Keeping the kids entertained is a parent's primary job. It ranks higher than feeding and cleanliness. In the throes of a good time, hunger and head lice are but minor annoyances.
With a free day, where could the wife and I take the kids without passports, plane tickets or extended lines of credit?
At least we wouldn't need passports or plane tickets.
A day trip to the entertainment capital of the world is a perfect way to kill a few hours so long as we return with both girls. To better those odds, we take along one of their friends. Travelling with a friend also keeps them focused on each other rather than how bored they are.
Stemming more from my hatred of parking structures than civic or global responsibility, we take public transportation rather than drive ourselves or hire a private helicopter. This gives our excursion a gritty realism rarely found on family vacations.
Deep in the bowels of the Earth under Universal City, we stand on the platform waiting for the Metro Red Line. Thing 1 and Thing 2 move nervously about, avoiding eye contact with strangers while appreciating the artistic tile work and pungent aromas. Their friend, Thing 2.5, sits on the dusty floor scribbling in her autograph book. Or maybe she's taking notes to report back to her parents:
Day One of my captivity with the Canedays. Female parent seems nice, but male emits foul odor and appears deaf. Will remain obedient until he's had his evening cocktail. Hunger beginning to set in.
Feeling the telltale rushing wind of the approaching train, I tell the girls to stop playing on the tracks.
"Mind the gap!" I holler in my deepest British tenor.
The male parent pleases himself in making obscure references unintelligible to children.
Though it's only an eight-minute ride through a dark tunnel from the valley to Hollywood, the Red Line is more accurately an eight-minute trip through a wormhole from sanity to psychedelic. I forget how popular Hollywood is, with sightseers from around the world. Riding the escalator up into the midday sun of Hollywood Boulevard I feel like Richard Dreyfuss boarding the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The touristy scene is reminiscent of those in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, though I doubt you'd see Spiderman, Yoda and Michael Jackson taking pictures with tourists in front of those landmarks. Thousands of people with cameras, fanny packs, sandals and socks, bump into one another, all staring down at the stars on the ground.
"Look girls! Lon Chaney!" I screech in schoolgirl excitement.
I'm baffled at how my counterparts live under these conditions …
When you do look up, you're face to face with one of the 1,583 tour wranglers trying to get you onto a converted, roofless Ford Econoline van that will show you what may or may not be the gates and driveways of the rich and famous.
Walking with 7- and 8-year-olds is an exercise in evasive reflexes under normal circumstances. But trying to keep them in single file on a busy sidewalk is a unique torture and test of patience. So we make frequent stops in the souvenir shops. Here we only need to keep them from handling the palm tree snow globes.
Thing 1 spies a stuffed toy poodle in Gucci handbag, a la Paris Hilton. Thing 2 finds a mock parking sign: "Stoner Parking Only — Violators will be … ah, whatever, dude." And Thing 2.5 wants the life-size George Clooney cardboard standee.
The wife makes final decisions on all souvenir purchases: "No on the poodle. No on the sign. Yes on George. But I'll hold him for you."
We bypass the wax museums and Believe-It-or-Not Odditorium in favor of avoiding bankruptcy. And we forgo the Guinness World of Records when I discover it has nothing to do with drinking ale.
The real attraction isn't the Walk of Fame, cement footprints or costumed out-of-work actors letting strangers photograph them wearing spandex for tips. No, the real scene is the people on the streets — the angry, Black Panther-like mob videotaping itself in protest against The Man, Big Business and organized religion; the singing band of wandering born-again Christians handing out leaflets with a smile, preaching the love of God while holding a sign depicting tourists burning in hell; the earnest, welcoming Scientologists offering free stress tests.
A group of out-of-towners is mesmerized by their siren song. I grab the probes of a stress-measuring machine, and it shorts out in a spray of sparks.
"Run!" I yell, and they flee, woken from a dream.
As we head back to the subway, I pause dreamily on Charlize Theron's star.
"Daddy!" Thing 1 yells impatiently, and I snap back to reality.
"Hey, girls! Look! Don Haggerty!"
Will escape on subway, fend for myself. Pray for me.