davemerrill: (harvey)
We're back! The 401 was foggy, Ohio was rainy, Tennessee was rainy, Georgia was rainy and then nice and sunny for a bit, North Carolina was nice, Virginia was overcast, WV was foggy, PA was damp, upstate NY was the only snow we saw on the trip. Yes, I am describing our route in reverse order.

We stopped at some antique malls.













I made cornbread and collards and black-eyed peas for New Years Day, we saw a bunch of friends, came home with the sniffles, saw the Star Wars, did the Varsity, spent some quality family time, now it's back to the real world!

we're back

Sep. 4th, 2015 10:17 am
davemerrill: (milky)
We're back from our trip to Cincinnati, Lake City TN, Smyrna, Fayetteville, Atlanta, Athens, Jessup Maryland, the New Jersey Turnpike, Brooklyn, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Chinatown, Staten Island, Binghamton, and Buffalo!

Here are some pix.

driving thru Chinatown on our way out of town:


the view from the Staten Island Ferry of lower Manhattan:


amazing painting seen in Fayetteville antique mall:


Rockefeller Center NYC


Sweetwater Creek State Park in GA - we saw snakes, frogs, lizards, hawks, ruins


Our long-travelling Yaris, safe on Bergen St in Brooklyn


Weather was pleasant in Atlanta right up until the day we left, when it turned muggy. Traffic wasn't too bad, apart from a big accident in Detroit and typical NYC bridge traffic. The New Jersey Turnpike is everything everyone always said it would be - filled with bad drivers, tolls, clueless travelers wandering around the rest areas. Parking in Brooklyn was really easy. We met friends for dinner, played video games at the barcade, did some shopping, went to the Mad Men exhibit at the Museum Of The Moving Image in Queens, hit BookOff in Rockefeller Center, lunch in Times Square, shopped at The Strand, had dinner in Chinatown, rode the Staten Island Ferry, and wore out our feet and our shoes and our MTA cards. Went thru Binghamton on the way home but couldn't get into the Serling exhibit at the Bundy museum, hit some antique malls, crossed the border with zero problems, and we're home.

Had great meals in Atlanta at Pallookaville and Southbound, saw a few friends and celebrated family milestones and spent some quality time on the porch listening to cicadas buzz.
davemerrill: (milky)
Just one more day in the year? Less than a day in fact! Start counting down. Our NYE plans fell through because of host sickness so I don't know if we're going to go out or stay in.

We did drive down to Atlanta for the Christmas holiday. The drive down had good weather and we made good time and got into ATL after a fun ride through Asheville and into some small mountain roads that were a nice change after interstate, interstate, interstate. The family is doing well and we did manage to see a bunch of folks while in town, though not as many as we'd like to see. I always feel like we should take another week and just goof off. Maybe that'll be our vacation one year, just lying around the parents' house and aimlessly wandering through the South.

And yeah, we did get to hit some antique malls.

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We saw several Japanese pachislot machines in the antique malls, which is an understandable place for them to show up, I suppose. We also saw a lot of... well, the 1940s style racist "mammy" Aunt Jemima advertising material is always present in antique malls. It was part of the culture of America at the time, that's all there is to it. But for some reason, a lot MORE of that material was on display this trip. Old racist advertising signs, modern reproductions of old racist advertising signs, modern fakes cobbled together to resemble old racist advertising signs (who would want this??), okay, whatever. But when these items are displayed next to framed photos of Klan rallies, next to framed racist 45 singles from the 1960s, a context begins to emerge, and that context is not a positive one.

To contrast, the Chamblee antique mall has racist advertising material, displayed with actual slavery memorabilia - auction posters, bills of sale, etc, along with abolitionist material, Civil War relics, Jim Crow era material, and Civil Rights era memorabilia right up to Nation Of Islam newspapers. That's the context this material needs to be seen in, here in 2014, the context of a region and a nation grappling with these issues in all arenas of society. Not the context of "remember when we could openly mock other races with impunity."

Anyway, we're ready to put this year out on the curb and open up a fresh new one, and play my Colecovision Flashback, and watch the Twin Peaks BD set, and admire my new watch. Happy 2015!
davemerrill: (milky)
I had Friday off and Monday's a holiday so we took a little road trip out to Boston to visit Neil and Mike and Prairie and Mike and Carol and Mara and Christian. It was kinda cool! We hit some antique places and Salem Willows and Barrett's Haunted Mansion.

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At Barrett's as we were in line, one visitor fainted from excitement or something and was taken away by EMTs and then we watched as the cast of monsters assembled to surprise a couple as they exited - and then there was a surprise marriage proposal. She said yes! After the haunt we went to dinner in the ale house next door and saw the happy couple leaving, and applauded all over again. We had a great dinner and then watched the Red Sox beat Detroit in a bar full of Red Sox fans, which was kinda cool.

Went to Nahant with lots of great scenery.

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Saturday the weather was cool and misty, which didn't make for beach weather, but it fit the landscape, I think. Sunday the weather was a lot nicer. Monday it was nice and sunny and we drove back home. In the Mohawk Valley things got rainy again and we stopped in Little Falls NY to do some more antiquing.

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Beautiful little town full of big gothic churches and little row houses on the Erie Canal. Worth a stop if you're in the area. And then we got home and here we are!
davemerrill: (milky)
So we're back from our vacation. Where did we go? On Thursday the 20th we got in the car and drove down to Cincy where we stayed with Greg and Melissa and their brood. On Friday we were in Atlanta with the folks. On Saturday we went to a wedding.

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Matt "Corn Pone Flicks" Murray and Melanie "Forsyth Fabrics" Rabon were hitched in an lovely outdoor ceremony somewhere near Jefferson, GA. Much food and cake was had by all. Afterwards we drove over to Athens, spent the night in that Hampton on the Atlanta Hwy near the Alps, and then the next day Devlin and Mandy went with us to the J&J Flea Market.

