My California vacation |

My California vacation

For the past two weeks, we vacationed like the rest of America – we drove to really crowded places.The first stop was Las Vegas, Nev. This place is interesting primarily because there is nothing naturally interesting about it. Every attraction is the result of human effort. The chief effort being the legalization of everything illegal in most other parts of the world. The secondary effort is in creating atmospheres that resemble nice places. You can visit phony Paris, fake Venice and false New York. Crowds gather and gawk at ceilings painted to resemble the skies that actually exist right outside.We stayed at the MGM Grand, which is everything Intrawest could hope for here. The place is not woefully undersized as they claim Highlands Village is. It has 5,000 rooms! That’s enough to house the 10,000-or-so shoppers necessary to support the myriad boutiques, restaurants and casinos built into the complex to attract those visitors in the first place. That’s critical mass! It’s a developer’s jackpot. The problem with this setup is that they are constantly creating new ways to sucker tourists. The north end of The Strip used to be “the place” until they rebuilt the south end, adding huge water fountains, thrilling roller coasters and other assorted eye candy. Now they’re re-building the north end again to keep up. It’ll be interesting to see what new gimmicks they concoct.After Vegas, we headed off to Southern California and Disneyland. Most people know all about Disneyland, but they flock there in droves anyway. This makes it mysterious. The place is every bit as phony as The Strip, but at least you have nice weather and the beaches nearby.As a younger Mouseketeer, the whole Disney thing enchanted me. This time around I paid attention to the mechanics of the rides. The designers have gone to great lengths to eliminate real people from all of the settings. On every ride you sit in darkness and rarely see the faces of the people sitting next to you. Meanwhile, the things that are supposed to engage your imagination are well lit and in motion.The closest thing we have to this in Aspen is the movies. You passively sit there and absorb it all. We arrived at the park at 9 in the morning and didn’t leave until after the fireworks at 10 that night. I estimate that we spent an hour of the day eating lousy food, maybe 90 minutes on rides, and the remaining 10 1/2 hours waiting in lines. That’s a lot of waiting around for a movie that you’ve already seen, and which offered little suspense to begin with. The biggest attraction for adults at Disneyland is the opportunity to buy back a small piece of childhood. It’s great to see the wonder and awe in your kids’ eyes and relive those moments. That alone is worth the price of admission, assuming you got discounted tickets.After a night of sleep that went on for what seemed like a millisecond, we were up and off to a tour of Universal Studios. It was about 20 miles from our hotel so, like all smart country people, we took into consideration the traffic and gave ourselves 30 minutes for the drive across town. Forty minutes later we realized that we should have allowed 80 minutes.Where Mr. Disney went out of his way to create illusions, Mr. Universal did his best to destroy them with this tour of Hollywood’s back lots. We saw many tricks of the trade, and movies will never be the same for any of the 16,000 of us who took the tour that day. Remember the scene from “Apollo 13” where the spaceship returns to earth, splashing down somewhere out in the Indian Ocean? The scene was actually filmed at a man-made lake about the size of the one you can hit an easy wedge over on the 14th hole, par 3 at the Aspen muni course. The world’s largest backdrop was perfectly painted behind the pond to complete the ambiance. What a buzz kill.After all of this, we treated ourselves to a couple of days at the beach. Our favorite was Venice. My wife loved the shopping. There were all kinds of canvass-walled, open-air shops right on the boardwalk selling everything from Toucans to candleholders. The real attraction was the people, though. You can sit there for hours and watch them. There are street performers, hoops players on the courts next to the walk, some of the best paddle ball players in the world (or so I was told), and gaggles of gawkers from all walks of life. When you tire, getting away is as easy as stepping out on the sand and plopping down on a beach towel, letting the sound of the crashing waves carry you off the rest of the way.Venice is also the home to the famous Muscle Beach. That’s the gym on the sand where tattooed, oiled and muscled brutes grunt and flex for the onlookers moseying by. The men are a little less theatrical, but they put on a good show, too.Eager to taste the full local flavor and needing to burn off a few corn dogs, I mustered the courage to pay my five bucks and experience a workout there. In between sets, I looked around. I noticed that people were looking in at all of us working out. It dawned on me that in an effort to experience this place, I inadvertently became part of the scene. I felt like a local!This place was all about people. The ocean and beach were the natural catalysts that made the spectacle happen. Houses and shops and restaurants ranged from tasteful to tacky and offered something for everyone, just like the locals wanted. I realized that Aspen is that kind of place. The people here are the real attraction. The mountains give us a reason to come together. We don’t need gimmicks; never have. We create things that we like, not things we think will bring others here. We all want to be the part of this place that we find so charming. We are living our fantasies! And, that’s why there is nowhere else in the world where “local” status is more coveted. I could tell you about the rest of the trip, going up north to visit Oakland Zoo and, as with every trip ever taken to the Bay Area, ending up kicking my soles on Fisherman’s Wharf, staring at Alcatraz. But, after already realizing what it is that I like so much about Aspen, that would be anticlimactic. Living at tourist attractions for two weeks was a gas. Now, it’s good to be home. Roger Marolt learned that nothing gives a greater feeling of accomplishment than lying on a beach all day doing nothing. Leave a message for him at

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