When we first moved down here, Thomas and I drove downtown and then paid to park. We really wouldn’t have considered any other way, despite the fact that almost every time we went into downtown Chicago, we took the train.

In the last month, I’ve been downtown four times and I haven’t had to pay for parking even once.

We start on February 10. When trying to figure out how we’d get to the Howard Jones concert (which was awesome), I drove to the Pearl and walked downtown down the River Walk. I was both trying to figure out how to get to the concert and also trying to figure out how many tries it would take to get Foxy into shape so that we can take her downtown before we reach the end of her life. I measured our walk with her on February 4 and then decided to increase our range by half that amount every two weeks. I finally came to the conclusion that it would take us nine tries, which would get us to downtown the last week of May (we have since missed one two-week period of walking with her, so it will now take us until early June).

I explored a bit, because I wanted to get all the way into downtown.  I checked out the Southwest Center for Art, which was originally the old Ursuline Academy. I went on a tour of the Southwest Center in 2001, and Thomas has those pictures. So I decided to take some of my own pictures while I was in the neighborhood. I also checked out the Central Library (and got my library card renewed until 2020).

Once I got to the Tobin Center, I checked out a few parking lots and a parking garage, but while I was walking, I passed a bus stop which was less than a block from the Tobin Center and was a route that runs close to my home. I called the number on the sign and discovered that we could realistically take the bus down and maybe take the bus back as well (turns out that we were just a tiny bit too late for the first of the late buses, so we took a cab home).

The clock on top of the Ursuline Academy building only has faces on three of its four sides. The north side has no face because the school was built in what was then the far north part of the city. From what I’ve read, the only people farther north were Native Americans, who had their own methods of keeping track of the time.

After discovering that we could take the bus, I explored a bit more. I walked through to Travis Park, which used to be home to our Confederate Memorial. They took the monument down in September of 2017 and I hadn’t had a chance to check it out yet. Then, while I was there, I remembered a statue in the parking garage of the St. Anthony hotel, so I asked the concierge about it. The concierge said that a previous owner of the hotel (Ralph Morrison, I guess) had bought a lot of art from Europe and put it in the hotel and that statue was probably one of the pieces he bought.

February 15 was the concert, and we took the bus. We caught the bus about half a mile from our house then got off a couple of blocks from the Tobin Center.

February 17 was the Asian New Year Festival at the Institute of Texan Cultures. Alex and I took the bus again, but this time it was our usual bus, which leaves one of the transit centers and goes directly downtown. We drove to the transit center and took the bus from there.

Then today was his and/or my fourth trip since February 10, which was another walking trip. This time, rather than starting from the Pearl, we started from the Blue Star Arts Complex and walked north to downtown.

So there you have it. Walking south, walking to the bus, driving to a different bus, and walking north. That’s four different ways I got downtown and I didn’t have to pay for parking even once. If you want to get picky, of course, there are five directions here, because of the cab.

And I intend to get downtown one more way in the not-too-distant future. It’ll technically be back to driving, but still won’t involve paying for parking

This project is seriously eating into my language learning time. Before I started this project, I was routinely getting $2 and $3 easily. Now it’s like pulling teeth to get more than my average daily amount (currently $1.32) so that I don’t lose ground. And I’m definitely not going to make it for today — it’s 11:51 pm and I’m only at $1.30.

On the other hand, doing this project is going to give me 20-something new blog posts, so that will advance this part of my future as a self-employed something-or-other.

Speaking of which, I had something of a setback recently. I know that if I want to reach my goal, I’ll need to start investing in the stock market. So, to that end, I finally saved up the money and then the stock market dropped. I watched my stock for a couple of days and once it started going back up again, I figured I’d better get in while it was still low. And then it dropped farther. And farther. Fortunately, I’m investing and not speculating, so I’m just going to wait this out and figure that it’ll turn around someday. And if it drops another $50 or so I might go ahead and buy my second share now and then work to pay myself back for it.

Notice the words “20-something” up there. The 9:56 to 10:55:59 hour was spent in Union Station. The dancers really didn’t explore around the station much, so I’m probably going to lump that hour in with either the 8:56 to 9:55:59 hour or with the 10:56 to 11:55:59 hour, which means that I will have, at most, 23 posts.

On Alex and my last day in California, we finished up a couple of things I wanted to do but hadn’t had time to. The whole story will have to wait until I post my next installment (hopefully I’ll get to working on that tonight) but when I was watching the video for Pharrell Willams’s song Happy, I saw one of the places we’d been that last day. At least, I was pretty sure that it was the same place. I called Alex in and he agreed that it was the same place. Well, while I was working my way up to making these posts, I watched that video again (for reasons that you’ll understand when I post that post) and saw a note at the end directing me to go to 24hoursofhappy.com and so I did. And I discovered that the official Happy video is clips from a huge 337-person* project of people mouthing the words and/or dancing to the song. And so I began to watch it to see what places I’ve been to on my trips to Los Angeles.

