Roadside America — A Quick Visit to the Coroner’s Office

Apparently it used to be the “Los Angeles County Department of Coroner”.  (Where is the “the”?  This is confusing.)  Now, it’s officially the “Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner”.  The change is important, trust me!

…let me back up.  A few weeks ago, a friend of mine came to visit me.  She’s a NICU nurse, who worked around here for a few years.  We’ve gone on a few road trips since we’ve been friends, and our group of friends likes… wacky things, to say the least.

She likes checking the Roadside America site/app for things to see wherever we are.  Haven’t heard of Roadside America?  You tell it where you’re going, and then you can find out where the bizarre sights are — biggest strawberry in the US?  Window cattle portraits? (I have another post coming for the “Exotic Meats and Dinosaur Farm!” trip we took.  They have velociraptors.)

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Raaawr! (Picture by K.C.)

So, before I dropped her off at the airport, she said “The coroner has a gift shop!  Let’s go!”

What?!

For about a year or so, when I would drive home from work on city streets rather than the freeway, I would pass by the LA County USC Medical Center, and the sign announcing the LA County Coroner.  I…never knew they had a gift shop.

Well they do!  And, guess what — it’s called “Skeletons in the Closet”.  Awww. :D  And they have a website!

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“We have our work cut out for us.” Hahah. From the gift shop website.

Yes, I guess it could be morbid.  It could be awkward.  There’s notes in the Roadside America app saying “please make sure to not be disrespectful to family members who may be at the coroner on business, so please don’t laugh in the lobby on your way to the shop”.  Ouch.  No worries.  We’re professional.  The store’s purpose is “to promote how fragile life is and create awareness and responsibility toward one’s actions”.  Good on them.

But that doesn’t stop their sense of humor…

The lady in the store is super nice, and she showed us all the neat things celebrities have signed and given to her, pictures of people… they have a couch made from a coffin, a sparkly black mini-Christmas tree, and fun merch.

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Signs at checkout. ;D From Shannon V. on Yelp.

Apparently ours in LA, and Las Vegas, are the only cities/counties with gift shops.  Hmm.  I wonder what that says about us…

Anyway — if you’re in the vicinity, and don’t mind morbid humor — stop by!  The lady is really nice. :D

AND — some of the merchandise is going to be collector’s items, because it still has the old name on it!  Hee.  Get it while it’s hot!

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One corner of the shop. From Shannon V. on Yelp.

Coming next — either more Roadside America (exotic meats!) and a mountain snow drive, or more Wyoming.   We’ll see. :)  Thanks guys for sticking with me!

Campfire Fried Chicken

Call me a city slicker, but who knew you could fry chicken over a campfire?

When we arrived our first night at the lodge in Wyoming, we pulled up near the campfire area and saw someone tending a campfire with a giant iron pot on top.

Huh.  Cooking on the campfire.  This seemed like advanced camping cooking to me — I personally only trust newbie campfire foods, like marshmallows and hot dogs.  (My friends tried to make campfire nachos one trip — a nice idea, but they came out TERRIBLY…the random sticks they put on the fire made such acrid smoke that it made the chips taste disgusting.)

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the campfire chicken… I was too busy trying to shoo a stray dog away from the fire.  The poor thing kept trying to lick the chicken greased lid of the pot, but not being too smart, it didn’t realize (multiple times) that the lid was hot!

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Basque doggy basking in the sun, hoping for a snack handout.

We found out that Basque sheepherders move through the area with their sheep, wagons (like wooden covered wagons/mobile homes!), families, and dogs.  This dog got separated from the group, but nobody decided to come looking for it, so it  hung around at the lodge/campground hoping for some food.

In the first Wyoming post, I mentioned we were a little fearful about the food situation.  An hour and a half+ away from the nearest grocery store?  New, unknown staff?  No electricity?  I was envisioning horrible lumpy biscuits and gravy, tough gross meat, and instant mashed potatoes.

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This is not your average camping dinner. Mmm! Dinner the second night, as described below.

Um, can I have a HALLELUJAH for our wonderful cook?  She was an angel.  She not only cooked for about 20-25 people (full breakfasts and dinners) but made lunches for everyone, cleaned up, did all the dishes, checked guests in, and cleaned cabins and probably a million other things I never saw.

