Street Performer Daniel’s dog enjoyed some affection and petting. His eyes are normal, but the low-light photo meant that the “pet eyes” effect made him look particularly unnerving without being edited.
Street Performer Daniel’s dog enjoyed some affection and petting. His eyes are normal, but the low-light photo meant that the “pet eyes” effect made him look particularly unnerving without being edited.
Of all the days I’ve been in Florida, so far, today I woke up the earliest. Why? Because I had a three hour drive and had to get my rental car back by 11. After packing up, checking out, and having my last hotel breakfast, I hightailed it to Orlando.
When I was younger, I used to drive relatively fast, but as I’ve matured, I do try to hover the posted limits…this isn’t because I have an inherent problem driving fast, but instead because the time savings doesn’t generally offset the cost of gas…but between “a little extra gas” and “a late fee with a rental car company”, I knew which one I’d prefer. So, I won’t state what speed I was going for most of this trip, but I will state that fuel efficiency was…a secondary concern.
I called my dad on the way; we discussed stocks and tech companies, mostly. I flipped the dial to Z88.3, a Christian radio station I discovered when I came to Florida in 2000 with CAP. I figured that there was a good chance they became another K-Love station by now, but while they clearly had the same copy/pasted playlist, they did seem to remain independent, and I’m glad they’ve avoided cashing out to Christian Clearchannel.
My goal was to get gas within 20 miles of the rental car lot; nobody needs the drama of having less gas in the tank than when you started. With the clock ticking, however, making two stops seemed to be unwise, and while I’d have an illuminated gas gauge before I got to the lot, the estimator indicated that I’d probably get to the car lot with about 25 miles to spare.
Now, let’s put all this together…the estimator assumed I’d be burning gas at the rate I did yesterday, which, as we’ve established, I didn’t. Now, this wouldn’t be much of a problem…except that the last major stretch of highway was about 40 miles long, with no gas stations, exits, rest areas. or signage indicating any of these things beforehand. So, I was playing chicken with the gas gauge, and was trying to figure out what my next move was.
Thought number one: call my friend in the area! The person I called….doesn’t live in “the area”. As a New Yorker who knows that most of the world knows New York as the place with the pizza and the Statue of Liberty (and is reasonably confident that 99% of non-natives wouldn’t pick “Schenectady” as a place that is also, in fact, in New York), I really should know enough to know that being “In Florida” isn’t enough.
Thought number two: The American Automotive Association! I haven’t called them in quite some time…which is a fantastic thing, but this is why we have the cards! So, I called the number on the card, and I learned something. AAA is sucking more than they used to. Now, I’m okay with auto-attendants, but my rule of thumb is this: phone menus should have no more than 5 options, and no more than two menus before being sent to a representative, and maybe an account number. That’s 25 total menu options; I’ll even add in a third one for language selection at the beginning. If there are more than 25 options, you can get a new phone number. AAA’s phone system was five menus deep, spent a bunch of time trying to pitch me on getting the app, and then disconnected the call while I had perfect cell service. So, that was out.
Thought number three: Drive like a grandma and hope for the best. Yes kids, this is what I have become. I was “that guy” doing 50 in a 75. I hit up Google Maps, and with 17 miles left in the tank, it wanted to send me somewhere 28 miles away. That wasn’t happening. A bit more driving and praying and panicking and driving and panicking and praying, and I took another look at the map…our Do No Evil overlords decided that they weren’t going to send me to the nearest gas station, but the preferred one! So, with 9 miles in the tank, it sent me to a gas station ten miles away. Ohh boy, was that a nail biter. There was background music playing in my head…I’ve never been in such a nail biter of a situation, genuinely unsure if I’d run out of gas. With one mile left on the gauge, I rolled up to a gas pump. Fifty bucks of gas later, and I had the full tank I needed, four miles away from the car lot.
Returning the rental car was super uneventful otherwise. Turns out I drove 784 miles over the course of this trip. Is it weird that it didn’t feel like it? Long drives just don’t bother me, I guess.
