Cheap Geek Tour
(Thursday, April 29, 2004)
Robert realizes that perhaps we ARE visiting another country--or another dimension. In the bathroom, he sees that the hotel has thoughtfully provided Sea Salt Soap, embedded with little green flecks of something or other. Also supplied are Kelp Shampoo, Sea Moss conditioner, and Sea Fennel hand lotion.
Welcome to California.
Now all refreshed, although smelling like an old wharf, we leap into our rental car and head north. Destination: Charles "Peanuts" Schulz museum in Santa Rosa. Thanks to global warming, we're treated to a sunny, cloudless day about 80 degrees.
Another way to tell we're not in Seattle anymore--drivers here actually use their horns! And not just polite little taps to say "Excuse me, you've been sitting at that green light for ten minutes, now. Is everything all right?" No sir, these SF people use their horns to say "Hey! I'm driving here!" and "I'm late!" and "I hate traffic!"
We drive across one of the basic SF icons (not the cable cars or Rice-a-Roni): the Golden Gate bridge (which is neither golden, nor a gate). There are 80,000 signs saying "You better go 45 MPH or else..." and apparently a few hubcaps have been broken, because everybody is going 45.000 MPH.
Maybe the sight of Alcatraz Island in the bay is a reminder to scofflaws.
The very first time we tried to visit the Schulz museum (on the World's Largest Tour), it was closed because it wasn't finished yet. So, we gave them a couple of years to finish and get open and running and everything before we stop by again.
Guess what? Yup, closed again.
But this time, they open at noon (whew!).
Next door to the museum is an ice rink where Sparky (which is what everybody called Charles Schulz) liked to skate. It has a snack bar called The Warm Puppy Snack Bar (Motto: "If you weren't hungry before you got here, read our name again--that'll empty your stomach!"). Robert points out that you can't get peanuts at the snack bar...
We thought we'd kill some time browsing at the Gifte Shoppe, but there's nothing to browse but the entire annual output of Taiwanese plushie dolls. (You get Snoopy, et al., in 142 different sizes.)
Finally! It's open! Our first stop--the restrooms!
Inside the restrooms there's a series of tiles with Peanuts strips on them, running around the entire restroom—past the urinals, through the stalls, all the way around. They are all about three feet off the ground, which means that you'd have to get on your hands and knees to read them.
Even Robert knows better than to be seen on your hands and knees in a public restroom ("But I was reading the comics!"), so we can't really tell you what they were about.
The first floor of the museum is mostly about comic strips. The special exhibit is of MAD Magazine spoofs of Peanuts, which are barbed and funny. There's also a room full of original Peanuts strips on a particular theme. The current theme is "Love," so there's a selection of strips about romance.
Robert is so happy reading comic strips, he forgets he's in a museum...
Upstairs are exhibits featuring various Peanuts merchandise from around the world ("Look! Peanuts in Dutch! Peanuts in Japanese!"). They have also moved Sparky's entire work area from two blocks away into the museum. They even moved his bookcases, and kept a selection of his books the way they were when he died. We find looking through a dead guy's reading material a little creepy....
There's a courtyard outside with a large kite-eating tree (complete with kite, and long fluorescent string that lights up green at night). There's also a surrealistic scene of several Woodstock birds building a life-size Charlie Brown from bricks, and a Linus wearing a crossword-puzzle shirt. We don't understand this.
Underneath an large baseball cap is an oversized bird bath thing that displays five different holograms of Snoopy and Woodstock playing hockey (the volunteers at the museum were very proud of this and wanted us to be sure to see it).
We didn't tarry longer, because we had to get back to the city to be on TV!
There's a show on TechTV (a cable channel that you actually have to pay extra to get, but you also get Showtime as a bonus for signing up) called The Screen Savers. It's not about screen saver software, which would be dull.
Rather, it's a bunch of geeks who get together and talk about geek news, and new hardware, and hacking into wireless networks, and how to modify the Windows registry to remove those troublesome download limitations.
In other words: our kinda show!
