A Family Vacation Sans the Family: Part 3

*No one knows what the hell I’m talking about at this point but I figure I might as well finish what I started.*

After a few hours my mother and I arrived at a congregation of houses in the woods and determined that this was where our rental house was located. We drove past a swath of pine trees and an expansive lake with a dock until we came to the house that would be ours for the next few days.

It was a rather charming house with a large foyer and cute little knick knacks for decorations. My personal favorite was the sign that said “Wisconsin State Bird” with a painting of a giant mosquito underneath (although I’m used to vacationing in Florida and the bugs in Wisconsin are nothing compared to what you find in the Sunshine State.) The room I was staying in bore the decor of a little boy (the home owner’s son.) Of course since the turnout for our family vacation was lower than expected, we had some vacant bedrooms. The only real downside of our accommodations was the shoddy internet connection, but I do realize that the purpose of a retreat in the woods is generally not to spend time on the internet.

On the first day my mom’s boyfriend drove down to Wisconsin to meet us but after that it was just the two of us. We sought out hiking trails but there was a surprising lack of them. Finally we found one. It was an uphill trail and at the bottom there was a sign that said “Show off your selfie skills.” I took a picture that proved my selfie skills were quite lacking.

There were a lot of steps to climb to get to the top and it became arduous at times, especially since I still had a cold  (I was also worried that I would drop a snot rocket on one of the steps, causing a hiker to trip and fall to their death) but it was worth it for the view.

Every day at dusk we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the lake that we got to enjoy  from the dock. I feel like at this point, if I was a better writer, I would describe the views of the forest and the lake and the sunset in vivid detail. I would make my readers (if there even are any at this point) feel like they were there and I’d make them marvel at the wonders of nature, but since I’m not that kind of great writer, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the views were spectacular (or I guess I could just post a picture or two.) Okay, spectacular may be overstating it a bit, but I’m judging by the kind of standards I had for a vacation destination like Wisconsin.

The lake was enticing to me. I wanted to go swimming in it and I wanted to go boating in it, but it was too cold to swim and with our rowing skills, my mom and I feared that if we went out on a boat we would never return.

On the day before we left we found a place to go horseback riding. In addition to horses, this farm had other animals such as llamas, goats and dogs. When a dog came up to greet us my mom said she thought it was an Australian shepherd and I said I thought it was a blue heeler. His owner informed us he was an Australian Shepherd /Blue Heeler mix.

The horse I rode was named Leo and the horse my mother rode was named Rowdy. Or maybe it was the other way around. Or maybe I’m misremembering and their names were nothing of the sort. I have no recollection of the name of the guy who led us on the horseback ride through the woods, but I remember he wore a cowboy hat and smoked like a chimney. He was a nice guy, although the anecdotes he shared in the beginning about horses throwing people off their backs didn’t exactly leave me feeling reassured.  The horse I was riding gave me a scare as we crossed from the road to the forest. He started whinnying and trotting quickly and I had this vision of him dashing madly down the highway as I clung helpless to his back for dear life. The tour guide noticed my panic and reassured me that everything was okay-my horse was just trying to catch up with his friends. After that it was all smooth sailing. I mean riding.

In the evenings, after we’d watched the sun set, my mom and I would eat dinner in our cabin, enjoying such delicacies as steak and corn on the cob.  There was a sense of peace and comfort but feelings of wistfulness also permeated the air. As we noticed all the empty chairs around the table and the sofas that had room for several more occupants, we couldn’t help but think of the family vacation that could have been. We couldn’t help but imagine my grandfather sitting there surrounded by all his children and most of his grandchildren, as we told stories and played board games and the sound of our laughter reverberated throughout the cabin.

Since the amount of time we spent in the cabin in Wisconsin ended up being abbreviated  due to the lack of family participation, our stay was over before we knew it. Even after we got back home, we continued to experience sadness over the “family vacation that wasn’t.”

On his nightly phone calls with my mom, it became apparent that my grandfather’s health was declining. I thought of what a shame it was that he wouldn’t have a grand family bonding experience in the woods in his cache of final memories and I knew such an opportunity would never again arise in his lifetime (I suppose if I wanted to put a positive spin on it I could be grateful that I got to spend quality time alone with my mom and we got to strengthen our relationship, but we live alone together so we already spend plenty of time together, and we’ve always had a good relationship.)

Oh well,  at least we tried. And at least I got to see Wisconsin. Now in my mind it’s more than just the cheese state and the state that Hillary should have campaigned in. It’s the site of the family vacation sans the family.

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A Family Vacation, Sans the Family: Part 1

I was hoping to go somewhere really awesome this summer. Iceland was my first choice. For a while it looked like Iceland might be a possibility, but then it became apparent that due to financial constraints and academic obligations, it just wasn’t feasible.

My mother suggested a family vacation at a cabin in the woods somewhere in the midwest. at the end of September. In this case the family would include me, my mother, my grandfather, my mother’s three brothers-Uncle Jon, Uncle Jeff and Uncle Chris-and my aunt, Ana Claudia. It wouldn’t be the most exciting vacation, but we would all be together as a family, and that was the most important thing.

The problem would be convincing my grandfather to go. At this point in his life he is not very adventurous, and not very open to travel. When my mother asked him if he would like to go on a family vacation in a cabin in the woods, as predicted, he said no way, but my mom was not ready to give up. She decided to try to convince my uncles to go on the vacation, and then convince them to force my grandfather to come with them.

I don’t want you to think that my mother wanted my grandfather to be dragged in to the car kicking and screaming, or that she was advocating the use of restraints or handcuffs. My grandfather lives with my Uncle Jon and he lives not far from my Uncle Chris. He relies on them for transportation, food and companionship. My mother figured that if my  uncles told my grandfather they were off to a cabin in the woods for a week and then jumped in the car, my grandfather would have no choice but to jump in the car after them.