An Uber later, and I was at yet another hotel. I’m amassing quite the collection of room keys. When I was very young, there was a one of these near where my dad worked. I wasn’t sure why, but I knew I wanted to go there. Now, going to a hotel within commuting distance makes absolutely no sense…but when you’re four, most fixations don’t. Either way, my four year old self’s irrational fixation was finally realized. I was pleasantly surprised that they let me check in as early as they did; I wasn’t looking forward to carrying my luggage around as I tried to kill time for five hours. The room was almost as nice as the last one. The bathroom isn’t as modern in its design, but the room was still super clean, there’s a table and a couch and two TVs and two beds, good wifi, and plenty of outlets. Everything I need.
Now, I’m sure that sitting in a hotel with nothing to do isn’t anyone else’s idea of a good time…but there were no shortage of things I could get done! My MSI laptop has had its secondary drive not showing up for a while; I thought I’d pull it apart and see what I could do. Turns out it just came loose, so I could play Mass Effect again! …except, I didn’t do that, because it has an odd habit of completely locking up that bothers me, so I wiped and reloaded it. Being as the only programs I have on there are my DJ software, Steam, Origin, and my VPN client, wiping and reloading that machine was super easy, barely an inconvenience!
Then, it was lunch time. A local barbecue place had a midwest vibe that would have made my coworker David proud. There were four different BBQ sauce varieties at the table, and yes, one had to try them all. It was one of the classic situations where the waitress asked what I wanted and I told her, “see, that’s kinda a problem, because I want literally all of the things!”. So, there was a sampler that had me trying a little bit of everything – some brisket, some pulled pork, some ribs, some chicken…and yes, all of it was fantastic. It wasn’t quite as good as the recently-shuttered restaurant in Maryland that was a highlight of the drives to Virginia, but a solid second place? Absolutely. It was during lunch that I got two of my blog posts written out.
I also decided to do some upkeep on my blog itself: did you notice the shiny new SSL certificate? Of course you didn’t! Did you notice it running a bit quicker? No, you didn’t recognize that, either. But while I love Bitnami’s ease of setup and everything-in-a-box compilation of Linux server software, major upgrades to underlying software tends to become a problem. While WordPress auto updates, the web server and database server that powers it…don’t. Doing it by hand is the sort of thing where it’s far more effective to just migrate over to a more traditional install, which is what I did. Yay Nginx instead of Apache and MariaDB instead of MySQL and a shiny new SSL Cert and a Debian base instead of Ubuntu! Now, if I was really hardcore, I would have tried using Amazon Lightsail, which is how Amazon wrote its own WordPress-on-AWS tutorial…but I’m getting there. Overall, nothing super pressing, but I’m glad to have done a few of these things without feeling pressured in the process.
A few more texts and phone calls exchanged, and I ended up at Denny’s. Now, as we all know, one doesn’t “go to Denny’s”, one “ends up at Denny’s”. It reminds me of the 24-hour restaurant on the cruise ship where I met Jen and Wendy. I like having a number of restaurants in walking distance, and it was this or Hooters, and well, tonight isn’t the night for Hooters.
Mass Effect. Bed. I get extra sleep tonight, and so do you.
It was definitely strange that I ended up with very little to do at work today. I got to the office, handled a few minor issues for people, did some setup for something that’s going to arrive on Monday, cleaned up a bit, and said my goodbyes. I was done in less than two hours, but today was easily the busiest day. I started by running a few errands.
There were a handful of things I needed at Walgreens, so I did some shopping there. There was a place nearby that was named “The Brooklyn Water Bagel Company”, promising authentic New York Bagels. I had to investigate. I showed the cashier my New York State driver’s license and told her I’d be judging…and sure enough, they weren’t kidding. Maybe it’s the water and maybe it isn’t, but whatever their secret is, I can confidently state that it’s possible to get a real bagel in Florida.
Before I left New York, I’d wanted to get a haircut, but I ran out of time. Incidentally, my company has two clients in Florida, they’re about 30 minutes away from each other, and the second one is a salon. Guess what I did.
Kim is a solid hairdresser, and had me in and out in less than an hour, which is epic for a same-day appointment. I was appreciative of the time she spent, and I think she did a good job. She even had something she wanted me to try to help bring back a bit of hair, because yes, I’m at that point in my life now. We had a good discussion; I gave some idea as to what I was doing down here, and she reciprocated by describing some issues she was having with a contractor. It was nice to see her again, though I was a bit annoyed that she refused to take my money.
