Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Don't Stop Her ('Cos She's Havin' A Good Time, Havin' A Good Time)

Saturday morning dawned and we loaded up the Mrs Steviebus with all our crap, said "Fair thee well" to the Villa del Orange Lake and departed for New York.

Well, nearly.

Mrs Stevie had done all the checking out paperwork the night before, but felt moved to try and recoup the cash we had invested in various discount opportunities we had then not availed ourselves of, probably in revenge for my presumptuous payment of locker overages the day before.

I had agreed that we would defer the setting out for New York until noon so we could go and ride Harry Potter again so was a bit puzzled by her lack of enthusiasm for getting the Hogwarts out of Orange Lake Country Club and starting Les Ents de Parque. Not only that, I didn't give much for her chances, and felt she was wasting what little of the fun part of Saturday we had left by this nonsense, but as I have said, there's no arguing with her sometimes (well there is, but the arguments don't go anywhere good from my perspective).

We went from one office to another as the Sun blazed away mercilessly and the clock ticked away enjoyment time, each person she consulted telling her that yes she was due a refund but not here, she'd have to go across the width of the timeshare to there and ask again. I imagine they had a big laugh at her expense, and after a mere hour and a half we were privileged to be witness to a performance of Madame Stevie Enragé, who stomped into the bus and yelled at everyone inside for a good three minutes.

We drove out onto route 192, bound for Interstate 4. It was now getting well into Stupid Traffic hours, but Mrs Stevie was not finished in her mad time-frittering, and she pulled a U-turn to enter a gas station that would require us to drive back the way we had just come a good mile and a half and try and cross four lanes of crazy just-arrived-in-town out-of-state traffic1.

It took forever.

Once back on the road Mrs Stevie pulled the trick I'd been waiting for: the old "What do you mean, noon departure for New York? We agreed 5pm2" ploy.

There followed a frank exchange of views on the subject of her diet of controlled chemicals and sniffing of solvents after which she wisely belted up and we agreed on a compromise of three pm. There are times when I'm not to be trifled with and this was a zero sponge-cake/custard/jelly/chopped fruit content moment and no mistake.

And so we once more entered the hell of Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and made our way to the Harry Potter bit where we took the "Castle Tour", which is a leisurely walk around the scenic queuing area done-up to look like Hogwarts castle, without the need to stand in the bits you don't like for too long and without the annoyance of being hurried out of a bit you want to see more of by impatient fellow merrymakers driven mad by the thought that the ride might be just around the next corner and not still three and a half hours off in the future as it actually is.

We exited and noted that there was a lull in the crowds, so we got on the other line and rode the Quidditch ride again. I'm not a big Harry Potter fan, and I think Quidditch is without doubt the stupidest game ever invented. Even Lancashire Clog Fighting makes more sense. Hell, being hit in the face with a shovel has more structure to it than a game of Quidditch.

Consider: You can play like demons and get 14 goals to nil, and the other team wins outright if some git grabs some flying snooker ball. You have to be 16 - nil up before your team is safe from this mad rule, and you have to maintain that differential score all game. Would you play anything so monumentally unbalanced?

"Well played lads, you ran rings around those Slitherin buggers and made 14 - nil. If only Jones Minor hadn't ended the game you'd have taken the victory you fought so hard and so long for. Still, never mind, eh?"

After that we had lunch, a rather nice affair in the restaurant across from Olivander's Wand Shoppe, and I sat outside that fine but too-small establishment while the Stevieling and Mrs Stevie did some roller coasting and shopping and I don't know what-all else. My legs had just about had it and were mutinying with extreme prejudice, so I opted to curtail that sort of fun in favour of grabbing a rare as hen's teeth seat for an hour or so.

Eventually it was closing on four o' clock and I announced that I was leaving for New York even if I had to call a cab to Orlando Airport and fly home. Mrs Stevie walked us the long way out of the park, attempting to lure me into various attractions every two minutes or so but I was resolute. Besides, the long way back was mostly through Dr Seuss Land and even she found the idea of riding a kiddie ride designed for the under fours for its own sake beyond the pale.