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From there it was overland to Myrtle Beach SC, where the family was already in place. For the next week we got sunburned, were tossed around in the ocean, saw a lot of relatives, and fed an egret on the marsh in Garden City.

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The Garden City arcade has this great Godzilla game, too.

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All too soon it was time to head back northwards. On Saturday we passed lines of cars heading to the beach and struck out through the piney woods of the Carolinas to our appointment with destiny in Albemarle.

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That's about fifteen kinds of awesome.

From there we went into the mountains, stopped at Wycheville VA for the night, and the next day continued into West Virgina and Point Pleasant, the home of the Mothman.

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And thence to Columbus OH where we had beer and dinner with Rick Sanford & Ann before crashing in their guest bedroom and Monday making our Canada Day way back across the border to the accompaniment of fireworks.

And that is what we did on our summer vacation.

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davemerrill: (milky)
Been at the beach for a week. Well, first we went to Cincy and saw Greg and Melissa and the kids, and then we went to Georgia and went to a wedding and the J&J, and then we went to Myrtle Beach where we've been for the past few days. Surf was heavy, food was good, family is doing well, flew a kite, played video games, got a little sunburned, then took a back roads route to the mountains and now we're in Wytheville VA about to go to an antique store and head for Columbus OH. Eventually (tomorrow night) we will be home in TO.

Pix to follow.
davemerrill: (Default)
So where was we. Sunday we went to Space Kinds and Sonic 44. Monday we got up and hit Nakano Broadway again with some living-in-Japan pals from a message board I'm on; we gave the place another go-round and yes, found shops we didn't see the first time. Also wandered around the shopping district next door and marvelled at the restaurants, the outside of one decorated with old anime-character Sonorama jackets:

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Afterwards we got back on the train and went one stop down to Koenji and Gojira-Ya, which is a vintage toy store full of vintage goodness. The proprietor also runs a bar downstairs that was full of regulars at 4pm. Gojira-ya is kinda pricey but we did get out of there with a few things:

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Finally got a Queen Cosmos from STARZINGER. It's missing stuff, but whatever. I won't be flying through space with it.

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Yup, it's the UNICO pilot film. I didn't even know this ever got a proper VHS release!

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This is Riko, the mascot for a bank, and is herself a bank! Cunning, those Japanese. Anyway Gojira-ya was cool enough to give us a discount. I recommend giving 'em a visit!

Tuesday we were off on another expedition, this time to Suginami and their Animation Museum!

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This is another Tokyo municipality taking advantage of "cool Japan" to create a tourist attraction where once there was merely two floors of a very nice town hall. Outside there's bas-relief sculpture of your favorite anime characters:

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And inside you're greeted by a big Gundam;

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And an even larger Hakushon Daimaƍ (or "Bob In A Bottle" as he was known on YTV). Don't touch! Because I really wanted to touch Hakushon Daimao!?

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The central pillar of the main room was decorated with what looked like original sketches from manga and anime talent:

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RIKISHIIIIIIIII!!!

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There's an exhibit of what Yoshiyuki Tomino's desk looked like in the 80s:

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Around the room there were different exhibits - a range of TV sets dating from the 1960s until today screening different TV anime from the different time periods, a wall chronology of notable anime films and TV series, a booth where you can practice voice-acting an Astro Boy episode, and a room with crayons and coloring pages for the kids and digital coloring stations for the older kids. Upstairs there was an exhibit of original artwork from Studio Gonzo productions - but we weren't allowed to take photos there, sorry. A side room contained a manga and anime library. Apart from us, the museum's other patrons were kids and parents; kids were certainly using the manga library.

It was kind of a hike from the train station, and we wound up having to ask directions in the post office in our halting, foreign otaku cluelessness, but it was a pleasant day for a hike and afterwards we had cold soba for lunch and did some shopping in the local Book Off, and then it was back to Ikebukuro and air conditioning.
davemerrill: (Default)
Where was I? Saturday, Ultraman, etc. So Sunday was Wonderfest, which is a twice-yearly festival for model kits, figures, garage kits, toys, fandom, etc. We were thinking seriously about going, but we thought up several reasons why not. Firstly it's aways out in Chiba. Secondly we had plans later in the day which meant that we would have had to ditch Wonderfest after about an hour and head back to Tokyo. Thirdly, I have not built a model kit in twenty five years. I realize that it's more than kits and figures, but you know what, they have a Wonderfest at a time of year when it isn't a hundred degrees outside, maybe we'll hit it then. What we DID do was go to Asakusa, across town, home of the Senso-Ji Buddhist temple devoted to Kannon.

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Asakusa is super touristy, as well as being a holy site, so there are lots of holy tourists inhaling the purifying smoke from the incense and taking photos of gods.

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This last one is a photo of the Tokyo Skytree, which is a new tower that has been built since the last time we were in Tokyo. Apparently it's the tallest tower in the world! (the CN Tower is now #3). Tokyo already HAS a Tower, so why exactly a new one was needed is anybody's guess, but judging from the packages and bags people were carrying apparently it's a hit with the shoppers.

Throw some change at the goddess and we'll move on:

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The thing we had to do later in the day was to meet Ardith "Robotech Art Book 1" Carlton in Ekoda to see a performance by Space Kinds.