Kim’s salon was in the opposite direction of my next destination: my friend Brittany’s house. One of the very few friends from high school with whom I keep in regular contact, Brittany and I made tentative plans to see each other before I left. I appreciated her flexibility with respect to timing, since it changed multiple times over the course of the planning phase. I wasn’t planning on doing any of the work I did to begin with, and then the work came around, and then the “best available day” switched a bit, and we finally ended up with “Friday, after work…whenever that is; I’ll call you before I leave”. Not great plans, but the best I could do…and her family was all the way on board with it.
It was nearly a four hour drive to Brittany’s house. Did you know there are cows in Florida? There are. Like, lots of them. A lot more than I was expecting. I was similarly surprised at how many of the cows had an entourage with them. Herons and other long-necked fowl are common sights, but I was very surprised that they camped out around the cows as they grazed. Trailer parks were a very common sight on the way; there were many trailer/RV areas, most dedicated to senior retirement. The sun was waning while I drove, and while there was rain to be had (as it had done for much of the day before) the sun poked through the clouds as I continued on. I also made my first stop for gas in this car. A conservative $20 regular got me fairly close to full, but not as much as I was expecting. this Camry’s 16-gallon tank would readily explain why the range estimates exceeded my Corolla’s 12, despite getting similar gas mileage. On the way, I caught up with my coworkers, getting my billable time documented and discussing a few issues that they were addressing on their end. My one coworker David is a dyed-in-the-wool Ohio State graduate; while this was no secret, a lengthy discussion regarding his feelings about the car in front of me with the license plate “IA ST8R” was, apparently, worthy of contempt. He’s one of maybe six people who used his turn signal when switching lanes, so for being a persona non grata, he was quite considerate.
At long last, Brittany and I were reunited. It was nearly seven years since her family moved away from New York; I hadn’t seen her since. Probably more happy to see me than Brittany was Brittany’s mom, who has considered me like one of her own children for quite some time. Brittany’s sister Rachel wasn’t going to be around, but I did get to see Brittany’s father as well; he and I find no shortage of topics to discuss, either. We sat in their immaculately designed living room for a little under an hour and caught up; I recounted my hotel-hell story and described some of the work I did; Brittany and her mom caught me up on Florida life and wedding planning.
Shortly after Brittany’s Fiancee arrived, the three of us headed out to grab dinner. It worked out well because I did want a picture at the beach, even if I didn’t get a chance to do actual beach things. Brittany is a street performer at a beach that is a nightlife center in the area. Her hula hooping skills and other acrobatic talents combined with her sparking personality and clown training are all things which make her show incredibly entertaining to watch…however, she wasn’t performing that night. We got to take the beach photo, and Daniel, one of the other performers with whom Brittany is friendly, started his show shortly after.
Daniel’s four month old dog is adorable; I was so glad to be able to pet him and take a photo. Daniel opened the show with some tricks with his dog; this helped build the initial crowd. After the dog tricks were done, he showed off his contortionist talents by using his feet to put on a hat while doing a handstand on some short poles. Some humor was helpful to gain additional attention as he fit himself through a tennis racket in multiple directions. His denouement was his ability to free himself from a straitjacket while riding a seven foot tall unicycle. It was definitely impressive, especially as he continued speaking with the audience as he did so. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear him give a brief call-to-forgiveness at the end of his show, offering Bibles to people if they wanted one, irrespective if they put money in his hat.
After Daniel’s show, Brittany, Skyler (Brittany’s fiancee) and I went to dinner. I’m not the biggest fan of seafood, but avoiding it on the pier was like trying to find a good cheeseburger in Jerusalem. So, butterfly shrimp it was, and I will say that it was quite enjoyable. The two of them discussed how they met, and told stories about their time dating and such, which was very entertaining. Skyler is a Mass Effect fan as well. He doesn’t think Brittany will enjoy trying to play it, but we concurred she’ll romance Garrus if she does.
