Sunday, July 30, 2017

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train

I have a "love-hate" relationship with SEPTA, the entity that provides and operates public transportation in the Philadelphia and suburban area. It is one of only two transit authorities in the United States that operates all five major forms of land transportation (buses, trains [regional rail], subway and elevated trains, trolleys and trolleybuses). SEPTA, an acronym for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, does none of them well.

I have been a regular commuter on the SEPTA regional rail for over ten years. Sure, it's a pleasure not to have to drive to work and fight traffic, especially in bad weather (which Philadelphia gets a lot of). But. in those ten plus years, SEPTA has exhibited some of the most consistently worst service I have ever seen from a consumer-oriented company. My morning train — the one I take to work at the same time every morning — has never ever been on time. Ever. A SEPTA representative, who was handing out some public relations material one morning at the train station near my house, told me that "railroad standard" allows trains to be within six minutes of the scheduled time and still be considered "on time." I scrunched up my face and replied, "First - the standard is determined by the industry itself? Then why bother to make a precise schedule if the listed times are, in reality by your own admission, approximate times. Second - if the medical profession worked that way, a doctor could remove your kidney, but, since it's within the area of the appendix, it's still considered a successful procedure." The SEPTA guy laughed, shrugged his shoulders and handed me a pamphlet.

The staff on the trains are pretty rude also. They rarely announce upcoming stations. They snap at commuters with questions. They are the furthest thing from courteous. And they never apologize for the train being late, or crowded, or hot (in summer, when the air conditioning fails), or cold (in winter when the heat fails). My feeling is: they are already at work. What do they care if you're late for work.

So, with poor service, late trains and rude employees, SEPTA feels totally justified in raising fares and not doing a thing to improve themselves.

Yesterday was the clincher. I boarded my train at the train station near my suburban Philadelphia home. It was late, as usual. I found a seat in the last car and sat down. Something on the seat across the aisle caught my peripheral vision. I turned my head and saw a rather large key resting in the center of a seat meant to accommodate three passengers (a "three-seater," as we regular commuters call them). I instantly recognized the key as one used by train conductors to open and close the train doors, as well as operate other functions aboard the train. From my observations, it is an integral piece of equipment in a train conductor's arsenal and one that should be kept close at all times. By this one was alone on a empty seat in a train car conspicuously devoid of all SEPTA personnel. I immediate pulled my phone from my pocket to snap a picture and display it on Instagram for all the world to see. (I regularly chronicle SEPTA's and SEPTA rider's infractions on Instagram, mostly blatant violations of the "Dude, It's Rude" campaign that attempts — and fails — to discourage people from putting their bags, backpacks or briefcases on the empty seat next to them, while offering a gentle reminder that seats are for paying customers.) I quickly focused and got the shot, frantically tapping out a smart-ass caption to accompany the image. I chose to go with: "Is that the key to the entire SEPTA Regional Rail System just, absentmindedly, left on a seat? Ahh, SEPTA, it's a good thing you don't guard our nuclear weapons." Because my social media accounts are linked, my message appeared on Twitter, as well.

Well, SEPTA's social media account (for reasons only known to them) follows my Twitter account (@joshpincus for those of you who dare). Almost immediately, I was contacted via Twitter by one "KW" who was monitoring the SEPTA Twitter this particular morning. This was our exchange:

This little conversation shows SEPTA's sheer laziness and complete lack of customer service. Sure they are confined to 140 characters per message, but they didn't come close to the limit. They barked questions are me, a customer, as though I were responsible for their error. "What train? What car number?" Not a "please" or an "excuse me" or a "would you mind." The train number and car number are two pieces of information that are not easily ascertained by the general public. These numbers are usually posted on the lighted informational boards at the train stations (My station does not have one of these boards.) or on the SEPTA smartphone app. Train numbers are never used by commuters and are the source of confusion when SEPTA uses them in updated schedule and train arrival announcements. My admittedly rude reply ("I don't work for SEPTA") was still met with a pressing and impolite demand for these obscure identifiers. I finally conceded and pulled up the app on my phone to find which train number I was currently riding on.