My mother talked the situation over with my uncles for a while, did some internet research, and then presented them with a few options for our vacation destination. Eventually they decided on a lakefront house in Wisconsin. The house was beautiful and spacious, as was the surrounding area. It allowed dogs, so my grandfather’s dog, Riley, and my Uncle Chris’s dog, Lola would be able to accompany us. My uncles agreed to go and to make my grandfather go. My mother made the reservations and the payment.

Meanwhile, visions of us all spending quality family time together danced in her head. She pictured us playing board games together, watching TV together, and chatting late in to the night. It would be a vacation and then a memory, that all of us, especially my grandfather, would treasure.

This vision sounded nice to me, but I was careful not to get too attached to it. I know that life, especially life in my family, often doesn’t work out as planned. My mother had had a similarly idyllic vision for our move to the house across the street from Uncle Chris a few years ago and that had been a total disaster. So much so, that we moved back a month later.  Furthermore, I did not think it was a good idea to plan a vacation that included my grandfather without his consent.

About a week before the appointed vacation time, my Uncle Jon announced that my grandfather really did not want to go to the cabin in Wisconsin and he was not going to force him (it was pretty clear that he himself didn’t really want to go either.) My mother tried to convince my grandfather to come, but her efforts were in vain. It was too late to get a refund on the reservations.

My mother lamented the situation she found herself in and questioned how her family could do this to her. I hated to say “I told you so” but…oh, who am I kidding, I enjoyed saying I told her so. “There’s no way you could have possibly foreseen this outcome”, I uttered sarcastically.

I, for one, was falling over in unsurprise at how things had turned out. In fact, I would have been more surprised if everyone had happily agreed to my mother’s vacation idea and kept their promises.

The beginning of the planned vacation coincided with my grandfather’s 92nd birthday. We wanted to spend time with him but we didn’t want to entirely lose out on our investment in the cabin in the woods. We decided that instead of immediately going to Wisconsin, we would go to Illinois first and spend a few days with my grandfather and family. Then she and I would drive to Wisconsin by ourselves.

A Florida Vacation: Homeward Bound

To my father’s credit, in Miami he was mostly Dr. Jekyll and he did a good job of keeping Mr. Hyde in check. However, on the morning we were to leave Miami he snapped at me after becoming frustrated by the mess I’d made in the hotel room, my lack of organization when it came to packing and my hand flapping. My disorganization and stereotyped movements have long been a source of conflict between the two of us.

That afternoon as we pulled in to a drug store parking lot on our way to the airport I dozed in the backseat. I heard my father speaking to Gabrielle in the front seat. He said he was afraid I was sleeping because I was upset by him yelling at me that morning and he felt guilty about it. Then he declared that he would have to be careful about what he said to me because people with my disability were prone to suicide. I had really just been sleeping in the backseat because I was tired but it was nice to hear that acknowledgement from my father. I later got out of the car to pace and flap in the empty side of the parking lot. My father had seen me doing it but rather than lecture me about how it was abnormal and I needed to stop doing it, he just said “Looks like you got some good exercise!’

Earlier in the vacation I’d overheard another conversation between my father and Gabrielle as I was drifting off to sleep.  My father was telling Gabrielle how his first wife had told him that the vacations she took with him were among her most treasured memories. My friend Delilah had sent me an article reporting that when asked about favorite childhood memories, 49% of adults name family vacation memories.  When we were in Disney World, in honor of throwback Thursday on Facebook I had posted a picture of a previous family vacation to Disney World that had included my stepbrother. At the time he was a 12-year-old with spiky hair. One day when we’d been having a family meal at a restaurant surrounded by Disney characters, Alice from Alice in Wonderland pointed to Brandon’s hair and said “Is that a porcupine?” Brandon has since passed away and that remains one of my most cherished memories of him.

The last vacation I went on with my father was to Europe. At the time I was a member of a message board and I posted on that message board about my vacation while I was on it. In the comments section of a blog I found that a member of that message board had written “That imbecile Kira is on a European vacation and is spending the whole time on the internet. Most members of that forum could only dream of going on such a vacation but Kira’s using up all the bandwidth in Romania. Maybe someone should plunk her down at McDonalds so she can know what it’s like to earn something for once in her life. What a spoiled, ungrateful brat!”

I’m sure that person thinks the hotel I stayed at in Miami has more bandwidth than the entire country of Romania but I did use the internet on my Florida vacation and if they don’t like it they can kiss my spoiled, ungrateful ass. The last time I went on vacation I was posting about it on the internet to an audience full of jerks who judged me for it. This time I posted about my vacation to an audience full of friends who appreciated it. Now instead of just reading nasty comments about how I spend my vacation on other peoples’ blogs I’m writing about it on my own blog.

Even though I know the person who made that comment about me on the blog is an asshole and a moron, it still hurt my feelings. I’m used to being shamed for being unemployed but it still upsets me every time.  It’s made me wary of social interactions and inclined to avoid them whenever possible. When I agreed to get together with Jack in Miami I knew there was a good chance he would ask me if I had a job but since I’d already gotten together with friends twice on this vacation, I figured I might as well push myself even further out of my social comfort zone.

I found out that Jack is also currently unemployed. I opened up to him about how judged I feel by others for not having a job.  He pointed out that many people who judge others for not having jobs and who have jobs themselves also have plenty of things they themselves could be judged for. Maybe the kind of people who insult me and call me names for being unemployed belong next to those people I saw marching on the streets of Miami with their signs announcing that atheists and homosexuals are going to hell.

