2019, Los Angeles, Theme Parks

STORYTIME: Disneyland Cast Members give a magical moment to formerly blind woman (Me!)

So I’m here in Disneyland wearing my awesome Minnie Mouse hoodie by myself on the railroad. Literally nobody else was in my car and the train stopped for awhile at Main Street USA. Conductor comes up to me and asks me how I’m doing I say great and say I moved here from NJ and want to see everything even what the railroad looks like.

Him: Have you seen our show?

Me: Which one? Fantasmic? I saw the smaller version in Florida when I was blind but not this one yet.

Him: Wait. What?

Me: Yeah it’s whatever I got my sight surgically given to me in 2016 and moved here. I could sorta see it but it was all messed up. I was blind from birth.

Him: I think you should get off at the next stop.

Me: Is this the whole railroad? I really wanna see if there’s more dinosaurs.

Him: You can get off at the next stop and get on again to go around the river and there won’t be a wait. The show is going to start right when this train arrives there.

Me: Ok I think I’ll do that. Thank you so much! Have a great rest of your night.

I got off at the next stop.

There was a CM there who led me to the front rail to see Fantasmic.

You guys I saw a dragon. And I keep forgetting fireworks aren’t bright smears they are defined fire dots.

I saw a dragon, you guys.

Disneyland Cast Members show a formerly blind woman what a dragon is at Fantasmic!
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Life, Uncategorized

My eye surgery story: Yes, I was blind. Now I am not.

The most frequent question I get is, “Were you really blind?”

Yes. My eyes did not work. I was worse than a -20. This means that my vision was a microscope. I could tell you what angle the shears cut 1 hair if I brought it an inch from my eye. I could count threads in fabric. But I was unable to see to live my life without help. My eyes are deformed like footballs and my retinas are dangerously stretched.

The joke on Scooby Doo where Velma drops her glasses and literally can’t see? That was me for real. My glasses looked like this:

I could only see out of the very center if I did not move my eye at all. Contact lenses actually corrected me better than glasses for this reason.

I made some photoshop approximations of how I was seeing.

Here is a regular image:

Here is how I saw with no correction:

Here is how I saw with glasses:

Here is how I saw it with contacts, which was my best correction available:

They Discontinued my Lenses:

Up until 2005 I was able to buy some extremely expensive contact lenses that hurt and caused me monthly eye infections, but they allowed me to be corrected to MAYBE 20/90. That isn’t good enough to drive, but they forgot to test me so I had a driver’s license. So I did drive because how else would I earn money? I just was unable to see signs. I am a VERY SAFE driver. GPS was a big help because it could queue me to turn. If I missed a turn I’d just do the safest U Turn possible.

It was dangerous enough that my eye surgeon yelled at me. I’d often not be able to recognize my friends and it caused a lot of embarrassment because I didn’t tell anyone I was blind. I am a firm believer that nothing matters except for what you can offer to the world. We are not limited by our disadvantages as much if we stand up and tell it to STFU.

That’s me. My personality.

In 2005 the lenses were discontinued and I had to use disposables that didn’t fit my eyes and slid behind my eye a lot. They also gave me an obstructed field of vision. I just lived like that and didn’t say anything.

Cataracts: The Dead End and the Open Door:

In about September 2015, I developed cataracts on top of this, which made what little coping mechanisms I had fail. I was slowly losing my sight even worse. They estimated that I had less than a year before I’d notice a severe impact on what was already a poor quality of life. I was a shut in for about 3 years when my job thankfully allowed me to work from home but it was isolating and terrible.

Searching for a doctor was also terrible. Big Pharma enjoys it when doctors sell procedures. One doctor wanted to sell me Implantable Contact Lenses. He wasn’t really answering my questions, but I now know that it would have given me maybe a few months of better vision before they would have to be surgically removed, thus increasing the risk of damage to my eye and losing my retina.

I found another surgeon that seemed to not care about anything and treated me like a piece of sausage in a factory. He wouldn’t even make eye contact with me in the office.