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Space Kinds is a 14 piece band that performs music from anime and tokusatsu movies and TV shows. This isn't some kind of synthesizer karaoke thing - this is the real deal. The band has a brass section, woodwinds, guitars, keyboards, percussion, new arrangements, and occasionally they were joined on stage by Apple Pie, two female singers whom you may have seen providing the "children's chorus" part for anime theme songs on the "Super Robot Spirits" DVD. Introduced by and occasionally joined by Shocker-san, a former tokusatsu suit actor (GAVAN) and all around being of pure energy. So yeah, they did the theme to 'Hill Street Blues' and 'The A-Team'. Japanese Spiderman. Battle Fever J. Gorangers. medley of Mazinger Z music. Slower songs from the Gundam films. Orchestral stuff from the various Ultraman series. There was a rousing rendition of the Wonder Woman theme. So much music! In the audience was Yoshinobu Kaneko - he played Ninja Akakage's kid sidekick Aokage in the NINJA AKAKAGE series and his brother played Daisaku/Johnny Sokko in GIANT ROBOT - and Ichiro Tomita, who sang the theme songs for Goggle V and Albegas. So, yeah, it was kind of a whirlwind of anisong we were dropped into the middle of, there in that bar in a basement in Ekoda.

This was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for, this trip - the kind of experiences you can't replicate anywhere else. Hanging out with anime fans of our vintage, who speak our language even if they don't speak our language, if you know what I mean.

Too soon the show was over and we were back out into the sunlight, off to more adventures. Well, okay, to hang out with more nerds. And if there's a better place to hang out than Sonic 44, I haven't found it yet.

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Sonic 44 is one of those dinky Japanese one-room bars, jam packed with diecast chogokin toys, jumbo machinders, figures, posters, toys, games, puzzles, you name it. This self-proclaimed "Otaku Bar" is run by Kimura, a groovy cat who may very well be the proof that great minds think alike - upon arrival almost his first words were "Do you know CHARGE MAN KEN?" Yes, there are people in Japan who share our love of Totally Lame Anime. In fact he made a point of showing us INVISIBLE DETECTIVE AKIRA, a pilot Knack made for another adventure show along the lines of CHARGE MAN KEN, only so terrible it failed to gain any sponsors. In between beers, marvelling at his YAMATO 2 pachinko machine, and watching his edited video of Condor Joe shouting "I'm going to fire the Bird Missile!", I really felt like I was home. Kimura actually does an "Anime Hell" type event in Tokyo, screening offbeat shorts and weird failures to a late night crowd of fellow obsessives. We're THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE, PEOPLE.

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And that was Sunday! I still owe Ardith Y2000, and many more thanks for making all this happen for us. Thank you Ardith!!

http://www.44sonic.net/
davemerrill: (Default)
On Saturday we got up and took the train out to Setagaya to meet up with Roy. Setagaya is near Toho Studios and as such is, or was, close by where Tsubaraya Productions had its offices, and as we all know Tsubaraya are the people behind that famous live-action SF superhero show that was popular the world over, Jumborg Ace. I mean Ultraman!

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so the main drag by the train station is "Ultraman Street" and is decorated by a arch at each end featuring Ultraman flying overhead, giving traffic reports every 15 minutes during rush hour.

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The streetlights are also stylized Ultra masks - most of them are regular Ultraman but a few are Ultra Seven.

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If you need to find your way around, simply consult the Ultra Map!

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Hey, uh, Ultraman, what's wrong with your, uh, area?

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Now that right there is disrespectful to Ultraman. Anyways we wandered up and down Ultraman Street, and then we got on the train and went to Shimokitazawa and did some toy shopping, and then we got on the train and went to Roy's neighborhood and had some of the best sushi I have ever had in my whole life. We hung out at Roy's for a bit and looked at the Olympic opening ceremonies on the DVR and then it was back to the train. On the way we passed this guy's house:

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Yup, a full-size Lawgiver from PLANET OF THE APES, just hanging out in somebody's front porch, dispensing the law to all who pass. Behind him is Grimace from, you know, McDonaldland. I will say that this trip to Japan wasn't quite as full as the 'what the hell' factor as our first trip was, which is understandable, but this image more than makes up for it. And from there we went to Higashi Nakano to meet Ardith, but failed to meet her because there are TOO MANY FAMILY MARTS IN TOKYO, but it's all good, we met up with her on Sunday! Which I will tell you about next. Anyway we went back to Ikebukuro and took baths and then went out to "Beersaurus" for beer and dinner and watching Olympic Judo on the TV. That's one thing about NHK's Olympic coverage, if judo is going on, they are going to cover it.
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Where was I? Oizumi Gakuen, having a mental debate with myself over whether or not to just wander into the administrative offices and either (a) ask for any character goods they had lying around they didn't want, particularly any older stuff, or (b) ask for a job. In the end I turned my ID badge in at the guard station and we walked back to the train station. We did stop off at MOS Burger for our MOS Burger fix.

From there it was back to Ikebukuro for cold showers and a change of clothes. And then it was off to Akihabara for our fix of modern "cool Japan" electro-maid idol technofetishism. Akiba is huge and we didn't get to see even a quarter of what's there - we did visit Golden Age, your stop for vintage toys in Akiba; we went to the Tokyo Anime Center which is closed for renovations (thanks for NOT telling us, Tokyo Anime Center website), we bought some junk in the TAC's gift shop. Then on to Mandarake, floors and floors of great stuff, where we bought shojo manga and more old anime mags.

Being tired and thirsty we stopped at The Idolm@ster Cafe - a theme cafe atop Akiba Zone, which is a building full of Akiba-type stores, cube stores, clothes, cosplay, models, toys, etc. Anyway you could either order from the Cardfight Vanguard menu or the Idolm@ster menu. Cardfight Vanguard is the latest "kids collect cards and throw them at each other" game, and Idolm@ster is a idol singer managing simulation video game. That's right, you take time off from your difficult job managing idol singers to play a game where you manage the career of one of five idol singers. Apparently this is entertaining. The cafe was full of regular Japanese teens and young adults all having fun ordering fruity drinks based on card-fighters or idol singers, wandering around looking at the production art and figures, or checking their smart phones.

