Welcome to this months Cruise Middle Earth“Getting to know…” questions that need answering.  It’s based on the old Getting to know you threads that I used to post on the message boards here on TORn, so those familiar with them will know that the questions can be a little crazy and the answers even crazier.

This month, in the lead up to ComicCon, we’re asking questions of the other stripey TORn Kitty and intrepid traveller, Garfeimao.

Thanks for joining us this month Garf.

Me: What, in your opinion, are the best places to visit in California?

Garfeimao: Hah, that’s funny, since I’m at just about the most touristy spot in all of California, Disneyland, right now. In fact, if you put these answers up pretty quickly, you may well get a bit of a scoop, since I’m at the Press Preview of the new Cars Land at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, California. The’ve added Radiator Springs, a 12 acre park with 3 full rides and loads of shops and restaurants and new entertainment options, and it’s just adorable. They built up the background to look like the desert mesas and mountains you see if the film, including the waterfall and bridge sequence from the film. It’s really cool and very immersive, and the opening night party tonight was awesome. I ran into Andy Garcia, twice, Larry the Cable Guy (who voices Mater in the Cars movies) and I ran into Scott Hamilton, the Olympic Figure skater, among several other celebrities that were here.

But on to some other things to see and do in California. Of course, I don’t think most people realize just how big California is, so this question can be a bit hard to answer, but I’ll give it a go since I’ve driven through most of the state.

Of the bigger cities you should see, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego all are good places to go, but for very different reasons.

San Francisco is one of the older cities in the state and because it was built on a peninsula and is rather crowded in, it has always had an East Coast feel to me. But there is lots to do there from live theater, the Golden Gate, a drive up through Napa Valley to visit the wineries, a trip to Alcatraz to see the famous prison, and some of the best restaurants you could ever hope to find.

Santa Barbara is utterly charming. It’s on the smaller side, by design, and is right on the coast about 90 minutes North of LA. It has one of the California Missions and a lot of the architecture in town evokes the Mission aesthetic. They have a wonderful film festival in February or so, and one of the best little Taqueria Stands in the state called Super-Rica. Google it, people make special trips just to eat there.

Los Angeles, you can’t skip the Entertainment Capital of the World, even if it does have a lot of traffic. But aside from Hollywood, LA has some amazing beaches, three really cool places to get a view of the whole city, from different vantage points (Griffith Observatory, the parking lot outside Dodger Stadium, and from the Getty Museum), and loads of hiking trails in the hills surrounding the city. And since LA is one of the most Diverse cities in the country, you can eat top notch foods from Ethiopia, Armenia, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Mexico, China, and dozens of other ethnicities in sections of towns named after all these groups. Or you can shop with the Glitterati on Melrose or Rodea Drive, or any of a dozen other high end shopping centers. And don’t forget our museums, we have some really amazing museums in the Getty Center, LACMA, the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, the Huntington Library and Gardens and the Norton Simon Museum, just to name a few. And last but not least, LA is still one of the only places where in the Winter months, you can Ski in the morning and Surf in the afternoon, or vice versa, depending on your mood.

Anaheim, the home of the original Disneyland and California Adventure (now the home of Lightening McQueen and Mater and the rest from Radiator Springs in Cars Land, opening on June 15). Anaheim is in Orange County, so this is a great jumping off point to other beaches such as Huntington Beach, also known as Surf City, and Laguna Beach, home to the Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Festival (Laguna Beach is an artist colony).

And finally, there is San Diego, which is considered the Playground of California. They have one of the top zoos in the world, as well as Sea World, just in case you like your animals wet. They are the home of Comic Con, but they are also the home to a huge Naval fleet and Marine base. They are the last big city on the way South to Mexico, but also home of a quaint little town on Coronado Island that still has that Small Town USA vibe to it.

Away from the cities, we have some amazing National Parks, such as Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park, and Muir Woods. And if you drive way up North towards the border with Oregon, you may get to see the giant Redwoods, just know that while big, they don’t quite match the Giant Sequoias you see in the middle of the state in Kings Canyon. These trees always remind me of the Waterboys song “Church not made by Hands”, and a must see for anyone who is driving through the state. Just know that LA to San Francisco is about 7 hours, and then it’s at least another 8 hours to the Oregon border, and from LA, it’s a good 2-3 hours south to Mexico. Add to that the 4 hours or so that it takes to drive to either Phoenix or Las Vegas, and you realize just how big this state is. And when I say you can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon, it is because of all those mountain ranges we have, which are many and vast, with the highest being the Sierra Nevadas, home of Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the Continental United States (everyone thinks the tallest peak must be in Colorado or Utah as part of the Rockies, but nope, it’s in California as part of the Sierras. Anyhow, you can see Mt. Whitney on your way up through the High Desert on the way to Mammoth Mountain to go skiing, and along the way, see the remnants of volcanic cinder cones. Or you could go to Death Valley and see the lowest point on the continent, a desert that is below sea level.