I watched the first hour and then I realized that I was going to need a list. And then the list started to include notes on how I figured out where we were. And then I started marking the areas we’d been in on a map in Google Maps. This became a polygon (as I write this, after finishing the 9:00-9:59 hour my polygon has 10 sides and covers 21.64 square miles). And I put notes about that, as well.

I eventually realized that what I have here is the beginning of a 24-post series. So I think I’m going to do just that, once I finish my next post about the time Alex and I spent in California.

*Each segment is 4 minutes long, so we have 360 segments. However, the top of every hour is Pharrell, so I had to subtract all but one of his appearances because he does have to be counted once for the first time he shows up. So you get 337 people. Technically, it has to be more than that, since some of the segments have more than one person in them. We’ll have to just go with 337+ people,because I am not going to go back and rewatch those first nine hours to make sure I know exactly how many people are in there. I’m not that OCD.

I guess it’s not a terrible surprise that we finally did make it to the observatory on our last full day in California. I mean, it was totally a quest by then. If I’d needed to park in downtown Los Angeles and take the Red Line to the DASH, I would have done it with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

Fortunately it didn’t come to that. There was actually no event at the Greek Theater that night, so we were able to park there for free and take the shuttle (50¢ apiece) up to the observatory. The shuttle was affordable and convenient and as a fan of public transportation, I have to give it, oh, 3.5 stars. You see, it wasn’t very comfortable. I had surgery on my tailbone 35 years ago and so my hind end is kind of picky about the surfaces I use it on. As a result we walked back down. But more on that in my special post on the observatory.

I have to admit that I’ve been up to the observatory something like four times in my life (actually maybe something like 5 or 6), but I’d never been inside until this trip. Always before we were there during the school year and there were always field trip groups in there. We’d visited the outside of the building, and I seem to recall visiting the room that has the telescope in it, which is on the roof of the building itself. I was very pleasantly surprised at what we saw and experienced while we were there. I’ll do a separate post on the observatory later.

sea cave, carrillo state park, 2017

This is about as good as photos of that cave got

After we left the observatory, we headed out to Malibu to visit yet another beach. If Thomas and I had known about the beaches of Orange County, then this trip probably would have been my first. Instead, however, when Thomas and I went to California that first time, we wanted a public beach. So, figuring that a park would be a public beach, I found Leo Carrillo State Park, which I will also go into detail on in a future post. Since Thomas likely has those pictures in his collection I set about creating my own. Alex and I took pictures of the rocks and wildlife, built our annual sandcastle (a rock castle this time, based around a rock that Alex found that looked like a grand piano) and slogged around to the other side of the rock outcropping where I made numerous attempts to take pictures of one of the sea caves. Finally we went back to the car (after bypassing the showers, which were awfully sulfurous-smelling). While we were rinsing off our feet in a little of our drinking water, we saw a car wreck (the front parking lot at Carrillo is a little too small for the trailer that the truck was pulling) and watched rescue workers come to help a man who thought he might be having a heart attack (I think it turned out he was okay). With everything else, it took a while to get out of the parking lot.

I wanted to take Pacific Coast Highway all the way down to our final lighthouse, but we gave up after 17 miles of stop-and-stop-some-more traffic. We headed inland in Santa Monica and took the 405 and the 101 down to Palos Verdes. I missed a step in my request for directions to Point Vicente light, but we got it sorted out and made it to the park next to the lighthouse just as the last bit of light faded from the sky. It’s been a long time since I went to California, but I swear that park wasn’t there 17 years ago. I remember a smallish building with a deck for whale watching, but nothing like the park that’s there today.

By this point, it was full dark, so we stopped in San Pedro for gas, got on the highway and headed back for our final night in our hotel.

Still working on that California post. I promise.

But before that, another project that Alex and I have started on. Our dog, Foxy, is (as I told you last time) getting old.  I want to take her more places and do more things with her, since her days with us are numbered. Her arthritis medication is damaging her kidneys. We could stop the damage if we took her off of the medicine, but then she’d be in pain, so we’ve decided to opt for quality over quantity.  Additionally, she’s getting a little dotty in her old age. Today we went for a walk and after we came home, when I went to leave the house for Alex’s and my outing to the Asian New Year Festival, she decided to go with us, despite not having her leash and walking harness. I had to grab her regular harness to stop her and redirect her into the house.

