The Scratches Family’s Excellent Adventure, Part 2: Now featuring twice the booze!

[Click here for Part 1]

“Is there any chance of us getting a room with a view?” I asked using my best “I’m a really nice guy and we’re a really nice family so maybe you could hook us up with a really nice room?” voice.

“Well, view rooms are extra,” replied the nice young lady checking us in.

Hmmm. What madness was this? The power of my nice-guy charm is second only to the Jedi mind trick. Clearly, she wasn’t human. I suspected Disney was beta testing some extremely lifelike animatronic employees.

“Oh, OK,” I said … nicely. Charmingly, even. “We’ll just stick with what we booked.”

The extra fee for a view room wasn’t news to me. I knew that an upper-floor room with a view of Disneyland cost significantly more than the standard room I had booked for us … and while I was willing to splurge in order to stay “on property,” I couldn’t really justify shelling out an additional couple hundred bucks for a park-view room … especially since we’d be spending hardly any time in said room. (See, Dad? You didn’t sire a completely irresponsible lunatic after all!)

“I have a room for you on the third floor,” she continued, apparently still impervious to my charm. “Let me call up and make sure it’s ready.”

Turns out it wasn’t … which was fine with us, because we had arrived early, and we were planning to go get some lunch anyway.

“I’ll give each of you your key cards now, and when your room is ready, I’ll text you,” she said.

So, with our bags stowed at the Bell Desk, it was time for lunch in the Downtown Disney District … and, once again, my online reconnaissance paid off, because this place that I had scoped out weeks in advance?


Best pizza I’ve had outside of Boston, and certainly better than any I’ve tasted here in Pennsylvania. Also? Beer.


Vacation + three-hour time change + walking distance to the hotel = “Why, yes, I’d love an enormous midday glass of frosty draft beer!”

Unfortunately, we don’t let the kids drink beer in public, so they had to settle for balloon animals.


Wonder Woman and I—OK, mostly I—devoured the pizza, Jayna raved about her macaroni and cheese, and Zan sang the praises of his spaghetti and meatballs. Basically, it was the happiest, most delightful lunch ever … because, not only was it delicious, but we were having it at Disneyland, where I’m pretty sure they spike the food with Ecstasy, because no one should be this excited about lunch.

Of course, our excitement might have had more to do with our surroundings:


Craziest. Lego sculptures. Ever.
Everything in that display behind Zan is made out of Lego … including the base of the sculpture and the background in the scene.


The Beast? Belle? The Candle & Clock dudes? The enormous beige pillars that extend to the top of the building? All Lego.


Don’t make Zan angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.


Cute. And kind of creepy.


Bilbo Scratches


Officer Zan and his Disney-fied police cart.

The weather was beautiful, the setting was eye-popping, the kids were out-of-their-minds excited … and, to tell you the truth, so was I.

And then came the text …

Your room is ready. Room 900.

Hmmm. Room 900? That doesn’t sound like it’s on the third floor. Perhaps my nice-guy charm hadn’t failed us after all.

We returned to the hotel, boarded the elevator and rode it up to the third ninth floor.


Find the hidden Mickey.

We proceeded down the hallway, searching for 900, which we found at the very end of the hall. A corner room. Nice. Things were looking up.

We entered and threw open the curtains.


Seconds after this photo was taken, their heads exploded from the excitement.

I’ll be honest with you: I got a little choked up … because giving my kids such a special experience felt pretty incredible. Everything was going just as I had hoped it would during all those many hours of planning and months of anticipation. Naturally, I feared I was dreaming.

I wasn’t.


After spending a few minutes exulting in our good fortune, we donned our bathing suits and headed to the rooftop pool, where they just so happened to be serving these:


The bartender asked if we’d like to double the Bacardi for a paltry additional cost. “Best deal in Disneyland!” he said.


Yes, Disneyland bartender. Yes we would like like to double the Bacardi.


I know what you’re thinking … but don’t worry: We didn’t double Zan’s Bacardi. Just a single shot for him. Because we’re good parents.

Now that we’re all properly boozed up, howzabout we hit the waterslide?


I sent Jayna down first to make sure it was safe.


Reassured by her survival, I braved the rapids.

After our aquatic fun, we cleaned up, had a quick dinner, and then retired to our room for the night, where we watched the sun set and the moon rise over Disneyland.


Thanks to the three-hour time change, we were sound asleep rather early … which was just as well, because wake-up time for the recently patented Daddy Scratches Totally Psychotic One-Day Assault On Disneyland™ was set for 5:30 a.m. … and there would be absolutely, positively no fucking around.

