Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It Must Be Karma

I stopped in the arcade yesterday, blew a buck on a couple games of Skee-Ball.  (That's right; fifty cents a game.  And it was one of those 7-ball games, not 9.)  I did, however, manage one of the best games of Skee-Ball in my life, and walked away with 32 whole redemption tickets.

For which I could get, like, three pieces of candy or three tiny little plastic toys.  

When standing at the redemption counter thinking that I neither want nor need any of those items, a little boy came up and was redeeming his tickets for some little plastic dudes out of the bin of little plastic dudes.  I handed his mother my tickets, figuring he would enjoy the three extra dudes.  She said, "What for?" when I gave her the tickets, as though my giving up a coupla pieces of Laffy Taffy was a totally inexplicable move.  Random generosity, lady -- I just enjoyed having a good game of Skee-Ball, and your kid actually likes the cheap-ass ten-ticket prizes.  I smiled and she figured it out.

Fast forward to today.  After leaving the area where I accidentally met Bart Simpson (there was a nice bench to rest on in the sun -- it happened to be on the "wait here to meet Bart" side of a stanchion) I walked a few blocks, checking out restaurants to find a place to grab lunch.  And after I'd selected my food of choice and was about to walk in, I realized I was carrying one thing too few.  Had my purse, my raincoat, and my umbrella.  The fleece jacket I'd slung on my arm (with the raincoat) had made a break for it.

I know I had it at the Bart bench.  I either left it there, or, what was more likely, it had slipped off the raincoat along the way.  I considered my options of "retrace my steps" or "lost and found."  It was fairly recently lost, so I decided to go with Plan A.

OK, a 180 then.  I'd come down here; then make a left; then around this corner; then...  Hey!  There's my jacket -- someone had gently laid it down on the side of a planter at about eye-height.  It was impossible to miss, if you were looking for it.  Which I clearly was.  Thank you, stranger!

Picked it up and went on my merry way.  I assumed this was some sort of payback for giving the kid my Skee-Ball tickets.

And the OTHER Universal Theme Park

Am happy to report that I successfully did everything I wanted to do in the main Universal Orlando park before it started raining.  Indeed, I'm back in my hotel room now, and the promised showers have not yet materialized (although they've threatened).

Actually, I probably could have finished with the park an hour or so earlier, but the earliest shuttle back to my hotel wasn't till 4:10, so there was a lot of killing time.

There are three reasons why there was a lot of killing time:  (1) Tuesday in the middle of March when the park is mostly empty; (2) when you enter the park, you can pretty much go straight or turn right -- I figured everyone was going straight so I turned right; and (3) single-rider line.  OMG, single rider line.  With the single exception of the Simpsons ride (more on that later) I didn't spend more than, like, 5 minutes in line for anything.  (This fact made me totally unwilling to wait around 45 minutes for the Despicable Me ride.  No single rider line and a movie I've never seen?  Heck with that.)

My first ride was the Simpsons.  It was supposed to be a ten-minute wait, but honestly, I didn't see anyone in line ahead of me and the couple I came in with.  We were standing around a waiting area watching entertaining Simpsons waiting area stuff all alone for some time.  Eventually, 4 more people came in behind us.  Even more eventually, they decided to take us in the ride.

It's one of those motion simulator rides -- it looks like they have ten rooms, each room has a simulator.  You don't actually leave the room -- the simulator (and the film in front of you) just makes you think you do.  They put you in an antechamber where you watch a safety video, and then the doors open onto the simulator.  I sit in the front row and two people sit down next to me.  One of them is large.  We're supposed to push down the grab bar until it clicks, and the woman to my right is pushing down on that thing hard enough to cut off circulation in her legs, but it isn't clicking.  The woman running the ride tries to push down on the bar (it's a number of inches in the air above my lap), but it won't click.  She finally gets it down -- or maybe not.  She then tries to activate the ride vehicle's doors -- they come down from the sides (like a DeLorean, sorta).  They won't come down.  I don't know if they're malfunctioning because the lap bar isn't really down or what.  But the attendant pushes on the doors and they go down, and we're good to go.

