Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On And On

I have recently1 returned from a week's vacation in Florida, where Mrs Stevie and I own a timeshare we haven't visited in years.

The plan was a good 'un. We'd avoid all that faffing about with no shoes on and being yelled at for having the nerve to take baggage on holiday by eschewing air travel2 and driving the 1100-ish miles by Mrs Steviebus.

We've done this trip many times in the past, breaking the journey in South Carolina after about 8½ hours transiting I95, that three-then-two-then-three-then-why-can't-they-make-up-their-fbleeping-minds-how-many-lanes-it-takes-to-truck-a-fbleeping-intercontinental-ballistic-missile4-from-place-to-place-for-fbleep's sake lane Highway To The Fun That Is Florida5. No big deal, as they say.

This time the plan called for a different strategy.

We had three drivers now, what with the Stevieling finally deciding that she needed to move about in a 21st century manner6, so we could make the trip driving four hours on and eight hours off, with Mrs Stevie and I doing the hard bits. The trip would be about 17-18 hours long making for four shift changes or so, so if I worked it right I would drive only four of those hours. Now that's what I call a damn fine plan!

We loaded what turned out to be the second worst radio play ever committed to tape7 into the CD player and set off a little after noon on the last Friday of July. The first inkling that things were not proceeding according to the damn fine plan arrived after the obligatory traffic jam on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge was followed by the somewhat less obligatory traffic snarl across Staten Island and the mostly unnecessary traffic tail-back on the Goethals Bridge. This allowed us to filter onto the New Jersey Turnpike8 and enter the Great New Jersey Turnpike Stimulus Dollars Upgrade and Traffic Stoppage9.

This in turn fed into the mighty Delaware Bridge Rubbernecking Line Of Not Moving (there being a five mile long tailback on the other carriageway of the bridge and everyone needing to find out why by stopping so they could get a good look), which enabled us in a matter of hours to join the Maryland Rush Hour Confusion 10.

Thank Azathoth we no longer require a bloke with a red flag to walk in front of the vehicle11, because the poor sod would have got shin splints from all the standing around doing zero.

Finally the roads cleared and we were able to triumphantly enter the beltway around Washington DC, mostly because it was midnight and all the rubberneckers and fellow holiday-makers clogging up the roads had decided to call it a day and go to bed. A quick calculation showed we were only seven hours behind schedule (the LI/DC journey is normally a 5½ affair for me if I time the Staten Island part properly and don't arrive in rush hour). We pressed on, barreling through the Carolinas, eventually stopping for gas and asking the Stevieling to have a turn at the wheel, it being dark and the roads all big and empty.

She then showed an until now unsuspected genius for getting out of unnecessary work by pulling out of the gas station without turning the headlights on12 and, when asked to correct the situation at once, driving into the middle of the road so as to present a significant risk of being struck by oncoming traffic14 and stopping dead.

By this clever ploy she avoided her shift at the wheel entirely and woke her parents up enough that they could substitute for her once they had nipped back to the gas station so they could change their underwear. I fulminated a bit as I drove us onto the freeway, secretly annoyed that I hadn't thought of that first.

The sun began to rise while we were in Georgia, so I decided to make a brief stop at a McDonalds for coffee15 and we continued on, finally stopping for breakfast in a northern Florida "Denny's".

A sad mistake.

Easily the worst attempt at breakfast since my first self-incinerated one at university, from the food to the, well, I think it was supposed to be coffee. Sadly, the decline of the once fine diner franchise we had come to rely on as a watchword for quality was to be endemic. Each time we used a diner of the same name, even ones we had noted previously as being exceptional, we were each treated to a big plate of mostly cold meh.

We arrived at Orange Lake Country Club at around noon, to be told when we tried to check in that we couldn't check in until 4 pm. So we did the pre-check-in paperwork, then buggered around in what used to be called the Disney Village but is now Downtown Disney (like it matters) where all I remember is the most stunning life-sized Lego sculptures (pretty much the whole point of going if I'm honest) and the intolerable heat boiling every organ I possessed to screaming point.