Sadly, I don’t have pictures of the campfire chicken — curses!  I was shocked though.  I’m a lazy food snob — I don’t like most fried chicken (greasy and slimy) and I usually can’t be bothered with bones in my meat.  (I just want to eat.  Give me the delicious things ready to put in my mouth!)

It was -amazing-.

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One of the other guests’ dogs looking at our food. It was so cute, but unfortunately the dog had to suffer seeing a group of 12’s meals right by the window!

I did recover from my shock the next night and took pictures of dinner.  Holy.  Cow.

Steaks grilled over the campfire — SOFT and delicious and juicy, I can’t even comprehend how they did it over a campfire…it’s hard enough making a good steak on a stove in your house.  Sweet potatoes au gratin.  Herbed biscuits.  Sweet tea.  (Mmmm.)  Salad with fresh ingredients!  Grilled veggies.  Other things I forget.  TWO CAKES.

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Yummmmm. Cake. And yes, those are kerosene lanterns.

The only time they turned on the generator was to use their washing machine and dryer, to power the internet once or twice a week to check lodge email, and to occasionally use the lights to clean the kitchen.  I’m still in awe!  I’m so not used to living like that.

What amazed me was that people would wander in — hikers, fishermen, and more than once the forest service weirdos (in our three day trip…what???) wondering if they could buy dinner or whatever.  It’s not a restaurant, people!  The cook was so amazing though — she usually was able to accommodate these random people.

Moral of the story — praise your southern cook highly, and tip her well!  I’m usually hungry for snacks all the time — I was NEVER hungry between meals at this place, despite horseback riding and hikes and running after small children.  :)

** New theme, guys!  You probably wouldn’t notice unless you actually visit my actual blog, rather than the wordpress reader/RSS feed/etc. Any thoughts?  How do the pictures/layout look?**

Wagons North!

Alright, so we didn’t take covered wagons, but it sure felt like it at some points…

[Edited to add… in my excitement, I forgot to mention this is the beginning of our Wyoming trip.  Whoops!]

My dad’s family is quite small — my dad has one brother, and my dad’s parents were both only children.  I’m an only child, and my uncle has four children.  The last time we all got together, I was four years old, and we went to an amazing dude ranch in Montana.  Horseback riding!  Berry picking!  Hiking!  Swimming in the pond!  Swinging on a rope in the mess hall!

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Me and my cousin outside the bunk house at Cheff Ranch, Montana.

This time, they decided we had to go back to a ranch/lodge that my uncle worked at one summer in high school.  I call this a ranch very loosely — usually when you think of ranches, you think of rolling landscapes covered with scrub or grass, in valleys or plains.  This was like…mountains with baby valleys.

My mom and I are the queens of preparation — so when we looked at the website of this place, and saw it was under new management, and they didn’t respond to emails very quickly, and they were still advertising for staff positions to be filled late in spring… we braced ourselves and stopped at a gas station for peanut butter and crackers in case nothing was edible.

We were a little worried — we knew the place had no electricity, and a communal bathroom/shower (like a campground).  Boulder (WY) was the closest “town” (a gas station) at an hour and a half away.  The closest actual town with a grocery store or medical anything was Pinedale, another 20 minutes down the road.

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My dad’s mother’s family. Mid 70’s, I’d say…at a cabin in Colorado. My grandmother is in the green shirt, my dad is reading the Cosmo. ;D

The road out of Boulder turned from blacktop into a very nice dirt road (we were still able to go about 65 mph!)… but then once we turned off onto the road up the mountain toward the lodge it was 45 minutes of bumpity bumping on a one lane dirt road — gaining 2,000 feet in elevation.   We were in a minivan, others had Suburbans… I can’t even imagine how anyone with a horse trailer or cattle trailer went on that road!

…oops, let me backtrack.

My aunt, uncle, cousins, and the associated kids drove from Pennsylvania.  My grandparents drove from Arizona.  Luckily, my family flew from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City (Utah), and my grandparents picked us up and drove the rest of the way!

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I just love the bears at any Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory shop! This one was at the Salt Lake City airport.

