Home > Uncategorized > Legoland, Prednisone, And The Magic of California

Legoland, Prednisone, And The Magic of California

In all my planning about our trip to California, I never imagined that I’d be sitting in an Urgent Care Center at eight-thirty in the morning two days after our arrival.  Across from me in the waiting room, a middle-aged man coughed and hacked every ten to twenty seconds into one of the complimentary magazines.  I hope the receptionist trashed that infected magazine when he was called back to an examination room.  Minutes after I completed my new patient paperwork, a middle-aged woman entered the waiting area, announcing to all that the reason for her visit was due to falling into some poison ivy.  She then thought it wise to sit in the chair directly next to me, despite there being eighteen other empty chairs.

I needed some heavy duty medication for the coughing, hacking, wheezing I’d been knocked down by.  Otherwise, I’d be spending the rest of our trip coughing, hacking, wheezing, and feeling just plain miserable.  Nobody wants to get sick on vacation, but more so for this trip.  I wanted our California excursion to be memorable for Angela (my wife) and Samuel (my 7 year old son) for all the right reasons and not for me being sick and in bed.


So what was the big deal about trying to get better for this vacation?  We’d been on family vacations before and someone always got sick- altitude sickness, sinus infections, upset stomachs, and other maladies.  Later, we could look back and laugh on the fact that someone had gotten sick.

In a twelve month period, I’d lost both of my parents.  Dad passed away in his sleep in May 2011 and Mom died in April 2012 four weeks and a day after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.  Adding to the mixture, a tornado ripped down our street in April 2012 as well.

Each of these events, these losses, awakened me to the frail, temporal nature of life.  I knew life was short, but these tragic events opened my eyes to this reality.  Tomorrow, heck not even this afternoon or evening, was guaranteed.

I vowed to change, to not let the things that once stressed and worried me, that caused anxiety and tension, roll me up into a ball of knots.  I wanted to focus on the important aspects of life and not be weighed down by the irrelevant.  If it couldn’t kill me, maybe it shouldn’t be worth the worry I afforded it.  For most of my forty something years, I may have gotten those things backwards.

Wanting to change and actually changing are two separate things.  Despite my resolve, I hadn’t always succeeded in these last few months, but undoing a lifetime of mental processing can be a slow process.  I kept getting tripped up, mentally log-jammed and stressed to the gills.  But I’m trying.  However, you shouldn’t take this to mean that I’m giving up my snarky, cynical ways.

When Dad died, I became even more zealous and serious about my writing.  Hence, the publication of my first book, The Accident:  A Bike, A Truck, and A Train.  The day after finishing that book, I started on my second, which I hope to have done by the end of this year.  (For those who’ve been asking, the tentative title is One Last Word.)

In Mom’s last month, I realized that I needed to be more intentional about my brothers.  Jason, my middle brother, lived three hours south and we managed to see each other a few times a year.  But Rob, my youngest brother, had moved to California ten years previous and I’d only been to visit him one time and that was for his wedding.  How had I let that happen?  So after Mom passed away, I told Rob that we were going to try to visit he and Jeanine that summer.

It helped that Samuel wanted to go to Legoland and Disney.


Despite my verbal commitment, putting together a California trip wasn’t so easy.  Stuff kept happening.  Obstacles kept appearing.  As repairs were being made to our house as a result of the tornado, we discovered that both air conditioning units needed replacing.  The units were eighteen years old, so this wasn’t a total surprise.

“Was this a result of the tornado?” I asked.  A guy can hope, right?

“No, they’re just old.”

The upstairs unit struggled to keep the rooms “cool” when the temperatures exceeded eighty-five degrees.  Once the outside temperatures hit one hundred, which they would, “cool” was no longer a word to be associated with the upstairs.  Upon further inspection, a crack in the coil was discovered in the downstairs unit.  The units were done.

In case you haven’t ever replaced your air conditioning units, they’re not cheap.  After the first two quotes, I was wondering how I was going to replace the units and take a trip to California.  Doing both didn’t seem financially feasible.  I called a friend, Joe Z, and asked for his advice.  He’d built our first house and I hoped he could give me some advice.  He did better than that.  Joe Z connected me to his ac guy, who installed two new units at a significant discount to what I’d been quoted by the others.

The trip was saved.  I setup the dates with Rob for our trip and booked the flights.  Other than that, I let Angela and Samuel pick out what they wanted to do and see while we were in California.  All I wanted to do was spend time with my family.  Whatever they wanted to do that would put a smile on their face was fine with me.  Angela and Samuel selected one day at Legoland and one day at Disney Adventure Park.

