Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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A Darth of Culture

I've become pretty adept at navigating through North County geography over the past few years. Once I realized that most of the Big Box shopping plazas weren't visible from I-5 but instead lay in an interior valley on the other side of the first line of hills, I could find the businesses we can't seem to avoid frequenting: Trader Joe's, Chipotle, Borders, Circuit City and a number of Starbucks. Perhaps this amounts to a startling confession, given the regular statements that kdotdammit and I make about how much we dislike Big Box culture. One thing you learn when you become a middle-class parent in these United States, though, is that, for all of that culture's antiseptic, soul-subverting banality, the franchises that comprise it make life easier, if less interesting, when you are pressed for time. And that's exactly what we are when we're on vacation here along the coast of Southern California, not because we have to work, but because we are working so hard at having fun.

Today was pretty stressful. We had to pack everything up in our motel room. Kim and Skylar waited at Pannikin while I went back to load up the car. Then I came to meet them only to find us once more thrust back into the crisis parenting mode that dominated our lives a few years ago. It turns out that the Bean was just having a hard time adjusting to the climate change. But the combination of her meltdown and Kim's having to assemble our campsite alone -- I was doing Skylar duty back at Pannikin -- had left all of us threadbare of patience. We needed to restore order to a once-promising day that had taken an abrupt turn onto the road to despair.

Curiously, it was a short visit to Legoland that revived us. For those of you who haven't been there, Legoland is located right in the middle of one of those Death Star-esque corporate office parks for which exurban California is famous. I'm talking about the sort of place where you show up for a meeting and end up circling the rotary spokes of the complex looking for a street address, even though there's no "street" to speak of and where the search for food and drink tends to be either fruitless or a harvest so bitter that you wish there were less of it. Although Legoland is an oasis amidst this wasteland, its setting is sufficiently Edge City to remind you that its namesake products are the templates for a high percentage of the postmodern economy: modular, slick, and a whole lot of holes to fill. Disneyland's environs are downright gritty in comparison.

After spending two hours riding in a surprisingly empty theme park, we were both happy and hungry. Since the approach to I-5 was congested, though, we opted to wend our way down El Camino Real all the way to Leucadia. It took a long time. Kim rapidly grew tired of the even-less-human-than-San-Ramon landscape we were traversing. But I found the drive strangely comforting. Seeing one cookie-cutter subdivision after another and marveling that people would pay so much for so little -- a home the size of our modest abode in Tucson will set you back over a million -- made me glad, both that I don't live here and that I vacation here. It reminded me of my first few trips to Los Angeles as a grown-up, when I used Mike Davis's City of Quartz as my personal Rough Guide. Only in this environment the guidebooks of choice are the collected works of William Gibson.

Dinner at Pei-Wei was excessively clean and exactly what all of us wanted and needed. Now we're sitting at the Starbucks next door. Skylar is playing with her new "transformation" Lego set that lets you turn Annikin into Darth Vader. Kim is reading her latest issue of the wonderful magazine Film Comment. And I'm listening to the soothing strains of Cuban music played at just the right corporate-friendly volume. I can almost feel my hands turning into bionic appendages as I type. Call me Darth.
Tags: family, photography, travel

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