On the other hand we could have stopped at the Gundam Cafe:

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Sorry for the blur, that's caused by Minofsky particle interference, of course.

This is right next to the AKB48 Theater, which only confirms my suspicion that Akihabara is turning into Branson Missouri.

Anyway after refreshing ourselves we went out and did some more shopping, particularly at Comic Zin, a doujinshi shop on the main drag with a great selection of offbeat manga and doujin - not just the adult stuff that makes the headlines, but alternative doujin, including some aggressively independent self-published stuff that was refreshing to see.

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Soon enough it was 9pm and everything was closing, so we went on home.

Friday was the 27th and that's our 10th wedding anniversary! And I can't think of a better thing to celebrate than doing laundry. Seriously though it was definitely laundry time. The Sakura has a laundry room behind the main building. The dryers, I might add, need at least an hour to get the job done, particularly when things are as humid as they were in Tokyo and the laundry facilities are just out back, under a roof but not in an air-conditioned room whatsoever. So I put loads in and we sat out on the patio reading and fanning ourselves, and every so often I'd go over and put another 100 yen in the machine.

That night we went over to Shibuya, home of the Hachiko statue, one of the busier train stations in the area, lots of crowds, hills, twisty little alleys, and me getting lost.

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Eventually we found our destination, Mandarake, which is in the basement of the BEAM building. Apparently there's a TV studio in BEAM which explains why both times we've been there, the building has been surrounded by girls waiting for some sort of star to emerge from a taping of something. However, what I'm interested in at Mandarake is under glass:

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That last one is some kind of Prince Planet bank, shaped like a 12 sided die. It was priced a little higher than I was ready to shell out for, so it's still there under glass in Shibuya if you're interested. So we did some prowling around in the basement and then it was time for dinner.

Since it was our anniversary I can't think of a more romantic place than Shakey's. Shakey's, the American all-you-can-eat pizza phenomenon that now has more restaurants in Asia than in the United States. I can reassure our readers that Shakey's hasn't changed a bit; the pizza is remarkably similar to what we remember eating as children. Of course in Japan the toppings sometimes get a little unusual. In other American chain restaurant news, the Outback in Shibuya has a TWO HOUR WAIT. No way, man.

After dinner we visited the Shibuya Book-Off for another round of used-manga searching - and boy, was that place crowded - and then it was back down to the train station and home. Tomorrow: Setagaya and Ultraman Street!
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Thursday was our trip out on the Seibu Line to Oizumi Gakuen. What's in Oizumi Gakuen? There's a movie theater and a mall, sure. It's also where THIS is...

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Toei Animation Company, the people who brought you Captain Harlock, Mazinger Z, Galaxy Express 999, Dr. Slump, Fist Of The North Star, Sailor Moon, and Pretty Cure, among hundreds of other childhood-warping cartoons! This is where they do their thing. So we hauled out the directions Tim gave us three years back and set out from the train station in brain-warping heat. Next time I'm in Japan in the summer I'm getting a hat. Pictures and full details behind the cut!! )
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Tuesday! Another steamy day in Tokyo. Here a poster for Fist Of The North Star related pachinko fun looms over a muggy Ikebukuro.

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That's where we went on Tuesday, back down to the east side to hit Toranoana, which is a chain of multi-story manga and anime shops filling all your anime and manga needs. Well, some of your manga and anime needs. I highly recommend everybody visit Japan, it's awesome, but if you're an anime nerd then visiting Japan will really open your eyes because the stuff that you think is awesome and super popular might not be what's awesome and super popular in Japan. Right now the big stuff in Japan is One Piece, Gundam (of course), Cardfight Vanguard, and more One Piece. I'm talking giant billboards, character shirts worn by non-anime nerds, entire shops devoted to merchandise, giant inflatable characters looming over amusement parks, that's One Piece.

Not that there's that much One Piece in Toranoana; the first floor is anime DVDs, second floor is professional shonen/seinen manga, third floor is doujinshi for the ladies, fourth floor is doujinshi for the men and the 18+ men. A surprising amount of the ladies-type doujin - meaning, doujin starring male anime characters who have sex with each other - is devoted to Tiger & Bunny, the corporate sponsor superhero show that was big one or two seasons ago. Well, they're doing each other. Surprise surprise.

We gave Toranoana the once-over and bought some doujin - I got some non-adult dojin starring Spongebob Squarepants and the little tiger Benesse Corporation uses as a children's mascot character. Then we hopped the train over to Shinjuku to visit Sekaido and marvel at their art supplies. Sekaido was absolutely jam packed with girl comic book artists poring over screentone and pen points. We hit the Book-Off, which was full of browsers browsing Y105 manga, and the Tsutaya, which is Japan's big video/book/CD rental chain that has the anime section like you wouldn't freakin' believe, entire series from the 60s and 70s and 80s on DVD and VHS waiting for you to rent. Then we met Roy under the Studio ALTA sign.

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This is Shain in front of some kind of Hello Kitty bus in front of the Studio ALTA sign. Anyways Roy was our guide on our last trip, he's lived in Japan for decades and knows where everything is and we followed him in and around the twisty turny alleys of Shinjuku, through a tiny alley full of tiny bars and restaurants, up to a old school tempura place. Had a great dinner, caught up on the news, did some browsing in Bic Camera, had late coffee, went back to Ikebukuro.

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Wednesday it was time for the pilgrimage to Nakano Broadway.

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This is the mall where Mandarake has its flagship store, meaning two floors full of little Mandarakes selling toys, old manga and books and doujinshi, model kits, games, posters, records, DVDs, CDs, anime cels, etc. There are also non-Mandarake-affiliated vendors with their own shops full of cool old stuff. For a nerd like me Nakano Broadway pretty much needs an entire day devoted to giving it the once-over. We actually got there too early and had to wait for them to open up. Top tip: the escalator goes up to the THIRD floor, so if you take it up expecting to be on 3 and then take the stairs down, expecting to come out on the ground floor, you will be surprised. There are shops on the 4th floor as well. Wear comfortable shoes, take your time.