On our journey back to the Orlando airport we passed through Brevard county. It was a real blast from the past for me. For two years I had attended a program for young adults on the autism spectrum in Melbourne, Florida.  My memories of my time in that program are very bittersweet and passing through Brevard county again was a bittersweet experience. I thought back over the good times and the bad times I’d had in Melbourne, the times I’d laughed, the times I’d cried, the fun I’d had and the trauma I’d suffered. I thought of all the interesting people I’d met, the times they’d been kind to me and the times they’d been cruel to me. I thought of the ways in which the program had helped me and the ways in which it had harmed me.

When I decided to attend that program one of its main selling points for me was that it was in Florida. I was enchanted by that land of sunshine, hurricanes, beaches, swamps, alligators, manatees, theme parks, tourists and retirees. When I attended that program in Melbourne I got to experience what central Florida had to offer. When I went to a university in Tallahassee, I got to experience northern Florida. When my mother and stepfather purchased a vacation house in the Fort Meyers area I experienced southwest Florida. With this vacation I had experienced the southernmost parts of Florida.

Florida is a rather controversial and polarizing state. Some love it, others hate it.  Some consider it to be paradise, others consider it hell on earth. Some people can’t wait to move to Florida, others can’t wait to escape. Some consider it to be the best state in the U.S., others consider it to be the worst. Some people just can’t get enough of Florida, others would love nothing more than to saw its’ panhandle off of the continental U.S. and watch the entire state float away.

What everyone can agree on is that Florida is a unique state, a state like no other, a state you have to see to believe. It is a state filled with wonder, weirdness, horror and hilarity. The same could be said about me as a person as well as a few of my family members and several of my life experiences, many of which took place in Florida. Maybe that explains why I love Florida so much, why I have such an appreciation for it, why I keep coming back for more.

That article my friend Delilah shared with me about the impact of family vacations on kids’ happiness said that family vacations have the potential to enhance kids’ brain development by providing new environments that are rich in cognitive, physical, social and sensory interactions. These experiences activate key brain fertilizers that improve executive functioning such as stress regulation, good planning and the ability to learn as well as physical and mental health. Memories of family vacations can also serve as ‘happiness anchors’ during dark times.  While I’m no longer a child, I’d like to think I’m still growing as a person and that I will reap some of those same benefits from this family vacation. At the very least it will be a cherished memory of mine.

At one point when I was texting Delilah about my experiences on this Florida vacation she told me it would make for an interesting blog post. It ended up making for 10 interesting blog posts. I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading about my Florida vacation as much as I enjoyed going on it.

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A Florida Vacation: Miami

How do I describe a city like Miami? I think my reaction to it can best be summed up with a certain Facebook status I wrote while I was there: “Never before have I had the urge to go up to so many strangers and ask if I can take their (or their dog’s) picture”.

There were a lot of interesting people in Miami who made some interesting fashion choices. To say they were scantily clad would be an understatement. It was as if they were trying to see how little clothing they could get away with wearing without being arrested for public nudity. Remember how I said that in Key West there were some things that were a little tacky but nothing so far out of the bounds of good taste as to be horrifying? That was not the case in Miami. In Miami there were things so far out of the bounds of good taste, good taste wouldn’t even be able to get their phone calls.

Many people in Miami behaved in interesting ways and by interesting I mostly mean obnoxious. We had a tour bus guide who kept squawking and catcalling at people on the street. He screamed at a woman exiting the courthouse “Your husband told us to pick you up!” When my father asked if he should give the guy a tip I said no, which is also what I said when he suggested riding a bus with that guy again the next day.  The guide we got the next day was much more pleasant. He gave a Florida trivia quiz. I aced it and was very proud of myself.

While walking the streets we encountered protesters holding up signs announcing that homosexuals, witches, atheists, abortionists, drunks, liars, thieves, adulturers, idolaters and fornicators were all going to hell. At least I’ll be in good company in the afterlife.  I was horrified by the number of people I saw riding motorcycles without helmets. Then I saw someone riding a motorcycle without a helmet while taking a selfie.

Miami certainly has its good points though. For one thing, it has the some of most beautiful and vibrant art I’ve ever seen. Vibrant is how I would describe Miami in general. It’s a city that’s full of life and that knows how to party. I don’t care for that partying at 3 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep but I do have to admire the joi de vivre.

There are parts of Miami that are beautiful. Our trivia quiz tour guide told us that Miami is one of the cleanest cities in the U.S. and one of the few U.S cities with a tropical climate. The rip tides made the beaches unsafe for swimming but I got to swim in our hotel’s rooftop pool. Miami also has good food. I was skeptical of Cuban food at first because I figured I would find it too spicy but once I tried it I liked it  Same goes for the pina colada I had with it.

There was a place called The Sugar Factory that had some of the most decadent, delicious looking desserts I have ever seen in my life. Unfortunately the night we went there I wasn’t feeling too well, so wanting to avoid a repeat of the Key West vomiting incident I decided to just leave it at spaghetti with butter (despite the fact that I specifically requested no meatballs, it was initially brought to me with meatballs. Everyone seems unable to believe that I could possibly want spaghetti with just butter) and forgo dessert. That was one of the hardest, most mature decisions of my life.

My favorite part of any vacation destination is usually the animals I encounter there. Like Key West, Miami had chickens running through its streets. While waiting for our tour bus we got to observe chicken families with cute little baby chicks. There was an interactive animal park that advertised the opportunity to get sloth-ed. I would have loved to have gotten sloth-ed but unfortunately for me my father and Gabrielle were not so eager to get sloth-ed.

We ventured out of Miami to take a trip to an everglades park. There we went on an air boat ride on which we encountered several alligators. Many of them were named some variation of Lily. None of them were as cute or cuddly as my dog Lily. In addition to alligators the reptile show had tortoises and toads. The tortoises wore signs on their backs that said “Stay back, I bite” and “Rent this space, call 1-800-Go Slow.” A woman in the audience was selected to kiss the toad. It did not turn in to a prince.

