Vacation 2011: Route 66


abandoned gas station – route 66

Loads of cool photo opportunities along old Route 66, especially if you're into the rustic. Or rusty, maybe I should say.

Sad, though, seeing all these once thriving businesses gone to ruin. Once upon a time this was the most bustling road in America, the first trans-American highway. Generations of families knew this road, before President Eisenhower and the interstate system of highways. Just goes to show, for every feat of progress a little bit of culture dies.

This photo starts my series of old Route 66 pictures. Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Vacation 2011: Hooray for Hollywood! Eventually.



The kids insisted we visit Los Angeles on our trip out West this summer, figuring this was as close as we'd ever get to it on a family vacation, especially now that our group trips are numbered. Opportunists! But yeah, they're probably right. It's unlikely we'll be driving that far again, at least in that direction, before they leave the nest for habitats unknown. After they go, maybe. But by then they'll be on their own, not on the parental dollar. Take it while you can get it. Nothing wrong with that. Unless my kids are reading this. In that case, it's wrong! So wrong! Go clean your rooms!

Paul and I certainly didn't have L.A. in mind when we started planning the trip. We've been to Boston, but that's probably the biggest city we've ever intentionally visited, for all the history made there.  But L.A.? It wouldn't have even occurred to us. Not so for our three off-spring. As soon as they heard the magic word "California" their eyes began to twinkle. And not because of Yosemite, let me tell you.

"Hollywood! Hollywood! Hollywood!"

Readers, they wore us down, like a river through a canyon eroding patterns in the stones. We're the Grand Canyon; they're the Colorado River. It was only a matter of time. And when it comes down to either caving to your kids or losing your last tenuous grip on sanity, you gotta go with the former. If  you don't have kids you can afford to tsk, tsk. And good for YOU. But if you're in our boat you'll get it. We have to stand together or they'll eat us alive. Circle the wagons! The natives are restless, and that's never a good thing.

And these are GOOD kids, people! Honor students, kids who never go missing late at night, partying or what not. No drugs, no smoking or drinking, no loser friends, no sketchy boyfriends or girlfriends… We can't really complain about them. Unless they're reading this. If so, don't you have homework?! Never mind school doesn't start again 'til Monday! When I was a kid I spent all my time studying. And I LIKED it that way.

Because they are my kids, National Parks have only so much interest for them, so I can sort of understand how they felt. I'd probably have felt the same way when I was a kid, before skanks like Paris Hilton came along, tarnishing Hollywood forever. And a person can only take so much camping, our family being as extreme an example (minus Paul, who was raised on camping vacations and still has a strong stomach) as they get. For the kids and me, we're pretty much ready to head out before we've finished setting up camp. So yeah. Maybe I wasn't as resistant as I plead.

Some of it was about being star-struck, wanting to see the studios where films and television shows (Glee!) (Conan!) are made. It wasn't as much about seeing celebrities, though that would have been a pretty big bonus. It was more about seeing where all the magic is made.

But I have to admit, I've never felt like so much a yokel as I did in Los Angeles. It's packed with tourists, of course, but we'd just come from a campsite. And it showed. We were rumpled and crumpled, probably reeking of campfire and bear scat. We, and other mere mortals like ourselves, walked past women in spandex dresses and stilettos, women who probably spend more on one hair appointment than we do on groceries for an entire month. I don't feel comfortable admitting I felt so self-conscious, because it's like admitting they're better and I know it, but I can't remember feeling so out of place. I wanted to molt out of my old skin and pop out nice and shiny. Long story short, didn't happen.

For my sons the draw was all about the exotic cars. Move aside, Top Gear! Hollywood has the real thing, as in real life. In addition to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis they saw by serendipity, we took them to car dealers: one selling Lamborghinis and Bugattis, another Aston-Martins.

The leggy young hostess (could there be any other sort?) was surprisingly tolerant of two boys star-struck by cars. Not that they were the only ones. At both dealers we saw two other boys (obviously brothers), carrying around cameras, looking like they'd just died and gone to car heaven.  The hostess let them climb in and out of a Lamborghini, just the one but believe me, that was okay with them. They were breathless with excitement, like I am when I come upon a bookstore…




Overall, though, I think we're in agreement the highlight of Hollywood was Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Seeing the Walk of Fame, the hand, foot (and wand!) prints in the cement in front, that was all obligatory. But the theatre… Incredible.




