Category Archives: Travel

in praise of the scenic route

The 101 between Ventura and Salinas is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway I’ve ever driven (and I’ve driven a lot of them). The highway winds up to San Francisco from Los Angeles, along the coast in places, but mostly inland through soft rolling foothills and quiet farming valleys. You’ll see everything from vineyards to oil fields on the drive, and though it takes about an hour longer than the more boring but direct I-5, if you’re not in a hurry, it’s worth the extra time.

This trip provided me with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever experienced on the 101: the grass on the foothills is golden, creating an inviting backdrop for splashes of color thrown across it by wild flowers. There was orange from poppies, yellow and green from wild mustard flowers, bright purple from lavender, and occasional bursts of bright green from grass that hadn’t gotten the memo about dying off for summer. Around it all were gnarled oak trees, providing shade for grazing cattle and horses.

Once I got north of Soledad, towering Eucalyptus trees — sixty feet tall, it seemed — stood guard over vast green fields of lettuce and celery, as if the foothills had been somehow pushed back by farmers decades or even a century ago. Near Monterey, a heavy blanket of fog did its best to come inland, as coastal mountains held it back.

I saw all of this under clear blue skies as I made my way up to San Jose, accompanied by Dimension X on m iPod (an odd but wonderful soundtrack, indeed). I was tired and road weary when I finally pulled into the hotel parking garage nearly seven hours after I’d left my house, but it was entirely worth it.

Geek Tour 2008: San Jose Super-Con – Updated

This weekend, the 2008 Geek Tour rolls into San Jose for Super-Con!

Original Announcement:

May 17-18
San Jose, CA

When I worked on NUMB3RS, I met the guys in charge of Super-Con in
San Jose. In fact, they were a big part of making Alt Con 9 (the fake
con in the show) look and feel as real as it did. I haven’t been to San
Jose for a convention since the only way to get there was via mule
train, so I’m looking forward to traveling up the coast in more modren
style, perhaps by zeppelin or auto-gyro.

I don’t have a lot of details for this one, and I don’t even know if I’ll get a chance to perform from my books, make balloon animals or just stand around making lists of things.

However, I’ll have a booth of awesome, where I’ll be hanging out on Saturday and Sunday, trading books and pictures for shiny gold rocks. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to visit with some cool people while and angry guy complains about it. That’s always pretty fun.

I’m hoping the copies of Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot that I ordered at great expense to myself arrive today, because if they don’t, I won’t have any of them for this show, which would be sad. [see Update at bottom]However, I should have shiny new copies of the second printing of Happiest Days, and 2008’s chapbook-o-rama, Sunken Treasure.

Uh, this is also pretty goddamn cool: The original cast of MST3K will be getting together — reuniting, if you will — for the first time since the exciting rock climbing portion of the film began. I’m kind of excited to listen to whatever they have to say, and hope I can trade them shiny gold rocks for their automagraphs on my copy of Manos: the Hands of Fate.

UPDATE: FedEx and UPS came through for me. I have the second printing of Happiest Days, as well as copies of Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot. This means that, if you like, you can trade me shiny gold rocks (or Kongbucks) for The Complete Works of Me, Wil Wheaton.

Of course, now I have so much stuff to take and no time to ship it, so it looks like me and the 101 are going to spend about 5 hours of quality time together tomorrow. And again on Sunday. Good thing I have Dimension X on my iPod.

highlights from my damn geeky weekend

So my geeky weekend was totally awesome, and there were a few moments I thought I’d share. Before I get there, though, I need to clear something up: On Friday, as I was running out of the house, I said "Go see Iron Man this weekend. It is awesome. I saw a preview screening on Monday, and other than
the score (which is absolute crap) the movie is damn near perfect. I
think it’s the best comic book movie since Sin City, and blows
Transformers and the last two X-Men movies into oblivion."

Uh. Yeah. I don’t know how, but I managed to leave Batman Begins and Ghost World out of that, which is further evidence that I am a complete moron. Lots of people disagree with me about Sin City and X-Men. Those people are all wrong, of course, but my leaving out Batman Begins and Ghost World is just inexcusable. I deeply regret the error, and hang my head in shame while I carefully fold up my nerd cape. I’ll be in the corner for a little bit, thinking about what I did.