The train pulled into Suburban Station, my destination for work. I rose to exit the train. A spotted a guy sitting in the seat when I had seen the key. He gathered his belongings (which were disobediently occupying the space next to him) and, in one motion, scooped up the key with his stuff. He palmed the key like a seasoned magician and scooted out into the train aisle just ahead of me. He left the train. He did not appear to be seeking out a SEPTA employee.

Will this guy be opening and closing the doors on tomorrow's commute? I don't know. Will he be making any unscheduled stops based on a whim? I don't know. Will that key be dangling from a chain, RUN-DMC style, the next time I see him on the train? Perhaps.

Do I really care? I do not.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

dinner bell, dinner bell, ding, ding, ding

I love to eat in restaurants. I'm usually not picky about where I eat because my philosophy is: "This won't be my last meal." If I don't like a restaurant, I probably will never go back, but I am happy to give any place a try at least once. Sure, I have my favorites, although one of them is on the other side of the country and an incident with another made me change my entire way of eating. But those are isolated cases. I like several local diners and nearby locations of small chains, as well as several single location eateries.

Recently, my wife and I joined friends at a place with which I was unfamiliar. In the age of the internet, however, that is no longer an issue. A quick Google search will return everything you need to know about an unfamiliar restaurant — location, menu, price range, etc. We met our friends at a place called Harvest. Harvest, it turns out, is one of several restaurants under the auspices of the Pennsylvania-based Dave Magrogan Group (DMG), an up-and-coming hospitality conglomerate in the mold of the mighty, nationwide Darden Brands. DMG introduced an Irish-themed pub called Kildare's in 2003. According to their website, Kildare's is "wildly popular." You tell me....

Harvest (or Harvest Seasonal Grill and Wine Bar, its official name) is Magrogan's entry into the trendy "farm-to-table" style of restaurants. The dining room is dark, with stacked slate walls, dark wood accents, and dimly-lit single-bulb fixtures offering little to no illumination for each table. The menus are single-sheet tomes describing things like "farro and freekah" and other things that make one unsure of their inclusion on a menu. Our waiter, a serious fellow named Erik, asked if we had ever been to Harvest before. I explained that, while we had never been to Harvest, we had, indeed, been to restaurants and were quite familiar with how the procedure goes. With no regard for my comment, Erik launched into what amounted to a minute-long commercial for Harvest. His delivery was scripted and emotionless, as though he had recited these exact same words hundreds of times. Hundreds of times today. He pointed out and highlighted many entrees on the menu as though we were illiterate and then disappeared for a few moments, soon returning to hear our decisions.

Honestly, I don't remember what I ordered. I don't remember if it was good or bad. I don't remember if it needed seasoning, how it was plated, what vegetables, if any, were served alongside my main course... whatever it was. I do remember, however that it was overpriced. I am a vegetarian and something called a "steamed ancient grain bowl," devoid of meat, rang in at $18.00. No meat and more than the cost of the menu's cheapest hamburger. Was the meal bad? I don't think so. It just wasn't memorable.

Earlier this week, my wife's brother (her other brother) invited us to dinner at another restaurant I had never heard of. This one, Seasons 52, is one of the Darden roster of eateries, the fine folks who brought you such respected culinary institutions as Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Seasons 52 is Darden's foray into the, obviously, lucrative realm of  "farm-to-table." I say "obviously," because Darden wouldn't waste their time if it wasn't profitable and didn't draw the masses. Based on the Italian authenticity of Olive Garden, I assume that no one associated with Seasons 52 ever set foot anywhere near a farm.

I arrived at the restaurant separately from Mrs. P and her brother's family. I found them at a dark table and took an empty seat. As I perused the menu, a feeling of déjà vu swept across my mind. I felt as though I had been here before. Then it occured to me. I had been! Except it was called Harvest. This place was identical to Harvest - the same stacked slate walls, the same dark wood, the same dim lights. I ordered from the menu and — I'll be damned! — I can't remember what I had there either. I don't remember if it was good or bad. I don't remember if it needed seasoning, how it was plated, what vegetables, if any, were served alongside my main course. It was creepy.