I nearly choked when I saw the admission prices, but this was what they wanted to do and I was going to make it happen.


Our flights were booked for Thursday morning.  On Wednesday, I woke up at five, as usual, and went to the gym.  I coughed a couple of times during my workout.  That was not a clear your throat kind of cough.  That was a getting sick kind of cough.  I’d recently been around a lot of people with bronchial infections and pneumonia.  I hoped I hadn’t caught anything.

By noon, hope was gone.  A wretched sore throat now accompanied the cough.  I started swilling cough syrup, sucking on cough drops, and popping Excedrin.  Maybe it was just allergies.  Maybe.

Please let it just be allergies.

The day at work never seemed to end and I didn’t make it home until after ten that night.  I couldn’t get comfortable in bed, my throat hurt, and I was miserable over the fact that it looked like I was going to be sick for the trip.  This was not how I’d planned things.

I woke up at five and started ingesting my regime of over the counter medications.  Anything I thought that might help me feel better went down the back of my throat.  Allergy medicine, cough syrup, Excedrin.

We arrived at LAX a little after ten that morning.  Jeanine picked us up and we stopped at In-N-Out by the airport.  Even though there’s one here in Arlington, this was my first trip to In-N-Out.  At ten-thirty, the place was packed.

In the weeks prior, I’d been watching what I ate (using Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Body Diet guidelines to some extent).  I’d dropped six pounds in that period.  My intention had been to keep watching what I ate.  I just didn’t count on getting sick.  Six hours into this trip and I’d already eaten breakfast at McDonald’s and lunch at In-N-Out.  Adios, diet.  I was doing everything I could to make me feel better.

I even allowed Samuel to order a Strawberry milkshake at ten-thirty in the morning.


After dropping our luggage off at the house, we departed for our first destination, the beach, a few blocks from Rob and Jeanine’s place.  We walked.  Well, I dragged and drooped.   We reached the end of the sidewalk and I took one step onto the sand before stepping back onto the sidewalk.

Who was the guy who only brought socks and running shoes to his beach vacation?

Who was the guy, when his dear wife suggested that he pack a pair of sandals, said “No, I don’t think I’ll need them.”

Who was the guy who stood out like a sore thumb, who looked like the vacationing tourist?

As they say, if you have to ask…

After removing my socks and shoes, I hopped across the hot sand and plopped down in a beach chair.  Samuel sped off to the water with Angela and Jeanine close behind.  I watched him jump around in the waves before dozing off in my chair.

Once Samuel had been doused enough by the waves, we went back to the house.  There, I saw something that made me question the identity of my own son.  If we didn’t look exactly alike one another, I might’ve considered a DNA test.  I witnessed my son playing with Rob and Jeanine’s two cats, Penny Lane and Puffers.  He tossed their toys to them, chased them, tried to hug them and even tried to interest them in his Lego toys.  Meanwhile, I fell asleep again.

After my second nap of the day, we ventured a few blocks over to Pink Berry.  Peanut butter yogurt with chocolate chips.  My throat hadn’t felt that good in two days.

It didn’t last.

And yes, we had dessert before dinner.  That’s what you do on vacation.  You drink shakes in the morning, you have dessert before dinner, and sometimes, you even have dessert for dinner, which may have occurred on another night.


Rob had been warning me that the Mexican food in California didn’t quite measure up to the Mexican food in Texas.  So when he suggested we meet at Panchos for dinner, I wasn’t quite sure what to say.  Panchos?  Raise the flag Panchos?  Mexican buffet food Panchos?

I trusted my brother and we met him for dinner.  This was not the same Panchos.  I don’t know if this place was a local establishment or a California chain, but the food was great and the portions were huge.

Check out the chicken taco Angela ordered for dinner.  I guarantee the picture doesn’t do the size of this thing justice.  In the background, you can see the basket of chips that were dwarfed in size by this taco.

In case you were wondering, she didn’t finish it.  Maybe she shouldn’t have had dessert before dinner.

That’s one BIG taco!

That night, I slept in fits if you could even call that sleeping.  I coughed, wheezed, and hacked all night long.


Legoland, Legoland, Legoland!!!!!

(I’m at nearly a thousand words and still haven’t gotten to Legoland?)

Before we departed for the two hour drive to Legoland, I insisted on a CVS stop where I could load up on cough syrup and Kleenex.  Of course, with the first shot of cough syrup, I promptly spilled two large drops on my Khaki shorts thereby giving me a nice red stain.