The city was like Disney on crack, with silicone implants. It was hot, crowded, filled with gift shop after gift shop, tour hawker after tour hawker, all trying to get our money. That gets old really quickly. My mood took an almost immediate plunge once we left the courtyard of Grauman's. I don't do well in heat. I wilt, sweat and generally become an unpleasant person to be around. Plus, the further we walked the more seedy the area became. Strip clubs, stores selling S & M clothing and "accessories," scary people… You can't go that far in any direction before you end up in an undesirable part of town.

But before we'd gone too far we saw the ticket booth for Grauman's. The ticket booth selling tickets to the last film in the Harry Potter series. In 3-D, no less. Here it was, our chance to see the inside of a historic American icon, playing a film we thought we'd have to wait 'til after vacation to see…


After a drive down Rodeo Drive, through Beverly Hills and what not, we returned to the theatre. And it was awesome. The film was amazing, but seeing it there? It doesn't get better than that.




So beautiful. So plush, and finally a part of Hollywood I didn't feel we stuck out like a sore thumb. The premier was done, the celebrities gone. It was just us and half a theatre full of other tourists, sitting where movies have been debuted since 1927.

All I can say, thank god we brought the camera and no one was rushing us out the door. It was magical. By the end we were the only people there, aside from the cleaning crew. We were poking around, having a look at the original Harry, Ron and Hermione costumes (behind glass, of course), generally taking our time absorbing a piece of Americana we may never see the inside of again.

Turns out it wasn't just a highlight of this year's vacation. It's a highlight of all our family vacations. So maybe the kids were right. Okay, yes. I said it. But if the kids are listening…? Never mind. They already know.



Hot Air Balloon Fest – Lisle, Illinois

For more than a decade I've wanted to see the yearly hot air balloon launch in Lisle, a suburb located about an hour from here. This year marked their 29th anniversary. Pretty impressive they've kept it going so long.



I'd estimate there were 20 or maybe 25 balloons, each requiring a team of five or six to inflate and keep the balloons grounded  until time for launching. A tarp was  laid down first, to minimize any damage to balloon itself, before laying out the balloon on top of it. I couldn't see the whole process very clearly, since we were so far back, but I saw a lot of people holding a lot of lines, plus at least one person in the basket controlling the flame.


The balloons are laid out according to the direction of prevailing winds, in order to facilitate their inflation without them blowing all over the place. And, of course, the winds changed direction halfway through, making it necessary to adjust a bit. All that meant was the wait was a bit longer between launches. Not a big deal.


The colors of most of the balloons were spectacular, minus the advertising balloons. I thought those cheapened the effect, but of course it's sponsorship that keeps the festival running.



In addition to the balloons, there was a carnival of mostly food tents and a few rides. I avoided that. Crowds make me nervous enough without rubbing up against people, trying to navigate through the fair. Instead, we sent the kids out to forage some funnel cakes and drinks. Because that's what they're for, and when there's food involved they're usually fairly compliant.



The one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater. The kind that actually has two eyes and two horns. Genetic modification, I suppose.





A pretty cool experience. I've never been so close to hot air balloons, though when we first moved here a nearby balloon launch used to send balloons over our house almost every weekend in the summer. And, ironically, yesterday morning we awoke at around 6:30 a.m. to the sound of a flame firing. We looked out the window to see a bright yellow balloon passing over our house, so close we could almost make out the faces of the riders.

They're gorgeous, with all their brilliant color. You couldn't get me up in them. I'm afraid of a ladder above two steps. But I love watching them.

Hope you enjoyed the vicarious experience of the Hot Air Balloon Festival. And, if you're in the Chicago area, it'll be back again next year – economy willing.


Photo of the Day


brilliant orange


I was going to stop taking so many photos of flowers, as I've stopped taking so many photos in general, but this common daylily is just so strikingly orange. It practically begs, "Take my picture!" So I did.



Photo of the Day: Le fin


bleeding heart

I've been posting photos of the day for years, but I'm taking a break. Photography's lost most of its joy for me. I've been doing it so long and haven't really improved, thus the stuff I post is getting repetitive, and I'm tired of feeling frustrated.

When I look at what real photographers produce it makes my attempts seem really sad, and me a little sick. Some people gots it, and some just don't.

The family's thrilled to know I won't be wasting vacation time anymore, changing lenses and what-not, so from now on all the bad photos can officially be blamed on my husband. And he's welcome to it.