November 29, 2020

Photo Essay: Tanaka Farms Is All A-Glimmer with Hikari 光 Festival of Lights

I hadn't been back to Tanaka Farms in Irvine, California since 2017—not even for their pandemic pivot of a drive-thru pumpkin patch for Halloween. 

But this weekend, instead of being driven through the farm fields on a wagon, I drove myself around its perimeter for its "festival of lights," called Hikari  (which, translated from Japanese, means "sparkle" or "shine"). 

This was a different experience than driving through, say, an amusement park or the county fairgrounds or the local speedway...

...because Tanaka Farms already has a theme. 

Well, and other agricultural delights, too. 

But strawberries have been at the heart of this Orange County farm's operations since 1998 (though the farm itself was established in 1940). 

Tanaka has been converting its traditional strawberry fields into hydroponically-grown vertical stacks...

...which can increase their yield without requiring more land. 

Some of Tanaka's farm equipment—some of which dates back to the 1960s—also takes center stage during the light show. 
But even more intriguing are the Japanese traditions woven into the experience... the field of wagasa, a type of paper umbrella that originated in China but became quite fashionable in Japan by the 17th century. 

The farm's namesake and founder, the second-generation Japanese-American farmer George Tanaka, developed the strawberry fields into an agritourism business.  

In the 1980s, he passed it down to his son Glenn Tanaka, who currently runs the 30-acre operation as a U-Pick farm and educational enterprise. Glenn's son—the fourth-generation Kenny Tanaka—has also taken a place in the family business. 

And even this holiday light display offers the opportunity to learn about global crops—like sugarcane, which lines the aptly-named "Candy Cane Road" towards the end of the journey. 

After driving past the lit-up greenhouse...

...more farm equipment in all their twinkly splendor marks the approach to Christmas Tree Lane.

Oh, they're not real Christmas trees—not like the deodar cedars in Granada Hills or Altadena, or the monolithic Douglas firs my sister and I used to help our dad put up in our living room.

But in the dark, who can tell?

As long as the lights are in the shape of a tree, that's enough for me. 

Even if I can't linger for very long to watch them glitter and glow before I have to go. 

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November 24, 2020

Spending the Holidays In My Car

 So this is Christmas. 2020 style. 

There are far worse ways of spending it than from behind the wheel of my car. 
I was delighted to return to the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, California to drive through its "Holidays In Your Car" light display. 

It was surprisingly unique...

...affording me the opportunity to motor my way through a laser light show for the first time ever. 

And then I wondered why there aren't more lasers that can be driven through? All year long?

But I guess it's the same reason we don't keep our Christmas lights up all year long. 

We need some darkness to appreciate the light. 

As dark as the world is right now, though... 2020 holidays won't be dark. 

Not if I can keep driving through the lights. 

Not if I can slow down—or even stop a little—to admire the colors, the seasonal twinkles, the whimsical figures. 

Some might appear to be clear...

...and some might be just a blur. 

I might not be able to see it all...

...and sometimes I might lose the path. 

But if I keep following the lights...

...I'll find my way. 

I hadn't managed to muster up any holiday spirit before this Sunday's trek to Ventura...

...but there was something about the small-town spirit of driving through a light display at the county fairgrounds that did the trick. 

Now I'm ready to embrace the season—whatever it has to offer—after a year of so much darkness. 

November 22, 2020

Six Flags Magic Mountain Lights Up the Holidays With a Rare Drive-Thru Attraction

Drive-thru holiday light displays aren't new in 2020. Lights on the Lake outside my hometown of Syracuse, New York has been running for over 30 years (though I didn't actually ride through it until 2008). 

But with the coronavirus pandemic, we've never needed this type of Christmastime entertainment more. 
I'd never experienced the "Holiday in the Park" attraction at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, just about 25 miles north of where I live in LA, though I'd visited both Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm during the holiday season before. 

In fact, I'd only been to this Six Flags once, in July 2011—though I've tried to go other times and even had a ticket once that I'd had to bail on. 

I figured a holiday lights drive-thru would be the next best thing to actually going to Six Flags, since it's been closed for COVID-19 during this whole pandemic. 
But actually, it just whet my appetite to go back. 

In between the light displays—as I was driving through the shadowy paths of the park, literally under rollercoaster loop-de-loops—I started spotting remnants of the old version of the "Magic Mountain" amusement park, predating the Six Flags takeover in 1979.

I'd always wondered if there were any traces of mountain magic—gnomes or fairies or trolls or wizards what-have-you—leftover from those days before the characters were phased out in 1985. Maybe they were squirreled away somewhere between the overlay of Marvel Universe characters that tries to compete with the movie-centric environments of Disneyland or Universal Studios

In fact, a couple of years ago I posed that very question to a local journalist/historian who I thought would surely know—and the response I got was something like, "I'm pretty sure they got rid of all that."

But in the dark of night last night, from behind the wheel of my car, I could see the truth—that there were some magical elements that had survived the Six Flags transformation! 

I tried my best to remember where they were as I drive by at 3 mph, so I could go back and explore them during daylight (whenever that'll be possible to do safely). 

I wanted to ask Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Nutcrackers, the wooden toy soldiers, anyone there if they knew what else there was to see of Magic Mountain's "former" life...

...but they were too busy greeting the visitors, banging their drums, and dancing for the guests. 

And the whole time, there was a car right behind me, surely wondering why I was going so slowly and veering to one side of the paved road or the other, sometimes stopping altogether to get a photo or commit the scene to memory. 

A little bit of research, though, has revealed plenty of original stuff to see—from the Gold Rusher rollercoaster to the Golden Bear Theatre (which opened in 1971 as the Showcase Theater), both dating back to Magic Mountain's days as a "western"-themed park. 

And in fact it turns out I missed riding the original ride the Log Jammer, a log flume that was still in operation during my 2011 visit (but was taken out of commission shortly thereafter). I wish I'd known.

But it's not too late for me to document these leftovers, these traces that are merely a memory for some—and for others, entirely forgotten. 

I know what I need to do now. 

I just need to wait for the park—and its rides—to reopen during the day. 

In the meantime, I'm grateful. It took a pandemic to be able to drive under the rollercoasters at Six Flags—and for me to visit its holiday attraction, which it's hosted since 2014.