I chose not to take a picture of that.

It looked like it was gonna be one of those days.

We parked at Legoland and I stuffed my pockets with enough Excedrin to last me the day.  I jammed the cough syrup into Angela’s purse.  Ten feet from the car, I couldn’t keep up with everyone.  Oh yeah, this was going to be a long day.  I knew they’d wait for me eventually, especially when it came time to pay.

If your kid loves Legos, like Samuel does, Legoland is heaven.  The whole park experience is geared towards showing Lego lovers what other people have done with Legos, letting you play with Legos (and Lego related video games), and riding Lego-themed rides.  And it should go without saying that there are ample opportunities to buy Lego products.  Ample opportunities.

We walked in and headed straight to the Big Store, which appeared to stock every single Lego toy.  We’d told Samuel that he could spend his money here, but we insisted that he wait until the end of the day.  Neither Angela or I wanted to be carting his toys around all day.  If I’d known that when we returned to the Big Store eight hours later that it would be shoulder to shoulder with two hundred kids clutching boxes of Legos to their chest as if they’d found the one toy in life that would make them happy, I might’ve bought Samuel whatever he wanted that morning when the employees outnumbered the customers.

While Samuel perused the aisles and made plans for his later day purchases, I strolled across to the market to get something to drink.  I needed to keep ingesting liquids to somehow, hopefully, stave off this cold.  I got a bit of sticker shock when I saw the prices.

$3.35 for a Sprite.  $2.95 for a water.  $2.50 or so for a cup of coffee.

Briefly, I considered switching to coffee.  If I could just get past the smell and the taste, I’d have been fine.  I went for the Sprite.

Samuel building his own Hero Factory at Legoland

We traipsed all over Legoland.  We took pictures next to a life-sized Batman and Darth Vader, both made of Legos.  We played Lego Batman 2, we created our own Hero Factory Lego (see the picture), we watched the Clutch Powers 4D show ( a chance to sit down), and we even rode some rides.  We strolled through Miniland where they’ve recreated whole sections of Stars Wars movies and entire cities (San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, Las Vegas) with Legos.  It’s amazing what people can do with Legos.

Of course, any trip to any park such as this requires the indulgence of sweets.  Jeanine took the first plunge by getting a batch of churros, which she shared with us.  Excellent.  Superb.  But it’s kind of hard to mess up frying flour and then covering it in sugar and cinnamon.

I opted for the World Famous Fried Granny Apples.  The concept intrigued me.  Granny Applies, fried, covered in sugar and cinnamon.  It sounded like it should be good.  (Note to self:  When looking for a dessert fix, it’s usually best not to mix fruit into the equation,  peach cobbler being the lone exception, but then it must be covered in layers of vanilla ice cream.)  Still, I polished off the entire container of Granny Fried Apples by myself, so you’re not getting any complaints from me.  But, it was no churro.

Despite the Big Store not having the new Ultimate Spiderman Lego set, which is what Samuel talked about wanting all day long and the entire week leading up to the trip, Samuel loved Legoland.


An entire day of walking around a park with a chest cold/bronchial infection did little to help my health.  In fact, it probably sent me over the edge.  I slept little, if any on Friday night/Saturday morning.  More coughing, wheezing, and headaches.  As anyone knows chest colds or bronchial infections aren’t any fun (as Angela will attest to now as she’s got what I had) but when you combine them with asthma, as I happen to have, these symptoms are exacerbated.

Most of the time, my asthma remains under control.  I might not touch an inhaler for a week or two.  But when I get sick, my asthma returns with a vengeance.  I took so many hits off of my emergency inhaler on Friday night that my hands were shaking and my breathing wasn’t improving.

At three am, I got out of bed and sat on the floor so I could be propped up and breathe a little easier.  At four am, I googled “urgent care clinics” on my phone.  There seemed to be three nearby.  I took a shower at seven so I would be ready to go.  I wasn’t looking forward to waking up Rob and asking him to drive me, so I appreciated the cable guy showing up at eight o’clock and saving me from that task.

Rob dropped me off and I waited between cougher and the rash lady.  A nurse called me back after about a thirty minute wait and another thirty minutes passed before the doctor came in to see me.

“How about a steroid treatment?” she said after completing her diagnosis.

“Sounds good.  I was hoping for a steroid shot and some prednisone (note to readers:  prednisone is a steroid pill).”

“We don’t do shots here, but we’ll give you sixty milligrams a day, which should help.  Also, I’ll prescribe a Zpac antibiotic, just in case.  I think this is viral rather than bacterial, but if you’re not feeling better you can get the Zpac filled.”