At this point I was terrified, but thankfully I got a recommendation from a friend to see Dr. Tal Raviv at the Eye Center of New York. No, they are not paying me to write this post. I have no financial relationship with these guys other than I paid them for my surgery and they did a great job. To this day I advise people who have problems to go there and/or ask their office for a recommendation if you can’t make it to NYC. These guys are legit.

The Solution:

It turned out that removing my lenses and performing cataract surgery would allow me to have a normal quality of life. The only reason no one had suggested this before was because until your eyes start failing with cataracts, the insurance won’t cover it. The technology has also gotten better and less invasive than it used to be.

Because of my fragile retinas there was some risk. It was not advisable to do the version of the surgery that was fully covered by insurance. I needed to get the laser version.

I posted about this on my old blog and within 3 hours my readers yelled at me to take their money and I had raised close to $10,000 which was more than I needed so I asked people to please stop giving me money and I booked the laser version of the surgery.

The Surgery:

I had to do retina checks, surgery, more retina checks, then another surgery and so on. I had my left eye done first and then the right eye done when it healed. For most of 2016 I was doing this and healing.

This is my eye directly after being lasered:

That is not photoshop. My natural lens was cut painlessly under the skin without cutting into my eye at all. All I saw was colored lights.

They then took me into the OR, knocked my ass mostly out and then sucked that out and replaced it with a functional lens implant. During that process I thought I saw leprechauns and long face aliens inside an opal cave and flowers and butterflies. All I remember is heading the doctor say “look forward”. I did my best and asked if that was forward and then he was like…”no”. Which I thought was funny at the time but was too drugged to notice.

I had to wear this on my face to sleep:

I developed secondary cataracts and got 2 laser procedures to fix that. And then after about a year of surgical hell I emerged with -1 vision that is now correctable to 20/25. Yes, my hair was bright red then:

My eyes were so bad we knew beforehand that I would not be getting 20/20. Another thing we knew is that I would lose my ability to focus near and far and need progressive lenses.

Here is a comparison of my before and after eye surgery glasses:

The Aftermath:

Having this surgery changed my life for the better in so many ways that I can’t even begin to describe it. What I didn’t realize is that being able to see would cause me to have a complete nervous breakdown as nearly everything I understood about life turned out to not be true. I didn’t understand what I looked like until 2016, and now struggle with dysmorphia. I would have to relearn how to live my life, much like a space alien who just arrived here.

So I moved to Los Angeles in August 2017 do do that, because I have always believed that anything worth doing is worth doing in the biggest, most fabulous way possible. I’m studying music and rebuilding myself in an image that serves me and the world the best. I’m also sharing the insight I’ve accrued in my somewhat unconventional life.

This blog is about that journey.

General

Things to do in Los Angeles: Haunted Attractions: Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights 2017 Review

This was my first time at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights in my new home of Los Angeles, California. I feel like in LA it’s always a good day to wear a Kreepsville 666 Skull Necklace from the shop on Melrose Ave. :)

Oni Hartstein Kreepsville 666 SKull NEcklace Los Angeles Melrose Ave

I am very familiar with the Florida parks so I didn’t know what to expect. USH HHN has 8 houses, plus their year-round Walking Dead haunted house, the Terror Tram, 3 scare zones, and the jabawockeez dance show. We didn’t see jabawockeez so that won’t be part of this review.

I normally place the marketing images for each house in their reviews but… Note for when Universal Studios Hollywood’s team reads this: Hey guys, you may want to tell your ad agency to make the images easier to save and not like this on your site so we can write about how much we love your work and make it look as pretty:

universal studios hollywood halloween horror nights los angeles 2017

Anyhow. I did this one like I do all of them. VIP all the way. DISCLOSURE: I paid out of pocket to do this and USH Management had no idea I was here on this night.

oni hartstein universal studios halloween horror nights hollywood los angeles 2017

Insidious

I’ve seen the first Insidious film but for some reason I can’t remember much of it. This house was no different. I believe the thing possessing the people in the film was just menacing you as you went through. It was a rather simple, but effective design, but the story wasn’t explained if you didn’t already know the film. I don’t mean this as a negative. Simple isn’t necessarily bad. At least, it’s not bad in how I’m conceptualizing it here. Personally I feel like an attraction goes from good to great when it tells the story for people who aren’t in the know already, so this one was good. The set design didn’t have the depth that it’s counterparts in Florida have. Overall we had a lot of fun in here but I’d probably have to watch the film again to get a lot of what I saw on a deeper level.