Some of the stuff we bought:

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Prince Planet Sonorama!

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Yup, that's a cel from ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

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I felt like I had to buy this record from HELLHOUND LINER 0011 because I borrowed the image I used in the Let's Anime column from another source and I felt guilty. Anyway we shopped 'til we dropped and then left Nakano just as a high school band was setting up in the plaza next to the train station. Went back to Ikebukuro and took a shower, and then we went out to explore the neighborhood a little. Walked down the main drag away from the station and wound up at a Denny's where the road dead-ended into Expressway No. 5, across the street from an airsoft gun store. And that was Tuesday and Wednesday. Coming soon: Oizumi Gakuen and Toei.
davemerrill: (Default)
So yes! We went back to Japan. And yes, it was hot. Two showers a day hot. But July is our wedding anniversary month and it was our 10th and you can't just move dates around on the calendar to suit yourself, these things have to be done right. So off to Tokyo we went!

We packed up the night of Friday the 20th and by 11am Saturday we were out front waiting for the taxi to the airport. The flight was uneventful; I like an aisle seat for the longer trips so I don't have to climb past strangers to visit the facilities. 12 hours later there we were at Narita. We took the advice of our hotel and hopped on the Keisei Skyliner train from the airport to Tokyo; it put us out at Nippori, and then we took the JR to Ikebukuro, which is where our hotel was.

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This is the Sakura Hotel Ikebukuro. Two buildings across a small side street, a sidewalk cafe that was always bustling with backpackers and tourists and locals, small but comfortable rooms at a reasonable price, I recommend it. It's a five minute walk from the station, but we took a cab because I don't mind getting lost walking around a strange city but not while carrying a lot of luggage

If you've ever been to Ikebukuro and you know where the Seibu is and the Sunshine 60 building and the Animate /Otome Rd area, that's the east side, we were on the west side, the Tobu side, the side with the topiary owls.

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(that's Jim Reddy taking a picture on Monday).

Anyway we arrived on Sunday around 5pm and it was damp and cool in Tokyo, cooler than it had been in Toronto. We checked in and immediately checked to see what was on TV. When we first arrived in Japan in 2009, Speed Racer was on. What would this trip's television portend?

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Ultraman! A fine divination. Actually the first thing on the first channel we checked was "Sazae-San", but that's cool too. Then it was time to explore the neighborhood a bit. Promptly got lost, but found our way back to the Sakura (local landmarks pachinko parlor, Mexican restaurant, karaoke bar) after some dinner (ramen). Then it was time to go to sleep 'cause we were tired.

Monday we arose, had some toast and coffee downstairs (all you can drink or toast for Y360) and then it was off to explore Ikebukuro. We made our way back to the station, around the station, through the pedestrian walkway under the tracks, and there we were on the east side where the action was. Also pretzels. Ikebukuro has a great pedestrian-only shopping district full of movie theaters, arcades, Tokyu Hands, you name it. Our first stop was Book-Off, the chain of used bookstores that has great stuff at great prices and locations all over Tokyo. Then we made our way down to Animate, thence to K-Books, and then across the street to the Sunshine City mall to get lunch and visit a friend.

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Sunshine 60 is where they have an Ultraman festival every year. As near as I can determine this means they show an Ultraman movie for the kids. Anyway after lunch we met Jim Reddy at the Mandarake in Ikebukuro - this Mandarake is strictly for the ladies, okay - and from there we hopped a train to Kanda for more shopping.

I was curious to see if the infamous Tokyo Ordinance 156 would have made a dent in the doujin world. You know 156 - it's the bill that would commit the heinous crime of limiting the sales of adults-only material to adults - and if internet manga pundits were to be believed, its passage would destroy manga, anime, and life as we know it. Well, reports of the death of doujinshi have been greatly exaggerated. The only difference between now and what I saw in 2009 is that the adult stuff now has giant stickers on the covers, and that Animate no longer carries doujin. There's still a whole floor full of horrifying stuff at Toranoana, rest assured. But more on Toranoana later.

We took the train to Kanda because of two things - a craft beer/pizza joint Jim knew about, and the Kanda Kosho Center, a skinny building with a record shop, a book store, and a store called Nakano Shoten, an anime/manga/memorabilia shop with amazing sights for old showa-era fans such as ourselves.

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Yup, that's original Gordian production art welcoming you to the store. On the way we stopped at Takadanobaba Station, the train station where they play the "Astro Boy" theme at stops because it's close by where Tezuka lived in the famous "Tokiwa" boarding house with Fujio-Fujiko and Ishinomori and other famous manga legends. There's also two giant murals of Tezuka characters on the wall outside the station.

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Yup, that's Big X directing traffic. Also Tezuka character banners festoon the light poles:

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Where was I - Nakano Shoten in Kanda/Jimboucho. We finished our drooling and shopping there and then moved on to meet Patrik W. at the Devil Craft, which was absolutely jam packed, so we went with our backup, cheap beer and yakitori and sushi at Susumu's, around the corner and up the dark alley. I hadn't seen Patrik in what, 20 years? He showed us pix of his new baby and we talked about old Atlanta landmarks and we had some double-wasabi-infused sushi that allowed us to touch the colors of time. Seriously, the stuff you get here is a mere shadow of the wasabi in the Home Islands. And that was our first day in Japan! More to come.
davemerrill: (Default)
so I have been meaning to write about the ALA trip for, what, a month now and I haven't really had the time. First we got sick, and then I had to finish an article for CD, and then there was all the typical stuff like Mr Kitty and working and before you know it, here's Valentine's Day.