The Pearl Brewery

The Pearl, San Antonio, Texas, June 2017

So, I invested in a sling so that we can help her support her weight and, ever so slowly we are walking her down the Riverwalk from The Pearl (the old Peal Brewery along US 281 near downtown) heading towards downtown. Every two weeks, on Sunday, we’ll be starting out at the same parking lot, taking the same ramp down to the river, and going just a little farther south than we went two weeks earlier. The sling is great for her speed, but her endurance has declined significantly in the last few years. That’s to be expected; she’s the equivalent of a 96-year-old lady at this point. However, this also means that I don’t know if we’ll ever get her all the way downtown (if it turns out that we won’t be able to get her all the way downtown and back, our plan B is for us to go downtown on a Tuesday night when parking is free. But for now, we’ll try this. Today (I started this post on Saturday night, but it’s now Sunday morning) we’ll be going as far as the river across the street from the San Antonio Museum of Art (have I written up the museum? I can’t recall at this point) and then heading back to the car and coming home. We should, at this rate, be downtown by the end of May.

I started my next post on our trip to California and was suddenly all, “Crap. Should I do this chronologically or leave the latest update on our quest to reach the Griffith Observatory for the end of the post?” And I stopped there.

So instead of doing that, I’ll do this.*

My 16-year-old dog and 17-year-old cat are perking along, more or less. It’s expensive to keep animals this age going and that’s really eaten into my travel budget because my travel budget comes out of my allowance. I pay myself an allowance, and any money I have left in that budget at the end of the month used to go towards travel. Now half goes to vet bills and half goes to travel, which is nearly $1,000 that I’m short for my 2018 trip.

We’re going to end up doing the trip I outlined back in August driving into New Mexico for a couple of days, except even more scaled-back. We go to at least one branch of the National Park Service every year, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park is only about seven hours away by car. So that’s our first day in New Mexico. Our second day, we’ll visit White Sands National Monument and spend the night in Las Cruces. Then we’ll drive north up towards Taos. One of my friends has a hotel that she recommends up by Santa Fe, so we’ll probably stop there for the night. The Wild Earth Llama Adventures people recommend staying in Taos for a couple of days to get acclimated to the elevation before the camping trip. We don’t have the money for that, plus the camping trip would be $800+ for the two of us. I’m going to call the Wild Earth people and ask about their llama day trips. If they’re less strenuous and we could do it in a one-day Taos stop, I’ll shell out the $250 for us to do that. If not, we’ll just knock around Santa Fe and Taos for a day. Then our final day in New Mexico, I would like to drive into Colorado just to do it, because at this point, Colorado will be a lone unvisited island in the center of Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In other words, I’ll’ve been to all of the states that surround Colorado, but never actually to Colorado itself. If not, well, we’ll do a Colorado trip some other time.  Our final stop will be Capulin Volcano National Monument (which will take care of our every-even-numbered-year volcano), and then we’ll head for home, stopping for the night in, probably, Lubbock.

I’ve passed the $500 mark on paying myself for my language studies, and with the final $200-ish, I’ve purchased my first share of stock. I was ready just as the bottom dropped out of the market this last couple of weeks, but it looked like that stock was about to rebound, so I bought. And then the price dropped farther. It doesn’t matter, though. I’m an investor, not a speculator, so just so long as I hold my current position, I should come out plenty of money ahead in the long run.

I want to go back to tutoring foreign languages this year (I was my junior college’s Spanish and German tutor back in the day) and get more experience so that I can get closer to my goal, which is to be able to work translating children’s books out of any of my assorted target languages into English. The money from that will be put in with the money I’m paying myself to study and all of that will go towards what I guess I’d call my “stretch goal,” which is to get a graduate degree in a modern language. By my calculations I only have $15,500 to go.

*I will get back to California eventually. Hopefully in the next day or two. Probably.

Crap. I knew I’d been derelict, but didn’t realize it was that bad.

Sorry! I’ll try to get back on this horse soon. It’s getting pretty late and I don’t know if I have the time to cover our sixth (and final full) day in California. We spent that day finishing up the things we hadn’t been able to get to in the previous days (and we finally got to the Griffith Observatory!).

Until then, here’s a cat picture:

black cat on white washer in green laundry room

My Phobos on top of the washer.

I hope to link this picture to Jenny Lawson’s post on her bout of the flu. She asked for cat pictures and I’m really proud of this one. I’m going to try to post it in a comment, but just in case it doesn’t take, I’ll post a link to this post so that she can see it.