The ride starts.  The car starts "moving" and the film shows us Sideshow Bob taking over the ride and planning to kill us all and then the doors fly open again.  I'm thinking that if Sideshow Bob actually wants to kill us, this is not a bad plan.  But this is not, in fact, how the ride is supposed to operate.  The attendant says she'll give us a different car.  We're sent down the hall to another room.  We have to sit through the safety video again.  The doors open to the simulator and, this time, the attendant sends us back into the antechamber -- the antechamber doors had opened prematurely and there was still a group in this simulator.  Now I'm starting to wonder if the malfunctions on the last simulator were not related to the woman being unable to put down the lap bar -- maybe this is just a seriously wonky ride in need of maintenance.

Props to the designers of this ride, though (the designers on the entertainment side if not the mechanical side).  Of all the motion simulator rides I was on yesterday and today (including Spider-Man, Transformers 3-D, and even that signature Harry Potter attraction), this one was the best executed.  It may just be that animation is the best suited to this medium, but it worked perfectly, and our little carload of riders genuinely enjoyed ourselves.

After that, well, this is how nice the park worked with me walking in the wrong direction and using the single rider lines:  big outdoor Rock 'N' Roll-ercoaster, The Mummy ride (indoor rollercoaster in the dark) twice, Men in Black ride (like Buzz Lightyear -- you get a laser gun and get to shoot at things for points while you ride it) also twice, Transformers 3-D, Hollywood Horror Make-up show, accidentally in the front of the line to meet Bart Simpson, accidentally watched the Spongebob mini-parade, accidentally watched a mini-parade for some characters I'd never heard of (but they looked like paramilitary bunnies), lunch, and a nice stop at Caffeine Land (aka Starbucks).  All easily, comfortably, in about 6 1/2 hours, with time to look (but not waste money) in the shops, and make a lot of use of the free-while-you-ride lockers.

So, other than Terminator 2 3-D being "not operational at this time," and having to wait for the Rock 'N' Rollercoaster to become re-operational at the time I wanted to ride it, and the mishap with the Simpsons ride, and there being no damn ASL interpreter at the allegedly interpreted performance of the Horror Make-Up show (I was hoping for the practice), it was a pretty damn good day.

Come to think of it, any day without a cockroach is a good day.

The Unfortunate Cockroach Incident

I've checked that picture I posted a couple of times, and I can't find the cockroach.  I'm sure it was there.

See, here's what happened:  while I was writing that last post, I thought I heard odd chittering in my ear.  I was instantly reminded of that House episode when that dude had a cockroach in his ear.  And I actually scratched at my ear to see if there was a roach there.  And, of course, there was nothing.  It was a little itchy and I made with a cotton swab, but nothing.  I figure I would haven noticed if there was an actual cockroach in my ear -- after all, the dude in House was screaming in pain.  I shook my hair a few times and went back to typing.

And after the post was done, the roach dropped from my hair to my shirt, and I screamed like a little girl.  

Dude, roller coaster screams are nothing to "Holy crap, there's a roach on my boob!"

It was relatively small and I ultimately gave it an appropriate burial at sea.

Still:  uck, uck, uck!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I call it...

... self-portrait after roller coasters.

I've been wearing my hair straight lately.  But when I got back to my room last night, I took a look at myself in the mirror and understood why everyone was being so nice to me in the restaurant.  Hair everywhere.  Defying gravity.  It looked like I had a hell of a lot more hair than I thought I had, and none of it was behaving.  So I figured that today, I'd just wear it curly.  Because:  1.  It is going to get messed up anyway, so I might as well not waste any time styling; and 2.  Florida humidity.  It actually didn't look half bad this morning, but after a full day at Islands of Adventure park, well, ... the picture speaks for itself.  I want to get some dinner and I think I better find that headband.

(I could've purchased a Harry Potter headband.  But I'd already dumped enough cash on HP crap already.)

