Saturday, February 7, 2009

Boats, Kitsch, And Old School Fun

When I was a kid growing up in Manhattan, my dad would take us to the New York Boat Show every other year or so. It may seem incongruous going to a convention hall filled with pleasure boats and motor yachts in the middle of New York City. We didn't get on boats very often, save the Staten Island Ferry, or the occasional jaunt on the yacht leased by the radio station where my dad worked. And on the latter, we basically cruised up and down the Hudson and East River. So we weren't exactly big boaters.

But the boat show was a kids' delight.
We were allowed to clamber onto, and all over,brightly painted racing boats, speed boats, and motor yachts that featured cabins with kitchens, dining/living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms. Every boat had that "new car smell," and played into our TV-fueled "Gilligan's Island" fantasies.

So after reading in the L.A. Times that the Los Angeles Boat Show was opening this week, I decided it was time to relive my childhood and at the same time do something my dad -- were he still alive -- would be doing with my kids. Saturday morning, we headed to the Convention Center and did the Boat Show.

What a blast! The kids loved clambering into and out of boats just the way my brother and I had 30+ years ago in New York. Though they had to shed their shoes to tramp around the cabins of the yachts, they were fascinated by every switch and button. Thing 1 managed to honk one boat's horn, but otherwise they left the boats unscathed. There was free face painting from an obliging clown, there were free balloon animals, and even a kids' play area set up complete with the requisite amount of plastic vehicles and a play castle with a plastic king and queen (which Thing 2 insisted were a princess and prince -- apparently the younger royal set is much more interesting when it comes to pretend play).

Another of my childhood memories is going to the last remaining Horn & Hardart Cafeteria in midtown Manhattan. Mom would show me how to pick something I wanted from a tower of glassed-in sandwiches, slices of pie, dishes of Jello -- and put in coins that would let the window open so I could retrieve it. There is no exact L.A. equivalent, but we found a pretty decent substitution in Clifton's Cafeteria, the last remaining of its kind, in downtown L.A. Kitschy beyond belief, decorated like a rustic woodland lodge, featuring a waterfall, statues of bears fishing, a stuffed moose, and other randomly placed woodland creatures, the place is happily caught in a time warp, a pre-Disney age in which any mom and pop might turn their establishment into a sort of mini-theme park. The kids are used to the cafeteria restaurant model, thanks to many visits to the sleek, streamlined Souplantation chain. But the decor here was the main attraction, and even made them eventually forget the toy that was supposed to come with their kids' meals (the cafeteria was out of toys today).

The whole day took me back to my own childhood in its best light, and left me content that I had given my kids similar experiences I hope they'll remember too.

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