Photo Round-Up #2

So many photos…

Bob picked me up from my hotel Monday night.

 

Myself, Eileen, and one of the grandkids at Cracker Barrel.

 

Shae and I in the gift shop.

 

Myself and Eileen, shortly before she left for work Monday morning.

 

Shae’s son and I outside Bob’s truck, in the parking lot of Epcot on Tuesday.

 

In the second Mass Effect game, one mission involves telling two Krogan that there are no fish in the presidium fountain. There were no fish in this pond at Epcot, either.

 

Tacos, guacamole, and a margarita in Mexico. First item on the agenda, first taken care of.

 

Bottom’s up! Not gonna lie though, bartenders are stingy and you pay theme park prices for drinks.

 

Within the Mexico attraction, there are many of these ceramic skulls, inspired by the movie “Coco”.

 

Donald is Beatrice’s favorite character. Viva Donald!

 

The monorails in the park look more dated than I remember – they have that “old futurisic” vibe that didn’t seem to age well.

 

Lizzy and I first being reunited after her plane landed.

 

A nighttime view on the smoking bench in the resort area where I blogged.

 

Despite multiple signs warning me about snakes and alligators, this rabbit is about the most unique animal I’ve seen on property so far.

 

Some of the buildings at the hotel are getting a facelift. I was rather disappointed that these things (of which there are many) don’t have googley eyes on them.

 

Christmas has started at Disney Springs.

 

Ariel outside the hotel.

 

Sunrise from my window.

 

A candid of myself, Beatrice, Dave, and Lizzy while waiting for the bus.

 

Christmas tree at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom.

Obligatory photo of Cinderella’s castle after walking in.

 

The clock at “It’s A Small World” was accurate – it was our third ride by 9AM.

 

The chandelier in the Haunted Mansion has lots of cobwebs. Someone needs a Swiffer.

 

A Mickey Waffle. One ear was already eaten.

 

Tinkerbell on her single-float parade; this was the first character making a lap around the park, at least that I saw.

 

Why is the rum gone? It’s not because I drank it! That’s coffee!!

 

These birds were around. It’s pretty clear they were looking for french fries.

 

Parade dancers down Main Street in Liberty Square. They definitely have the energy to smile a whole lot.

 

Donald and Daisy on a short parade float.

 

This house on Tom Sawyer Island: Tourist attraction.
This house on Long Island: $699,000.

 

A candid on the riverboat. I didn’t realize Beatrice photobombed until I reviewed the photos for upload.

 

A photo in a cave on Tom Sawyer Island.

 

The running water was lovely.

 

I’m not the only one! This guy was getting some work done on Tom Sawyer Island.

 

Teacup ride. Neither Lizzy nor I felt like spinning the middle thingy.

 

The Tron roller coaster, due to open next year. I’m glad they’re doing it, but Tron was from 1982, Tron: Legacy was from 2010…seems like quite a long time?

 

The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor!

 

Stroller parking. So. Many. Strollers.

 

Cinderella’s Castle, evening lights.

 

Fireworks. Intelligent lights. Projection mapping. It was super impressive.

 

A SpaceX launch in the distance.

Day 9: Magic Kingdom

I’m long overdue for a photo dump…and if today is any indication, most of the rest of this blog is going to end up being done in photo form. I’m working on figuring out why I can’t get the WordPress mobile app to work; it’d let me better utilize my line time if I could…one day, but not today, because wow I’m tired.

Let’s see…

Lizzy and I were out the door a few minutes after 7. Yes, me, yes, 7. I’m chalking it up to “Disney Magic”. Here’s some highlights:

Maybe I simply don’t remember because of my age and the elapsed time since the last time I was here, but Lizzy is far from the only one focused on wearing Disney shirts. Here were some more memorable T-shirts I saw:

  • Countless “Mommy Mouse / Daddy Mouse / Auntie/Uncle Mouse / Brother/Sister Mouse” coordinated shirts. Some were customized and had the wearer’s name on it.
  • A blonde woman around my age with her daughter, maybe Kindergarten age. The woman was wearing an Elsa skirt and a tiara. Her top said “never grow up”.
  • One woman had her Minnie Mouse cosplay on point – the ears, the makeup, the black top and polka dot skirt, even yellow Nikes. Easily the best Minnie I saw.
  • Twin siblings, maybe 7 or 8, wearing matching Ariel shirts with their fire engine red hair in the exact same pony tail.
  • An obviously-pregnant woman with a shirt saying “Beauty and the Bump”. Her significant other was wearing a shirt that said “I’m her Beast”.
  • A family wearing Disney-stylized “Best Day Ever” shirts…except the dad, wearing a Disney-stylized “Most Expensive Day Ever” shirt.
  • A man wearing a shirt saying “My favorite Disney Princess is my wife”. Similarly, another man I saw wore a shirt saying “My favorite Disney Villain is my wife”. Rounding it out were two sisters with shirts saying “My favorite Disney villain is my (older/younger) sister”.
  • I really liked the fact that I got this reference because it’s one of the more obscure ones: a young girl dressed as a generic princess (seemed like some Cinderella / Elsa sort of thing; wasn’t particularly descript). The dad was wearing a shirt that had the “Princess Protection Program” logo, a nod to a Disney Channel TV-movie from the late 2000s.
  • But the one that had me laughing out loud was a man with a clearly-miffed Mickey Mouse on it, saying “I don’t do coordinated T-Shirts”. Lizzy informed me that this shirt is very unlikely for sale in the park; I would most definitely buy it if it were.

Okay, enough with the fashion show.

The bus on the way to the park definitely reminded me of home; every seat was filled and there were easily 20 straphangers. I was proud; it was a New York City Subway car. It was nice to have that experience here in vacationland.

 

We arrived in time for rope drop, and let me tell you, I might tease Lizzy for her extensive time spent planning, but I can’t argue with her results. “It’s a Small World” was the third ride we went on by 9AM. My feet hurt by the end of the day, but when you get half of Magic Kingdom done by dinner time, you learn quickly to pop Motrin by the bottle and soldier through.

I feel like I went to the Haunted Mansion when we went to Disney in 2005 or 2006, but I more remember it for the 1995 visit when my mom protested us going on it; consequently I was too scared to do so. As a result of dad’s insistence, I joined him, but I had my eyes closed literally the whole time…it wasn’t the best way to do such a ride. Going through it as an adult, it almost seems like a satire of haunted houses. It’s Lizzy’s favorite ride, and while I don’t know that I share all of her affinity, I do have a modicum of appreciation for how well done the ride is, with its visual effects and complete avoidance of jump scares and shock value in the process.

After Haunted Mansion, it was time for breakfast. I got a waffle and coffee…and the place we went to had a drink that came with a 50th anniversary commemorative straw. So I got the drink I didn’t particularly want just to get the straw for Lizzy…only to be disappointed that it’s one of those stupid paper straws. Shoot me now.

Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a few others.

Lizzy and family went to the Hall of Presidents; I ended up with a quick work call I took and stayed outside. I ended up catching a short parade, which was a nice silver lining. Some long-beaked birds were hanging out clearly waiting for tourists to drop their fries.

Steamboat, Tom Sawyer Island, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, lots of walking around.

Just before lunch, it started to rain. A gentle drizzle that didn’t warrant anything at the beginning, and though it didn’t turn into a straight-up downpour, it was raining for most of the day.It’s an occupational hazard at Disney (though I don’t expressly remember rainy days either of the last times we went), but the bigger issue was that it was a bit cold throughout the day. Being that it was about 73 when we left the hotel and forecast to hit 80, no, I didn’t bring my jacket – ironically, I brought sunscreen.

Lunch at a restaurant with a Jungle Cruise theme, though we didn’t get on that particular ride today.

After lunch, Lizzy and I did our own set of rides as everyone else paired off in different directions.

Carousel, Teacups, People Mover, Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, Carousel of Progress, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger. Buzz was particularly amusing because the ride stopped a few times, giving me extra time to hit more targets. It seemed cheap, but I got about 295,000 points, several factors higher than anyone else whose score I saw.

Dinner was a quick service pizza from Pinnochio’s tavern; I was upset that of all places, there was no rum in Tortuga. Why is the rum gone? Anyway, separate topic. Annoyingly, they didn’t give me a lid for Lizzy’s drink, even when I asked for one…but my coffee cup lid fit properly, so why didn’t they give me one of those? That was an annoying game of don’t spill (spoiler: I did, slightly, when trying to open a particularly petulant door with my butt while carrying the tray and wearing my backpack).

Now, I was legitimately impressed by the evening fireworks show. Really, it wasn’t the fireworks that did it. See, for the 50th anniversary, they repainted Cinderella’s castle. For the fireworks show, they turned the whole thing into a projection screen. Light shows? Seen ’em. Fireworks? Raised on Grucci. Oddly shaped projection screens? owned one. Projecting a video clip of Elsa from Frozen raising her hand in the “magic pose” and then having fireworks launch as if she did it herself? Show the “fly outside the Axiom scene between Wall-E and Eva” and have them fly out out frame in perfect sync with two fireworks on spiral paths? Do all of this on a castle that is colored and looks nothing like a projection screen at all during the daylight? Yeah. THAT is impressive.