Anyway the deal is this. I was invited out to Anime Los Angeles as their Fan Guest Of Honor. Most of this is due to Alec Orrock, one of the directors of the show, whom I've known for a long time. Seeing as how this would get us out of Toronto in January, I said "yes" and the week after New Years we were off to LA.

Let me just start out by saying that ALA is an amazing show. It's about 4000 attendees, so it's small enough to not be terrifying but large enough to have the cash to do fun stuff. The chair, Chaz, has pretty definite ideas of what he wants the show to be like, but is wise enough to turn his staff loose and let them experiment and have fun. The show has a great relationship with the hotel, and this leads to a level of environmental interaction that I've never seen at an anime con. For instance, ALA brings in its own benches and bean-bag chairs. As Chaz puts it, the fans are going to sit in the halls anyway, might as well give them somewhere to sit. What makes this special is that the benches are customized.

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You don't feel like you're in yet another hotel ballroom space, that's for sure. The staff and attendees were enthusiastic, friendly, and remarkably stress-free. Usually at conventions there's at least one flip-out or tantrum or star fit, but I didn't see anything like that at ALA. One custom the show has (and I've heard other conventions do this, but I'd never seen it) is the whole ribbon thing. How it works is this - staffers and fans have their own ribbons printed up, horizontal adhesive-backed ribbons that fit onto the badges, and onto each other, with clever fan-type sayings and mottos. Then when the convention starts, people trade ribbons, ask for ribbons, hand ribbons out, collect ribbons, and stick them to their own con badge. So first off it's a great ice breaker for your more shy fan. Secondly it means that everybody's badge is just a little bit different. And overall it gives the show a unique and friendly vibe I don't think I've seen matched. Of course some people take this to extremes:

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I was treated fantastically, and this is another thing that ALA does really well - there's a staffer assigned to each guest (shown here is Ashley, my "handler") who's there to make sure you know where you need to be. At each panel there's a printed place card for each panelist, and that place card not only includes their name but the full list of that panelist's schedule, when and where they need to be all weekend long. So if you're a guest you have constant reminders of your events. Other conventions should totally do this.

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This is a photo from the "how technology has changed the anime industry" panel. I was sitting next to a guy who wrote scripts for THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS. If you look closely to the left you can see special surprise audience member Fred Patten, who vanished right after the panel and I wasn't able to say "hi" to him. HI FRED!

I didn't take as many photos as I intended, but one thing I definitely needed to get a shot of was the courtyard area, which was used for photoshoots:

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This highly landscaped pool area takes advantage of the LA weather to allow costumers to photograph each other without clogging the halls. The consuite was in one of the pool deck suites so it had an outdoor entrance and exit. So nice to get outdoors during a show!

The lower driveway entrance of the hotel is permanently blocked off and that open space was used for the cosplay chess.

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Again, the weather was the kind of weather people move to Southern California for, so getting outside was definitely a pleasure.

As far as the con goes, I did 9 panels including "Fandom Before The Internet", our Stupid Comics presentation, my Spooky Classic Anime thing, a fanzine panel with the Colony Drop fellas, I got to sit in on the last half of Tim's Yamato fandom thing, and a panel about convention horror stories that kind of turned into its own convention horror story in a way. We got to see a lot of crazy 80s and 90s OVAs thanks to CD's "not for kids" panel late Saturday night.

I think my only gripe about the hotel's location is that it's by LAX and if you don't have a car your food options are limited to the hotel restaurant, Jack In the Box or Denny's. We bummed a lot of rides over the weekend - we did In & Out twice (good, but no Five Guys), Pam Buck drove us out to Gardena to the Book-Off (!!!) and we had some Japanese lunch in the back of the grocery store, we went with Lloyd and Darius and Marlon and Marlon's LA connection to Umami Burger, and on Monday after the con Lynn drove us around town. We did Dim Sum in Chinatown after our trip to Little Tokyo.

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Here's Shain and Tim in Little Tokyo. What are they looking at?

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The Challenger memorial including the plaque honoring Astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka, that's what. Lots of neat stuff in Little Tokyo and we spent too much money. After lunch we went out to the Santa Monica Pier and enjoyed the sunshine and the beach.

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That's not to say we didn't have several long, loud, drunken, fan-ranty meals in the hotel. I did a lot of catching up with Alec and Pam and got to meet many of the local LA scene anime movers and shakers, spent a while talking with Jake Tarbox, whom I never really have time to talk to at AWA, and of course it's always great to see Tim and Darius and Lloyd and Marlon, got to shoot the breeze with AX chair Mark Perez, Sean and Matt from CD, spent two hours in the parents lounge talking to a parent about Candy Candy and Gatchaman and Yamato. Got to hear a lot of gossip about SoCal conventions I'd never heard of and will likely never attend, but gossip is always fun. I'd like to think I gave value for money as FGOH; I did a lot of panels, anyway, and people seemed to at least listen to what I had to say.

All too soon it was Tuesday and we got checked out and were on our way back to Toronto. We were at the gate early enough to see the passengers get off our plane, and it being a flight from Toronto, who would be on it but Geddy Lee from Rush. Yup, that's our LA celebrity sighting, a Canadian.

So yeah, a really positive anime con experience. If you're in the area I highly recommend ALA, you might come alone but you'll leave with friends.
davemerrill: (Default)
So we're finally back from our two epic journeys. 942 miles from Toronto to Atlanta and back, and then 2200 miles from Toronto to LA and back, all in the space of 3 weeks. No wonder I'm dizzy. +++FULL REPORT FOLLOWS+++

We set out for Atlanta around noon on Thursday the 22nd. The weather didn't close in until we were across the lake heading for Erie PA, but it was rain, not snow. We stopped at the Steak & Shake in Erie, one of the few places in the world where you can have that, a Tim Hortons, and a Chic-fil-A. Then it was back down the road past Pittsburgh and into West Virginia. Shain did a tricky bit of driving through rain and West VA mountains across the third highest suspension bridge in the world to Beckley where we stopped for the night. Beckley seems to be doing better than the last time we stopped; the hotel we stayed in was brand new, as was the Applebees that served us a late dinner. Yeah, I know, but what are ya gonna do?

