Friday, March 21, 2014

Monday, Monday. Can't Trust That Day

Monday dawned, with a light drizzle that continued past breakfast.

This was a bummer because we had thought to go to Kennedy Space Center that day and take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour one of the two now-idle shuttle launch pads.

Because of the renovation going on to accommodate the Elon Musk Space Craft of The American Way Of Life Made Whole Again1 And Manifest In All Its Glory And Like That, one of the two pads was available for the public to walk around inside and make rumbling, whooshing noises2 as they conjure up a replay of the many launches that actually took place on this very hallowed ground. Breath deep. There's traces of oxidizer in that air.

Or maybe it's guano. This is a nature reserve after all.

But walking around a big wet scaffold in the rain getting dripped on by the run-off from the girders is nobody's idea of fun, so we canceled. We had a week, after all, and the sun would have to come out sometime4.

So, around mid-morning, it stopped raining and Mrs Stevie decided that "we" wanted to go to Epcot.

"You want to go to EPCOT, right?" she snapped.



"Doubt in my mind whatsoever that the Ever Popular Community Of the Future is exactly where I want to be on this fine day in Florida!"

"And no whining about your legs this time!"

"Can't promise that. The legs are old and mutinous."

"I said no whining!"

"Got it."

This would be a red letter day in that for the first time in ages we would have to buy tickets for a Disney Park5. We drove over at a leisurely speed, there being no need for haste, and in no time at all we were at the car park attendant's booth so we could rent a parking space.

I suggested that Mrs Stevie ask about preferred parking again as we were pulling up, which started an argument because the daft woman couldn't remember that we had done that same thing the last time. She rolled down the window to pay and we were engulfed in the usual cloud of radiator steam and tire smoke, which forestalled any more hurtful comments at my expense in the coughing fit that took her.

After parking, haunted by memories of that previous visit to EPCOT and the endless search for our vehicle among the hundred thousand others there in a World Gone Mad, I checked what the nearest pole said in terms of Disney Characters and numbers and repeated it one hundred times Or I would have but Mrs Stevie hit me at somewhere around twenty eight and told me to "shut up that stupid chanting". And so we went in search of "fun"

Two minutes inside the park we were engaged in a frank exchange of views on the subject of Dinner. I felt that we shouldn't eat at Germany again because I wanted to try something different for once6. Mrs Stevie vetoed England7. I voted against France because of the chance of snails. Mrs Stevie vehemently denounced the idea of Mexico, because of the chance of the Aztec Twostep - a canard I'm sure but there was no arguing. I suggested Japan and she went green and shouted about not wanting to eat anything raw that had tentacles8 - but I pointed out the strong possibility of Hibachi Cuisine and she subsided long enough for us to find out at the Guest Services office. Hibachi it was, at Eight Bells O' Clock PM in the Evening.

And we went forth to experience fun at all costs.

We stopped by various things we hadn't with the kids, such as the Sea pavilion, where we spent a lot of time gawking at various bits of marine life in tanks. The Manatee population has dropped since our first visit together, now numbering three (I think) where before they had six. Since they used to all be rescuees from power-boat collisions I guess that is good news. I dunno. The daft animals lie right where boats will pass over them and cut them with the prop, and you can't see 'em in the rivers to avoid them apparently.

In another smaller display I saw some very aggressive cuttlefish strobing at each other. These odd beasts would be stripey while asleep, then they'd wake up and realize there were six others in a comparatively huge space (the animals were about three inches long and the space about three feet in diameter) and they'd start threat displaying by rolling their dark stripes over their bodies from front to back like crazy. The grumpiest animals I've seen in a long while.

There's a huge aquarium at the back, in which sharks and other large fish swim. You can lose hours looking at the stuff in there. I went downstairs during a lull in the crowd and sat waiting for Mrs Stevie against one of the windows into the deep tank, and a manatee swam up and blew bubbles at me, which I think you'll agree was quite rude and entirely unnecessary behavior.

