Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part VII)

Day Three — Sunday (continued): A Meeting of the Grinds
I had to do a bit of multi-tasking as I crept along traffic-heavy West Mission Street, one of the main arteries entering the area of downtown Santa Barbara where Aimee, Inanna, Michael and I would end up hanging out for the next nine hours. It wasn’t easy juggling the activities of trying to spot The Daily Grind coffeehouse while still on the phone with Mikey guiding me in, all the while trying to avoid a rear-end collision with the car in front of me in the slow-and-go Sunday brunchtime traffic.

As I slowed approaching the light at De La Vina Street, I heard a familiar voice call out, “AJ!” I looked quickly to my left to see Nanner flagging me down. Unfortunately I’d overshot my target, so I had to proceed on down another block to turn around.

Finally I got turned around and pulled into The Grind and parked. The Three Blogateers were waiting for me at a table on the patio out in front of the restaurant.

As I approached the table, it was almost as if they didn’t see me coming (but in all fairness, only Michael was facing my direction). It took a second or two for Aimee and Inanna to notice me standing there next to them. Aims appeared to be in some kind of yarn-induced trance, knitting away and Nanner was busily engaged in creating a new new masterworks of folk-art from the raw materials Aimee had acquired earlier that morning at the craft fair she attended at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.

Footnote: And yes boys and girls, if the name sounds familiar, that is indeed the same Earl Warren as in former Chief Justice of the United States and namesake of The Warren Commission, Earl Warren. Prior to serving as Head Honcho of the Highest Court in the Land, Warren was one of the most visible public figures in the State of California, serving four years as State District Attorney and twelve years as Governor. And what does that have to do with this story? Nada. I just thought it was an interesting fact.


Once Michael looked up and said hello, everyone stopped what they were doing. As we exchanged handshakes and hugs, something became clear to me immediately — this wasn’t weird. It was as normal and comfortable as it could have possibly been. Of course this wasn’t a first-time meeting for any of us, with the exception of Aimee and me.

Michael and I had met in person only once, in the previous summer of 2004, but I honestly feel as though we’ve known each other for years. On the other hand, that globetrotter emeritus of Blogland, Inanna, and I met twice in consecutive months earlier that spring when she was in the midst of her seven-city 2005 Blogger Barnstorming Tour across America. Naturally I felt comfortable around these two with whom I’ve grown the closest of all my Blogland neighbors.

However this was Aimee and my first opportunity to meet face-to-face. And again, it wasn’t weird. She was as comfortable to be around as any old friend I could have been.

We all talked and caught up while Nanner continued crafting a pair of beautiful beaded earrings for Aimee. The conversation was, naturally, about blogging and this great community of friends we all hold in such warm esteem. Brighton’s name came up and for the heck of it, I pulled out my cell phone and called her up. Everyone took a turn saying hello.

I’m not exactly sure how long we sat and talked there at the coffeehouse, but it was at least a couple of hours. Soon the bagels and coffee began to wear off and we all decided it was time to move on to our next venue, State Street.

The Four Amegos
Since I was the only one who had actually managed to get a spot in the parking lot at the coffeehouse, we all piled into my rental car and proceeded downtown, where Aimee said there were a number of places we could get some lunch.

Following Aimee’s direction, I parked on a block above State Street, which is the main drag in that part of SB. It’s a bustling avenue of restaurants, office buildings and shops. State Street dead ends at the base of the Santa Barbara peninsula, spilling out onto Stearns Warf, a popular tourist destination. The quarter mile-long pier is lined with souvenir shops and seafood restaurants overlooking Santa Barbara harbor and the blue Pacific.

Interestingly enough, no sooner than we began walking toward State, we encountered one of Michael’s old apartment neighbors and stopped for a somewhat awkward two-minute chat. Seems the Mayor of Blogsville’s popularity knows no end.

We turned up State Street and quickly came upon a couple of Mexican restaurants (which we had generally agreed beforehand would be the cuisine of choice that day). We randomly decided upon the first one we had seen, a place I can’t remember the name of now, and went in.

Aimee’s lunch was on me, which was something I had told her in advance that I would do. It was a (very) small thank you for her generous gift of the laptop computer she was planning to give to me later. Hopefully she enjoyed her lunch. I know I could have done a little with my selection if I had perhaps…oh I dunno…read the menu? I have no idea what I thought I had ordered, but I ended up with a vegetarian quesadilla. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not eat vegatarian anything.

Maybe that’s why I don’t recall the name of the restaurant.