Friday we got back onto the road. Our target: Snoopers.

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This is where I found that Captain Future children's cutlery set while passing through on our way home from the beach in '10. We didn't give the place a total investigation then and I was determined to rectify that omission on this trip. And rectify it we did! Didn't find anything as totally awesome as the Captain Future stuff or the fake Keane picture this time, but we did pick up some comics and odds and ends, both at this place and the place next door that was decidedly junkier. There is still a stuffed-fabric "Sniffles" at Snoopers if anybody cares to pick it up and pay $30 for it. We did also see this:

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Apparently latent 'furry' still lurks in the psyche of western Virginia, where old mountain craftsmanship meets up-to-date fetishes.

We continued down through VA and into NC and stopped at a few more spots. At Charlotte we paused as traffic slowed over Lake Norman. What's up with that? And then before we knew it we were getting Starbucks in Greenville SC and prepping for that last leg to the folks' house, where we arrived around 10pm which is early for completing a trip like this, usually we're rollin' in stupid late.

Saturday we wrapped presents and relaxed and waited for Santa. Dinner was BBQ with Grant, Marie, Ivy, and the new baby Daniel. Sunday was Xmas and we watched the nephew play with his Hot Wheels while we unwrapped the presents we wrapped the day before. Monday... I'm drawing a blank. Did we meet Neil for coffee on Monday? Tuesday we drove to Athens and stopped at a few places in Braselton on the way. Swapped a bunch of comics we didn't need with Devlin in exchange for comics we DID need. I use the word "need" loosely here. Lunch at the Grill and then back to the folks where Shain went to bed because she was not well. 104 temperature.

Shain's fever broke during the night and by Wednesday she was well enough to join Ivy and I on a trip to the mall. And here's where things get blurry. At some point we had dinner at Scalinis with my family and Shaun and Jim Reddy, back from Japan, joined us in spite of rain and a flat tire. At some point we had late Waffle House coffee with Neal. Elizabeth C. met us for a Chamblee lunch and then we poked through antiques where Shain found Pixie and Dixie AND Mister Jinks.

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We visited Randy Stewart and Kimberly in their new house. On Friday we went to Elizabeth's dad's birthday party at their house and then drove out to Matt Buffington's new house where he and Jeannie just got married and are expecting. Seeing all of these lovely homes really highlights our place's desperate need of a new paint job. But generally we spent a week relaxing in Smyrna, eating Mom's cooking and watching TV with Dad, and everybody needs some of that sometime. We did eat at Howards, home of the food fight scene in the new Dolly Parton/Queen Latifah feature film "Joyful Noise" that is already garnering critical, uh, attention.

Saturday the 31st we packed up and headed out to Birmingham to visit old pal Jeff Roe and Nettie and Nettie's sister Lisa, whom I had not seen in ages, and Jeff and Nettie's son Justin, who just got an awesome RC vehicle for Xmas which he was putting through its paces. We spent the night in B'ham, had breakfast at the Golden Corral buffet where there was nothing on the menu that wasn't fried, boiled, buttered, or sugar-coated - even the orange juice machine was out of order - and then it was off through northern Alabama to marvel at the amazingly hateful billboards, to buy old issues of "Millie The Model" for $2, and thence to Nashville for a quick stop at the Great Escape. Then to Louisville for a quick visit with Julian and Deb and Jon, and on up the road to Cincinnati. When we got up in Alabama the weather was 62, it was beautiful while antiquing in northern AL, getting chilly in Nashville, and by the time we got to Cincy it was downright frosty. We crashed in a very nice place in Fairfield and the next day, with snow on the ground, we met up with Greg and Melissa and two of their brood for a visit and a Skyline lunch. And then it was northwards towards our next stop, Jeffrey's in Findlay, Ohio. http://www.jeffreysantique.com/

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Lots of cheap old comics in Jeffrey's. The place is so huge that we never are able to cover it all in one visit. Their policy is that all items must be at least 25 years old, and I highly approve of this policy. They also have a place in Springfield that's worth a trip if you're in the area. On this trip, however, the weather was closing in so we got back onto the road, through intermittent sunshine and snow squalls, northwards to Windsor. The border crossing was uneventful and soon we were back on the 401. This is when the driving got tricky, because bands of snow were blowing across Ontario and right across the highway, making visibility almost nonexistent. At times traffic slowed to a crawl. We saw our first ditched vehicles just this side of London. After Woodstock things improved and before we knew it, we were back home. The cat was irritated at us, we were tired and hungry, and we had barely unpacked before we packed right up for our next trip, to Anime Los Angeles!

BTW we did see this in a place in North Carolina. I don't usually think about buying toy cribs, but if I bought a toy crib I'd buy this one:

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Not really a 'restful' motif, but boy is it cheerful!

Boo

Oct. 31st, 2011 12:33 pm
davemerrill: (Default)
Simpsons Halloween last night was kinda lackluster. Following show "Allan Gregory" was DIRE. Gave up halfway through and went to draw this week's Zero Fighter which is up along with the latest Element Of Surprise!

The weekend after AWA we packed up the car and went over to Boston to spend the weekend in the lovely weather and stay with Mike Toole & Prairie Clayton and see Neil and Mara and Christian and Mike and Carol and the city. Did some touristy stuff, went to a craft-antiques fair, watched some goofy videos, ate some very good food, and went to Fall River MA to get scared.