A little later it did the same thing to a small child who was delighted, which took me back to the years with the very young Stevieling who had a fascination for animals we thought would develop into some sort of career path, but didn't in the end. I sat watching the kid and smiling, then realized a parent was watching me and was not smiling.

I explained that I was remembering my own kid at that age and we traded parental talk for a bit and he left with his family to see what else was there. I turned to look through the glass and was startled into a shout by the manatee waiting in ambush to blow bubbles at me again.

Mrs Stevie fell in love with a T-Shirt in the gift shop depicting the seagulls from Finding Nemo with their "Mine" "Mine" "Mine" mantra daubed all over it, but wouldn't buy it there, which turned out to be a mistake since it transpired that that was the only place you could find the thing. She (and I) expected we would find it in the Disney Village shops too. Wrong!

If you have young kids and come to EPCOT you should bring them into the Sea pavillion and take them to the Finding Nemo-themed attraction. It is a clever use of technology and live voice-acting to allow the Stoner Turtle from the movie to interact with the kids in the front rows. Very clever and the young kids love it. I no longer feel that sound-synched chat avatars are a demonstration of just what a waste of space human beings can be. If it can be harnessed to entertain a child usefully, I'm for it10.

We rode the demented Soarin' ride, a sense-around simulation with unintended humor in the way it jump-cuts around the place. It shows you what it must be like to go hang-gliding on Demerol. We once again went for a spin on the high speed go-kart of g-forces, this time designing our own version of the Stevieling's laughable Yeastmobile, producing a design that the computer said beat the twin-turbo gas-guzzlers were up against on every test but one, and that was such an unimportant feature I've forgotten what it was.

So the Parent Green Annihilator joined the Parent Sport Annihilator in awesomeness - the Annihilator marque clearly has something to offer everyone and I'm quite surprised that no car manufacturer has approached Team Stevie about turning these futuristic designs into actual road-worrying vehicles. All I can say is that Detroit still lacks the vision it needs to take the world by storm and displace the Korean and Japanese manufacturers from their high horse(less carriage)s.

We took a ride on the spaceship simulator, which was still fun and made me feel sick as a dog. But we choose to ride the spaceship simulator...we choose to ride the spaceship simulator...we choose to ride the spaceship simulator, and to experience the Exxon World Of Energy11 and do the other rides, not because they are fun, but because they are required. Or something like that.

Mrs Stevie said "let's go see the Captain Eo 3D show" at one point and I laughed and told her it was closed down. But she insisted we go look even though I told her she'd look like a twit when she was staring at plywood and "coming soon" stickers.

Naturally, the show was open for business as though it had never been hurriedly covered in plywood and closed "pending renovation" during those interminable Michael Jackson vs A.N. Oblivious Parent trials that were such a blessing to the failing newspaper industry of the Early Oughties. Seriously, they boarded the thing up so fast that I had to wonder if they found any skeletons of workers who didn't get out when they pulled down the boards post M.J. mortality and announced the advent of a renovated print. I guess it is cool to like Michael Jackson again.

Captain Eo is a 3D movie from the dawn of the CGI-assisted 3D technology era. It is the story of a rag-tag band of, well, actually I don't know what they are supposed to be. Let's call them Space Rangers, who are sent to give a gift to the evil (naturally) queen but who lose it on the way and are forced to combat her rage and clone warriors with choreographed dance, which - against all expectations to the contrary - works like a charm and all is well.

George Lucas was involved, and one of the crew is that daft elephant that plays keyboards from Star Wars. There's a cute CGI cat with bat wings too, but boy does the movie steal from the early 80s SF zeitgeist. Every piece of scenery looks like it was lifted from the third deck of the Nostromo post-infestation, and the HM Eviltrix is a cross between the Alien and the Borg queen woman12. The dance numbers are pure Thriller and you just have to love that 80s big hair look13.

The print was nice and fresh though, so some work had been done.