My Day:  Took 8:20 a.m. shuttle from hotel to park.  At City Walk, visited Starbucks for some tea to put myself in a happier frame of mind.  
Strolled over to Islands of Adventure entrance turnstiles while drinking tea.
Spilled tea down white shirt.
Entered Park.
Unsuccessfully looked for Tide pen in park.
Contemplated washing tea out of shirt in sink in Ladies Room.  Realized the flaw in this plan when I saw the first mother with a six year old boy in there.  Did best I could with a wet paper towel.  It wasn't that impressive at getting the stain out (but it did wonders for showing everyone in the park part of my bra).
Went over to Harry Potter World
Courtesy of advice from internet, approached line at Ollivander's and asked the nice lady how long the wait was.  She said about 30 minutes; it was actually more like 10.  (Made a mental note that here, like Disney, they overestimate wait times -- I think this is intentional, because you'll be really pissed off if it takes longer than you were told.)  Saw cute young child obtain wand.
Was dumped into wand shop.  (Surprise.)  Decided to ignore character choices and pick the wand that I liked the bestest based on sight alone.  Looked at ... what? ... two dozen different styles of wand (character and not-character).  Guess which one was my favorite.  Professor Snape's.  Heh.  Decided to ponder whether I actually needed to purchase Snape's wand.
Went to "Three Broomsticks" restaurant for my included breakfast.  It was ... food.
Walked in the other shops on a scouting mission.  Decided on some gifts I'd buy later (when I came back to buy the wand ... or not.  I was supposed to be thinking about that.)
Left Harry Potter World to do the rest of the park.  
This turned out to be, more or less, a lot of poking in and out of shops, and riding all four rides in the Marvel Superhero land (including the really good Hulk roller coaster, which messed up my hair more than that Dr. Doom drop tower did -- and some X-Men themed thing that everyone called "the teacups" because, yeah, even though it was supposed to be the Storm Force Accelatron (really, Accelatron), it was teacups.  Full marks to the ride operator, who had to lead us in a round of applause for spinning our teacups fast enough to "defeat Magneto."  I didn't get it either, but she gave that line the dignity it deserved.) 
Also saw some Sinbad Stunt Show (which I stumbled into when looking for lunch) and boy, those lines were so corny, that "defeat Magneto" business was starting to look like a Shakespeare sonnet.  And the kids in the audience weren't going for it either.  I mean, dead silence after each joke and stunt.  I felt bad for the actors.
And then I actually stopped for lunch.  Seriously.  All of that was in a very short amount of time, because random Tuesday in March.  Also, single rider line.  With the exception of that Dr. Doom thing, I didn't wait longer than 10 minutes for anything.  (Not even the stuff like the Hulk coaster or the Spider-Man 3-D thingy which were both better than it was.)
Lunch over in the Jurassic Park part of the park, which must have been the deadest place anywhere as their one big attraction (River Adventure) was closed for repairs.
(Which reminds me!  Near some of the water rides, I saw "People dryers" -- big booths (I saw a family of three in one) with heaty vents that dried you off after you got drenched.  For $5.  I remember one day at Disneyland when I would have paid five times that for a People Dryer.  Nice invention.  I also appreciate how they take your money (in terms of park admission) to get you wet, then charge you more to dry you off.)
THEN, after I'd done all that needed doing, I returned to Harry Potter World to enjoy a lovely cup of frozen butterbeer (surprisingly drinkable!) and do all of my shopping.
(Moment of actual inspiration when I realized, "I don't know if my boss likes Harry Potter, but I know he likes owls!")
(Moment of stupidity when I asked for the AAA Discount -- which they, in fact, have -- but discovered I'd left my AAA card at home.)
Amazingly, did not buy only Harry Potter crap.  There were a few necessary purchases in Dr. Seuss land as well.
Shuttle back to the hotel at 6:00.  Islands of Adventure DONE.  Shopping DONE.  

Tomorrow:  the main Universal Park ... at least until it starts raining.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Road Trip!

Last time I was in Florida (for the funeral), I made myself a promise that the next time I was out here, I'd drive up to Orlando and go to Harry Potter World at Universal.  So, I booked myself a package deal -- which was, I should add, way way way cheaper than Disney World would have been -- for a hotel and a multi-day pass at the Universal parks (three days for the price of two).

Which was why I spent quite a lot of today on the Florida Turnpike, one of the most boring roads in all of motoring.  Honestly, it's two lanes in each direction, going straight ahead.  Few exits.  I stopped at a rest stop which said it was the last stop for 41 miles; then I stopped at the next one which was the last stop for another 41.  It was a lot of road and nothing else.  I kept myself amused by trying to keep a consistent speed in the right lane, passing anyone who was going slower than my target.

Oh, and an aside to the nice people who manage Florida's toll roads:  If I can actually go North or South from a particular "Cash" lane, maybe you should write "North/South" on the big flashy board above it, rather than writing "South" on all the cash lanes, making me think I had to take the "SunPass" lane to go North.  