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There's a lot of decaying unused industrial warehouse type structures in Fall River and some of them are turned into haunted houses for the season. Well, houses that are more haunted than usual, I guess. Scary creatures roamed the streets looking for victims!

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One of them even almost got Mike. It was scary.

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So scared!

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The first haunted house we went into was really well done, professionally presented, some 3D parts, and genuinely creepy. The second one wasn't as good, but still managed to get some genuine chills out of us. And then we got dinner at the diner, which is 101 years old this year.

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My work schedule this year has pretty much precluded me seeing any Halloween attractions in Toronto this time. However we did go out to an antique mall in Woodstock where we saw the following horrifying black velvet apparition:

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I hope everybody has a safe Halloween and becomes a safety witch with a blinding white costume and no broom. Just toss your candy into the garbage first thing. It's best to be safe!
davemerrill: (Default)
So on Sunday the 26th we drove to Buffalo and got on a plane, which flew to Cleveland. Then we got on another plane and went to Chicago. Then we got on ANOTHER plane and flew to San Francisco, with me feeling like I should have booked the tickets a few weeks earlier. Anyway it was the cheapest way to get us there that didn't require a sleepover in Iowa or cost fifteen hundred dollars each. Shain hadn't seen her brother and his family in a while and I love that whole part of the country, so it was up next on our vacation roster.

Full story and pix behind the cut! )
It was terrific to see David, Heather, Daniel, and Glory; they interrupted their lives and loaned us the minivan and generally played host for two weeks and we can't thank them enough for putting up with us taking over the spare room and the couch. Also fantastic to see Patrick and Meg, and to the friends I missed seeing, we will catch you on the next trip out!
davemerrill: (Default)
And we're back! Buffalo to Cleveland, Chicago, SF, out to Concord, around the Bay Area from Santa Cruz to Fairfield, San Jose, Redwood City, Emeryville, into the city for the Haight, Japantown, Chinatown, North Beach, Oakland, Playland Not By The Beach, the Marin County Fair, the Alameda County Fair. Over the Donner Pass to Reno, Virginia City, and Portola, returning via 70 to Oroville & Sacramento. SFO to Chicago, Buffalo, and across the border to home. Visited friends and relatives, wrangled kids, got sunburned, played the slots, bought lotsa junk. Watched movies in the backyard with a neighborhood full of kids while fireworks burst overhead. Seemed like we were always on the move, but had a great time. Pictures to follow!!
davemerrill: (Default)
Hey everybody, just wanna let you all know that we're out here in SF enjoying both the hot sunshine and the torrential rains. So far we've experienced a jelly bean factory, Japantown, a county fair, the Walt Disney Family museum, Kimono My House, and some terrific food. Tomorrow: Dreamworks Animation!
davemerrill: (Default)
So you know how occasionally you see on the news where people lose control of their cars and their cars go crashing into buildings? Well it happens more often than you'd think. In fact...

So we were out in the sticks digging through antique malls for weird stuff, as we're wont to do. Started to head back east on 3, towards 6 and Hamilton and the QEW. Anyway we were hungry and we decided to have a old fashioned go to the Pizza Hut and get a pizza and a pitcher of soda kind of dinner. It's been 20 years since I ate in a Pizza Hut. So we stopped at the one in Simcoe.

It took a while for our food to arrive, but it did show up. Place was full but it started to thin out as we ate. We were on our second piece of pizza when we spilled some drink and had to move to another booth. Hey, it happens. No sooner have we gotten settled in our booth when I look up out the window and notice a car parking in the spot facing our booth. Only he isn't stopping. I actually thought "hey this is like one of those things you see on TV where somebody loses control of their car and smashes into a building!" There is a loud bang.

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Yes. The car, a fairly new Lincoln, just rode right up on the sidewalk and smashed right into the side of the Pizza Hut. The impact knocked the moulding out of the wall, knocked all the glassware and plates off the table, and knocked the table itself off its post and out of the wall it was screwed in. We were left sitting there with pizza in our hands and a table in our laps.

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Our reaction after the initial shock is kind of a amused "what the hell just happened"? The staff rushed out to make sure we were OK. The car is still in the parking lot, manuvering around trying to park correctly! JUST SHUT IT OFF PAL, YOU'VE HAD ENOUGH DRIVING FOR ONE DAY.

The driver comes in, he's an older man with a cane. Apparently he had had one of those moments when you're reaching for the brake but you hit the gas instead (?). He's all like "I'll pay for the damage, I just want to have dinner first!" He's not nearly as embarrassed and freaked out as *I* would have been, had *I* just rammed *my* Lincoln into a Pizza Hut. If he'd hit 15 minutes previously there would have been kids sitting in that booth. If he'd managed to get up a little more speed maybe he'd have made it all the way through the wall and we'd have been crushed. As it happened, he got up enough speed to get over the curb and 10 feet of sidewalk. Are there skid marks indicating a last minute panic brake? No sir.

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You can see where his license plate holder left its imprint in the side of the building. I guess that cladding isn't too strong.

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So, the destroyed pizza was taken off our bill, we assured everybody we were fine and accepted thanks from our fellow diners for being part of the evening's entertainment, and then we went outside to leave. Only we couldn't because the police and the fire department had arrived.

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So we stuck around a bit and watched the bemused looks on the emergency personnel. I gave a statement to the police. The driver also had to come out and talk to the police. Once you smash into a building your evening's plans for a quiet dinner will not continue, sorry. Apparently this is not the first time our senior driver has failed to distinguish between his brake pedal and his gas pedal, and he will no longer be driving. Which is a good thing. I'll give you one crashed building; but two? You're done. BTW, damage to the Lincoln was minimal. Air bags didn't even deploy. So if you want a car that can stand up to some Saturday night Pizza Hut ramming, the Lincoln is the way to go!

Never even got a 'sorry' from the old guy. Throw the book at him, Simcoe PD!
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