We had coffee and dessert in France. We took a ride on the water taxi for no better reason than we couldn't remember ever having done that before. We wandered around Italy and Mrs Stevie bought jewelry for The Stevieling and was flirted with by the Italian zygote who sold it to her so I finally got to sit down and rest my aching legs without having my ear chewed off. We wandered into the museum in Morocco and I lost track of time looking at Berber and Tuareg jewelry and stuff, and marveling that stuff made in my lifetime was considered museum-worthy.

Then we wandered over to Japan and I bought each of us a cotton kimono to supplement the silk ones we already had which couldn't be reliably dry-cleaned and which were now collectors items apparently. I'm more than a little sure that the cute little saleschick14 was the same one who sold me the Stevieling's kimono six months before.

And then it was upstairs for a fine Hibachi dinner with six much younger people from the West Coast who were kind enough to speak English and not some sort of dialect of gibberish just to annoy the crumblies, and who were very interesting people to boot.

We got kicked out just as the firework display started, and although the World Showcase is carefully designed so that just about everywhere provides some sort of mass vantage point, I can recommend the balcony running around the Japanese restaurant complex as an especially fine place from which to do one's pyrotechnic observation.

And so we wandered out the long way round the lagoon, being some of the last out of the park as a result, which was sort of a funny feeling. I hadn't dawdled past closing time in a Disney Park since before The Stevieling had been born. It wasn't that I missed doing that, it just brought on a sense of how much water had flown under the bridge since then. In fact, the bridge in question was washed out long ago thanks to erosion of the abutments by the water flowing at breakneck pace under it, but I believed that if I squinted I could still see parts of the now submerged structure.

"Stop that sobbing!" snarled Mrs Stevie. "If you can't do anything useful, look for someone official so I can tell them when we parked and they can use their magic thingy to tell us where the car should be."

"No need", I said. "Our vehicle is in "Pluto, row 9, slot 115".

And, for a mercy, so it was.

  1. After those idiot wbankers showed everyone just how unworkable it all was by turning he knobs up to 11 and blowing out the woofer
  2. People who just stand around looking at NASA infrastructure are shorting themselves on the experience, as I told Mrs Stevie3 during the misunderstanding at the Saturn V exhibit some years ago. You've paid 50 bux to stand next to the rocket, no-one, no-one can stop you re-enacting the magnificent launch sonics in all their glory, even if he is a real astronaut
  3. Who disapproves of rumbling, whooshing noises
  4. True, but irrelevant as it turned out. Watch this space
  5. For ourselves. Stripey Bill will remember that I had had the dubious pleasure of forking over funds for The Boyfriend's ticket last time we were in the area.
  6. Or as I put it at the time, I was sick to the back teeth of Wiener Schnitzel and stinky sauerkraut
  7. Just to be difficult. She likes English deserts more than I do
  8. A previous experience in which she and I were taken to a sushi house against our wishes9 had placed just such a dish in front of the person to her left
  9. Neither of us see the attraction of eating raw fish for fun
  10. Don't bother yapping at me about "how useful can it be?" You came to Disney for Walt's sake. Don't do that if you can't enjoy it on its own terms, 'cos you'll be wasting your money
  11. Sometimes. We missed it this day due to buggering around in other places
  12. Which means Paramount stole her from Lucas and Captain Eo I suppose
  13. Actually, I was only a partial fan of it myself, though when combined with the American Football Shoulder Pad Look and given a spritz of Nipponesque™ it could suddenly become the sexiest look in the world - see Rachel from Blade Runner for what I mean
  14. While I find just about all young Japanese women deliciously cute, this one was especially notable in the "don't let Mrs Stevie find out" stakes

Thursday, March 13, 2014

In Florida, Sans Stevieling

Sunday dawned, and got underway without us because we were kidless and undriven Disneywards1.

We arose and had a leisurely breakfast. The weather was clear but cool for Florida, and a quick check on the local news showed that further north the weather was giving it some stick and showing the people of the Eastern Seaboard a thing or two in the line of freezing their lugnuts off. I felt sorry for them, but it wore off over eggs and toast.

We decided to waste the day just driving around in each other's company for the hell of it, because we both had distant memories of that being pleasurable rather than the mobile argument of recent years. So that's what we did, driving way up 192 to see what happened when Where It's All At moves to somewhere else.

