Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tampa & New Years Eve

Getting up the next day, we had a good ten hours of driving ahead of us, to make it to Tampa. Not much to say about it, really – we’ve got the routine down by now. We hook up the iPod, we each take turns driving or relaxing, Butley falls asleep, and we only stop for food, gas, and bathrooms. And there’s always coffee and peanut butter crackers, when things get rough.

We got into Tampa late Sunday night and checked in to our very comfortable Residence Inn digs. Since we didn’t have to be anywhere except rehearsal the following Tuesday, we had Monday, as planned, for ‘reparations’. Laundry, car wash, oil change, tires rotated, and massages. The last part is my favorite, and of course the best way to end the day. I’m a real convert to the notion of a massage after a long drive. One indulgence that seems particularly useful in getting back onto my feet all the sooner.

Angie’s family came into town Wednesday evening (New Year’s Eve), and we met them at Busch Gardens where our ever-resourceful company manager managed to trade show tickets for free admission to the park after our show. We got there kind of late (11pm), and we met Tony & Marianne, Deb, Mike, Nick & Taylor at a steakhouse on the grounds where, after a long day of traveling from Denver, they set about their own recovery. But Angie and I, only having a couple hours to enjoy the park, lit out for the roller coasters and went straight to the biggest, baddest one in the park. Shei-kra. Featuring a thirty story drop straight down at a ninety-degree angle. We got in line and waited for about 15 minutes, until they made an announcement that they were shutting down the ride until after the fireworks display at the park. Apparently, falling debris and gunpowder flares don’t mix well with high-altitude hijinks.

So, rather than stay in line, we headed in the direct opposite direction towards which everyone else was walking to go see the fireworks, in the hopes that we might find one rollercoaster that was far enough away not to be threatened.

We were in luck, as the Kumba, a manic maze of corkscrews and loop-de-loops, was not only running, it was completely empty. We walked right up to the front and had about a five minute wait. Sitting down in the car, as the chest restraints locked into place, Angie and I looked at our watches. One minute to midnight. How perfect, I thought. For two people whose lives, since we got married, have been filled with unexpected turns, wild adventures and misadventures, and harem-scarem surprises of all kinds, in careers which are in a constant state of flux, and who seem to have little more than the vaguest of notions about what life may have in store for us in the ensuing weeks, let alone months or years, that we should be ringing in the new year strapped into a mechanical wild bull bucking and kicking, screaming at sixty miles an hour through alpine climbs and daredevil falls, spinning around in mad disorientation, and totally at the mercy of all kinds of forces larger than ourselves, with fireworks going off all around us along the horizon, and for that horizon, depending on which direction and which incline we happen to be on, to be constantly shifting and twirling around … well, it rarely gets more apropos than that.

Unless it’s like this. That after one crazy, fear-inspiring, stability-shredding trip like that, our first thought is – let’s turn around and do it again. Which, because everyone was still over at the fireworks, and there was no one in line, was just what we did. I felt like Richie Rich and the park was all mine for the day.

Immediately afterwards, we walked back to Shei-kra, that granddaddy of terror, committed to the idea of getting as much panic and near-death experience as possible before the park’s doors closed at 1am. On our way there, we found The Reed/Ogborn contingent and en masse we all sallied forth to our doom. Tony & Nick sat it out, but the rest of us enjoyed a similarly empty line and walked right past the “From here your wait is 1 hour – From here your wait is 45 minutes – From here your wait is 30 minutes – From here your wait is 15 minutes” signs, right to the gate at which you enter the ride.

Now – exactly what it is in some people’s natures (mine included) that actually seeks out such death-defying bull rides like this, I don’t know. But I think this may have been the shortest, and yet most intense, ride I’ve ever done. Here’s the deal: they strap you in, six abreast, three rows to a car. Your feet dangle below you. You climb up into the heavens, unable to turn your head for any more than 90 degrees in either direction, and if you are (as we were) doing the ride at night it feels like you’re in a slow motion rocket ride up and up and up, as there are no tall buildings around the park so you can see off for miles in every direction. Then it levels off at the top, and you feel like you’re taking a tour of some construction site, with nothing more than metal framework around and beneath you.

Then – the track below you stops. At least as far as you can see. It looks that way because it actually bends down. Down at – I swear to God – what I think is a 90 degree angle. And there you sit, legs free and braced in only by the chest restraint, looking at the expanse of the park below you, as your car creeps, foot by foot, towards the edge. And if that isn’t enough, it even slowly crests the corner ever so slightly, and leaves you literally hanging there – stopped – staring down the immediately impending drop of twenty stories below.

And you’re there for probably a full ten seconds.

And then you drop.

There’s no wind up. There’s no gradual increase in your rate of fall. You PLUMMET. Like you have never PLUMMETED before. In fact, I think this ride specifically was the purpose for the crafting of the word PLUMMET.

Down at the end of fall, you wind around a few curves and turns and then back up for another 15 story climb – another slow crawl towards the edge – and another PLUMMETING PLUMMET.

And then you whirl around, and you’re easing slowly into the station. And if you are, as we were, there at 12:30 at night, and almost no one else is around, you think to yourself – let’s do that again.

And so you do.


Now – you would think, if you’re prone to motion sickness, particularly in twisty-turny car rides and stomach-flipping rollercoasters, this ride – this one ride – might be one you would think to avoid. My wife, however, was not one to make such a choice. And her bravery got the better of her as, descending the stairs after the second ride, the beer-and-potato-chip dinner that we hastily enjoyed upon our arrival at the park began to argue with her intestinal chain of command. Clearly, her digestive mechanism was understandably confused as to the proper direction in which to process her less-than-nutritious meal. And the result, after looking a bit woozy and green around the gills, was inevitable.

Fortunately, there was a small, wooded area off to the side. I pity the poor shrubs and cedar chips.

Happy New Year.


The next day, we visited my Aunt Sue and Uncle Erny at their lakeside home. Erny and Sue, various maladies not withstanding, are two of the finer examples of retirement life one could hope to enjoy. And we had a great New Year’s Day lunch, Erny showed us his amazing orchids, out in the garden in the shade, and Sue plied us with sandwiches, potato salad and peanut butter cheesecake. He had plenty of old family stories, from back in the days before I was even around, and in looking at his face I could look straight back through the generations, to my dad, to my grandmother, and probably my great grandparents. The blessings of a family are many, to be sure, and one of the treats is the sense of connectedness it gives you.

The rest of the time in Tampa has been a bit busy. I had understudy rehearsal Wednesday & Friday, and we had two-show days on Saturday & Sunday. But we’ve nonetheless managed to meet up with Angie’s family for drinks or breakfast in the morning. It’s been a good visit, and the Deb & Mike and the kids went off to take in Disney World also. Sunday night, we were planning to pack up & head out after the evening show, to try to get a couple hours of driving under our belts before crashing, but the more we thought about packing the car, then unpacking the roof rack and the bike rack when we land somewhere, and re-packing the roof rack and the bike rack before leaving again, it just seemed wiser to stay the night and just get an early start on Monday. Who knows – maybe we’ll even make it to New Orleans for one more stay, though it would seem like a shame to put down in the Five Continents for little more than a stop-over.

In any event – it’s fifteen hours of driving back to our next stop in Houston. Nearly half-way back the way we just came, from Tucson. And then, after two weeks there, we have another 900+ mile drive to Des Moines.

Holy Mary, Mother of God. Pray for us……..

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