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Walt Disney World—Part II
Volume 55: Fri March 4, 2005
We left you hanging as Amanda and I were heading to the monorail station outside of Disney World—Epcot to be precise— we planned to take a joyride and ultimately head to Downtown Disney to eat lunch. Marjorie, suffering from a slight sunburn, followed us.
The next monorail train arrived and we went to a car near the back that looked like we might have it to ourselves. Upon entering the car we noticed the previous occupants had left a cell phone behind! Amanda looked out the other side of the monorail car and tried to hail down the previous occupants before they got out of range, but it was too late. They had no idea they left their cell phone behind and couldn't hear Amanda trying to get their attention as they were walking away.
Being the quick thinker that I was, I told Amanda to open up the cell phone and see if we could find a number we might call—a significant other, for instance—from that party that might still have their cell phone. The first number on the list read "2nd cell phone". "Call that! Call that!" I urged her on. I'd have been willing to do it myself, but having never owned a cell phone and had minimal use with them, she was clearly the more educated on such matters.
She called and someone answered the other cell phone. "You left your cell phone on the monorail!" Pause. "You left your cell phone on the monorail!." Another pause. "We found it and want you to come back up to get it!"
Amanda worked out with him that we'd leave the cell phone with the monorail attendants outside who made sure everyone behaved themselves in the line. We jumped out just before the monorail started up again and walked back to the entrance where we told the employee about the cell phone we found and the owner was coming back up the ramp to get it. In fact, he was coming up right then, on the other side of the monorail tracks. We waved, and he waved back asking if we were the ones who called him and what quick thinkers we were to call him using his own cell phone!
The employee told the guy to wait for the next monorail since he didn't want to throw the cellphone across the tracks—a reasonable decision—and when the next monorail arrived, he could hand it through one of the cars.
However, in our good samaritan ways, our ride had left without us. We got back into the monorail line (the very front, though, so that was nice!) and waited for the next one to arrive. I banged my head a couple of times and told Amanda we could have used all of his minutes to make a bunch of long-distance phone calls to India or something! If I knew anybody in India to call. Oh, well. *shrug*
While we were waiting, another one of the employees approached us—he had been told of our good samaritian ways—and said we'd be riding in the cab with him. Woo-who! We'd get front row seats! Amanda was excited because she had heard they gave honorary conductor certificates for people that ride in the cab, and she wanted one of them.
The next monorail arrived and the conductor escorted us to the cab. The monorail was going to sit there for a few minutes before it left, so Amanda and I took out the chicks and started taking pictures of them "driving" the monorail. By now I'm pretty sure the conductor was having second thoughts about us being in the cab with him. =)
Along the way we chatted with the conductor a bit. He told us the history regarding the monorail. Amanda asked about the conductor certificates, but sadly, they had run out and hadn't gotten the new month's supply in as of yet. A quick hop, skip, and a jump later, we were at the next monorail station. We disembarked and said goodbye to the conductor and thanks for letting us ride in the cab.
For lunch, we decided to stop at Downtown Disney because Amanda wanted to go there before we left Orlando and we still had a few hours to kill before the Illuminations show started. None of the monorails went to Downtown Disney, so we ultimately took a Disney bus to the Wilderness Lodge resort where we caught another bus that took us to Downtown Disney. We could have driven ourselves which would have been significantly faster, but we had time to kill and riding around for free on Disney transportation seemed like a ride (or adventure!) in its own right.
Finally we made it to Downtown Disney where we did some window shopping and eventually decided to stop at the Rainforest Caf� with their outrageously priced menu items—but it's certainly not your normal restaurant, so we figured it was okay to splurge just this once and admire the fake monkeys, birds, and sudden bursts of thunder in the pseudo-Amazonian jungles of South America. Yee-ha! =)
During our lunch/dinner, we realized that if we were quick, we could still catch the World Nations Acting Troupe or whatever their official name is—something Amanda wanted to see. So we finished up our food, paid the bill, then rushed back to the bus stop where we tried to figure out the quickest way back to Epcot. We decided on the bus back to the Wilderness Lodge Resort, then another bus straight to Epcot. I ran to the car to put the food in the trunk and take out another jacket—it was starting to get chilly now that the sun was setting! Headed through the turnstiles where they checked our fingerprints again, though nobody asked about the stamp on the back of our hands so I'm not sure why they even bothered in the first place.