When we had all finished our main course, our waitress returned with a burly fellow balancing a knurled wood tray artfully arranged with a selection of shot glass-sized desserts, a new trend in pretentious after-dinner treats. He hovered a small flashlight beam over each one and recited descriptions that were straight off the Food Network. I suggested that if they just turned the lights up higher in the whole place, they wouldn't have to provide a personal spotlight for each dessert. He returned a smile that more closely resembled a sneer. When he turned the tray in my direction, I told him he could wave that light as much as he wished, I was taking a hard pass on dessert.

I am not a fan of corporate chains, although I have eaten at quite a few, mostly in other cities and only for familiarity sake. They come off as phony and geared to make folks who shop at Walmart and watch American Idol think they are dining like folks in high society. Sort of like a restaurant "experience," rather than an actual restaurant.

But, I love theme parks, so... what do I know.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

my melancholy blues

Not Queen.
I loved Queen, the rock band that shook up radio playlists in 1974 with unique instrumentation and elaborate harmonies on their hit Killer Queen, brought opera to the mainstream, followed it up by reviving the rockabilly genre, then made a left toward funk and disco. Not bad for an art student, an astrophysicist, a dental student and an electronics engineer who stumbled into super stardom.

I saw Queen several times when I was in high school, at the height of adoration for the band. In 1977, I caught one of the coveted carnations tossed to the audience by charismatic front man Freddie Mercury during the encore of the band's Philadelphia date on the News of the World tour. I took my soon-to-be wife and my mother (um, those are two separate people) to see what would be Queen's final US tour in 1982. My mom, a long-time Queen fan experiencing her first concert, was brought to emotional tears. My almost-wife, an unwavering Dead Head, was also brought to tears — but for different reasons.

Freddie Mercury had kept his AIDS diagnosis a secret until the day before his passing in 1991. In Spring 1992, a crowd of 72,000 mourning fans packed London's Wembley Stadium for a star-studded show honoring the late singer. It was the last time the surviving members — guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon — would perform together onstage. 

Deacon has since retired from the music business to a very non-public life, however Taylor and May have attempted to rekindle the magic of Queen's halcyon days. With May at the forefront, they recruited one-time Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rogers to fill Freddie Mercury's shoes (or ballet slippers, in this case). While Rogers' husky voice is typical "rock & roll," it is hardly in the same ball park as Mercury's five octave range. But that didn't deter Brian May from cashing in on the Queen legacy sans Freddie. He latched on to American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert to take on Freddie's vocal acrobatics, touting the young singer with the cringe-inducing blessing: "Freddie would have approved." (I commented at length on my current feelings for Mr. May nearly three years ago.) Needless to say, as far as I am concerned, there is no longer a band called "Queen," nor will there ever be.

Around the time that Mercury and company were telling the world that they were the champions, Broadway was alight with a show called Beatlemania. This multimedia production, billed as "not the Beatles but an incredible simulation," was a meticulous recreation of musical moments from the illustrious career of the Fab Four. It was an exciting and, for the time, unique undertaking, as well as a treat for those who had never seen the Beatles in concert (which was many, since the Beatles ceased live concerts in 1966). The four members of the cast talked like the Beatles, dressed like the Beatles, moved like the Beatles and, yes, sang like the Beatles. It was spectacular, if not a bit eerie. The production, which ran for over 1000 performances, spawned a new show business phenomena — the tribute band.

When I was younger, my friends and I would frequent any number of dive bars in our area. Besides cheap beer, these places would feature a band offering their interpretations of the hits of the day. In addition, some bands would do an entire set of the songs of one band. There was Witness, who did a Jethro Tull set.  There was the all-girl band Rapture, giving their best approximation of Blondie and, of course, local legends Crystal Ship famous for their Doors show. (Crystal Ship are famously mocked by The Dead Milkmen in the spoken intro of their song "Bitchin' Camaro.") These were just a bunch of guys playing songs by their favorite popular bands. But, more recently, tribute bands are big business. They tour regularly and get themselves booked into larger venues. Some even are officially sanctioned by the band to which they offer tribute. With clever (?) names like The Musical Box (a Genesis tribute), Strutter (a KISS tribute) and The Iron Maidens (an all-female tribute to guess who?) and some not-so-clever names like Australian Pink Floyd and 2U, these bands draw a loyal following of both the tribute and actual band.