When we first bought into the Orange Lake Cash Cow that end of state route 192 (which is shaped like a hog-leg) was well in the country and all the motels, hotels and timeshares were miles away on the other side of I4 (which sort of bisects 192). As time has run on the land around OLCC has been bought up (for fabulous prices) and developed into gifte shoppes, restaurants, and (you guessed it) hotels, motels and timeshares. This, in turn, required the installation of a spaghetti nest of roads and the flyovers which provided shelter from the elements and a dousing in filth during the last visit.

Now the foot traffic through this area has increased, which would necessitate the development of new places for those weary feet to rest a bit, but offsetting that is that some if not most of the parks and attractions have en-suite accommodations now. Disney, still (I would hazard a guess) the major draw of the area, has themed hotels and timeshares in the various parks or adjacent to them. The monorail passes through one hotel on its way to Epcot (yes, through, via a huge atrium) and that one is one of the oldest on the property. Costs have risen generally too, which makes a stay inside Disney not as unattractive price-wise as it once was.

The upshot of all this is that while once the hotels and motels around Oldtown were once in the thick of the visiting population, we've noticed that they look a bit run down and money-starved of late, and Mrs Stevie wondered aloud what Kissimmee would look like west of that, and where the real people of the area lived and shopped. So we went for a look.

Personally I think there is nothing so depressing as passing through a town or a neighborhood where the money has gone away. I used to spend days walking the Welsh countryside around the village of Corris2, and in those hills stand numerous tiny abandoned hamlets, shells of buildings that lost their purpose with the collapse of the slate mining industry somewhere around the beginning of the last century.

Mrs Stevie and I had once had to pull off the main drag on our way to Florida so we could get some supplies for the baby Stevieling, and had driven a few miles on the pre-interstate road that had once carried traffic south. The town we stopped in was a couple of languid businesses barely hanging onto life and a bunch of collapsed abandoned structures. It was appalling to see the damage the arrival of I-95 and the departure of the traffic had wrought. In those ruins and the slate shells of those buildings hidden in the foothills of Cader Idris were the unspoken ruins of people's lives. I've been busted flat three times in my life. The thought of having it happen again at my current time of life is, to put it mildly, terrifying.

And so we drove into a mild version of the same as we motored west along interminable strip malls. The abandoned properties began to outnumber the viable businesses until there was a noticeable change and we were in Normal People Land. The strip malls didn't stop, they just changed in emphasis from sneaker factory outlets and Ye Crappe Shoppes to Chinese Takeaway restaurants and less flamboyant supermarkets and a comic book store, which we decided to stop and look in as it sold board games too.

I tootled around in the store and picked up a couple of things that looked intriguing3 and we set off back toward Touristville. We also stopped at a Walmart so I could buy cheap sneakers. My old ones were falling apart and Would Not Do.

It was in the car park of the Walmart that Mrs Stevie spotted a flock of birds infesting a small tree and became irrationally enthused on the subject of wildlife photography at the exact same time as I was putting all the non-sneaker things Mrs Stevie had found to buy in the back of the van.

Mrs Stevie is an inveterate photo-ditherer, buggering about needlessly in front of some ephemeral thing she wants to immortalize until whatever it is gets fed-up with the whole business and departs for somewhere less annoying. The canonical example is the time she took The Stevieling in her christening dress and attempted to photograph the happy, smiling and laughing child. The Stevieling was still too young to have developed any strength in her tiny legs and so needed propping up in any seat. Mrs Stevie did not want cushions in the shot, and so what transpired was a comedy of ditheration and needless sodding about worthy of Buster Keaton.

Mrs Stevie propped up The Stevieling and retired to the spot she judged best for the photo point-of-view. The Stevieling sat balanced precariously on her little bottom, smiling and being cooperative. Mrs Stevie dithered, and dithered some more until The Stevieling's small motions upset her balance and she began slowly to tip sideways onto the cushions of the chair. Once she was at an angle of about ten degrees she began, not unreasonably, to cry, and Mrs Stevie leaped over to sit her up again and play with her until she cheered up, which seeing as how The Stevieling was such a happy child she did almost immediately, whereupon Mrs Stevie repeated the exercise.