I consider Miami to be a fun place to visit but probably not the kind of place where I’d want to live. However, I know there are a lot of people who happily live in Miami. One of those people is my friend Jack.  I had not seen Jack since high school so I was a bit nervous and apprehensive when he first contacted me about getting together. Six months before I had been a recluse and there was no way I would have considered getting together with someone from my past but I’m not the same person I was six months ago so I agreed to have dinner with Jack at my hotel. I’m glad I did.

After our dinner when I was lounging by the pool I got a text from him that read: “It was very nice to see you. I can hardly believe almost 14 years have passed now since high school. Thank you for the dinner and nostalgic Northerner conversation. I miss New Jersey said no one ever. Lol”

I replied with: “It was good to see you too. I had fun. I would have been too shy to reach out to you and suggest getting together so thank you for reaching out to me.”

When I left the pool and returned to the hotel room my father told me to start packing because tomorrow we would be leaving Miami and flying home. Our Florida vacation was coming to an end.

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A Florida Vacation: Theater of the Sea

On our way to Miami we passed a marine animal park called Theater of the Sea. I was still bitter about not getting to go to Animal Kingdom so I asked my father if we could go to Theater of the Sea. He agreed. They offered a swim with dolphins program that I would have loved to have participated in but it cost over $200 so it wasn’t going to happen. The animal performance shows were more reasonably priced.

Let me say up front that it was not without a certain amount of guilt that I went to Theater of the Sea. I’ve seen the documentary Blackfish and I do not entirely approve of keeping marine mammals in captivity and forcing them to perform for humans but damn it, the performing animals are so cute!

The dolphins at Theater of the Sea that danced to music and balanced hoops on their noses were indeed very cute, as were the sea lions that slid down slides and balanced balls on their noses. The reptiles were less amenable to performance. A trainer seemed surprised that an alligator did not come to her when she called it. I would have been more surprised if it had responded to her command.

At the reptile show I learned that a lot of the animals at Theater of The Sea have been rescued and cannot be released in to the wild, which assuaged my guilt over patronizing a facility that was holding them in captivity. There was a turtle that had lost its eyes in a dog attack and a turtle named Quasimodo that had a spinal deformity requiring it to wear a life jacket in order to swim. The trainer told us not to feel too bad for these turtles because they have a happy life at Theater of the Sea. As the names and stories of the reptiles were shared, I found myself annoyed by the male reptiles that had female names and the female reptiles that had male names. Name nerd problems.

At the parrot show the parrots impressed us with their ability to do math and recognize colors and shapes. Many of the parrots were former pets that had been rescued. The trainer doing the show said that she loves the parrots she works with very much and they’re very fun, interesting, intelligent creatures but she would not recommend parrots as pets because they’re very demanding and require a lot of work. They live a long time and are like 2-year-olds that never age. My parents might say the same thing about me.

As we exited Theater of the Sea my father commented that it was a tourist trap. I couldn’t really disagree with him there but it was a fun tourist trap. I told my dad I was hungry and he suggested having a meal of soda, cheese and crackers in the car. At first I protested but when he pointed out that since I’d thrown up the previous night, stopping at McDonalds might not be the best idea, I agreed. It actually wasn’t a bad meal.

The hotel we checked in to on the way to Miami was right on the water and had a lovely view. Once we’d settled in the next order of business was obtaining dinner.Unfortunately for us the grocery stores and restaurants were all several miles away. We were originally going to obtain dinner at a Walgreens but when my father noticed a dollar store next door he decided we might as well get the best possible bargain on our dinner. I was skeptical of his ability to obtain an adequate dinner at the dollar store but he managed to do pretty well for us. Okay, I know most people would not consider yogurt, saltines and popsicles to be an adequate dinner but it was enough to satisfy me at that point. Those popsicles were good. (And let me tell you, on the way out of that dollar store I noticed the strangest looking books I’ve ever seen.)

That night as I fell asleep the moon over the water and the sound of the waves crashing against the shore set a scene of beauty, peacefulness and tranquility. The sound of my father snoring like a chainsaw did not. My father then had the nerve to complain to Gabrielle about her cough, which he deemed to be so unappealing and disgusting. The next morning when I told my father that my Kindle was broken he said it was my fault because I’d left it on the floor and someone must have stepped on it.

I’d had enough of my father blaming Gabrielle and me for our problems so I snapped. I said “It’s a good thing you’re a medical scientist rather than a practicing doctor because the patients that came to you would be blamed and shamed for their illnesses. ‘Hey, patient with a stomach bug, you vomited because you ate too much! Hey, patient with bronchitis, that cough of yours is so unappealing and disgusting! Hey, patient with a broken leg, you shouldn’t have been so careless’!” My father couldn’t help but laugh and acknowledge that I had a point.

Later that morning my father approached me and asked me if he was a good father. “Yes, of course you’re a good father” I replied.

“Then why were you complaining to your mother about me on the phone?”

“Because you have this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing going on. Most of the time you’re Dr. Jekyll but lately Mr. Hyde has been coming out. It would be nice to see less Hyde and more Jekyll from you for the rest of this vacation.”

My father agreed to try to keep Mr. Hyde in check in Miami.

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A Florida Vacation: Key West

Let me reveal that in the process of writing this blog I’ve discovered that my memory is not as good as I thought it was. I had it in my head that the events of my Florida vacation happened in a certain order but when I looked back on the dates of my vacation pictures I discovered that the events happened in a different order than I remembered. Now I think I’ve got the correct order of events sorted out but be aware that some of the names in this blog have been altered intentionally and the order of some of the events may have been altered unintentionally.

Let me also reveal something about my father’s relationship with food and money. I’m not going to say my father is a cheapskate because he’s really not. He spends money on luxurious vacations and he’s taken us out to eat at some really fine restaurants. Yet my father knows the value of frugality and sometimes he’s frugal to an extent that some might consider to be excessive.

