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Dec, 2011

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Elmo Scorned
Don’t let the happy photo fool you – this was a WEIRD outing!

Aubrey and I are on “staycation” (that word sickens me a little bit) this week and next, so I’ve been trying to find fun things for us to do during the day. I had an audition in Hollywood late this morning so as we were driving up towards Hollywood Blvd to head back to the Valley, I thought it would be fun to go to the Disney Soda Fountain, next to the El Capitan Theatre for lunch. 

Hollywood Blvd is beyond bustling with tourists right now. It’s a little insane, but since we were’t shopping and it was still pretty early in the day, I didn’t think we’d have too much hassle. And we didn’t…UNTIL… we encountered the man I’ll to refer to as GHETTO ELMO.

To go to the Disney Soda Fountain, the only place to get validation is under the Hollywood and Highland complex. For the non-locals, this is the shopping mall (yes, it’s a mall with a Pac Sun, Sephora and everything) where they shoot the Academy Awards ceremony every year and it’s where the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theater and Walk Of Fame are. It’s a super touristy place and most locals only go out on the Blvd when they have guests from out of town.

When you walk out of the H&H complex to cross Hollywood Blvd to get to the Soda Fountain, you have to wade through several costumed roving street characters. Right as we emerged, straight ahead of us was a motley crew of Sesame Street characters. Three dudes dressed as Elmo, Big Bird and Cookie Monster. 

Now, I’ve known for years, that these “characters” are pretty lame. Many of them have worn out, dirty costumes and some of the superheroes look like they’re wearing Underoos. I wish I were kidding. But I’m not. For this, they expect a tip in exchange for a taking a photograph with them.

OK, I think a tip is fair for a photo, but a tip is just that. A tip. 

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a TIP as such:

TIP (noun): A gift of a sum of money tendered for a service performed or anticipated: GRATUITY

GRATUITY: Something given voluntarily or beyond obligation, usually for some service

Now, let’s get back to GHETTO ELMO. I admit, I may have gotten Aubrey a little excited about the characters, because I saw “Big Bird” – I use quotations because he looked more like Big Bird’s 4th cousin from the backwoods of Kentucky. I guarantee this was not an officially certified Sesame Street costume and he was lucky he wasn’t lightly dusted and frying in a pan of oil somewhere.

OK, Backwoods Big Bird was really tall and stood out and as we emerged from the H&H complex, I said, “Look! It’s Big Bird!” What four year old wouldn’t be excited? Aubrey scurried up to the anemic looking trio, shoulders hunched up, sweet and innocent grin, waving her tiny little hand in a friendly pre-K “HELLO!” 

GHETTO ELMO, down on one knee, quickly grabbed Aubrey while uttering a few generic pleasantries in a very non-Elmo-y voice, like, “Hi little girl. Do you like Elmo? Yeah? Do you want a picture?” GE stood her in photo taking position and said “Go ahead mom, take a picture.”

It is at this point that:
1) I knew they would want money for this photo
2) I honestly don’t know if he said anything like, “This is gonna cost ya, mom,” but I KNOW he didn’t say it was going to cost me $3. 

I took the photo because, more than anything, I felt the need to rescue Aubrey from the dirty fur clutches of those stanky costumes.

Um…yeah. A picture really does tell a thousand words.

Click with the iPhone 4S (yay!) and Aubrey was back at my side. Just like that. 

As I was taking out my wallet, GE, who was clearly the spokesman for the group, said to me in a hustler tone, “Don’t forget, we work for tips. We work for tips.” I handed Aubrey a dollar bill and told her to say thank you and give it to Elmo. 

This is where it got ugly.

(Please keep in mind, this is all me talking to a grown African American man in spectacles through a giant Elmo head in front of my 4 year old child. I know because that’s how see-through the giant mesh patch on the front of his Elmo head was.)

GE: You don’t have two more dollars? There’s three of us working here.
Me: That’s what I have. Thank you very much.
GE: Hey there’s THREE people here. One-Two-Three. You can’t just give us two more dollars?!
Me: No, sorry (I start herding Aubrey through the crowd to get away from him)
GE: (LEAVING HIS POSSE TO FOLLOWING US! SHOUTING AT ME!) That’s the way you gonna be? Just walk away? Here lady, just take your dollar. We don’t need it. 
Me: Just take it. I don’t want it back. Just take it.
GE: (Following us, following us) No! Here take it. I have NO USE for this. How am I supposed to share this with two other people?! Just take it! (waving it in my face)
Me: (he’s holding a giant WAD of cash in his left hand and a plastic trick-or-treat bucket full of cash hanging from his forearm) You don’t split your tips at the end of the day? Don’t you pool them and split them, give me a break. 
GE: What?! Split a dollar? 33 cents each?!! Just take your dollar lady!!
Me: It’s a tip and that’s what I have to give you. 
GE: Yeah it’s a tip and I told you there was three of us and that’s how it works. Three dollars!
Me: You never said that. 

OK – pretty sure this is illegal in some way at this point. If he expects $3 then he should put out a sign that says: “Pictures with us in our dirty, shitty costumes: THREE DOLLARS!!”

This was about the end of the conversation. I really don’t like confrontation and especially since Aubrey could be recognized, I don’t like mixing things up, but I wasn’t about to give this guy anymore money and I certainly didn’t feel he deserved any more because he was harassing me, he manipulated the situation to take advantage of us and he was scaring my daughter. 