American Horror Story: Roanoke:

I love AHS and have a pretty deep knowledge of the franchise. I really enjoyed the AHS house in Orlando, Florida last year. This house was fun, but a bit scaled down from what I saw in Florida. I also had problems with the narrative flow much like I did with the Insidious house. I saw what I think was Kathy’s Bates’ character chasing us over and over and some pig people but not many of the main characters from the show. If Lady Gaga’s character was in the house I missed her. I feel like if you aren’t deeply familiar with Roanoke this house may have been lost on you – but I enjoyed this house!

The Shining:

In this house you get chased by Jack. The set pieces were a bit better in this house. There were projections, peppers ghost illusions, and many of the scenes replicated form the film. I enjoyed this one! This one was easily one of the stronger houses. Even if you didn’t know the story (like me – I was blind before recently and catching up) you understood vaguely what was going on because of how the scenes were book ending the sequences of startle scares.

SAW:

SAW is another franchise that I have a deep knowledge of. By the time we got to the SAW house, we were realizing that the houses in general in USH are more sparsely decorated than it’s Florida counterparts across the board. Again – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because we enjoyed ourselves in all of them – just an observation for my east coast readers who will be asking me how they are different. The SAW house was one of the more visual houses and it actually made Harknell queasy. You got to see several torture scenes from the films interspersed with pig people chasing you.

Titans of Terror:

This one had slightly better levels of decor and set pieces than other houses and several really good scares and effects. I especially liked Freddy’s glove coming out of someone’s chest in front of me. This one was fun! I felt that the scares were also a bit more creative throughout.

The Horrors of Blumhouse:

This was The Purge, Happy Death Day, and Sinister. Our takeaway with this (and most of the houses) was “oh, that was fun.” This may seem like an odd thing for me to write because I usually get really in depth – but just bear with me until the conclusion of this post. I’m going somewhere with this. In this case my blow by blow observations are just an appetizer.

Ash vs. Evil Dead:

This was one of the best houses. Great set pieces, great actor improv, and phenomenal sound. They had actors working together in here which I find is relatively rare everywhere. I don’t know why it’s so rare because it’s a great way to deal with high capacity and still give everyone a good show quality. This one was probably THE best house of the night.

The Walking Dead:

I don’t know if the show running in here was different than any other day of operation since it’s a year-round attraction, but this house was on the level that Florida usually does. The atmosphere was great and the scares were set up well. The rooms were built more upward than all of the other houses. I imagine its a challenge when working with so many temporary locations – in Florida they have sound stages that aren’t being used so the houses can be built in there like this one. In Los Angeles they are kinda busy filming movies so…

They took some of the scares I saw in Florida and perfected and played with them to be unique to their space. Someone email me from the top bar / tweet / FB / Instagram me and let me know if this was different for HHN or just the usual attraction.

Titans of Terror Tram hosted by Chucky:

I had heard amazing things about the Terror Tram but it really was just a bus ride to a large walkthrough scarezone. Again: Very enjoyable. But when you are bussed to a special area perhaps you expect a bit more than this. We had a lot of fun, but maybe because we went to Florida first we’re surprised by the smaller scale. The Urban Inferno scarezone that was part of the main area actually felt more “big” to us. But again – this was a lot of fun!

Scarezones:

As mentioned above, Urban Inferno was great. Devils, stilt walkers, great lighting and sound. Hell-o-ween and Toxic Tunnel were mostly forgettable. Minimal props and just actors roaming about. Fun!