After dinner, we headed back to Brittany’s house. Mom was watching a Hallmark Christmas movie…not sure which one, but like…does it matter? I mean, I was there for nearly an hour and the movie was on the whole time, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the pretense or context upon which the story was built. I was too busy catching up with Brittany’s dad. We discussed housing construction, state politics, people from churches we’d attended together in the past, and several other topics. It was nice to catch up with him as well.
While it was made known that the guest room was open to me, I needed to get back to my hotel. The rental car had to be back in the morning, my stuff was still in the hotel, and the drive to Orlando was far longer coming from the opposite coast, so the three hour drive back to the hotel had to commence.
This route was far quieter, and involved a lengthy stretch along a highway called Alligator Alley…no kidding, that’s what it’s named on Google Maps. A phone call or two took place as I drove, Daily Audio Bible taking up the rest. I was back at my hotel a bit before 1.
My phone didn’t wake me up in the morning. This was a good sign – there were no fires causing my coworkers to wake me up. Ordinarily I’m take-it-or-leave-it with hotel breakfast, but knowing that it’s something that causes my mother an oddly high level of ecstasy, I took a few moments to get coffee and one of those DIY Belgian waffles before I headed back to work.
There were a few things that needed to be addressed; some users were a bit confused regarding where certain things were, and e-mail needed to be configured, but for the most part, everyone was where they wanted to be in less than 90 minutes. There was some additional back-end work I needed to do, but today’s big job was upgrading everyone’s RAM and giving them Solid State Hard Drives. Once again, this would require some after hours work, and I couldn’t even start the process on the unattended computers because “Santa” (aka FedEx) hadn’t arrived with the parts yet. So, I went back to the hotel, made a phone call, and took a nap.
My arrival back at the office led me to meet some surprising wildlife: iguanas. Big ones. One easily three feet long. Geckos, I expected. The huge lizards…not so much, but it was nice to see. Work started up again, and this time, I *was* able to do things in parallel. I thought I was going to get out at a reasonable hour! …but while I had the first half of the computers done in two hours, the others were…less cooperative. Some just took an oddly long time, some involved an attempted drive clone and a subsequent failure…there was chaos. So, I got all the easy ones done, and went out for some sushi before round two began.
I took some time to reply to some text messages I’d been neglecting to return. It was nice to catch up with some people. The sushi was fine, but I was surprised at the tab. An upcharge for soy paper is common, but three bucks a roll? That was more than I’d expected. The outdoor dining was nearly perfect in its weather, and I enjoyed the outing.
Back to the grindstone, and the last three computers would take another four hours to finish their installs. I was glad none of the drives failed in the process – two of them gave the sort of feedback indicating that the drives were likely to fail soon, so I’m glad I thought to do this. All of the computers came back up the way they were supposed to, making me pretty confident that the next day would involve a very minimal amount of work. Back to the hotel, back to sleep.
Morning couldn’t come fast enough. I packed up everything in my room with the intent of not staying in it another night, depending on how things worked out. On my way out, I went to talk to the person at the front desk regarding the discussed refund. Well, the wonderfully helpful and apologetic young lady from last night was replaced by “Florida’s Textbook Karen”. She condescendingly informed me that since my reservation was made through Hotels.com, that I would need to go through them to receive my refund…and then, she’d still have to approve it. Realizing that this discussion wasn’t going to be a fruitful one, I said “Okay, I will”, and headed to my car for my first day on the job site.
I walked into the office where I was to work for the next several days. This office has its headquarters in Manhattan, so many of the people here, I had spoken with before. Many of them have put in helpdesk tickets and phone calls over the years, so it was nice to put names to faces, and vice versa. With that, I got to work.
I won’t bore you with technical details, but suffice it to say that there was a lot to do. I got to my first milestone, and then headed to get some food. A local Cuban restaurant had its Wednesday special as arroz con pollo and…whatever those delicious plantains are that I can never seem to make. I was initially planning on getting something a bit different, but this was easily the best arroz con pollo I’ve ever had, and the staff was nice. The late Ralphie May (and later Gabriel Iglesias) have sketches regarding Cuban coffee, so I definitely had to have some. It’s strong, it’s sweet, it’s got no milk, and it does indeed come in a cup the size of a shot glass with a handle.
