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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Live from San Diego

T-minus 20 minutes until I need to go take the shuttle from my hotel to the convention, so it seemed like a good time to write a blog post.

Those of you who read this blog already know my feelings about airports, so I will refrain from waxing poetic about them once more.

I will also only summarize the incredibly long plane ride. Jet Blue is the best way to fly, but there is simply no way to make six hours in the air tolerable, especially when you have managed to hurt yourself before flying and need to stand up regularly or your leg locks up and you fall down the next time you try to stand (embarrassing). I was in a middle seat, and the flight was too booked for me to change. Thankfully, the marketing executive next to me was a kind gentleman, and understood my need to make him move a couple times an hour.

The best part of the flight? I did some pre-con research. You see, I've never been to San Diego (I've never been to California), much less Comic Con, so I consulted a recently released guide book by Mira Grant.

Yes, I'm being facetious. If you haven't read Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, you should. She just released a novella about the early days of the Rising (read: zombie apocalypse) that takes place at the San Diego Comic Con, which was perfect reading material for my way over. I love the zombies, but it is her description of the crowds that is really harrowing, for someone preparing to attend for the first time.

As the plane begins to descend into San Diego, the ground I can see through the window looks like the surface of the moon. This is what the moon will look like, if we colonize it. I suddenly feel inspired to write a space adventure, or I would if I hadn't just lost the feeling in my toes.

Instead, I keep watching Animal Planet (Cat from Hell) and getting glimpses of the world outside the window, whenever the man next to me leans back and the plane's tilt is such that I can see past the wing. The world under me disappears into what we on the east coast call "clouds" but which my driver later calls "marine fog," so I don't see what San Diego looks like from the air.

Outside, it is cool and dry, 60 degrees with maybe 50% humidity, which might not be the best weather for swimming, but is paradise if you have just come from 95 degrees and so humid you can practically swim in it. My wonderful driver happily describes the area for me, discussing the types of trees, the naval base, and pointing out a practice ship the navy uses for training (it's made out of plywood, surrounded by parking lot).

Let me say this: I can drive 8 hours to the north from my home and be in another country, but Montreal looks a lot like Boston to me. I have been to Seattle and Chicago and New York, and while each is a little different, I don't feel the need to visit to soak up the exotic atmosphere. They look like cities.

San Diego could never be mistaken for home. The architecture is distinctly different, even as I pass the same stores we have at home - Starbucks, Walgreens, Chilis. It reminds me of my visit to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. Is this a Spanish influence, a southern reaction to the heat, or (my anxiety wonders) a different building style required in an area prone to earthquakes? I didn't think to look up how close to any fault lines San Diego is. In my New Englander brain, I just assume California is never still.

In other news, the plants are equally exotic. Palms and Sequoias, imported in large numbers from Australia (another fun fact from my driver) line the roads, along with flowering bushes I don't have names for. Apparenly landscaping and gardening are big here, since almost every day is beautiful. The area gets less than 10 inches of rain a year, and rainstorms only happen every six months or so. (I do that math in my head, but don't challenge my driver-guide. Maybe twice a year they have a colossal downpour.)

I check into my hotel, and then instantly feel lost. The hallway I was told to go down to find my room isn't a hallway at all - I'm outside, which is an unexpected and confusing transition for my jet-lagged, over-caffeinated brain. I remind myself: it only rains here twice a year. This is the "hallway." After minimal wandering, I find my room. Time to sleep.

And now? It's time to get to the convention. Talk to you later.


  1. This was a fascinating read for me, since I'm a California native who lives in Los Angeles. I've been to San Diego several times and found it pretty typical of the entire southern half of the state (though a bit foggier and with a lot more eucalyptus trees). I remember when my parents and I dropped my sister off at Boston U a couple years ago, and I was equally impressed by all the tall, stone-or-brick architecture and how green everything was.

    Also, your remark about the hotel hallway made me smile, because I've noticed that before too. Even though a lot of TV shows are made in the L.A. area, schools on television always have their lockers in indoor hallways--I guess since the rest of the country is used to that. I've never been to a school with lockers indoors before, though, so it always struck me as odd, even when I was little.

    I'd love to read more of your thoughts on the differences between San Diego and Boston.

    (And, not to unnerve you, but yes, the low, wood-beam architecture that's common in Southern California is a direct response to the prevalence of earthquakes. I think cosmetic differences like stucco exteriors are probably just Spanish influence, though.)

  2. I've been trying to find a hometown for a character in my upcoming NaNo... Maybe I should go for southern CA. Would you help me with research?

  3. Incidentally, Seanan McGuire really does put a guide to SDCC up every year on her livejournal. She seems determined to try to de-mystify logistics and unacceptable behaviors (don't grab people on their way into the bathroom!) for newbies.

    (Tangentially) Also, when I lived in NC, I frequently walked outside between classes. Campuses in that (hurricane- and tornado-prone) area tended to have many single-story buildings instead of the one large one I've seen in New England towns I've lived in. For the brief time I was in high school down there in NC, I would actually exit the building and run around it to get to my next class because the hallways were too crowded and the class was really far away (and in a different building anyways).

  4. San Diego has a massive spanish influence and its not near any plates in particular though when the San Andreas Fault line adjusts you might get a mild tremor. Most of the earthquakes take place closer to the central valley or northern LA area. There are specific codes for Earthquakes but it doesn't usually effect the visible architecture. Most of them have to do with the way they lay the foundation and the bones of the structure. I think we use more rebar and such. If you ever want to research early Spanish architecture you should visit along California's coast there are like some 20 missions the Spanish built when they landed. Very cool. They're free to visit and most are very close to the beach. Which is also nice.

  5. I'd love to help with research--although it sounds like Anonymous knows a lot more about the architecture than I do. And if your NaNo calls for a suburban town that's not too famous but within an hour's drive of L.A. (and Malibu and several other well-known places), I happen to live in one.

    And I agree with the suggestion to visit the Spanish missions along El Camino Real, if you ever get the chance, because they're all beautiful and generally in wonderful repair considering some of them are almost 300 years old. Elementary-school kids in California generally make models of the missions around the 5th grade; mine was Santa Clarita, which is a good one, but I would really recommend San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows are. They've got several complete, intact buildings there, including a bell tower!

    Okay, mission fangirling is done now.

  6. San Juan Capistrano is the one we visited when I was in school but Mission San Louis Obispo is definately one of the more beautiful and its right smack dab in the middle of the more coastal part of San Luis Obispo which means you can visit the mission and then go eat you can also stay near the coast. There"s a really lovely town nearby called Cambria just beyond that is San Simeon which is actually where you can visit Hearst Castle which is actually really really cool. William Randolph Hearst built this really phenominal home there. He bought up all kinda of ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian art and has these elaborately decorated guest rooms and an outdoor swimming pool with gold grout...the guy was filthy rich. The family surrendered it to the state years ago and its like a state park now or something like that. Its really really fun to go check out. Also the sea lions like hanging out on the beach nearby so that's cool too.

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