Then it rained.

Rain in this area at this time of year is a thoroughly professional affair, with gallons of warm wet sluicing down and soaking everything until it is completely waterlogged, at which point it stops and the sun comes out to turn it all to steam.

Eventually it was 3:30 and we drove back to the timeshare in time to get a phone call telling us we could pick up our key and move in.

Pulling up to the front door of the reception area we noted that the car park was full, but that cars were pulled up and parked in the drop-off point so Mrs Stevie did the same, only to be moved on by a Spanish guy in an Orange Lake uniform. She pulled forward after a token complaint about all the other cars that were parked without their drivers being hassled and parked in front of another vehicle parked in the drop-off area, the only available space and one out of the way of anyone needing to drive through, and jumped out to get our key.

I dozed off but was woken by the Spanish guy tapping on the window; he wanted to explain to me (snoozing in the back seat of the vehicle) that he had called his supervisor and told him to call security. I asked what about all the other vehicles parked without any problem all around us. He just went on about supervisors and security. I shrugged and said "fine". Then a space opened up in an official parking spot so I climbed up front and moved the Mrs Steviebus, then I left the Stevieling in charge, walked back to the reception area, told the Spanish Annoyance where we were parked so he could send his supervisor c/w security person over to us if and when they arrived in theater16, and went inside to find Mrs Stevie and pass on the good news that we were wanted criminals.

We picked up our key after a spectacular amount of faffing around, given that we had already done the paperwork, and returned to our vehicle, passing the Spanish Annoyance and a hefty guy I took to be either his supervisor or the Security Guy he was supposed to set on us. "We're right over there" I said. "If you've got something to say, better get it said before we drive off", but Mrs Stevie was also speaking, and speaking with some feeling on the subject of being an owner at Orange Lake for 25 years and never being so shabbily treated etc etc so the Heavy Mob went into strategic withdrawal and we left for the villa uncuffed and decidedly unrepentant.

Thus did the holiday get off to a great start.

to be continued

  1. As in: Sunday, around noon
  2. It is my hope that many more people do the same, so that the airlines and DHS3 get a clue and start streamlining the process of making air travel "secure". I digress
  3. The Department of Homeland Security, 'natch
  4. The reason the United States has such a vast network of superhighways is that they were conceived as a way to make the Russians' job harder by moving the Minuteman missiles they would be aiming for around on trucks. This scheme is also why we have the Internet
  5. cf The Hell That Is New York
  6. Took her long enough. Mrs Stevie put the frighteners on her so bad she refused to get behind the wheel until she was 19. So That Worked™
  7. The very worst one was on the companion disc, played in the forlorn hope it might be entertaining during the attempt to traverse the Verrazano Narrows Bridge
  8. Eight Billion Cars. I counted 'em while we were desperately looking for America
  9. To the sound of the BBC radio production of The Hobbit
  10. And switch to Stewart Copeland reading his autobiographical Strange Things Happen. An interesting way of filling one's ears for seven hours. Recommended
  11. Though state laws in fact varied on the need for this. Some contented themselves with requiring the driver to stop at intersections and fire warning rockets, others required that tools and a scenic tarpaulin be carried so that if you frightened a horse you could throw the tarp over the vehicle, and if that failed to calm the animal you had to dismantle your car and hide the parts in a nearby field. I am not making this up
  12. Mistake I was to make myself more than once I might add, due to some peculiarity of the quality of vision in the Mrs Steviebus persuading me they were already on, quickly corrected when the warning claxon13 alerted me to the situation with its strident shrieking
  13. Mrs Stevie
  14. Bewideringly, there was suddenly lots of it racing toward us in a blizzard of headlights
  15. It is fashionable to pull a face at this point, but in fact McDonalds coffee can be excellent and this was to be the best cup of coffee I got all week
  16. As a demonstration of the utter contempt I felt for him and all he stood for at that moment in time

No comments: