? I’m not bitter.)

(As an aside, I’ve done a bit of further research on this beach thing and have discovered that it’s quite a hot debate – go figure, some people have nothing better to do. They should start blogs instead. May I suggest blogs.fucktard,net? In any case, it seems the courts came to the right decision and ordered the city of San Diego to force the seals off the beach, but that’s been stalled by headline-desperate politicians, bean counters and… well, a damned stupid idea of dispersing the seals by playing recordings of dogs barking at the beach from sunrise to sunset for years to come. As I said, some serious head-from-butt-ectomies need to be performed.)

After a not-as-carefree-as-it-should-have-been day at the beach, we headed towards the Dumpling Inn, a somewhat famous local establishment serving northern chinese style dumplings, potstickers and the like. I could have eaten a couple more trays of their potstickers. They were really quite good.

IMG_6501 We finished the day staying close to the hotel and a Cinderella carriage ride around the Seaport Village, which Michelle really wanted to do. Well, how could a father refuse his little princess such a small thing?

San Diego – Day Four – We’re Movin’ On Up!

It was goodbye to the 3-star Woodfin today and hello to the 4-star Omni San Diego. I’ll relate more about the ultimate Priceline experience later, suffice it to say the Omni is a nicer hotel, right next to the Gaslamp district and the convention center – for less money per night.

We got out of the Woodfin by 8:15AM, knowing full well that we couldn’t check into the Omni until after 3:00PM. As the Omni is near the zoo, today’s main destination, we decided to see if we could leave our luggage at the hotel until check-in time. The idea of leaving all our luggage in the parking lot at Balboa Park all day didn’t sit well with me. However, we were in luck as the Omni checked us in early and we were in our room by 9:00AM.

This was followed by a better part of the day at the San Diego Zoo, which is, entirely consistent with their worldwide reputation, still one of the best in the world. Although, being that the Wild Animal Park we saw yesterday is their breeding program facility – there’s a lot of duplication between the two. I was well and truly “zooed out” by the end of the visit.

A recent change to the park rules prevented us from brining our own food, so we decided to get out shortly after 1:00PM to get (another) late lunch.

By 2:00 we’d arrived at the San Diego Chicken Pie Shop. This was a restaurant that was within walking distance of our hotel back a few years ago, but we never went there. Largely because it seemed so weird and was an almost complete non-entity on the internet. We couldn’t figure out what the place really was. Was it nothing but chicken pot pies? Or was it something else? or something more?

This time, although they still seem to eschew joining the internet era, we were able to determine that there’d be food for everyone in the family and we decided to give it a try.

What an interesting place! it’s been a San Diego fixture for over 70 years – yes, seventy years. Their menu hasn’t changed much, either. Prices are up, but still very cheap compared to other San Diego restaurants. Rather than being an emporium of dozens of different chicken pies, they have only one: Chicken, turkey and gravy in a pie. They also serve other old-style family restaurant staples, like chicken-fried steak, chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes and various homemade (dessert) pies. Nothing spectacular, but good, solid, filing and cheap.

After lunch it was back to Balboa park and the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center. The kids had a blast at the science center. It’s tiny compared to the science center in Phoenix but oh-so-much superior in every way that matters. With a floor filed with hands on experiments that emphasize doing rather than reading, it was more like a playground, which children enjoying themselves everywhere. it was clearly very popular with the locals.

I’ve documented my gripes about the Phoenix Science Center before, and this just re-affirms them in my mind. What really was driven home to me was that I’ve never been a big fan of science fairs. Most science fair projects that I’ve seen consist largely of one of those three-piece folded bits of foam-core board, with artwork, perhaps a few charts photos,narrative, maybe a button and light or two or a plant in a dish. It is precisely what you’d expect of a 10-year-old putting together a presentation. What I’ve realized about the Phoenix Science Center is that most of the exhibits are exactly at that level – they’re just professionally constructed. Since many of them are supplied by “sponsors” of the museum, I can’t help but wonder if these exhibits literally are just science fair exhibits from the sponsors’ employees’ children’s projects that have been re-built by the sponsor.

Perhaps you might think the “playful” exhibits aren’t educational enough? Let me respond by saying that more than once I heard both my children and others’ children playing with one of the exhibits and using the phrase that tells me they are a complete success: “How does it do that?” That’s what I want from a science center – to fire the curiosity and inspire the desire to inquire… (ouch, that was a bit overdone on the alliteration, wasn’t it?)

Back at the hotel, we decided that one night simply wasn’t enough and we used Priceline to try to extend our stay at the Omni another day. Although we couldn’t get $75 for another night, we got $96 and that was good enough for us to book it for another night.

Yelp and the iPhone lead us to The Kebob Shop for dinner which was within walking distance of the hotel and delicious!

