Wednesday, February 28, 2007

SWFLA Recap part 2.

"Take us to Busch Gardens! Take us to Busch Gardens!": SWFLA Trip Recap, Part 2

When we last left our intrepid traveler, she was crying in Everglades National Park. For interesting and peculiar reasons. Not because she stubbed her toe.

CannonballWe'd been in Florida three whole days and Geoff was getting antsy about the pool. He wanted to swim in the worst way humanly possible. The first day was too cold. The second day took us to the zoo. The third day far to the Everglades.

Here we were on the morning of the fourth day and he was begging to go swimming.

So I crammed my fat body into my swimsuit, slathered us up both with sunscreen to protect our pasty selves, and we went to the pool. The water was lovely and not quite all the way warm... but warm enough that I could get in it and not have my heart explode in my chest and kill me. The recent cold days had cooled it down. We had a great time swimming, and after a while I realized I was getting too much sun so I got out of the water.

One hour in the powerful Floridian sun and I was like bacon on a griddle. Geoff didn't burn, but I sure did. We used the same SPF 60 lotion. I guess I've just grown sensitive to the sun in years of not going out in such a fashion and Geoff is still in the throes of childhood and gets a tan every summer.

We finished up and went back to the house to clean up. Our next destination was the Calusa Nature Center and Planetarium in Ft. Myers (I just now realized I've been spelling Ft. Myers incorrectly so I'll have to go back and fix that).

geoff the saturn expertIt was a nice little place, and incredibly affordable ($8 bucks for adults!). At first, the thought of sitting inside at a Planetarium on a gorgeous, sunny day was a bit weird, but the program was very interesting and I learned a lot. The woman running it was very funny. Jessica even went back and watched a second presentation on the Hubble Space Telescope because she found it that interesting (combined with the fact we were going on a mile or so hike through the nature preserve and she knew where she'd rather be).

And Geoff was happy to see his friend Saturn painted on the wall when we walked in.

We got to follow a handler as he went through the afternoon mammal feedings. He was interesting and the kids sure were interested in him and his job. They were all really cute. We met a possum, two raccoons (one albino), a bobcat, a couple of owls, a couple of hawks, a deer and a destinkified skunk.

The handler's last name was Timberlake, so I couldn't help but ponder if he was related to the famous one. But I didn't ask.

shell gameAfter shutting the place down (we stayed until 5pm closing) we thought a ride over to the beach would be nice. The Science Center was right close to 75, so we hopped on and scooted down to Bonita once again, where we parked for free, walked the beach, played with shells, wet our feet.

We left and decided we'd head home so Geoff could grab another swim before the sun went down. The pool has a strict dusk to dawn closure policy, so we knew we'd need to get him there quickly.

Ft. Myers Beach traffic and the one lane in and out had other plans for us. There was an accident on the main drag, and fire trucks and cop cars whizzed past with frightening regularity. And just before the bridge a traffic cop would stop traffic and WAIT FOR PEDESTRIANS to slowly walk anywhere NEAR the damn crosswalk in order to give them opportunity to cross the street.

I sat there watching this guy hold up traffic while three fat pasty women with ice cream cones moseyed slowly like tired cows in a hot sunny pasture, unsure if they would cross the road or head back to the barn for the evening milking. They walked ever so slowly towards the intersection, and then changed their minds about crossing.

I wanted to scream. I hate stuff like that. Why does a cop need to hold up traffic. Get a crosswalk button thingie. A cop doesn't need to stand there, hold traffic while people THINK about crossing the road.

Did you hear that? My head just exploded.

We finally made it past him, after sitting in traffic for over 45 minutes (reversing direction meant that we'd have to sit in traffic trying to get back to 75, and then we'd have to sit in traffic going from 75 through Ft. Myers to Cape Coral, so we were screwed either way) and there was no one on the bridge. No one. Not a soul. We were it. Where did all the cars in FRONT of us for 45 minutes go? Did they disintegrate? Did they go through a wormhole or a tear in the fabric of the space-time continuum? No. They accelerated and got going. End of conversation.

It's now dark and Geoff is heartbroken that we're still about 1/2 hour from home. We stopped for dinner. By now I was realizing that my sunburn was indeed horrific and I couldn't wait to either go home and take off my bra, or have a strong drink. We opted for the drink. Doug chose a really nice Mexican restaurant in Cape Coral where the Margaritas took the edge off of my discomfort, and the Fajitas kicked ass. We then went home, and I slathered myself in soothing ointments and we went to bed.

