Friday, August 30, 2019

The Sweatiest Road Trip Ever - Day 5 - Leonard, The Beach and The Elusive Cuban Sandwich

Day 5 - We Meet Leonard and I Begin A Quest

Things are a bit tense at the hotel.

I got up and headed out to the van to get my coffee mug. As I rubbed my eyes and staggered down the hall, an ominous silhouette came into focus at the exit to the parking lot.

I crept quietly closer to the door.

It's head snapped toward me and its beady eyes stared directly into my soul.

It's the ugliest duck in the universe. And I think he wants to eat me.

I crept closer, keenly aware of its relentless stare. When I reached the door, I paused. Did I dare risk an encounter with this duck? After all, I just wanted a coffee mug.

But it was my coffee mug.

And it makes me happy to use it when I'm traveling.

I WILL get that mug. Freaky-looking duck be damned!

I slowly pushed the door open and stepped, barefoot into the parking lot. The duck, in a brilliant strategic move, spun and waddled away across the parking lot, leaving behind a booby trap to try to foil my trip into the parking lot.

Nice try, duck.

Clever though it was, the trap was easily avoided and I grabbed my mug from the van and headed back inside, because nothing tastes as good as a hot cup of crappy hotel coffee when it's already 96 degrees and 237% humidity.

The duck had already resumed a defensive position while I was rooting around for my mug.

We shall meet again, duck. We shall meet again...

I skillfully avoided a confrontation this time by using another entrance, but I sense that this duck and I have unfinished business.

We dropped Tori off at school last night. She slept in her dorm and is scheduled to have orientation activities from 10-10 today.

So what do we do?

We go to the beach.



But first, we go to a big, horrible box store to buy all the things that Tori swore she would not need for school. Things we had at home because we bought them for Alex at a big box store, when he swore he would not need them for school.

A lamp. An extension cord. Coat hangers.

All piled up on our dining room table, 1,500 miles away.

Because she would definitely not need them.

Despite my incessant whining about how much I hate shopping, somehow we managed to survive the ordeal.

Now we should go to the beach, which I like a bit less than I like shopping at big box stores.

Can you guess which direction the beach is?

How about now?

The weather decided that we should come up with some alternate plans today. So, while I was spared an afternoon baking on the molten sand and avoiding man-eating sharks, I was trapped in a hotel room which, on a scale of Shopping to Beach, I rate as Awful.

We made a stealth run to Tori's dorm to deliver the items we had bought at the store. While we were there, Alex and I grabbed her bike from the outdoor bike rack/lightning rod and tossed it into Squanket.

Somehow, during the drive down, she had gotten a flat tire.

We made a run to a bike shop and grabbed a new tube.

In-room bike repair!

Maybe we could start a business of mobile bike repair.

Alex says, "No."

We managed to use up 4 or 5 minutes repairing Tori's bike and still the rain hadn't stopped.

In fact, if anything, it was picking up.

The storm drain in the hotel parking lot looks like Godzilla is about to emerge. Honestly, that would be awesome.
Of course, it might have something to do with the "high pressure jetting" happening next door at the Wawa.

Because that little fountain...

isn't supposed to be there.

The rain continued, but Kerri soon tired of my incessant whining about being stuck in a hotel room and she offered to take us for a drive, because we had obviously not spent enough time driving over the last several days.

"Yay!" I squealed, clapping my hands. "Can we go to an Adult Sup..."




We slipped out the door.

The duck was waiting.

Should we tip him? I have no idea.
We headed out on the road to see what Fort Lauderdale was really like.

Here is what Fort Lauderdale is really like:

Interesting people.

A duck decoy bobbing in a storm canal. Maybe I can use this to distract the duck at the hotel.

I guess if your lock is broken, this is one solution. Not a good one, but a solution.

Kerri would not let me use her phone to "1-800-TellRobert" for my chance to collect $750k. I was going to fake a duck-related injury.

And then:

The skies cleared and the sun came out!

Rain, in Florida, does not cool the air like it might in normal places with weather that isn't trying to kill you all the time. Rain, in Florida, injects more humidity into the air and then things get lively.

Without the threat of being killed by lightning, we decided to risk a trip to the beach.

The sand is SOOOOO hot.

Sea turtle eggs!

We walked up and down the beach for a while and then decided that the beach would be more fun if we could actually get in the water.

It had been storming when we left the hotel an hour ago so we didn't bring sunblock, towels, suits, or shark-repellent. All obvious necessities for surviving for any length of time on a Florida Death-Beach™.

Back to the hotel.

The duck was still waiting. Not today, ducky. Not today.

We changed into bathing suits, lathered up with SPF 900 Sweater-In-A-Bottle Sunblock, grabbed our towels, and headed back to the beach, a mere 8 miles away.

That 8 mile drive took, conservatively, 40 minutes because of all the people driving around in their Taz trucks.

By the time we got back to the beach, the sky was black, the rain was pouring down, and the thunder echoed like the very laughter of the earth, mocking our inability to go to the beach.

As we sat in the parking lot, which, on the bright side, had plenty of spots available because of the weather, Tori texted us and said she had a free hour or so. Would we like to get together?