For context let me share a story from a previous family vacation. When my father was still married to my mother we went on a vacation to Arizona. For the first half of the vacation we went out to eat at restaurants. From these restaurants my father insisted on saving all the packets of butter, jam and crackers as well as the napkins, styrofoam cups and plastic utensils.  By the time we checked in at a fancy hotel on the way to The Grand Canyon, my father decided it was no longer necessary for us to spend money on restaurants since we could eat the leftovers he’d accumulated from restaurants in our hotel room. When my mother told him that butter, jam and crackers did not constitute an acceptable meal, my father replied “What are you talking about? Of course it’s an acceptable meal, there are people in this world who would love to have a meal like this!”

“Maybe if they were living in an impoverished village in rural Africa but we are not living there!” my mother snapped. She then informed my father that she was taking my brother and me out to eat at a restaurant. At that point my father busted out his crackers, butter and jam and exclaimed “Bon Appetit, Mircea!”

So it was that as we left Fort Lauderdale I could not persuade my father to throw out a days old box of donuts and thus I had to deal with the frosting that melted near my seat in the humid car. So it was that I could not persuade my father to let go of the leftover fish from his meal at the seafood restaurant and thus Gabrielle did not appreciate the fishy scent one of her outfits took on when it ended up getting tossed in next to my father’s uneaten meal a few days later.

The longer the vacation went on, the harder it became to convince my father to eat meals at restaurants. I often had to settle for ice cream or key lime pie. I can’t complain much though because the key lime pie in Key West is delicious. On one occasion when Id’d convinced my father to stop for ice cream he and Gabrielle had no interest in joining me so they waited for me in the car as I went in to the ice cream shop. I have no sense of direction so when I exited the shop, I walked down the wrong road. I was confused when I couldn’t find the car anywhere and I realized I was lost. Thank goodness for cell phones.

When I returned from my Florida vacation someone asked me what my favorite part of it was. I told them that Key West was my favorite part. “Not Disney World?” they asked in surprise. Nope. If you’ve read my blogs about the Disney World portion of our trip you’ll know that Disney World isn’t that much fun when you’re there with three people who hate Disney World. My father and Gabrielle both seemed to really like Key West and I liked it as well so it was a much more pleasant experience.

Key West has a lot to offer. There are points of historical interest, sites of natural beauty and a vibrant nightlife scene. The first day we were in Key West we booked a boating expedition that included dolphin watching, snorkeling and sunset viewing. The woman who booked the reservations asked me how old I was. On the last vacation I went on with my father a woman asked how old I was. When I told her her mouth dropped open in shock and she suggested I was mistaken about my own age. Wanting to avoid a similar situation, I just said to the woman in Key West “A lot older than I look. She then asked if I was over 21. I assured her that I was but I wasn’t going to say how much older.

When we’d been on the dolphin watch boat for about half an hour and hadn’t seen any dolphins I was beginning to fear that we weren’t going to see any but eventually we came upon the dolphin hot spot where we saw a bunch of dolphins that put on a good show for us. After we said goodbye to the dolphins there was snorkeling. Snorkeling was physically uncomfortable for me but I did get some nice views of the aquatic life underneath the water’s surface. Then we saw the sun setting over the water, which was a beautiful sight. The tour guide told us that the dumbest question she gets asked is “How many sunset tours do you do each day?”

As soon as I found out about The Key West Butterfly Garden I wanted to go there. When we first tried to go there we ended up on the opposite side of town from it and then we had trouble finding parking but eventually we got there. It wasn’t as big as I was expecting it to be but it was beautiful and enchanting. In addition to the beautiful butterflies, there were beautiful flowers, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Several times during the vacation my father told me not to post pictures of him on Facebook and threatened to never take me on vacation again if I did. Hopefully he won’t follow through on those threats because when he tried taking a picture of me in front of the butterfly garden he accidentally took a picture of himself and I couldn’t resist posting his accidental selfie on Facebook. When he fell asleep in the hotel room with a butterfly sticker on his hat, I couldn’t help but take a picture. When Gabrielle saw the picture on Facebook she laughed hysterically. My father was not as amused.

I love nature and animals so I appreciate all nature sites. Historical sites, on the other hand, tend to be hit or miss with me. I enjoyed the Tennessee Williams museum and the Ernest Hemingway house because they combined history with literature, which I also love. The Ernest Hemingway house also catered to my love of animals, as it’s home to a family of six -toed cats. I also liked Fort Zachary Taylor Historic Park because it had nice beaches and cool old structures. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring the fort but we got kicked out when the park closed.

My dad enjoyed the Harry Truman house but I was not so fond of it. That’s fine because I liked the lighthouse, which my father and Gabrielle weren’t interested in. They did some shopping while I ascended the stairs of the lighthouse until I reached the top and was rewarded with a nice view.

I’m not much of a party animal and I had no interest in participating in the nightlife that’s one of the selling points of Key West but it was interesting to observe from afar. I did see some things in Key West that were kind of tacky but nothing so far out of the bounds of good taste as to be horrifying. I got a kick out of the dessert restaurant called Better Than Sex. Honestly the most offensive thing I saw in Key West was the guy who was wearing a Trump/Pence hat and unfortunately that’s something that’s not exclusive to Key West by any means.

The last night we were in Key West I persuaded my father to take us out to dinner at a nice restaurant. I was horrified when I saw dolphin on the menu but the waitress assured me it was a term for the fish mahi mahi and they weren’t grilling Flipper, as that would be quite illegal. I don’t remember exactly what I had for dinner but I remember that I drank pink lemonade and that my dish contained peas. I remember this because in the middle of the meal I started to feel really sick. I ignored it and hoped it would pass but by the time I went to the restaurant bathroom I was feeling awful. I retched over the toilet and unleashed a torrent of pink vomit with chunks of green in it. When I told my father I’d gotten sick he told me it was my own fault since I insisted on eating three meals a day and he extolled the benefits of fasting.