Okay, now that we’re done with that, allow me to share some highlights from my weekend with you:

Friday night I said to Anne, "When I finish this martini, I’m going to think it’s a great idea to have another martini. It will, in fact, be a very bad idea for me to have another martini, and I’d appreciate it if you’d remind me of that fact when the time comes."

When the time came, she wasn’t at the table. Oops.

Saturday morning, we unsurprisingly slept too late to get breakfast at the hotel, so we went to a supermarket and got yogurt, bananas, juice and stuff. I think we ended up having a more healthy and less expensive breakfast than we would have had at the hotel.

I wasn’t nervous at all about my reading at Mysterious Galaxy, which was really weird. In fact, while we were driving there (Anne was driving, I was reading from my book because I got it into my head that it may be a good idea to try something new about 20 minutes before showtime) I said to Anne, "You know what’s weird? I’m not nervous at all." It was at that very moment that I got nervous.

There were more people at Mysterious Galaxy than I was expecting, and when I walked into the store, the whole place fell silent and everyone was staring at me. You know how you walk into a room and feel like everyone was just talking about you? It was like that. I mean, they probably were, but it was still weird. It didn’t do much for the nervousness.

When I started my reading, I heard words coming out of my mouth, but I didn’t know what they were. I do that when I’m nervous and haven’t prepared any introductory remarks. If you were there and noticed this, thank you for not booing me.

I usually read blue light special and maybe exactly what I wanted, but I thought the MG crowd would be entertained by and relate to beyond the realm of the starlight. It turns out that they liked it, so my last minute decision to change the usual program was rewarded. In the future, though, I think I’ll stick with the cards, lest I get a visit from Nick Fury when I’m done.

Unrelated to this post: Time Machine is making a backup right now, and it’s making my mouse jumpy. That is SO FUCKING IRRITATING.

Right. Back to business:

After I was finished reading, I took some questions. The thing about this is that nobody ever has questions when I say, "I’d be happy to entertain your questions," but when I’m signing their book, they have tons of questions, so instead of getting to tell my hilarious and charming jokes to everyone, I get to tell them to one person at a time. I must come up with some way of helping people not feel self conscious when it’s Q&A time. I should also clarify that I don’t mind answering questions or getting my geek on when I sign your book. In fact, I’ve noticed over the years that when I sign books for people, we almost always end up having some huge geek moment about movies or software or other geeky topics. I absolutely love that and hope it won’t ever go away.

While I was signing books, a girl about my age walked up to the table. She extended her hand and said, "Hi, I’m Gina."

"Hi Gina," I said. "It’s nice to meet you."

"I’m a blogger," she said.

"Oh? Cool!" I said. "What’s your blog?"

"It’s called ‘Lifehacker,’ and –"

It was at this point that I completely lost my shit and spent the next eleventy hundred minutes telling her how much I love Lifehacker. I think I slimed her pretty hard, but she wrote the nicest thing in the universe about me on Lifehacker today. Uh, wow. Thanks, Gina!

I also met a reader who nearly made me cry when she told me about her relationship with her stepdad, and how my books were a part of it. Stepkids: it means more than you’ll ever know when you tell your stepparents how much you love them, and when that moment finally comes where you accept how much we love you back, it’s the most cherished moment in our lives.

Saturday night was much more sedate and responsible than Friday night (and how lame and old am I that 3 martinis now qualifies as crazygonuts?)

Sunday morning, we got up early enough to eat breakfast in the hotel, and I wished that we hadn’t. I had a waffle with berries and maple syrup, but forgot to ensure that the "maple syrup" wasn’t that corn syrup bullshit that makes me sick to my stomach before I infected the entire waffle with it. I still ate about half of the waffle, though, because I was so hungry.

"I am really looking forward to eating lunch at Stone," I said to Anne, "because I’m seriously thinking about going all Karen Carpenter on this breakfast."

We eventually made our way up to Escondido, wandered around the beer garden (which is awesome and beautiful) and settled in for a nice long lunch.

