I've been a little lax in blathering about all the super-exciting stuff I've done/read lately-ish because...well, nobody cares. And I fully acknowledge that fact. But I'm also self-aware enough to realize that documenting all this stuff is really - to be honest - for me and not for my millions of non-readers out there.
So "what's new and exciting?" you ask. Well, I'll tell ya...
Universal Studios Hollywood Zombie-action
I returned to Harry Potterland on July 13 (let's face it, it's unlikely that I, or many of the other SoCal visitors to Universal Studios, would have bothered returning to Universal Studios Hollywood this year - or ever - if not for Harry Potterville opening) on a normally blacked-out day for my annual pass in honor of the opening of the latest attraction - The Walking Dead March of Terror (that's not what it's really called, but that's pretty much what it is). It's located in a strange place - in the Westminster section of Universal Studios near the Happy-Minions-Funland stuff (which I didn't even know existed until this visit). It's not on their guide map (or wasn't the day I was there, anyway).
The "ride" itself is pretty much a haunted house with a few animatronic zombies/survivors and several actor-zombies jumping out at you or grabbing for you from behind obstructions. You just walk along a twisty path past scenes from different epsiodes/seasons of The Walking Dead. The line to actually get into the Zombie path is almost creepier than the path itself, which is a good thing since you'll probably be waiting for a long time to get in. The worst part was standing on Baker Street outside the alley that leads into the hospital Rick woke up within in the first episode of the Walking Dead. Once in the alley, you start to see signs that things have taken a turn for the worse. The further you get, the more signs of bad news you see - blood splatters, dead bodies, bullet holes, and general disrepair of pretty much everything. Photos within the attraction are prohibited and there are a lot of employees standing around very zombie-like which makes taking photos a risk not worth taking.
While not really everything I had hoped for, it's still an interesting and creepy (and scary when a zombie bum-rushes you) walk through the world of The Walking Dead.
I also went on the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride while there. this was actually the first thing I did after arriving - and that may have been a huge mistake. The last time we were there in the spring, we didn't have to wait in much of a line to get inside. This time, we were stuck outside Howarts in a never-ending circuitously winding line just to get to the entrance of Hogwarts (and out of the blazing sun beating down on my albino-pale skin). But that's not the worst part. Once inside Hogwarts, and away from the angry sun glaring down at me, I discovered that there was a reason the line outside was so long. All the circuitous lines inside the castle were being unused, which I thought was odd. And then I remembered seeing people with the Universal Studios equivalent of a Disneyland fast pass skipping the whole outside line and proceeding directly into the castle. I realized that the designers of the ride had overlooked how to get people past the plebs who only pay for a normal pass into the park.
But enough complaining about the line t get in - on to the ride itself. I was asked by a couple of people outside the ride what it was like and I tried to describe it in terms relating to equivalent Disneyland rides, but it's like a mishmash of so many Disneyland rides that it's hard to describe even in that way. It was much more enjoyable with real shoes on this time, though. Wearing flip-flops on a ride that has you suspended in air and moving around is not a good idea. And with a slower line (or even just with a line), I was able to take slightly more-focused photos inside Hogwarts. It's pointless to try to take photos inside the ride itself - unless you really want to lose your phone/camera.
Those were the highlights of the visit. I did eat lunch at Luigi's Italian in Simpson's land and went on the backlot tour again. Oh and also in the tour line were several adults fully decked-out in Harry Potter clothes/robes. It had to be over 90 degrees that day and I was dying in a t-shirt and shorts. I can't imagine how hot they must have been in those robes.
And that's all I have to say about Universal Studios, so on to other super-exciting stuff...
My New Nissan
I finally got a new car to replace my 17 year-old Jetta. And when I say "replace," I mean it is now being driven by Keli. So I'm still paying to insure it and keep it running - I just don't have to drive it anymore. I shopped around for a few months pricing different makes and models of compact fuel-efficient cars and finally decided it was between a Nissan Versa Note hatchback and a Honda Fit. And then, after pricing both cars with similar features, I decided it was a Versa Note because the Hondas were a lot more dough and pretty much equivalent in every other way. So I went to Temecula Nissan (because their prices were on average about $1,500-2,000 lower than the dealers in San Diego) and found the salesman I had been in contact with. I had also decided that I was going to get the lowest-end car with the fewest features available (which is actually a regular Versa, not a note) and just lease it for 3 years so I wasn't stuck with a low-end car beyond the end of the lease. But after talking to the salesman was surprised to find out that if I was leasing a vehicle, the Versa was not a good deal because they were worth very little at the end of the 3-year lease, so I would have a much lower monthly payment/higher residual (it's just under $200/mo before tax is added in with around a $10k residual) with the Sentra, which is also a pretty low-end car, but much nicer than the Versa.