The next morning before we left Key West we stopped at the drug store to stock up on the supplies we’d need for the next leg of our journey. My supplies included anti-nausea medication and temporary filling to replace the filling I’d lost in Fort Lauderdale (which I forgot to mention in the Fort Lauderdale blog.)  When we exited the drug store we were greeted by chickens in the parking lot. That was another thing I loved about Key West.  How could you not love a city that has chickens in front of its drug store? My love of chickens stems from my childhood memories of keeping chickens under the trampoline at my father’s house. Don’t ask. That’s a whole other blog in itself.

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A Florida Vacation: Fort Lauderdale

The next day we checked out of our hotel, said goodbye to my brother and prepared for our journey to Fort Lauderdale. My father asked the concierge about the route to Fort Lauderdale that would take us through the small rural Florida towns. The concierge replied that no one had ever asked him about taking that route and that it was significantly longer than the other route but my father really wanted to show Gabrielle “Trump Country.”

I told my father that I didn’t want to spend an extra two hours in the car just so he could mock poor people and that furthermore he had no idea how anyone in those counties voted, he was just making assumptions based on stereotypes. Yet my father insisted that he was not mocking poor people and damn it this was his vacation too so he deserved to see Trump country!

Since we knew this was going to a be a long car ride we stocked up on food from the drug store, mostly consisting of nutritious snacks such as donuts, Oreos and Pringles.  I slept for the first hour or two of the car ride and I woke up with cramps in my butt cheeks so I asked if we could stop somewhere and stretch our legs. At a gas station my father asked an attendant to recommend an interesting place for us to stop and he recommended a town called Lake Placid.

This was not the Lake Placid on which that horror movie was based. It was a small, rustic town covered in colorful, interesting murals. It also has a real, live, clown school. Even though I’m scared of clowns, I enjoyed seeing the clown school as well as the murals and I took lots of pictures. An hour or two later we made a stop at a nature park at which I got to see a live raccoon in broad daylight and an hour or two after that we arrived at our hotel. We spent some time at the beach and then returned to the hotel room to watch the Oscars, which I found rather boring until that clusterfuck at the end.

In the morning  we went on a boat tour on which we were shown the waterfront properties of the rich and famous. I try not to feel jealous of the wealth and privilege of others because I know I come from wealth and privilege myself but when I saw those mansions I couldn’t help but feel jealous. On that boat ride I also saw my first wild iguana. I hadn’t even known there were wild iguanas in Florida. Apparently they are descended from pets that were released.

Our family friends Carl and Elaine have a condo near Fort Lauderdale and had expressed interest in getting together with us when we were there so I called them and made plans for that night. My father told Gabrielle that he had known Carl and Elaine for ten years. I had to laugh at that because I’ve known Carl and Elaine my whole life and my father knew them before I was born. I have noticed a tendency in people once they reach a certain age to think that anything that happened a long time ago happened about ten years ago, never any longer ago than that.

We met Carl and Elaine as well as their adorable dog Zoe at their condo at around 7. When we told them we were going to Miami and Key West they told us they didn’t like either of those places- Key West was tacky and full of loud, drunk, obnoxious people and it was unsafe to walk the streets of Miami at night, as there was a good chance you would get mugged. I saw Gabrielle’s eyes grow wide with alarm. I just hoped we would enjoy Miami and Key West more than Carl and Elaine did. I didn’t think my father and Gabrielle could possibly dislike those places as much as they disliked Disney World.

Once it became clear to Carl and Elaine that we had not eaten dinner and were hungry we headed over to a diner where we reminisced and had a lively conversation. There was much laughter as well as a few tears. When we were done eating we had a waiter take a picture of the five of us. I captioned it “Here’s to 10 years of friendship-or 35!” Elaine said “35 years feels like 10 years when you’re having fun-and we did.”

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A Florida Vacation: There’s more to Orlando than Disney World

As my brother and I left the Magic Kingdom full of anger and annoyance, I suggested we visit International Drive. Aside from Disney World, International Drive is probably the second most popular and well known place in Orlando.  It’s the city’s main tourist strip.

In addition to Universal Studios and Sea World it has attractions such as a Titanic museum, a wax museum, a chocolate museum, an animal skeleton museum, pirate miniature golf, a murder mystery dinner show and a zombie outbreak experience.  I knew there was no hope of getting my brother to agree to visit any of those attractions but at least we could have dinner there and look around.

I wasn’t sure where exactly International Drive was but I was hoping it was near The Magic Kingdom.  That way we could kind of sort of convince ourselves that our ill fated trek to The Magic Kingdom had been worth it. It turned out International Drive was right next to our hotel.

When we got there we saw some interesting sites including a hotel shaped like a castle and a building that looked as though it was upside down. When we passed the stores full of Disney merchandise I was still feeling so irritated by the whole Magic Kingdom fiasco I was tempted to take a picture of myself giving Mickey the middle finger.

My brother and I argued about what restaurant to eat at like we always do but eventually we settled on one. I don’t remember what I had for dinner but for dessert I had cheesecake lollipops, which were good. I wanted to ride the Orlando Eye, a ferris wheel that gives a birds eye view of the city. We’d seen it from our hotel room and been intrigued by it. I’d asked my friend Mary where it was and she’d said it wasn’t in Disney World so we shouldn’t waste our time but of course since then certain negative feelings towards Disney World had emerged and become known so we were willing to spend our time on non-Disney attractions. My brother said we should save it for the next day when our father and Gabrielle could join us.

When we got back to the hotel and told our father what happened he got to have a glorious ‘I told you so’ moment. “You should have listened to me when I told you the tickets were only good for one park per day. Why did you find that so hard to believe?” he said to me.