About ten times.

Each time The Stevieling's tolerance for the whole tedious affair got shorter until she was crying inconsolably in her chair, at which point Mrs Stevie snarled “Why won't she stop crying?” which induced me – in a fit of sympathy-induced madness – to tell the woman exactly why and all thoughts of photography were forgotten so that a frank exchange of views could take place.


Mrs Stevie was pointing her camera at the birds but not doing any of the other things necessary to capturing an image of them, least of all alerting me to what she was doing. And so, when I slammed the tailgate closed, all the birds flew away.

I turned around to see what she was doing and was subjected to a stream of the most virulent hate-speech on the subject of the size of my brain. She was not moved by arguments predicated on my not having eyes in the back of my head, nor on my suggestion that if she was waiting for the birds to line up in a given way she was on a hiding to nowhere since we were in a car park and if not me, someone else was bound to slam a door or two before they did scaring the annoying little sods.

She yelled at me some more and wondered out loud if she would ever have the chance to photograph such a large collection of such unusual birds in a tree small enough for them to be at just the right level. I said probably. She said Oh yeah, where? I pointed to the tree just behind her where a new flock of the same birds had gathered to watch the fun. She whipped up her camera. She dithered. Someone slammed a car door off in the distance and I ran for the safety of the wagon as the skies filled with birds and vile swear words.

Properly equipped with Cheap Sneakers and a picture of the Annoying Birds “we” decided I should also visit a sneaker outlet store to see what I was missing. These factory outlet stores used to be good deals with low prices for over-produced lines in the 1990s but they seem to be everywhere now and the prices have climbed quite steeply too. The first sneaker outlet store I went into was also the last (I vowed).

It seemed to be full of South American youth, loudly arguing with anyone who would stand still long enough, and sneakers running the gamut from bilious yellow through bilious green to bilious purple. To be sure, there were sneakers in the traditional white, but they seemed sized for giants or gnomes, or to be designed for feet of unearthly geometry. The South American youths seemed to feel blinding neon footwear was De Rigeur so I suppose I am somehow missing the point again (though I still can't imagine what manner of being would wear those other Non-Euclidean sneakers). A grand waste of time, and one in which it began to rain.

We headed back toward Oldtown, where we paused for a look to see what was left of the attraction. I think I've mentioned before that it used to actually be a place themed for "The Good Old Days", with a genuine antique carousel and various Olde Tyme Shoppes including a General Store in which you could buy 5 cent bottles of Coke in green bottles. But every year one of the old businesses closes down and is replaced by something less "Old Tyme".

All that is left of that Old Town ambiance as was is the photography business where a couple of times Mrs Stevie and I and whomever we were with had masqueraded as depression-era bandits or Persons from The Wild West (they have the biggest wardrobe and bestest props of any fake photo place I've seen and they don't use photoshop, they use scenery) and the ice cream parlor. The place is now filled with T-Shirt vendors, go-kart tracks and catapult-powered "rides" of the most idiotic sort.

It is, however, a favorite place for various motor clubs to meet and hold competitions, and that day there was a parking lot full of Corvettes on display, from fully loaded modern wedges of meh (sorry, Chevvy, I don't care for the boring look of the post-Stingray Corvette) to lovingly restored originals from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Mrs Stevie was entranced for once in something I was interested in so we spent a while after the rain wandering around the display of American Motoring Might.

In the 1970s the conventional wisdom of the car modder was that the only American car worth having in England was the Stingray since once the hydraulic lifters had been pulled out and replaced with ordinary tappets the car could not only do an easy ton4, it would stay in a stright line while doing so5. The Stingray and the Mustang (which gave lie to the "only car worth having" mantra by being lethally fast6 if rather less stable at high speed and a tad on the ugly side; never was much of a fan of the 1970s "fastback" concept myself) were both very popular in the UK of my early driving years.