Back to work, and another round of setup was underway. A nontrivial part of it had to do with untangling some of the mess; their old IT person set things up pretty well given the circumstances, but it was time to improve on this without making a mess. More nerdy things, along with a bit of waiting until everyone else left for the day.
During that time, I made a couple of phone calls; between Hotels.com, the CFO of the client who was covering the hotel, and the staff-recommended hotel nearby, I had new reservations, a green-light to cover the cost, and my dispute underway for the old hotel. It was nice to know I had somewhere to go that night…and that it wouldn’t be Hotel Chlamydia.
The computers I was working on were nearly ten years old, and weren’t high-end units at the time, either. This made the work very time consuming; a delivered Papa John’s pizza was dinner, and its consumption was the only respite once the staff left. Despite only having eleven computers in the office, attempting to do all the work in parallel is a surefire way to make sure that a step is skipped on one computer or another. One computer failed at step 1; I knew it needed to be the first thing on my list the next day. It was 2:30 in the morning when I left. I took a moment to provide some documentation to my coworkers back home, along with a note for the office manager, in the event there was a show-stopper at 8:30 in the morning when they arrived. I knew it’d be 10 before I would arrive.
When I checked into my new hotel room…it was the polar opposite of the room I’d stayed in. The room was spotless – there wasn’t a surface I wouldn’t be comfortable eating off of. Everything had a contemporary styling, there was a kitchen area complete with a dishwasher and a two-burner stove, and the bathroom was immaculate, stocked with Paul Mitchell shampoos and conditioners. I’d felt the hotel was a bit more expensive than I was hoping to pay, but I can most certainly say that I got what I paid for – a perfect night’s sleep in a super comfortable bed.
Is it weird to have “being able to wait for a flight in the Delta SkyLounge” one of those things on my bucket list, as if it is an accurate reflection of having “made it”? The SkyLounge means you either fly on a near-monthly basis, or you’ve got enough money to justify spending $550 a year to have a platinum American Express card…itself an odd thing for me to reconcile from a recipient’s perspective – It makes sense for Amex; anyone who spends that much on having a credit card probably doesn’t pay much in interest and those free airline tickets have to get paid for somehow. Maybe it’s like owning a Cadillac – I’ve heard on more than one occasion that it’s common to not want a Cadillac until after you own it.
Until then, today marked a slightly less ostentatious milestone: It’s my first time flying first class. Before I started writing this out at 34,000 feet, it was a trip from the LIRR to Kennedy. I’ve taken this route before, but I was surprised that the MTA is letting all tickets be off-peak, but then again, there were maybe a dozen people in a train car that normally seats over 80. I’d blame Covid concerns, but while the mask requirements are well laid out, enforcement is, shall we say, inconsistent. It’s been years since I rode the LIRR daily, but I oddly miss the commuter rail.
One of the core tenets of being a commuter is the sense of, ehm, community. New Yorkers have a reputation for being curt, but if you’re visiting New York and find yourself lost on a train or subway, fear not. Long time commuters develop an instinctive compulsion to shepherd confused travelers to where they need to go. I learned that this instinct doesn’t atrophy. A mother about my age and her two children got off the AirTrain with me. She seemed a bit confused about which direction to go to get to the terminal, but that instinct kicked in and I made sure she got on the right elevators and followed the proper signage to get where she needed to go.
Getting to the terminal early worked out particularly well; I was able to get some work done for a client while I was sitting at the terminal. In between VPN and SSH sessions, I started making my campaign plans for when I take over the world run for president. My plan is to ignore the wedge issues entirely. I’ll let Congress bicker about healthcare and gun control and taxes. What’s my starting point? Free headphones in airport terminals, and a $10,000 fine for using the speakerphone for any reason. I like Cinemasins, but hearing that incessant ‘ding’ while someone was watching using their speaker for nearly an hour was, in my opinion, justifiable cause to perform the sorts of actions that would have caused me to miss my flight due to being detained by the TSA…then again, I feel like half the terminal would have signed affidavits saying that they saw nothing. For Youtube videos, three Facetime calls, two casino games, and a partridge in a pear tree later, and I came to a decision: mom, if you’re reading this, know that all phone calls going forward will involve me stating your legal name, address, and social security number, place of employment, and your mother’s maiden name. You will no longer be one of those people who takes speakerphone calls in public; you raised me too well to be that level of inconsiderate.