Of course we would!

It was, by this time, rush hour, so the normal density of traffic had quadrupled and the 9 mile drive to Tori's dorm took nearly an hour.

And, in that time, the rain stopped and the skies cleared.

Oh, Florida, you zany prankster.

We picked Tori up and headed to our hotel to enjoy some time bobbing around in the parking lot pool.

Tori was introduced to my new friend, the duck. She named him Leonard and it seemed appropriate. he's definitely a Leonard.

Hello, Leonard.

Tori had to go back to campus for more orientation fun and frivolity so we dropped her off and headed off on a quest.

A quest that I had been secretly planning for months.

A quest for a delicious, real Cuban sandwich.

I have read about these sandwiches. Mostly in books about Dexter, the serial killer, which, now that I write it, doesn't seem like the best place to get tips on eating food, but what can you do? They sound amazing.

A quick google search gave us the name of an authentic Cuban restaurant that served these sandwiches. the reviews didn't mention anything about serial killers, so that was a bonus, too!

We fought bravely through the traffic and then wandered aimlessly around the outdoor shopping plaza where the restaurant was alleged to be. just as we were about to give up all hope and resign ourselves to a Five Guys or some other horrid something or other, Alex spotted it!

The restaurant!

Tasty sangria? Check. 
Alex's yummy meal with 3 different kids of rice because he refuses to try any new food ever? Check.

Kerri's delicious chicken and rice? Check.

A delicious Cuban sandwich? Nope.

There are only two possible explanations for the barely adequate Cuban sandwich I got:

1. It was just a lousy sandwich.
2. A fictional serial killer mislead me about how delicious they are.

I was simply unable to believe that Dexter would deceive me about how tasty these sandwiches are. So, despite the fact that everything else we ordered was fantastic, I decided that they simply didn't know how to make a proper Cuban sandwich here at this Cuban restaurant, owned and operated by actual Cuban.

There could be no other explanation. And right then and there, I made it my one mission on Earth to find a delicious Cuban sandwich.

Maybe Leonard has some ideas.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Sweatiest Road Trip Ever - Day 4 - Move In Day!

Day 4 - Move-In Day. Plus, Mexican food!

Today is the big day. We are finally going to go to the Mexican restaurant that Kerri and Tori visited when they came here to tour the school.

Oh, and also, Tori is moving into her dorm.

But the Mexican food sounds delicious right now.

We packed up Squanket and, once again, hit the road.

The condition of the back of the van degrades every day. I fear what it will look like in a week.

Tori is still unsure how to seat herself properly.

Who's ready for some more driving? Oh! Me! Me! MEEEE!

Kerri and I both went to college in Florida. The one thing that has always impressed itself upon me about this state - besides the heat, the humidity, the cockroaches, the alligators, the spectacularly corrupt state government, the bewildering array of criminal activities, and the heat and humidity - are the drivers.

Florida drivers are the boldest, most daring drivers I have ever experienced. They will squeeze into a space between two other cars with 6 inches to spare, driving 82 miles per hour on the highway. I suppose it stems from the constant traffic, which necessitates sitting through 6 light cycles at each traffic light.

I can now see why all the traffic injury lawyer billboards are on display every 15 feet.

We experienced all manner of moving violation on our drive to the campus to get Tori checked in.  We were also entertained by the vast and bewildering assortment of services being offered to consumers. Along with the 85 million accident lawyers, we also saw:

Oohh! More adult entertainment.

More religious advertising.

No cost options? What is it? Two bricks? Somebody please call and let me know.

Kerri was still driving. No detours, Marty. 

The roadside facilities in Florida weren't quite as lovely as the ones in South Carolina.

Although they were easy to find.

This is not a sign that one might see in New England. I feel like we are missing out somehow.
Aging palm trees that needed walkers.

True fact: Florida is a very flat state. Hills like this are actually piles of garbage. Trash is piled up and then grass is planted on it. Really.

Our drive wasn't a long one today, but we did need to make a pit stop at a state-funded rest area. It was better than Disney.

Florida does not require that vehicles are inspected for safety. What could possibly go wrong?

I tried handing out some leftover literature advertising Skyline Drive, but people were oddly reluctant to take any pamphlets from me in the restrooms.

Don't try to do it hands-free. Trust me.

Only a DOLLAR?!? Blonde entertainment? Fishing stories? Redneck Jokes? Adventures? Travel? Kerri, can I PLEASE have a dollar? PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!

She did not give me a dollar. She gave me a pamphlet advertising Skyline Drive.

There was also a helpful chart indicating some of the more exotic ways that Florida can kill you.

Tori is more excited than ever to be living here.

Stepping carefully, to avoid any deadly snakes, and trying not to trip over any of the parts that had fallen off of uninspected cars, we piled back into Squanket for the last leg of our journey.

"I sure wish I had some redneck jokes to share with you," I sighed. "Or some fishing stories."
Kerri's death ray glare missed me.
"Maybe even some blonde entertainment that we could enjoy as a family."
"Let's see what's on the radio," Kerri suggested, cranking up a country music station, which, along with evangelical hellfire sermons, is the only thing available on the airwaves in the south.