The only really good part about being trapped in Ft. Myers Beach traffic was that we got to totally check out all the buildings and storefronts, bars and restaurants. The tiny cottages on the east side of the road, and the humongous, elaborate mansions on the Gulf side of the road. The cottages probably were enjoying a nice view with similar cottages across the road at one point in time. But those were bought, and giant 22 room beach homes and hotels and night clubs were built on the Gulf side. I felt bad for the cottages.

There was an Irish pub where I bet a lot of rough trade goes down, and a block up the street was a proper English Fooddrinkery.

At the Irish joint, a pit-bull puppy was sitting on one of the plastic patio tables while its tattooed and obviously sloppy drunk owners slogged down another one. Doug thought that was my dad's kinda place, and that if Bart were here, that's where we'd have to stop for dinner. And then we'd throw down and yell "Oi!" and run up the street to kick those pansy tea-swilling Brits in their pompous arses!

We again built a whole little fantasy about what we were seeing. We do that a lot. Ft. Myers Beach is a whole lot less polished than Sanibel and Captiva. Borderline trashy, kind of like Hampton Beach in NH or York Beach in Maine if you're familiar. But with a lot more tropical colors.

It was what I had in mind when I think of beach resort towns. My kind of place. Even though we didn't stop and get out and drink at the Irish pub and buy shells and t-shirts at the beach shoppe, I knew that this was where it was at for the amusings clan. Thumbs up.

Rhino Race Car photo opUp early and out the door this day because we needed to make a run north to Tampa, which is 2-3 hours away. We were headed to Busch Gardens.

I'd called the info line and learned they were open until 7pm that day, but when we got there posted signs said 6pm, so that was kind of a bummer.

Again, we started pondering whether or not we could have planned this better and stayed the night in a hotel up here to get into the park at 9am, but... it was noon and we were there and we were bound to have a great time, no matter how much time we had allotted to us in the park.

Doug and the kids immediately got on the Gwazi coaster and loved it. It is an oldstyle wooden coaster, and it was fun to hear people screaming as it loudly whipped past my head.

Shei KraWe enjoyed watching people crap their pants on the Shei Kra.

We rode the slow train that moves through the park and checked out the safari and the animals. It was pretty awesome. A Rhino stood on the track and blocked our train for a while... and then lumbered up the hill to its family.

Geoff insisted we ride this water rapids thing, so we checked my bag and camera in a locker and got on the longest line we've ever experienced. We hit the ride at just the wrong time because there were seriously no other lines anywhere. We shouldn't have waited and burned a half hour or more by standing still, but Geoff really wanted this ride over all the other rides in the park.

We would have been better off to go check out a few other things and then come back. But. It is what it is. And in the end, the ride was wicked fun and we got soaked and the 50 cent locker was the best investment I'd ever made because my camera would not have survived.

the "family" coasterI did ride the "baby roller coaster." The park has a small coaster that goes 25 mph instead of 800mph, and it looked harmless. The little cars had four seats, so all of us could go together. Geoff didn't want to go because he was all about being cool and not riding a baby coaster. He rode a coaster that goes upside down and was all hard-core about his riding abilities. No baby coaster rider he!

Well, we all went, with him protesting. And it was honestly a lot scarier than I expected.

The little u-turn whips on the top level were shit-shakingly scary because you felt that you were just going to get flung off into the air as it cornered. It rode like air, without the jarring feeling of being on a coaster, so that was a tad disconcerting. Jess and I laughed and screamed in Doug's ear the entire time. I'm sure he loved it.

But the fact stands -- my ass rode a roller coaster for the first time since about 1982. And that was pretty awesome.

I'm so not a roller coaster girl. I kind of feel paying for admission into a park like this is pissing away money when I'm concerned. I went on three rides, one of them twice. Oh, and the skyride overlooking the park and the safari lands. But overall, I think I took enough photographs to justify going into the park, gawked at enough animals, and laughed really hard at Jess when she got soaked on a ride, that it was worth the price of admission.

Ha ha. You're all wet.There were two regrets this day (well, three if you count us pondering whether or not we should have stayed the night before in a hotel in order to maximize hours in park).