[Click here for Part 3]

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The Scratches Family’s Excellent Adventure, Part 1: In which we learn that everything’s more fun when I gag the voices in my head

Listen, I don’t know if it’s because I don’t get much time off, or because we rarely travel, or because the smog blanketing Los Angeles is actually laughing gas, or because the comparative horror of spending all day trapped in a windowless cubicle makes anything seem glorious by comparison … but, whatever the case, I have never had more fun with my family than I did during our recent California vacation.

It is a massive relief to be able to say that … because I planned my ass off for this trip. I spent hours searching for the right hotel and reading an endless stream of reviews and poring over Disneyland messageboards and plotting our every move with the kind of near-maniacal zeal that only a borderline-OCD-sufferer can muster.

The thing that vexed me the most — the thing I downright agonized over — was where we should stay while visiting Disneyland. Should we stay at one of the three Disney hotels? Or should we stay at one of the many “Good Neighbor” hotels?

“Jon, what are ‘Good Neighbor’ hotels?”

I’m glad you asked. “Good Neighbor” hotels are the hotels you stay at when you don’t wanna dish out the kind of cash it takes to stay “on property” (which is Disney parlance for “at a Disney owned-and-operated hotel”). And I convinced myself that we should go that route … because we don’t have a ton of dough … and the kids wouldn’t know what they were missing anyway … and, hey, I never stayed “on property” when I was a kid, so what’s the big deal?

Except, here’s the thing: I knew it would be more fun, and more special, to stay “on property” … and I had always told myself that I would do just that when it came time to take my own kids to Disneyland. But let me remind you here that the loudest voice living in my head is the voice of my father, and “Woe be unto he who splurges to stay ‘on property’ when there’s a perfectly good homeless shelter just up the street!” boomed that voice.

So I found, and booked, a “Good Neighbor” hotel that seemed decent enough … and then spent days reading the latest guest reviews of said hotel. Here’s how those went:

“What an AMAZING hotel! The room was modern, clean, spacious and well-lit! There were unicorns and free puppies and waffles powdered with complimentary organic cocaine. The ghost of Walt Disney even served us breakfast in bed while singing an original song titled ‘You’re So Smart for Not Staying On-Property!’ Best vacation ever!”

“What an AWFUL hotel! The rooms were run-down, filthy, cramped and dark. The roaches were so big and vicious that we initially thought they were velociraptors. One of them ate my 2-year-old, and the manager refused to compensate us for the funeral. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also had to pay for parking. Worst vacation ever!”

Inconsistency abounded, and the odds of my family having a great experience versus the odds of my family having a bad experience seemed to be 50/50 at best. Needless to say, I was filled with hotel-roulette-induced anxiety.

Meanwhile, reviews of the “on property” lodging I had considered (Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel) went something like this:

“What a WONDERFUL hotel! We loved the beach theme, the kids had a blast on the rooftop waterslide, the rooms were spacious and clean, the customer service was fantastic, and the little Disney touches made us feel like we never left the amusement park!”

“What an OVERPRICED hotel! We loved the beach theme, the kids had a blast on the rooftop waterslide, the rooms were spacious and clean, the customer service was fantastic, and the little Disney touches made us feel like we never left the amusement park … but we could have saved a lot of money by staying at the velociraptor-cockroach place!”

“See?” said my father’s imaginary voice. “The velociraptor-cockroach place is the way to go!”

And that’s when I shoved a sock in his imaginary mouth, canceled the “Good Neighbor” reservation and booked us a room at the Paradise Pier Hotel … because I suddenly remembered that I’m a 43-year-old man who doesn’t have to listen to my father’s imaginary voice, and that my family is worth spending a few extra bucks on in order to guarantee a wonderful experience during a once-in-a-lifetime trip. So there. (In related news: Thank you, psychotherapy!)

And I couldn’t be happier with my decision … because guiding the minivan off of the freeway and onto Disneyland Drive, and then remaining on Disneyland Drive all the way to the Paradise Pier Hotel, was so much more fun and exciting than it would have been to leave Disneyland Drive and head down So-Totally-Not-Disneyland Drive to a “Good Neighbor” hotel. I wanted the kids to have a full-on Disneyland-immersion experience … and that is just what they got.


In the weeks and months leading up to our trip, I would often sit on the couch between Zan and Jayna, the three of us sightseeing our way through the Disneyland Explorer app, which features a graphical representation of all of the Disneyland attractions, hotels and shops … and as we began to spot those now-familiar sights in person, Jayna blurted out, “PEOPLE, WE ARE IN THE IPAD!”

Yes, we were. And it was fucking awesome.


[Click here for Part 2]

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I’m goin’ back to Cali


Comin’ atcha live from 35,000 feet, it’s the Scratches Family Vacation. Next stop: Los Angeles.

So here’s the deal: My brother calls us last December and tells us he’s getting married. Woohoo! In August, while the kids are out of school. Nice! In California. Ouch!