To top it all off, as I sat here blogging, I got to see a SpaceX shuttle launch in the distance.

7 miles and a shade under 20,000 steps today. Let’s see if I have enough energy tonight to get a photo dump out there for you.

Day 8: Taco Tuesday

I was super appreciative that Bob and Eileen let me use their washer and dryer while I stayed over. I didn’t have a lot of laundry, but it’s amazing how much even 14 days of clothing starts to get heavy when packing. Being able to avoid carrying 21 pairs of socks was as wonderful as not having to deal with the Disney Laundromat. I put a load in the night before, but I folded and repacked in the morning. It was a generally low key morning; Bob made breakfast and Eileen left shortly after it. She wouldn’t be home until after I’d left; while I assume I will be seeing her again at some point before I leave, I wasn’t anticipating seeing her today. One of the grandchildren was ‘home sick’ today…this claim was contested as the day progressed.

Bob drove me to the hotel so I could get my park pass and room key. According to Lizzy, there was at least some potential that the room would be ready beforehand as well. When we got to the gate, it was a bit awkward. I handed them my ID, but the reservation was, apparently, under Lizzy’s name. This would have been a problem if they required her ID, which was approximately 36,000 feet in the air at the time. Fortunately, my ID + her name + reservation number from the e-mail was enough to convince the guard that I was okay to stay.

The Art of Animation hotel is one of the ‘value resorts’, the on-premise property is clearly oriented for those with young children. Still, it’s clear that even the entry level locations are built to impress upon entrance. I spoke with an individual to get the park pass and ask if the room was ready; one out of two isn’t bad. After getting all my paperwork together, Bob, his grandson, and I went to Epcot to have lunch and kill some time.

When I was nine, my family took our first vacation to Disney. In retrospect, I’m particularly impressed with how my parents managed to make that happen at the time. With a week’s notice, dad booked a rental car, off-property hotel, Disney park passes, and airfare for four. This might not seem like a major thing now, but go ahead and try it! However, do what he did, and do it without the internet, without a cell phone, and without a credit card. How’d you do? …that’s what I thought.
This trip included the oft-recounted tale of having tacos in Mexico. When we did the World Showcase, we started on the opposite end of the showcase with the intent of ending up in Mexico. Seems logical, but as the day progressed, the time got away from us. We got to Mexico just as it closed, but an empathetic Cast Member conjured up tacos, nachos, and cinnamon twists, informing my dad that the stand was closed and that he couldn’t take his money. Well, to right this injustice, I got tacos, chips, guac, and a margarita before doing literally anything else. Then, the photos were taken and sent to my mom, my dad, and my sister, with the caption “First. [expletive]. Thing.” It was a good first stop at the park.

Lizzy enjoys wearing Disney-themed clothing as a matter of course. I, on the other hand, am ambivalent and would happily wear a black T-Shirt and jeans every day for the rest of my natural life, given the option. While unsurprising, it is clear that I am in the minority with respect to my feelings in this regard. Somewhere between one-third and one-half of the people here are wearing Mickey/Minnie ears. Ride and other souvenir shirts are common sights, but some people have particularly amusing things they’re wearing. One clearly-preganant woman was wearing a shirt that said “snacking for two”. I can’t remember the other one right now, but there were more than a few maternity themed tops I saw. One couple had a his-and-her set of tops where the man’s said “We’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?”, and hers said, “Yeah, forever”, quoting the Fox and the Hound. Another couple had his-and-hers shirts where one said “Ooglybear” and the other said “Schmootziepoo” from Monsters, Inc. A third had his-and-hers Mickey and Minnie ears; ‘Minnie’ had one of those lace veils coming from the back. On the flip side, one guy who was by himself had a shirt that said “single rider”. I’m sure it’s far from the last of the amusing Disney tie-ins I’ll see here, but while I wouldn’t exactly consider myself persuaded, I am glad that so many people are enjoying expressing themselves via their outerwear.

Shae came to pick her son up after we ate. Bob stayed with me a bit longer to help me address something else that happened: they wanted my fingerprint at the gate when I presented my ticket. And admittedly, I did it when we went in the park the first time, but I was really perplexed about that….and, not the biggest fan of biometric data being collected. I did a bit of reading about it over lunch, and like everyone else whose databases have leaked on to the dark web, those databases “weren’t collecting PII”…so, they do offer an opt-out, which they don’t tell you about (it’d have been nice to know that it was going to be necessary in the first place; not even the guy giving me my ticket told me), but you have to sign up for it and then they need to take your photo, and I’m okay with that, but I wish I didn’t have to Google for it after I did the fingerprint thing the first time. It wasn’t a huge deal, and at some level I do understand it (the concern is for people buying 10-day passes when they intend to stay for 5, then sell the other 5 days to someone else)…but it definitely was a turnoff and I was glad that Bob was willing to be patient as I dealt with that matter.