The first was that I didn't bring towels or a change of clothing for any of us. I didn't know we'd get soaking, positively to the bone, wet (twice) on the Congo River Rapids. Note to self -- always bring a towel. Didn't you learn anything from Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy?

Second was that this was an Anheuser Busch Park. And there is a hospitality house where adults get two free beers. And Doug and I didn't go get our two free beers. What. Were. We. Thinking. The phrase is "free beer," two of them as a matter of course ... and we didn't go retrieve any.

Damn. Instead we went on a ride where we got soaking wet, again. On the tram ride back to the car, Doug and I realized the sad truth, that there was free beer behind us and we didn't get to partake. It almost made me cry.

We still had a great time, and drove the long assed ride back to Cape Coral, ate at a Sonic at like Midnight, and all slept like the dead that night. Mmmmmm. Sonic. We don't have Sonic restaurants here in New England and it is a damn cryin' shame.

We did nothing. We stayed home. We needed a day of rest, and we got it.

Doug took an excursion off to a used bookstore. Jess did her homework. Geoff and I spent 4 hours in the pool.

Yes. Four hours.

I sat in the shade for a goodly amount of it and had a towel and shirt over my chest and shoulders. Geoff finished his requirements for Aquanaut for a Webelos badge by fulfilling some swimming stroke tests and the like. We haven't had a nice controlled space for him to swim 100 ft, so I made use of the pool to get him finished with a badge that he started this summer.

I took a nap. A nap to end all naps. I don't think I've slept like this since ... well, forever. The sunburn, the heat, the chlorine, the driving driving driving in the car, the roller coaster, the Everglades airboat, the huge fan above me humming and making a deep sensory depravation chamber.... it all combined to send me to places in sleepyland that I'd never been to in my life.

And damn, did it feel good.

Geoff wanted to swim again before sunset. So Doug and I took him to the pool once more, watched the sunset, and we all went back to pack and bid Florida adieu.

Saturday and Sunday
It is all so anticlimactic, isn't it? When a vacation is over and you have 20 hours of driving ahead of you it is sort of sad.

141/365 saturday at a NC truckstopWe got on the road at 6am and blasted our way north. We didn't stop at South of the Border. We got Gas somewhere in North Carolina. I only remember it because I was driving and I stopped and took this picture of me, starting to get cold because I was still in my shorts and it was about 45 degrees and I was not happy.

It grew to be dinner time, and we needed to eat. Doug's goal was to get us up into Virginia for dinner. So we got off the highway in Emporia, VA.

Let this be a cautionary tale for you, my friends. If you're ever driving up or down 95, Just Drive Past Emporia Virginia. Keep going. Find somewhere else. Do not stop here. Do not eat here. Do not even THINK about it. Just continue on your way.

First, it was about 8pm. There was a 25 minute wait at the Cracker Barrel. The folks were nice, but there was no way we were waiting that long. The place was mobbed, and we couldn't figure out where so many people were coming from, when there was hardly anyone on the highway.

We drove around the way to Shoney's. In a word... disgusting. Jessica and another woman who came in at the same time as us stepped into the ladies' room and immediately turned around and came out. Jess told me that someone had vomited all over the bathroom. The woman who went in with Jess told the hostess about the disaster, and the hostess said "oh. No one went in and cleaned that up yet? Huh. Okay. I'm sorry."

She then asked the girl who was about to seat us to go take care of it, but then told her to go ahead and seat us first. Then go take care of it.

The way the girl sat us, I doubted that she was going to go up in the toilet and clean out the vomit.

As we walked towards a table, we passed a woman who reached out to our seater girl saying "Miss? Excuse me. My sandwich?"

"Yes?" asked the girl taking us to our seat, continuing to walk.

"Is it ready yet? My sandwich?"

"Yes..." responded the girl, continuing to walk. I looked at the table, and the sandwich seeker's husband had fully finished his entire meal. I doubted this woman would ever see her sandwich. Ever.

Doug and I sat down, and there were no menus, no silverware, no nothing set before us. The girl walked away saying "Someone will be with you in a minute."

Yeah, if a minute means two hours I guess someone will.

People were staring at us like we had four eyeballs on our faces. It was really odd. It was like they all drank the kool-aid, and we didn't, and they knew we were going to survive the night.

"I'm giving this place fifteen more seconds," said Doug. But we got up and left before 11 seconds passed. No one acknowledged we were there, no one acknowledged we were escaping... they were like Zombies.