I'm told that a whole generation of American Airmen made quite a killing importing Stingrays and Mustangs (at U.S. taxpayer expense) and selling them to the local youth. You could see dozens of examples of both on the roads of Norwich of a Saturday night, as there were five US air bases within a 40 mile radius of the city in those days.

After buying a new teapot and a bag of humbugs, then sating ourselves on cars and ice cream we wandered home to discover The Git had parked his Escalade as far to the right as he could and the other side neighbor had parked as far to the left, gifting us with a nice long walk from car to front door in the pouring rain.

I made sure to check the wagon's doors were locked with a double press of the lock remote. I don't normally do that as it sounds a loud blast on the horn and Mrs Stevie apparently had done a deal with the Burlington Northern Railway on a surplus horn from a defunct SD45-2 diesel-electric freight locomotive when she selected the options for this wagon. It made the putty fall out of the villa's window frames and loosened the screws holding the little brass numbers to the front door when I blew it.

I was careful not to stand in front of the van when I did this because a previous experiment had induced a concussion and bleeding eardrums and Mrs Stevie had punched me hard in the face once she had been released from the Emergency Room. To judge by the screams coming from inside the villa, Mrs Stevie's choice of automotive accessories was appreciated.

We retired with a smorgasbord of fruit and wine and cheeses to while away the evening, and about half an hour later the front doorbell rang and a couple of security staff stood dripping outside. We invited them in and offered them towels and hot tea from our new teapot as they quizzed us about some disturbance next door involving a klaxon of some sort.

I said I'd not heard anything unusual, but perhaps an emergency vehicle needed to cross the lights at the entrance of the complex while they were on red and had sounded the klaxon in question. The trees that had originally screened this part of the property had been cut down and the highway noise was certainly more noticeable than when we first bought into this part of the club, so a fire truck needing to break the law in the interests of the community as a whole was my best guess. The officers apologized for disturbing us and went next door to talk to them about it all.

It certainly was a puzzle.

  1. Unkind souls might wonder why we bothered at all, then
  2. Yes I know there's two of them right next to each other. I'm abbreviating Upper Corris and Lower Corris for the sake of getting on with it and not getting bogged down in details most people would only experience through the wonder of the ordinance survey or Gogglemaps™
  3. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus Edition and book one of Y: The Last Man, though I somehow resisted the lure of the wardrobe-sized Ogre board game, possibly because they wanted a hunnerd bux for it
  4. 100 mph
  5. A boon on the comparatively very narrow English roads
  6. The lethal part is true; I had an acquaintance years ago who grew a beard to hide the frightful scars he won rolling one of these beasts at Warp Factor Argh!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

When The Going Gets Good, I'm Outta Here!

So, what with the weather and the wounds and the general malaise brought on by the realization that yes, this probably is all that there is, I have had no will to write of what I laughingly call "my life" and the things that fray it at the edges.

However, recognizing that my public1 is out there and hungry for more of the goings on and goings off at Stevie World Of Naff2, I shall now relate the events that occurred during the trip Mrs Stevie and I took to Florida sans Stevieling during the last week of January.

And what a treat you are in for, dear reader. An epic crossing3 filled with thrills, chills and books on CD!

Things started promisingly when we set out on the Friday around 10 am (reasoning there was no need to rush into things4) and got as far as the first turning back toward Chateau Stevie, whereupon I discovered I'd left my sunglasses at home and we went back to get them. Normally this would have put a damper on the mood, and today was no exception as I was forced to listen to a litany of the most vile slanders and stuff dragged up from the past that normal people would have forgotten by now. It quite made me yearn for the time I leaned on Troll's muffler.

We set out again And I made a bee-line (assuming we are talking about drunken bees here) for the Southern State parkway despite the muffled cries of the GPS system safely locked in the glove compartment, which had different ideas most likely involving a five hour sojourn in the Manhattan Friday Morning Traffic Jam. Fortunately I know my way from Chateau Stevie onto Interstate 95 south, once having had to drive between Washington DC and Long Island every week, and so was not even remotely tempted to let that demon-infested GPS5 advise me on so much as when to draw breath.