We eventually started our journey home around 4:30 pm, just in time to merge with the Orlando rush hour, which earned Mrs Stevie some well-deserved Class Two words of approbation. Naturally I was elected to drive through this since the womenfolk were variously too tired from enjoyment to drive and too bloody homicidally dangerous to be allowed behind the wheel under any circumstances. I'm all for thrills but no-one needs the excitement of a Stevieling-engineered near death experience while still 1700 miles from home.

I drove on into the black of night, fighting off sleep with determined exhaustion. There's a trick to driving at night under such circumstances, which involves being able to tell the difference between hallucination and dreaming.

Hallucinations are merely the byproduct of family perfidy and lack of faith when it comes to departure times and pre-departure activities, and may be ignored provided one keeps a weather eye out for a sixteen-wheeled fuel tanker hiding under the fairy-light bedecked bright green Wild West steam train approaching head-on or the lack of substantiality of a suspension bridge made of drinking straws that does not have some sort of real bridge under it. Packs of wolves of unreasonable size that pace one and can be seen only out of the corner of the eye may be safely ignored unless in New England for example, while an unlikely Paddle Steamer closing on your right flank cannot if one is in Blackpool (unless one wishes to experience first-hand the full majesty of a sideswipe by an illuminated tram).

When it comes to interpreting the danger posed by hallucinations while driving, context is everything.

Dreaming, on the other hand, is a highly dangerous state of being that will result in an accident in no short order even though you opted for the automatic transmission and cruise control when you bought the vehicle. Indeed, these nifty driving aids will serve to exacerbate the situation by encouraging a relaxed, sleep-friendly driving atmosphere while keeping the speed up even when your feet are propped up on the dashboard well away from any pedals. Rule of thumb: When asleep behind the wheel, a moving vehicle is not your friend and neither are the tools piled on the back parcel shelf, especially the chisels.

How many drivers have woken from an ecstatic dream of flight to discover they are in free-fall because their vehicle mutinously decided to launch itself off a vertical cliff? Who among us hasn't had the bowel-loosening and bladder-emptying experience of stretching and opening our eyes only to see a large tree speeding - against all reason - toward one?

I know I have, and I know from personal experience that valuable insurance-premium-raising fractions of a second can be lost while one's brain tries out various theories to account for sudden-onset scenery. Sadly, the theory one most often arrives at is that one is still dreaming so it will all work out right in the end, resulting in vehicle wreckage, injury, lawsuits and hurtful words used by police called as witnesses for the prosecution.

So as you can see it is vital to be able to tell the difference between hallucinating and dreaming on long journeys, and to ensure I was suffering the former rather than the latter I let out the occasional shriek on the grounds it would wake me if I were sleeping. The only downside to this otherwise fine plan was that it woke everyone else too, and was the cause of some complaints from the freeloading non-drivers. I wrote off such stuff as auditory hallucinations and tuned it out.

Mrs Stevie and I traded the wheel every couple of hours or so, but I pulled most of the early hours of the bloody morning driving on account of everyone else being too asleep to do it. We stopped somewhere for dinner but to be honest I can't remember where. I know Mrs Stevie drove us out of North Carolina and into Virginia (we found ourselves asking fellow diners which state we were dining in on the way down; on the way back I think we didn't on account of it being too depressing). I took over in Virginia and drove us onto the south side of the Beltway3 and we were making good time until I stupidly followed the GPS's sly advice to get off I-95.

My only excuse for this slip of the brain is that I was tired and the GPS had planned its move exquisitely, days in advance, leaving me in a perfect frame of mind to play Theoden to its Grima Wormtongue.

In no time at all I was stopped at a traffic light in what appeared to be downtown Beirut. There were concrete bollards dropped across most of the roads, chain-link fence draped across others, soldiers in digital camouflage walking everywhere and the GPS was insisting I turn the wrong way down a clearly signposted one way street.