And we made it back in time for the performance of the World Showcase Players in Italy with a half-hour to spare. We amused ourselves watching a woman all in white pretending to be a statue—an excellent show, I must say! Then we claimed a couple of empty seats and did some quality people watching waiting until the performance started.
A husky, balding man came out of a nearby restaurant, pushing a stroller, commenting to his wife about how good that wine he had was. I thought it was particularly amusing since he looked—in a squint your eyes kind of way—like Amanda's dad and even sounded like something he might have said. Even more so when Amanda explained that this part of Disney World was George's favorite because it's the only area that served alcohol. The family walked off and we continued watching.
A couple of minutes later, the man came back at a brisk walk, still pushing the stroller though the wife was no longer anywhere to be seen. "I've got to find out the name of that wine!" It was hilarious. He talked to the waiter who had served him, asking about the wine. The waiter pointed to another shop across the alley saying they had the wine for sale there if he wanted more, at which point his eyes lit up. He definitely wanted some more of that wine. He pushed the stroller to the store, left the stroller outside, and went in to get some wine.
Amanda and I watched with great amusement, then Amanda said, "I'd like to try some of that wine too." I'm surprised at this, since she's never actually HAD the wine—she doesn't know if it's really as good as this guy thinks it is! She gets up and follows the man into the store, and I sit there shaking my head, thinking the whole time, "That could so totally be George!"
The man comes back out with his plastic glass of wine, and the little girl in the stroller says she wants some juice too. "No, honey, this isn't for you," as he starts pushing the stroller back to wherever his wife was waiting. Amanda comes out several seconds later with a plastic glass of her own wine.
"This really is good, though it's marked up at the usual extravagant Disney prices."
I could only shake my head.
The performance of the World Showcase Players was about to start, and Amanda and I—once we learned exactly where it would be staged—grabbed our seats and found ourselves in the front row. They would, they explained, be putting on the show Romeo and Edna—a terrible tragedy loosely based on one of Shakespeare's works. It seemed they were a few actors short, however, and needed some volunteers from the audience.
I slunk down in the chair, which is probably why they picked me first. I was, they explained, the mime. An easy role with no speaking parts. My job, they continued, was to sit in that chair, wear a silly hat, and under no circumstances to say anything. Amanda was delighted! She pulled out her camera and started taking pictures of me with the silly hat. Somehow, I just knew she was hoping this would happen. I didn't know what was going to happen, but Amanda did. And she threw me directly into harm's way.
Two older folks were selected to play Romeo and Edna—unfortunately for them, they had speaking and acting parts. The play proceeded and I was thankful for not being too much in the limelight. Occasionally, in the heat of the moment, one of the performers would up and yell, "And during all that time, the mime said NOTHING!" and would twirl an arm in my direction then point at me. I waved feebly to my adoring fans, but said nothing.
Eventually the play ended with Romeo and Edna both dead—heartbreaking, really, for the happiest place on earth. The other performers remarked on my excellent performance and, since the play was now over, I explained that I practiced in depth to sit still and say nothing. It was the part I was born to play. As a souvenir, they gave me a button for honorary membership in the World Showcase acting troupe. Wooo-who!
We still had another hour before the Illuminations was to begin, and by now it was getting quite cold outside, so we headed back to Norway to ride the Viking ship again. It would, we thought, be a nice way to kill time indoors where it was warmer. Unfortunately, there was only a moderately, not-so-ugly man working the ride rather than the pretty girl I remembered from earlier, so we only did that ride once.