I managed to wave him off and escape without getting my dollar back but I did have to have an odd conversation with Aubrey about what happened. She knows that those are people in costumes, but she’s used to the Disneyland variety. The kind who are loving, gentle, clean and mute. I had to let her know that the man in that costume wasn’t very nice and he wasn’t being mean because of anything she did. We made a LARGE loop, through the crowd, around the freak show and arrived at the Soda Fountain where we then received the worst service ever for the most mediocre over-priced lunch in town. The only other time I have been there was on Mother’s Day earlier this year, and it was horrible then too. Such a shame because it has AMAZING potential for being something really special. But it’s just not. 🙁

Safe at last in the Disney Soda Fountain, that we will never go back to.

So much for fun. Well, Aubrey did have fun. In fact she had a ton of fun because she was with mommy and there was Disney stuff all around her as she gnawed a hot dog and fruit. She sat next to a giant stand of monster sized lollipops, and really that’s all you need for a fun outing when you’re four.

I’m grateful she managed to enjoy the day after that bizarre incident and even more grateful that we made it out of Hollywood alive. Or at least without an arrest for assault. I was pretty close to punching GE in the face. I just hope he gave that 33 cents he had no use for to Backwoods Big Bird and Cousin Cookie Monster so they could each have no use for 50 cents.

One last note: apparently I’m not the only one who has had this sort of encounter with the “cartoon characters”. Even Zorro is on my side. For your Only-In-Hollywood reading pleasure:

Hollywood Blvd Characters Booted From Walk Of Fame

Judge Says Costumed Characters Can Perform On Hollywood Blvd

And Jimmy Kimmel has done a fine job at exploiting these characters on his show and has some pretty funny clips of them on YouTube. I only found this one with the Ghetto Elmo of which I speak and surprisingly he’s the only one who seems to have a preschool education (yes, Aubrey studied the answer to this question last year and again this year), but this will give you an idea of where I’m coming from:

Have you ever had an encounter like this? Do you think I should have handled it differently? Honestly if there had been a police officer near by, I would have reported it immediately. 

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May, 2010

Disney Interactive Game Night Was A HIT!

Last week, Aubrey and I had the opportunity to attend the Disney Interactive Game Night at Hollywood and Highland. Disney always throws a classy, family friendly shindig, and this party was no exception.
Aubrey is going to be three in two weeks and I went alone with her, so I spent a lot of the time wrangling her rather than playing games, but what we did experience, we really loved! Also, Aubrey is just below the target age for many of these family games, so we haven’t gotten into gaming at home yet (I’m still bragging about “flipping” our home version of Atari Asteroids when I was in third grade), but it’s good to know Disney is making some quality family games.
Since Aubrey doesn’t really know what video games are yet, I told her we were going to a “special party” by Disney. She kept asking if Mickey Mouse was going to be there so I was worried she might be a little disappointed to find out it wasn’t a Mouse party, but I was wrong. She had a blast!
The first game we checked out was the oh-so popular Club Penguin. Every parent and kid on the planet seems to know more about Club Penguin than I do so I thought I should see what all the excitement it all about. It was really cute and I can see how kids get hooked on it. We had fun just picking out outfits for our penguin!
Next we tried Toy Story Mania. OK, let me amend that… AUBREY tried Toy Story Mania. I think I mentioned that the last video games I played were the Atari classics – Tank, Pitfall, Pong. I am really bad at modern video games – mainly because they make me a little dizzy and motion sick and I can’t figure out the controls. It’s a good thing that my almost 3 year old picked up the controller for Toy Story Mania and figured out how to make Jessie the Cowgirl jump on and off her horse and ride all over the screen! Even the guy demoing the game for us was a little surprised. Kids!
Aubrey is currently horse obsessed after visiting relatives with horses last month, so this game was a real hit for her! I can’t wait to take her to Toy Story 3 later in June!
The third and final game we played was definitely our favorite – Sing It: Family Hits. All of my favorite Disney family movie songs (Supercalifragilis, Winnie The Pooh, Kiss The Girl…) in karaoke mode! For a woman who makes her living on stage with a microphone and her kid who is a bigger ham than her, this game was a blast. I couldn’t get Aubrey away so I can imagine a game like this may easily be in our future.
Just before we left, we caught a glimpse of an iPad demo of some of the cool Disney Interactive apps. The games looked really cool, but I have to admit I was just excited to touch an iPad…. oooooohhhhh!
I should mention that there were MANY more games that we didn’t get to. Titles like Phineas and Ferb, Split Second, Toon Town, Cars, Guilty Party, Pixie Hollow and more were all there and everyone seemed to be having fun.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a complete Disney party without awesome, family friendly food. Disney is great at putting together buffets that are gourmet versions of things kids love to eat, so the adults are in food heaven too. The buffet included cheeseburger and shrimp po’ boy sliders, onion rings, French fries, fruit kabobs, hummus, wraps, quesadillas and more but the best part was the desserts which included home made ho hos, ding dongs and twinkies that were out of this world. The banana pudding and apple pastries were great too and the kids were all over the Club Penguin snow cones.
Overall, it was a great night and it was such a treat to be able to share it with my daughter. She really had fun and is still talking about the “special party”. Thank you Disney Interactive for a special night together!

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