(Because, yeah, the rental car company charges me an administrative fee to process those tolls on my credit card.  And I bet the toll rate is higher this way, too.)

ANYWAY, I made it to my hotel (after making use of the lovely rest stops -- that's not sarcasm, the Florida Turnpike rest areas are pretty spiffy -- I guess they're making good use of the tolls) which is located kind of near Universal.  They have a shuttle, though, so it's cool.

Well, it wasn't today.  The shuttle only runs in the mornings (well, it returns in the evenings, but there doesn't seem to be a way to make a reservation to go against the flow of traffic).  Besides, you have to have a Boarding Pass for the shuttle, which you can only get from the hotel concierge, who is only there from 7:15 to noon.  At it was, like, about 5:00.

Universal's two theme parks closed at 7:00.  But CityWalk was open late, so I figured I'd go over to CityWalk and get some dinner.  Also scope out the area and make a battle plan for tomorrow; find where I'd be going, that sort of thing.

The internet cheerfully told me I could park at Universal for $16.  The nice people at the hotel reception desk told me I could actually just walk there in about 15 minutes.  Said it was about a mile.  This seemed like a good idea, although I hadn't really thought through the whole that's-a-mile-going-back-too, thing.

I walked over to Universal, which was a decent walk, somewhat clearly marked.  Strolled around CityWalk (not all that impressive compared to the one in LA, unless you're looking for a nightclub, which I wasn't), and found the two Universal parks -- Islands of Adventure to your left and regular Universal Studios to your right.  I figured I'd go over to the ticket kiosk and get my tickets printed out, to save myself a line tomorrow.  The tickets printed out -- and it looked like one was missing.  My paperwork said I was supposed to get a three-day pass, a free breakfast pass, a pass to the clubs at CityWalk, and an early admission to the Harry Potter stuff at the Islands of Adventure park.  Three things printed out -- the one that was missing was the early admission.  There was a Customer Service desk, so I thought I'd straighten this out.  The process took longer than I'd anticipated (one of the two people on duty decided to close his window when it was my turn) but I eventually got everything together by about just after 6:00.  The guy in line behind me was trying to buy a ticket to get in right then.  The park was only open for another hour, but that was apparently all the time he had to check out the Harry Potter thing, and he was going to do it, damn the cost.

I started to walk back toward CityWalk for dinner, and then I turned back.  I have a three day pass.  I'm using it Tuesday and Wednesday and ... I either have an hour tonight or a few hours Thursday morning before I leave for the airport.  But it's supposed to rain on Thursday.  A lot.  Possible severe thunderstorms.  I look at my watch again.  50 minutes in the park right now in glorious weather or a couple pretty miserable hours in severe thunderstorms.  Screw it, I'm going in.  I figured I could at least do some Harry Potter shopping today, if nothing else.

It took another ten minutes to get to Harry Potter World.  You have to walk through the entirety of Dr. Seuss land, and something called the Lost Continent, and even though the map tells you that you should be able to enter Harry Potter World (actually "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" -- WTF is a "Wizarding World?") through the Lost Continent, someone put up little temporary signs sending everyone on a detour through Jurassic Park first.  

(I take a moment to think about how awesome Disney is to have you just walk up Main Street and be in the center of four different lands.  Universal has a lake in the middle of its park, so you have to walk all the way around it to get to the lands on the other side.  Sigh.)

I ultimately find myself in the "Hogsmeade" area.  It is about half a block long (and I'm talking little blocks here).  There are long lines for everything -- Ollivander's Wand Shop in particular has several switchbacks in front of it, and way too many people are lining up for mug of Butterbeer.  There is no way I can do any shopping here in 40 minutes.

But I do see there's a ride open.  The sign says the wait is five minutes, and the long list of warnings on the sign in front suggests that it should be fun.  (Seriously, it damn near said you needed a note from your doctor to ride it.)  OK then, new plan.  Shop tomorrow, ride NOW.  

It wasn't a five minute wait.  There was no wait at all; it was just five minutes of paths and switchbacks to get to the ride.  And it was really, genuinely fun.  One of those suspended roller coasters (where the track is above you, so your feet dangle over ... nothing).