I filled the prescription for the Zpac.  I wasn’t waiting or taking any chances.

By ten-thirty, the prescriptions were filled and Rob and I were back at the house.  I was looking forward to a relaxing day of getting better in the hopes that I would be able to physically keep up for our Disney adventure the following day.


“So what are we going to do today?”

I was sitting comfortably on the couch, Kindle in hand, waiting for the medications to take effect.

“How about a nice, easy hike?”

The phrase “nice and easy” should never be used with the word “hike.”  Ever.

This trip was for them, so if Angela and Samuel and everyone else wanted to go on a hike I was going.  I might be slow and dragging behind and coughing, but I was going.

Thirty minutes later, we were packed up, headed to Malibu for this nice and easy hike on Solstice Canyon.  The Solstice Canyon trail contains two hikes.  One, the easier of the two, leads up to a waterfall, and beyond that, there is a more challenging hike.  Before we got to the car, I’d already counted myself out of the group that would be doing both hikes.  I’d only left the doctor’s office an hour and a half earlier.

Because of the crowds, we parked up the road and hiked down to the trailhead.  Within a few minutes of starting the hike, I gave Angela the go-ahead to leave me and Samuel behind.  I figured I could keep pace with Samuel’s seven year old legs.  Soon enough, we lost sight of Angela, Rob, and Jeanine.

“Dad, I think we missed a turn.”

“No, we’re fine.  If we were supposed to have turned, then they would’ve waited on us.”

“But I can’t see them anymore.”

“That’s because we’re really far behind.”

“I need to pull over.”

Pull over?  We’re walking, not driving.

Samuel found a shady spot and stopped on one side of the trail.  He squatted down and put his head down while at the same time reaching up with his right hand.  “Water,” he ordered.

I handed him his bottle.  He took a sip and handed it back.

“Are you ready to continue?” I asked.

“I guess,” he sighed.

People of all ages were passing us on the trail.  Another family was hiking the trail near Samuel and I, but they’d chosen to stay together.  The lone mother of the group, whom I gathered was hiking with her two brothers and all of their kids, never stopped talking.  Actually, she never stopped complaining.  As the trail incline steepened, other members of the family walked clear of her and spoke of her in less than deferential terms.

“Samuel,” I said.

“I know, Dad.  We don’t use those words.”

We took another break and this feuding family passed us again.  A few minutes later we caught up with them as the mother/sister was railing against her brother for not bringing any food and water for the dog they’d brought on the hike.  We arrived just in time to see him rip his backpack off, slam it to the ground at her feet, and stomp back down the trail.

She then proceeded to tell the rest of the family how she was right and her brother was wrong.  “It’s his fault.  How could he forget food and water for the dog?”  A few seconds later, the brother’s son dropped his backpack at her feet and left as well.

In a strange way, I missed my own dysfunctional family.

Angela, Rob, and Jeanine waited for us at the waterfall.  Nobody was interested in walking the ‘hard’ part of the trail.  We were hungry and wanted to eat lunch.


Five minutes away from the trail, we stopped at Duke’s of Malibu.  I’m not sure any of us were expecting a thirty minute wait at two-thirty in the afternoon.  Nor did I expect to see a cyclist sitting on a chair next to the valet table looking as if he’d been in an accident on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Well, he had.

Having driven up and down the PCH, I would’ve loved to have brought my bike and ridden.  On one side are the mountains and on the other side was the Pacific Ocean.  It looked like a beautiful place to bike and judging by the number of cyclists on the road, I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

Unfortunately for this guy, a driver turning left into Duke’s parking lot didn’t see the cyclist and plowed right into him.  From the way he explained it, the car’s hood absorbed most of the impact with his body before spitting him onto the concrete.

No broken bones, but one mangled bike.


Well, a hike wasn’t enough.  Filled up on burgers and fries, we headed to the top of Kenneth Hahn Park which overlooked Los Angeles.  Just keep pushing, I told myself.  And I was beginning to feel better.

Samuel played on the playground, we tossed a football around, and we even attempted to locate the Hollywood sign.  Rob and Angela both swore they saw it.  And they would’ve been right if they hadn’t asked another guy standing nearby for confirmation.

“Well, there’s a sign a little ways down that trail that has a photo of the area.  It’ll show you where the Hollywood sign is.”

Rob, Angela, Samuel, and I walked down the trail and looked at the picture.  What we thought was the Hollywood sign was not the Hollywood sign and where the picture showed the Hollywood sign we saw nothing.