Traffic was heavy to motionless as we merged with the Belt Parkway and only the drone of the CD player as it read from Patricia Cornwell's "Predator", a book so relentlessly awful on every level that it proved impossible to switch off. No sooner did Mrs Stevie opine that surely this was the worst realized character ever to see print or that surely this must be the most unbelievable event ever written than someone even more two dimensional would walk on stage or something ridiculous would happen.

Outside of the self-published rubbish one can find on Amazon for the Kindle reader I can't think of a time I've had a worse experience in the hands of a published writer6, and if I hadn't stopped reading Cornwell's "Scarpetta" books after the one that had the Libyan Terrorists burst in right at the end (on account of she had gone stupid) I would have been disgusted.

This torrent of naff carried us through the Staten Island Roadworks Crawl and the New Jersey Roadworks Stop For A Bit Every Now And Then. We were again well behind schedule as far as the trip was concerned, not as badly as in the summer but bad enough, and Mrs Stevie had put her foot down (on various soft parts of my anatomy) and insisted we would stop overnight in a hotel "at the halfway point" rather than attempt "that hellish drive" again, so I was concerned that the halfway point might actually become the third-of-the-way-there point lest we not be able to find a room for any price.

Eventually the traffic lightened up and the book came to an end. Mrs Stevie and I pondered whether the abridgment was due to editing for time or because the reader simply couldn't take any more of this idiotic story and skipped to the end, but the effect was the same - a blissful silence in the vehicle that obviously needed filling, and so Mrs Stevie fired up another tale - "Dance of Death" by Linda Fairstein.

This story had a lot going for it: decent characters, neat murder plot, but it went all over the place and had so many characters I lost track of who was who. At one point I fell asleep and missed twenty minutes, but it didn't matter because so little had happened that I could pick it up as it went along.

One disturbing fact was that even though were driving South as fast as the State Police would let us, when we stopped for gas the weather was still very windy and bitingly cold, well below freezing, which was worrying. There was no snow, but until you've felt the windchill on temperatures already not funny at all you've never been cold. The Steviemobile had experienced a couple of days in New York when I thought the engine would not turn over, so thick had the oil in the sump become7.

In New York we were seeing the sort of weather they get in Canada and those people put electric heaters in their engines and have electrical supply plug-ins for hotel parking spots to mitigate frozen engine oil. I'd seen a bad winter in Maryland in '96 and had no wish to see whether they'd laid in so much as a bag of sno-melt in the interim (they had not). The Southern States were about to get caught with their collective trousers down by the storm system buggering up life in the Northeast and I had no wish to be in the middle of an object lesson in Civic Thermodynamics.

We decided to stop near the border of South and North Carolina, but had to drive quite a bit longer than we had planned (it worked out to a bit over 13 hours in the end, including the Forgotten Sunglasses Fiasco) and actually drove past the hotel we had settled on, ending up in another.

We checked in, pulled the bags we needed from the pile in the Honda Odyssey 8 and, after arranging the heat to be a little more aggressive, went to bed around midnight.

Saturday dawned and we leaped out of bed, showered, dressed, breakfasted and got back on the road after gassing up the wagon again. It was still cold enough to freeze your tongue to the car if you licked it, so I made a note not to do that again.

"Will you drive first?" demanded Mrs Stevie.

"Yuthsp" I replied.

The day drew on with the weather only beginning to get reasonable for the geography after about another five hours, well into Georgia, where we celebrated the end of "Dance of Death" by stopping for lunch. Traffic was not heavy, and the Southern States had taken the rather radical step of not ripping up large tracts of the Interstate to slow things down so we had made good progress as the story reached the bit where bleep and bleep grabbed bleep but were bleep before bleep could bleep his bleep9. The food was good too. Things were looking up, which should have been the clue that trouble was brewing.