We walked out to the area near Italy to wait the IllumiNations show—an area where we knew there was lots of room to watch the fireworks show over the middle of the lake. At least I thought it was a fireworks show—Amanda corrected me and said she thought it was more of a laserlight show as she remembered it. Whatever. *shrug* It was all new for me. =)
The show started when virtually all of the lights in the park turned off simultaneously. It was rather spooky—almost like the power had gone off. But no, it was the beginning of IllumiNations. Fireworks shot into the air and exploded into fiery balls of light. I could feel the concussion of the blasts hit me—a rather startling feeling. And it was beautiful. All set to music. A large globe of lights floated out on the lake. A few lasers shot through the sky, though not many. And the fireworks got bigger, brighter, and louder into a dizzying climax that practically blew the pants right off of me. Wow!
I turned to Amanda, "That's the best laserlight show I've ever seen!"
"Oh, shutup. I don't wanna hear it. Obviously they don't use the lasers as much as when I last saw it."
I smiled. "What? Those weren't lasers? But you said I'd get to see a laserlight show! I want to see a laserlight show!"
"Do you want me to take you home right now?" A stern look in my direction. "Because I'll take you home if I have to."
The park was closing now, so we headed towards the exits and back to our hotel. We were exhausted. Woke up early to get there before the park opened, and stayed until the very end. And we were planning to get up bright and early the next morning to visit the Magic Kingdom before that park opened.
The Magic Kingdom is essentially Disneyland in Florida. Having been to Disneyland several times before, I was mostly curious about the Magic Kingdom to see just how it compared to Disneyland. Amanda promised that it was HUGE! Disneyland looks like a cheap replica in comparison. You'd have to walk for MILES to get from one end of the park to the other.
Which was nice, because I liked walking. =)
So we woke up early, clear our room and checked out. (This would be our last day in Orlando.) We drove to the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom where we grabbed a front row spot and I learned that the only way to access the kingdom from the parking lot was to either take the monorail or a boat! We decided to go with the boat (we'd already ridden the monorail the day before, after all, and we're always up for something new). The boat people told us it hadn't started operating yet and we'd have to take the monorail. *shrug*
So we walked to the monorail station and jumped on the next train. It was kind of fun because the monorail went directly through the middle of the Contemporary Resort! We could see people eating breakfast below and others watching us from the balcony outside of their hotel rooms above. And the monorail deposited us by the entrance for the Magic Kingdom. Construction signs apologized for all the debris, but they were making everything better for our next visit. (Which kind of surprised me, because I didn't realize I'd be visiting again! Oh, that tricky mouse.... Already planting the idea of future visits into my head.)
We already had our tickets—the ones we purchased the day before were good for two days—so we headed up to the entrance and waited to get in. I started working on these adventures while waiting for the opening curtain. Amanda read the USA Today. The Pope was tragically ill and he just got out of the hospital again. I told Amanda that I was sick about hearing how sick the Pope was and hoped he'd just die and get it over with.
Then I hung my head in shame. I shouldn't be talking like that in the Happiest Place on Earth.
The weather forecast predicted rain, and the clouds were ominous. We brought umbrellas this time—something we had not done the day before.
As opening time approached, they started letting people through security, though ropes blocked off the park keeping everyone in the "lobby". The mayor of Main Street came out to welcome everyone to the Magic Kingdom and pumped everyone up. The anticipation was growing. The Disney train came in with Mickey and friends.
One of the cast members—that's what Disney prefers to call their employees, cast members, because everything we see is part of their show—one cast member told us about one morning when Mickey was late arriving. It was hilarious. The dialog is figured out ahead of time, and nobody knew what to do without Mickey. The countdown had started. Amanda and I had our itinerary already figured out, and Space Mountain was the first ride on our list. Three, Two, One.... Hurray!
We tore down Main Street, hooked a right into Tomorrowland, and were one of the first to reach Space Mountain. This was a ride I hadn't been on in probably 20 years, and I was looking forward to it. =) Basically a roller coaster in the dark that freaks me out because I just KNOW some low-hanging scaffolding will decapitate me and I won't even know it until after it happens. Maybe not even then!