In our defense, it was kind of hazy.  Maybe we saw it and maybe we didn’t.

Still full from late lunch, we skipped dinner and went straight for dessert.  Gelato in Hermosa Beach.  I don’t know what everyone else got as I was too busy consuming the chocolate turtle cheesecake, which was outstanding.  I could’ve eaten another one.

An hour later, we were putting Samuel to bed.

“But we didn’t have dinner,” he complained.

“We did.  We had gelato.  We had dessert for dinner.”

“No, we didn’t eat dinner.”

“We had dessert for dinner.”

“No, we didn’t eat dinner.”

“Just go to bed.  We’re going to Disney tomorrow.”


Except for a six am text message, I got a full night’s sleep for the first night since we’d been there.  The medicine was working because I felt energetic and more like myself.

I was ready for Disney Adventure Park.

I propose that we slang the term “disney” to be synonymous with “wait.”  As in, “how’s the line at the movies?”  “It’s pretty disney.”  Or, “when can I get that check from you?”  “You’re gonna have to disney on that.”

Trust me, this’ll catch on, especially if you’ve been to Disney.

Even though you spend most of your day waiting in lines, even with the help of the FastPass, Disney makes the day worth it.  I didn’t encounter a single grumpy, grouchy employee the entire twelve hours we were there.  Everyone smiled and went out of their way to be helpful.

And of course, the ice cream at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop was superb.

“Would you like one scoop or two, today?” the employee asked me.

You’re talking to the guy who feeds gelato to his kid for dinner on vacation.  “Let’s make that two, please.”

Disney has something for everyone.

Before going to the World of Color show at the end of the night, Samuel and I took one last ride together.

“Take your cap off,” he said.


“Because you have to.”

I hadn’t seen a sign indicating that we needed to remove our caps, but I followed Samuel’s orders.  The ride was tame, lifting us up into the sky and gently swirling us around where we could see a good portion of the park.  His blue eyes scanned the horizon and a smile was glued to his face.

That’s all I needed.  If I could freeze that moment, that picture on his face, that feeling it gave me, everything I’d been through over the past few days would’ve been worth it to me.  This was another reminder that all the stuff that normally stresses me out means so very little.  Putting a smile on my son’s face, sharing this moment with my son, being here with him, meant more.  Infinitely more.

Walking back to the car, I asked, “What was your favorite part of the entire trip?”

He didn’t even hesitate.  “Legoland.”


“I liked Disney, but Legoland was my favorite.  I just wish they’d had the Ultimate Spiderman Lego set.”

Ten minutes later, he was snoring away in the back seat.


I was expecting, anticipating, even longing for another full night’s sleep.  Twelve hours of walking and walking and walking at Disney had worn me out.  I laid my head down on the memory foam pillow in the guest room (by the way, how did I not know about memory foam pillows?) and I was out.

Until three thirty that morning when a loud beeping went off.  I tried without success to find the source of the noise so I went back to bed.

An hour later, the beeping started again.  It sounded like a battery dying in a fire alarm, but I couldn’t find that particular alarm.  Again, I went back to bed and an hour later, the beeping started for the third time.  So much for a full night’s sleep.


On our flight back, we ended up in the section of the plane with the crying babies and smelly diapers.  When one baby stopped, another started.  By the time we got our luggage, it was four-thirty in the afternoon, just in time for rush hour traffic.  Knowing this in advance, we’d been talking for days about how we would end this vacation.  We would eat at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants off of Lovers Lane in Dallas.

Except when we pulled up, we discovered that they were closed on Mondays.

Who closes on Mondays?

Maybe people who know that work isn’t the end-all, be-all of life.  Still, I’d really wanted to eat there.


Samuel had trouble going to sleep that night so I took my turn trying to help him.  Angela was coughing and it seemed as though she’d come down with whatever I’d had.

“All right, buddy, it’s time to go to sleep.”  I heard sniffles coming from under the sheets.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I miss Uncle Rob and Aunt Jeanine.  I miss Puffers and Penny Lane.  I miss my California life.”

Yeah, I’d miss the life where my parents gave me dessert before dinner and in some cases dessert in place of dinner too.

California, it’s a magical place.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Jayne
    August 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Chris,I really enjoyed reading this. You do a great job of putting into words all the events and thoughts in your adventuresome life. Hope Angela is feeling better. Thanks Jayne

    • Chris
      August 17, 2012 at 7:38 am

      Jayne- Thank you so much. (And everybody seems to be getting better. Finally.)

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