So, what’s First Class like? Well, in an amusing irony, not as good as it could have been. See, originally I was slated to get a connecting flight that changed in Milwaukee (not kidding), which would have afforded me the “real” first class experience – fold-down seats, a lounge to walk around in…the kitchen sink experience my bank account normally can’t handle. However, my reschedule meant that I got a direct flight (yay!) that included a less-awesome first class experience (boo!). That being said, the only people who got on my plane first were individuals with disabilities and active duty military, so that’s certainly fun. We have our own dedicated flight attendant handling my 20-or-so fellow travelers. I think alcohol is included, but I’m not drinking while flying…there’s just enough turbulence to make me conscious of my stomach; no need for ethanol-sourced complications. I believe it’s been almost 10 years since the last time I was given a meal on an airplane; I would imagine that my 2012 transatlantic flights included food, but I’d have to look up my travel blog to verify. Meals are chilled and served sealed; I opted for a strawberry/chicken salad. I know portions aren’t going to be the same size as a sit-down restaurant, but I most definitely look forward to eating upon landing. Sorry I forgot to take a photo of it; I’m keeping my phone in my pocket until we land. I’m reminded of the meme with a guy on a phone call, captioned “Instagram is down! Just describe your lunch to me!”
So, I landed in the airport, grabbed my luggage, and went to get my rental car. Normally, I’ve just gone to the counter and gotten one, but this particular rental car company was off-site and had shuttles. It was a bit confusing, but a few extra steps later, and I got to the counter…only to be told that my reservation was for 11AM, and since I didn’t show up for two hours after, I got a “no show”, and canceled the reservation. A call to AmEx Travel later, and I got a reservation at a different company…which was just as well because I was like-this-and-like-that about some of the policies of the first company.
I grabbed an Uber to the second counter; , I was at the other counter. They were wonderful and helpful. While I was waiting, Shark Tank was playing in the lobby. I have mixed feelings about the people who pitch their products on the show…primarily because after thirteen seasons of the show, people still seem like they’re unprepared to answer questions. Being passionate about your product or idea is one thing, but how do you barely hold back tears when someone whose focus is getting a return on their investment asks hard questions?
My Camry was documented for the handful of minor scratches and dings, and a few signatures later, I was on my way. The three hour drive was mostly empty highway; unsurprising as my journey started around 9PM. A clear night with moderate temperatures made the drive enjoyable. A taco restaurant a mile away from the hotel supplied dinner; I got my food and checked into the hotel.
I’m not the sort of person to expect to stay in an executive suite with a bottle of champagne on ice for me. Hotel amenities are largely lost on me; a bed, a bathroom, and a few electrical outlets are all I need. My room at this hotel, however, couldn’t clear that. The hallway both had multiple ‘no smoking’ signs, and the clear aroma of cigarette smoke that was readily apparent, even through my mask. When I got to the room, it was literally the worst room I’d ever been shown to. The bed wasn’t made, the towels were all used, there was a cap for a hypodermic needle on the floor near the bed…and in addition to every pillow having “moisture content”, there were two wet spots on the bed, about at waist level, and no, there wasn’t a leak on the ceiling…I’ll deal with imperfections, but that’s the sort of legitimately-concerning situation that makes me ‘nope’ my way to the front desk…after I ate my tacos of course, because I was most definitely in need of deliciousness.
So, it’s about 1AM at this point, and I get to the front desk and ask if I could get a different room; none were available, nor would there be the following nights. So, I got some extra blankets to sleep on the floor. The woman at the front desk tells me that they’ll process a refund in the morning. So, on the floor I slept, reminding myself that pretty much everyone in the New Testament had worse sleeping arrangements.
It’s been a blur, and clearly I’ve been so busy that daily blogging hasn’t been something I’ve had time for. I should have a stint tomorrow to fully catch up, but I’ll at least get some bullet points out the door…
Okay, those are the bullet points. The novels are coming as I have time to write them.