I pulled over and did The Bonehead Dance and assessed the chances of backtracking at ... nil. We were now in a maze of twisty streets all the same that looked as though several bombs had hit them. I punched the GPS in the face. Mrs Stevie pretended to be asleep even though I saw her take a good look around when I was explaining how I felt about this turn of events to the world at large with some choice Class Threes.

Pausing only to punch the GPS in the face again, I followed a sign to Greenbelt, in the general direction we wanted to go. It transpired that the GPS had decided that our circular route over unbroken, stop sign and traffic-light free three lane highway was far too long and so what was required was a trip across country that would trim a segment off the great circle we were driving. The fact that plane geometry has only a passing importance in navigating road systems when compared to other factors such as speed limits, traffic congestion, mandatory stops and the impossible routes caused by one-way systems in which the GPS would resolutely refuse to believe was apparently nowhere front and center of the programmer's problem horizon when he or she wrote the "best route" algorithm, and if I ever have the dubious pleasure of meeting him or her, I shall punch them in the face too, for this and other routing outrages perpetrated on me in the past by that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned GPS device.

A mere hour later we were back on the road we would have been on forty minutes earlier had technology not queered the pitch and heading North through Maryland, bound for Delaware, New Jersey and New York. If we didn't hit dense traffic (it was now about 8 am or so Sunday morning) we should be good to trundle into our own driveway around 1pm. I was feeling a bit punchy and so asked Mrs Stevie to drive for a bit.

"Follow I-95 to the Delaware Bridge and wake me when we are in New Jersey. I'll drive the last bit" I said.

About forty five minutes later I woke up and looked blearily at the crash-barriers whisking by. They were of a style I was entirely unfamiliar with even though I spent the first half of 1996 driving the Maryland-Delaware-New Jersey-New York route once a week.

I sat bolt upright and took a look through the windshield. I may not have recognized the hard shoulder but I did recognize the city outlined ahead, about five miles or so in the distance.

There was an off chance I was dreaming, but a quick look at the driver showed no Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader suffering a wardrobe malfunction, just the softly snoring Mrs Stevie in full kit.

"Why in God's name are we driving towards Philadelphia?" I howled. "I turned that bloody GPS off! I know I did!"

"You said to follow I-95. We are on I-95" came the snarled response.

"I said to follow I-95 to the Delaware Bridge! How could you miss something that big?"

The answer was both piquant and completely beside the point. We indulged ourselves in an exchange of accusatory insults for a few minutes to give ourselves time to think.

"Don't just sit there. How do I get back to the New Jersey Turnpike?" demanded Mrs Stevie eventually, signalling a move from Blame Allocation to Endgame.

"How the hell should I know? Head East. We'll hit it eventually." Not perhaps my best rejoinder and I've parried with more elegant wit, but everyone was tired and we'd reached the point where enjoyment of the form was ebbing.

So we headed East and somewhere around Cherry Hill we found the New Jersey Turnpike, and took that North for a considerable time. We traded driving and complaining duties a few miles along this route, and so it was I who had the joy of the exit 13 chicane, the Goethals Bridge Toll Plaza hazard, the Staten Island Grand Prix, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge transit of going the wrong way most times but not this time by thunder4, the Belt Parkway5 annoyance and the Long Island Expressway, fabled route to Chateau Stevie.

We arrived Chez Noose around two pm and, there being no sign of the traditional basement full of water to deal with, dumped all our luggage in a pile in the living room and went to bed for two days or so.

Our vacation was over.

  1. Most new merrymakers arrive in-theater on Saturday
  2. An obvious falsehood; I was specific on enough occasions to trigger rolled eyes and in words not exceeding two syllables about my wish to avoid rush hour traffic at all costs on our return journey, and my absolute refusal to contemplate the Delaware Bridge after dawn since I'd seen what the road works did to the traffic flow on the way down
  3. The road around Washington DC a-la North and South Circular of my youth
  4. A matter of knowing that one needs to be on the upper deck and in the left lane before getting on the lower deck
  5. As in "a way on which you'll spend most of your time parked"

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