Conclusion:

So you’ve heard what I have to say – but what does all of this mean? It means I had an AMAZING TIME at Universal Studios Hollywood Halloween Horror Nights for 2017. This is a Must See event and this may be my favorite park. You don’t need to be as big as Florida to be amazing. Scare Zones don’t need to be done with super set pieces to be enjoyable. The Florida Park is bigger and more detailed in it’s execution by far and they are awesome, but personally I actually felt more at home in Hollywood. The park experience was just nice. You felt welcome, you had fun in every house, and the staff were all kind, friendly and not pushing anyone through quickly. I give these guys my wholehearted recommendation – just know that like Disneyland, they are working with a smaller space. But they truly know how to execute properly within it.

DO THIS ONE.

General

Things to Do in Los Angeles: Reign of Terror haunted attraction 2017 review – Thousand Oaks, California

Hello from my new home of Los Angeles! It’s windy today:

Los Angeles halloween oni spooky boobs party time

I’m just about adjusted to life on the west coast so I will be online more often now. Who would have thought moving 2450 mikes away from everyone I know would be a lot of work? (Spoiler: I did.) Thanks for bearing with me while I put things back together bigger and stronger!

Anyhow, I had the opportunity to check out Reign of Terror, which is actually one of the few independent haunted attractions in my beautiful new home of southern California.

Before I talk about that, it’s kinda important for me to talk about cultural differences between the east and west coast regarding to this.

The first thing I noticed about Los Angeles is that they have less haunted attractions than the northeast. Aside from Universal Studios and Knott’s Scary Farm I think I found like – 3? Real estate is very expensive and everything is vey spread out so that may be a factor.

They do a lot of high end immersive theater in Los Angeles but that, to me, is a different type of attraction. I enjoy immersive theatre and I’ve actually reviewed a few before. So I’m not saying I don’t like these types of things. I do like them. I’m simply saying that the productions I’ve seen so far California don’t seem to deal with supernatural fantasy like New York City’s Then She Fell or Tampa’s The Vault of Souls. Personally I’m attracted to darker fantasies like that. They may exist here and it could be that I haven’t found them yet. If you know of any, do let me know by emailing me via the top bar on this blog.

TL; DR: They still aren’t haunted attractions like 99% of what I’m known for reviewing on this page.

Reign of Terror is, so I checked it out on October 20th, 2017.

Reign of Terror haunted house in Thousand Oaks, California Los Angeles halloween 2017

Reign of Terror is located in a strip mall in Thousand Oaks, California which is generally a red flag. Attractions can seldom pay the year-round rent so often you find that the ones in these spaces are sometimes less developed than ones that don’t have to pack up and leave during the year. I don’t know if they have this space all year ’round or not since I just moved here, but I did not find this to be a problem. The attraction’s rooms were amazing and well-staged. If they set this up in a few months that was amazing work on their part.

They must not have the same laws in California regarding hallway width that New Jersey and Pennsylvania have because the halls were more narrow. This wasn’t a problem – just an observation in how the feel was slightly different. I enjoy seeing what’s different in my new home state, so maybe this piece of information would appeal to just me.

There is no story to the haunt. It was the style of haunt where it was a greatest hits of many types of haunt themes. This is not a bad thing, just another observation in what you can expect from the execution of the production. You’ll see a haunted mine, clowns, killers, contaminated areas, aliens…you get the idea. It was decently executed. The rooms looked good and they hit all the marks that your casual haunt fan is going to expect. Aside from the wait times (get there early to help with this) casual haunt fans will probably enjoy this attraction and should go see it early to avoid longer wait times.

So now let’s talk about the constructive criticism part of the review. What would an experienced haunt fan notice? How can this attraction transcend past what they are now to being able to hold its own with the country’s best?

I noticed that the sound bled a little in the pre-show room. It was a video of a coal miner introducing the first attraction and telling you what to expect, plus the rules that customers should follow. Since there was no story and the lines were very long, I felt like this room was maybe a redundant stop in traffic flow.