San Diego – Day Three – When Animals Get Wild!

Day three brought us to the San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park.

Which constitutes a lot of walking and driving around looking at animals. ’nuff said.

Afterwards we explored the area, bought some “fresh” california produce from a roadside stand and stopped at Famer Boys Hamburgers, for a decent, if unremarkable late lunch.

That put us, unfortunately, at what is commonly called “an inopportune time” to be crossing town: rush hour.

We dodged into a nearby mall to kill some time. What we found was an Apple Store. Inside, I discovered that they had released a “Mac/iPhoto” edition of the EyeFi Wireless SD card, which not only uploads your photos wirelessly to you computer, but geotags them using the skyhook method. It’s a little expensive for a 2GB SD card, but I decided (after having spent last evening manually geotagging yesterday’s photos) that it might be a valuable addition to our vacation enjoyment.

(Typically, when I’m out and planning on geotagging, as was did today, I take my Garmin GPS and run it all day while I’m out and about. When I offload the pictures at the end of the day, I use HoudahGeo to synchronize the GPS track log and geotag all my photos. It works pretty well, but it would still be better if the photos were tagged as they were taken.)

We got back to the hotel room and I tried to setup the EyeFi card. That’s where the problems began.

The EyeFi card doesn’t quite work the way I expected. I had assumed (somewhat incorrectly) that the device communicated wirelessly with your computer, but rather it’s a device attached to your wireless network. Perhaps if I explain the setup the problem will become more obvious. I’ll stress here that the problem wasn’t with the EyeFi card, but with the resources I had available to me and my hopes of getting the card working for the rest of the trip.

The Woodfin San Diego, that we’re staying at, has wired internet in the rooms, for which they charge $6 a day. Yesterday, I signed up for two days’ worth, since we’ll be leaving tomorrow early. I thought I’d be clever (I’ve done this before) and I brought my Airport Express, which I connected to the wired network, and then connected to with my MacBook. As with most of these places, upon first use of the web you’re presented with the hotels terms and conditions plus, in this case, the ability to purchase internet access. I had expected that this would properly activate the internet for any device (such as my iPhone as well as my MacBook) over the wireless network, but it didn’t work out that way. Only the MacBook was authorized. A pity, but not a real problem – or so I thought. I continued to use the Airport Express because it was more convenient to be able to haul the computer around.

Along come the EyeFi card.

The EyeFi comes with a card reader (required for setup and handy, since I didn’t bring one with me). You plug the card and reader into the Mac and you load the software that is embedded on the SD card. The EyeFi software fires up on the Mac, you register an account with them (over the internet) and then you’re ready to initialize the card.

Problem: The card cannot be initialized without reaching their servers over the net, and it must do so wirelessly through your network, not using the computer’s pre-existing connection to EyeFi’s servers. This cannot be done on networks that force you to an agreement page, so I was stuck.

Next bright idea: I’d switch my MacBook to using the wired connection and then share my internet over the MacBook’s wireless. I’d then reconfigure the EyeFi setup to use the shared network instead of the Airport Express. That didn’t fly because the hotel network recognized the MacBook over the wired connection to be a different machine and forced me to pay for more internet, which I’m not going to do.

My hopes of using the EyeFi tomorrow are dashed, but hopefully the “complimentary” internet at the Omni will allow me to set it up just in time for our return drive to Phoenix.

For dinner we went to a strange little place called Jollibee, a Philippine-based fast food chain that specializes in hamburgers, fried chicken, spaghetti and a local rice/shrimp dish.

Irene ate some of James’ spaghetti and nostalgically said it tasted “…just like spaghetti did when I was growing up (in Taiwan)”. The fried chicken also had a familiar, “back home” taste to her. I was impressed, it was easily the hottest, most spicy fried chicken I’ve ever had. Curious place, and it was frequented by quite a few people who looked to be Filipinos. Pity they don’t have any in Arizona.

Nostalgia Pizza – Shakey’s Pizza Parlour

Ah, our memories from childhood! Oh, you youngsters don’t remember the days before microwave ovens, or before Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut had expanded out and dominated the entire country.

In those old days, there were one or two Pizza Huts in town – the old kind, with no delivery and a table-top video game in every store. We rarely went there when we were home, they were the poorest of the bunch, but we frequented them when we’d travel across the western United States. There was always one in most any town of any size. Just one, mind you. They hadn’t yet expanded to gargantuan proportions.

There was Pizza Inn, which I don’t remember well, but their motto was, “For pizza out, there’s Pizza Inn.”

There was Village Inn Pizza, with their distinctive A-Frame buildings. Completely incongruous in the Arizona desert, but several of the buildings still survive and are immediately recognizable to those of us who remember them.

