San Diego, Part 1

Calgary, Alberta and San Diego, California (Map)

Winter 2015-16


I'm pretty open to wintertime travel nowadays. When my friend Geordie asked if I wanted to go to either San Diego or Miami in early March, it wasn't a difficult decision.

Landing at Calgary's airport before I knew it, I had a free afternoon to walk around while Geordie was still at work. Heading downtown, and amongst all of the glass towers and oil money, amazingly I found an abandoned house. You hear so much about the wealth and real estate values in Alberta that I thought Calgary would be like a mini-Hong Kong, but there were some rundown storefronts and vacant lots here and there. I was a bit surprised.

It turns out that this is the Enoch Sales House. The plan was to move and restore this home while building a Marriott on the current lot, but the financial downturn has stalled those plans. It still stands on 12th Ave in the May 2016 StreetView.

As Geordie and I already had our tickets to a Flames game on the Wednesday we got back from San Diego, the main thing I wanted to check out today was the exterior of the Flames' home, the Calgary Saddledome.

Gary Bettman and NHL stooge Brian Burke have said lately how the Saddledome is inadequate and no longer NHL-caliber, so it was important for me to see a game there before they build a new stadium once the current mayor gets voted out or retires. (Mayor Nenshi has shockingly looked at the proposed stadium deals with thoughts of whether they actually benefit Calgary and not only billionaire owners - much to Bettman's, Burke's and Flames owner Ken King's chagrin.)

A skyline photo from a nearby park. It was glorious March day & I cursed places that have
the possibility of glorious March days. I didn't even need to go to San Diego.

Even though that Wednesday game would come later in this update, these are all the pictures I have of the Saddledome. That's because the Saddledome has an antiquated camera policy that they clearly haven't updated since the 1980s. That is, you can only bring in a camera if it fits in a suit pocket. That's right, in 2017 when who on God's green Earth still wears a suit to a hockey game, they still have this policy.

Geordie doubted that I would be able to bring my camera in. By now, I had brought my modest camera into ~15 MLB stadiums, ~5 NHL stadiums and a couple basketball and football stadiums, so I doubted him, but he ended up being right.

There wasn't even a discussion. The security guard instantly said I couldn't bring my camera inside, where I then argued that my lens isn't greater than 3 inches long. His reply was that the policy is 3 inches wide for the whole camera.

He then went on about how it's standard NHL policy because I would be taking food off the plate of professional photographers. Oh yes b'y, my bridge camera with its fixed lens is going to take food off of Bruce Bennett's plate if you let me into an NHL game with it. Not to mention that people's iPhone 8's and Android S7's are now designed to take high-resolution, clear pictures in low light so people can get action shots of their little Grayson playing soccer (which might also work for taking pictures of their little Johnny Gaudreau, no?). But yes, my shitty camera definitely had to stay with security for the duration of the game because it couldn't fit in a suit pocket.

Whatever though, I know I'm an old luddite and no one uses cameras anymore. Why would anyone have a camera when a cell phone takes pictures, right?

It's a shame too because I was really digging the Saddledome as I was walking around and checking out the outside.

(I'm also aware that Calgarians complain because Rihanna and Madonna can't play here due to their elaborate pyrotechnic shows and the low roof. My mind isn't changed on the subject, the Saddledome is iconic and awesome.)

Whatever. I went back into downtown Calgary, checked out some meeting hall ruins, then met Geordie at a bus stop in Chinatown. He of course made fun of my hair. We then had some pints, while his brother Angus didn't understand why I just don't buy the newest cell phone that requires a 17TB plan and costs 1 kidney, then hit the hay as we had a flight early in the morning.

Big Baller Geordie called us a towncar to drive us to the airport & soon enough I was actually taking a flight with a friend. For all of the travelling I've done & places I fly out of, this was the first time flying with someone else ever (besides a coworker0). I find that funny in comparison to how some people exclusively fly with a buddy or significant other.

After typing up a BRN update on my phone and thinking I saved it to drafts on Gmail (which doesn't actually save when you're not connected to WiFi), we landed in San Diego and soon had our bags dropped off and were walking in the heat. What a contrast this was from shovelling the skatepark back home.