It ended up being longer than I’d initially planned, because the restaurant was ridiculously busy yesterday, and we didn’t get our food until about 15 minutes before I was supposed to go read. As I watched tons of people stream in with my book in their hand, I got the nervous stomach and couldn’t eat. Awesome. Greg Koch, who is the co-founder of Stone and invited me, reminded me that, once people are in the beer garden, they relax and live on "beer time," which is much more laid back than real time. This actually put me at ease, which is very hard to do before I am about to perform.

Oh! Please enjoy this moment from lunch, which I sent to Twitter:
  Anne: It’s Jedi day! Me: What? Anne: May the Fourth be with you. Me: OMG I am so sending that to Twitter.

My reading was great. There were about 50 people there, and I felt like my introductory remarks were much better than they were at MG, probably because I spent some time really thinking about what I would say. Amazing how preparation helps me feel prepared, isn’t it?

There were lots of questions when I was done, and I had a good time answering them (some marginally inappropriate answers were brought to you by Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale.) I think everyone had a good time, and Greg said that I could come back with future books, which I intend to do as long as I can keep coming up with stuff that’s worth reading.

After the reading, we had dessert, and I was finally able to enjoy a Ruination IPA. Anne drove us home in time to watch one of the funniest episodes of Family Guy I’ve ever seen, and I ended the night watching one of the most exciting NHL playoff games I’ve ever seen.

It was a fantastic weekend, and I want to thank everyone from Mysterious Galaxy (which has autographed copies of all my books, now, if you want to order them) as well as everyone from Stone who put on these events. Most importantly, though, I want to thank everyone who made the effort to come out and spend some time with me this weekend. I did my best not to suck, and I think I mostly succeeded.

anne and wil’s excellent new york adventure, part two

When we last left our heroes, your humble narrator had just gathered up his droogs for a little bit of the old ultraviolence a–

Oops. Sorry. Wrong humble narrator. Allow me to begin again.

When we last left our heroes, your humble narrator had just suggested a quick walk uptown to see the Flatiron building.

We headed back up fifth avenue toward midtown. It was starting to
get dark, and we’d planned to meet up with Kathleen and Atom for snacks
and drink, so we had time for just one more silly sight seeing thing I
wanted to do.

"I really want to see the Flatiron building," I said.

"I really wish you wouldn’t talk in hyperlinks," Anne said.

"Sorry. I’m a blogger. I can’t help it."

"What’s the Flatiron building?" She said.

"Oh, you’ll recognize it as soon as you see it, " I said. "It’s only about a fifteen minute walk from here."

I hate to disappoint everyone who was waiting for the hilarious joke about how it took an hour when I made a wrong turn and ended up looking into the Hudson, but the boring truth is that it really did take just about fifteen minutes to walk from Washington Square Park up fifth avenue to 22nd street.

The journey was not unpleasant, though I did notice an unsettling amount of big chain stores along the way. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m getting really sick and tired of seeing the same twenty stores wherever I go. At least they left the buildings alone on 5th, though. In California they tear the historical buildings down and replace them with peach stucco boxes that invariably have a Subway, Jamba Juice and Old Navy in them.

A question for New Yorkers: What’s with all the scaffolds? They seem as impermanent as the going out of business sales you used to see in the camera shops on Times Square before it was gentrified into a giant fucking mall.

By the time we’d made it to 22nd street, I’d gotten Anne accustomed to
walking across a street when it was safe, rather than only when
permitted by a stoplight. This is a significant achievement for a
couple of California kids. Please send flowers and awards.

"Okay, we just have to walk up one more block, and then you’ll totally recognize it," I said.

One block later, Anne said, "Hey! I totally recognize this building!"

"I know it’s stupid to walk all the way up here just to look at a building with a funny shape," I said, "but since we never do authentically ‘touristy’ things, I thought this was a better plan than going to the Hard Rock."

We walked up into Madison Square a little bit, while I took some pictures. "Man, this is going to be called ‘Wil’s trip to New York where he took pictures of the Flatiron building." I said. I took a few more and added, "If I take many more, I think I’m officially stalking it."

(The pictures are meh, but I’m particularly proud of this one, with the crescent moon sort of hanging around and saying, "Hey! I’m the moon! Soy la Luna!")