Yeah, a cross-country trip for a family of four wasn’t exactly in our budget this year. Or any year, for that matter. Partly because we don’t actually have a budget … but mostly because we don’t have any, you know, money.

But, OK, so we’re headed to California. And, hey, since we’re gonna be in So Cal anyway, we might as well go all out, don’tcha think?

Which brings us to:

"Welcome to Disneyland! Now hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt!"

“Hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt!”

Yes, y’all, when this bird touches down, we’ll be grabbing a sweet minivan and heading to Walt’s place. Today’s plan is to simply check in and shake off the jet-lag by the pool … but tomorrow we are launching an all-out, military-style assault on Disneyland.

No, I mean it. The reconnaissance I’ve conducted for this mission is nothing short of epic. Or, more accurately, it’s nothing short of proof positive that I’m a control freak with substantial psychiatric issues.

Did you know that there are online subscription services where you can enter the dates and times of your planned visit to Disneyland, along with the attractions you wish to hit, and a complex algorithm will spit out the suggested order and times at which you should hit those attractions? Because there are. And I know this because I subscribed to two of them.

Did you also know that, in addition to the classic Disneyland amusement park, there now exists Disney’s California Adventure, an adjacent, entirely separate, equally massive amusement park? And did you further know that it is considered downright maniacal to try to hit all of the must-do rides in both parks on the same day? I’m pretty sure everybody’s gonna love it when Daddy turns our visit to the Happiest Place on Earth into a forced road march from Hell. (OK, maybe not … but I’m sure they’ll thank me for it later.)

Come Thursday, with our feet sore, our pockets empty and our credit cards full, we’ll head up the coast to Santa Barbara … where, thankfully for us, soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s family has hooked us up with what appears to be a sweet house near the beach. (That fortuitous arrangement, along with a generous airfare contribution from my parents, largely explains why we decided to splurge on the Disneyland trip. And so, on behalf of myself, my wife, my children, and the entire accounting department at The Walt Disney Company, I would like to thank my family — in-laws and outlaws alike — for their charitable contributions.)

Once we arrive in Santa Barbara, we’ll be up to our mouse ears in wedding-related mayhem straight through the weekend… which reminds me: I have to write a speech. Gah!

Alright, enough of my high-altitude blogging. I’ll keep you posted on all the fun via Twitter (where highlights will include up-to-the-minute illness reports on the kids, who have been perfectly healthy all summer long, but have come down with colds just in time for our cross-country adventure), and I, of course, will file a full report upon our return.

Wish us luck, people.

DS out.

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Mac amor

Mac amor
Click the image above to view full-size photo.

Oh yes I did.… [read the rest]

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The writer who cried wolf … except, instead of “wolf,” he cried “I’m a writer.”

Remember last year, when I had that mini-nervous-breakdown in the parking lot at work and swore that it would serve as the launching pad for my creative-writing career? Well, since that time, I have successfully completed my first draft of … nothing.

Yes, that’s correct: Other than writing a few dozen posts for this blog, I, during the 18 months that have passed since I made that lofty proclamation, have done very little in the way of inching towards my goal of producing a complete written work. And by “very little,” I mean “nothing.”

Sure, there was that months-long foray into studying the art of fiction and screenwriting … but the primary outcome of that adventure was the realization that I’m infinitely more comfortable writing about my own life, even at its most unflattering, than I am at making up stories about other (fictional) people’s lives. Someday? Maybe. Right now? Not so much.

Thankfully (or perhaps regrettably; we’ll see) I still feel compelled to write, and still have people in my life encouraging me to do so … to include my mother-in-law, who last night took me into the big city to attend a memoir-writing workshop led by local author Beth Kephart. Beth’s appearance in Philadelphia marked yesterday’s release of her latest book, “Handling the Truth: On the writing of memoir.”

Handling the Truth

I can handle the truth … I think. Maybe.

Memoir is the thing I keep circling back to when I agonize over just what it is I should be writing … which probably comes as no surprise, since, as this blog’s mere existence would suggest, my favorite thing to write about is: Me.

And so, memoir. I’m going to try to write one. I even said as much to Beth Kephart last night while she was signing my copy of “Handling the Truth.” (I apparently realized the folly of my statement and subsequently burst into an awkward-looking fit of uncomfortable laughter, as captured in a picture Beth posted at her blog today.)

She graciously played along by acting as though she believed me, and even went so far as to inscribe my book with words of encouragement:

"To Jon, In honor of your memoir to be."

“For Jon – In honor of your memoir to be.”

So now I feel like I have to write one. Sheesh. Thanks for the pressure, Beth.

But, OK, I’m going to write one … just as soon as I get the cacophony of doubtful, self-defeating voices in my head to shut the fuck up, that is. I’m quite certain I’ve been listening to them for long enough.

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