I figured that even though we hadn’t gotten to visit the Magic Kingdom that night I should honor the promise I had made to my brother to do something non-Disney the next day. I was so mad about what had happened that night that I wanted to boycott Disney out of spite anyway.

My brother was so tired the next day that he would have been happy staying at the hotel but I wasn’t going to stand for that. I looked up nature parks in the Orlando area and we settled on Wekiwa Springs State Park because of the opportunities it offered for hiking, canoeing and swimming in the springs.

When we got to the springs I was intimidated by the ‘Swim at your own risk’ signs that warned of the possibility of alligators. I know that there’s a possibility of alligators in any fresh body of water in Florida though. The springs looked so inviting so I decided it was a risk I would just have to take. I’d read that the springs were very cold so I prepared myself for a polar plunge but to my surprise and delight the water really wasn’t that cold. After I’d been in it for a few minutes it felt warm. I had a nice swim and I exited the swimming hole with all my limbs intact.

After I’d dried off my brother and I went on a hike. He’d sat out the swimming because he’d forgotten his swim suit. After we’d been walking for about half an hour I discovered to my dismay that he’d also forgotten to bring water. Luckily this is Orlando we’re talking about so this nature park had a store that had not only water but soda, chips, sandwiches, ice cream and cupcakes. After I’d gotten the food I asked my brother if he wanted to go canoeing but he said he was too tired so we left.

The drive back was not too pleasant for me because my brother had the radio tuned to Armed America. I wasn’t sure how or why there would be a radio station dedicated solely to gun laws in America but needless to say as someone who really dislikes guns and is very pro gun control, I strongly disagreed with the ideology that was put forth on that station.

That night we had dinner at another restaurant on International Drive with our father and Gabrielle. Then we rode the Orlando Eye. Although Gabrielle had no problem riding the London Eye, she decided she didn’t want to go on the Orlando Eye so it was just the three of us. I didn’t find the view from the top to be all that impressive but the ride was nice enough, especially since we got free cokes (the ferris wheel is owned by Coca Cola.)

Before we’d gotten on the ferris wheel we’d had our picture taken in front of it. When we got off we were asked if we wanted to purchase our pictures in a little booklet about the Orlando Eye. My father asked how much it was and was told that it was 45 dollars. “45 dollars?” my father replied incredulously. I panicked for a moment because I was afraid he was going to say  “But I thought it was free!’, which is a tired old joke of his that makes me cringe every time but he handed over the 45 bucks and said  “Ah, well, it was an experience, a moment in time.”

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A Florida Vacation: Hollywood Studios

We discovered much to our relief and delight that we weren’t staying in a crappy motel but in a fancy hotel. I had my own bed and my brother had his own room. The hotel had nice amenities such as a large outdoor pool and room service. Since we were too exhausted to go out to a restaurant that night we took advantage of room service. After dinner my brother decided to tell me how much he hated Disney World.

“How can you hate Disney world? Disney World is awesome” I replied.

“That’s just your opinion.”

“Yes, obviously it’s my opinion since it came out of my mouth. I don’t think I should have to put a ‘This is my opinion’ disclaimer on everything I say.”

“But you always state your opinion as if it’s a fact.”

“Well, what is there to hate about Disney World?”

“Let’s see…the long lines, the huge crowds, the loud noises, the ridiculous prices…”

“Well, don’t you like the rides?”

“Not really. I’m so tall that there’s not enough room for me to stretch my legs in them and I’m uncomfortable.”

Soon after that I discovered much to my dismay that my other traveling companions are not big fans of Disney World either. You’re probably wondering why three people who hate Disney World decided to go to Disney World. I wondered the same thing. It sounded like my brother came because he felt like he didn’t have much of a choice in the matter and he wanted to spend time with us over his break from work.  He said it was a shame that his break coincided with the Disney World portion of our trip rather than the Fort Lauderdale/Key West/Miami portions.

As for why my father who hates Disney World decided to take his girlfriend and his son who also hate Disney World to Disney World, I’m not entirely sure. I’d like to think he did it for my sake but being at Disney World with three people who hated Disney World really put a damper on my fun. Getting my traveling companions to actually go to the parks was like pulling teeth and required a lot of nagging on my part. We never even made it to Animal Kingdom.

The day after we went to Magic Kingdom, I tried to get us all to Hollywood Studios first thing in the morning but my traveling companions were having none of it.

“Let’s stay around the hotel pool until noon and then go to Hollywood Studios. You can’t spend more than 5 hours at Disney World anyway” my father said.

“Sure you can” I replied.

The hotel pool was nice though. It included a lazy river in which you could float on inner tubes and a water slide.  As I glanced at the water slide I was reminded of my childhood days when my mom would take us swimming at a public pool that had a water slide. I loved that water slide and my mom loved it as much as I did.  She went on it over and over again. At one point I saw one of the lifeguards point to my mother and heard him say to another lifeguard “Why does that grown woman keep going on the water slide?’

The advantage I have in looking young enough to be an adolescent is that I don’t have to worry about getting crap from the lifeguards about riding the water slide as a grown woman. It didn’t seem like this lifeguard had a problem with adults riding on the water slide anyway. He happily chatted with Gabrielle when she made her way to the top of the water slide. Gabrielle ended up having the same hesitations about riding the water slide as she did about riding Space Mountain. She continued to chat with the lifeguard and let several children go on the slide before her. She called to me from the top of the water slide and said I should try it. When I told her I already had, she told me to do it again. When I did so and she saw that I survived she went down the slide herself. She also survived.

By the time we left the pool it was after one. Then my dad got trapped on a long business call and by the time he got off it it was after 2. When we looked for my brother he was nowhere to be found. We finally decided to go without him, as he wouldn’t be too upset about missing out on Disney World anyway.  By the time we arrived at Hollywood Studios it was after 3.