I put the camera away, and we walked into Madison Square Park. It was just as exciting and vibrant as Washington Square Park, without all the damn construction. We particularly enjoyed all the dogs getting their dog park on, juxtaposed against the tons of people sitting on benches using the WiFi on their laptops and iPhones. Living in Los Angeles with a huge back yard, we totally take public outdoor spaces for granted — and let’s face it, most of our urban parks here are crummy and filled with hobos — so it was cool to see so many people outside, enjoying them in the midst of the concrete jungle.

We meandered though the park and passed a couple in their mid-twenties, sitting together on a bench on what was most likely a pre-third date meeting. The energy and excitement between them was electric. Anne squeezed my hand a little tighter and said, "I love that I’m in New York with my husband."

"I love that too," I said. "I’m really glad we could make this trip."

Just then her phone chirped at her. "It’s Kat and Atom," she said, "they want to meet up at Galaxy in a few minutes."

"You mean Galaxy?"

"I really hate it when you do that."

"At least I didn’t do this," I said.

"You can’t Rickroll me in real life, dummy." She said.

"Oh yeah? Ask me a question."

She sighed and put her hand on her hip. "What time is it?"

"’Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down never gonna –"

"Just stop it. This conversation isn’t even happening. You’re just making it up to amuse yourself."

It was true.

"How am I doing?"

"The real me would probably make a comment that’s a lot funnier than anything you can come up with, and since you’re putting words into my mouth anyway, I’m just going to say that you’re handsome, suave and charming."

"Oh go on," I said.

"Also, when we get home, you should buy several classic game cabinets and put them in your office."

"You’re the boss, dear," I said.

And that’s exactly how it happened, I swear to jeebus.

Still more to come . . .

anne and wil’s excellent new york adventure, part one

My friends Kathleen and Atom got married to each other last week, and Anne and I went to New York for their wedding.

It’s the first time I’ve been to New York and the first time Anne and I have been able to go anywhere together for more than two days in forever, so I decided to keep business to a minimum while we were there (as it turns out, a lot of people I work with in various capacities live in Manhattan, and it would have been all-too-easy to end up with six hours of meetings a day.)

During the height of my "Hey, you’re that guy on TV" years, I went to New York every couple of months for press events, meetings, and other PR-related things. I’m sure I went there for at least one Star Trek convention, but in my memory, New York, Philly, and Pittsburgh are all conflated and I couldn’t tell you which was which.

(Hey! Want to know how to piss off everyone who lives in New York, Philly and Pittsburgh? Tell them you’ve been to their cities but can’t tell them apart. Before you send in angry cards and letters, I don’t mean the cities. I mean the conventions. In fact, I’ve done so many conventions in my life, it’s a miracle that I can keep any of them separate from another in my brain, which I’ve tried so hard to kill with beer over the years.)

Anne and I were very excited to go to New York. We absolutely adore our friends, who are absolutely perfect for each other, and we were both tremendously excited to get some time away together in one of the coolest cities on the planet.

We took the Red Eye out of LAX, planning to grab some sleep on the plane so we could get the most out of the next day when we arrived.

Guess how that worked out? They don’t call it the Red Eye for nothing.

Actually, it’s pretty funny in retrospect: I’m reading a book that is magnificent. I won’t tell you what it is, because you’d lose a lot of respect for me upon learning that I didn’t read this book a decade — or more — ago. Suffice to say, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read, and I’m well into the point in the book where I don’t want to do anything except fall into it and keep reading.

Our flight took off at 11:40, and I read this particular book until about 2:30  Pacific time. We were supposed to land just before 8 Eastern time, so I forced myself to put the book down and get some sleep.

I reclined my seat to the maximum four degrees allowed, put on a silly eye mask, and settled in for a few hours of sleep.

That’s when the turbulence started. Seriously! It was like the air was just waiting for me to close my eyes so it could start shaking the plane. Imagine that you’re starting to fall asleep, and someone comes up and shakes your chair: "Hey! Wake up! Dude! Wake up!"

Yeah, it’s hilarious now, but at the time? Not that funny.

So we don’t sleep at all, sit in horrible morning rush hour traffic fro JFK to Manhattan, and finally get to take a little nap around 10.