It was Zombie Shoney's.

We crossed the parking lot to this little Mexican Restaurant, and again -- crap service, no one making eye contact.

While we waited for our food, we watched a girl who could not have been more than 20 sit with a toddler on her lap, blowing smoke right down onto his little blonde head.

Now, I think smoking is pretty gross. But. Most of the people I know who smoke don't hold their toddlers while doing it. Or, if they have to, they do their damnedest to blow the smoke up in the air, craning their necks around to exhale up and behind them. Not this chick. Holy cow.

And I'm sitting there realizing I am such a New Englander. I'm such a Boston States girl. I am aghast that someone would exhale cigarette smoke on the top of a baby's head... and I'm probably the only one in the room who feels this way aside from my equally shocked (come to find out later when we trash talked the joint up the highway) husband.

I wanted to grab her and shake her and smack her in the head and scream "Did you drink a gallon of stupid this morning honey? What the hell are you THINKING!"

Top it off with the fact that it was the most bland, awful Mexican food ever. And there were like authentic Mexican Dudes working there, and they were watching Mexican Futbol on the Telemundo and everything. But there was no flavor to any of the food. No spice, no kick, no zest. The guacamole tasted like toothpaste. Doug's Enchilada was white American cheese wrapped in a tortilla and slathered with some brownish red, flavorless sauce.

We couldn't get out of there fast enough.

We burned an entire hour and a half when all was said and done, and only really intended on maybe 45 minutes at the absolute tops. We should have just gone to Wendy's or something. Or the Quiznos at the gas station. But we wanted a 'meal' and not fast food.

We shook the dust off our sandals and got back in the car and raced north again, making it all the way to Baltimore before just pulling into a hotel parking lot and crashing in a hotel room instead of crashing on the highway.

The hotel room was wonderful. Huge pillows, comfy beds, wicked nice shower heads. It was like heaven after the bad Emporia experience. Hell, a rock and a lice covered blanket would have been nice after what we just went through down the line.

We slept well. And in the morning, only being in Baltimore, we realized we had only about 8 hours to burn to get home. We also knew we would be racing a storm out of the area, and passed on a really nice breakfast at the hotel to hit the road fast, just as the flakes were starting to fly.

There was hardly anyone on the road. We made it home in no time with a minor detour around the George Washington Bridge and Cross Bronx Expressway, both of which had accidents on them. So we went a little further north and experienced the Tappan Zee and 87 to 684 to 84 in Connecticut. We were home in no time.

And then it snowed on us, and I was not happy. I was happy to see my dogs, happy to be in my house. Happy to fill the bird feeder and hear the guinea pig squeal. But I was not happy for the snow. Man. I wanted it to not snow. And it wouldn't do what I wanted.

Stupid snow. Stupid February. Stupid Winter.

All told, it was a grand trip. I think we did more than we've EVER done on a vacation in our lives. I think I enjoyed the NC vacation from 2 years ago a little more, but for different reasons. I would do things differently if I went back to Southwestern Florida, but I wouldn't do a single thing differently if I went to the Outer Banks again.

They were just different vacations.

Geoff was sad to go back to school. I have to say he was the best behaved, most compliant and happiest I've ever seen him while we were on vacation. I like Vacation Geoff a lot. I mean, I love Geoff. But Vacation Geoff is a lot of fun. More fun than you can imagine. He loves to DO things. Jess wants to sit in the house and watch the marathon of Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel (who can blame her really, Mike Rowe... he may smell bad but he's hot and has a great sense of humor...). So Geoff is my kind of kid. He was all hands on, and all fun, and had a blast at the zoo and the nature center. I just loved being with him and spending time with him. I wish Jess was enjoying herself and loving it as much as her brother. But she is in a different place than he is. I wonder if he will become her when he's 14... something to ponder. For now, I'll enjoy the Geoff.

Getting back to work was interesting. Things are really moving fast at the office and there is a lot going on. It was like jumping off a Kayak and into an Acela train on Monday. And on that note, I'm exhausted and need to get off to bed. Doug started a fire in the woodstove so I need to go poke it before I turn in.

It's almost spring. I keep telling myself... and the sun will be sunny again, and my friends the Shorts and the Bathing Suit (even though it is rather snug) will come out again someday soon. Someday. Sigh.

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