Fortunately the anti-vacation demons were impatient and so rather than infesting the vehicle and disabling it in some expensive and maddening way they decided to nerf our in-car entertainment and make us choose as our next book "The 8th Confession" by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Now this was an interesting tale, nominally by a famous action/adventure writer of some stature but actually by some woman whose name was printed in small print in the same color as the big "8" on which it was overlaid - at least, large parts of it were by her as I find it hard to credit that James Patterson would obsess over clothes and yo-yo between extremes of feeling about men so much as happens to the female lead character in this pile of bleep, and I didn't hear one word about ammo or calibres or anything remotely manly from any of the male characters.

This story went to the polar opposite of the Cornwell disaster, and characters were so richly detailed neither of us could keep track of them. It didn't help that they were annoying.

In fact, annoyance was the ambiance of this audio book too, as it was read by a lady who had seemingly been a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant in a former life and who bellowed out the first few words of each new chapter in the same manner R. Lee Ermey used whenever addressing Vincent D'Onofrio in "Full Metal Jacket". She also used this technique when a new character hoved into view which prevented sleep at the wheel. On the downside, it prevented sleep in the passenger seat too. I could have used a small bout of sleep to escape this tedious and loud book.

We pulled into Orange Lake Country Club at around five pm, whereupon a young fellow smilingly invited us to check out his special offers on tickets to here, there and everywhere. He flirted with Mrs Stevie which meant I didn't have to, which cheered me up initially. It was all going swimmingly until he casually mentioned that to receive this bounty all we would have to do would be to attend an hour's presentation on the new timeshare in Pennsylvania - at which point I flatly refused to have anything to do with it.

He was nonplussed10 and asked how we could be sure we wouldn't be buying another timeshare.

"I'm sure! I snarled. "Look at us; I'm nearly sixty and she's a hundred and four! Of course we aren’t going to buy a timeshare in Pennsylvania. I'm broke and she's got one foot in the grave!"

I was saved any further argument with this idiot by Mrs Stevie having one of her irrational rages. While it got us away from the dratted salesdrone I felt it was a bit strong that she should blame me for the annoying sales pitch and that chasing me around the clubhouse threatening to insert a beach umbrella into me was a trifle undignified.

We made our way to the villa we hadn't seen for over a decade and discovered that the orange tree that had given us so many delicious juicy oranges the last time we were there was now some sort of ornate bush from Mexico that produced flies. I'd also forgotten that the parking space for this villa was not in front of it (because of the tree-come-bush) so we'd be relying on the neighbors 'getting' that and leaving space for us, which they didn't. I don't know why they felt it important to make us walk further through the weather when their own cars could be parked in front of their villas and still leave space for us, but there you go.

One guy was so incensed by the situation that we went out later that night to find an Escalade parked so close we couldn't open the driver side doors and he couldn't open his passenger side doors either. He must have had to unload his passengers and then re-park in annoyance mode to pull that one off. We countered this ploy by not rising with the dawn. He was a family man and had dates with Disney calling for early starts. Our time was ours.

It was refreshing to see that some people could hold onto their gittism even in the teeth of a good time though.

  1. Now assessed as a badger named Stripey Bill living in a set somewhere in the New Forest, though I suspect my Google Analytics Evaluation Purposes Only Edition account may have been hacked and this is in fact a bored teenager named Stripey Bill
  2. A working title
  3. More accurately, since we were driving South, then North: downing and upping, but that sounded too rude to put in the body of the text
  4. An error matched only by that made when Napoleon said "Let's go get those Russian bastards lads. No need to take your coats, this'll be a doddle"
  5. uk: SatNaff
  6. A lie: The Seventh Seal by I Had A Pre-Emptive Stroke After Reading His Daft Book And Forgot His Name Forever Thank Azathoth was exquisitely dreadful
  7. Oil gets thicker with cold, thinner with heat. Multigrade oils are a way of having oil that is thin enough to start a cold engine but that stays thick enough to work when the engine is boiling hot
  8. Me: one, Mrs Stevie: Four
  9. No spoilers!
  10. I'd always wondered what that looked like