What I did on my vacation

I had a good week off even if I didn’t travel anywhere exotic. Wednesday’s column has a short version of my activities, which I cut down for space. Here’s a little more.

First there was the Paul McCartney concert at Dodger Stadium. Belying his 72 years, McCartney performed for nearly three hours and ran through three dozen songs, even at that only scratching the surface of his Beatles and solo work. What a night.

I saw three very entertaining movies that week: “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Hercules” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” the Tom Cruise movie that blends sci-fi with “Groundhog Day.” Criminally overlooked, it was the best of the three, and was also the cheapest; I saw it at the bargain-priced Academy in Pasadena, where my matinee ticket was $2.

(On my way to Pasadena I stopped at Donut Man for a strawberry doughnut, which was $4. A $4 donut and a $2 movie? Has the world turned upside down?)

Naturally books were part of my break. I read three: Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” Chris Nichols’ “The Leisure Architecture of Wayne McAllister” and Owen Hill’s “The Chandler Apartments.”

Two days of balmy weather awaited me in Ventura, where the temperatures were in the low 70s, not the low 90s. I checked out two bookstores in Santa Barbara, the Book Den and the Granada, but my attempt to eat at Julia Child’s favorite taqueria, La Super-Rica, was foiled because it was closed the day of my visit.

I did get in a game of bowling at Wagon Wheel in Oxnard, a place along the 101 that has enticed me for years due to its quaint name, large neon sign and freeway frontage. In fact, the Wagon Wheel used to have a motel, skating rink, restaurant and other uses, and it still has its own street (“Wagon Wheel Road”) and freeway exit. Everything’s been torn down for a new development, though, except for the 32 lanes.

Two journalist friends claimed to be poor bowlers who couldn’t break 100, so to make it interesting we decided I would take them both on, my score against both of theirs. Then they had the game of their lives. The final scores: 133 for me, 123 for Wendy and 113 for Cindy. I couldn’t beat them collectively, but at least I beat them individually.

Of course I made one Metrolink trip, meeting a friend in Larchmont Village for lunch and a walk. And I sought out two Jonathan Gold-approved eateries I’d been meaning to try forever: Chili John’s in Burbank, where they’ve been serving chili from behind a U-shaped counter since 1946, and Bulgarini Gelato, a highly regarded Altadena gelateria.

I worded it that way purely for the pleasure of typing “Altadena gelateria.”

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Back on the beat

My vacation trip home to the Midwest went well and I arrived back in Claremont on Saturday night. My first outing was Sunday morning, when I stopped at an ATM in the Village.

“Are you back from vacation?” a stranger (or at least a reader whom I didn’t immediately recognize) shouted from his car at a stop sign. I whirled and, surprised, said yes.

“Good! Looking forward to your next restaurant review!” he said before turning the corner. His companion in the passenger seat must have asked what that was about, because I heard him say my name to her.

I can’t ask for a much better welcome back than that — a greeting from a reader of this blog, the only ones who knew I was away, moments after first stepping out.

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On vacation

I’m leaving today for a family visit in St. Louis. Hooray!

Columns will continue appearing all week, but other than links to those columns, this blog will take a break. You can follow me on Twitter, either formally or by watching the feed along the right-hand side of this page, for the occasional bit of entertainment while I’m away.

See you next Monday.

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Column: Austin: come for the ribs, stay for the bats

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Wednesday’s column is about my vacation last week in Austin, Texas. Here are a few photos to illustrate moments from my column. Above, the line outside Franklin Barbecue from my place in line. An equal number of people ended up behind me.

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Above, a piece of surveying equipment seems to watch two construction cranes at work, a sign of the city’s building boom, especially by the waterfront. Below, a ghost bike is part of a memorial to those killed by a motorist during the South by Southwest music festival.

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Below, a Frito pie, which is chili, cheese and onions atop a bed of Frito corn chips. Not bad, with the chips more interesting than saltines, but not something I’d order again, I don’t think.

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And, lastly, here’s a view of the Congress Bridge bats and the people watching them.

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Videos: The animatronic LBJ at the presidential library tells a corny joke (it’s like the Bulletin’s Slice of Wry in oral form) and bats pour out from under the Congress Avenue bridge.

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Column: Half a century gone and wondering what’s ahead

I turned 50 recently, two weeks ago today in fact, and I reflect on that in Friday’s column. Well, mostly I just joke about it.

I started writing this one just after my birthday but dropped it to write about the Sunkist sign instead, then returned to it before vacation to retool it over the course of a couple of hours, which largely involved deleting some reader comments and putting more of myself in it. The result is better, I think, but there wasn’t much time to think about it. I’ll be curious to read it myself to see how it turned out — but not just now.

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On vacation

I’m in Austin, Texas, this week for sightseeing and relaxation. Also, ribs. It’ll be my first visit and I’m looking forward to it. Columns will continue to appear, as if by magic, on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, and I’ll post them here. Other than that, this blog is going dark for the week. Feel free to explore past entries, and I’ll check in as time permits. Regular posting will return Monday, March 31.

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Fifty

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In Pasadena a few weeks ago, I chuckled at Pizza Man’s sign, saw the possibilities and couldn’t resist a selfie that includes the relevant portion. And here the photo is today, my 50th birthday. I’m glad not only that I’m still around, but that I have it together enough to remember that I took the picture.

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Brand new me

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Due to reader complaints (!), I had my column photo retaken recently. The previous one was shot by one photographer who took the entire staff’s portraits one day in late 2012. It was like class picture day in school, except there was no advance notice.

I trooped in as ordered. Most of the instructions had to do with squaring my shoulders and turning to the side while facing the camera. A bright light shone on me. No attempt was made to amuse me, such as by squeezing a squeaky toy or jingling a bell.

My idea for a mug, as we call them, was to make my expression all-purpose. No need to look too giddy if the column it accompanies might one day happen to be about nuclear fallout. I tried to keep my smile modest.

Months flew by, seasons passed, and suddenly one day in mid-2013 the mug showed up online and in print as my new official portrait. (The print version is round and the exact size of a dime. It looks like I’m being viewed through a porthole. The online version is from the chest up.)

That small smile turned out to be impossible to spot without a magnifying glass. Also, the open shirt, high collar and low angle combined to render a version of me that did not fit my persona, or really resemble me closely.

“Why do you look angry?” one friend asked. “You look tough,” a co-worker said. “Are you going to beat me up?” a third worried.

Through fall and winter, I made three requests for a new photo. Finally, when a higher-up suggested I pose for a photo for publicity purposes, I brought up the mug. A fresh one was shot the next day. Two colleagues, Liset Marquez and Monica Rodriguez, also had new, more flattering portraits taken.

This time I resolved to smile. Laugh, even. Jennifer Cappuccio Maher obligingly kidded around with me as she clicked the shutter in our studio. A day later, the new photo showed up online, and a few days later in print. Looks far better, although I wish I’d checked a mirror and buttoned one more button.

A few people (including Upland Councilman Gino Filippi) have told me it’s a big improvement. And a reader from Upland named Rosemary emailed me under the subject line “Your smiling face” as follows:

“Thank God you have a new picture for your column. The other one made you look like a very unsavory character. (Are you?) I enjoy your column very much, especially when you write about your Metrolink trips into L.A. You have a nice smile, what took you so long to attach it to your column?”

Gee, I dunno (digs toes into dirt). I just hope no one complains when I write about somebody who died and my photo looks like I’m yukking it up.

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