So there you go, California in a very large nutshell.

Me: You’ve been going to ComicCon for many years, why did you first start going and what keeps you going back?  What do you particularly enjoy about it?

Garfeimao: I must have started going sometime in the early 1990’s, whenever Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 were on the air. I had previously been to Star Trek conventions, which were smaller and focused on just the one show. But a friend and I were big fans of Buffy and B5 and had heard about San Diego Comic Con and thought we would drive down and give a try one year. Back then, you could get tickets on the day of the show, and get in fairly quickly, so we just commuted down from LA. We got to meet a good chunk of the Buffy cast and Joss Whedon (that guy who directed the Avengers movie to perfection) and then we got to meet JMS, who created Babylon 5. I also got to see a panel with Ray Bradbury, which was thrilling for me as a long time fan of the genre in books, TV and film.

We had gone directly to the panels and autograph sessions, and after that, decided to take a turn around the Dealers room. And this is when we realized this was not your small, local scifi convention. Even in the early 1990’s the dealers room was huge, with hundreds upon hundreds of vendors all selling comics, posters, books, artwork, toys, games, videos (at the time), dolls, shirts, etc. The combination of vendors and cool things you could buy, the panels with writers, producers, actors and artist you could see, the sneak peeks of new films and TV shows you could watch, and the people you could meet in person is what kept me coming back. One year there was a 20 foot statue of Blade in the upstairs concourse, another year there were hundred foot blow up Giant Robots on the streets, video game companies bring out the games to play down at one end of the giant dealers hall (which now holds more than a 1000 vendors easily), and the Syfy channel turns a restaurant in the nearby Hard Rock Hotel into Cafe Diem, a themed restaurant from their show Eureka. Comic Con is a fully immersive Scifi/Fantasy/Anime/Steampunk/Comic Book extravaganza that is like a Theme Park for genre fans, but without the rides.

It’s all this time spent attending conventions, and at times volunteering for security at them, that put me in the perfect position to help organize our TORn conventions, ORC and ELF.

Me: What is your most favourite memory from ComicCon? Why?

Garfeimao: Well now, I’ve been going for a long time, so there are many great moments, such as seeing the Heroes pilot for the first time, or meeting the cast of Battlestar Galactica before their miniseries aired, when no one knew if they would do well or be hated. Of course, the Lord of the Rings years were great fun, hanging out with my TORn buddies and the WETA crowd and all the fans. And I’ve entered the Masquerade a few times, nothing cooler than displaying your costume in front of 4000 people at a time, thank goodness the spotlights keep them all out of your visual range. 😉

But for  favorite moment, I am going to have to go with a series of events that happened in 2009. I attended with my sister, who has Down Syndrome and is now pretty much a fixture at comic con. While walking around on the floor, she got stepped on by someone in the crowd, and when I stopped to check on her, I discovered that someone to be James Purefoy. He portrayed Marc Antony in the Rome series and who was at comic con to promote Solomon Kane. Wow, he’s a cutey in person, but also really nice and we chatted a bit, that is part of the completely random nature of comic con, you just never know who you will run into. We actually ran into him 2 more times that same day, one of which was while we were sitting in the front row of a big panel with Peter Jackson and James Cameron. Once the panel began, though, lo and behold, we found that our neighbors were none other than Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan. Next day, we got to chat with Guillermo Del Toro, who is still one of my favorite people in Hollywood right now. This was right after he’d announced he was stepping down from The Hobbit, so it was a bittersweet visit. On the last day, my sister won a car, a Nissan Cube that NBC was giving away to promote Heroes. Kinda hard to beat that for best moments ever at the con, to be sure.

Me: If you were invited to The Hobbit set, what would you pack for lunch?

Garfeimao: Probably a good italian sandwich like Salami, Mortadella, and Provolone on a nice French Roll. Add and Apple and some Ice Tea and I’m all set. Travels well, doesn’t need to be kept cool (I don’t like condiments on my sandwiches), and you can nosh all afternoon.

Me: Which creature in any of Tolkien’s work would you be, and why? (Just to clarify, any creature, excluding humanoids.)

Garfeimao: I think I’d like to be one of the Great Eagles, because I could fly around from some really terrific heights, see all that is going on, and pitch in when I felt like helping, or just pass news along, or mind my own business, whatever I felt like on the day.

Me: What was your favourite cartoon when you were a child?