Usually the person working the line performs this task at most attractions – and that works better communication-wise since many customers seem to ignore videos but pay attention to people in my personal experience. In this case we had 2 stop points in the loading sequence instead of 1. I expected an actor – assisted scare here or something to make this space blend into the production. I’d suggest that they look at how this part of the attraction fits into their flow. I like to always ask myself creatively “Why is this here?”. If I can’t say that it adds to the story/atmosphere or crowd flow efficiency then perhaps it should be changed or eliminated.

They oversold the VIP tickets so that it was 40 minute wait for the VIP line. It appeared to be almost as long as the regular line. Once you got inside you realized it was shorter, but from a customer’s point of view this seemed annoying. I’m not sure I’ve ever waited more than 15 minutes for a VIP line in every haunted attraction across the country, so this didn’t work as well as it could have.

I applaud that they were pulsing people through in small groups. They kicked ass at that. We experienced no backups in the haunt and so once you got inside traffic flow was great. That’s actually relatively rare so they deserve applause for this.

I heard several actors screaming in vocal chord damaging ways and the timing just wasn’t there on the night that we went. They were by no means the untrained level of New Jersey’s Camp Evans Base of Terror, but it felt like an hour of instruction in how to function in their own narrative space and how to be more fluid and less direct would help.

I’d like to see them examine their actor blocking in each room and encourage the actors to work in teams. For example if there’s a room with only 1 person face down on a desk it’s pretty obvious she’s gonna stand up and scream at you. Put another actor there to the side to scare people and have that person be a decoy – not the payoff. Or have 2 actors fight with each other or something unexpected to break up the chain of startle scares.

I especially feel like too many rooms had only animatronics. In the case where they had actors they did not have the actor set up to take advantage of distraction scares (similar to what I mentioned above) in tandem with the animatronics. They were using the animatronics as the hero character for the rooms they were in. I saw several missed opportunities throughout where you’d expect them to have placed actors but there was no one there. Animatronics should, in my opinion, almost never be used on their own and should always be incorporated in a distraction scare or actor-driven interaction. If they had trained the actors to work with the animatronics I feel like the rooms without actors wouldn’t have registered as the same type of thing. To me it was kind of like a movie that needed a slight recut due to pacing.

This haunt was long – I think we were in there for over 20 minutes. I wasn’t bored inside this haunt. I have been bored in haunts that were this long before so this was a very good thing. It flowed well and was enjoyable. That said, it didn’t fully grab me – mostly because the timing of the actors was off just enough that it felt like each group got hit in the middle or behind and I got almost nothing the entire way through in the front.

Don’t get me wrong – they have an amazing setup in here. The people with us seemed to be freaking out a little so for casual haunt fans this is probably going to be a great time. For folks who really know haunts I feel like some small tweaks – examining their queue system, pacing, and investing in training their actors could make them a game-changing, resonant haunt for all of us and worth of a plane ticket for my readers back east. In it’s current state it doesn’t inspire repeat visits or stick with you after you leave due to the lack of a cohesive narrative.

All in all Reign of Terror was a lot of fun and it was way better constructed than I expected. They pulled off some amazing design in a strip mall of all places and should be very proud of what they accomplished. My criticisms come from a place of wanting them to be able to hold their own with the country’s best – and they are darn close to be able to do so! These guys are pretty cool and I am glad they are in Southern California and even more proud to live here because of this.

2017, Halloween, Haunted Attractions, Horror, Oni Haunts, Pennsylvania, Reviews

GUEST POST: Haunted Attraction Review: Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Field of Screams

Disclosure: Oni and I were invited out to the media day event at Field of Screams and were provided VIP passes to tour their houses and events this year–Oni was in LA at the time, so I brought with me some newbies to the event to see their reaction to what has historically been one of my favorite haunted attraction locations. They had some great set ups showing the history of the event:

fieldofscreamshistory1
fieldofscreamshistory2

When you enter Field of Screams, you immediately realize it isn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill haunted attraction location.