Finally, there was Shakey’s Pizza Parlour. Of all the places, Shakey’s was my favorite, with their dark restaurants, long dark communal wooden tables, stained glass windows and those ridiculous red-striped shirts and straw hats that the employees had to wear. It was not the best pizza to be had, but it was consistent, good and, at lunch time, there was a great all-you-could-eat buffet with pizza, fried chicken and spaghetti. The only downside was that, back in those days, no one had ever heard of “free refills” on drinks, so you had to purchase a pitcher of soda to last through the meal – which could, if you were a growing boy like me, last 2 hours.

I don’t know when the last Shakey’s Pizza closed in Tucson, but I think it was about 1982. I used to go there for lunch during high school, but they were gone after I returned home from college for the summer. I’ve not had a Shakey’s pizza for at least 27 years.

I had thought them dead and gone until 2001 when I was planning a trip to Japan. I was looking through a Lonely Planet guidebook and, there, to my utter astonishment, on one of their maps of Tokyo was Shakey’s Pizza. I checked more maps and found more. I used the Internet and learned that Shakey’s wasn’t gone, just withdrawn back to their original areas back east and, strangely, some overseas markets.

I thought, “how excellent! When I’m in Tokyo, I can find one and try it!”

I made a slight tactical error. Just before leaving, a new edition of Lonely Planet Japan was released. Wanting the most up-to-date information possible, I bought it and packed the new edition without ever looking in it, leaving my old edition behind. The authors had chosen to remove Shakey’s Pizza from the maps, and, in the grindingly convoluted streets of Tokyo, and only going by what I could remember, I was never able to find Shakey’s.

Fast forward to 2009. I knew that as I passed through Yuma, the last Round Table Pizza in Arizona awaited me. (Round Table came in just a few years before Shakey’s disappeared.) I also knew that, at one time, there was still even a Village Inn Pizza in Yuma. That got me thinking perhaps Shakey’s still existed in Yuma or California, and with iPhone 3GS in hand, I was quickly rewarded with the information I sought: The do exist in California. (The bastards! Still, I can’t blame them, Phoenix is the city where restaurants come to die and Tucson isn’t much better.) Further, one is not far from LegoLand.

We arrived to grumblings from the kids, “Why are we having pizza again?”

I’d be lying if I said they were impressed with my explanation of the importance of childhood memories, but fortunately, I don’t need their agreement to set the agenda.

Inside Shakey’s was nothing like I remember. Long dark tables had been replaced with booths and ordinary single family tables. The lighting was good, and there were big screen TVs broadcasting sports all around the place. The employees now wore black with baseball caps rather than the old-time straw hat regalia.

Not everything was dissimilar, you still ordered at the counter, but even that had been updated. They had the most overly complicated table number system I’ve ever seen. Patrons were handed a number, much as you might just put on your table so the server knows where to bring the food, but this number has a complex series of punched holes in it, much like a hollerith card (there’s a term I never thought I’d get to use again in conversation!) At each table was an electronic beer signaling device – that’s the best way I can describe it.

The number was slid into the main orifice on the beer signaler, which caused the beer service light to momentarily light up – clearly priming the device and transmitting a coded signal back to the front desk telling them where each patron in.,

The card doesn’t remain in the main orifice, but has to be pulled out and then placed in one of the side orifices. Beer can later be requested by pressing the button on the device.

Beer is the obvious example, since that is what they use to describe the operation with. Presumably anything could be requested in this way, but since Shakey’s is an order-and-pay-first restaurant, one wonders what the practicality of this system is. It’s not as if I decided to order a second pizza I’d hesitate to get up and order at the front counter.

But what about the pizza?

Ah, I’m glad you asked.

It’s funny how first products can influence our tastes for our entire lives, isn’t it? Certainly, Shakey’s isn’t a pizza that will be in the running for best in the world, but I was very fond of it as a kid.

We know from years of research that, if there are different styles of something, people tend to like their first. For me, my grandmothers fried chicken will always be the benchmark that other fried chicken is compared to. For others it might be Kentucky Fried Chicken. It often depends on what you had first.

I had completely forgotten what Shakey’s Pizza tasted like, and I barely expected it to taste the same after all these years. Who knows how many iterations of “new and improved” it has gone through?

None, I think.

My first bite was an amazing experience. The flavors of my childhood flooded back with such strength I was taken aback. I think, had this been a blind taste test, I could have told you it was Shakey’s. I didn’t remember it until I tasted it and then it tasted exactly as I remembered it. (I’ll concede that there’s plenty of room for error in that equation.)

It’s an oddly bitter cheese, with a slightly too sweet sauce. It had a bubbly, almost-but-not-quite flakey crust. It was a joy. I couldn’t dream of reviewing it because my memories would betray me.