Yesterday, my wife called me at work to tell me that her cousins Diahann and Heath (remember them?) were offering us tickets to see a Queen tribute show at The Borgata in Atlantic City. Mrs. P would pick me up near my office after work and we'd drive to the shore for dinner (again, complements of Diahann and Heath) before heading to the show. I did a quick Google search for this particular Queen tribute and discovered an officially endorsed tribute called "The Queen Extravaganza" starring one Marc Martell. The project, produced by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, was described as "much-buzzed-about" and has received much praise. Martell was commended as sounding "as if Freddie (Mercury) was in the room." However, further investigation revealed that the show we would be seeing was not that show. It appears that Mr. Martell has split with the official version, and taken his own rogue band in a similar direction, calling themselves "The Ultimate Queen Celebration." Ultimate, indeed.

After dinner, we entered the sparsely-populated venue a few minutes before showtime and were ushered to our eighth row seats. Mrs. P and I glanced around the room and assessed that the majority of the crowd had at least ten years on us... or perhaps they had all just led hard lives. Soon the lights dimmed and stage smoke enveloped the racked guitars and drum kit. In the dark, a man in our row screamed at the top of his nicotine-roughened voice: "Freddie's in the house!" Mrs. P and I exchanged surprised looks and Mrs. P whispered, "These people think they're at a Queen concert." On second thought, she may not have said "people." She may have said "idiots." Other folks were screaming wildly, bopping their heads and throwing up the "devil horns" (The same ones that KISS's Gene Simmons wants to trademark). The band members emerged from the violet-lit smoke, strapped on their instruments and launched into "Tie Your Mother Down," the lead-off track from Queen's 1976 effort A Day at the Races. Marc Martell, the alleged second coming of Freddie Mercury, stepped to the front of the stage and belted out the song's opening lines: 
"Get your party gown
Get your pigtail down
Get your heart beatin' baby" 
Was he good? He was okay. Was he Freddie Mercury? Not. Even. Close. Bud.

They were a cover band. A band doing other band's songs. Mr. Martell was making a half-hearted attempt at imitating some of Freddie Mercury's signature stage moves, while incorporating some of his own gestures. (Having seen the real Queen, I am very familiar with Freddie's faux ballet, stiff-finger punches in the air and microphone balancing.) The band was average, with the lead guitarist copying Brian May's well-known solos, but not his expression. Actually, he looked as though he had better things to do.

They delivered song after song, feigning excitement with each one. I physically winced at the opening strains of Sheer Heart Attack's "Now I'm Here," one of my favorite songs in the Queen canon. 

Not Queen.
Each new number — "Killer Queen," "Save Me," "Love of My Life," "Play the Game" — merely served as a sad reminder of how good Queen was. I silently reminisced about how much I once loved this band and how I still smile when I hear one of their hits and what a welcome shot of nostalgia it is to hear one of their more obscure songs. But, by Queen — not a cover band. Freddie Mercury oozed a certain amount of arrogance and pomposity, but it was earned. He was beloved by fans worldwide. When he greeted a local audience with "Hello Filthy-delphia! How are you motherfuckers?," it was received with reverence and esteem — especially when it was intoned with his upper-crust British accent. When Marc Martell, with the tiniest bit of smugness, shouted: "How are we, New Jersey?," it was met with a smattering of light applause. This was Queen karaoke by some guys playing rock & roll dress-up.

After a while, I was embarrassed. For the band and for the audience.

I don't know what would have made it better. Would I have appreciated it more if it was closer to Beatlemania, with the band members actually dressing like and imitating the members of Queen? I really don't know. I think that would have made it too close to the stage show We Will Rock You, the Ben Elton-penned Queen musical in the Mamma Mia vein. My son and I saw this ill-conceived debacle in Las Vegas and I hated it. I mean I really hated it. So, I don't know.