Tori actually thought it was hilarious to watch me try to find a station that wasn't one of the two. Eventually, I gave up and turned the radio off. I stared glumly at the endless string of billboards and then I saw it.

A sign!

It's her school! We're almost there!

We cheered loudly. "Hooray! We're almost there! We'll get you all moved in!"

Our cheering subsided quickly when we looked ahead and saw:

No! Not that!

Looks like

we might get

some rain.

Along with the heat, humidity, cockroaches, venomous snakes, alligators, etc., Florida is also home to wonderfully wacky weather.

The skies decided that they had contained all the humidity they could, and they wanted to share some with us.

Don't worry. This will burn off by noon.

The rain stopped before we reached campus, but the skies were still threatening.

"If we only had an issue of Florida Singles weekly, we could use it to protect us from the rain," I suggested. "Also, we could enjoy some fishing stories and redneck jokes to keep us entertained as we move Tori in."

"It's not raining," Kerri said.

And, the universe, hearing her, unleashed the rain.

I cocked an eyebrow and smiled slyly.

Move-in day, as seen from the administration building.

Tori checked in with the check-in people and Emily told us that there was a problem with her files. A transcript was missing and she couldn't move in without it. Tori was given a slurry of inside jargon that meant nothing to anybody except Emily. "You need to get an AF from OPS so they can clear your TRD and then your DG can approve the VCR for housing."

We stood there staring at the girl.

"Any questions?" she asked.

"We need a what, now?" I asked.

The process involved - and I am not kidding - We had to wait about a half hour to talk with someone in administration. As we waited, I suggested again that some redneck jokes would really help to pass the time. When Tori was called, she and I met with a administrator who took us back to her cubicle. She printed out a piece of paper. She then walked us back to Emily, the first girl we spoke with, and asked her if Tori was all set. "Yes," Emily replied. The administrator signed the paper and handed it to Tori. "Okay. You're all set. Have a great year."

I have no idea what happened, but if there is a less efficient way to do whatever bureaucratic nonsense they did, I'd like to know about it.

Armed with her magic paperwork, we set off through the rain to Tori's dorm.

"You know, if we had..." I began.

Kerri held up a warning hand. "Don't."

I didn't.

At her dorm building, Tori was whisked away to fill out more paperwork. I'm glad to see that college is training her for the real world in this way.

She was given her room key and a small welcome bag.

Ohhh, more paperwork! Hooray!

The gift bag contained, among other delights, a roll of toilet paper.

We lugged her things up to her room, passing many other sweaty students and parents along the way.

This bulletin board welcomed us to her floor. I offered to donate an "R" to the cause, but Tori didn't think that would be appreciated.

Her roommates had already moved in and they weren't in the room, so it made the snooping a little easier. There weren't any bloody hatchets or copies of Florida Singles in the room, so I suppose everything will be all right. I wonder if we might be in for a Colton episode, as when Alex's roommate did not show up for several days after move-in when he went to school.

Her room.

There is plenty of storage. If you can reach it.

No joke. Alex is 6 feet tall. Who installed these cupboards? 

The closet also had plenty of space. See the shelf? There is another shelf above that one.

Completely inaccessible, but there it is if you need it!

Tori loves her room and she wanted a top bunk, so she's thrilled about this!

After we got her moved in, we were ready for the actual main event of the day - Mexican food! Kerri and Tori had discovered a tiny, family run Mexican restaurant when they came down to tour the school a few months ago. They were both eager to return.

The good news is that it was only 8 miles from campus. The bad news is that with the normal Fort Lauderdale traffic, that drive took more than a half an hour.

We have arrived.

It was spectacular inside.

I seriously love this place.

Oh, boy!

Alex is still doubtful.

The food was amazing.

After dinner, we drove Tori back to campus and dropped her off.

That, my friends, is a strange feeling. An odd mix of delight, sadness, pride, fear, and admiration.

Tori walking off toward her future.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, Alex expressed a rather urgent interest in finding a bathroom.

"We're a mile from the hotel," I said.
"Nope. Can't wait," he gasped.

Kerri pulled over at the administration building.

Hurry, Alex! Hurry!

And it was closed for the night.

He waddled back to Squanket and climbed in, sweat beading on his brow. "We need to find a bathroom," he croaked. "Now."

"Seriously," I said, "We're a mile away from..."


Kerri pulled into a gas station called Tom Thumb and thus transpired what will forevermore be referred to as the Tom Thumb Incident.

After a few hours, Alex emerged from the building, pale and shaking. He used the words "violent" and "terrifying" to describe his ordeal and that is all that we shall say about the matter.

We made our way back to the hotel, conveniently located between a Waffle House and a Wawa gas station.  Kerri and Alex opted to read in the room a bit and I went to the pool for a swim.

I shall swim alone.

This is the beautiful view from outside the pool. 

The view is slightly less scenic when you don't zoom in, though.


The pool was located in the back of the parking lot. the restful sounds of traffic and unidentified animal snuffling relaxed me.

I floated in the warm water, wondering how Tori was doing and how she was enjoying her first night in college.