"I don’t want to sleep the entire day away," I said when we got into our hotel, "and end up so jet lagged I’m staying up all night and missing the days while we’re here."

"Don’t worry," Anne said, closing the curtains, "I’ll only sleep for an hour or so, and then I’ll wake you up."

Four hours later, we woke up, groggy but rested enough to go explore Manhattan a little bit.

First stop: food. We were staying at the W on Union Square, so we walked to Dojo West by NYU. I had a bowl of lentil soup with an awesome soy burger, and Anne had a tofu salad with this incredible soy ginger carrot dressing that was the size of Delaware. There was so much food, we had to share it and still couldn’t eat it all. Total bill? About 17 bucks, which seems like a lot, but for the amount of food we got it really wasn’t.

Like I said, I wanted to keep business to a minimum, so I used a simple criteria: I only set up business meetings with people who are close friends, so we could pretend it wasn’t business (even though it really was.) Ha! Take that, uh, thing-that-needs-a-finger-wagging-from-Wil. (That doesn’t make sense to me, either. Let’s never speak of it again.)

The first business-but-not-really stop was at Rockstar games, so we could visit with my friend Lazlow, who is responsible for all the awesome audio, dialog and music in the Grant Theft Auto games. Lazlow and I met years ago when I was promoting Dancing Barefoot and he interviewed me for his radio show, The Technophile. We hit it off, and eventually Lazlow cast me as Richard Burns in San Andreas.

Now I’m sure you’re wondering what business we could possibly have had to discuss, what with GTA IV about to ship and take over all of our lives in ways that not even Halo 3 and Rock Band could achieve.

Well, I’m kinda sorta, well, in GTA IV. It’s not a huge part, but it’s massively entertaining, and Lazlow wanted to show me how my character ended up looking and how all the work we did looked when it was all put together. I can’t say anything specific about it, but in my totally objective opinion, it’s awesome and will be the most memorable part of the game, probably spinning off a multi-billion dollar franchise of its own.

And the Rockstar offices? Sofa king cool. There’s great music playing everywhere, lots of bikes, arcade cabinets, and tons of extremely focused people who care deeply about making sure the games they release are as awesome as they can possibly be. I saw a lot of stuff that I’d get thrown out of a helicopter for revealing, but I think I can safely admire how they’ve got an entire department dedicated to researching the cities, people, culture, and history of the places they set their games.

And Lazlow’s dog is adorable, smart, supports Obama and followed us all over the building. Because every day at Rockstar is Bring Your Dog to Work Day.

The excitement for GTA IV’s release was palpable, and so was the pressure everyone was obviously under as the street date draws near. We could have spent hours there, (I could have stayed in the research department alone for the rest of the day) but it was clear that there was lots of real work to be done, and we didn’t want to overstay our welcome, so we thanked Lazlow for showing us around and headed back out into the city.

Next stop: Washington Square Park, which I didn’t know was reduced by 50% because they’re doing some massive renovation on the whole thing. I haven’t been there in over a decade, but the stuff I loved about it back then: the students, the various musicians, the dog walkers and the weirdoes were still there. We passed a bebop jazz duo, stopped to listen to a different jazz quartet and watched some film students screw light bulbs into the dirt beneath a tree (I hope they were filming in black and white, and the finished cut has a clown flipping pancakes before it says fin and fades to black.) We saw tons of families playing with their kids, students playing frisbee, religious nuts squawking about their particular flavor of Armageddon. It was like the city had managed to temporarily cut the park in half, but didn’t reduce any of the things that made it a weird and wonderful place to visit.

We headed back up fifth avenue toward midtown. It was starting to get dark, and we’d planned to meet up with Kathleen and Atom for snacks and drink, so we had time for just one more silly sight seeing thing I wanted to do.

"I really want to see the Flatiron building," I said.

"I really wish you wouldn’t talk in hyperlinks," Anne said.

"Sorry. I’m a blogger. I can’t help it."

"What’s the Flatiron building?" She said.

"Oh, you’ll recognize it as soon as you see it, " I said. "It’s only about a fifteen minute walk from here."

More later . . .