Garfeimao: I was always very fond of the Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, but I must say the cartoons that ran home to see were Speed Racer and Kimba the While Lion. Both were on PBS (public broadcasting system), and both were early examples of anime making it to America. I always felt that Disney’s Lion King, with the story of the young Simba having to learn to become an adult Lion in the wake of his father’s death was directly taken from Kimba (check out the name similarity). But Kimba was a young lion throughout the show, who’s mother had been taken and the father was dead, and being a White Lion, there was always the threat of poachers. It was so long ago I don’t remember too many other story arcs, but it did seem to be emotionally resonant at the time, and showed a lot of nature in Africa and the like. And Speed Racer was just fun, kind of a cartoon soap opera combined with an action flick, much like the movie was that came out a few years ago.

Me: What extreme sport would you like to try?

Garfeimao: I don’t think there is a single ‘so called’ extreme sport I would like to participate in. I actually consider most sports, played at a professional level, to be extreme. Take platform divers for example, who dive from a 10 meter platform and do extraordinary acrobatic moves on the way down to the water. If that’s not extreme, I don’t know what is. I’ve competed in Gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do, where I am a third degree black belt, so I do have some sporting background.

But if I were to choose one sport I’d love to give a try, one that is completely outside my normal experience and skill set, that would be Ice Hockey. I’ve been a fan for decades, but a few years ago women’s teams came to the forefront in the Olympics and it’s just so cool to see women more than capable of doing something that had been the domain of men for so long. The fact that our local team and my favorite for a few decades now, the Los Angeles Kings, just won Lord’s Stanley Cup, which is the Championship for the National Hockey Team is just icing on the cake right now and probably why I’ve got hockey on the brain at the moment.

Of course, if you had asked me this same question in August, the answer might be different based on whatever sport I was watching in the Olympics at the time. I do love my spectator sports.

Me: What is your most exciting memory from a Cruise to Middle-earth? And most horrifying?

Garfeimao: Pretty sure you don’t want a ‘horrifying’ travel story, because I do have one that was not on the Cruise to Middle-earth and involved a murder-suicide in our travel group, but that was a different cruise many years before our trip to NZ. My guess is you just want the good and bad of the trip, so here it is.

I think the highlight of the Cruise to Middle-earth (I was only on the first one, not the second one that I organized) was our trip to WETA. We did to expect to get a full presentation from both Daniel Falconer and Gino Acevedo, as well as a full luncheon with Daniel and Richard Taylor, and we most certainly did not expect the full tour of the workshop. There were a few areas they could not take us to, because they were just in the early stages of developing The Hobbit, way too early to let any designs out yet. And then we were surprised by a visit from Guillermo Del Toro, who had only just arrived into New Zealand to begin work on the script (this was late 2008).

The worse thing, for me at least, was some of the planning stages. Currency fluctuations are the bane of any Travel Agent’s existence, because it makes pricing and planning particularly difficult. Planning itineraries and hoping to appeal to the widest number of people without boring some of them, is also a real challenge. But the most difficult hiccup to overcome on the first Cruise to Middle-earth was probably our Cocktail party on the ship. I’d arranged for 2 hours with complimentary drinks and hors ‘d oeuvres to be served, and they came out with pretzels and peanuts. I had to talk to the servers, and then the group coordinator and finally the chef, and they all had the light snacks instead on their orders. I pulled out my paperwork (thank goodness I’m a bit anal and print everything) and showed them that it said heavy Hors ‘d oeuvres. But they take time to prepare, so they didn’t know what to do and I suggested they go to the public buffet, that was going on for all passengers at the back end of the ship, bring up some of the free pizzas and snacks type foods from there, as well as a few of the cookies and desserts, and serve them to our group. So sure, it was exactly what they could get from the buffet as opposed to something cute and fancy made especially by the chef, but our group was gathered altogether, mostly in costumes, hanging out by ourselves in the bar having a great time. Not a horrible event, just something a group planner has to be prepared to deal with when they would rather just be laughing and having a great time with everyone else.

Thank you again, Garf, for agreeing to speak to us this month. If you’d like to catch up with Garfeimao or any of the rest of our TORn Staffers (deej, maegwen, entmaiden, MrCere, Sarumann, Quickbeam, Arwen and Justin), they’ll be presenting a Hobbit panel again this year at ComicCon in San Diego, we’d love to see you there.

Once again thanks to all our message board regulars, Ataahua, DanielLB, Rosie-with-the-ribbons,  SirDennisC, grammaboodawg, MrCere and dernwyn, for this months’ questions.

If you want to ask any questions yourself, head over to our Message Boards, the sign up process is pretty painless.  A lead post for questions is made at the beginning of each month.

Till next time from TORn’s resident Tiger.

winking tigerKelvarhin.