You see, Phobos has a bit of a weight problem and a few months back I began restricting his caloric intake (he used to free-feed 24 hours a day and now he only free-feeds 16 hours a day — I pick up the bowl between midnight and 8 am). So back on December 4, I was sitting where I’m sitting now and I heard a loud “WHUMP!” from the laundry room (which is behind me). I walked back there and looked in to find that Phobos had actually managed to jump up on top of the washer.

I was so pleased because this is evidence that, even if he’s not losing weight (which I’ll bet he is), his energy levels are getting better.

So, I didn’t take that new job after all. The only reason I felt able to take it is that I would stay on in my current job part time. But I had too many questions. It was only a 95% chance that they’d keep me on permanently. Another listing for a similar job said that a raise was possible, when it was basically promised to me, and the recruiter said that I would only be temp for three months until my boss pointed out that my prospective employer is known to keep people temp for six months or even more. When I asked the recruiter, he admitted that sometimes it does end up being more than three months. But, he added just a little too quickly, sometimes it’s less.

The entire thing made me feel sick, and if it didn’t work out, or wasn’t what I was expecting (like there was no raise, or the raise wasn’t what I was hoping), I would end up part time. Again. I’d been part time for five years before I finally became full time and, well, I turned down the job.

I’m still working on my foreign language skills. I finished my first year on the 15th (meaning that I’m starting on my second year as of today). I haven’t missed a day of study and have paid myself over $400 in that time. I’m hoping to start investing the money on the stock market sometime in 2018, which should bring me closer to my goal a bit faster.

I don’t know if I’ve posted this here or not, but I really should have majored in modern languages rather than elementary education.* Things would be so much easier now if I had. I could have been working as a translator back when I was first working and could have kept my hand in while raising my son. When I found myself single in 2008, I would have been employed all the way through and could have gotten work right away. So, I’m going to fix that oversight. I’m saving up to get a graduate degree (because there’s no point in getting another undergraduate degree) in modern languages. Which language? I’m not sure. I’m going to study all of my languages and see (a) which ones I’m more comfortable with, (b) which ones I can get the most work in**, and (c) which are available at whatever public university they have in whatever city I’m living in at that time. Hopefully, the same language will be in all three columns and that will make my decision there.

I’m almost done with Rosetta Stone Vietnamese and am going to apply for Rosetta Stone Italian and see if I can build on the Italian I learned before our 2014 trip.

*Why didn’t I major in modern languages? Thomas and I were in a long-distance relationship. We only saw each other every three weeks and phone conversations were sporadic at best. To get that degree, or even just to be competitive once I graduated, I would have to have studied overseas at some point. I didn’t want to be in a completely different country from him for 16 whole weeks, so I chose to major in something that basically everyone else in my family has done. Turns out that was a bad fit, so I ended up becoming a paralegal.

**I’m not just going to study to make this money. My plan is to see if I can get an actual part-time job as a foreign language tutor at one or more of the local colleges or universities for mornings or weekends or whatever I can work out around my day job. I was my junior college’s Spanish and German tutor back in the day, so I have experience and that was part time as well, so there’s that. And once I’ve been doing that for a while, I may venture out as an independent contractor and see if I can make a bit more that way. Eventually I want to hang my shingle up as a translator. If all goes well, I’ll be able to do that for enough money to make a living wage even if I do stay as a retail pharmacy technician for the long haul. Half of my part-time job income and one-quarter of my independent-contractor income will also go into my graduate school fund. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to get that degree before I reach retirement age.

Our fifth full day in California, we left the Pasadena/Los Angeles area once again to visit our annual national park. This year, we went to Joshua Tree National Park (which is another topic to spend an entire post on). And my bank did not like this day, like, at all. You see, I forgot to tell them that I was going to California and the algorithm was able to cope okay with expenses in Los Angeles, Burbank, Pasadena, San Pedro, Malibu, and so on. For some reason, however, it couldn’t cope with my buying gas in Morongo Valley or a t-shirt or pretzel rods in Twenty-Nine Palms. Fortunately my debit card went through for all of those purchases, but when I got home, I had an email from my bank asking about it. And, yes, it was from my bank. I called the phone number on the back of my debit card.

We actually got out reasonably early, at 8:00 in the morning, though I had hoped to leave at 6:00 or 7:00. We stopped at the Walmart in Glendora for the only concession I made to the fact that we were going to spend the day in the desert. I bought — and then actually applied — a fairly high SPF (or whatever they’re calling it these days) sunblock (spoiler: I also did kind of a lousy job and ended up with a streaky, blotchy sunburn).