I survived, however, then it was to the kiddie land where Amanda wanted to ride the Peter Pan ride. I was skeptical myself—I was too adult to ride such a trivial little ride—but it was kind of nice. And then we did the Pooh ride, which I liked because I like Winnie the Pooh. =) Very cutes rides, both of them. Perhaps it's not manly to admit it, but I enjoyed them both.
The Haunted Mansion came next on our list, and I was rather surprised that the outside of the mansion looked COMPLETELY different from the one at Disneyland. Disneyland's version looks like one of those stereotypical ones from the Deep South like you'd have seen in Gone With the Wind. In fact, it was supposed to be set in Louisiana, if I recall correctly. But this one looked like it was largely a brick fa�ade of a mansion found in New England somewhere. I had no idea that they completely changed the exterior of the ride like that, and wondered why they chose to do so. The inside, I'm happy to say, is still the same, down to the ghost that hitched a ride with us back to the outside world.
Then it was off to Splash Mountain—no surprises there.
Tom Sawyer Island wasn't originally on our to-do list at this point in time, but it had just opened and we wanted to get over there to look for a letterbox allegedly in hiding. We boarded the boat and crossed the waterway to the island. Halfway across, we caught site of a bird flying off having just caught a fish from the lake. Wow! Nature in action! We all stood transfixed at the unexpected site. Then, being the sarcastic sillyman that I am, told everyone on the boat, "And you KNOW Disney planned that! Because nothing EVER happens on Disney property without their having some part of it." Everyone laughed except Amanda, who hit me in the arm instead.
We arrived on the island, safe and sound, and set off to search for the letterbox. Ultimately, we failed, though later Amanda reread the clue and thought we didn't look in the correct location after all. So it might still have been there for all we knew.
Then it was off to my personal favorite ride at the park: The Pirates of the Caribbean. Amanda wanted to go to see Johnny Depp. She says they plan to add an animated Johnny to the attraction in time for the sequel to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but we didn't see any sign of Johnny.
On our way out, however, there was supposed to be another letterbox hidden behind some crates at the exit of the ride as you entered the gift shop. We took out the chicks again for some photo opportunities where we "accidentally" dropped the chick approximately where we thought the letterbox was to be found, and sure enough, there it was. We found our first letterbox at Disney World!
The gift shop wasn't the best place in the world to stamp in, so we left and found a bench near the restrooms where we stamped in. I told Amanda that it might look suspicious if we entered through the gift shop to return the box and it would probably be better just to ride the ride again. (In truth, I thought it was a good excuse to convince Amanda to ride it again because it IS my favorite ride!) It didn't happen, though. Amanda went through the gift shop and replaced the letterbox.
Then we took the Disney train around the property—it wasn't nearly as large as Amanda made it out to be, I thought. At least the Magic Kingdom was marginally larger than Disneyland, but then Disney didn't own enormous quantities of land around Disneyland like it did the Magic Kingdom for expansion and additional theme parks. Cinderella's castle in the middle of the property was huge in comparison to the Disneyland version, but Disney World didn't have the Mattahorn either, so that evened things out if you ask me. *nodding*
After we made one complete circuit around the Magic Kingdom, we headed out to the Jungle Cruise where we were horrified—HORRIFIED—to see a line. The expected wait time was 25 minutes. Ack! This was the worst line by far we'd experienced at Disney World, and Amanda wanted no part of it. We decided to use our Fastpass and come back later. Except, as one of the cast members told us, the Fastpass wasn't enabled! If we wanted to get on the Jungle Cruise, we'd HAVE to stand in line. I told Amanda that it wasn't a great situation, but I really did like the Jungle Cruise and it's not even a half hour wait. We could wait in a line just this once? The cast member helped me out and said the line was probably closer to a 20-minute wait than 25. Amanda agreed. We got in line.
Then the cast member asked if we'd hang onto a card and give it to another cast member when we reached the front of the line. It would be used to determine exactly how long the wait for the ride actually was. It was a red card with English on one side and Spanish on the back explaining to hang onto it and give it to a cast member when we reached the front of the line. And to thank us for helping them.