I insisted we go on The Tower of Terror first because that’s my favorite ride in all of Disney World. Once again my father and Gabrielle spent the entire time we were in line debating whether or not they would go on the ride. Gabrielle ended up riding with me while my father sat it out.

The next ride I wanted to go on was The Rockin” Roller coaster. Deciding whether or not they wanted to go on this ride was easier for my father and Gabrielle because when they saw that the wait was 90 minutes they decided they didn’t even want to stand in line. I wasn’t thrilled at having to wait 90 minutes but I remembered it as being a fun ride and I decided that with my Kindle the wait was manageable. It was agreed that I would wait in line and go on the ride by myself. I would meet up with my father and Gabrielle afterwards to see the Fantasmic light show.

While I was in line an announcement came over the loudspeaker. Disney said they were sorry but the wait time was going to be longer than anticipated. At this point the people surrounding me craned their necks around the crowd in front of us to try to determine how much longer we’d have to wait.  Some people decided ‘fuck it’ and left the line but I stuck it out until the end.  We made it to Fantasmic just in the nick of time.

When we were trying to decide what to do for dinner I suggested eating at Downtown Disney. However, I knew that just like Hollywood Studios had been MGM the last time I was there, Downtown Disney also had a new name. I didn’t know what the new name was so I Googled and as best I could tell Downtown Disney was now the The Disney Boardwalk. It was conveniently located near Hollywood Studios. I called my brother (who had forgone Disney World in favor of working out at the hotel gym and napping in his room) and told him to come meet us at The Disney Boardwalk.

When we got there it appeared to be a hotel.

“I think we have the wrong place” I said.

“Let’s see. Maybe the shops and restaurants are behind the hotel” my dad replied.

When I asked a hotel employee where the shops and restaurants were he gave me a baffled look.

“You mean the gift shop?”

“I’m looking for the place that used to be Downtown Disney.”

“Oh, the place you’re looking for is Disney Springs.”

I called my brother and told him, just kidding, he needed to meet us at Disney Springs, not The Disney Boardwalk.

When we got there it took us about an hour to find a restaurant that had a wait time of less than an hour. The restaurant we settled on was a pretty good one. The waiters were friendly and the food was served in large portions. After the appetizers were ordered my brother turned to me and said “Father just ordered ribs with his appetizer without realizing it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The waiter realized that English is not Father’s first language so while he was explaining all the appetizers he slipped ‘Do you want ribs?’ in there. Father was confused and just said yes. He had no idea he was ordering ribs.”

Sure enough when the ribs arrived my father was surprised by them. He ate them anyway though. My brother then turned to me again and said “See, this is one of the reasons I hate Disney. They’re sneaky bastards who shamelessly grub for your money in any way they can.”

We were way too stuffed to order dessert but as we walked towards our car we decided ice cream would be nice. Unfortunately it was late and we couldn’t find any. As we entered the parking lot my father asked me if I’d had a good day. I acknowledged that although I hadn’t gotten ice cream and I hadn’t seen as much of Disney World as I would have liked, it had been a good day.

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A Florida Vacation: The Magic Kingdom

My flight to Orlando was uneventful and pleasant enough. The only problem was that when we landed there were a few planes ahead of us on the runway so we had to wait about half an hour to get off our plane.  I find sitting still on a grounded plane to be much more intolerable than sitting still on a flying plane so by the time we finally did exit the plane I felt like my butt cheeks were about to fall off.

Disney World pervaded the atmosphere of the Orlando airport. There were Disney signs, Disney memorabilia, and people wearing mouse ears. I snapped a picture of those people in their mouse ears, getting as close as I could without seeming like a creeper. As we waited for our luggage my dad lamented what a shame it was that we’d only be seeing The Magic Kingdom and not any of the other Disney parks. He explained to Gabrielle that we’d be staying in a crappy motel with one bed between us but it was okay because we’d only be there for one night.

We made our way to The Magic Kingdom and surprise, surprise, there was my brother! My father then revealed the true itinerary of our trip and Gabrielle was delighted although she did admit that all my father’s talk of Florida and all the time he’d spent researching Florida on the internet had aroused her suspicions.

Our first order of business was eating because I was starving. I’m pretty sure that the hot chocolate I got was actually coffee but I didn’t feel like making my way back through the crowds and lines to exchange it. Our next order of business was going on rides. To our dismay we found that the lines for most of the rides were very long. We wanted to get fast passes but it seemed they had changed the fast pass system since the last time I was there. We had trouble figuring out how to get them and once we did figure it out they were all gone. Now you had to book you fast passes way ahead of time and we hadn’t had the foresight to do that.

Now that I have a Kindle I don’t mind waiting in long lines so much but my Kindleless traveling companions didn’t have much tolerance for it so we went on the rides that had shorter waits. Of course the length of the line is inversely related to the quality of the ride but as far as I’m concerned there are no bad rides at Disney World so I enjoyed It’s a Small World, the Winnie the Pooh ride, the Dumbo ride, the Goofy ride, the train through Tomorrowland and the teacups even though the teacups made me feel nauseous.

The line for Space Mountain was long but we decided it was worth the wait. Actually I decided it was worth the wait and my travelling companions grudgingly agreed to stand in line. Once they got in line my father and Gabrielle were still undecided about whether or not they would actually go on the ride and the whole time we were in line they debated it back and forth. In the end they did go on the ride and they enjoyed themselves (at least I think they did.)

While we were waiting in line for the haunted house it began to rain very hard. My traveling companions decided to take shelter in the nearest shop but I stubbornly remained in line. A few minutes later I had to concede defeat though because I was drenched from head to toe. I looked and felt like a miserable wet rat.  At that point we decided to call it a day and leave The Magic Kingdom.

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