I guess the flight is a popular route, but not popular enough to warrant a large plane.  I think it was even a propeller plane!  We were crammed in with a large group of performers from the Polynesian Cultural Center (in Hawaii) traveling to Salt Lake City for a conference.  Most of the guys were from the Pacific Islands originally, then moved to Hawaii.  They did dancing, fire spinning, all sorts of cool things!  I felt bad — I’m tall, but they’re built like football players — I bet the plane ride was pretty uncomfortable.

After my grandparents picked us up, we drove towards Park City and slightly beyond to stop at a restaurant my grandparents have been to in the past that they found in Sunset Magazine.

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Road Island Diner, in Oakley, Utah. (Near Park City.)

The Road Island Diner — what a cool place!  It was originally a train car, on exhibit at the 1939 NY World’s Fair, then a diner based in Rhode Island.  After carting it across the US, it was plopped in Utah and opened in 2008.  It’s all Art Deco old fashioned, and they only have one guy running it.  What a sweet guy — Irish, wears a bowtie and old fashioned soda jerk outfit, and memorizes all the orders.

I had a burger and fries and a shake — mm.  Delicious.  Don’t go if you’re counting calories!

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After lunch, we booked it as fast as we could for Wyoming.  I was pleasantly surprised by the area around Park City — very green, fluffy grass and open spaces for horse farms.  Once we got into southern Wyoming though it was …sadly, sort of dull.  I’m used to the flat desert spaces of Arizona, and this was pretty similar, except not even any mesquite trees.

The ranches and farms of the flatlands were pretty, once you started getting higher in elevation.  I could see having a house there…in the summer.  ;)

Thankfully our GPS and mapreading skills were up to par — the directions weren’t amazing, but we made it to the lodge just in time to meet up with our family and settle in to dinner.

flat grass

Next Wyoming post — exploring the cabins, lodge, and the area + food and a hike!

Once Upon a Dream — Throwback Thursday

A week ago (the 9th), I had the unique experience of seeing the Disney animated version of Sleeping Beauty (1959) on the big screen!  What a treat!

I was poking around facebook (as you do…) and noticed around 3 pm that the El Capitan Theatre would be playing it that evening.  The El Capitan Theatre is an old-style movie theater in Hollywood (along the Walk of Fame, across from where they hold the Oscars, etc, aren’t we fancy) and owned by Disney.

Flashy lights! Sparkly LED screens!  This is the marquee above the front entrance of the El Capitan.

Flashy lights! Sparkly LED screens! This is the marquee above the front entrance of the El Capitan.

They play exclusively Disney films there, and between runs of shows, they invite people to vote on facebook to choose an old movie to replay for one night only — Throwback Thursday.  (They just were playing Frozen, and now it’s on to sing-along Mary Poppins!)

Back in September 2008, they played it for a few days but I was unable to go.  Bummer.  I wasn’t going to lose my chance!  Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney movie I’ve come to love as an adult.  The art style is so detailed and incredible, it’s mindboggling to think of all the time spent on it.  Sleeping Beauty was the first (and one of the few) that they made in 70 mm — all the backgrounds were painted individually.  Eyvind Earle was the head designer, and did AMAZING work.

Background art by Eyvind Earle, from theartofsleepingbeauty.tumblr.com.

I love the soundtrack — it’s all from the Tchaikovsky ballet “Sleeping Beauty” (which I just had the fortune to see around my birthday this past year, what a treat!)  so it’s quite beautiful.  And, okay, I love Prince Philip and his voice actor’s singing.

“Father, you’re living in the past!  This is the 14th century!”

Love the old style poster!

Love the old style poster!

So, being determined to see it, and realizing it was too late for anyone to really respond to facebook and say they wanted to come, I bought myself a ticket and headed down to Hollywood and Highland to be at the theater early to poke around.  So glad I did!

Rob Richards, resident organist, playing before the show.

Rob Richards, resident organist, playing before the show.

Before every show, they have a live organist playing Disney music for a good 30 minutes beforehand!  His name is Rob Richards, and it’s an old pipe organ from a theater in San Francisco.  So awesome.  …I totally didn’t realize I asked him and another staff member if there were any costumes or props on display in the basement — they usually do a rotation of stuff every so often.  lol.  Good job, self.