I considered all the sinister things I could do with it. Hand it up further in line to make the line wait seem shorter than it really was? Hang onto it and after we finished the ride, give it to someone else still in line to make the line seem longer than it really was? I asked the cast member if we could keep the card as a souvenir for helping out but he said no, that wasn't the way it worked. I suggested a bribe such as a bag of popcorn might be nice, but we didn't get that either. Drats.
We pulled out the USA Today and started reading it while waiting in line. Not like we had anything better to do like munch on popcorn while we waited. At the front of the line we handed the red card to a cast member who scanned it into a machine then had us board the boat. It was a perilous journey, indeed! A hippo tried to attack the boat, and an elephant squirted water at us. Close to the end we were nearly captured by some headhunters that had some not-so-happy thoughts in mind, but fortunately we escaped with our lives and dignity still intact.
By now a light misty drizzle had started and yellow and clear tarps were coming out of the woodworks. I didn't bother taking the umbrella out yet—it was more like a fat fog than a light rain and didn't think it was necessary yet. We decided to get another letterbox located not far from Cinderella's castle. Except when we got to the correct location, a bunch of people were lined up right next to where the box was supposed to be hidden waiting to get pictures and autographs from some Pocahontas characters. There was no way we could look for the letterbox with this line of people who'd watch us acting suspicious, so we hit a few other rides in the meantime such as the Tiki Room. (Under new management! as they loudly proclaimed.)
Then we wandered back to the letterbox where, happily, the Disney mascots and the accompanying line of admiring children and parents were gone. We quickly found the box—disguised as a sprinkler—and started stamping in.
Looking over Amanda's shoulder, I saw a very bad development happening. Oh, no.... This is definitely NOT good.... The Disney characters were back, being followed by a line of children and parents. I pointed behind Amanda and mouth, "They're back!" She didn't quite understand what I had said, so I whispered, "They're back!" Behind Amanda, I heard one of the character handlers telling the parents and children to line up behind the planter we were sitting behind. A line of people magically formed around us.
Getting this letterbox back was going to be a challenge....
We ate some snacks from my pack to help kill the time. Yum, yum. Granola bar and string cheese. =)
Eventually the line got short enough where it was only on one side of us, and when everyone's attention was distracted by the Disney characters, Amanda slipped the letterbox back in its hiding place. Mission accomplished!
And that was pretty much the last thing on our to-do list. We hit all the rides we wanted to hit and it was time to head out!
We left the park and took the boat back to the parking lot, then drove to Downtown Disney where we planned to meet up with a letterboxer who worked in the area, Orlando Knit Wit. We first walked the entire length of Downtown Disney now that we had more time to do so, then looked for a letterbox hidden at a nearby golf course before walking back to meet Orlando Knit Wit. It wasn't a long meeting, but it was long enough to tell of our adventures letterboxing at Disney World and make exchanges. She had to work, though, so we didn't stop for too long. Then it was back to the car and a drive back to George and Suzi's place.
We had a day to kill, which we decided to waste by driving to one of the local power plants to find a letterbox and look for manatees. It seems during the colder months of the year, manatees like to congregate near power plants because they warm the waters around them. The power plants built a boardwalk out over the water where visitors such as us could watch the manatees frolicking in the water. Adorable little creatures, though the views of them had a lot to be desired. The water was too dirty and dark to see them very well, but it was the first time I'd ever seen a manatee, so it was fun.
The best part about the whole thing was they had these machines that, for just ONE buck, you could make your own manatee! You slipped in a dollar and two halves of a mold would come together and fill with plastic—probably the same stuff Barbie dolls are made of. It would make noise for a while, gurgle, then the molds parted and the toy manatee dropped down like a vending machine. A sign warned that the toys could be hot and to be careful handling them until they've cooled. It was so fascinating!