It airs live every day, so we arranged to be in the audience for today's show. Robert gets all excited when he sees one of the hosts (Patrick Norton) actually walking down the street in regular clothes without bodyguards or anything! (Robert says he looks balder than he does on TV.)
They make us wait outside the studio on the sidewalk until they are ready to let us in. Because most of the rest of the audience looks like us (middle-aged white people), it's like some Alternate Universe Ghetto ("Hey Homie! You got any good packets in your TCP/IP?" "I'll wardrive your wi-fi, sucka!").
Finally, we are allowed to enter the hallowed halls, where we are required to show photo ID to be admitted. Robert uses his Costco card (it's got his name, it's got his photo), which (surprise!) confuses the security guard, but eventually he decides to let us in.
There are 27 audience members today (a large audience, we are told), and we're all herded into a small conference room with ten chairs. We sign releases saying that they can Photoshop our heads onto the bodies of attractive people. After a brief tour of a studio that has nothing to do with Screen Savers ("This is a 'set,' and those are 'cameras.' "), we head back to the conference room and practice clapping. Really. The Guest Coordinator (an intern, due to graduate from college in a month) says we have to be extra loud because they only have a tiny microphone for the audience. (Why not get a bigger microphone? thinks Robert.)
We are told not to take pictures ("for security reasons") until the show is over (huh?). Finally, we are ushered onto the set of Screen Savers. And, as with most TV sets, it's kinda small and cheesy up close...
Then the show starts! We fulfill our clapping duties.
Robert gets a free (Free is Good) T-shirt for being loud and obnoxious (really). The Guest Coord says that Robert was clapping loudly, and laughing loudly and that was good. Robert was just being his usual self, and Laura mutters "Don't encourage him," as he gets his free T-shirt.
There's one segment where they interview Mike Daisey who's a local boy. He does the "21 Dog Years" show, about his three years at Amazon.com. Today, he's talking about how he improved his Wi-fi reception in his house in Brooklyn (which he describes as a large Faraday cage). He went and got a military-spec amplifier that pumps out so much signal, he can feel his eyeballs frying, but boy--he gets a good Wi-fi signal even inside his refrigerator!
After the taping, the two hosts (Patrick and Kevin) hang out with the audience and talk with us mere mortals. They are both very nice people, and Kevin seems quite concerned about whether or not we liked the show (he recently moved up the food chain to co-host, and he's a young kid barely out of his teens we think).
Robert tells Patrick that it's good that Patrick is not young and photogenic, because it makes him more believable (both Robert & Patrick are pudgy, middle-aged, and balding, so naturally, Robert thinks this makes Patrick believable).
We realize that we don't actually need our rental car any more, because the Comic convention is directly across the street from our hotel, and why would we want to go anywhere else?
Although there's an Avis car rental return place about two blocks up the street, we determine (after half-an-hour of talking to various Avis representatives) that it would cost us $60 more to take it back there instead of the airport.
Besides, Laura is all excited about riding BART (Big Ass Rumbling Train).
So, we drive out to the airport and find our way to the BART station, where they have cleverly not installed any benches to sit on. That way, when the train finally does show up, you'll think those plastic butt catchers are actually comfortable.
We have now ridden on most of the World's Great Transit Systems: BART, the London Tube, the NY subway, the Chicago El, and the Seattle Monorail. Of these, Elvis rode only the Seattle Monorail, which will whisk you from downtown Seattle to another part of downtown Seattle in under 10 minutes!
So, how does BART compare? Well, frankly, you've ridden one noisy, brightly lit bumpy train, you've pretty much ridden them all (or at least all the ones we've ridden).
But, it does translocate our butts from 20 miles south of SF to downtown SF without us having to pedal or pay attention.
We are back at the hotel, and are now car free! In addition to the $60/day car rental fee we save, there's the not-so-small matter of the $30 (PER DAY!!!) fee that the hotel charges to keep our car in the bowels of their parking garage. It was actually costing us more for the car than for our hotel room, and the car didn't even have high-speed internet!
We drift off to sleep, secure in the knowledge that we have pinched another 9,000 pennies....
Robert & Laura