I love pipe organ music — I’m probably in the minority though.  Check it out!  This clip is of the well-known song “Once Upon a Dream” as he’s finishing his set.  Sorry for the less than stellar quality and interference — people wouldn’t shut up, and my camera is old and sad. :(

It was really fun watching the movie for the first time on the big screen — everything was enormous,  the music was great, and it’s such a different experience getting to see it with a full audience.  There were lots of laughs about the small jokes, and it was cute to hear the little kids go GASP when Maleficent did something wicked.  (You know you’re in a herd of fans when they CLAP when the villain comes on screen for the first time…)

My next challenge is to get a better camera, borrow a tripod, and camp out to take pictures of the theater when there are less people inside.  Onward!

So many fancy details!

So many fancy details! This is one of the balcony areas on the second level.

Alright, sound off!  What’s your favorite Disney movie(s)?  Do you like seeing them on the big screen, or at home?  Would you ever go  to an event like this, Disney movie or other type?

Just a Light Breeze

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The lower deck of the TSS Earnslaw on Lake Wakatipu, after leaving Queenstown, New Zealand.

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A highland cow (well, bull? steer? anyway, it’s a dude obviously) feeling right at home on Walter Peak Farm. (Across the lake from Queenstown.)

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Yikes! Back on dry land, supposedly… the wind never seemed to quit, and if it wasn’t raining, the lake was making you wet if you got too close.

The first real stop I made on my trip to New Zealand was the town of Queenstown, on the southern end of the South Island.  It’s located on the edge of Lake Wakatipu, and is the home of many adventure travel tours!  Even though we were there in “summer” (early December), we still managed to freeze our butts off, and it was super windy virtually the whole time!  I know I’m from California, and I’m unused to cold weather… but… come on, when I’m promised summer — I don’t expect ICE and 37 degree (F) mornings!

(This post brought to you by the horrifying -20 degrees F my relatives are complaining about in the midwest…poor midwest!)

One day trip we took was to a sheep station and demonstration farm (Walter Peak) by way of antique steamship!  Real Journeys has a variety of excursions in the area — we took the TSS Earnslaw (twin screw steamer) and chugged across the lake to deposit us at the farm.  That was insanely windy too. ;D  The ship had a resident piano player for singalongs, and aside from the expected sheep demonstrations, I got to pet a highland cow!  They’re unexpectedly slobbery.

(More detailed posts about New Zealand are forthcoming…this was meant to be a picture post, but I couldn’t help myself. :P )

Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, or… All I Wanted For Christmas

I’m a Disneyland nut.  I’ll just put that out there.  So when I heard a few months ago  that a certain musical act from Disneyland was going away at the end of the holiday season, I went on a tiny panic.

Billy Hill and the Hillbillies — they have played at Disneyland for 20 years, mostly in the Golden Horseshoe.  They mostly play bluegrass and folk music, though on occasion they would do heavy metal in bluegrass style… ;D  Lots of jokes interspersed.

So when I heard that January 5 would be their last show, I was sad and wanted to go visit to see their show one last time.  (I heard today’s shows were great, and they were packed!)  Now, despite living in Southern California… I don’t have an annual pass.  I wish I did!

I got very lucky though — a former professor of mine just happened to send out a mass email to my old department email list, and asked “Does anyone want to go to Disneyland on December 23 or 24? We have two extra tickets!”  … … … DO I?!  YES!  I hemmed and hawed, thinking “well, it’s been three hours since she emailed, I’m sure they’re snapped up already.”  … … … Then I said what the hell, and emailed her anyway.  I was the first person to respond, so we got them!  YES!

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My mom and I first went when I was in junior high, and we LOVED the show and its ridiculous humor.  See, they’re “all” named Billy.  “My name is Billy Hill, and this here is my brother Billy.  And my other brother Billy.  And this is Billy.”   Then he would eventually bring out his “pros-teeth-us” to help him get into the country music mood.

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Ahh.  I guess you have to grow up with it… hahah.  I’m going to miss them.  The fiddle and banjo renditions of holiday songs were a great last memory!  I’m a big sucker for nostalgia and memory, so Disneyland feeds right into that with their love of anything retro and constant anniversary of this or that.

Anyone have any favorite shows or attractions that don’t exist anymore, but still hold a place in your heart?

I don’t think the castles are going away any time soon, but lit up at night, they just look amazing.  Ahhh!  Swoon.