There were two machines—the one made manatees while the one next to it made a dolphin. Not sure why—there weren't any dolphins in the water around that we could see, but I wanted to see the machine in action so Amanda put a dollar in the manatee machine. It was whirling and doing its thing when fellow tourists stuck a dollar in the other machine. Our manatee came out and all was well. Their dolphin came out and they were shocked. SHOCKED and disappointed. They thought they were getting a manatee and hadn't read the fine print about that machine making dolphins. Clearly disappointed, they took their dolphin away holding it out like it was a cockroach.
We picked up a letterbox hidden in the area (of course), and then made a loop back to George and Suzi's place.
The next day we were off yet again, this time to a letterboxing gathering near Fort Lauderdale. I talked Amanda into going straight through the heart of the state, a slower but scenic route through the Florida highlands and past Lake Okeechobee. Even Amanda, who had lived in the state, had never visited this area before.
It's kind of strange that they'd call this part of Florida the highlands. Highland County is indeed some of the highest land in Florida, and not far from the highest point in Florida—a whopping 345 feet above sea level. The biggest hills we could see were landfills, and even standing in a skyscraper in Tampa would put you at a higher altitude than the highest point in Florida. But Floridians are so proud of this part of Florida, they called it Highlands County. Don't be fooled, though, there are no snow-capped mountains in Highlands County.
Our first official stop was at Highland Hammock State Park, where we found neither highlands nor hammocks. However, we did find some orange trees—trees that grow oranges, not trees that were colored orange—growing in the wild and I spent a good five minutes using fallen branches to try to knock an orange out of the tree for Amanda. She'd never eaten a wild orange before and being the chivalrous man that I am, I wasn't going to stop until I got one down. The problem, of course, being that the ones closest to the ground were a good 15 or more feet off the ground.
While I worked on retrieving an orange, Amanda looked for a place to hide a letterbox or two. I threw hunks of wood at the oranges with little luck and eventually tried to knock them down with fallen branches. The final winner was a palm tree branch that sent an orange flying across the trail. Either the branch or hitting the ground put a gash in the orange, but it was an orange and I, covered with sweat and breathing heavily from the effort to acquire it—brought it to Amanda in triumph!
She was ecstatic—clearly she didn't think I'd succeed in getting an orange out of the tree—and eagerly peeled it. She took a bite out, orange juice dripping down her hands and face. Made an icky kind of face and threw the orange away. "It's bitter!"
That orange was so not worth the effort. *shaking head*
Later Amanda wanted to look at a museum exhibit while I wanted to explore more of the alligator infested waters so we split up. I walked down the road to the next trailhead reading whatever signage I could find along the way. The most educational aspect of the walk was when a truck pulling a tour group along the road drove by with commentary about the sights alongside the road. That's how, for instance, I learned about the weevil infestation damaging the area. A weevil infestation! I couldn't wait to tell Amanda! I'd never heard of a weevil infestation, and clearly that was a bad thing. Was it even safe for me to be walking around by myself knowing that weevils could be lurking just anywhere?
Amanda caught up with me near the end of the loop and seemed less than impressed with my knowledge of the weevil infestation.
Our time at Highland Hammock SP at an end, we continued our journey to Fort Lauderdale. Passing through the Sebring area fascinated me—the area was clearly hard hit by the hurricanes last year, even to my untrained hurricane eyes. Probably half the signage was damaged in some way. You know those big signs towering high above the road so people could see it was a gas station or restaurant—the plastic signage was mostly damaged. One Pizza Hut we saw had most of the shingles blown off, windows boarded up, and only a few letters of the Pizza Hut sign on the roof left. A sign explained that they were closed indefinitely—just in case the damage wasn't obvious enough, I guess.
The awesome power of the hurricane. Still something I've never experienced, though for the first time I could stand in awe of its results.
The main road—Highway 27—continued almost to our destination, but I talked Amanda into taking Highway 98 alongside Lake Okeechobee. Our map showed that route to be a scenic route (or as Amanda and I liked to call it, the dot-dot-dot route since scenic routes were marked with dots alongside the road). Highway 27 had no dots and except for the very southern tip of Lake Okeechobee, didn't touch the lake at all. Highway 98 was clearly the superior choice and, by the looks of the map, wasn't much out of our way either.