We then headed off to Joshua Tree. After a bathroom stop at a rest stop and stopping in Morongo Valley for gas, we arrived at Joshua Tree about three hours later. This meant, of course, that we were in the desert for the hottest part of the day, and most of the animals (which weren’t as stupid as we were) were hiding out. We did see one coyote just outside the park, though.

Joshua tree shadow

The shadow of a Joshua tree in, well, Joshua Tree.

We spent four hours at Joshua Tree and then headed back to Los Angeles. After a stop at Walmart in Redlands for a restroom and a pair of nail clippers (I left mine in Texas), we had dinner at an H. Salt, Esq. Fish and Chips in San Bernardino. My folks and I used to eat at an H. Salt (maybe in Hammond, Indiana?) when I was a kid and I hadn’t been to one since Thomas and my 1996 trip (we ate at the one that apparently used to be in Oxnard). The restaurant was kind of empty, but the couple who seem to run the place make the fish to order, so it was fresh out of the fryer when we got it. The restaurant was so dark that we went outside and ate in the rental car. There was a wildfire (a small one, as it fortunately turned out) nearby, so Alex got to watch the planes put the fire out while we ate.

We headed back to our hotel. I fell in love with the bridge that takes Colorado Boulevard over the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, so Alex and I went around the long way to try to get some pictures of the bridge at night. My phone really doesn’t like to take nighttime pictures and adding motion to the mix doesn’t help at all, so they came out blurry.

Blurry Colorado Street Bridge photo

See what I mean?
Picture by Alex Ogden

We took a few pictures the next day as well, and you can see the bridge in them, but I’m still not totally happy. On our next trip, we plan to actually drive that road and take some pictures of the bridge from the bridge. Ooh! Apparently they have a biennial festival actually on the bridge itself. So if we go back in 2020 (no way we can make it in 2018 unless my dad wins the Lottery), maybe I can get pictures of the bridge while actually walking on it. That’s a definite possibility for the future.

We did so much this day, that looking back I’m all, “Are you sure that was all one day?” And, well, I guess it is.

As we’ve covered before, Alex is a vehicle buff. His particular interest is in airplanes, and I discovered that there is a museum, called the Blackbird Airpark, in Palmdale, California, near the Palmdale Regional Airport and Plant 42 Plant 42 is a manufacturing plant that makes vehicles for the Air Force and NASA).  Blackbird Airpark has both types of Blackbird airplanes — the SR-71 and the A-12 (I’m kind of scared that I remember those letters and numbers).

So, in the morning, we headed off to Palmdale. We got there without incident, only when we got to the airpark, none of the planes that we’d been promised were there. They were great planes, including one of the 747s that carried the Space Shuttle, but Alex was still disappointed. Once I went to hide from the heat, I did some research and discovered that we were in the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, next door to the Blackbird Airpark. I found the open gate between the two, told Alex where it was, and went back to hide in the shade (July in the desert is not Olivia-friendly).

After Alex had photographed everything he could at the Joe Davies Airpark, he came to get me and we went over to the Blackbird Airpark, where I hid in the gift shop/museum while he took more pictures. He came in, got some souvenirs, talked to the workers for a while, and we headed back to Los Angeles.

B-52, Palmdale, California, 2017

The B52 at the Joe Davies Airpark. Everyone sing along with me. “Here comes a stingray . . .” And, yes, I know that the B52s were named after a beehive hairdo, but my fondness for the band led me to take this picture.

After a two-hour drive, we arrived at Hancock Park, home of the La Brea Tar Pits. we ate lunch at a Vietnamese food truck, then visited the George C. Page Museum*. After we left the museum, we walked around the park and looked at the displays, including the Observation Pit, which was closed when we were there. It’s strange how familiarity can change the way something looks. I swear that Hancock Park has changed a lot since our 1996 visit, but I couldn’t tell you exactly how it’s changed.

Back in the days when Thomas and I used to meet up with friends in Los Angeles, we’d stay at the Sportsmen’s Lodge and would frequently eat at the Jerry’s Deli just down the street. So, since we weren’t too terribly far from there at Hancock Park, we had dinner at Jerry’s Deli (I had to have the chicken noodle soup, which tasted just like I remember it) and left the car there while we hiked up to the Sportsmen’s Lodge, which looks almost nothing like I remember. I know that they’ve remodeled, but between the remodel and the 18-year gap, it looked very different from what I remember, but still similar enough that I was sure we were in the right place.

On the way back to the hotel, I made a big loop, and I’m not entirely sure why. I think that might have been when Alex and I had a miscommunication on which way to turn when and we ended up driving around Arcadia at night. Then again, maybe that big circle is just because the cell towers lost track of us.

*Which is probably going to earn itself its own entry after I finish the travelogue.