Was "The Ultimate Queen Celebration." an interesting evening? Oh sure. Hey, I got a blog post out of it. It also made me want to listen to my old Queen albums — something I haven't done in, literally, years.

The band wasn't bad. The performance wasn't horrible. But, most importantly, it wasn't Queen.

This is:

Look, Diahann, I didn't even mention the pretzels.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

promises, promises

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in." 
— Michael Corleone, Godfather III

I know. I know. I know. I said my last post about Movie Tavern would be my last post about Movie Tavern. Actually, I think I said that every time I've written about Movie Tavern. (Counting this post, that makes a total of five.) But, this one, I swear will be my last. Promise.

click image to enlarge
Back in May, my wife and I went back to Movie Tavern to afford them one last chance for redemption. They failed. The vicious circle began... again. We complained. They compensated, this time with complementary admission and thirty dollars in food vouchers. Were we dumb enough to fall for this again? You betcha.

Mrs. P received a fat little envelope stuffed with a letter of apology accompanying the free tickets and food coupons. We stuck the envelope on our refrigerator with a magnet and nearly forgot about it, until just this week. "Hey, I wonder if there is an expiration date on those Movie Tavern vouchers?," I inquired aloud to my wife. She shrugged her shoulders, so I checked. Sure enough, they did expire... at the end of July. With our free time in short supply, we decided to use them just this week. Y'know, to get it over with. We didn't even care what film we saw, as long as we wouldn't have to return to Movie Tavern after this last trip.

Rob, the General Manager at the local Movie Tavern, asked my wife to email him before we come, so he could arrange for seats and we could skip the box office. He also said if there are any problems this time, we should ask for "Matthew" or "Wanda" at the theater. When we arrived, we had to go to the box office anyway to get our tickets. We explained our exchange with Rob. The nice gentleman at the box office had no idea what we were talking about. No one had informed him of our arrival, of our "make up visit," of anything. (This was off to a fine start.) The fellow at the ticket window called for a manager for help. A young man, who was neither Matthew nor Wanda, arrived. He, too, knew nothing about our arrangement, however, he did give us tickets when we surrendered the passes Rob had mailed to us.

When seating was announced for our theater, we entered the auditorium, found our pre-selected seats and began to peruse the menu. I have never had a complaint about the food at Movie Tavern. It's always good and plentiful and filling. They have changed their menu considerably since our last visit, so we took our time weighing our meal options. There were several non-meat offerings, including a reformulated black bean burger, which I decided upon. My wife chose their new traditional pizza that replaced the flatbread option from the previous menu. Soon, a waiter appeared to take our order. After we gave him our meal selections, he asked for a credit card to create a "tab." I produced the three $10 food vouchers that we received from General Manager Rob and handed them over. Then, I gave my credit card for any overage that the vouchers didn't cover. As the waiter walked away, I joked to Mrs. P: "You know, when our check comes, it's gonna be for the full amount and he will have forgotten about those vouchers I just handed to him." We laughed. My wife added, "If that happens, I am not complaining about it. I don't want more free passes and have to come back here again!"

Our appetizer and main course came during the movie. We ate and everything was fine. We were both enjoying the movie — Edgar Wright's action-comedy Baby Driver, reminiscent of Pulp Fiction-era Tarantino, but done much better — when the check arrived. The waiter leaned in and whispered, "I was only allowed to apply two vouchers to your bill."

Oh, Movie Tavern, Movie Tavern, Movie Tavern. When will you get your shit together?

He asked if we'd like to talk to a manager. I told him "yes," but that I'd also like to watch the movie! In the darkened theater, I could see that he nodded. He continued down our row, dropping checks on the trays of other audience members, A few minutes later, he returned. He placed his hand on the faux leather portfolio and asked if our check was ready to be paid. "No," I said, in an annoyed whisper, "I'd like to talk to a manager... and I'd also like to watch the movie!"

Finally, the movie ended, the lights came on and our waiter asked if we'd still like to speak with a manager. "Yes," I answered, as I unfolded the apology letter from my pocket, "Is Rob here?" He told us that Rob was not there this evening. "How about Matthew or Wanda?," I continued. "Oh yeah," he said, "I'll get 'im." Soon, a fellow in a Movie Tavern polo shirt entered the theater.