Bob and I hung out for a little bit longer, then we went to the hotel. Shortly after arrival, I finally met up with Lizzy, her sister, and her parents. We compared notes regarding flights and things, and I got one of those refillable mugs for the trip. Her plan was to go to Disney Springs and do some shopping. Personally, I’m not much of a souvenir guy, but I wanted to shuffle things around in the room as to ensure Lizzy had enough space to put her her things as well. The room is very well decorated and coordinated, but it’s easily the smallest I’ve been in so far on this trip, and yes, that includes the first night hotel. Space is at a premium everywhere; there are no closets, and the only additional furniture besides the beds are the table and chairs, and the TV stand that has three drawers in total. As a single traveler I could make do by using the second bed as a shelf, but I do anticipate Lizzy and I wanting for elbow room over the course of this trip. The room is also in the most distant building from the pool and the front desk; I’m glad Lizzy didn’t book the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” rooms, but apparently there’s ‘tiering’ even at the value resorts.

I went outside to blog; three days to catch up on was going to take a while and I wanted to make sure I got it all in. I sat outside to do so; the bench I sat at was a smoking section. I sat next to a guy who is here with his fiancee from Knoxville, TN. We had a good discussion about life and relationships and things of that nature. Apparently, I not only look like an IT guy be having an IT guy’s laptop, I sound like an IT guy “because of how I communicate”. I…I choose to believe that was a compliment? Anyway, my shirt smells a bit like cigarette smoke (he smoked three while we talked), but I think I may spend a bit more time blogging on smoker benches just as a way of meeting other vacationers here.

I got on a bus and headed to Disney Springs, where Lizzy spent some time doing a bit of shopping. There was already Christmas music playing. I wasn’t interested in doing much shopping, but it was as good a place as any to get dinner. We did so, during which I caught her up on my Florida trip so far, the hotel drama, and so on. We did a bit more walking, and headed back to the hotel.

I put in 5.5 miles and nearly 17,000 steps today…and it’s not even a “real” park day.

Day 7: Boringsauce and Cracker Barrel

My phone call yesterday was to my boss to determine whether it would be beneficial for me to plan to get work done on Monday. It would be another day before Disney would start, and while I could certainly spend some time getting some more assorted projects done (what, you think I ran out of them?), I also knew it would be helpful to my coworkers to have someone able to answer the phones and e-mails and things as they did a few on-site visits that I’d ordinarily do personally, but, y’know…thousand mile distance and all that. I had my last morning breakfast, and they sold some ramen noodle bowls in a small area of the hotel, so that was lunch.

Dinner, on the other hand, was an enjoyable reunion with my friends Bob and Eileen. I’ve known them for nearly 30 years; Eileen was the cheerleading coach at my old high school; I DJ’d for the annual elementary school cheer camp for nearly 20 years before Covid put the kibosh on that; it’s unclear whether it’ll return. Bob is a general contractor who does a fantastic job; you can tell he loves his family because of how he takes care of them. Their daughter Shae and her two children joined us at Cracker Barrel.

I have this theory that the food at Cracker Barrel is only there to drive traffic to their gift shop, where all the children bug their parents for this random toy they’ll play with twice. As Yogurt once said, “Moichindizing…where the REAL money from the movie is made!”. Fine, there’s no movie…but the meat loaf dinner was on point and once ground beef comes down to a sane price again, I’ll give it a go myself. The six of us caught up on the last several years; all of them asked me to move down there. I’ll make sure my family knows that there’s competition for my destination.

When I got home, Bob, Eileen, and I talked over a Hallmark Christmas movie…but, less so, to the point where I was able to follow the general plot points in this one. A generally-pretty, mid-30’s, NYC Martha Stewart type with no time for a family gets in a car accident and loses her memory. She is rescued by a predictably-handsome widower with three perfectly-behaved children who miss their mom. Romance ensues until the publicist and boyfriend show up to take her home, and once she gets there, she realizes what she’s been missing and goes back to tall-dark-and-handsome’s arms to raise the children and starts to film her cooking show from the middle of Colorado instead, having kissed, married, and everyone having the “best Christmas ever”. See, I paid attention!

Blog. Sleep.