We walked the lot and found a black Sentra S to take on a test drive. It also had black interior (cloth, of course - it's a low-end car after all) so I was a little worried about the car being super hot in the summer. But I haven't really noticed it feeling any hotter than the Jetta or CRV, so that hasn't been an issue (and the AC gets cool really fast, which also helps). I'd never driven a car with a CVT transmission and found the little 4-cylinder to be more peppy than I expected. The interior features were also so far ahead of what I was used to (bluetooth, built-in Aux port, steering wheel stereo and cruise controls, digital MPG calculation, even the excess of cup holders was exciting) in the old Jetta that I quickly decided this was the car for me. And I even thought it looked better outside than any other Sentras I'd seen seen. Maybe because it was a 2016 and they had improved the body style. I call it my Batmobile.
Free Cell Phone service for Everyone!
RingPlus is my latest in a pursuit for free cell phone service. I didn't even know there was such thing as "free cell service." I had been a T-Mobile prepaid phone customer for many years, filling my flip-phone's plan with 1,000 minutes per year and then trying my hardest not to use them all before the end of the year. The wife and kids were stuck with similar low-feature phones and plans (though the kids had monthly plans and slightly better phones with tiny keyboards for the non-stop texting they did - funny, their "unlimited" text plans would often cut them off before the end of the month for excessive texting).
And then, about a year ago, one of my co-workers mentioned FreedomPop to me. After doing a little research, I was intrigued and bought a refurbished smart phone (my first) through their web site for about $100 and and signed up for their free service. I also got a phone for the wife and a backup phone for myself when they were super cheap on Black Friday. I guess in this case, you really do get what you pay for. The FreedomPop cell service was forever unavailable - in spots that it normally worked in, like my house - and the voice quality was awful. So when another co-worked mentioned a competitor that he was using, Ringplus, I checked them out. I was able to transfer service of all three of my phones to RingPlus and get on free plans (free with the caveat that you give Ringplus a deposit to cover MMS/group messages - which are not free - international calls, etc). I've been using Ringplus for a few months and am very happy with the service. And even happier not to be paying anything monthly. So if you're a big cheapskate like me, you should check RingPlus out.
I was pressured by the family into getting a dog. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs. I just know how much work they are and how they limit your ability to just go places whenever you want. So I looked around for small dogs (our home/yard is much too small for even a medium-sized dog to be very happy) and found a web site that places yorkshire terriers that have been rescued with families that will take care of them. One of their rescue dogs, named Cody, was located in the San Diego area so we set up a time to go meet with him and hear his story. Cody was a rescue who was placed with the mother of the current caretaker, Mary. And he was treated very well. But then Mary's mother died and Mary was stuck with a fourth Yorkie, who was the smallest of the four and not treated very well by the other male in the group. So he needed to be placed somewhere else as soon as possible. He's older (around 10-12 years old), mellow, house broken, and pretty low-key as long as he was the king dog in the home, so he seemed like a good fit.
For the most part, he's been a really good dog, though he has proven to be untrustworthy as far as being housebroken. So he spend a good part of his day in the kitchen with the tile floors, where his slips can be more easily taken care of. But he serves his main purpose - giving Keli somebody to love and focus on.
Yeah, I know it was last month. But most of the stuff I ramble on about happened a good while back, so deal with it, sucka!
Emeli made me the sweetest little card for Father's day. It's hanging on my cubicle wall at work now. And that's all I really have to say about Father's Day.
And speaking of the place I spend way too much of my life - here are some current wall-of-nerd photos from my cubicle. I'm about to switch up a few of the comics on the wall (any day now).
One last thing I will mention before I get into the inevitable book-talk is the first Padres game I've been to in probably at least a year...
The San Diego Padres...or "Who are all these guys?"
Our family was offered tickets - from our very kind neighbors who have season tickets they weren't going to be using - to go to a Padres game in June. They were very nice seats in the Toyota Terrace, third-base side, and we were stoked. the last game we attended was waaay up in the nosebleed section, and while still fun, it was hot and a day game so we were in the sun the whole time. So it was nice to sit in a lower section, though the crowds in that section kind of killed some of the nice-ness. We even sampled some of the delivered-to-your-seat Padres food (frozen lemonade, a hot dog, and some chicken strips with fries). I had the hot dog....and wouldn't recommend it to anyone else considering it. It wasn't bad as I was eating it, but I paid for it later. Not sure why. Hot dogs don't generally mess with my stomach, but this one did in a major way.
It's funny how I don't know who any of the current crop of professional athletes are these days. Especially in baseball. Every time I start to recognize a few names, it seems like they get traded to another team and I'm back to recognizing no one. But that doesn't stop me from screaming encouragement for them at the game. It's all good fun.
Actually, I have one last mention of a non-book-related topic. I picked up a new t-shirt from Out-of-Print. It has the cover from the first Hitchhiker's Guide book. I was disappointed to see it was a polyester blend, though. But still...it's HHG, so I've been wearing it a lot. And the tag ( a library card) was pretty sweet.
I was going to bore any potential readers of this drivel near-to-death with my ever-so-insightful commentary on recent books I've read, but I'm not exactly close to having those thoughts formed up, so I'm going to put this up and work on the book stuff later. Stay tuned...