"Can I help you folks?," he asked with a friendly smile. My wife questioned, "I guess you're not 'Wanda'." "Actually, I'm 'Wanza'," he said as he pointed to his name badge which read "Wanza." Mrs. P and I both swallowed hard, but Wanza didn't seem to be bothered. I was ready for an argument, raising my voice and reading Rob's letter — but I didn't have to do any of that. Wanza announced, "We usually don't accept more than two vouchers, but since Rob said it was okay, it's okay with me. Give me a minute and I'll adjust your bill." He returned in a moment and added, "There was a balance of $1.30, but forget it. I'll cover it. No sense charging your credit card such a small amount. I just want to make this right." We thanked him sincerely. As we left the theater, he thanked us again and said, "I hope you'll come back again."

He was the first Movie Theater employee who truly expressed a feeling of pride and caring for the company he represents. He was really concerned about us, the customer.

Unfortunately, Wanza, we will never see you again.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

darkness falls upon the land

I've made no secret about my love for all — well, most — things Disney. Ever since my first trip to Walt Disney World, as a rambunctious, alcohol-sodden teenager in 1980, I was hooked. A few years later, my wife and I spent our honeymoon in the central Florida theme park. After my son was born, summers often included a family road trip, traversing I-95 down the eastern seaboard, with The Magic Kingdom et al as our destination. We took nearly a dozen trips to Walt Disney World before we would breach the next level.

A dozen or so years ago, my wife's brother got married in Las Vegas. My wife joined a few members of her family in Sin City for the ceremony. My son, E., who was still in the throes of high school, and I stayed in Philadelphia. But, thanks to the internet, we were able to watch the festivities via a webcam positioned in a corner of the chapel. It offered a panoramic view of the entire wedding and, via cellphone, my son and I spoke to the little, pixelated Mrs. Pincus on our computer screen. It was as though we were there. In a few days, when she returned to Philadelphia, Mrs. P gushed about Las Vegas. It was her first visit to the gambling mecca. She told us about the grandiose buildings, the gaudy casinos, the blazing sun (even though it was October), and her family's outrageous behavior — but that could happen anywhere. I had never been to Vegas. Actually, I had never been anywhere further west than West Philadelphia (born and raised). We toyed with the idea of a trip there ourselves, when E. had finished school for the year,

Our dreams became a reality. A reality with a bonus. We decided to fly to Las Vegas, spend a few days, then rent a car and drive to Disneyland. It would be everything we loved about vacations. Glittery casinos, spectacular shows, endless buffets, a lengthy road trip and a Disney theme park as the pièce de résistance. It was great. After three days in Vegas, we drove through the Mojave Desert until we arrived in Anaheim. As we crept down Harbor Boulevard, we could see Space Mountain just beyond the sidewalk and the Tower of Terror loomed large a short distance ahead. We felt our collective excitement build.

Our first day in Disneyland's Magic Kingdom was.... well.... magical. We honestly anticipated disappointment. Tiny Disneyland would pale in comparison to its massive Floridian counterpart. Or so we thought. Disneyland proved to be warm and welcoming and quaint and nostalgic. It came off as the embodiment of Walt Disney's original dream. Florida's Walt Disney World, while a wonderful place, is a big, sprawling, commercial destination with tourists in mind. Disneyland is a small, beautifully-themed retreat for the citizens of Southern California. A place where local residents can wake up on a Saturday morning with no plans and say, "Hey! Let's go to Disneyland today!" You would never try that in Walt Disney World. A visit to Walt Disney World requires weeks of planning and coordination. It's like plotting a military operative. There is a noticeable difference between the two parks and it's more than just being on opposite sides of the country.