Day 6: Another Reunion

I would have felt that I was able to pull one over on the hotel for getting an extra hour to sleep there…if they didn’t also let me check in three hours early the day before without an upcharge or anything to that effect. DST remains a point of contention on the internet, but I feel like it most commonly gets complained about in the fall, when we get extra sleep. Is it because we have slept more deeply and realize that DST doesn’t really make sense? Or is it because we all know it’s going to get dark at 4:30 and we’re all sitting here saying “that’s annoying”? I don’t know, but I do know that I enjoyed the feeling of getting up eariy without actually getting up early.

I got some coffee and breakfast, and then I got some more work done. While Covid made internet church a necessity for many churches in 2020, my church has been live streaming for well over a decade. It was nice to attend church in a different state; I very much appreciate that flexibility.

After church, a client at work needed some work done. It was interesting work; one of the tricky parts was being able to install a bare metal operating system on a server a thousand miles away. The biggest issue was the server is a bit older, so its facilities to do this required a bit of extra work to get going. Once I did, the next steps were a bit more tedious; I had to repeat a similar set of steps several times to finalize the work, but I got an assembly line going and all went pretty well.

After that, I was bored, so I tried my hand at another project I’d been putting off. Google Authenticator and similar apps are great for a single person needing to get time-based 2-factor authentication codes, but that quickly gets unwieldy. When phones get switched around or teams get involved, it quickly becomes difficult to keep those codes straight. So, an enterprising individual made an application called “2fauth” that allows those codes to be shown on a website…and I’ve been trying to get it to work on and off, but I never quite had the time for it…until now, when I had the time, and I got it to work! It made me so happy…but not as happy as what happened next.

For most of the 2010s, there was a church where I did some tech work. I met some wonderful people there and had some wonderful times I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the members, Danielle, moved down here a few years ago. While I’d still see her from time to time when she flew back to New York, I reached out to her to see if she’d be up for a visit. Sunday was that day. She and her friend Annabelle came and we hung out on my couch for a while. She wanted to start a podcast, so one of the things I was grateful to do was to pass along some of the equipment which was owned by another friend who had a similar desire, but felt it would go to better use in Danielle’s hands. Danielle is one to wear her heart on her sleeve, and this was no exception. Smiles and tears were in abundance as she accepted the gift, and we made plans to do some remote sessions to get her in a place to learn the technical skills I knew she’d need.

We spent a good amount of time recounting some details of a situation that took place in her absence, while giving all of the context and backstory to Annabelle, who only knew a few isolated details. The conversation meandered on a number of other topics, but we were easily there for two hours just reminiscing and enjoying. Annabelle was a bit more quiet, but an observer who seemed interested in hearing about everything, though when she did interject, what she had to say was invariably on point.

The Bonefish Grill provided dinner; we enjoyed the night and had a fantastic meal while continuing to discuss Florida and life and topics of faith…it was just a lovely time to catch up and really share with Danielle and Annabelle. I was glad we picked it; the food was good and the staff was helpful. I took a few moments to step outside and make my arrangements for the next day before it got too late – I wanted to make sure everything was coordinated with both NY people and FL people; both would be impacted by the next day’s plans if I didn’t.

It was nearly 10 before the two of them left for their multi-hour drive home. I began spinning up a second 2FAuth instance for work with what energy I had left, enjoying this past week’s episode of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow in the interim. Before I went to bed, I went to the front desk and extended my stay for another day, which amusingly meant I got another set of room keys.

Photo Round-Up #1

One of the employees at the office where I did the on-site visit brought their puppy on Friday. The dog was a textbook Labrador puppy; quiet yet affectionate, even to strangers.

 

A sushi dinner that I had Thursday night.

 

Cows. So many cows.

 

A closer look at the cows while driving. A side view of the rental car can also be seen in the mirror.

 

Brittany and I, reunited for the first time in nearly a decade.

 

Brittany’s mom, also very happy to see me.

 

A posed photo with a lovely sunset in the background at the beach.

 

Brittany, myself, and Brittany’s fiancee, having a lovely time during our outing.

 

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.

 

A candid of myself, Skyler, and Brittany having dinner.

 

A family photo before I left.

 

…Brittany’s dad missed the moment, so of course I had to get a photo with him, too.

 

A BBQ Sampler at a local restaurant as I waited in Orlando on Saturday.

 

Danielle, after several moments of appreciation for her gift. She’s looking to do a podcast; another friend had some equipment and wanted to help her get started.

 

Myself and Danielle at a local restaurant.

 

Myself, Danielle, and new friend Annabelle who joined us for our outing on Sunday.

 

Day 5: Hurry Up and Wait

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.

Day 4: 500 Miles

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.

Day 3: Cloning

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.

Day 2: Work Hard. Sleep Hard.

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.