Thursday, March 20, 2014

America's Most Beautiful City

That's where I went last week.

And I found out just how San Diego, CA lives up to its nickname: "America's Most Beautiful City."

Until 3-12-2014, I'd never, ever set foot on America's West Coast before. 

National University's decision to show "The Entertainers" (that 2012 documentary about the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival) gave me all the more reason to come out to California.

To get to the Golden State, I caught a pair of Southwest Airlines Boeing 737s (I changed planes in Denver, CO).

On the way out to San Diego, I was nervous. After all, this was just the fifth flight I'd ever taken in my life. (My other plane trips happened in 1967, 1981, 2002, and 2012.) 

And this 2014 flight was the first plane excursion that didn't involve work or going to see relatives. 

Once I saw Michael Zimmer (one of the documentary's codirectors) at the San Diego International Airport, I started to finally relax.

I knew everything was going to be all right.

Michael rented a Chrysler 200 sedan and drove us out to our hotel, Courtyard (by Marriott) San Diego Central (8651 Spectrum Center Dr., 92123). 

Great place to stay! 

Not only did National pay for our hotel rooms and fly us out to America's most heavily-populated state...the school (Michael teaches a screenwriting class at National's Los Angeles campus) wined and dined us.

Matter of fact, a few hours after I had a chance to kick back in my room, we ate dinner at a restaurant on Park Blvd. [I've been racking my brains trying to remember the eatery's name. All I know is that its name has "Bellezza" in it...and that its menu features pizzas with people's first names as the pizzas' monikers (handles such as "Julieta").] 

And we- Michael, girlfriend Tiara, his parents (Michael Sr. and Margaret), "Perfessor" Bill Edwards, and I- really loved that restaurant.  

The pizzas themselves are fired up in a brick oven- the same way they were made when pizza came over to the United States around and after World War 1. 

Speaking of fired up...I was really fired up about the next day, one that would culminate in the actual showing of "The Entertainers." 

And after we ate breakfast at the hotel's restaurant, we went sightseeing...and we focused on Balboa Park.

Balboa Park, all by itself, makes Ess Dee earn the "America's Most Beautiful City" nickname. Lots of gardens (including a striking Japanese one)...lots of museums...and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, home of America's largest outdoor pipe organ. 

The 1915 installation (built by the Austin Organ Co.) used to be the world's largest...until one of the cities in Austria put up an outdoor pipe organ that passed up the San Diego one. (But now, the Spreckels Organ Society and San Diego's government leaders are out to give the lead back to the instrument that currently boasts 4,518 pipes with 73 ranks...with four manuals to control it all.) 

We split the pre-movie sightseeing in half...and in the second half, Faye Ballard joined us. (A blizzard messed things up in the Chicago area, forcing flights out of O'Hare International Airport to get canceled...meaning Faye couldn't get a plane from Champaign, IL to Chi-Town that Wednesday. So she got a plane from Champaign to Dallas-Fort Worth, then changed planes in the Metroplex and came out to San Diego.)

Meanwhile, Four Arrows was in San a teaching seminar across town.

Before we were all given the chance to get inside the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, the entourage splintered...and Faye and I got a chance to tour Balboa Park's Museum of Photographic Arts (the very venue where "The Entertainers" would be screened that night). 

That week, MOPA exhibited a mind-blowing display of photos depicting political leaders in action, acts of civil disobedience, and virtually anything else that could've been ripped out of your local newspaper (or at least out of the Associated Press files). 

Then, after touring Spreckels, we all made it inside MOPA, whose 200-seat auditorium was set up to show that documentary about the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

At that time, Four Arrows (an online college professor when he's not playing old-time piano) was en route from the seminar across town.

It was 7:00 PM (Pacific time)...and just as the film started rolling, Bill, Faye, Tiara, Margaret, the two Michaels, and I went out to eat (Bill: "We've all seen the movie before!").

So we ate at a restaurant in the middle of the park, The Prado. 

Even if Omaha's got more eateries per capita than any other city in America, that's no reason to put San Diego's cuisine down. When it comes to restaurants, SD gives the Big O a run for its money...and The Prado is one of the many proofs.

At The Prado, they serve a half chicken as an entree...and that chicken rocked! 

As things turned out, the 140 people who came to see "The Entertainers" found out the movie rocked, too. 

They loved Bill, Faye, Four Arrows, Michael the Younger, and me. The Q-and-A session was a blast...and so was the concert Four Arrows, Faye, Bill, and I launched into after the Q-and-A.

Had a great time in San Diego...and if things turn out, I'm going back there as soon as possible.