Mrs. P and E. in their Bats Day finest.
Months before our trip, my son began corresponding with a group of "artisans" based in Long Beach, California. This group, "The Cult of the Eye," is the self-proclaimed "America's favorite secret society." They are a fun-loving club, expressing their affinity for kitsch through their preference of music, movies and other entertainment. Through his association with the "Culties," E. was made aware of an annual, yet unofficial, event called "Bats Day in the Fun Park." Bats Day began as a prearranged meet-up at Disneyland of patrons from two of Los Angeles' prominent goth clubs. They decided on the weekend before Labor Day, when blackout dates on their Disneyland Annual Passes had not yet gone into effect. Attendees showed up in full goth regalia — black leather jackets, corsets, fishnets, tophats, canes, fingerless gloves, pale makeup with coal-black accents. That first year the group was comprised of about 80 people. The next year, it doubled and the next year, it doubled again.

On our first day in Disneyland, my son coincidentally wore a commemorative Bats Day t-shirt that he had purchased through the event's website. A cashier in one of the many gift shops noticed E.'s shirt and asked if he would be coming to this year's Bats Day. "I don't know? When is it?," E. asked. "I think it's this weekend.," she replied. E.'s eyes lit up and he was shot with a bolt of excitement. What were the chances?

Sure enough, when Sunday rolled around, the entrance to Disneyland was a swarming knot of hundreds of black-clad goths of all ages. There were teens in tight black jeans and skull-adorned t-shirts. There were satin corseted Moms herding their child goths into some sort of semblance and tattoo-covered Dads pushing strollers with baby goths in Bauhaus onesies. They were everywhere, It was a spectacle. E. even met up with his Cult of the Eye pals and disappeared into the park until we met up with him hours later at the Haunted Mansion. At 8 PM, we would discover, was the Bats Day tradition where all event attendees would queue-up and ride the venerable Disney attraction  — an obvious favorite of the goth community — en masse. An arrangement was made (by Noah, the uncharacteristically-cheerful, diminutive mastermind with a wildly teased purple Mohawk sprouting from his semi-shorn scalp, who is the founder and organizer of Bats Day) to allow groups of 25 riders to pose on the Mansion's front steps for a quick photo-op before entering the infamous "stretching room" and all that follows. Mrs. P and I managed to place ourselves in the back row of one group, while E. joined his Cultie friends in his own photo. As the night wound to a close, we were already making plans to return the next year. And this time we would be prepared.

The following summer, we came equipped with our Bats Day outfits. We each chose appropriate attire that was more akin to Hallowe'en costumes, although the majority of Bats Day participants dress like that all year 'round. I selected all black clothing, while Mrs. P acquired a skirt embellished with spider webs and a black lacy shawl that resembled spider webs as well. Mrs. P also stocked up on Bats Day "accoutrements," like skull-shaped candies, eyeball lollipops and little plastic bat rings which we planned to pass out among the many goths we would encounter. When the big day arrived, my family and I, along with just over a thousand leather-and-velvet-clad men, women and children (as well as a few undefined affiliations) descended upon the "Happiest Place on Earth," for a day filled with good-hearted mayhem. We mixed and mingled among the surprisingly friendly and welcoming crowd. There was a true sense of community among these folks, despite the odd looks — and even some jeers — from uninformed guests who were just out for a day at Disneyland. Personally, I couldn't decide which scenario made this event more fun. Was it the fact that a bunch of goths had taken over the world-renowned, family-friendly Disneyland... or the reaction of the other guests seeing a bunch of goths had taken over the world-renowned, family-friendly Disneyland? It was a toss-up.
click to enlarge                             photo  © 2007 Bats Day in the Fun Park 
We have been back to a few subsequent Bats Day celebrations. However, in 2009, the event was moved to the first weekend in May. It seems that a large number of attendees were uncomfortable in the late August heat and preferred the more temperate clime of early spring. After all, leather and velvet (especially tightly bound corsets) are not very forgiving when the thermometer registers 80+ degrees.

Mrs. P and I have often kicked around the idea of a return visit to Bats Day. We have taken different sorts of vacations since our last trip to Southern California, mostly casino-related based on my wife's (former) fondness for gambling. But, the idea is not out of the question. There are a few restaurants I'd like to try in Los Angeles (including a vegan joint operated by former Bats Day staple "Doomie") and there are many west coast cemeteries that I have yet to explore.

So, another Bats Day?  Perhaps one day.