However, to be fair, the quesadilla wasn’t all that bad; it wasn’t spectacular, but I ate it nonetheless (but only after removing the avocados).

A random Santa Barbaran walking by the Mexican restaurant was kind enough to snap this very cool photo of the four of us for me. Aimee asked me afterwards, “What would you have done if she’d just run off with your camera?” Gee. I really have been away from SoCal for awhile, huh?

Aimee in what I have decided must be her natural state. I don’t know that she went five minutes without a smile on her face all day.

I took this same shot with both Mikey’s camera and my own, just seconds apart. However I’m posting my version, because in this one his Popeyesque smirk is more pronounced and infinitely more amusing. Nanner looks like I felt at that point — very, very happy to be there.

After lunch, we went strolling along State Street, taking in the local color of Ronnie Reagan’s hometown. The weather had become more pleasant now in the late afternoon. It was a great time for a walk.

After a few blocks, someone suggested ice cream. Just across from the Mexican Restaurant was a Coldstone Creamery store, so we crossed the street and headed back that way.

Wanna REAL tip? Get yourself some singing lessons!
I’m supposing that Coldstone Creamery has been around for awhile in California. Normally the popular new franchise restaurant and fast food establishments start at the coasts and then work their way towards the middle of the country. Well here in the Middle Tennessee, Coldstone has been around for about a year, year and a half. I’d never been to one, but had been curious about the place for awhile, so I was happy to go when someone suggested it.

What I was expecting was an ice cream parlor, which it is — and a good one. What I wasn’t expecting was Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

CSC’s specialty is their series of thirty-three unique Creations; combinations of ice cream and toppings, which after you order are “assembled” while you watch by employees who appear to have just returned from their Red Bull break.

Case in point, Aimee and I chose the “Peanut Butter Cup Perfection” creation in which they take a scoop of chocolate ice, slap it down on a palette, and next to it, take a handful of Reese’s cups, smash ‘em up, combine ‘em with the ice cream, slap on a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter, squirt on some hot fudge, and then scoop up the whole glob and caboodle into your choice of waffle cone or cup.

Sounds kinda gross, but it’s actually pretty entertaining, and very tasty! However the Pee Wee part I could have done without. And please, I know, Aimee, that’s the part you liked the best. As a matter of fact, you were the one who told us about that gimmick, that if anyone placed money in the tip jar, the employees always burst into song. And they did. Several times. But what you didn’t tell us was that they’d sound like six cats frying in a skillet.

But seriously, as badly as they sounded, it did kind of add to the fun, festive atmosphere, so it was all good; and the ice cream was excellent. But all the same, the way the kid at the cash register was looking at me (Aimee insisted the dude was hitting on me) I was more than ready to take my “creation” and hit the bricks.

So with cones and cups in tow, we made our way back out onto the sidewalk, hung a left and for the beach.

Once again, I don’t remember who asked if anybody knew any good jokes, but…

He was makin’ fun ‘a the way I talk!
That was the punch line, but that’s all I’m sayin.’ It was an old joke — I believe I first heard when I was in the fifth grade (which also pretty accurately details the joke’s level of sophistication). That was a long, long ago, boys and girls; back when considering oneself politically correct meant nothing more than bragging that you voted for the winning party on Election Day. Therefore I won’t repeat the joke for the sake of those whose sensibilities would certainly be offended by it today. Besides, there’s no way I could possibly do the joke justice in print, because the humor isn’t in the verbiage, so much as the delivery. And one of the reason’s I’ve always remembered that silly joke is because I’m pretty darned good with that delivery.

I just didn’t realize how good.

Oh, but you can rest easy if you’re reading this, Mr. Seinfeld, I won’t be movin’ in on your gigs anytime soon.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently; the way to a man’s heart is to laugh at his jokes. Nothing makes a guy feel better about himself than when he can make people laugh. So needless to say, it was a pretty nice boost to my ego. Now if I could only find a few more to add to my repertoire…

If you’re a fan of Michael’s blog, you may have seen this sequence of photos before, but with his permission I’m reposting them here. Kudos to him for so perfectly catching the moment just before (above) and after (below) the punch line.

Aimee and Nanner just about lost their ice creams on the sidewalk right then and there. Thanks for making my day, ladies.

Needless to say the mood was light by the time we reached Stearn’s Warf. However we were greeted with a demonstration that may not have completely thrown water on our party, but it did add a poignant juxtaposition to the frivolity that had just preceded it.

Next: Day Three — Sunday (continued)
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