We were sorely disappointed. The highway to the lake was indeed scenic—farm lands that you could see for miles. But when we reached the town of Okechobee, where the dot-dot-dot started, we went through areas that looked like crack neighborhoods. And even worse, our scenic drive along Lake Okeechobee was marred by the fact that they built a dike around the stupid lake and with the exception of a single bridge crossing that rose in elevation high enough to see the lake, there were absolutely no views of the lake. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Obviously, the people who make this the dot-dot-dot route hadn't actually DRIVEN the route. No, they looked at their pretty little maps and thought, "Hey, this road follows along side the lake! Let's make it a dot-dot-dot route!" Our one, ever so brief view of the lake, surprised me because the lake was large enough where you could not see to the other side of it. It didn't look that big on our map—sure, it was a big lake, but I didn't realize it was that big!
We could see a trail following along the top of the dike, and I daydreamed about someday walking around Lake Okeechobee. Now that would be scenic. A pretty view of the lake on one side, and while standing on the artificially high dike, you could get a pretty darned good view of the countryside on the other. In fact, we did pass one grubby-looking hiker walking along the road and I wondered if he was thru-hiking the Florida Trail—roughly following from Fort Lauderdale across the central highlands before curving around to the tip of the Florida panhandle. I could hike Florida, I thought. It would be a nice change from all the stupid mountains on the Appalachian Trail—that's for sure! I'd have to worry about alligators coming into camp though. That would be interesting, indeed.
We finally made it to Fort Lauderdale, late at night and tired from a long day. We found a hotel, checked in, and went to sleep.
The next morning we woke early and checked out then headed off to the gathering in Davis. We arrived early so we'd have time to find the letterboxes beforehand and would therefore have more time to talk to the other attendees during the event. We found a few boxes, then met up with the other letterboxers for the Flamingo themed gathering. Even the cookies were Flamingo shaped. (Nice touch!)
We had a good time talking with everyone and late that afternoon we said our good-byes and headed back to St. Pete, this time taking Alligator Alley back to Tampa. Much faster on a well-maintained Interstate! Additionally, it was very scenic! We watched the sunset and listened to the Everglades radio station interview a photographer who hated Florida until he discovered the wonders of the Everglades. We did catch site of one alligator off on the side of the road. I thought it was amusing that the highway was surrounded on both sides by chain link fences—obviously to keep the alligators off the highways!
Near Fort Myers, we stopped to get gas. I wasn't planning on mentioning it, but Amanda said I had to, so I'm mentioning it. We stopped for gas. She also wanted to clean the car after George and Suzi let us use it for the past week, and the gas station had a car wash. So we went through the car wash. It was the first time I'd ever gone through a automated car wash and I enjoyed every moment of it with those big wheels rubbing around the car cleaning it off. Water pouring and splashing around on the windows. It was fun! Amanda couldn't believe I'd never ridden through a car wash before, though, and demanded that it get attention in my adventures, so there you have it. Not very exciting, I know, but Amanda made me tell it so you can blame her. =)
The rest of the drive was mostly uneventful. The highway passed through Punta Gorda—the hardest hit area in Florida by the hurricanes last year—where we could see rows and rows of temporary housing for those who lost their homes in the destruction but we didn't really see much damage ourselves since by now it was very dark outside and we couldn't see much beyond the headlights of the car. One McDonalds we passed has a big sign outside saying, "Yes! We're open!" I rolled my eyes. Of course they were open. McDonalds were like cockroaches. Even in a nuclear holocaust, you know that if every other building around it was destroyed, McDonalds would somehow survive.
And that was it. Our Floridian adventures were done. We flew off to Pittsburgh where we had a six-hour layover. I walked up and down all of the terminals because I could. Then I did it a second time out of boredom. I briefly lost Amanda, but being the quick thinker that I am I used a payphone to call her cell phone and we found each other again. "I can't turn my back to you for a minute!" was all she had to say about that matter.
Finally our plane for Seattle was scheduled to depart and we boarded for the last leg of our otherwise uneventful trip. =)
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