I finished with that, continued on, saw the Hogwarts Castle, and noticed that it had a sign with an even higher number of warnings.  And the wait time said 10 minutes.  OK, I'm in.  This, as it turns out (I did my research on the park after I spent an hour there) is the signature attraction of the place, the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" thing.  It has a very, very, very impressive line, in which you're walking through various rooms in Hogwarts, and then you get on the ride which is that new high-tech, car-on-the-end-of-a-robotic-arm-synced-to-the-movie-that's-all-around-you thing.  Honestly, I think I would have been genuinely disappointed if I'd waited a couple hours (as is apparently possible, at times) for this thing.  The biggest problem, I think, is that the film looked pale and distant compared to the real set pieces which the robotic arm also waved you past.  If they're aiming for a realistic experience, they should probably have a really vivid film.

When I finished, it was actually 6:59.  The park was still going.  Indeed, I heard some screams on roller-coasters for at least another ten minutes.  And the shops remained open until probably 8:00 or beyond (I think "until all of the guests are finished buying stuff" is the official line).  I ultimately did buy some Harry Potter crap.

Came back; sat down with a map and the internet; discovered that, in the course of an hour, I rode the only two rides in  Harry Potter World worth riding, and really the only stuff left to do there tomorrow is enjoy my free breakfast and dump money on some more crap.  (And then ride some of the less-crowded rides in the rest of the Islands of Adventure park.)

The dude behind me at the Customer Service line was right -- an hour at Harry Potter World is enough to get a lot done, as long as it's the right hour.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Family Thing

I have hesitated to journal this particular weekend, because there's a part of me that feels like this story isn't mine to tell.  I mean, OK, sure, I'm here, I've been a part of it, I can always journal my own experiences.  But this weekend belongs to someone else.

I'm in Florida, at a family thing.  Specifically, my cousin's kid's Bat Mitzvah.  I've got a lot of cousins (um... fifteen), and, among them, they've got ... let's just say a bunch of kids.  I'm pretty sure my parents didn't go to all of their cousins' kids' Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.  And, in all honesty, I haven't really dug the cousins' kids' Bat Mitzvahs which I have attended.  This because I am a grown up, and a party where adults try to have decent conversation over the dulcet tones of 30 or so teenyboppers dancing around to ear-splittling music doesn't really appeal.

(Yeah, yeah, "get off my lawn.")

I came to this particular cousin's kid's Bat Mitzvah for two reasons.  The first is because the last time this side of my family got together, it was to bury my grandmother.  And while the fact that all ten of the grandkids on that side of family managed to make their way to Florida for the funeral was quite a tribute to my grandmother -- the truth of the matter is that it brought home to me, pretty damn clearly, that the guest of honor at the funeral doesn't really care that you're there; what really matters is that you should get together to celebrate to good things in life, while you can enjoy them together.  And the second reason I came to this Bat Mitzvah is because my cousin's kid has Down Syndrome, and you don't go showing up to a bunch of your cousins' kids' Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and then blow off the one for the special needs kid.

At least, I don't.  Your mileage may vary on that.  And wiser -- or, at least, more politic -- minds than mine have rather obviously pointed out that everyone has to make the call for him- or herself.

And, sure, I can say (with quite a bit of honesty) that I don't really know this kid very well.  But, when I look into my heart, I don't really know any of my cousins' kids particularly well.  But I do know my cousins, and I love and care for them.  And if my cousin (and my cousin-in-law) are going to throw a big party for their daughter -- especially when it's a party that the kid worked so hard for (so much harder than most kids), and especially when the kid wants nothing more from me than some kisses and hugs, well, I'm there.

My cousin's kid proudly and excitedly made her way through a few key lines of Hebrew, and the service turned out to be cool in a kind of unexpected way.  I mean, the whole idea of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is that (by saying those key lines), the kid becomes accepted as an adult in the Jewish community.  (I remember at my own Bat Mitzvah I was pretty psyched at the concept that someone was going to have to treat me as a grown-up.)  Here, I can't really say what was going through my cousin's kid's head.  But what I did see was a congregation and one family's extended family and friends absolutely, unconditionally accepting a kid who is probably going to come up against a lot of rejection in her life.  And that was a very good thing.

So maybe she's not an adult.  Maybe, by some measures, she'll never be.  Maybe her achievements will be fewer and farther between ... and harder fought.  And maybe that's all the more reason to celebrate when she reaches a milestone.