0 - That coworker is now a friend, but he wasn't at the time.

I thought there would be much more glass and gaudy buildings to San Diego, but I stood impressed as there were a few historic beauties and handsome classical buildings sprinkled in. The city seemed to do a good job of keeping around skyscrapers from times past.

Now I know I'm an American-loving nerd and could list 100 places I still want to see in the States, but San Diego has long come to mind during the first 10 places I list. It's with that excitement that we were finally here, walking along on an immaculate day, past appealing restaurants and diverging streets towards even more of this new city to explore.

As we returned down the street that our hotel was on, we came to a sports bar that we had noted on the way down. We were guided to a seat beside an open garage door in a jam-packed bar, with March Madness on TV and a friendly waitress keeping the beers coming. San Diego is known for its beautiful women and as Geordie & I sat there and caught up, I can attest to that fact. Life was pretty good with college basketball on TV, a good friend and fine women passing on this main thoroughfare.

Geordie did alright with the restaurant pick, but he also did good with the hotel. I'm pretty sure he simply Priceline'd a 3.5 or 4-star hotel in the Gaslamp Quarter, but we ended up with a place I definitely dug.

The Horton Grand Hotel is actually made up of two old hotels - the Grand Horton and the Brooklyn-Khale Saddlery Hotel. Both hotels were originally built in the 1880s, but were dismantled in the 1970s and 1980s when San Diego was about to tear down the Grand Horton to build a downtown mall (the Saddlery Hotel was going to be torn down by the Salvation Army for a parking lot).

They were rebuilt in 1986, down in the new Gaslamp Quarter where there used to be brothels, opium dens and other places of ill repute.

I didn't look into the Horton's history that deeply going into the trip, but I can remember the feeling of the hotel being an odd mix of very old parts, but with some modern, bland pieces. The main oak staircase was a good case of this. At a value of $200,000, it's an impressive feature, but when you get to the 2nd or 3rd floor, it's strangely juxtaposed amongst bland corridors.

My favourite part of the trip might've been that our room had a little balcony. It didn't overlook much, but I sipped many coffees and much malt liquor out here throughout the trip. I was out here so much that I barely watched any TV.

(Although, this was around the time of the Democratic debates & I watched enough TV that Geordie and I adopted the Bernie Sanders "finger wag" whenever we wanted to make a point or have a chance to speak, haha.)

With the Padres & Chargers both out of season, our best bet for live sports was the American Hockey League San Diego Gulls. So after an hour on the balcony, it was time to take the light rail down into some rougher district where the Valley View Casino Center (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena) stands.

As always, AHL hockey didn't live up to my expectations. I always envision that it'll be as good as junior hockey, where you have pure speed and dominant players, or be as good as the NHL, where you have the best players in the world - but it's sort of neither.

Nonetheless, I simply wanted to see one of these 1960's stadiums that California seems to gussy up better than other places. After having seen the exterior in photos and always dreamed of attending a game at the Inglewood Forum, the SD Sports Arena would have to do.

As for the food options, I was taken aback as we walked the concourse and found a giant, royal blue sign that read "Mess Royale" book ended with fleurs-de-lys.

Well, when in San Diego!

The poutine ended up being alright, although I know it looks questionable. There's also too much pepper in that spot because I asked for pepper packets and their chef came from out back with one of those 1L pepper containers as if I was making a full cauldron of pizza sauce.

Walking out of the arena after the game, it was now doing this strange warm drizzle thing, where it wasn't raining enough to get wet, but it was almost like walking into a small bathroom where someone just took a really hot shower. We walked through this moistness back along a rundown road, stopping at an authentic liquor mart and finding rapper E-40's new 40s, although they were a ridiculous $5.50! Maybe we weren't in that rundown of an area after all.

By the time we rode the light rail back to the Horton Grand, we had been boozing and moving for almost 10 hours. I'm pretty sure we simply hit the hay.

Continue to Part 2...


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1 - Our History, Horton Grand Hotel

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