Monday, March 2, 2009

Riding the Rails: Day 3 Darwin In Action

... Day 3 continued ...

Our guide for the Winchester Mystery House Mansion Tour turned out to be a 12-year-old boy. Ok, I should be talking, since I look a fair deal younger than I am, so I'll give him a little credit and say he's 15, but not a day over. He had the script down, though, and could deliver it at about 120 miles-per-hour. He talked so fast that we ended up having to wait multiple times for the group ahead of us to move, and he wasn't even trying to rush us physically. You could tell as soon as he was asked a non-FAQ and had to go off the script. He stopped the sing-song recitation and started speaking at a more normal speed, interjecting the word "like" every sixth word or so. I don't mean to imply he seemed bored with his job or anything, because I didn't get that impression.

I'm not going to describe the house much, except to say that Sarah Winchester was rather crazy and also should not have been acting as her own architect. Also, if you ever go on the tour, particularly if it's the least bit cool outside, bring something warm to wear. I couldn't figure out why some parts of the house were so chilly, then it dawned on me. A lot of exterior walls had no insulation whatsoever. There was just the one layer of wood boards.

While there were many lovely stained glass windows and a number of oddities, the thing I will never forgot about the tour is Olivia. No, Olivia was not a Winchester, and she's not a ghost at the house. Well, not yet, anyway. Olivia was a little girl, maybe 3 years old, on the tour. I know her name quite well because her parents were forever saying, "Olivia, come here. Don't run ahead, Olivia. Come back here to mommy and daddy, Olivia."

Let me explain two things here. The first one is what I call "Darwin In Action," sort of my personal version of the Darwin Awards. Bus Person Car is one variation. However, I've seen some parents allow if not encourage ("hey, kid, let's jaywalk in the middle of the block here on this busy street after dark!" -- seen it) their young children to attempt to take themselves out of the gene pool. Unfortunately, that would rarely solve the problem, as the parents are generally not placing their own further reproductive abilities at risk. Who knows, maybe there's some "Bad Seed" action here I don't know about it. I may be flip about it, but it would really piss me off if I had to witness something predictably horrible actually coming to fruition.

The second thing: the Winchester Mystery House can be dangerous if a person doesn't pay attention to where they're going. Someone not paying attention can damage something old and irreplaceable, get lost, or trip and fall and seriously injure themselves. This is most definitely not a place where you'd want a 3-year-old darting around out of sight of her parents. Well, unless you were her parents and you somehow weren't too averse to the idea of losing her.

Except that was exactly how Olivia's parents were acting. They were taking turns carrying an infant who was about 12-months old. This presumably would have left the hands of the other parent free to, oh, I don't know, hold on to Olivia. But, no, the kid kept skittering between people without looking where she was going, bumping into them, scaring the hell out of me when I was bumped in the knee not because I thought it was a ghost, but because I was picturing what my prison sentence would be like if I went to the root of the problem and throttled her dumbass parents.

So, while they would be calling out, "Olivia, come back here," in a completely unthreatening, "there aren't really any repercussions if you don't come back here because we're the type of parents who don't believe in really punishing our children, because we're dumbasses who want to raise good-for-nothings with a limitless sense of entitlement or even just total sociopaths, and then we seem bewildered when we end up on a nanny reality TV show," Olivia usually didn't pay much attention, and neither of the parents made an effort to go get her and keep a hold on her. They were also pretty oblivious when the baby they were holding would reach over her parent's shoulder and try to grab at the priceless, earthquake-damaged, "please don't lean on the walls" wallpaper, which was actually within her short little arm's reach. I realize little kids are into everything and it can be easy to lose track sometimes, but that's not really an excuse not to try to keep them out of anything they shouldn't be doing.

Finally, about 50 minutes into the 65-minute tour, Olivia had run ahead of the guide, and we could see her through a glass wall as she went around a corner and just kept on going ahead. At this point the mother told the father, "I'm going to go grab her hand." I would have seriously considered banging my head against the wall if it hadn't been covered in priceless wallpaper.

Somehow, Olivia got out of the house alive, when the house could so easily have added a brand new ghost to its collection. Darwin must have been busy elsewhere.

I really should have put something about "regular child-free tours" in the suggestion box in the gift shop. Instead I bought Brad a snow-globe magnet (I seriously doubt it has actually snowed on the house itself more than about half a dozen times in 125 years) for feeding the fuzzies in my absence. Then I walked back to the catch the same bus that had gotten me there so I could go further west to the San Jose Kinokuniya. I had to wait forever for the bus, and this stop didn't have a bench. Whine.

to be continued some more....

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